This map shows the width of the marsh at Parkgate to be 2 km, while the total width of the estuary at this point is 6 km. From Parkgate the channel of the river is barely visible, but the view from the A55 in Flintshire confirms that at this point the marsh extends for only about a third of the total width of the estuary.
The River Dee was canalised in the 18th century between Chester and Connah’s Quay in order to restore a channel for shipping to the ancient port of Chester; the work was completed in 1737.
The building of this channel directed the flow of the river over to the Welsh side of the estuary, and the subsequent lack of flow on the Cheshire side accelerated the silting there, eventually bringing to an end the shipping at Parkgate. By 1810 the Dublin Packet service had transferred to Liverpool. The continued silting later led to the creation of the marsh.
The point where the ‘new’ Dee channel from Chester discharges into the estuary is also identified on the map.
Boats at anchor
Before WW1 around fifty local families were involved in the Parkgate fishing industry, mostly living in Parkgate itself.
In the period before the Second World War, there was still sufficient water in the channel to enable small boats to sail to and from Parkgate. These were the fishermen’s nobbies (Morecambe Bay Prawners) and the smaller punts, and also pleasure boats (both sailing and row boats). Earlier fishing vessels were the two-masted ‘jigger boats’, once common here.
These would generally be left at anchor between sailings, and so at high tide quite a number of boats could be seen bobbing on the water.
In the mid-19th century there had been an annual regatta organised by the short-lived Parkgate Sailing Club, which later transferred to West Kirby. The later Parkgate regattas were an annual event for local fishermen from the various fishing fleets around the Dee estuary. There were both sailing and rowing races to include all boat types (nobbies, yawls and punts). This picture shows the Parkgate & Heswall regatta in 1905.
The final competition of the regatta was always a tug of war, traditionally held between the Parkgate and the Neston fishermen. This event was followed by dancing on The Green, which used to be located in the area behind what is now Nicholls Ice Cream parlour.
In this picture the Parkgate fishermen have brought their boats in at low tide and crowds of locals have come to watch and take part in the landing of the catch. Horses with light carts stand on the beach close to the water’s edge, waiting to transport the fish & shell fish back to shore for processing.
The boats are moored on the edge of the channel, and on close inspection you can see the steep gradient between the beach and the channel.
Sea-gulls can be seen flying overhead, on the look-out for fish scraps – nowadays they are opportunists looking out for chips!
High and dry
With the water in the Dee estuary being relatively shallow the boats designed for sailing in these waters were generally of shallow draught. Being flat-bottomed they could rest upright on the sand when not afloat.
The children in this scene are playing around a small nobby. A larger boat in the distance appears to have been raised on props clear of the water in order to be worked upon.