by J. B.
HELEN ELIZABETH BUSHELL (Aunt Liz) was born on January 22nd 1902, the second child of Thomas and Clara Bushell of Parkgate, Cheshire.
Shortly after her birth the family moved from Dee Cottages up to Dover Cottage at the top of the shore, opposite the old Customs House, where six more children would be born. Lizzie was the eldest of four daughters, and besides her older brother, Robert Reginald (born 1899,) there were three other brothers: Lizzie had to help look after them all, as well as going to the primary school next to the Church at Parkgate Square. Lizzie appears in the School photo of 1910-she was then eight years old and tall for her age.
The following year her mother sent her to Miss Macfall’s private school for girls on Moorside Lane, where for a fee, other subjects such as singing, sewing, and elocution were taught alongside the three Rs . Lizzie developed a love of reading which stayed with her for her whole life.
At age 13 Lizzie left her schooldays behind and was kept at home to help run the busy household. There always seemed to be a baby for her to mind, as well as washing and cooking for the others:- Reggie her older brother had already left school at 13 to work as a Post Office Telegram boy, rushing off on his Official Bike to outlying places like Willaston , Burton and Puddington, where there were several large houses which might receive telegrams. For a full week’s work his wage was around 2/6 -half a crown which is 12 1/2p these days, but it all went into the family pot. Later he went to work for Guiley Swift in his Butcher’s shop along the Parade , where he helped to bring the animals in for slaughter in the abbattoir behind the shop, and to haul up and cut the huge carcasses for the shop-in this way he learned all the different names for the cuts of meat and which were the best pieces for cooking.
After Reggie and Lizzie came Jim, Molly, Eva, Tom, Nancy and finally Fred, who all had to be looked after. Nancy, the last daughter (named Gertrude Ann after her mother’s sister back in Derbyshire) was born in 1919 when Lizzie was 17 years old, and in many ways they were more like mother and daughter than sisters : Lizzie practically brought up Nancy, and they were especially close throughout their lives.
Their mother Clara, a clever and hardworking woman who had worked as a Nanny in the household of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire at Chatsworth in Derbyshire, where many of her family were also employed on the Duchy Estate, had first visited Parkgate while holidaying with a friend who had left Chatsworth to become nursemaid to the Stanley family of Hooton Hall. While attending the Fishermens’ Chapel in the Square she became acquainted with the young, handsome fisherman Thomas Bushell, whose father Robert was Caretaker and verger, as had been his father James before him. So the courtship began. Clara eventually began working as Nanny for the Grenfell family of Mostyn House School, and the couple saved enough money to marry, and later to move into Dover Cottage on the corner of Station Road and the Parade.
Clara was a capable and industrious person. Besides seeing to meals and washing for a large family, including whichever small baby had made its appearance, she helped her husband Tom to run the family fishing business. He would go out in his two-man jigger boat, Hearts of Oak, with his father Robert or his great friend Spurner Smith on the tide, often in the early hours of the morning, under sail , as far down river as West Hoyle Bank, or Mostyn, or Prestatyn, looking for shrimps or fish at different seasons of the year. Clara was left to get the family up and dressed, breakfasted and off to school, while she and Lizzie would see to the shopping, cooking and washing for the family. Lizzie would regularly take a huge basketful of sheets and towels to the field up the road ( later to become the Cricket Field), where she would spread the washing out on the bramble bushes to dry.
On the mens’ return some hours later, Clara would set about washing and sorting the catch they’d brought. Shrimps had already been boiled as soon as they were caught, in a “Dutch Pot” -a small boiling pot on the deck of the boat, but still had to to be washed several times over. They were then put into clean white enamel buckets ready for shulling (shelling). Fish had to be washed clean too and boxed ready to take to market . Everything had to be kept spotlessly clean as fridges didn’t exist then, and fresh fish would quickly go off on hot summer days. Boxes of ice could be bought from the big Ice House near the Royal Court Theatre in Liverpool, but it was costly and a long way to travel before the coming of the motor car.
Shrimps in particular had to be shulled straight away. As the children returned from school, they would have a quick drink and some bread and butter, and would then sit down around the big kitchen table. A large pail of clean shrimps would be dumped in the middle of the table, and everyone would join in to pick shrimps. As each heap was worked through, another full bucket would appear and it went on until all were picked and either potted in butter with a pinch of mace, or put ready in white enamel pails ready to take out for sale the next day.
Clara hit upon the idea of trying the many new restaurants which had opened in Liverpool — a thriving centre of commerce in the early 20th century, with flourishing shipping , shipbuilding, and commercial concerns employing thousands of people. She visited the kitchens of such establishments, offering to provide them with fresh shrimps and fish, and soon got regular orders from the Adelphi and Reece’s Grill Rooms-both high class establishments. Eventually she would send packages of potted shrimps on the bus to Woodside Ferry where they would be taken over to Pier Head to be collected by delivery men on the Liverpool side. Regular cheques would be sent out to Dover Cottage in payment.
Other deliveries would be of fresh shell-fish such as mussels and cockles, sent in big sacks by train from Parkgate station, to places as far away as Bolton. The Gibberd family, who were fish merchants in the mill towns of Bolton and district, used to take their holidays at Parkgate and got to know the Bushells very well so naturally a business arrangement was set up whereby Gibberds were supplied by fresh Parkgate shellfish, all organised by Clara . On one occasion an unscrupulous local fisherman changed the labels on the sacks awaiting the train out, and his mussels were sent to Bolton to be sold, instead of Bushell’s. But, they were of inferior quality and some had already deteriorated by the time they reached their destination, so Gibberds refused to accept them, sending them back with a note saying that they knew these couldn’t have come from Bushells, as they were known for always sending catches of the highest quality. A slight altercation followed the return of the sacks, as Tom made sure that those concerned realised their error. It never happened again.
Also they tried to sell as much as possible locally, in Mr Mealor’s fish shop at Neston, or to the many big houses around the district. Later, Clara got herself a small pony and trap and began taking fresh shrimps and fish into Chester, where she and Tom had got to know the Manager of the Mac Fisheries Shop at the Cross—Mac Fisheries were part of the Leverhulme Empire, started by Lever to sell the fish from fishing grounds in the Hebrides where he was trying to encourage small fishing enterprises to band together in a more industrialised way by providing a chain of shops throughout Britain to sell their catches.
Lizzie remembered having to go out very early in the morning with a handful of sweet apples, to the field behind the Chester Arms (the hotel across the road) to entice the pony Patch, who would run all round the field rather than be caught and put in harness. At last all would be ready and Clara would set off for Chester, with a load of shrimps, picked or potted in butter, and fish, to sell to Mac Fisheries. Some time later she would return, the trap loaded up with butter, cheese and eggs from the market. At Christmas, Lizzie might go in the trap with her mother, well wrapped in blankets, and would return with a toffee apple or a sweeting to eat on the way home, together with lots of dainty foods for Christmas.
Although Lizzie had a busy life, cooking and washing for her family, her mother encouraged all the children to get out and about and to enjoy themselves. They spent hours playing cricket on the acres of clean golden sands just across the road from their house, swimming or paddling in the tide, or going for trips with Tom in the punt or in the Hearts of Oak when there was no fishing.
Among fishing families, Sunday was kept as a special day, with no fishing taking place, so that both men and boats would be at rest. Grandfather Robert would go down to the small church early, to light the boiler to make the building slightly warmer for the congregation, and often Lizzie would accompany him, staying for the service too. Lots of activities centred around the church– Lizzie joined the Sunday School, and the Girls Friendly Society which was run by the Church, (Clara was secretary of the Mothers’ Union at Neston Parish Church), and later sang with the Neston Operatic Society, having a fine soprano voice. She and her friends helped to put on concerts in the “Iron Room” in the School yard at Parkgate, and she was part of a group of Parkgate Entertainers organised by Mr Ithiel LLoyd who came to live in the house next to Miss Acton’s on the Parade.(now the Ice Cream Shop). Lizzie learned to play tennis and at weekends in summer a group of teenagers would regularly cycle to Heswall or Frankby for tennis Tournaments. They walked for miles in North Wales, catching a bus from Chester into Loggerheads or Mold on summer Saturdays. As she grew older her mother allowed her to go with a party from the Parish Church each summer to the Keswick Convention, an annual Christian Gathering with lots of hymn singing, picnics, and hill-walking among the fells, which she loved.
Lizzie was also in great demand as a baby minder, and was often to be seen pushing perambulators or walking toddlers along the sands. When summer visitors came to stay and enjoy the golden sands of Parkgate, Lizzie would often look after the children of wealthy families, helping them to paddle in the tide or to build sandcastles. One such family was that of Sir William Forwood, a prominent Liverpool citizen who was one of the men behind the building of the new Anglican Cathedral in Liverpool . He and his wife thought such a lot of Lizzie and her experience in looking after their children that they tried to persuade her to travel to America with them, as a proper Nanny for the family. She was probably in her late teens then, but she chose to stay with her family in Parkgate, not wishing to travel far from home.
Her younger brother Fred was a talented fiddle player, later forming a dance band known as The Soprendos, with Rip Peers on Piano and Humphrey Leadbetter on trumpet. They were in regular demand for local dances around the Wirral villages on Saturday nights, and she always had to make sure he had his clean white jacket ready for performances.
Dover Cottage was always lively, with people calling to visit her parents or to collect one of the boys to go swimming or cycling or shooting on the marsh, fetching back food for the pot . Lizzie seems to have lived a busy, happy life looking after the family , content with holiday trips to her mother’s relations in and around Derbyshire and her annual visits to Keswick with her sisters. ” Happy days!” as she was fond of saying many years later .