It is not easy to define Parkgate. It is neither a manor nor a parish and is therefore not strictly a village. Villages are likely to have been founded as long ago as the 5th or 6th centuries and generally spring up around a farmstead with a good water supply. They usually comprise a church, a parsonage, a manor house, fields, a tithe barn, a mill, a pub and, of course, dwellings. So, though not strictly a village, Parkgate is a district of Neston. Neston is considered to have been an agricultural settlement dating from the Saxon times and is listed in the Domesday Book of the 11th century. Historically, it included eight townships: Great Neston, Little Neston, Ness, Leighton, Raby, Ledsham, Willaston and Thornton Hough.
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2. PARKGATE ORIGINS
The origin of Parkgate can be traced back to the former Neston Park which was created when land was enclosed as a deer park in about 1250 by Roger de Montalt (c1200-1260), steward to the powerful Earl of Chester. The hunting park came to an end in 1599 when the land was sold off to new owners. An anchorage hamlet, or small fishing community, gradually developed on the foreshore of the Dee estuary, near the gates of the old Neston deer park. The first recording of the name Parkgate was thought to be in 1610 when it was noted that shipping was being handled at ‘the park gate’, probably denoting a location at the end of Moorside Lane, where the entrance to the park is understood to have been.
At the northern end of what we now know as the Parade, in the township of Leighton, an inn (first shown simply as a Beerhouse) is recorded from 1613, and the stretch of water at this point is recorded as ‘Beerhouse hole’, implying an anchorage with deeper water than elsewhere. This natural feature may have been the catalyst for the first settlement here.
The first descriptive reference to Parkgate came from a traveller who in the late 1660s described ‘the little village of Birhouse…(with) some large storehouses for the keeping of mercandize to be embarked for Ireland…’ (Place 1994, p.20) – this note appears to refer to the old buildings which some still remember as occupying the present site of the Boathouse car park. The first mapped evidence of a settlement known as Parkgate is shown on Greenvile Collins’ survey of 1686 (Place 1994, p.2). This shows Parkgate (in Neston township) and Beerhouse (in Leighton) apparently as separate developments.
In 1672 the ownership of the land transferred to the Mostyn family through the marriage of Bridget Savage of Leighton Hall to (Sir) Thomas Mostyn, whose residence was across the water at Mostyn Hall in Flintshire. In June 1849 their descendant (the 2nd) Baron Mostyn sold off all his family’s Cheshire holdings (including the whole of Parkgate) at a public auction held here over six days at the former Mostyn Arms Hotel. He had decided, quite astutely, that Llandudno would be a better place for the investment of his money. The sale was intended to encourage development and divided the former Mostyn holdings between many different new ownerships. The Mostyn family may now be long gone from here, but the family name still lives on in Parkgate.
The present day Parkgate consists of part of Great Neston and part of Leighton townships, so those researching families in Parkgate will need to look through tithe records for Great Neston and Leighton.
Around the same time similar developments were going on elsewhere. At the coastal end of Boathouse Lane, in the township of Leighton, an inn, first shown simply as a Beerhouse, is recorded from 1613, and the stretch of water at this point is recorded as ‘Beerhouse hole’, implying an anchorage with deeper water than elsewhere; this natural feature may well have been the catalyst for the first settlement here. The first descriptive reference to Parkgate may have come from a traveller who in the late 1660s described ‘the little village of Birhouse…(with) some large storehouses for the keeping of mercandize to be embarked for Ireland…’ (Place 1994, p 20) – this note appears to refer to the old buildings which some still remember as occupying the present site of the Boathouse car park. The first mapped evidence of a settlement known as Parkgate is shown on Greenvile Collins’ survey of 1686 (Place 1994, p 2); this shows Parkgate (in Neston township) and Beerhouse (in Leighton) apparently as separate developments.
3. RIVER DEE
Over the years the fortune of Parkgate as a community has been determined to a great extent by changes in the river, both natural and man-made. The gradual silting of the River Dee eventually prevented sea-going ships from sailing further upstream to the ancient port of Chester, and the place for the trans-shipment of goods and passengers was moved progressively further downstream along the English side of the estuary (where the channel then was).
A substantial quay already existed in Elizabethan times at Neston at the mouth of the Neston Brook, but it is recorded in the first decade of the 17th century that shipping was also being handled at ‘the park gate’. In those early days, before a new turnpike road was laid out between Chester and Parkgate in 1797, the route from Neston to Parkgate was via Moorside Lane to the shore. Cargo would have been off-loaded from here into smaller vessels for onward transit to Chester. This practice may have been started by ship-owners whose motive was to avoid the heavy charges imposed by the Chester port authorities for the use of their quay at Neston.
The former storehouse and stables at the Boathouse
The sea route to Ireland was of strategic significance for the governance of the nation, and from 1686 to 1815 Parkgate assumed some importance as the designated port for the shipping on this route, carrying important dignitaries and government officials, plus the official mail, to and from Dublin, along with many other ordinary passengers, including numerous Irish labourers coming to seek seasonal work in England. There was also a flourishing trade in livestock. Cattle were imported from Dublin and other Irish ports, and there was also trading on a lesser scale with other countries too. Parkgate was never a really busy port, but for a time the business seems to have been profitable, and many of the significant buildings on The Parade owe their existence to the wealth deriving from the maritime business in this period. During the 18th century there were a number of fine houses belonging to rich merchants and professional people (Pearson 1985, p.15), while in 1857, after a period of decline following the loss of the shipping trade, it was recorded that ‘The place consists mostly of Lodging Houses, which present a long irregular range, forming a side of the street facing the Dee’ (Kelly 1857, p.177).
In the 18th century there was no sea wall or jetty at Parkgate. Boats anchored in the main channel of the river about 100 yards from the shore and passengers and cargo were transferred to and fro by tender. The Irish packet service, in fact, shipping generally, was very much weather dependent and, as now, the prevailing winds were from the west, therefore presenting difficulties for vessels operating from a lee shore. Passengers might have to wait some time for the right conditions for sailing, and the inns both here and in Chester did well from the custom of travellers affected by these delays.
5. THE FERRIES
There was already a local ferry service between Parkgate and Flint in the 1740s - this vessel may have sailed from close to the George; by 1813, however, a regular service was operating from the Pengwern Arms (now the Boathouse) to Bagillt/Flint, a service for which there were onward connections to Liverpool via Eastham, Tranmere and, later, with the coming of the Chester-Birkenhead railway, via Hooton. Soon afterwards, however, in 1864, after a period of decline, this service finally lapsed following the death of Thomas Johnson, the innkeeper at the Pengwern Arms (now the Boathouse), when trying to land here in a heavy swell. The availability of the turnpike road via Queensferry provided a safer alternative route to the old ferry, so there was no longer any great demand for its restoration.
The North Slip, where ferries used to cross to Bagillt.
In the 18th century there was a busy boatyard on the shore close to the Boathouse and another probably by the Old Quay. The ‘Duke’, one of the ships built at Parkgate, is known to have been involved in the African slave trade, and three boats were built here by Thomas Makin for the Parkgate Packet Company before his business went into liquidation in 1790. The Ship Hotel was named after a boat called the ‘Princess Royal’, built here around this time for the Parkgate Packet Company to carry passengers to Dublin. She was sailing from here in 1808, but by 1810 had commenced sailing out of Liverpool.