Kirkby is a town in the Metropolitan Borough of Knowsley, Merseyside, England. Historically in Lancashire, it developed from the 1950s to the 1970s as a housing overspill of Liverpool. It is roughly 5 miles (8 km) north of Huyton and 6 miles (10 km) north-east of Liverpool. The population in 2011 was 40,472. It is believed to have been founded in 870 although there is archaeological evidence for settlement from the Bronze Age.
Historically in Lancashire, Kirkby is believed to have been founded circa 870, although archaeological digs have produced evidence of habitation in the Bronze Age. The name Kirk-by, from the Old Norse word elements 'kirkja' and 'byr', believed to be of Danish origin, meaning 'church' and 'settlement' or 'village'. The town's settlers arrived via Ireland around 900. The first direct evidence of a settlement dates from 1086 and the Domesday Book, with a reference to Cherchebi – population 70. Ownership of the land containing modern-day Kirkby – established as the West Derby Hundred in the 11th century – passed through many hands until 1596, when the Molyneux family purchased the hundred in its entirety. After a brief loss of patronage in 1737 as a result of the head of the family taking holy orders, in 1771 the Molyneux family were made Earls of Sefton and regained their lands.
Although remaining largely farmland until the mid 20th century, initial transport links to the area began in 1848 with the building of the Liverpool and Bury Railway through Kirkby. The East Lancashire Road (A580 road) added road connections in 1935 and industrial development was being considered prior to the outbreak of the Second World War. A Royal Ordnance filling factory – ROF Kirkby – was established in 1939 and completed in 1941. At its peak, the factory employed over 20,000 workers.
By the end of the war, Liverpool had suffered much damage from the Blitz and much of its remaining housing stock was poor and considered slums. In an effort to improve these conditions, Liverpool Corporation began a policy of buying land in the surrounding areas and moving industry and people to newly developed 'overspill' estates. This process culminated with the purchase of 4,070 acres (16.5 km2) of land, including the land comprising Kirkby, from the Earl of Sefton in 1947 for £375,000 (£13.5 million inflation adjusted). Kirkby would become the largest of these overspill estates for Merseyside. As development of the town grew, in 1949 Liverpool requested to have it officially designated a new town. but this proposal was rejected. Large-scale development began in February 1950 with the construction of the Southdene neighbourhood, with the first houses finished in 1952, the 5,000th in 1956 and the 10,000th in 1961. A population of 3,000 n 1951 swelled to over 52,000 by 1961, making it the fastest growing community in the UK by far. The Kirkby Urban District was created in 1958.
Such vast growth caused many problems, not the least of which was that the construction of local amenities had not kept the same pace. For example, while occupation of the council estates of Southdene had begun in 1952, the first shops were not completed until 1955 and the first public house was not open until 1959. Additionally, the people who were being moved into Kirkby during this period came from the poorest areas of Liverpool. During this time, Kirkby Industrial Estate was steadily expanding to become one of the largest in England until, at its peak in 1971, the estate provided employment for over 26,000 people.
Kirkby achieved independent Urban District status in 1958. This was then abolished and on 1 April 1974 its former area was combined with that of Huyton with Roby Urban District, Prescot Urban District, parts of Whiston Rural District and parts of West Lancashire Rural District to form the present-day Metropolitan Borough of Knowsley.