This summary regarding Parkgate is very useful. There are a few facts to be added. The Grenfell family that lived at Mostyn House School in the 1860's and 1870's included a son, Sir Wilfred Thomason Grenfell (1865-1940). His father owned and operated the school at that time. Wilfred Grenfell became a medical doctor and relocated to Newfoundland and Labrador in 1892. There he served as a doctor and later established the Grenfell Mission, dedicated to serving the medical and social needs of the poor fisherman and aboriginals who lived in remote communities on the northern coasts of that region, now part of Canada. His work has been carried on through the International Grenfell Association, a non-governmental charitable organization. Sadly, however, the Mostyn House School run by the Grenfell family shut down on July 7, 2010 after 156 years of operation. A delightful account of Wilfred Grenfell's youth in Parkgate can be found in his autobiography, entitled "A Labrador Doctor", first published in 1919. Opposite page 2 of that book is a photo taken from Mostyn House and showing The Parade at a time when seawater did run directly up to its seawall.
Parkgate (-cum-Neston as it is historically known) takes my breath away. As you stroll along the ½ mile-long ?promenade?, you imagine yourself to be in the quaintest of seaside towns. The houses and business premises are all whitewashed and black-beamed, and many are intricate in design with interesting architectural details such as balconies and bay windows designed to make the most of the sea-view. Ice-cream parlours abound, as do fresh seafood shops, with lobster, crab, prawns and all manner of delicacies available. So what makes Parkgate different to any other seaside village? Well, there?s no sea. Yes, you heard me?.there?s no sea! Rumour has it, the elderly residents complained about the noise of the tide, so it stopped coming in! But no, the truth is, Parkgate used to be both a busy port and bathing resort, but due to the nature of the tides in the Dee estuary (see below), the sea now only comes up to the sea-wall at Parkgate a handful of times a year. These days (High Tide days) are well celebrated in the area, with an already well-visited tourist spot becoming mobbed by the curious, the birdwatchers and the ice-cream lovers. Back in the 1500?s, access to the Port of Chester, by sea, had become virtually impassable, due to the vagaries of the Dee tides causing a massive build up of silt. A number of Chester merchants bandied together and petitioned the Kings Council to allow for the siting of a new quay at what is now Parkgate. Throughout the 1600s the Quay became increasingly important as a cargo drop-off point for Chester and the surrounding areas. In the 1700?s Parkgate was a renowned terminal for packet ships carrying passengers to and from Dublin. Travellers would have to wait for a favourable wind, and so small businesses built up along the front, to accommodate their wining and dining needs. Also in this century, the turnpike road connecting Chester to the Neston and Parkgate area was opened, along with a further road connecting Neston to the villages of Birkenhead and Tranmere, and the Mersey Ferries. Around this time, as sea bathing became a fashionable pastime, Parkgate took on the mantle of a holiday resort ? one of the best-known bathing places in the country at that time. Notable visitors to the area include one Mrs Hart, who later achieved notoriety as Nelson?s mistress, Lady Hamilton. She had been born locally, in Ness (home of the famous Ness Gardens ? the Kew Gardens of the North West of England). Evidently Mrs Hart returned to the area from London at the age of 21 in order bathe in the sea at Parkgate to ease a skin complaint. The artist J M Turner also visited, and it is rumoured that some of his sunset pictures were painted here, but sadly no proof exists. The boom period for Parkgate as a resort and quay came to a fairly abrupt end in the early 19th century, when the continuous silting of the estuary made access too difficult for the ferries, which diverted their trade to Liverpool. The end was hastened by the creation in the 1730s of a canalised section of the Dee around Chester, to allow barge access to the city. This scheme was great for the barges, but sadly also had the effect of diverting the course of the river to the Welsh side of the estuary, away from the Wirral. When you look out ?to sea? from the Parade at Parkgate now, you generally see marshland. Miles of grass instead of sea and sand. When the tide does come up, it usually creeps slowly up to the sea-wall, and you can still see the tops of the grass waving in the wind above the water. However, about twice a year, when weather conditions are favourable (i.e. stormy!) the water has been known to lap over the wall, causing much excitement. On even rarer occasions, the waves have crashed over the wall, across the road and up to the doorsteps of the pubs and ice-cream parlours. Most local business es proudly display black and white photos of such events. The se pictures evoke a strong sense of nostalgia, a longing for how things must have been when the area was a booming seaport and resort. I read in a book recently (author Jeffrey Pearson) that a Mrs Delaney of Dublin wrote a letter in 1754 in which she described Parkgate as ?a most agreeable spot: such a constant moving picture of ships, sea plants on the beach, seaweed and beautiful shells.? It?s hard to believe that, now, when all you see is marsh, but if you close your eyes, you can imagine it?. So, what of the Parkgate that exists now? Well, as I said at the outset, it is remarkable for it?s beautiful buildings and features. There are many of note, but I will select just a few to whet your appetite for a visit. The most imposing building is the Mostyn House School, a private school owned by generations of the Grenfell family (yes, as in Joyce). Originally the site of the George Inn, whose landlord advertised in 1779 that his new bathing machine was fitted with a ?modesty hood,? in which ?ladies may bathe with the utmost ease and secrecy.? The building went through various incarnations of the hostelry variety before, in 1855; it became a school, under the auspices of one Edward Price, who transferred ownership to the Grenfells (close family of his) in 1862. The name Mostyn House was a nod to the family of the same name who at one time owned the entire village. In 1821, the last baronet, Sir Thomas Mostyn, reduced the rents of all his tenants by 25%, as he ?considered them all of one family, and if they suffered, he suffered too.? (Courtesy of Geoffrey Place, local historian). At the Neston end of the Parade, by the Old Quay pub (decent food, children?s play area, and great views at High Tide!), is a house called Nelson Cottage. Home, in the early 19th century, to Albin Burt, a Chester artist, whose 9 yr old son (also called Nelson) drowned after falling overboard from a paddle steamer between Liverpool and Chester, dur ing a storm. The grieving Mr Burt set his son?s name in black pebbles in the earth outside the cottage. This has since been preserved in cement, and can still be seen today. The sea wall itself was constructed (around 1810) mainly as a promenade for fashionable folk to stroll up and down between bathing, to show off their fancy clothes and pass the time of day with one another (you can just picture them, can?t you!). One section of this promenade is wider than the rest, and is known as the Donkey Stand. In the 19th Century, children could ride donkeys from this spot, but originally it was the site of the only building ever to have stood on that side of the road. It housed seawater baths, at one time, and was also the first Assembly House. Now, in 2001, this is where my daughters and I sit and enjoy our ice-cream cones, purchased from Nicholls of Parkgate ?famous home-made ice-cream? shop. The Red Lion pub is the oldest surviving public house in Parkgate. It?s a very traditional, low-beamed-ceiling pub, with nooks and crannies to sit in, and even a parrot (yes, a live one) that sits in the window during the day and squawks at passers-by (shades of ?pieces of eight!). Balcony House, dating from the late 18th century is recorded as having been the Billiard Room (gentlemen only) and latterly the Assembly Room (ladies were allowed entrance). There?s an amusing story about one Mr George Harrison (good old local name, that!), a lively character who was master of said Billiard Room, apparently in 1801 he was reported to have ?married Widow Grimes, head bathing woman to the ladies who frequent the place. He was a married man, a widower and a bridegroom within three weeks? (good on ?im, I say!). As I?ve said, there are many lovely featu res to Parkgate, and the best way to appreciate them is to take a long, leisurely stroll along the Parade. Stop off for fresh prawns or cockles at one of the seafood shops on your way; maybe call in at the Marsh Cat for lunch (a renowned restaurant in the North-West, featured in many best restaurant guides), or Mr Chow?s. This is a fantastic Chinese restaurant that is housed in another olde-worlde building, and they host a brilliant Chinese New Year banquet every year, with dancing dragons and fireworks (kids welcome!). Once you?ve enjoyed the fresh sea-air (yes, it does smell salty, even at low-low tide), you can stroll back towards your car, stopping off for one of those famous ice-creams and a quick rest at the Donkey Stand, before falling gratefully back into your car for your homeward trip. For me, one of the loveliest aspects of Parkgate is the view, across the estuary, of the mountains of North Wales. Having been born in Wales, but lived in England (almost grudgingly!) for most of my 38 years, it is a sheer joy to wake up in the mornings and look out of my window up the hill in Neston and see Wales. To drive down to Parkgate and see the full vista (albeit slightly marred by the Shotton steelworks and other industrial "landmarks" to the far left of my view), is wonderful. From the day we first moved here, my eldest daughter started to shout "Wales!" every time she saw it. Now my 2 yr old joins in gustily with "Wa-wooo" - that'll do for me! I feel like waving a daffodil, I really do....LOL. I consider myself very lucky, as we moved up to Neston a few months ago and my daughter?s school is situated just behind Parkgate. Every morning and every afternoon, we go to the virtual-seaside?.spooky, but very beautiful. How to find it: Parkgate is about ½ a mile from Neston, which in turn is 7 miles from Chester on the A540 going towards Hoylake on The Wirral. Nearest motorways a re the M53 and M56. If you?re ever in the area, take a look. I guarantee you won?t be disappointed.