|View north west along the Parade||St. Thomas's Church|
|View from the edge of the marsh||'The Lobster Grill'|
|Ice Cream Emporium||Mostyn House School|
|Dated 1727||Cottages opposite the Old Quay Inn|
|The Harp Inn near Denhall Quay||High and Dry at Denhall Quay (SJ 290 760)|
Parkgate gained prominence as a port for Ireland in the 18th century as Chester declined in importance from the silting of the Dee. Around 1800 it was also a fashionable sea-bathing resort. The sandstone church of St. Thomas was built in 1843 as a Congregationalist Chapel. Mostyn House School is based in part on a former inn. Behind the section on The Parade is a chapel, started in 1895.
"It's all the result of human folly," the proprietor told me.
I was sitting in the Parkgate Coffee Shop, looking out across the vast expanse of spartina grass covering the Dee estuary.
"Fishing boats used the quay here until the 1940's," she went on, "but the Liverpool dredgers dropped their loads just off the coast and it all washed back here."
My informant was a determined lady in her sixties with a shock of white hair and a green apron. I could tell from the tone of her voice that she would not forgive the Liverpool Docks and Harbour Company in a hurry.
Perhaps she was a little harsh. The Dee has been silting up for centuries. In the 18th century, Parkgate was a bustling port. As the terminal for the Irish packet boat, it saw Handel and Wesley as passengers. Now Parkgate is little more than a one sided village, stretching the half mile between the Boat House Restaurant and The Old Quay Inn. It has been abandoned by the sea and the railway. The trains were withdrawn in the 1960's and now the track is part of the Wirral Way footpath.
The sea front properties are Georgian, Regency or Victorian. Some are in mock Tudor half timbered style and others are painted white. There are no modern intrusions along the old quay. The windows stare blankly across the marsh towards the Welsh Coast, watching for the next tide. Along the Parade there are one or two cafés and restaurants, a newsagent, The Ship Inn, The Red Lion, and Nicholl's Famous Ice Cream Shop. Nicholl's has won 34 awards for its ice cream since 1934 and offers fourteen flavours.
Parkgate may have been famous once for its port or for its shrimps, but now it is celebrated for its ice cream. This is no mere children's delight; there is little in the area to attract young people. At Parkgate, ice cream is a serious adult business. Middle-aged and elderly couples park their cars along the Parade, take a bracing walk, then eat ice cream in their cars. One smart couple were licking their cornets in a Mercedes convertible. This routine continues at all seasons with Christmas Day afternoon one of the busiest of the year.
The teenage shop assistants were singularly ill-informed on Parkgate's history. By contrast, the coffee shop owner was very knowledgeable. She pointed to the four photographs on the wall.
"Those were taken when I was a girl. The tide came right up to the Parade every day and when it went out we had a beautiful sandy beach."
I peered at the fading sepia photographs and was struck by the height of the sea wall above the shore. Now the silt, stabilised by the unfortunate introduction of a hardy foreign marsh grass, has built up to within a few feet of the road level. Next to the photographs there was a sign reporting "All staff eager and enthusiastic. All pigs fed and ready to fly."
When I prompted the proprietor for a little local gossip on Admiral Nelson and Emma Hamilton she was happy to oblige and gave me a few brief facts before she retreated to the kitchen. Emma had been born in the nearby village of Ness; she was the daughter of the village blacksmith, Henry Lyon. It was as the wife of Lord Hamilton, the British Ambassador to the Court at Naples, that she had met Nelson. In later life, Emma returned to her native Wirral to be treated for a skin complaint by bathing in the sea. Parkgate was a popular resort at the beginning of the 19th century. She is believed to have stayed at Dover Cottage opposite The Old Quay Inn.
About a mile along the coast towards Chester, I stumbled upon The Harp Inn. It can be reached only down a rough track with pot holes that look as if they were created by cannon fire. The inn stands close to the long abandoned Denhall Quay, built of the local dark red sandstone. My first guess was that it had been a public house for sailors. However, it had been converted from a row of three cottages into an inn for the benefit of miners at the nearby Wirral Colliery. The barman pointed to a collier's pick and hammer hung from the beams among the obligatory set of horse brasses. A collection of miners' lamps hung above the counter, while over the fireplace I could see a row of pictures of the colliery. The mine had operated for 170 years. One photograph showed the last shift emerging from the pit head on its final day. The caption was "Arthur Jones, Dave Parry, and Cobbler Jim Jones, 1928."
Many towns have sought to commercialise their history or their favourite sons but Parkgate seems a little reticent about its past. There are no public houses named for Wesley, Handel, Nelson or Emma Hamilton. While Liverpool and Birkenhead make theme parks of their heritage, Parkgate waits patiently for the tide. One day, global warming will melt the ice caps and raise the sea level. Then the surf will break once more against the Parade. It will all be the result of human folly.
Researched and written on a weekend writing course at Burton Manor College, Wirral, in 1997.