Birkenhead, a market town and port of Cheshire, England, on the estuary of the Mersey, opposite Liverpool, with which it has constant communication by several steam ferries; pop. in 1871, 65,980. A railway 16 m. long connects it with Chester, whence other roads diverge to various parts of the kingdom. Although a place of considerable antiquity, having been founded at least as early as the 12th century, it dates its present prosperity from a very recent period. Originally a poor fishing village, numbering in 1818 scarcely 50 inhabitants, it grew with a rapidity seldom witnessed in the old world, and its population has nearly trebled since 1851. This increase is mainly owing to its docks. In 1824 large ship-building docks were erected on Wallasey pool, on the N. W. side of the town, and in 1844 a series of splendid works, embracing a sea wall from Woodside to Seacomb, docks at Bridge-end, a tidal basin, and a great float with a minimum depth of 22 ft., were commenced. The first dock was opened in 1847. The principal works now include two gigantic wet docks or floats on Wallasey pool, embracing witli subsidiary basins a water area of 165 acres, with 10 or 11 m. of quays, and three graving docks with a length of 1,1)28 ft.
Other immense works have been planned; but the original undertakers of the Birkenhead docks were heavy losers by the speculation, and the unfinished structures were bought and continued by the corporation of Liverpool. Warehouses on a large scale have been erected in connection with the docks. The town is well laid out, well lighted, paved, and drained, and well supplied with water. The streets are wide and regular, the main thoroughfares, five in number, running nearly east and west, and the shorter streets crossing them at right angles. On Conway street, one of the principal avenues, is a public park, with an area of 180 acres. A market 430 ft. long by 131 ft. wide, is a notable feature of the town. There are numerous churches and chapels, a theological college (St. Aidan's, established in 1840), a court house, gas and water works, an infirmary, a mechanics' institute, and many free schools in connection with the different churches and chapels. There is no custom house, the entries being made at Liverpool. Manufactures are carried on with activity, and embrace pottery, varnish, boilers, guns. etc. There are also extensive iron founderies. Birkenhead returns one member to the house of commons. - A priory was found,.] here by Harris de Massey in 1150, and richly endowed.
It was occupied by the royalists in 1644, and taken from them by the parliamentary troops. In 1843 it was demolished, and nothing now remains hut a portion of the gable and one Gothic window, which formerly belonged to the refectory.