Cheshire Observer – Saturday 16 September 1899
A NESTONIAN’S REMINISCENCES.
[By Mr George Gleave.]
Seventy or eighty years have elapsed since the building yard of Mr. Quay occupied a prominent space at the northern corner of Raby-lane, Neston. The boundary of this yard was in close proximity to that penal enclosure well-known as the Pinfold, as it was also in juxtaposition with the lodge pipe which mainly supplied the people of Neston with water. On the opposite side of this lane stood Londsdale’s School, an institution much valued by those of the people who could there send their sons — a school in active operation before the establishment of the old National free school, in what is now called High-street. The workmen of Quay’s yard consisted of joiners, cabinet makers, wheelwrights, and sawyers. These latter (well-known also as bell-ringers), besides working for Mr. Quay, itinerated the district. Sawing by steam power was not then in use, so that their labour was in much request.
Mr. Quay was a man of exceptional energy and enterprise. In addition to the above, he was a large tenant farmer. In his days there was no outcry with regard to a scarcity of agricultural labourers. Much land was in cultivation around Neston, and much corn was grown; therefore, in the harvest many reapers were required. And of these there was an abundant supply. To this, those who remember the now historic harvest Sundays and the hiring at the Cross could bear ample testimony. Mr. Quay was a large and beneficent employer of labour. Agricultural labourers were paid twelve shillings per week, the highest standard of wages then paid in Wirral. Considering the; high price or provisions, we may wonder how these men lived, some of them with large families. Yet they maintained a very creditable state of respectability. The flail, that monotonous implement of the past, that might be scanned with curiosity and a dissertation given upon it in a museum, was continually going throughout the winter months in the barns of Mr. Wm. Quay.
Among the numerous inventions of this century that have contributed to the convenience and advantage of civilised life, the now cheap and almost valueless match is not the least. To this those who remember the difficulties and perplexities of obtaining a light by the fitful experience of the byegone tinder-box will bear witness. We have a vivid recollection of patiently watching, long before daylight, in what is modernly called High-street, for the dim and lurid lanthorn from which to obtain a light of one of Mr. Quay’s workmen, as he sauntered in the “darkness visible” on his lonely way towards the stables. And if the attempt to avoid the tinder-box in that way proved a failure, our final and never-failing effort was made at a back door on the Cross, in the house of which lived an early riser, who was not infrequently found solitarily sitting in front of an exhilarating, blazing fire, the very personification of a happy man.
In conjunction with the offices named, Mr. Quay was moreover an auctioneer, and an estate agent. In this latter capacity he was largely; engaged on the Mostyn estate, which comprised nearly the whole of Neston and also of Parkgate. When the Hon. E. M. L. Mostyn, M.P., about the year 1840, came into possession of this estate, it was found to be in a deplorable state of repair. The quay wall at Parkgate was re-arranged from end to end. The new part, inclusive of the esplanade, from where stood the baths to the south end of the shore, was then built by Mr. John Norman, of Neston, and the stones were quarried on Mr. Quay’s field, in that delph which is now giving the sanitary authorities in Neston so much trouble, at the junction of Leighton and the Buggan-lane. The roadway (previously along the shore) from the old “watch house” at Parkgate to the Flint and Bagillt Boat-house, was then also made. The rent audit, a pleasant reminder of Wilkie’s Rent -day, at the Mostyn Arms, Parkgate, was a busy meeting place.
There is in the county a monument, not generally known, to the ability of Mr. Quay, and that is the County Asylum, of which he was the contractor. The building, unfortunately too well known, stands near Mollington, on the Liverpool-road, Chester. This asylum, which has been built seventy years, seems to have answered the needs of the county during the greater portion of that time. It has now, however, through the great increase in the population, or through other causes which are baffling the scientific skill of eminent men, had to be enlarged. We are told on the authority of Hemingway that Mr. William Quay began this building in the month of March, 1827, and completed it in September, 1829, and further, that he gave complete satisfaction with the work, which was executed in a very short period, considering the extent of the undertaking. This is a very pleasing reflection on an old Neston tradesman. We may therefore be assured that Quay’s yard, during the time of building that asylum was a place of great activity.
Directly after the completion of this building at Mollington, Mr. Quay was again engaged in building that beautifully-situated modern mansion well known as the Ashfield Hall, Neston. We are not sure whether he was the sole contractor for this work or not; certain, however, it is that he had in hand the whole of the woodwork. An old friend, and highly-respected resident in Neston and also an old schoolmate at the National School, has informed me that seventy years ago he went with an elder brother to take one of Mr. Quay’s men’s dinner during the building of the Ashfield Hall. The hall was built for Mr. Hayes Lyon, we believe a bachelor gentleman, and a county magistrate. He did not, however, long enjoy his new home, for he died about the year 1837, and was buried in a vault, which we saw, within the communion rails of the old Neston Parish Church. Incidental to the building of the Ashfield Hall there worked two men, one as, we think, a decorator, and the other carried the more humble hod of the labourer. The former became chief magistrate of a neighbouring maritime city, and further received the most distinguished favour of knighthood[Sir David Radcliffe], while the other, although not so fortunate, became a highly-respected citizen of Chester, a horse of whose we have seen successfully running over the Neston Racecourse on Windle Hill. Mr. William Quay was a man of sterling integrity. His respectability and high moral worth were of general repute. He stood high in the estimation of those among whom he lived. Every movement that had for its object the social and material well-being of those around him found in Mr. Quay a prominent supporter, and we are therefore pleased to remember him as a dignified and worthy Nestonian.