here. It was this family that introduced the black & white style of building to the area about 1900. The most famous member of this family was Sir Wilfred Grenfell (1865-1940), the medical missionary and explorer later known simply as ‘Grenfell of Labrador’, who did much to help the coastal communities of northern Canada. The conditions that contributed to the success of Parkgate as a resort – the healthy, fresh sea air – plus the availability of suitable premises, led to the establishment of a number of small private boarding schools operating here from the early 19th century; in fact, Parkgate became renowned for its boarding schools for young gentle-persons from as early as 1804. These schools were often promoted in advertisements extolling the healthy pursuit of sea bathing (Place 1996, p 109). At various times there were known to be such schools operating at Brockleigh (girls), School Lane, transferred from Moorside Lane, Mostyn Cottage (boys), School Lane, Richville (later known as the Parkgate Hotel) (girls), Boathouse Lane, Seaward House (boys), and The Warren (boys), both on The Parade – in addition to Mostyn House itself.
For local children an infant school for 60 pupils was opened in 1860, long before education was compulsory, in School Lane adjacent to St Thomas’ Church; this building was mainly funded by Christopher Bushell of Hinderton Hall, Neston, a Liverpool wine merchant, who was a considerable benefactor in the Neston area. There was no senior department in this school, and older pupils went on to an elementary school in Neston.
The former infant school survived, latterly as a primary school, until 1968, when it was replaced by a new primary school in Brooklands Road; the old school building was later converted into a private home and still survives as such.
14. THE BUILT HERITAGE
There are currently over 30 properties within the Parkgate conservation area listed by Historic England as buildings of national importance or of special interest, grade II or above, almost half of all those to be found in the greater Neston area. Buildings of note on The Parade include: ‘The Old Watch House’ by the Middle Slip, for a time used as a lodging by customs men; St Thomas’ Church in Mostyn Square, formerly a non-conformist chapel, known as ‘the fishermen’s chapel’; the ‘Seven Steps’, where ancient wall paintings have been uncovered and can now be viewed by arrangement; and ‘Balcony House’, with the adjacent Assembly Room, where public gatherings once took place and billiards was played. The former Mostyn House School chapel is particularly noteworthy for both its design and its stained glass and as such is listed as grade II*.
Not far from the Red Lion, opposite Alma Cottage, a small section of the sea wall projects into the estuary. This area is known as the ‘Donkey Stand’. From 1871, when public holidays were first introduced, donkeys were tethered here in typical seaside tradition, offering rides to children as far as the South Slip – for them it was a change from their normal daily task of hauling carts of fish from the boats to the station. Before that a small customs house once stood on the shore at this spot, the only building actually built on the shore; this building later became Parkgate’s first Assembly Room, and it was next converted to become hot and cold sea-water baths, before its final demolition in 1840. This area has recently been re-furbished to create a more congenial space where visitors can relax with their ice-creams and admire the view, or study the plentiful birdlife to be seen amongst the marshes.
This railway line was an early casualty of post-war road competition and closed to passenger traffic in 1956. Following demolition of the railway structures from 1962, after the cessation of freight services, the track-bed was transformed by Cheshire County Council into Britain’s first country park, opened in 1973. As the Wirral Way, it today provides a recreational route for walkers, cyclists and horse riders for the 12 miles between Hooton and West Kirby.
15. THE RAILWAY
The railway first came to Parkgate in 1866, when a branch of the Birkenhead Railway (Chester to Birkenhead) was opened from Hooton to a terminus situated on the south side of Station Road (where the Ropewalk car park now is). This line provided passenger connections to Liverpool and Chester. It was also used as an outlet for local products, particularly the coal mined at Neston colliery, which opened soon afterwards and was served by a local branch from the Parkgate end. Twenty years later, in 1886, the line was extended along the coast to West Kirby, and a new through-station was built at Parkgate on the new alignment on the north side of Station Road.
In the years before the Great War, Parkgate was host to various regiments of territorial soldiers who visited each year for their annual summer camp. To the right we see a crowd of local folk who have turned out to watch the arrival of these part-time volunteers as they march from the station to set up their camp in Parks Field.
16. 20th CENTURY
The observant visitor to Parkgate will notice that several premises along The Parade appear to have no connection with Georgian or Victorian times. Of course, no community stands still, and in the 20th century some of the older premises were considered to be insanitary and were replaced with more modern buildings. An early example was the erection of a block of late-Victorian cottage houses on the corner of Mostyn Square following the demolition of the older premises. Amongst other demolitions of the post-war period was the former Parkgate Convalescent Home where Deeside Court now stands. During the First World War this building had been requisitioned by the Red Cross as a military hospital, admitting as its first patients twelve Belgian soldiers in October 1914. It was kept busy in this military role until February 1919. In 1935 William Nicholls opened his ice cream parlour in a striking new art deco building, which replaced the former Dee House. A number of buildings on the south side of Station Road, including the former Customs House and the Chester Hotel, were demolished in 1962 to provide the site for the Old Quay public house, completely transforming the appearance of this part of the village.
It was decided to create the Parkgate Conservation Area in the early 1970s in order to preserve Parkgate’s unique character. The effect of the Conservation Area has been to enable properties to be modernised, whilst ensuring that their individual quality is retained. Further unsympathetic development has, in general, been successfully curbed, so encouraging the many visitors who support local businesses.
A number of significant properties have successfully undergone substantial renovations in recent years: Sawyer’s Cottage, Prospect House, Parkgate House, Hamilton House and Broad Beams. The most significant of these refurbishments was that of Mostyn House in 2013/15. The Grenfell family, as the owners of Mostyn House School, once had a sizeable property investment in Parkgate. Closure of the school in 2010 and its subsequent sale led to concern that the school buildings, which had come to be seen as the iconic view of Parkgate, would be demolished and another section of the village changed forever. Fortunately, thanks to their heritage status, the outline and ambience of these prominent buildings has been preserved for future generations (including new residents) to enjoy.
Cricket was a popular leisure pursuit in the area for a few years before the present Neston Cricket Club was founded in Station Road, Parkgate, in 1894. The original site was a private cricket field owned by Richard Haigh. The new club’s chief instigator and its first captain (1895 -1901) was Dr HM Speechly, while Haigh became its president. Over the years the club has prospered, so that today there are not only two full-size cricket pitches, but members can also play hockey, tennis and squash. Football has long been associated with Parks Field, but in 1829 this place was developed into a racecourse to replace an earlier course at Windle Hill, Neston. It has also been a venue for athletic sports and gymkhanas in the past such as the Liverpool cross-country races in 1901. In the early years of the 19th century there was yacht racing on the Dee at Parkgate and in 1843 the Dee Yacht Club was formed. The club’s fortunes were mixed, but it arranged a number of regattas at Parkgate before moving to West Kirby in 1872. This was not the end of sailing races, however, for in the years before the Great War an important annual event was the Parkgate fishermen’s regatta, also open to fishermen from other nearby coastal communities, like Heswall and Thurstaston. There was always great rivalry between the different crews, who took the competition very seriously. Sport was an important part of the curriculum at Mostyn House School and, besides swimming, one of the activities pursued by the boys was sand-yachting, a sport which took advantage of the plentiful wind at Parkgate and the great stretches of level sand that accumulated there between the wars.
18. CELEBRATING OUR HERITAGE
To commemorate some of the interesting facets of Parkgate’s history, a number of heritage plaques were commissioned by the Society; these are now displayed on prominent buildings in the village. We hope that further plaques will be added in the future. The Society has published a new booklet ‘Parkgate Heritage Trail’ to complement the plaques and provide a description of what can be observed when taking a stroll along The Parade. This booklet is on sale locally at Nicholls Ice Cream and Mozkitos Coffee House, price £2.00.
A more detailed account of Parkgate’s building heritage can be found in the Society’s publication ‘This is Parkgate’, written by our former Chairman, the late Geoffrey Place, which is also on sale locally at Nicholls Ice Cream and Mozkitos Coffee House, price £2.00.
An audio trail of Parkgate can be found on the Neston Community website.
A short history plus many photos depicting Parkgate in the past can be found on the Hidden Wirral Myths and Legends Facebook page.
Last Updated February 2017