In the form of evidence we can look at the Palace Arcades in New Brighton which have tunnels used by smugglers running
underneath. The tunnels have been dated as being in use since the 1600s being part of a natural cave system. In 1880
when the palace was built, it used the caves as an attraction and had small boats manned by staff to take visitors beneath
and slowly pass through the waterways illuminated by torches.
It is recorded that one tunnel ran towards Mother red caps and another branched off towards the sea in the direction of
Fort Perch Rock. There is also a larger passage which lead to the red noses on the shore line. During refurbishment of the
palace in the 1930s another room was uncovered which seemed to have been used as a storage area. At the out break of
World War 2, the tunnels were used as a munitions factory employing over 200 workers and the subterranean rooms were
also used as air raid shelters. After the war the rooms were converted into a night club known as "The Creep Inn" a play
on its creepy underground existence. Today it is heavily refurbished and known as Wilkies New Palace. Sadly i do not know
if the tunnels were filled in or still exist but i would be grateful for any further information or photographs of them.
Further along the beach are more smugglers caves known locally as The Worm Holes. These tunnels are part of the old
Yellow Noses and run into the back garden off a house named Rock Villa. The house was built by James Atherton who no
doubt had some interest in this subject, having chosen that particular spot to build his dwelling.
The caves are only accessible through a trap door in the garden which then descends down into the darkness by means of
ladder. Once inside you can see that walls have been etched with a variety of dates and initials of smugglers, explores and
probably children. The earliest date found on the walls within the tunnel is 1619. As you proceed further down the tunnel
the passage becomes more and more narrow, eventually leading to a large cave with a high roof space. Also in the cave is
a small well which must have given great piece of mind to anyone liable to be hiding inside for a lengthy period of time.
There are several passages leading off from the main tunnel but the entrance is extremely tight and i believe even
experienced cave explorers have been instructed not top go down there. That said i am aware that many have been down
there and i am looking for more information or pictures from anyone who has been down them. Having been down there
many years ago i remember that the air is filled with a musty and damp smell through out the tunnel. The caves are
certainly not man made and seem to be the result of millions of year of natural activity, however certain areas have
obviously been made wider by human intervention. One of the tunnels also runs off and meets up with the chambers
underneath the palace where goods could be stored away from the eyes of the custom officers.
The cave is usually opened once a year by the owner of the house with a small admission fee for a local charity. I do not
know if this still happens but i would be grateful for any further information or photographs on this subject.
As mentioned earlier there was wrecking that took place in Wallasey but only in small numbers. Wrecking was rife over the
other side of the peninsula during the 18th & 19th centuries as the following information reveals. An extract from the report
of the Royal Commission for enquiring into the establishment of a Police Force in England in 1839 states that the county of
Cheshire was said to be, in conjunction with Cornwall, the worst in the kingdom for wreckers and smuggling. It goes on to
say that on the Cheshire coast not far from Liverpool, they will rob those who have escaped the perils of the sea and come
safe on shore and will mutilate dead bodies, for the sake of rings and personal ornaments.
Stonehouse writing in 1863 states:
"Wirral at that time and the middle of the last century was a desperate region, the inhabitants were nearly all wreckers and
smugglers, they ostensibly carried on the trade and calling of fishermen, farm labourers and small farmers, but they were deeply
saturated with the sin of covetousness, and many a fierce fire has been lighted on the Wirral shore on stormy nights to lure the
good ship on the Burbo or Hoyle banks, there to beat and strain and throb until her timbers parted and her planks were floating in
confusion on the stormy waves. Fine times then for the Cheshire men. On stormy days and nights, crowds might have been seen
hurrying to the shore with carts, barrows, horses, asses, or oxen even which were made to draw timber, bales, boxes or anything
that the raging waters might have cast up. Many a half-drowned sailor has had a knock on the sconce, whilst trying to obtain a
footing that has sent him reeling back into the seething water, and many a house had been suddenly replenished with eatables
and drinkables and furniture and garniture where previously bare walls and wretched accommodation only were visible. Then for
smuggling. Fine times the runners used to have in my young days. Scarcely a house in North Wirral that could not provide a
guest with a good, stiff glass of brandy or Hollands. The fishermen used to pretend to cast their nets to take the fish that then
abounded on our coasts, but their fishing was of a very different kind."
The scenes that followed the wreck of the brig Elizabeth Buckham on 26th November 1866 have been graphically described
by Mr Bertram Furniss:
"She went ashore and broke up before assistance could be rendered. Laden with rum and coconuts which floated ashore and were
soon taken possession of by inhabitants. On the shore casks of rum were broached; some carried the spirit to their houses,
others drank it on the spot, fights ensued, and the whole police force of Wallasey (five in number), was quite inadequate to cope
with the tumult. Towards evening they were fully occupied lifting the sleeping carousers to a safe place above high-water mark to
prevent their being drowned by the rising tide. At least two deaths occurred, one “the boots” at the Victoria Hotel. At the inquest
Coroner Churton referred to the prayer at the head of this chapter and added that on one occasion, when a wreck was reported
while the congregation at Old St Hilary was listening to the sermon, the rector said to those who were moving prematurely
towards the door, “Keep your seats till after the collection and then we can all start fair".
No bodies came ashore from the wreck, nor did any of her timbers for several months after. Her log-book floated ashore at
Wallasey which proved her to be the brig Elizabeth Buckham, 242 tons register, built at Whitehaven in 1839, owned by Mr J.
Thompson of that place and commanded by Captain T. Wylie. Before the tax on salt was removed in 1825 large quantities of
it were smuggled.
Adam’s Weekly Courant of 2 January 1757 records the wreck of the ship "Cunliffe", from Virginia, laden with valuble goods.
She ran aground at Mockbeggar Wharf in the area of Moreton. After evetually being freed she manage dto get back out to
sea only to be caught in a violent storm which drove her aground once again opposite Wallasey Church, where doubtless
the inhabitants gave her their unwelcome attention.
We gather from Mr Kitchingman’s notes that contraband was temporarily hidden in Mother Redcap’s and surrounding
grounds. The goods were removed later secretly over the moor, through or round the then small village of Liscard, along a
lane (now Wallasey Road) and down the old lane, now the footpath to Bidston, right on to the Moss where the road as
such ended. It was a most difficult and dangerous passage to Bidston, the only way being round by Green Lane, Wallasey,
and past Leasowe Castle. Many people who attempted to cross the Moss without a guide, as late as 1830 became bog
foundered and had to be rescued. The Moss, undrained till the making of the Birkenhead docks in 1844, was full of cross
pools, morasses and long, winding inlets forming a kind of labyrinth.
There was only one reliable but tortuous passage over it. At a dangerous place was laid a large pair of whale’s jawbones
across the water, which with rude crossbeams formed of tree stems made a bridge. There were no posts or rails, and the
jawbones had to be found almost by instinct. This spot was said by the superstitious to be haunted, and many persons
would not cross the Moss, particularly the jaw bones, where it was said that two people had been drowned at different
times and haunted the spot. The superstition was fostered and spread by the smugglers, and the place was for years
afterward known as the ‘jaw bones’ They were to be seen in 1840, but soon afterwards decayed and felt into the Moss.
After crossing the jaw bones’ a track led to the left towards Wallasey Pool to an old farm afterwards known as ‘Hannah
Mutche’s Farm’, situated at the east end of the Moss and surrounded by a moat. Surprisingly i believe this to be a relation
of mine as i am descended from the Mutches of Wallasey & Moreton. This old farm was the haunt of the contrabandists and
a noted hiding-place from the Press-gang, the sailors escaping there from Mother Redcap’s. It is thought by some that the
old Moss holds forgotten money and valuables. From the ‘jaw bones’ (which was a kind of marshalling place) in a southerly
direction, a track led towards Bidston along which contraband was taken sometimes and delivered at the ‘Ring-o’ Bells’ at
Bidston, where there were places of concealment in the farm buildings. The farm to the west of Bidston Church was
formerly the Ring-o’-Bells Inn.
If it were reported at the "jaw bones" or on the Bidston side of the Moss that it was not safe to proceed to Bidston, the
contraband was diverted to the westward along the edge of the Moss and taken to the old Saughall windmill. This was a
most remarkable structure, built of wood with strong oak beams and gaunt, primitive sails standing on a rough base of
stone, with a large wheel on the ground for turning the mill round. The mill stood entirely by itself, a little way from the edge
of the Moss but a full mile away from the village of Saughall Massie. Secret meetings of various kinds, political and
otherwise, were held in this old mill, which was the home of numerous ravens and said to be haunted. It was repaired and
in use, and is shown in the Ordnance Map of 1840, but shortly after was demolished and later still a large house built on
From Bidston a packhorse track continued in a southerly direction under the skirt of Bidston Hill and Wood to Noctorum, then
southward along a narrow, packhorse road (too narrow for carts) and along a rough stone causeway, the stones of which
are still to be seen for half a mile between Prenton and Storeton.
There are several interesting stories of tricks being played by the smugglers on preventive officers but it is difficult to get
authentic particulars. One is told of information being given to a preventive officer at Mother Redcap’s that two kegs of rum
were about to be taken in a donkey-cart to Bidston via the Moss. As he lay in wait near Liscard, the donkey-cart came along
and was pounced upon by the waiting officer, but on examination the kegs were found to contain ale which was stated to
be for the ‘Ring-if-Bells’ at Bidston where a shortage had occurred. The rum had been removed from the kegs and sent on in
cans by another route to be replaced in the kegs on arrival.
Some of this information on wrecking was taken from "The Rise & Progress of Wallasey". Further information on the subject
of wrecking in the Wirral area can be found on Mike Kemble's Website.
As you may be aware at this point,
hundreds of years ago the area of
Wallasey was cut off at hide tide
rendering it an isolated island for
much of the time. There have
been tales of smuggling in this
area for century's, however unlike
many story's there is actual proof
of these activities happening.
What many people do not realise
is that most of the wrecking took
place on the other side of the
Wirral around the Hoylake and
West Kirby area, where wreckers
would lore their victims onto the
There was of course many wrecks
in the Mersey that hit the sand
banks on the way in and washed
up at Wallasey, and indeed some
of these were intentional.
However it is important to
remember that Wallasey was much
more prevalent for smuggling than