The following information is taken from HAROLD EDGAR YOUNG book A PERAMBULATION OF THE HUNDRED OF
WIRRAL in 1909:
Consult the very latest and most expensive gazetteer, and you will still find Parkgate described as a "bathing-place," which
all goes to show how hard it is to destroy an old and excellent reputation. There are no bathing vans there now, although
Parkgate has still a season "of sorts," but, generally speaking, you might run your guns down on to the front, and after
requesting the few fishermen, always to be found on the sea-wall with nothing particular to do, to remove for a moment
on to the sands, open fire along " the front " without committing any serious damage, for " All on one side like Parkgate
"is a perfectly true saying, and "the parade" ends in the fields.
But still Parkgate is a likeable, healthful place, and a neighbourhood which is bein found out as a residential quarter, for
the views it commands of Wales and the Welsh mountains are excellent, and the prevailing winds, being north-west, come
to it full of sweet, refreshing, health-giving ozone. Yes, even when the tide is at the full ebb, and the long dreary stretch of
sands, across which it seems almost possible to walk into Wales, stretch themselves out as far as the eye can reach, it
remains a pleasing prospect, for by turning a few degrees to the east the eye may refresh itself with green fields full of
wild-flowers, and whilst sitting on the sea-wall you may hear the call of the corn-crakes. Yet, in spite of its many
attractions, Parkgate has not withstood the competition of other watering- places, for at one time it was the very
Llandudno of Wirral, and boasted large inns to which were attached coaching establishments, at which might be cracked a
bottle of the best port over a " fresh roast" lunch. Now they will tell you at the inn on the front, if you arrive in late May on
a Saturday morning, " that they have nothing cooked."
Listen don't allow them to keep you waiting whilst they cook a lunch that will anchor you out as solid as an anvil for the
rest of the afternoon. Ask them to give you whatever they like, and they will bring you two dishes of potted shrimps with a
good supply of bread and butter. Order something to drink, if not for your own good, " for the good of the house," as our
forefathers used to say, and you have a meal which emperors might envy. On the front are some old houses, in some of
which once dwelt fishermen who added to their calling the lucrative and dangerous one of smuggling, and in the rooms of
some, huge cavities are built in the walls in which the contraband used to be hidden.
The house occupied by Mr.W. Mealor has a very interesting smuggler's hole, entered by taking up a piece of boarding in
one of the rooms above. It is quite ten feet deep and of capacious storage room, but it was difficult to judge the exact size
on account of complete darkness, the only light obtainable being that from a few matches, which flared up for a moment,
and then but deepened the gloom. Smuggling in those days was a dangerous game, for the custom-house officers were
given to shooting first and asking questions afterwards, and the smugglers were equally severe on the officers. In another
county an officer, meeting a smuggler, says, "Knowing he was too good a man for me, for we had tried it out before, I shot
Daniel through the head"; and in 1749, at Chichester, Sir Michael Forster tried seven smugglers for the murder of two
custom-house officers, which all goes to show that however interesting smuggling was it had its dangerous side. At the
side of the house a passage leads to a curious wynd in which are some ancient cottages, a relic of old Parkgate, whilst
farther along the front, where the green fields commence, is the curious old half-timbered watch-house, whose inmates
used to be the terror of evil-doers.
In this cottage, too, once dwelt poor S. W. Ryley, who, through misfortune, became a strolling player. He was the author of
" The Itinerant, or Memoirs of an Actor," in nine volumes, which, though published in London, was entirely printed in
Liverpool, the first and second series beinor dedicated to William Roscoe, and the third series to the Earl of Sefton. It is a
very entertaining book, and forcibly points from bitter experience the miseries incident to the life of a strolling player.
In volume vi. he says : " I took a small cottage at Parkgate, in Cheshire, at the annual rent of ,5. Here I placed my
mother-in-law ; and here, thank God, she is at this moment. My small residence stands on an eminence, the base of which
is washed by the returning tides of the river Dee, perhaps fifty yards from my cottage door. The Welsh mountains on the
opposite shore, six miles distant, form an amphitheatre extending north and south, and when the tide is in it covers an
expanse of at least twenty miles, and presents one of the finest views imagination can conceive, comprehending
everything the artist requires to constitute the sublime and beautiful. Thus situated in full view of what I have
endeavoured to describe I am at this moment endeavouring to throw my thoughts on paper."
Quite at the end is the site of the famous old Boat-House inn which was taken down many years ago, and whose fine old
oak beams and fittings sold at good prices. Now, only a large barn or two remain, on one of which can be faintly traced "
Livery Stables." The proprietors of this inn used to run a four-in-hand coach daily to and from Birkenhead, as well as
special coaches to Hooton. In front used to be the bathing vans, numbering thirteen or fourteen, and a stand of thirty or
more donkeys. A pair of grey donkeys used to excite special admiration, for they were neatly harnessed in a smart little
carriage, which held four ladies, besides the driver, and the "bloods" would invariably hire this carriage and drive about "as
though they had bought the freehold'.
Evidence of the importance of Parkgate may be gauged from some of the old road books, and in " Paterson's Roads,"
i8th edition, edited by Mogg, published without a date, but with the preface dated 1829, is the following :
"Parkgate has lately been much resorted to by the gay and fashionable world, during the season, for the pleasure of
bathing ; it consists, for the most part, of a long range of good modern brick buildings, situated on the banks of the Dee.
This place is also noted as a station from whence packets sail for Ireland, which they do generally four times in a week.
The inhabitants of Parkgate are numerous, and may almost be said to derive their support from the expenditure of visitors
At Parkgate passengers frequently take shipping for Dublin, distance by water about 120 miles ; the distance from
Holyhead to Dublin is not more than 60 miles ; but the traveller who takes shipping at Parkgate saves the land travelling
through Wales from Chester to Holyhead."
William Daniell, R.A., in his large and beautifully illustrated book, entitled " A Voyage Round Great Britain,"
undertaken in the summer of 1813, crossed over in a packet from Wales, and, landing at Parkgate, describes the
coast view, adding :
"It is somewhat enlivened, however, an Englishman may be proud to say, by the little town of Parkgate, whose single row
of houses, gaily dressed in whitewash and red ochre, may be seen and admired from afar. We landed again in our native
land at this place, and in our walk from the boat to the inn had an opportunity of seeing all that it holds out to the curiosity
and amusement of a stranger. It was built solely for bathers, but has the misfortune to be in the worst situation that could
be desired for their accommodation. We are generally content in these kinds of establishments to give up all other
conveniences for the sake of salt water, but here that is given up too for two-thirds of a day, and in exchange for it one
has the satisfaction of seeing from every window of his house a dismal waste of sand, and that too, so soft and so
intersected by deep furrows, that it is not passable with comfort or safety by man or horse. One may reckon, indeed,
with certainty on a dip every day, but it is exceedingly annoying to be remodelling your engagements and inclinations
according to irregularity of the tide's attendance. The condition of visitors at low water is truly deplorable, but having
lingered through the full penance of the ebb tide, their spirits rise with the flood, and at high water there is a general burst
of business and animation. We arrived at just such a juncture, when the beach was all alive, and discovered a spectacle
which a foreigner might have moralised upon with more seriousness than we of this free country can be permitted to do.
Few of either sex thought it necessary to hide themselves under the awnings of bathing machines : posts with ropes
fastened to them are fixed in the sands, and these were taken possession of by numerous groups of women, six
or seven in a row, jumping, shouting, laughing and screaming, evidently as careless of being seen as of being drowned.
He would be a fool or worse who accused them of any intentional indelicacy, but I do think it would be as well were they
not to despise bathing machines, for the few plain reasons that induce so many to use them."
"Oh ! poor William Daniell, why didn't you turn your face to the wall and swear you'did not see ? I am profoundly thankful
that you did not walk with me through rural Japan, because there they bathe just as they used to at Parkgate, only the
bathing dress is absent as well as the bathing machine".
Many interesting people visited Parkgate, and if some of the books formerly belonging to the inns could be found, and
gone through, they would reveal names of great interest, for all going to and from Ireland were at times delayed by
weather. Certainly Mrs. Delany, whose father succeeded to the title of Lord Lansdowne, and was the friend and patron of
numerous literary men and women of his day, stayed there. She, as her letters show, lived in the centre of a literary circle
and painted well, besides writing delightful letters.
Writing from Parkgate she says :
" We have good reason to think we shall sail this evening. The wind is turning about and is very temperate and pleasant,
and we have secured our passage in the yacht. She is a charming, clean, new ship, and reckoned the best sailer on the
coast. The Dean went on board of her yesterday to fix the best accommodation he could, and had we not come to
Parkgate as we did, we should not have found room. People come every day, and the place is crowded. Sally is amazed at
the sea, but is not at all frightened. Yesterday morning we walked to a neighbouring village called Nessan, to visit the
minister, Mr. Mapletop, his wife, and daughters."
There is a picture had she not come to Parkgate when she did the place could not have held her for the night. Now, during
most months you may stroll into the place a lonely Crusoe of the fields, and eight out of ten of the men you meet are
fishermen for the fishery is still good, and yields salmon, soles, and all kinds of flat fish. The charge for a salmon licence for
a pull net is £5, and for a swim net £15. But if the bucks from London tarried at Parkgate, and gave the watch an anxious
time, there also came women trembling and waiting for the packets aboard which were their loved ones, who had set out
from Ireland. Day after day they waited for the overdue vessels ; becoming at last uneasy, then anxious, and at length
abandoning all hope, set out for home, knowing the sea would never give them back their dead. Poor Edward King, the
friend of Milton and younger son of Sir John King, perished miserably by shipwreck on his way from Ireland to Parkgate in
1637. He was a brilliant scholar, and his death was bitterly felt by Milton, who has commemorated it in one of the most
exquisite poems in our language, of which Tennyson said to Fitzgerald:
"It is the touchstone of poetic taste."
" For Lycidas is dead, dead ere his prime, Young Lycidas, and hath not left his peer. Who would not sing for Lycidas ? he
knew Himself to sing, and build the lofty rhyme. He must not float upon his watery bier Unwept, and welter to the parching
wind, Without the meed of some melodious tear."
And poor, ever-in-debt Theophilus Gibber, the actor and playwright, perished in a similar manner in the eighteenth century.
He was the son of the famous Colley Gibber, and lived the life of a prodigal whenever he chanced to be out of prison for
debt, and could raise a little money, and escape his duns. If the poor fellow had reached Parkgate, as like as not he would
have proceeded to the best inn and ordered shrimps for breakfast and soles for supper, with something to wash it down,
and very possibly have been unable to pay the score next morning.
In the Gentleman s Magazine appears the following:
"Sept. 14, 1806. The King George packet of and from Parkgate for Dublin was lost this night near Hoyle Bank, and it is said
all on board except three or four perished. She had upwards of one hundred passengers, but only four cabin passengers."