It would be quite an odd state of affairs if a ‘useable’ port area ( and before any actual docks were constructed, King John and the new town of Liverpool certainly found ‘the pool’ quite useable for several hundred years) wasn’t ever utilised by sailors who might know the coast well. Second, and I’m aware I am jumping ahead of myself here, but just how established was Merseyside in this period of time around the first and sixth centuries? I’ll look at the Domesday Book in a few hundred years and words’ time, but consider for a moment how relatively little the landscape and settlements would actually have changed in the five hundred years between this point and the Norman invasion? The trade centres at Warrington, Chester and Runcorn continued to be pivot points for travellers and merchants, and there is no reason to suspect that any settlements in the relatively less important Mersey north coast would have changed much either.
Modern roads often follow the track of Roman ( and older) tracks, and while we can see the evolution of changing place names to reflect anglo-saxon and viking ownership around the years 600AD – 900AD, some of the names and features continue unaltered. Stay with me, I’ll get to a point soon I swear.
This part of South Lancashire was then a mixture of heavy forest, bog and heath with relatively few naturally farmable areas in the Merseyside region. So if a place was suitable for occupation and was settled, it would likely stay settled.
Four areas are of particular interest in this respect.
1 - In old English, ‘Low’ usually refers to a burial mound or burial site, and Low Hill and Brown Low are both mentioned in the eleventh century as landmarks, presumable noting burial mounds which were ancient even then. So the likelihood is that these place existed several hundred years earlier too.
2- Toxteth ( Stochestede in the Domesday book), according to the usually fairly reliable historian Picton refers to a wooden stockade or wood built settlement. So an enclosed settlement was well established prior to 1066. As we’ve established, this area had fuel, water, access to the river and later became royal hunting grounds, so was suitable for wild animals. I’d suggest it had therefore been settled much earlier.
3-The name of Wavertree (Woertreo) derives from the enclosure or edge of trees. As with Toxteth.
4- Smithdown (the manor of Esmedun) is a well established place in 1066, bordering or a part of Toxteth Park. Two points in relation to Esmedun; First, the suffix ‘dun’ is scots gaelic for fort, and we think the occupants of the area of Lancashire from the fifth century spoke scots gaelic ( On a side note, the other contemporary name for Smithdown was Smeedun, which if you put on a dodgy French Norman accent of the 1066 invaders and say ‘this is Smeedun’, you get ‘this Esmedun’).
For background, the topography of 1066 gives us Low Hill in Kirkdale/Everton/West Derby above the later town. It then has a large marsh area (at that point West Derby fen, later the Mosslake or Turbary) with Smithdown Lane existing just above it as the first passable track on the high ground, east of the Wavertree forest, leading to the Manor of Smeedon somewhere around Lodge Lane. South-West we already have two settlement in the forested Toxteth Park.
My suggestion is therefore that the earliest settlers in this area would have identified the high ground, resources, and first traversable track along the coast ( with a view of whoever sailed up the river), and once they had settled, there is no reason for them to relocate. So while the first written records we have don’t exist until 1066, I’d hazard a guess that Toxteth, Wavertree, and Smithdown are far more ancient than that, and may even have existed in Roman times. With the odd roman coin and bronze age findings in the area it would seem to make sense. Just a thought though. I have no evidence for it.
I'll admit today is a bit stream on consciousness-ey ( the problem with pondering) so apologies if a bit hard to follow!