Monday, January 22, 2007

"Mistress Of All She Surveys..."

I recently concluded that some women regularly re-invent themselves. They re-invent their image, outlook, beliefs, interests and allegiances. Some women re-invent themselves in A Big Way; others are happy with lesser re-inventions. We all know women of this ilk; I do . And I admire them. It's healthy, it's spirited and we do it ourselves.

But on to other things. Sunday was bright skyed, icy. We decided to walk near Parkgate on the Wirral peninsula.
By lunchtime, we'd walked the length of the old seafront, along the marshes, across fields, finally joining part of the Wirral Way on our return for home.
Parkgate's story has long intrigued me. Often since childhood, I've stared at her Promenade houses, wondered who lived there long ago. I've gazed across her marshes to Wales, imagined boats setting sail for Ireland in other centuries, when the water lapped her seawall and sailors gathered at her quay.
And I've remembered my parent's tales of bathing off the seawall, of sands which glistened where marsh lies now. And somewhere, in a tiny corner of my memory, I recall being carried as a baby, onto the last tiny strip of sand before the marsh won its victory, before the water came up no more. ( See the marsh stretching below the seawall to the left of my photo)
And yes, I've enjoyed Parkgate's present ( particularly her icecream ). And I've enjoyed those countless echoes of her past. This past included Lady Emma Hamilton, mistress of Lord Nelson, born in nearby Ness. It also included Sir Wilfred Grenfell, writer and medical missionary, born in 1865 and the son of Rev Grenfell, who established Parkgate's well known Mostyn House School.
Once Parkgate was a hectic seaport; it's hard to imagine her as main embarkation point for Ireland. Elegant and influential people sailed from her quay; these included the composer, Handel, and also John Wesley, the Methodist founder. And until the beginning of the nineteenth century, Parkgate prospered. In 1811 however, her last boat landed its last passengers. This was for several reasons: Holyhead on Anglesey had taken much of Parkgate's trade and travel through North Wales had improved markedly. Also the Dee had silted up; its shallow waters made navigation a serious problem.
But in this other time, other age, Parkgate re-invented herself. In the early nineteenth century, she painted on a glamorous new face; this appealed to many. There were sands to parade on, to sunbathe on; the water, although shallow, was still accessible for bathing. And there was a long promenade where people could stroll, inns for eating and drinking. Parkgate was a fashionable place and again she flourished...
Then the railways came. People now had other places to go. The visitors declined; Parkgate was left to locals who enjoyed the fresh air, the Welsh Hills across the estuary. But Parkgate changed her tune again.
In the 1930's, open air swimming baths were built at the end of the promenade; they were a stunning success. " The Cheshire Set" ( whoever "they" be ) swam there and posed there. So did young Wirralians, rich young Liverpudlans and people from rapidly developing Ellesmere Port.
But now the stylish folk and the baths are long gone. Their attraction declined eventually; for years, they stood derelict behind the Boathouse Inn. As a teenager, I peered through the fences and saw a rotting divingboard, saw the huge empty pool littered with rubbish.... and thought I heard voices of bathers who left long ago.
BUT on Sunday, we parked our car where the baths once stood. On our return , more walkers were arriving; families with labradors and well-wrapped up grannies, wiry young couples wrapped up in themselves.
NOW Parkgate is a walkers delight; like a feisty woman, she's re-invented herself yet again...


Blogger chiefbiscuit said...

I loved reading this Jan. It was all stuff I knew nothing about. Never heard of Parkgate - wouldn't know it from a bar of soap as they say. I found it fascinating to learn about this town that has re-invented itself many times. I love the way this piece was introduced in a seemingly un-connected way (until I read on and it slowly came into focus.) Clever writing. So well written. Thank you.

8:43 pm  
Blogger Carole said...

Thanks for visiting my site. I grew up in Cheshire and the Wirral peninsular is somewhere I know. I enjoyed reading this.

9:07 pm  
Blogger Catherine said...

Thanks for visiting me! I'm a keen genealogist and I have distant relatives who lived in this area in the late 1800s. Maybe I will get there later this year when we visit the UK - but of course there is so much to see and do, I'm sure we will never fit it all in

9:39 am  
Blogger Jan said...

Chief B: Glad you enjoyed this. Hope you clicked on my snap because once enlarged, you can clearly see the extent of the marshes.

Carole: I grew up here too, then left for a while, eventually returning to my roots. Chester is a place which DOES reinvent itself; new stuff emerges for new involvement. Thanks for visiting!

Catherine: I live on the edge of Chester so like you, have had family here. I have just today read of a site that may interest you: it's called and it was set up by University College, London. Have a look.

4:26 pm  
Blogger dinzie said...

I often visited Parkgate. There used to be a fish and chip shop there that was the best in the area :O) Does it still get so crowded at the weekends though ?

Have you walked the wirral way ... That follows the line where the rail used to be A nice walk especially in the autumn :O)..

I now live in New zealand so this has brought back happy memories :O)

5:59 pm  
Blogger Jan said...

Dinzie: Yes the Chippy still there. Excellent. And Wirral Way a good walk. Hope you enjoyed the memory.

5:58 pm  

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