Liverpool Castle is neither in Liverpool, nor a real castle. It is a folly, a beautiful, whimsical replica of the original that once stood on the banks of the River Mersey. It is also one of my favourite childhood haunts. Also known as Lever Castle, it sits high above the eastern side of Rivington Reservoir, a stunning focal point of the Lever Estate.
A little history…
The story goes that William Hesketh Lever, was a skilled entrepreneur who set up a soap company with his brother. His is a familiar name in my home town Bolton but those of you living across The Pond may well be aware of his business ventures. His ‘Sunlight’ soap company soon outgrew its original factory so he expanded and had a whole village built to house the workers. Work started on the model village on the banks of the Mersey in 1888, and it was named Port Sunlight. Its aim was to provide his workers with quality housing, access to good education, recreation and entertainment. He quickly became a millionaire but he always remained a caring benefactor of his local community. Lever bought and donated much land to the town of Bolton, including its biggest Park, Hall ‘i ‘th Wood, and the beautiful landscaped estate at Rivington. He is also responsible for the formation of my old school, Bolton School. The girls and boys’ schools were built together enabling both sexes an equal access to education.
Lever was given many honours and titles in his lifetime, he died in 1925 as The Rt. Hon. The Viscount Leverhulme. His company grew and merged to become Unilever, the international company we know today. It’s a great rags to riches story about a caring man, who gave back far more than he received. His legacy lives on through the arts, education and countryside of my home town. I have a lot to thank Lord Leverhulme for.
It may be a romantic folly but as a child it was an exciting castle to explore, with its secret passageways and a spiral staircase to the half built upper level. I have many happy memories walking through the woods to the castle. Memories of creeping down the secret corridor and peeping out over the reservoir through a slit window, just big enough to fire an arrow through. My brother and I spent hours playing hide and seek, exploring each hidden room and passageway.
Sadly in the 1980’s the spiral staircase collapsed and the castle was boarded up for a while, deemed unsafe. That didn’t deter us as teenagers though (sorry mum.) Liverpool Castle was a favourite hang out, far away from the grown ups. We’d sneak under the wire fence and sit round a camp fire chatting under the moonlight. Despite the obvious trespassing misdemeanour, we were always very respectful of the place and left it as we’d found it. It was a special place to be enjoyed and even as rebellious teenagers we recognised the need to preserve its beauty.
Through my adult years, the castle was just a memory sat high above the road as we hurried past to visit my mum. It’s been many years since I visited it, so when my brother suggested we take the girls for a walk up there, I was keen to go. In fact I was really excited to share a little of my own childhood with my girls. Walking through the arched doorway brought back a flood of memories, echoes of time spent with my dad. No time to get melancholy though as squeals of delight rang out, urging us on to explore. Even Jack the dog had fun playing hide and seek and his hiding technique was much the same as my four year old.
I’d forgotten so much. It was like discovering it afresh as I tried to keep up with three excited girls as they ran from room to room hiding and exploring. They scurried down the secret passageway while I carefully squeezed through; it was a lot tighter than I remembered it. I left my brother in charge of his unruly nieces and pottered. I wandered, enjoying the view through the many shades of autumn.
Left alone, nature finds a way to flourish even in the most unlikely of places. Mother Nature is a beautiful decorator.
Lever Castle and the surrounding woodlands are favourite weekend walks for many local families. Like so many excited children, mine bound stick in hand, looking for adventure. Then weary little legs trudge back, the youngest riding high on Daddy’s shoulders. Promises of ice creams at the Barn, spur them on those last few metres. Finally they slump down under a tree to share ice creams.
I wonder if my girls will take their own children back one day to revisit a moment of their childhood. I wonder if my future grandchildren will find the secret passageway and explore the overgrown rooms. Then snuggled under a tree, with ice cream smiles, I wonder if they’ll listen while Nana tells them the tale of Lever’s folly.