The severe winds and gales we have experienced recently are nothing new to Neston and Parkgate and even a superficial search in the local newspapers of the last two hundred years will discover numerous articles describing such events. Many of them, predictably, record damage to houses and property and inevitably some injuries but it was most often Parkgate and its fishing community which was worst affected.
Dramatic Scenes at Parkgate
There are a number of colourful descriptions of Parkgate front when besieged by gale force winds especially when accompanied by an incoming tide. In 1894 (Cheshire Observer – Saturday 17 February 1894)
‘The wind blew a perfect hurricane in the afternoon, and the tide rushed in with fearful violence, the waves being lashed into foam long before they reached the shore, and breaking at last on the quays with great force. During the worst gusts the waves were lifted by the wind and carried over the house tops, falling fully half-a- mile inland in the form of rain.’
Similarly in 1897 when the storm coincided with a high tide (Cheshire Observer – Saturday 27 February 1897)
‘The tide happened to be a very high one, and the tremendous gale which came with it carried it far over the quay and into many of the houses, the spray rising over the roofs.’
The writer of the article in March 1907 provided this dramatic account of the scene.( Cheshire Observer 23rd March 1907)
‘The scene at Parkgate in the evening, as the gale and the high tide rode together, was one of awful grandeur. The estuary was like huge boiling cauldron, and as the tide neared its full height the giant waves sprang high over the quay in rapid motion, falling with mighty crashes on the Parade, and sending the spray high over the houses and beating like charges of small shot on the windows. Finally the quays and the parapets disappeared entirely, and the tide rolled on to the dwellings as if bent on wiping out the entire hamlet. In the case of many of the more exposed buildings, the tide made its way through the front- doors, and, setting at nought the busy brooms of the inmates, made its way through the back.’
Then as now, chimneys and rooves seemed to be particularly susceptible to damage.
In December 1808 (Chester Courant – Tuesday 10 December 1822)
‘The chimney belonging to the house occupied by Mr. and Mrs. Bowen, at Parkgate, was blown down upon the roof, which broke through into the room, where Mr. and Mrs. B. were in bed’
The mills at Neston sustained some damage in the same storm
‘Neston Mills have received great injury, the top of one of them is quite off, with all of the works in the upper story .—The top of the other Mill was greatly shaken, had it not been for one of the sails which caught the ground, the whole of the mill would have been down’.
And the chimneys in Neston fared no better
‘The chimney belonging to a house in Neston, was blown down upon the roof, which broke through in the room where a poor woman was sleeping; she being alone (excepting her cat), immediately run into the pantry with her mewing companion, where she prayed the whole of the night’.
On the same night one unfortunate man had to crawl home on his hands and knees from the Golden Lion!
In February 1894 damage to property in Neston exceeded anything previously experienced (Cheshire Observer – Saturday 17 February 1894)
‘…Gladstone-road, a new street erected only a few years ago, suffered considerably. About four p.m. seven of the backyard walls collapsed at once, and a boy named James Carruthers, son of Mr. B. Carruthers, of Hinderton-road, who happened to be passing, was flung into the adjoining ditch…’
The wall of the old Vicarage was badly damaged
‘…In the neighbouring thoroughfare of Brook- street (locally known as ‘Snig-lane’) was a garden wall, belonging to the old Vicarage, some 20 yards long and nine or ten feet high, built of brick, and of great thickness. This has overhung the road for some time, menacing the safety of the passers-by ; and about eight p.m. the entire length fell with a tremendous crash, narrowly missing a gentleman who was passing…’
The chimney stacks of Miss Webbe’s house on the High Street and Ashfield House, home of Mr McLean Graham, also suffered.
Five years later, in January 1899, Gladstone Road suffered once again when the end house occupied by Mr Thomas Johnson had part of the roof blown off and the chimney stacks dislodged. In Pyke’s Weint a wall about twelve feet long and twelve feet high fell down covering everywhere with debris. At Parkgate a ‘well known gentleman’ who ‘was making his way along the Cheltenham-walk, or Rope- walk as it is popularly called,’ had his spectacles blown off. (Cheshire Observer – Saturday 07 January 1899)
The effects were most severely felt by local fishermen at Parkgate but the accounts also reveal that they were a community prepared to help each other and that they able to find humour even in difficult circumstances.
In the early years of the eighteenth century there was regular shipping between Parkgate and Dublin. In 1808 the sloop King George was forced onto a bank opposite Parkgate when its cables broke during a storm when it was anchored at Beer House Hole. When it filled with water the five people on board climbed the rigging to escape drowning and were brought safely to shore by sailors at Parkgate. They also went to the rescue of the sloop Ardent which was forced onto a bank opposite Flint whereas no help was provided from the port Flint where there was revenue ship. They saved some of the people on board but two boys lost their lives. (Chester Chronicle, 14th October, 1808)
In 1829 (Chester Chronicle, 10th July, 1829) a local resident, who signed himself Nauticus, wrote to the editor of the Chester Chronicle describing the calamity that befell one local seaman, Lemuel Evans, when his boat was destroyed in a sudden storm in July. The purpose of his letter was encourage a financial contribution from local residents. He is careful to call ‘liberality’ rather than charity pointing out
‘All the seafaring men belonging to Parkgate have been at one time or other in the service of the navy, and fought and bled in defending the liberties of their country. Such men are not disposed to throw themselves lightly on the charity of the public, however they may be willing to share its liberality. ‘
Some years later, in 1833, a number of Parkgate fisherman suffered loss or damage to their boats and donations were requested to provide assistance as it meant that the men were deprived of the means to support themselves and their families during the ensuing winter. The article lists the names of the fishermen, the extent of the damage and the names of those who, by the following day, had already given money. John Bedson and John Mathews both lost their boats completely. George Peers, Robert Bithell, Samuel [Lemuel?] Evans, George and William Brierly and William Cathrell all had boats severely damaged. Amongst those donating were Joseph Hayes Lyon, Charles Monk, the Reverend Husband and his wife, Mrs Bond and Mrs Hutchinson. Mrs Bond and Mrs Hutchinson were members of the Neston Female Friendly Society when it was founded in 1814.
In a severe gale the trawlers and punts moored at Parkgate were liable to be damaged by being buffeted against each other by the high winds and tides or by being dashed against the wall. In some instances the waves lifted them over the wall, into the road or tore them loose so that they were carried away.
When, in the early hours of a Monday morning in October 1889 it seemed as though some of the boats were ‘doomed’ and damage inevitable the fisherman and other members of the community worked together to do what they could to save them even though conditions were very dangerous. (Cheshire Observer – Saturday 12 October 1889)
‘…an exciting scene was being enacted at the Square opposite the Hall. William Mealor ‘s punt bore down upon the wall at this point, and the band of workers succeeded in throwing a boathook with a rope attached into it. By this time the tide was rolling up the Square, and a glimpse of the parapet of the quay wall could only be gained at intervals; yet the united strength of the whole party could not draw the boat on shore. The waves were rolling over the lamp-post and amid the screams of the women, who fully expected some of the party to be washed into the river, the rope was made fast about the boat. A favourable opportunity shortly afterwards arose, and the boat was dragged in triumph up the Square…’
Even in such circumstances there was some humour to be found.
‘Another boat (Joseph Taylor’s) that was anchored off the Convalescent Home broke loose, and, passing the Square, stopped opposite the master’s door, and made desperate efforts to leap the wall. This freak was so noticeable, that one of the fisherwomen, taking in the humour of the situation, bawled out ‘ Why don’t the open the front door and let her in the parlour ?’
On this occasion the total damage amounted to about £200 and only some of the men would receive assistance from the ‘boat club’ as the Shipwrecked Mariners’ Society was known locally.
Those who affected were
‘Thomas Jones trawling boat; Thomas Robinson, trawling boat and punt; John Bedson, trawling boat; William Handley, trawling boat; C. Cunningham, two punts (one rigged as a trawler). The following lost punts only :— Herbert (senior and junior), Benjamin Higgins, Wm. Campion, William Jones, Christopher Jones, Michael Murray, jun., Samuel [Lemuel?] Mellor, senr., Harry Peters, Wm. Peters, Edward Brown, and George Fewtrell.’
In 1894 many of the boats were embedded in sand as the sandbanks were lifted by the waves. Again the fishermen did what they could to help each other.( Cheshire Observer – Saturday 17 February 1894)
‘The fishermen assembled in a body, endeavouring to save their property ; and, after the tide ebbed, the strange spectacle was seen of numbers of fishermen digging with spades to disentomb their boats before the next tide should again submerge them. Many of them worked until midnight, the most generous and ready help being forthcoming from those whose boats had escaped, but in some instances the sand ran in as fast as it was dug out, and on Monday night several of the vessels were still deeply embedded.’
The writer goes on to give a moving description of the desperation and despair felt by the fishermen.
‘The despairing aspect and gestures of some of the fishermen as they realised that their boat were injured beyond the possibility of repair was touching in the extreme, and in some instances middle-aged men who had large families burst into tears, the scene in one instance being heart- rending. Most of the heaviest sufferers are steady, industrious fishermen with large families, with nothing now before them but destitution.’
Some of the men affected were Tom Robinson, Dan Roscoe, Bill Higgins, Jack Campion and John Lewis. The writer suggests that any efforts at fundraising, perhaps by providing some evening entertainment at the Town Hall, would be well supported in the circumstances.
Similar scenes were regularly repeated in the years that followed (1897, 1899, 1903, 1905 and 1907) and reported in the local papers with often the same names recurring amongst the list of those suffering loss or damage to boats.
In January 1903 a trawler belonging to William Jones of Sunset House, in Parkgate, Secretary of the Shipwrecked Mariners’ Association, was badly damaged. In December 1905 (Cheshire Observer 2nd December 1905) a storm on the Sunday night caused the following damage:-
‘John Mealor (Parkgate), punt gone to pieces, salmon boat damaged; George Mellor (Neston), punt destroyed; Joseph Mellor, punt destroyed; George Fewtrell, junr. (Parkgate), salmon boat damaged; Lemuel Mellor (Parkgate), punt badly damaged; James Campion (Parkgate), trawling boat badly damaged; John Peters (Parkgate), punt damaged; James Ouldred (Neston), two boats sunk and damaged; James Smith (Parkgate), punt damaged; Saml. Evans (Little Neston), punt damaged; William Higgins (Parkgate), punt damaged; James Robinson and John Robinson, punts damaged; R. Bushell, boat damaged; R. Evans (Heswall), punt lost; Saml, Evans (Heswall), punt lost; William Jones (Sunset House), trawling boat damaged; Harold Gill (Neston), shooting canoe destroyed.’
The consequences could be even worse if a sudden storm occurred when boat was out on the water. Jonathan Mellor in 1892 and Thomas Matthews in 1903 were amongst those who were fortunate enough to survive the experience.
In July 1892 (Cheshire Observer – Saturday 23 July 1892) Jonathan Mellor was knocked overboard during a sudden storm and was rescued eventually by his young son. He obviously enjoyed telling a story as the report uses his own words to describe his narrow escape.
‘After getting the net in all right, in the heaviest of the gale I was standing by, waiting to see if it would go any better, but a heavy sea coming over us all roads, I went forard on the forcastle to back the jib over so as to let the boat come round, and the jib sheet struck me and threw me overboard. This was in the heaviest of the wind and rain, and I remained in the water as near as I could guess half an hour before my son could give me any assistance. When I could see him I told him to get the bight off the trawl rope to throw over me, and he threw it several times and missed me, but the last time I repeated the Lord’s words two or three times, and he threw it over my head and I caught it. I struggled hard, and at last got it over my body, and then my son hauled me to the side and fastened me. I told him what to do to get me aboard. I told him to get the jib halliards down to hook any part of my clothes, but there was nowhere only the oilcoat buttonholes. My son hoisted me till I told him to stop, and then he got hold of my legs and rolled me in the boat. I had no help in me, but I had my good senses, and it made me worse to see my son in such a way when I was in the water. I thank God ! I am very sore with knocking against the boat, and I remained in my wet clothes from ten o’clock till six at night, when I returned home — and thank God to see home ?’
Although he escaped with his life, Thomas Mathews lost his trawler when, in September 1903, (Chester Courant 2nd September 1903) accompanied by Joseph Smith, he was trawling near Rhyl when they were caught in a gale. Despite their best efforts to stay on board hey were forced to abandon the trawler and escape to shore in the punt they were towing, this despite the fact that Mathews was a ‘thoroughly experienced fisherman’.
It is perhaps unsurprising that the report of the storm in December 1905 (Cheshire Observer 2nd December 1905) notes that, given the hardship experienced in the previous years, many are leaving the industry for other employment.
For full text of the articles quoted and others on the subject click below