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This is a riverside promenade that attracts both locals and tourists in huge numbers. It was set up in two stages. Charles Coroughton laid down the first section in 1725. Alderman Charles Brown laid down the other section, on the western end near the Old Dee Bridge in 1880 to 1881. Nearby, there are pubs and refreshment kiosks. There are also landing stages where pleasure boats depart for cruises along the river.
These steps are just a short distance from The Grooves. The steps are arranged in steps of three and are called the Wishing Steps. They were built in 1785 and they link the different levels of the east and south walls.
The River Dee in Chester - History
The natural head of navigation of the Dee is Chester. Here there was a bridge over the river and an important town. Chester was a port from Roman times on. The original port anchorage was where the Rodee (racecourse) is now - close, as you would expect, to Water Gate. Even in Roman times, an "outport" was maintained - at Meols on the north Wirral shore. By 1855, the port of Chester was alongside the river at Crane Wharf with the Dee Branch canal basin acting as a dock for barges and flats: see here. As the Dee gradually silted up, ports such as Parkgate became more important. They could be reached, given favourable winds, on one tide from the open sea and provided reasonable shelter.
Exports from Chester included cheese, and linen imports from Ireland were significant. The nearby Fflint area provided lead ore which was carried as ballast in sailing vessels. Coal was available from Ness (colliery from 1759, near Parkgate) and also, later, from mines on the Welsh side of the estuary. There was a significant trade carrying coal to Ireland from Point of Ayr Colliery.
The Dee provided a convenient base for military expeditions to Ireland.
From 1600, substantial numbers of troops, provisions and equipment were sent to Ireland. For example in early 1600, 800 men were transported to Loch Foyle from the Dee.
On 16 November 1643, about 2,500 troops (4 regiments of foot and one of horse) landed at Mostyn from Ireland to support the Royalist cause in the Civil War.
The Cromwellian invasion of Ireland of 1649-1650 was initially mounted from Milford Haven, but a huge number of sailing vessels were needed to transport troops and their equipemnt. There were complaints from inhabitants of the Wirral about the rapacious conduct of troops waiting to be transported from the Parkgate area.
In April 1690 King William III (William of Orange) left Hoylake [then a deep water anchorage - the Hyle Lake] with a force of 10,000 troops for Ireland. The King, himself, stayed at Gayton Manor (near Heswall) while waiting for suitable weather to depart from Hoylake. His departure from Hoylake is commemorated by the "King's Gap" - now an area of Hoylake.
There were earlier royal connections too: Richard II was trapped in 1399 by Henry Bolingbroke (Later Henry IV) at Fflint Castle (built 1277-84 by Edward I) - as dramatised by Shakespeare.
Much earlier, in 973, 6 regional kings pledged allegiance to King Edgar at Chester. This story was later embellished as 8 kings rowing Edgar up the river Dee in the Royal Barge - and Edgar's Field is a park at the south end of the old Dee bridge commemorating this.
The channel in the Dee Estuary has changed considerably over the centuries. The sand (and mud) banks have shifted and built up too. The deep channel used to run near the Wirral coast with ports at Shotwick, Neston, Parkgate, Heswall and Dawpool. Parkgate was a busy port with regular services to Ireland and a ferry crossing to Bagillt. After the new cut was made in 1737 to straighten and canalise the Dee from just below Chester to near Fflint, the deep channel moved over to the Welsh side with quays and ports at Sandycroft, Queensferry, Connahs Quay, Shotton, Fflint, Bagillt, Greenfield, Mostyn and Talacre.
See here for some historic images of shipping in the Dee Estuary.
See here for some old charts from 1697, 1771, 1800, 1840 and from 1850.
See here for some old sailing directions to the Dee Estuary: from 1840 and 1870.
The channel is still changing: so wrecks get covered and old wrecks get exposed. Here I list the best known wrecks.
Wrecks are presented starting from the SE (upriver) working outwards.
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Dee Rail Bridge Collapse 1847
The first "wreck" is actually not a ship at all - rather a railway accident that precipitated coaches and people into the Dee. The Rail bridge near Chester (just downriver from the Roodee) was opened in 1846. It failed on 24 May 1847 as a passenger train was crossing and some coaches fell (with iron girders from the bridge) into the river Dee. Of the 24 people aboard, there were 5 fatalities.
The bridge had been designed by Robert Stephenson, the son of George Stephenson, for the accommodation of the Shrewsbury and Chester Railway (Shrewsbury to Chester Line). It was built using cast iron girders produced by the Horseley Ironworks, each of which was made of three large castings dovetailed together and bolted to a raised reinforcing piece. Each girder was strengthened by wrought iron bars along the length. It was finished in September 1846, and opened for local traffic after approval by the first Railway Inspector, General Charles Pasley.
On 24 May 1847, the carriages of a local passenger train from Chester to Ruabon, going at about 30 miles per hour, fell through one of the 98 ft cast-iron spans of the bridge into the river. The engine and its tender got across but the coaches fell with the girders into the river Dee. The engine was actually able to proceed (without tender) and so warn other approaching trains. The accident resulted in five deaths (three passengers, the train guard and the locomotive fireman) and nine serious injuries.
Image of the aftermath of the accident (showing derailed tender and carriages in the river):
Robert Stephenson was accused at a local inquest of negligence. Although strong in compression, cast iron was known to be brittle in tension or bending, yet the bridge deck was covered with track ballast on the day of the accident, to prevent the oak beams supporting the track from catching fire. Stephenson took that precaution because of a recent fire on the Great Western Railway at Hanwell, in which a bridge designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel had caught fire and collapsed. The Dee bridge disaster was a traumatic event which led to the demise of cast iron beam bridges reinforced by wrought iron tie bars.
The bridge was fully rebuilt in 1870-1 using bricks and wrought iron. Bridge in 2014.
River Dee Ferry Crossings
Before the Queensferry road bridge (Blue, opening, built in 1897 and rebuilt in 1927) and nearby opening rail bridge (built 1889), the first bridge over the Dee was at Chester. Ferry services were available at several locations. After the new cut was made in 1737, a ferry service was established at Lower Ferry (later called King's Ferry and then Queen's Ferry) - located exactly where the blue Queensferry Bridge is now.
Aston Quay (referred to in the report below as Aston Stage) was located on the Fflint side of the river just up-river of the location of the A55 road bridge.
Here I first record one of the largest losses of life associated with these ferry services:
DROWNING OF ELEVEN PERSONS IN THE DEE. BY UPSET OF A BOAT. 1824
It is with feelings of extreme regret we [contemporary newspaper North Wales Gazette] have to record a most frightful accident, by which eleven human beings have been deprived of life, and which occurred on Monday night week [29 June 1824], at the Lower Ferry, about 6 miles down the Dee from Chester. On the above day, a great number of people, chiefly from the Flintshire side, had collected together, at the Ferry-house, which is also an ale-house, kept by Arthur Gregory, to witness a sort of rowing matches, and after the close of the day had retired to the house, to enjoy themselves with good cheer and a dance. Soon after ten o'clock, some of the company, who had to cross the river, were on the move and the moment was extremely unpropitious. The first of the flood, or what is commonly called the head of the tide, passed up the river at this place about half-past ten, when the ferry-boat for the first time crossed full of women.
Our informant, who was at the landing-place on the opposite side, saw them make the shore with the greatest difficulty. The boat returned, and brought over another load, who were in the greatest danger, the boat being so full as not to allow the passengers to sit down. The young men who managed the boat then said, they would not bring any more over till high water. However, at about twenty minutes before that, they again attempted - but having advanced nearly to the middle of the river, the obvious danger arising from the impetuosity of the current, determined the young men who had the management of the boat, to return. A contest now commenced which terminated in the fatal catastrophe several of the head strong young men who composed a portion of the passengers, and who it seems had sacrificed too freely to the Bacchanalian god, insisted upon being put over, and two of them, Robert Bartington and William Davidson, forcibly seized the oars from the boatmen, and heedlessly dashed into the stream. The boat now contained at least fifteen individuals, among whom were three females, we say at least, because some doubt exists whether another female with an infant in her arms, was not also in the boat. With such a load, the boat could not be more than four inches out of the water the tide, running from seven to eight knots an hour, swept the boat with the greatest rapidity up to Aston stage, where it struck the stern or bows of the sloop Thetis, with a violence which instantly upset the boat, and plunged the passengers into the watery element. The shrieks of the unhappy people were at this moment most appalling but they presently subsided, the poor creatures bring driven under and against four other vessels lying in the river near the spot. The hands on board these vessels lost no time in manning their boats, but comparatively little help could be afforded, the tide passing, to use the sailors' words, like lightning.
Through their indefatigable exertions, however, four individuals were rescued from a watery grave, - viz. Thomas Latham, one of the ferry boys, and Robert Price, of Kelsterton, taken in on board the Thetis: and Frank Toliett, of Shotton, and Benjamin Bethell, the other ferry boy, on board the Speedwell. These were the only persons who escaped the melancholy fate of drowning. As soon us the catastrophe could be known, the boatmen of the sloops were joined by fishermen in the immediate neighbourhood, who continued during the whole of the night searching for the missing bodies, and by seven o'clock in the morning, four had been taken out of the water, dead. Since then, the body only of a female has been discovered, which was found on Tuesday evening on one of the grinds on the Flintshire side, nearly five miles further up the river from the spot were the fatal accident happened, and which was left there on the receding of the tide.
The names of the persons whose dead bodies have been rescued from the river, are as follows:
William Roberts of Buckley,
Robert Bartington of Saltney,
Ellen Hulse, of Saltney,
Ann Hulse, of ditto,
Sarah Lewis, of ditto.
The two Hulses were sisters, and with Sarah Lewis, lived under the same roof. Roberts has left a wife and seven children, and she is also near her confinement of the eighth and Bartington an aged father and mother, who were in a great measure dependant upon him for subsistence. It is impossible to describe the heart-rending scene which the shores of the Dee presented on the morning of Tuesday. The news of the accident had brought numbers together, among whom were groups of the friends and relatives of the unfortunate sufferers, making solicitous enquiries after their fate. There are known to be six still missing, independent of the woman and infant, concerning whom as before noticed, there are some doubts. Their names are,
Abel Ball, of Wepre,
Thomas Read, of Mancott, farmer,
William Davidson, ship-carpenter, Ewloe.
Joseph Jones, of Buckley.
Robert Jones, of Shotton,
Edward Jones, of Shotton.
Thus has perished from intemperate indiscretion eleven individuals, respectable and useful members of society.
The drags of the humane society, and muscle[sic] and fluke rakes have been employed from Chester to Connah's Quay, in search of the remaining six missing bodies, but without success, and it is feared the tides may have sanded them. Many of the fishermen and other individuals deserve great praise for their exertions on this occasion but considering the number of opulent individuals, who reside in the neighbourhood, and the interest which the River Dee Company ought to feel in so melancholy an event, it is to be lamented that more prompt and early efforts were not made to discover the bodies, by offering such premiums as would have induced a more active and efficient search. The condition of the boat, and the mutilated state of the oars, have been represented as highly defective. Of this, however, we know nothing but by vague report, but we have no doubt, if such be the fact, the humane agent of the Dee Company will feel it to be his duty to pay a proper regard to them for the future. We have learnt that a subscription has been set on foot, commenced by the highly respectable Rector of Hawarden, to remunerate the labours of men to be employed to search for the remainder of the dead bodies.
Boating Disaster on the Dee. A Family of 3 Drowned. 1884
Another ferry accident at Queensferry:
A sad boating accident occurred on the Dee, at Queensferry, late on Saturday night [20 December 1884], which cast a gloom over the inhabitants of Hawarden, Queensferry, and district, and which resulted in the loss of three lives. It appears that a Christmas draw was being held at the Ferry House, a public-house kept by Miss Gregory, on the Cheshire side of the river. The draw was attended by a number of persons from the Flintshire side, and at about a quarter past ten, most of the party started across the river on the return journey. The party included Robert Jackson, a cooper, together with his wife and his son, three years of age Robert Catherall John Catherall, a porter at Queensferry Station Henry Hough, weighing-machine clerk at Ashton Hall Colliery Samuel Roberts, a labourer at Sandycroft Foundry Joseph Latham, labourer at Connah's Quay Chemical Works John Massey, labourer at Turner's Chemical Works John Davies, labourer at the same works Samuel Edwards, coachman and gardener, in the employ of Mr. Rowley, Dee Bank and John Jones, the boatman.
At the point of crossing, the river is about 100 yards wide, and when the party had accomplished half the distance, John Catherall stated to Jones that the boat was filling with water. Almost immediately after he made the remark, the boat sank, and twelve persons were struggling in the water. The shouts for assistance proceeding from the men, and, above all, the piteous cries of the drowning woman are described as heartrending. Most of the party, several of whom could not swim, succeeded in gaining the shore by the aid of the two oars. Robert Catherall's escape was marvellous. The poor fellow has only one arm, but during his struggle in the water he seized the boatman's coat tail with his only hand, and was so towed safely ashore. John Catherall, owing to the darkness, swam a long distance in the direction of the sea, and it was almost too late when he found out his mistake, for he reached the shore in a perfectly exhausted state. The Jackson family, however - father, mother, and only child - were drowned, and though the river was dragged throughout Sunday, not one body has yet been found. A woman's bonnet, supposed to be Mrs. Jackson's, was discovered on Sunday morning. The boat belongs to the River Dee Company, and is described by the survivors, who were ignorant of its condition before they embarked, as unfit to carry such a number of passengers.
Here are detailed reports of the inquest into this accident from contemporary newspapers.
Further fatal accidents in crossing the Dee Estuary
There was, for many years, a ferry service from Parkgate to Fflint (or to Bagillt) on the Welsh shore. Also, at low tide, it was possible to cross on foot. Here I collect contemporary newspaper reports of several fatal accidents.
Accident crossing the Dee 1821
Early on Friday morning[10th August], a man and his wife, with a young child, ventured on an attempt to cross the sands from Parkgate to Flint with a horse and cart loaded with herrings. This is something done at low water by persons who are particularly conversant with the track, though at the best an hazardous undertaking. In this present instance, it proved fatally disastrous to the whole party who were all drowned.
Inspiration for "Mary called the cattle home"?
Charles Kingsley's 1850 Novel Alton Locke contains words created to accompany a melancholy air:
Mary, go and call the cattle home, And call the cattle home, And call the cattle home, Across the sands of Dee The western wind was wild and dank with foam, And all alone went she.
The western tide crept up along the sand, And o'er and o'er the sand, And round and round the sand, As far as eye could see. The rolling mist came down and hid the land: And never home came she.
Oh! is it weed, or fish, or floating hair? A tress of golden hair, A drowned maiden's hair, Above the nets at sea? Was never salmon yet that shone so fair, Among the stakes on Dee.
They rowed her in across the rolling foam, The cruel crawling foam, The cruel hungry foam, To her grave beside the sea: But still the boatmen hear her call the cattle home, Across the sands of Dee.
This poem (it has no title) became better known from a silent film of 1912 called "Sands of Dee". In the book Alton Locke, the inspiration is said to be "a beautiful sketch by Copley Fielding, if I recollect rightly, which hung on the wall - a wild waste of tidal sands, with here and there a line of stake-nets fluttering in the wind" and overhearing others discussing it "One of them had seen the spot represented, at the mouth of the Dee, and began telling wild stories of salmon-fishing, and wildfowl shooting - and then a tale of a girl, who, in bringing her father's cattle home across the sands, had been caught by a sudden flow of the tide, and found next day a corpse hanging around the stake-nets far below".
The most likely sketch is actually of "A View of Snowdon from the Sands of Traeth Mawr, taken at the Ford Between Pont Aberglaslyn and Tremadoc" by Copley Fielding in 1834. This was transposed by Kingsley to the Dee Estuary. Although Kingsley was a Canon of Chester Cathedral from 1870, when he wrote the poem in 1850, he can only have visited the area briefly, staying with relatives his aunt Lucretia Ann married James Wills of Plas Bellin [between Northop and Oakenholt] and the Kingsley family was originally from Cheshire [the village of Kingsley is a few miles SE of Frodsham].
However, it is plausible that it was based on a real tragedy: Cattle were grazed on the salt marshes near Parkgate and Neston. The fishermen would have retrieved the body. Although, no record of such a loss has been found. In the book, the inspiration is quoted as "that picture of the Cheshire sands, and the story of the drowned girl".
Boat Accident at Parkgate 1864 27 May -->
At twelve o'clock on Friday night last[27 May 1864], a distressing boat accident occurred at Parkgate, which has cast a complete gloom all over the district and thrown several highly respectable families into mourning.
It appears that at ten o'clock on Friday morning a party of five [plus the boatman] took an excursion into Wales, crossing the river Dee from Parkgate to Bagillt, in Flintshire. The party consisted of Mr Thomas Johnson, proprietor of the Pengwern Arms Hotel, or Boathouse, at Parkgate his brother Mr Joseph Johnston, a landing-waiter belonging to her Majesty's customs at Liverpool Mr J. F. Grossman, secretary to the Liverpool Licensed Victuallers' Association and Mr J. H. Holland and Mr Frederick Holland (brothers), of Chester, who had been staying at Parkgate during the last fortnight making a Survey of the channels of the Dee.
Their intention was, if possible, to return with the same tide. The weather was, however, so calm that upwards of an hour and a half was occupied in crossing and finding that they could not return by that tide, the party landed at Bagillt and walked to Holywell, where they spent the day. At ten o'clock the company left Bagillt in the boat on their return to Parkgate. It was moonlight, with a steady breeze, and a pleasant voyage was anticipated. The boat made a rapid passage, but on arriving within a short distance of the Cheshire side it was found that the jetty was covered with the tide, which was just beginning to ebb, and the wind having freshened considerably a heavy swell rendered it imprudent to attempt to get alongside the river wall. The boat accordingly lay-to for an hour, awaiting the receding of the tide. It was then determined to endeavour to effect a landing in a small boat or punt which lay at anchor a short distance from the shore, and which, it was thought, would be more manageable. One of the gentlemen, it is said, called out that the punt would not carry them all with safety but this intimation of danger seems to have been disregarded, and five persons, including Richard Evans, the boatman, got on board. Mr. Thomas Johnson, who was a stout, heavy man, was the last to leave the larger vessel, and no sooner had he placed his feet on the side of the punt than the little craft capsized, and the whole party were precipitated into the water.
Thomas Johnson, a young man about 20 years of age, eldest son of Mr Thomas Johnson, was standing on the esplanade waiting the arrival of his father and his friends, and witnessed the melancholy accident, but, in consequence of the strong current that was running, could render little or no assistance to the unfortunate persons who were struggling for their lives in the water. Mr J. H. Holland, who had remained in the large boat, being a good swimmer, immediately stripped and jumped into the water and swam to the assistance of one of his unfortunate comrades. He was unable to reach him, however, and after several ineffectual attempts he made for the shore, which he succeeded in reaching in a very exhausted state. Mr Frederick Holland also managed with difficulty to reach the shore. Mr Crossman, although not a swimmer, struck out in the best way he could, and fortunately gained the land in safety he afterwards received very kind attention from the landlady of the Union Hotel, and a gentleman who happened to be staying at the house. Richard Evans was taken out of the water in an exhausted state. Mr Thomas Johnson was also taken out of the water alive, and was removed to the cottage of Evans (that being the nearest house), but he was so much exhausted that be never rallied, and death ensued before the arrival of a medical man. Mr Joseph Johnson was carried down with the current and was drowned. His body was found near Heswall - fully a mile from where the disaster occurred - at five o'clock in the morning, and removed to the Pengwern Arms Hotel, where it was placed in the same apartment with the corpse of his brother. The boatman, Evans, was so much exhausted by his immersion that he was not considered out of danger until late on Saturday.
Mr Thomas Johnson was about 50 years of age, and was highly respected at Parkgate and in the Hundred of Wirral generally. Besides being the owner and landlord of the Pengwern Arms Hotel, he was proprietor of the omnibuses plying between Parkgate, Hooton, and Birkenhead Ferry. He has left a widow and eight children. His brother, Mr Joseph Johnson, as has been already stated, was a landing-waiter belonging to the Liverpool customs, and resided in Crown-street. He has left a widow and four children.
The catastrophe has produced quite a mournful sensation at Parkgate and Neston, and on Saturday and Sunday the blinds were drawn in a great number of the houses in the locality.
At the inquest, on Monday, the jury returned a verdict to the effect that deceased were accidentally drowned, the verdict being accompanied with a presentment that in the opinion of the jury the landing stage opposite the Pengwern Arms was too low, too short, and quite insufficient for the landing of passengers at certain states of the tide.
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Unknown Wooden Wreck
Wreck of wooden vessel alongside staging in canalised portion of River Dee
This view shows the wreck of a 20th-century timber coastal vessel registered at Peterhead, Scotland. She now lies aground next to a substantial timber landing stage on north-east bank of the River Dee, at Hawarden Bridge, above Connahs Quay at 53° 13.179'N, 3° 2.329'W.
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Wreck of 13.5m Fishing Vessel AUDREY PATRICIA alongside the scrapyard berth at Connahs Quay.
Image of Audrey Patricia afloat.
She was reported to have sunk at her moorings on 2 Dec 2012 in position 53° 13.332' N, 3° 3.589' W with about 50 litres of diesel released. She was registered as LN486 [Kings Lynn] with shellfish licence, 30 tons register, steel hull, 216 hp, built 2008 at Barton-on-Humber.
The wreck is scheduled to be removed on 1 Oct 2018.
John Lake of Kings Lynn, was fined a total of £15,628 in July 2018 after being prosecuted by the HM Coastguard for operating an unsafe vessel [called Audrey Patricia but registered as LN89 - so presumably a different vessel] and failing to comply with the small fishing vessel code of practice. She had been inspected at Boston and found to have many serious deficiencies.
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Wreck of steam barge Lord Delamere 131 tons. Wooden hull, length 86 ft, width 20ft, draught 9ft. Owned Salt Union then Joseph Forster of Liverpool. Built Ann Deakin, Winsford. Engines 2cyl, 1 boiler, 24 h.p., screw by G. Deakin. Crew 3.
For more detail of the circumstances of the loss, see here .
From Flintshire Observer 16 Oct 1913
Her grain cargo swelled which burst her hull and she was a total loss. She is on the SW bank opposite the North training wall. She had been under the charge of a Dee Pilot (William Taylor) and a court case was initiated against the Dee Conservancy, but not followed up.
This wreck was marked by a buoy in the 1930s which was discontinued. A mast was visible in the 1980s. Because of changes to the channel which is shifting SW, it was marked again from 2013 by an Isolated Danger Buoy (red+black) at 53° 14.31' N, 3° 5.32' W near the wreck position.
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Brigantine Baron Hill 224gt, 198nt, registered Liverpool.
Built William Thomas, Amlwch, 1876 224gt, 198nt
119ft length x 25ft breadth x 13ft 4in depth 1 deck, 3 masts
Owned William Postlethwaite of Millom.
The three-masted schooner BARON HILL (named after an estate near Beaumaris) was built at Amlwch in April 1876 and was owned by Millom's William Postlethwaite from 1876 until her loss on the 26th March 1898. Travelling from Flint to Newcastle with a cargo of salt cake, the Baron Hill was towed out and then stranded and lost in wind conditions ENE Force 6 in the Dee estuary 2 miles from Flint. The master was Capt. L. Hughes and there was a crew of six. Her crew managed to get safely ashore. Within two days she was a total wreck and being stripped.
Contemporary newspaper report:
The wreck was shown on the HO chart (1978) until the 2000s in position 53° 16.65' N, 3° 8.45'W (OSGB36 datum). This is about 2 miles North of Fflint. She was marked by a wreck buoy until 2002. After inspection at LW, the wreck is now classified as "dead". The wreck buoy was marked "Barron Hill" - a different spelling.
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Records of losses of RAF aircraft in the Dee Estuary (in date order). There were nearby airfields at Sealand and Hawarden and many training flights [OTU and FTS are training operations], some of which ended badly. Training extended from initial flight training up to combat training using targets near Talacre (both fixed targets in the dunes and aircraft-towed targets some targets may have been drones - the DH Queen Bee, a radio-controlled Tiger Moth, being the original "drone"). There was also a radio school (11 RS radio included radar) based at Hooton Park airfield nearby - which used twin engined planes for in-flight training. Metal was in short supply during the war, so crashed aircraft would have been salvaged whenever possible. Much use was made of wood and canvas in aircraft construction, so little may remain.
Note that missing air-crew are inscribed on the Memorial at Runnymede.
Anson N5234: 3-1-1940 502 Sq., stalled, spun and crashed onto the foreshore about 4 miles east of Rhyl, soon after take off from RAF Hooton Park, Cheshire, in a snow storm for a night patrol. Possible cause of accident was ice on wings. All 4 crew survived, although Corporal H C Moody was injured. Ambulance took 7 hours to reach the scene. Aircraft destroyed. Image of N5234 in foreground
Hawker Hind K6758: 4-3-1940 5 FTS. Acting Flying Officer Russell BELL (70791) was ferrying a Hind biplane (used as a trainer) when he lost control and it dived into the ground at Hoylake beach. He was aged 26 and is buried at Wavertree (Holy Trinity) Church.
Spitfire L1060: 28-8-1940 7 OTU, stalled and dived out of steep turn, entered at between 2,000 and 3,000 ft. Did not recover, crashed onto beach at Hoylake. Aircraft written off. Pilot P/O(42136) Michael Ernest Brian MACASSEY, from New Zealand, age 23, buried Hawarden (St. Deiniol) Churchyard.
Spitfire K9981: 12-9-1940 7 OTU forced landing on mud flats in River Dee near Flint, written off.
Lost River Dee mouth, Flintshire on 12th September 1940, Pilot Sgt Alexander Noel MacGregor (740705) uninjured. Pilot transferred to 266 Squadron later in Sept 1940.
Miles Master N7944: 24-9-1940 5 FTS abandoned in a spin and crashed into Dee estuary. No record of fatalities, so crew may have baled out.
Miles Master N7965: 20-12-1940 57 OTU, flying accident: Pilot Officer Harold Edwin Hooker 85920 died (age 27, grave St Deiniol, Hawarden) Leading Aircraftman D G Northwood injured.
Near Hilbre Island, 20-12-1940, a boat from the yacht club was manned and put out to an aircraft that had dived into the sea. One person was rescued, the body of another was recovered later.
Anson R3303: 1-1-1941 48 Sq. With a crew of 4, it was returning from a convoy patrol to base at RAF Hooton Park, when the wing hit the ground during a turn in bad visibilty and the aircraft crashed onto the beach at Hoylake, Cheshire. All on board were killed:
Pilot Officer John Hogg ERSKINE (81034) Pilot Sergeant John Llewellyn CURRY (748639) Pilot Sergeant William Edward FENNELL (966641) Air Gunner Sergeant William Charles LANGDON (751603) Wireless Op.
Hurricanes V6872 and W9307: 30-3-1941, mid-air collision between 2 aircraft from 229 Sq. (Ship protection, based RAF Speke) at sea off Prestatyn. They were flying a standard patrol at 13,000 ft. At 12:20 radio communication ceased and Royal Observer Corp reported a loud bang at 12:28. Hoylake and New Brighton lifeboats searched but found nothing. On the 31st March 1941 three pieces of wreckage were found by the Coast Guard at Hoylake, these pieces were picked up on the beach at Hilbre Island and were confirmed to belong to Pilot Officer Du Vivier's Hurricane W9307. This, together with the fact that Hoylake and New Brighton lifeboats (but not Rhyl) were alerted, suggests the collision was over the Hoyle Bank off Hoylake rather than off Prestatyn.
Both pilots missing believed dead: Flying Officer John Michael Firth DEWAR (72462) age 24 Pilot Officer Reginald Albert Lloyd Du VIVIER (79370) age 26.
Spitfire X4065: 11-8-1941 303 Sq (Polish AF from RAF Speke). Pilot Officer Stanislaw Juszczak (P-0386 age 23) on training flight - possibly cockpit froze over in clouds - and he lost control. Aircraft dived into sea near Prestatyn (3 miles off). Rhyl lifeboat searched area but found nothing - pilot's body not recovered.
Spitfire K9995: 21-9-1941 57 OTU hit mudflats in Dee Estuary, total wreck.
Royal Humane Society Award citation to Mr Prior (one of the rescuers) at a location described as near Neston, Wirral:
While engaged on flying practice over the coast, the pilot of a Spitfire fighter pulled out of a dive too late and the tail of the aircraft struck the surface of the water, a portion breaking away and the remainder travelling over the surface of the water for some 100 yards before it burst into flames and sank. A very strong current was running, the tide was on the ebb and the rescuers had to swim for some 20 minutes before they reached the pilot. They then brought him ashore where it was found that he had no injury other than the shock and the effects of the immersions. The GOC-inC offers his congratulations to those men on the Gallantry and excellent spirit shown. West Command Order 2087, dated 21 November 1941.
Pilot was Czech - Sgt K Janata, 788040. When low flying, hit mud flats and crashed, pushed control column forward when checking plug in's for R/T, injured.
Hurricane P5188: 13-3-1942 MSFU landed on Hoyle Bank and was rescued:
Flying Officer John Bedford Kendal (83268) of the Merchant Ship Fighter Unit [based at RAF Speke this unit provided catapult-launched Hurricanes to suitably equipped merchant ships - though recovery of the plane by those ships was not available] was carrying out formation flying in Hawker Hurricane P5188 when his engine failed - reported to be because of neglect to switch fuel tanks correctly. He had to make a wheels-up forced landing on West Bank[sic], Hilbre Island 3 miles West of West Kirby at 16:00 hours, the aircraft was subsequently immersed by the sea. Flying officer Kendal was uninjured. photo.
At about six in the evening of 13th March, 1942, a Hurricane aeroplane made a forced landing on the West Hoyle Bank. A moderate wind was blowing from the S.E., with a slight sea, but the tide was flowing and the bank would be covered in two hours' time. The lighthouse keeper of Hilbre Island and an airman put off in a rowing boat to the rescue. They had a hard row for about a mile and a half, but they reached the bank in good time and rescued the pilot. It was another hard row back, and the night had come before they reached the lighthouse. The lighthouse keeper's wife put up the rescued pilot for the night.
Hurricane: 15-3-1942 was found on East Hoyle Bank by Rhyl Lifeboat with no trace of her crew.
Spitfire K9864: 8-5-1942 57 OTU, air collision with spitfire R6769 (which managed to get back to Hawarden) crashed bank of River Dee near Flint, pilot injured,
Anson EG447: 17-7-1942 11RS, crashed into sea NW of Rhyl with 2 out of 4 crew lost. More details.
Spitfire N3276: 10-8-1942 57 OTU stalled, spun and crashed into River Dee at Saltney Ferry, near Hawarden.
Pilot: killed on active service, Sgt (Pilot) Gordon ROSENTHAL (age 22, death registered Hawarden) - 655729 - buried Liverpool Hebrew Cemetery.
Blackburn Botha Mk I L6237: 8-1-1943 11 Radio School, ditched in bad weather near Bagillt in Dee estuary.
On 9-1-1943, 4 airmen from a plane from Hooton Park RAF Aerodrome [Wirral] were reported overdue and were spotted and recovered a quarter of a mile N. by E. of the Dee Buoy at about 13:00 by the Hoylake Lifeboat after spending a night (since 6pm) afloat in their small dinghy.
Spitfire P7430: 29-1-43 61 OTU crashed, attempted forced landing after engine failure, near Mostyn, Flintshire. Crashed, aircraft written off. [crash site may have been on land]
Pilot Sergeant John Hugh DYER (1385327, age 21) buried Hawarden (St. Deiniol) Church.
Mustang AP216: 5-2-1943 41 OTU crashed into Welsh Channel, pilot killed. Pilot Officer David Shingleton-Smith (127950, age 19) of 41 OTU was killed on 5 February 1943 when his Mustang Mk I AP216 hit a pole and crashed into the sea at Prestatyn Ranges [Talacre], Flintshire. Rhyl lifeboat searched but found no trace.
Spitfire P7692: 26-7-1943 61 OTU crashed at Talacre. The pilot was engaged in air-to-ground firing practice at Talacre Warren. The aircraft crashed into the target, coming to land amid the anti-invasion poles on the seaward side of the minefield. No record of pilot fatality.
Mosquito HX867: 14-2-1944 60 OTU. Crashed into sea off Prestatyn during air firing practice. Based 60 OTU, RAF High Ercall, 7m NW of Shrewsbury, that trained "intruder" crews. Both the Canadian airforce crew lost.
Shortly after eleven in the morning of the 14th of February, 1944, a Mosquito aeroplane crashed in flames half a mile south-by-east of Chester Flat Buoy. A light north-west wind was blowing. The sea was fairly calm. Mr. A. O. Jones saw the accident, and with help carried a boat from his garden and launched it. It was a 12-feet skiff and not built for use on the sea. Mr. Jones and another man, Mr. J. McWalter Shepherd, put out in it, but were unable to give any help.
At 11.09 in the morning, the Rhyl coastguard reported that an aeroplane had crashed in the sea about a mile north of the coastguard look-out. The Rhyl motor life-boat, The Gordon Warren, was launched at 11.49, and half an hour later found wreckage of an R.A.F. Mosquito aeroplane two and a half miles north-north-east of Rhyl. She picked up a body, badly damaged as by an explosion, and took it to Foryd Harbour. She then made another search, found landing wheels and other wreckage, and brought them in, returning to her station again at 6.15 that evening.
Location: Off Prestatyn: 53°21.3N, 3°27.0W approx.     Casualties:
Flight Lieutenant William Ernest CULCHETH (J/4815) Pilot Mosquito HX867, RCAF lost 1944-2-14 (age34) 60 OTU, Runnymede Memorial Ref : Panel 244.
Flying Officer Earl Frederick MORTON (J/16333) Navigator Mosquito HX867, RCAF lost 1944-2-14 (age 28) 60 OTU, buried Chester (Blacon) Cemetery.
Spitfire X4173: 19-5-1944 52 OTU, stalled pulling out of firing dive and crashed on Prestatyn ranges at Talacre.
Off Talacre, on 19-5-1944, a Spitfire X4173 had crashed into the sea near the S Hoyle buoy. Rhyl lifeboat had been launched, but then a report of a more accurate position (near the lighthouse at Talacre - with tail visible) led to the auxiliary rescue-boat from Llanerch-y-Mor being sent - without being able to recover the wreckage or pilot.
Pilot: Polish Kapral Feliks WARES (P/703726, age 26) buried Hawarden Cemetery
Martinet HP242: 17-7-1944 41 OTU, used primarily for target towing, crashed at Llanerych-y-Mor (one mile SE) (a local sailing dinghy rescued one, the RAF rescue-boat rescued a second pilot S Dudek, Polish AF)
Spitfire BM113: 24-7-1944 61 OTU hit target drogue, crashed into sea SW of West Kirby.
Off Talacre, on 24-7-1944, Spitfire BM113 hit a drogue during firing practice, sank, pilot lost. Auxiliary rescue-boat and Rhyl Lifeboat were called out but a fishing boat reported that the aircraft had nose-dived into deep water with no trace of the pilot.
Pilot Flying Officer Arthur Jacob GOLDMAN (J/38019) RCAF officially presumed dead when his aircraft hit a target towed by another aircraft.
Hurricane LF369: 31-12-1944 41 OTU was wrecked in the Dee off Fflint. Pilot Douglas Richard Kyrke NUSSEY F/O(P) J43333/R207038 from Hudson Heights, Quebec, age 20, lost his life when his Hurricane aircraft LF369 crashed four hundred yards off shore, one mile north of Flint. Body not recovered.
Anson EG186: 15-3-1945 No. 3 (Observers) Advanced Flying Unit, based at RAF Halfpenny Green in Shropshire, ditched at Llanerch-y-Mor (300 yards off) crew saved, airframe later salvaged.
Spitfire PK385: 21-5-1950 610 Sq., during aerobatics, hit sandbank 3 miles east of Point of Ayr, scrapped, pilot died.
A Spitfire on a training flight from 610 Squadron at RAF Hooton Park (Wirral) crashed into the sea at Gronant (near Prestatyn) - so avoiding the many holidaymakers on the beach. The pilot, Sgt. Kenneth John Evans, aged 25, was killed.
Chipmunk WB747: 20-7-1954 63 Gp, entered flat spin and hit Bagillt sandbank 1 mile north west of Flint.
TWO SAVED FROM PLANE ON SANDBANK: Two occupants of a Chipmunk plane from Hawarden R.A.F. Station had a remarkable escape when they crashed on to a sandbank on the six miles-wide estuary of the River Dee at Flint yesterday[20-7-1954], fortunately the tide was out at the time. The injured men were trapped in the cockpit and would have been drowned, as the aeroplane was completely submerged when the tide came in again two hours later. The plane was piloted by Group Capt. H. C. S. Pimblett, senior medical officer of No. 63 Group. R.A.F., Hawarden. His A.T.C. Cadet passenger J. S. Howell. belongs to No. 2219 (Greenhall Grammar School) Squadron, Tenby, Pembrokeshire, which is in camp at Hawarden. Although the plane crashed some distance from the shore, rescuers were quickly on the scene, the first being Evan Andrews of Queen's Avenue, Flint Davis Barker, Salisbury Street, Flint Ronald Hilton, Chester Street, Flint and Hugh Fox, Henry Taylor Street, Flint who were working on the roof of a local factory.
CROSSED QUICKSANDS: They saw the plane coming down in a spin at a height of about 100 ft. and it disappeared out of sight over the marshes of the river. The four immediately left their work, and after removing their shoes and socks, they crossed a considerable distance of marsh land, and about a mile of treacherous quicksands, to reach the plane, which had made a pancake landing on the edge of the deep water channel. The four men were joined by Police-constables J. Harris and M. Harris, of the Flint Police, and they found the two occupants of the aeroplane injured and trapped in the cockpit. To release them the rescuers had to rip away the hood and a part of the cockpit dashboard and controls with their bare hands. They were joined by members of Flint Fire Brigade, who assisted in the work of extricating the men.
EQUIPMENT REMOVED: Police-inspector B. Roberts, Flint, organised stretcher parties and the injured men were carried a considerable distance to a waiting ambulance which conveyed them to Flint Cottage Hospital, after medical attention on the spot. High ranking R.A.F. officers with personnel arrived on the scene but, in a race with the tide, found it impossible to salvage the aeroplane because of the incoming tide. A quantity of equipment and some instruments were removed. Before leaving the scene, Wing Commander Fraser personally thanked and complimented those who had taken part in the rescue.
Information from RAF records and from RNLI(Rhyl and Hoylake) and RAF rescue-boat records list for 1940, 1941, 1942, 1943 and 1944.
Many call-outs to reported aircraft crashes in the sea were for searches that found nothing.
Also a German aircraft wreck: A Heinkel 111 (No. 2874) was shot down by a Defiant from RAF Squires Gate [Blackpool] and the wreckage landed on Bagillt marshes on 7-5-1941. Image of wreckage:
This area is now covered in mud. More detail.
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Parkgate was an important point of departure for passenger ships travelling to Dublin. The Parkgate Packets were sailing ships (mostly two masted) that could take the ground. A Packet service meant a regular (as weather allowed) service which took passengers (it did not carry mails in this case). They also took cargo. There was a good road link from London to Chester and a coach service from there to Parkgate which had hotels and other facilities. Many famous people: Handel (returning from Dublin in August 1742) Rev. John Wesley (many times), Jonathan Swift (from Dublin 1707, return 1709), etc used this service. Parkgate was an anchorage and the packet vessels were loaded and unloaded using boats from two wooden piers.
The Dee Estuary up to Parkgate in 1771 (South up) from Burdett's Chart:
The Royal Navy provided a service, using Royal Yachts which was intended for distinguished persons, although they took extra passengers at the Captain's discretion. Commercial interests (such as John Bibby of Liverpool, among others) also provided vessels in this trade. A crossing took at least 14 hours. In 1795-6 about 80 such voyages a year were recorded (in vessels Prince of Wales, Princess Royal, King, Queen, Lady Fitzgibbon). The service was at its peak around 1790 and had dwindled by 1830 when a good road to Holyhead (with a much shorter sea crossing) steamship service from Liverpool and the silting up of the Dee, all curtailed activities.
See image of Royal Yacht Portsmouth which provided a service from 1679-87.
Image of Parkgate-Dublin Packet ship Royal Yacht Dorset leaving Dublin, 1788:
There were several significant shipwrecks in this service. Only one (King George) occurred wholly within the Dee estuary while two were on the Hoyle Bank which is at the entrance to the Dee Estuary. Note that a wreck within the Dee Estuary (at Hilbre Island) is recorded for a sailing packet (also named Dublin) on the Dublin-Liverpool service in 1759.
Unknown 1637 Anglesey, many lost
Mary 1675 Skerries, over 35 lost
Neptune 1748 Hoyle bank, over 100 lost
Dublin 1758 Irish Sea, up to 50 lost
Eagle 1766 Irish Sea, more than 10 lost
Nonpareil 1775 Hoyle bank, over 100 lost
Trevor 1775 off Blackpool, over 30 lost
Charlemont 1790 Holyhead, 110 lost
Queen 1796 off Birkdale, 0 lost
King George 1805 Dee, 125 lost
Prince of Wales 1807 Dublin, 120 lost
A Packet(name unknown) from the Dee Estuary (starting location named as Chester) to Dublin was lost on 10 August 1637. It was carrying Edward King, aged 25, a fellow of Christ's College Cambridge, an acquaintance (and previously a fellow student) of the poet John Milton. King was travelling to visit his brother and two sisters in Ireland. The vessel was coasting in weather [variously described as calm and as stormy] along the Welsh shore, when it struck on a rock, was stove in by the shock and foundered. The most likely area, where rocks would be close to the vessel's route, is the north coast of Anglesey. With the exception of a few who managed to get into a boat, all on board perished.
King is said to have behaved with calm heroism after a vain endeavour to prevail upon him to enter the boat, he was left on board, and was last seen kneeling on deck in the act of prayer. His body was not recovered. John Milton wrote a poem, Lycidas, published in a collection of elegies in memory of Edward King. This poem is regarded by many as one of the finest in the English language.
The (ex - Royal Yacht) Mary was used to carry dignitaries between the Dee to Dublin. She was wrecked on the Skerries (low lying rocky island on the NW corner of Anglesey) in 1675 with 35 lost. This wreck has been located by divers and is now a protected wreck.
More details: Loss of Mary 1675
One of the first to be documented by newspapers was the loss of the Neptune (Capt. Whittle) on 19 January 1748. She left Parkgate with over 100 on board and reached Chester Bar where the weather forced her to turn back. She struck on the West Hoyle Bank with the loss of all aboard. Two other passenger-carrying vessels left at the same time, but they managed to get back safely to Parkgate.
More details: Loss of Neptune 1748
Another wreck occured in October 1758 when the Dublin (Captain White also called Dublin Trader Dublin Merchant and Chester Trader) foundered on a voyage from Dublin to Parkgate carrying 40-70 passengers. There was criticism at the time about the seaworthiness of the Neptune and of the Dublin.
More details: Loss of Dublin 1758
In 1766 the Eagle (Captain Sugars) from Dublin to Parkgate foundered in the Irish sea. Some passengers and crew survived in her boat after 36 hours at sea. Some distinguished passengers were lost.
More details: Loss of Eagle 1766
In a letter dated 12 Nov 1771 the masters of 11 ships warn of coal ships, trading from Ness[near Parkgate] to Dublin, claiming to be Parkgate Traders. Those ships which claimed to be "proper" passenger packets were: Royal Charlotte Alexander Britannia Kildare King George Hibernia Nonpareil Venus Polly Smith Fly.
Note that this list does not include the Trevor - which indeed is listed as carrying coal in ship arrival/departure lists.
On October 19 1775 the Nonpareil(Capt. Samuel Davies) and the Trevor(Capt. William Tottie) were both wrecked in a severe storm while sailing from Parkgate to Dublin. They reached a position close to Holyhead when the wind increased to hurricane force from the west. This drove them back - the Nonpareil was lost on Hoyle Bank with the loss of everyone aboard while the Trevor was lost off the shore near Rossall (North of Blackpool) with only one sailor surviving (who managed to transfer to another vessel, Charming Molly, being driven towards the shore at the same time). Passenger and crew losses were 143 in total (200 in some reports): allocated as 113 on the Nonpareil and 30 on the Trevor.
One of the distinguished passengers lost aboard the Nonpareil was Major Francis Caulfield (brother of Lord Charlemont) who - ironically - had been pressing the captain to leave, even though the Captain was reluctant because of the weather, and, indeed, only succeeded in getting out from Parkgate at the third attempt.
These vessels were carrying items valued at £30,000 comprising rich silks, raw and thrown silks, gold and silver watches, silver plate, plated goods, thread and silk laces, jewellery, haberdashery wares, woollen cloth, and other valuable effects. The Nonpareil was carrying a coach which was washed up on the north Wirral shore with a number of silver candlesticks stowed in it. Adverts were put in local newspapers warning that plunderers would be prosecuted and offering a 10% reward for any items retrieved.
More details of loss of Trevor and Nonpareil (including information on shipping damaged in the Dee Estuary).
In 1785, two Parkgate-built vessels (King and Queen) were launched to replace the two lost - they were reported as of 100 tons burthen. Details of maiden voyage of the King. One of them was subsequently lost on the coast near Southport:
Loss of Queen 1796 Parkgate - Dublin Packet
Wooden sailing vessel, b Parkgate 1785 100 tons
Captain Miller voyage Parkgate to Dublin all crew and passengers saved.
Ashore Birkdale (near Southport) 3 Dec 1796.
Local newspapers describe the Queen Packet, Captain Miller, with passengers from Parkgate to Dublin, as totally lost on the Lancashire Coast, near Formby.
A later report specifies the site as Birkdale Beach on the evening of 3 Dec 1796. The Captain was highly complimented by the passengers for his abilities and humane attention, from the time she foundered, till they and the crew, by means of the boat, had with much difficulty escaped the fury of the waves, and were safely landed.
Image of Parkgate Packets:
A substantial loss of life occured on Sunday 19 December 1790. The Packet Charlemont from Parkgate was unable to dock at Dublin because of adverse weather. Scared and seasick passengers pleaded to be put ashore at Holyhead, but the captain and crew were unfamiliar with the coastline there. In attempting to seek shelter at Holyhead, she was wrecked on the north side of Salt Island in the entrance to the harbour with the loss of 110 lives. Only 16 people survived.
More details of Charlemont Loss.
Yet another loss of a Parkgate Packet was in 1807 when the Prince of Wales was chartered to bring troops from Dublin to Liverpool. Along with another vessel, Rochdale, employed similarly they were both wrecked on the shore between Dun Laoghaire and Dublin with a huge loss of life.
More details of loss of Prince of Wales and Rochdale.
Note that the Prince of Wales had been involved in an earlier accident in 1787 when John Wesley was aboard.
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The largest loss of life in the Dee Estuary was when the Parkgate to Dublin Packet Ship King George stranded and was lost on 14 September 1806 on the Salisbury Bank. There were 125 (106 in some reports) fatalities and only 6 were saved. One report is that 118 out of 119 passengers were lost.
Very approximate position 53° 19.5N, 3° 12.0W.
Chart of Dee from 1800 (not north up) showing Salisbury Bank:
Local comment was that the ship had too fine a bow - so would not take the ground in a stable way. She was reported to have previously been a privateer (of 16 guns) and then a Harwich Packet, and was on only her second crossing to Dublin. Many of the bodies of survivors washed up on the Wirral and Lancashire shore and some of those identified were buried at Neston Church.
There is a record of the Hoylake Lifeboat (operated by the Liverpool Dock Board at that time from 1803) being called out - but unable to help.
From the Cambrian Newspaper 27 Sep 1806 [warning: rather racist account]:
AFFECTING SHIPWRECK. The King George packet, Captain Walker, bound from Parkgate to Dublin, sailed from Parkgate at twelve o'clock on Sunday, with a flag at her topmast-head, full tide, weather hazy, and drizzling rain, with the wind nearly directly south. At half past one she struck on the Salisbury Sand Bank, and remained nearly four hours dry, with part of her crew on the sands, waiting for the next tide. No apprehensions were then entertained of her having received any injury. On the return of the tide, the wind veered round to the west, and she received the wind and tide right on her side, resting against her anchor. As the tide came in, she filled, rapidly with water the night was dark, with rain.
Her passengers, mostly Irish harvest-men, above a hundred in number, who were going home with the pittances of their labours to their families, were under hatches. The pumps were soon choaked, and the water came so fast on the Irishmen in the hold, that they drew their large pocket harvest knives, and with a desperation that a dread of death alone inspires, slew one another to make their way upon deck. The wind and waves beating hard upon her side, her cable broke, and she was drifted round with her head towards the tide, and lay upon her side. They were three miles from any vessel, and could not, or at least did not, give any signal that was heard.
The boat was launched, and ten of the crew, among which was the Captain and an Irish gentleman, got into it. It was nearly full of water, and death on all sides stared them in the face. Her Captain seeing some of his best sailors still with the vessel, and falsely hoping she might remain the tide, which had nearly an hour and a half to flow, went again on board the Irish gentleman and three others followed him. One of the sailors in the boat, seeing a poor Irish sailor boy clinging to the side of the vessel, pulled him by the hair of the head into the boat, cut the rope that fastened it to the vessel, and the tide drove them away.
At this time great numbers ran screaming up the mast a woman with her child fastened to her back, was at the top-mast-head: the masts broke, the vessel being on her side, and they were all precipitated into the waves! Only five men and the poor Irish sailor boy have escaped the remainder, 125 in number, among which were seven cabin passengers, perished. The boat and her little crew were driven up by this tide to within a quarter of a mile of Parkgate. They heard the cries of the sufferers distinctly for half an hour. The ebb tide washed the vessel down into the deep water, and she was seen no more till the next tide drove her up. She lies on her side, with her keel towards Parkgate, and her head to the Welsh coast her lower masts and rigging out of water.
The King George was owned by Mr. Brown of Liverpool. There is also a report of a small Neston colliery vessel passing close to the wreck during the night, hearing the screams, and trailing rope in the water, by which means one of the crew managed to reach safety.
Record of 5 (out of 6) of those saved in the boat of the King George: Henry Walker (mate, brother of Captain Thomas Walker), 2 crew (Williams and Roberts), a blacksmith and the Irish boy. Another report states that a woman passenger was among those saved in the small boat.
Record of those buried at Neston (thanks to Burton and Neston History Society): Captain Thomas Walker (of Parkgate, aged 34) sailor Hugh Williams passengers Henry Walker and Major Phillip Armstrong of Kings County [now County Offaly] Militia aged 39 John Ladmore (from a local family of mariners and anchorsmiths, aged 43) Edward McQuirk and 8 "poor Irishmen".
A report from Hoylake describes 23 bodies being gathered on the beach. 24 (unnamed, including 1 girl) were buried at West Kirby 6(unnamed, including one female) at Heswall one(unnamed) at Bagillt and one(unnamed) at Fflint. There were no other wrecks involving loss of life (although the American vessel Tippoo Saib, inbound from Savannah was wrecked at Formby Point at the same date, but with crew rescued). So bodies reported recovered at other sites are most probably from the King George: 8 labourers and 2 gentlemen in Lancashire (on the coast between Crosby and Morecambe). These newspaper and parish register reports (which do not include the coast from Hoylake to Crosby) show that the death toll was at least 56.
Records give 7 cabin passengers, later amended to 4 another passenger aboard (and lost) was William Benson[Besson in one report] of Leicestershire (who was an assistant to cattle breeder Mr Honeybourne of Dishley) and who had 6 valuable rams aboard which he was taking to an Irish property of his boss. His body was found near Liverpool. He was about 50 years old.
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Duke of Lancaster
The ferry Duke of Lancaster was intentionally run aground at Llanerych-y-mor (53° 18.393'N, 3° 14.139'W) to provide a "Fun ship" in 1979. She is now (2017) abandoned and fenced off and has recently been painted a dark colour(2018 image) to be less of an eyesore. There is a barge aground nearby (53° 18.394'N, 3° 14.116'W).
Photos of ship and barge.
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Wooden sailing barge (Mersey Flat), ketch-rigged (also called jigger).
b 1863 (possibly by Clare at Sankey Bridges who built the ketch Mayfly in 1869)
47 tons [110 tons deadweight], owned Clare's Lighterage Co.
Port Dinorwic to Sankey Bridges with roofing slates.
Captain John Waterworth of Runcorn and mate Richard Wainwright of Widnes: both saved
19 February 1907 sank by collision of SS Jane while anchored
in Wild Road (Dee Estuary), off Mostyn (53°19'N, 3°15'W OSGB)
The Ant [unusual name - maybe to economise on signage?] with a crew of two [this is less than the usual 3-4 crew for Mersey Flats when in the open sea] was bringing roofing slates from Port Dinorwic [in Menai Straits] to Sankey Bridges [up the Sankey Canal accessed from the Mersey by locks at Widnes or Fidler's Ferry]. Owing to the rough weather (wind force 7), the Ant was taken into the shelter of the Dee Estuary and anchored in Wild Road off Mostyn.
While her crew were asleep, at about 3:30am, the Ant was struck by the SS Jane (Liverpool registered, owned Monk and Co.) which caused her to sink in a few minutes. The two on board the Ant were picked up by the boat of the Jane and landed at Llanerch y Mor.
A buoy was put to mark the wreck and was withdrawn by 1919 as the site was covered in sand. The site is now not shown on the HO chart and is listed as "dead".
Record of court case to establish responsibility for the collision:
DEE ESTUARY COLLISION     BARGE OWNERS' CLAIM:
Before his Honour Judge Shand, sitting under Admiralty jurisdiction in the Liverpool County Court, on Friday, assisted by Captains Thomas Pardy and John Trenery, as nautical assessors, the owners of the barge Ant sought to recover from the owners of the screw steamer Jane, £300 in respect of the sinking of the Ant by collision with the Jane in Mostyn Roads, on the 19th February last. Mr. Segar appeared for the owners of the Ant, and Mr. Alec Bateson for the owners of the Jane.
The plaintiffs' case was that the Ant, which was a ketch rigged vessel of 110 tons dead-weight, anchored through stress of weather in Mostyn Roads, Dee estuary, on the 18th February. The Ant's captain, John Waterworth, put out his riding light, but could not keep it alight, on account of the violence of the wind. About half past one in the morning, however, the master saw that the light was burning, and retired below with the mate - the only other member of the crew - and went to sleep. The Jane struck the Ant about half-past three. The latter sank, and both, the captain and the mate, were rescued by the crew of the Jane.
Captain Waterworth also maintained that the Jane was to blame for the collision for having attempted to leave her anchorage in the roads by a course which afforded very little room, when she could have gone by a wider and, therefore, safer course.
The allegation of improper lookout was strongly denied by Captain David Monks, master of the Jane, and he also asserted that the course he took in leaving the roads was a perfectly safe one. The Ant had no light burning, and was not visible to the lookout on the Jane.
The court expressed the opinion that, having regard to the fact that the light on the Ant had blown out several times, and that those on board had been unable to keep it alight, it was a highly unseamanlike proceeding for the master and mate of the Ant to go below and sleep, leaving nobody on deck with a light to warn any vessel on emergency. The court found that a sufficient and proper look-out was kept on board the Jane, to whose crew, they were of opinion that no blame was attachable, and they gave judgment for the defendants, with costs.
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There are yachts moored at West Kirby and at Thurstaston during summer months. The moorings are protected by sandbanks but at Spring High Tide, with strong NW wind, considerable waves build up and can cause vessels to break free. They are then dashed against the rocks on the Wirral shore.
Wrecks of leisure yachts driven ashore near Caldy by a storm on 4 Oct 2009:
Now (2017) there is almost no sign of any wreckage in the sand below the rocks near 53° 21.33'N, 3° 10.26'W.
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The approaches to the Mersey and Dee are strewn with sandbanks and in onshore winds there are breaking waves along the edges of the banks. Ships that were driven onto the banks were at the mercy of the waves and many lives were lost. The strong currents running between the sandbanks caused problems for sailing ships and when wind and tide were in different directions, steep waves build up in the channel. The approaches to the Mersey are especially dangerous in Northwesterly gales. The best way to rescue shipwrecked sailors was recognised to be by using small boats that could venture into the shallow waters around a stranded vessel. If such a boat could get upwind of the wreck and then anchor, by veering out line it would be possible to come to her assistance in a controlled way. The small boats used were of the type used as local fishing boats and gigs. They had sails that could be set when conditions allowed but they relied on a number of men aboard with oars. The men were usually local fishermen with experience of such boats and of the local conditions. To be out in storm conditions in these small open boats must have been terrifying but men to crew them were readily found.
The boats would have to be based at places where a boat could be launched from the shore in strong winds. In the Liverpool Bay area, this implied from within the more sheltered waters of the Mersey itself or from Hoylake, Formby or Point of Ayr which each had an inshore channel protected by an offshore sandbank except at the top of the tide. Such rescue attempts were not conducted by dedicated lifeboats until experience showed that this was the best and safest way.
Liverpool was the site of the first dedicated lifeboat station to be established anywhere in the world. This was at Formby in 1776 and was funded by the Dock Trustees. Subsequently a lifeboat station was established at Hoylake around 1803 and a lifeboat was kept at the mouth of the Mersey itself. The Dock Trustees were charged with responsibility for safety in the approaches to the Port of Liverpool. As a result of a formal inquiry into the state of lifeboats in 1823, it was recommended that four boats be provided: at Formby, Hoylake, Point of Ayr and the Magazines (near New Brighton). The lifeboat at the Magazines was established around 1827.
After the poor showing of the lifeboat service during the hurricane of 1839, the arrangements were changed and a later report in 1843 gave the situation as 9 lifeboats: namely 2 at Liverpool, 2 at the Magazines, 2 at Hoylake, 2 at Point of Ayr and one at Formby. The lifeboat service was now very efficient and saved very many lives. This was recognised in 1851 when the RNLI (named National Institute for Preservation of Life from Shipwreck at that time) awarded silver medals for outstanding bravery to the coxswains of all of these lifeboats. Each station had a permanent crew of about 10 men and boats were launched by carriage pulled by horses kept nearby. The crew were summoned by gun and it was claimed that the lifeboat could be under way in 17 or 18 minutes from receiving the signal of distress. The lifeboats had oars and sails, but to speed up rescue, an arrangement existed with the Steam Tug Company that as soon as a signal of distress was received, one of their tugs would proceed immediately and take the first available lifeboat from within the Mersey (i.e. Dock Board or Steam Tug Company lifeboat) in tow.
In 1858 the Mersey Docks and Habour Board took over from the Dock Trustees the provision of 8 lifeboats at Liverpool, New Brighton, Hoylake, Formby, Southport and Point of Ayr. From 1848 one of the Hoylake lifeboats had been stationed at Hilbre Island. This provided a direct access by a ramp to deep water at all tides.
Since the Liverpool Bay area was divided into small numbered squares - the location of a wreck could be communicated quickly to the lifeboat stations which were located close to the semaphore signal stations at Gronant (Voel Nant) Hilbre Island Bidston Hill and Liverpool. The optical system of communication was replaced by an electric telegraph from 1861.
The Dee Estuary is mostly quite sheltered and vessels would anchor in Wild Road (off Mostyn) or off Hilbre to wait for better weather. In a NW gale, at high water on spring tides, substantial waves can build up in the Dee and vessels can be driven from their anchors onto the sandbanks.
The entrance to the Dee Estuary had three lifeboat stations: at Point of Ayr (beach launched from Gronant, then Talacre from 1894) ramp launched from Hilbre Island and a beach launched lifeboat at Hoylake. The service from Hoylake started in 1803 and continues to this day (all MDHB lifeboats having been taken over by the RNLI in 1894) with a beach launched lifeboat and a hovercraft. The Hilbre Island station (associated with Hoylake) started in 1848 and ended in 1939. The Point of Ayr lifeboat was established in 1826 and the last service was in 1916. There is a beach launched inshore lifeboat at West Kirby (RNLI from 1966 on) and a mobile inshore lifeboat based at Fflint (since 1957 RNLI since 1966).
The Fflint service was initiated by local people after a tragedy: on the night of 26th December 1956, a Neston wildfowler was heard shouting as he struggled in the fog-bound waters after being cut off by the tide. More details.
There were many services by these lifeboats. Most were to vessels aground on the outside of the Hoyle Bank or on the Welsh coast. There were some tragic losses:
On 29 December 1810 there was a terrible storm. The ship Traveller was driven onto the Hoyle Bank [described as on Cheshire Coast, 1 mile east of Hoyake and a few hundred yards from the shore]. The Hoylake lifeboat was launched safely despite huge waves pounding the beach. As the lifeboat crew rowed to the stranded vessel, an enormous wave capsized the lifeboat. Of the lifeboat crew of ten, eight of them were drowned. More details.
Lifeboatmen Lost: John Bird (40), Joseph Hughes (38), Henry Bird (18), Richard Hughes (36), John Bird (16), Thomas Hughes (16), Henry Bird (43), Nicholas Seed (27). The two saved were Thomas Fulton and Thomas Davies.
Rhyl lifeboat capsize
On 23 Jan 1853 the Rhyl lifeboat Gwylan-y-Mor capsized with the loss of 7 lives. A vessel was reported as dismasted on the West Hoyle Bank and the Rhyl lifeboat with 10 men aboard was launched. They pulled out to sea using their oars and then set sail for the wreck in rough weather conditions with a strong NNE wind. They could not find the wreck which had now been covered by the rising tide. So, after searching thoroughly, they set off back to Rhyl. A half mile offshore, the lifeboat capsized. Three men were able to hang on and two of them righted the boat and got on board. The third was pulled abord by them. The Coxswain, Owen Jones, was one of the survivors but 7 men were lost. A subsequent inquiry judged that the boat had run into broken water without a steering oar to stabilise it. As a result of this disaster, the Rhyl lifeboatmen had a preference for a boat that was more stable. The RNLI took over Rhyl lifeboat station in 1854 and they provided the first of several tubular lifeboats. These were the design of Henry Richardson and his son as submitted to the RNLI competition in 1851.
On 4 January 1857 the schooner Temperance (owned Truro, b 1850 Falmouth, 113 tons) was driven ashore near Abergele. Her distress signals were seen by the Rhyl and Point of Ayr lifeboat stations early in the morning. The Point of Ayr lifeboat had launched at 8:30am to a vessel aground on the West Hoyle Bank, but found that the Hoylake lifeboat had already saved the crew. They then proceeded to the assistance of a vessel stranded at Chester Bar which managed to get off unaided. The Voel Nant Telegraph then directed them to the schooner Temperance, aground in Abergele Bay with her crew in the rigging. They proceeded under sail to the west in squally weather. As the lifeboat passed Rhyl, an unusually heavy sea struck her, she capsized and did not right herself. The men, who had launched the Rhyl lifeboat, saw the Point of Ayr lifeboat capsize not far offshore and, unable to help, they saw the crew, one by one, swept off the upturned boat in the bitterly cold conditions until eventually all 13 were lost. Regrettably, the men were not wearing their cork lifejackets.
The Rhyl lifeboat, which was stationed nearer to the wreck site, had already been launched, so the tragic rescue mission by the Point of Ayr lifeboat was not even necessary. This remains the most serious lifeboat disaster to have occurred in North Wales. The bodies of 8 of the lifeboatmen were buried at Llanasa Church (parish church for Gronant) over the next days, weeks and months as the sea washed them ashore.
The Hoylake lifeboat was called out on 15th November 1906 to the sloop Swift of Runcorn. In extremely heavy seas, one of the lifeboatmen, John Isaac Roberts (age 23), was washed overboard and drowned. Eventually the sloop got out of trouble unaided.
Some services by these lifeboats which resulted in medals being awarded (note that before 1894, while MDHB provided the lifeboat service, the crews were fully professional and medals were not awarded for distguished service):
On 3 December 1863 the Hoylake lifeboat under the command of coxswain George Davies had just returned from rescuing three men [4 in another account] from the rigging of the Liverpool schooner, George, (belonging to the firm of Raynes and Lupton) which had run aground in the mouth of the Dee, when they were called out to another vessel in distress.
This was the Dutch vessel, Gezina Reina, [wooden galliott/schooner of Veendam, 89nt, built 1853, voyage Belfast to Mostyn in ballast, Captain Sap (or Sapp)] which was breaking up on the West Hoyle Bank. Nearly all the crew of 4 and the captain were swept away in the heavy seas, but one man managed to struggle into the shallower water of the sandbank. With great difficulty in the shallow water with big waves running, the Hoylake lifeboat was able to rescue him.
In the summer of 1864, a handsome silver medal, and a diploma of courage, was presented to George Davies, from the King of the Netherlands, for the assistance which the crew of the Hoylake life-boat rendered in saving the life of a seaman named G. Van Sperm, during the severe storm of the 3rd of December last, from the Dutch galliot Gezina Reina, lost on West Hoyle Bank.
On 7th October 1889, in very heavy weather, the 1500 ton barque Mount Pleasant of Christiana (now Oslo)(Captain Petersen, with timber from Quebec) broke loose from her tow (tug Commodore) and ran aground on the Hoyle Bank. She had a crew of 20 and a cargo of timber from Quebec for Liverpool. The Point of Ayr lifeboat launched at 1:00 pm and, in very rough conditions, succeeded in getting close to the casualty by 3pm, despite a mass of tangled wreckage (her three masts had been carried away). They were able to take up a line floated down to her by the crew aboard which they used to pull the lifeboat alongside and rescue the 20 Swedish crew aboard, despite huge seas breaking over them. The lifeboat then drew clear and her crew were able to transfer the survivors to the steam tug Despatch which had towed out the Liverpol No. 1 lifeboat. The Point of Ayr lifeboat then proceeded to the shelter of Mostyn Docks, since it was too rough to land on the beach by the station. After walking back to the station, the crew were then called out again - but this time no trace of the vessel was found so they finally stood down at 1:20am in the night.
For this service, the Point of Ayr lifeboatmen were awarded silver medals by the Governments of Norway and Sweden.
A report in Lloyd's List on 12th October, states that the Mount Pleasant arrived in Liverpool on 11th October in tow of three tugs and would be beached there, after being ashore on East Hoyle Bank.
At 9pm on 16 October 1902, the Hoylake lifeboat was launched (for the second time that day having already been at sea for 10 hours standing by the Liverpool SS Heraclides) to a vessel stranded on Blundell Sands. Coxswain Thomas Dodd managed to get alongside the stricken vessel, the barquentine Matador (322 tons), and take off the crew of 9. He was awarded the Silver Medal of the RNLI as well as a medal by the Russian Life-Saving Association.
The Hoylake lifeboat was launched at 10:10am on 27th August 1971 to a vessel in distress off the West Hoyle Bank in a WNW force 6 wind. Only the top of the wheelhouse of the tug Diane [also reported as Dianne, a river tug being used as a leisure boat 9.8m long, 2.1m beam, on passage Rhyl to Mersey, owned Mr. Laird] was visible and the waves were breaking over her. With no time to anchor and veer down, Coxswain Triggs decided to drive the lifeboat directly alongside the wreck. One man was pulled to safety, but it took another attempt in strengthening wind, with concerted work by the crew, to pull the second man to safety. The lifeboat struck the submerged wheelhouse and sustained some damage, but remained afloat and was able to get into calmer water and then return Hoylake. The wreck was reported as 1 mile north of the Dee Buoy - but no echo sounder trace was found later.
For this outstanding service, Coxswain Harold Triggs was awarded the Bronze medal by the RNLI.
Dee Estuary Losses
As well as the recent yacht wrecks described above, there have been many losses of vessels in the Dee estuary, often as a result of breaking free from moorings or when anchored. The casualty records (Lloyd's List Board of Trade Wreck Returns Newspapers Chester, Beaumaris and Caernarfon Shipping Register returns etc) show the relative importance of different ports at different dates. Capacity (where known) is shown for vessels of over 20 tons and steamships are marked SS. Vessels of around 50 tons would mostly be flats: barge-like sailing vessels. Smaller vessels are mainly fishing boats. Wrecks (even more numerous) in the entrance channels and offshore banks are not included.
Most of these wrecks will have been salvaged or refloated, so no wreckage will be left. Also the location of the casualty is mostly not given precisely. More detail (clickable) is given for some of them. Also, see accounts of damage to vessels in the Dee from storms in late 1775, in late 1808, in late 1826, in early 1839, in early 1853, in November1890.
Parkgate: Sally(17-12-1802) King George (7-10-1808) Storm Damage (7-10-1889) Severn Brothers(21-2-1897) Up Guards(30-8-1898) Richard(12-1-1899) Good Intent(13-1-1899) River Dee(17-12-1902) Humphry(18-12-1902) James(28-12-1902) Daisy(31-1-1903) Mary(13-2-1903) Morning Star(21-11-1903) Kitty(21-11-1903) Annie(22-2-1908) Fanny(8-9-1908) Viola(6-11-1908) David(7-11-1908) Curlew(22-11-1908) Edith(22-11-1908) Mary(22-11-1908) Orion(22-10-1909) Leader(12-11-1909) Nancy(16-1-1910) Mary(16-1-1910) Mary(24-2-1910) Violet(25-7-1910) Annie(5-11-1911) White Heather(5-11-1911) R.D.C.(5-11-1911) Delightful(5-11-1911) Violet(5-11-1911) Skipper(8-4-1912) Fleoe(8-4-1912)
Heswall: Magic(30-8-1898) Martha(28-12-1900) Westminster(29-12-1900) Dashing Spray(17-12-1902) Starting(27-2-1903) Fox(27-2-1903) Irene(25-7-1910) Florence(7-11-1910)
Caldy Point: Mary Jane(29-12-1900) William and Nelly(22-11-1908) Lulu(12-11-1909)
West Kirby: Dove(14-10-1909) Curlew(14-10-1909)
Flint: Ardent (7-10-1808) Star(8-5-1903 59nt) Mark(3-11-1903 53nt)
Strandings still occur: on 31-1-2013 the large vessel (125m long) Ciudad de Cadiz that takes airbus wings from Mostyn to Bordeaux was stranded on the sandbank at Mostyn. See here and photo. She refloated on a very high tide 11 days later.
See also details of another stranding (in 2006 in Wild Road) here .
From 2001-4 Mostyn provided a Ro-Ro service for P&O to Ireland. This was discontinued over concerns about dredging the channel to Mostyn to provide convenient access.
The only other wrecks currently (2017) charted in the Dee Estuary south of a line from Hilbre Island to point of Ayr:
(i) at 53° 22.482'N, 3° 13.79'6W charted as wreck 7.9m below CD from a 1971 survey which found sign of wreckage covering an area 4m by 8m and rising 1.6m up. A rock outcrop is some 50m NW of this wreck. This area is SW of Hilbre islands.
(ii) at 53° 21.116N, 3° 17.245W which was found in a 1987 survey and swept clear at 0.4m below CD. The area of wreckage is 25m by 8m lying N.S. This location is on the west side of the Mostyn Deep opposite the Salisbury Middle buoy.
(iii) an area is charted as foul nearby at depth 3.3m below CD at 53° 21.209N, 3° 17.121W which is described by fishermen as a timber obstruction.
(iv) Addendum 2019: two more wrecks SW of Hilbre are reported from a survey: at 53°22.92 N, 3°13.94 W in 8.4 metres and at 53°22.77 N, 3°14.15 W in 11.8 metres below CD
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Wrecks in the entrance channels
Outside of a line from Point of Ayr to the Hilbre Point, there are three channels into the Dee (the Welsh Channel, Mid-Hoyle Channel and Hilbre Swash). Many wrecks are known in these channels and on the sandbanks between them.
Here I give links to some of these:
Wrecks that are (or were) visible at LW:
(i) Thomas 1910: see here, 53° 23.26N 3° 13.47W.
(iii) Wreckage extending 8m by 6m: 53° 25.032N, 3° 12.379W. I visited this wreck on foot at LW (Liv 0.1m on 12-8-1991) when some ribs were visible protruding about 6 inches above water. The wreckage was charted as 1.1m above CD, but is now (2017) charted as "foul" since the general depth is 1.2m above CD at that location. I revisited this site on foot at LW (Liv 0.1m on 21-3-2019) and could see no sign of any wreckage above the sea level.
(iv) A wooden wreck, off Hoylake, has grown more prominent as the sand level has gradually got lower. It was about 1 foot above the surrounding sand in 2010 and, by 2019, it rises about 3 foot. The wreckage is about 90 feet long running WSW-ENE and is in a scour pool. Surrounding seabed is at about 3.1 m above CD, so the top of the wreck dries 4 m or so. It is marked (by the Hoylake Lifeboat Launch Crew) with white and orange buoys in position 53° 24.72N 3° 11.53W. See Hoylake wooden wreck 2019.
For more detail and some discussion of possible candidates: see here.
Wrecks on NW side of Hoyle bank:
(i)SS Albion 1887: here, 53° 23.567N, 3° 22.606W. Contemporary report. Image of seabed (depths in metres below CD).
(ii)PSS Lord Blayney 1833: details , 53° 23.6N 3° 26.3W (very approx position) also here.
(iii) Ceylon 1901: here , 53° 23.754 3° 26.609 W. See contemporary report. Image of seabed (depths in metres below CD). Fuller details
Wrecks in Hilbre Swash and nearby (from S to N):
SS Maurita 1941: here , 53°24.915N, 3°13.878W. Contemporary report of loss photo .
MV Red Hand 1927: here , 53°24.948 N, 3°12.961W. Contemporary report of loss photo .
SS Resolute 1928: here , 53°25.132N, 3°12.461W. Contemporary report of loss.
Lota 1916: here, 53°25.05, 3°13.06W. Contemporary report of loss.
Daniel 1885: here, 53°25.19N, 3°11.89W. Contemporary report of loss
St. Matthaeus 1887: here, 53°25.265N, 3°14.245W. Contemporary report of loss.
Alma 1881: here, 53°25.43N, 3°11.66W. Contemporary report of loss.
Robert Seymour 1881: here, 53°25.715N, 3°13.163W. Image of seabed (depths in metres below CD). Contemporary report of loss.
Many wrecks occurred on the sandbanks (called Hoyle Bank) offshore of the Dee Estuary.
For some examples of such wrecks see West Hoyle Bank wrecks
Some East Hoyle Bank wrecks: Traveller 1810, part of Norah 1835, Red Rover 1858, Alice 1873, Daniel 1885, Mount Pleasant 1889 (refloated), Blanche 1890, Sisters 1891, Ada, Glance 1903.
For some charted wrecks N of Hoyle Bank, see here .
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Deux Amis 1779
The Dee Estuary seems far away from "Pirate Territory" but for a considerable period, while England was at war with America and then France, letters of Marque were given to British vessels to enable them to capture enemy merchant vessels. This was "privatising the navy" to some extent. Liverpool was at the forefront of exploiting this opportunity to make a lot of money very quickly. Here is recounted the aftermath of one such capture.
The Knight had successfully captured several valuable vessels: bringing the La Plaine du Cap (from St Domingo) into Liverpool in October 1778, and sending the captured Catharina (from Cadiz to Le Havre with a valuable cargo) into the Mersey in November 1778.
In late December 1778, she was accompanying her latest prize, the East Indiaman Deux Amis (China and Pondicherry to L'Orient, captured off Cape Finisterre on 23rd December 1778) back to Liverpool. She had a very valuable cargo: fine tea, silk, calico, nankeen, handkerchiefs, muslin, china, arrack, cotton, wine, canes, etc, which were valued at £150,000 - a huge sum in those days.
In a NW to NE gale which started on the afternoon of 31st December, both vessels were driven onto the North Welsh coast: the Knight near Abergele [Conway Bay in another account] where she lost her masts but, otherwise, hull and sailors were saved.
The prize crew aboard the Deux Amis were less fortunate they were driven ashore near Point of Ayr (at the mouth of the Dee Estuary location also described as near Mostyn more precisely as near Llinegar, closer to Mostyn than Talacre property of Sir Pyers Mostyn of Talacre) and she filled with water. Those aboard (24 English and 24 French sailors) took to the masts and shrouds during the night which was bitterly cold. Only 10 English and 5 French [9 and 1 in another account] men survived: 33 [or 32] were lost.
The vicar of Llanasa (parish church for Point of Ayr and Gronant) records that 21 sailors were buried in one grave in 1779.
When the Deux Amis grounded, many of the French, the moment the ship struck, leaped overboard and were drowned. One of them took with him, in the confusion, a box of diamonds, then worth £6,000 and another took a wedge of gold, weighing twelve pounds [currently worth £165000] both of which were lost. The hull broke up in the waves. 165K pounds -->
Part of the cargo, which was washed ashore, was lodged in the Custom-house of Chester, [located at Parkgate], and at Liverpool, but most of it was damaged. Sir Roger Mostyn and other local gentlemen armed their tenants and prevented, by everything in their power, the country people, who assembled in great numbers, from plundering the wreck but notwithstanding all their vigilance and activity, property to the amount of several thousand pounds was carried away.
The Liverpool newspaper published a strongly worded warning/threat to anyone not restoring any goods to the owners.
The Knight was repaired but, in July 1779, she was sunk by a French frigate her crew were saved and landed at Oporto.
The same storm caused another loss of a prize: the Liverpool privateer Townside, Captain Watmough, 130 tons, 16 guns, and 90 men, belonging to Messrs. Mitton & Co., captured an East Indiaman Iris (French, Captain Pinatel), laden with coffee, dry goods, etc., but the prize was lost near Beaumaris, the crew and part of the cargo and materials being saved. More detail. The Townside was captured a few months later, and re-taken by the Sybil man-of-war.
Note that another link to piracy was the experience of the Hiram [aground in the entrance to the Dee Estuary on 1 Sept 1799] which on a later voyage to the West indies was captured (by a French Warship), then retaken by her crew, captured by a French Privateer and finally retaken by HMS Unite.
Dramatic rescue on River Dee after a dog became trapped
A dog which got trapped in mud by the River Dee in Cheshire, saw emergency services stage a dramatic rescue.
The incident occurred yesterday afternoon (June 11) by the River Dee in Chester after the dog was discovered on the river bed, unable to move.
The dog had to be dug out of the mud by the fire service&aposs specialist water rescue team and hauled to safety. The pet was then taken to emergency vets for treatment after the ordeal.
It was discovered that he had a dislocated hip but the vets are hopeful he will make a full recovery.
Got something to say on this story? Let us know
After the incident, Chester Fire Station took to social media saying: "Green Watch were called to a report of a dog trapped in mud, by the River Dee."
"The water rescue team dug him out of the mud and helped him back up onto dry land. His owner took him to the emergency vets, who found he had dislocated hip but are hopeful he&aposll make a full recovery."
Chester: Races, Romans and the River Dee
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Chester simply sizzles in the summer. Visitors flock to this cosily compact city circled by ancient sandstone walls. There's a river, a racecourse and Roman remains. History seeps out of every little alleyway, the Welsh hills are hazy on the horizon and pretty Cheshire villages are just a flip-flop's trip away.
A stroll high above the crowds around the worn old walls, pierced with turrets, towers and ornamental gateways, whiles away an hour or so. It also gives you a good view of the jumble of architectural styles that knits together into a vivid mosaic. The higgledy-piggledy black-and-white Tudor façades jostle with the Victorian half-timbered imitations and the medieval shopfronts in Chester's celebrated "Rows": the galleried walkways that radiate out from The Cross. Teetering over the main streets, Eastgate, Watergate, Northgate and Bridge Street, they're lined with a second tier of delis, shops, old-world pubs and cafés.
During the summer the Chester Races (01244 304610 chester-races.co.uk) is one of the biggest crowd-pullers. Women in fancy hats swan past camera-clicking tourists milling around the town crier. The midday proclamation at The Cross has been a theatrical spectacle since the Middle Ages.
The first race was held at the Roodee, the oldest racecourse in Britain, in 1539 thanks to the Lord Mayor, Henry Gee, whose name spawned the nickname "gee-gees". The next meet is a week today: Saturday 21 August. You can take a picnic or have a flutter in swanky gourmet Restaurant 1539 (01244 304611 restaurant1539.co.uk): think contemporary design coupled with panoramic views over the racecourse.
The course was built on the site of the silted-up Roman harbour where ships once unloaded their cargo from the Mediterranean. Two thousand years ago Chester was an important Roman garrison called Fortress Deva – named after the River Dee. Chester also lays claim to the largest Roman amphitheatre in Britain (english-heritage.org.uk) and for a taste – and smell – of what it would have been like here two millennia ago, plus a glimpse of the archaeological excavations beneath the city, you can visit the Dewa Roman Experience (01244 343407 dewaromanexperience. co.uk) with its reconstructed street scene.
The history of Chester Cathedral (01244 324756 chestercathedral.com) is a little more recent. First there was a Saxon minster here, then a Benedictine Abbey. It's been a cathedral since Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries in the 16th century. Check out the Norman arches, Gothic columns, 14th-century wood-carvings and the medieval shrine of St Werburgh. Wander around the tranquil cloisters and church, one of most magnificent monastic complexes in the country, then stop for refreshments in the 13th-century rectory café.
Alternatively, escape the crowds by wandering down to the River Dee to feed the ducks and swans, stroll beneath the shady trees with an ice-cream, or take a cruise along the river. If you fancy messing about in boats, Chester Boat (01244 325394 chesterboat. co.uk) has an old-fashioned Mississippi paddle steamer-style showboat, the Mark Twain. You can hop on a city cruise or a two-hour Ironbridge excursion through the Duke of Westminster's estate. Or head to a country pub for lunch. The Grosvenor Arms (01244 620228 grosvenorarms-aldford.co.uk) in Alford is a gorgeous old inn, now a local gastropub in a bucolic Cheshire village.
More exotic wildlife can be found in Chester Zoo (01244 380280 chester zoo.org) – Britain's largest zoo, spread across 110 acres with more than 7,000 animals, including a new baby elephant: the male calf, Nayan, meaning "eye" in Hindi, was born on 18 July. The zoo has a maze of pathways to meander down and award-winning gardens.
Ness (0151 353 0123 nessgardens.org.uk) is on the Wirral peninsula, between the River Mersey and River Dee. It's just a 15-minute drive from the centre of Chester, with views out across the Dee Estuary towards North Wales. The gardens, which were started in 1898, now belong to the University of Liverpool. They were the life's work of Arthur Bulley, who funded plant-collecting expeditions in the Far East. Today, the Laburnum Arch is one of the garden's best-known features, while during the summer the herbaceous borders and terrace garden come into their own. There's a charming potager, heather garden and rock garden and large shady lawns for picnicking. Nearby, the 18th-century port of Parkgate, now silted up, borders a salt marsh. Buy a homemade ice-cream from Nichols and walk along the front looking out to the Welsh coastline.
Tatton Park (01625 374435 tattonpark.org.uk), near Knutsford, is 30 minutes by car from Chester. With a stately home, landscaped pleasure gardens, a 1,000-acre deer park, rare breeds farm and numerous events throughout the year it makes a great day out. Today there's an open-air production of Romeo and Juliet , and next weekend (21-22 August) a vintage and classic car rally. You can wander around the 18th-century mansion, explore the atmospheric Tudor Old Hall, stroll around the walled kitchen gardens and glasshouses, Japanese garden and then relax in the Stables – a restaurant focusing on local produce.
Llandudno, North Wales
The beaches of North Wales are easily accessible from Chester. The seaside resort Llandudno is just over an hour away by train. The horseshoe-shaped bay lined with elegant Victorian villas lies between two headlands, Great Orme and Little Orme. The Irish Sea is on one side and the Conwy Estuary on the other. There's a Victorian pier, the longest in Wales, donkey rides on the sand, Britain's longest cable car – and the recently completed expansion of dynamic contemporary art gallery Mostyn (01492 879201 mostyn.org). Current exhibitions include the Junkyard Museum of Awkward Things (until 16 October). Arriva Trains Wales departs at 55 minutes past every daytime hour from Chester direct to Llandudno.
Embark on a cinematic tour of the historic city of Chester. These beautifully composed panning shots take in such noted landmarks as Phoenix Tower, God's Providence House and the famous galleried Rows, still preserved today. Light, palatable and educational, travelogues proved a popular addition to commercial cinema programmes in the 1920s and would continue to supplement features until the 70s.
Later the travelogue genre would become absorbed by television series such as Whicker's World (1959-1988). Historic Chester was made by the Ideal Film Company, better known as a prolific producer and distributor of feature films, particularly literary adaptations. This is one of a spate of travelogues released by Ideal in the early 1920s, see also: In Old St Albans (1920) The Pageant of Winchester (1920) A Day in London (1920) St. Andrew's Wells (1920) and Leeds (1920).
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Chester, urban area (from 2011 built-up area) and former city ( district), Cheshire West and Chester unitary authority, northwestern England. It is situated on a small sandstone ridge at the head of the estuary of the River Dee.
The town’s location was chosen by the Romans as headquarters of Legion XX. Known as Deva, or Castra Devana, it was an important Roman town but was deserted by the early 5th century. There are a number of Roman remains, including the foundations of the north and east walls. By the 10th century Chester was a flourishing Mercian settlement, trading with northern Wales, Ireland, and the Wirral peninsula, and had its own mint, established in 970. William I (the Conqueror) made it the centre of a palatinate earldom in 1071, virtually independent of royal government, but in 1237 the earldom reverted to the crown. The earliest city charter dates from 1176. Chester was an important port in the 13th and 14th centuries, trading especially with Ireland. The gradual silting of the River Dee led to its decline, and by the 18th century Liverpool had outstripped it.
In the 19th century the coming of the railways made Chester again a thriving commercial centre, and the many black-and-white buildings dating from that period reflect its prosperity. Chester became a cathedral city in 1541 when the Benedictine abbey of St. Werburgh was dissolved. The cathedral and the buildings grouped around the cloisters are important examples of medieval architecture. The city was (and remains) a commercial and ecclesiastical centre. Chester still has its walls intact in their entire circuit of 2 miles (3 km). The street plan of the central area is Roman in origin, with four main streets radiating at right angles. Perhaps the most distinctive feature of the town is the Rows, a double tier of shops with the lower ones set back and the upper ones projecting over them.
The city extends far beyond the Chester urban area to include an expansive rural area adjoining the Welsh border. The countryside is important for dairying and includes a number of small settlements. Malpas has a fine medieval church, and the ruins of Beeston Castle give views over the Cheshire Plain to the Welsh hills. Area city, 173 square miles (448 square km). Pop. (2001) urban area, 80,121 (2011) built-up area, 86,011.
Established in 1539, Chester is the oldest racecourse still in operation in the world.
During the Roman occupation of Britain, most of the modern sixty-five-acre site of Chester Racecourse was not even dry land. In fact, it was an important harbour on the river Dee, which supplied the Roman garrison of Deva, (now the city centre section of modern day Chester), and for those interested in ancient history, some of the anchor stones used at the Roman port can still be observed at the current racecourse site.
After the departure of the Romans, and following several centuries of river action, silt produced an island in the river, and a stone cross was built on the island. The current name for Chester Racecourse of – The Roodee is a mixture of the Norse and Saxon languages and means The Island of the Cross.
By the early middle ages the construction of a weir system on the river caused much larger quantities of silt to be deposited, and the original Roodee was converted into a riverside meadow, and this lay the foundation for the area to be eventually turned into a racecourse
It is worth noting, Chester has three major footnotes in the history of modern era horse racing. The first recorded prize given to the winner of a horse race, a hand painted wooden bowl, was presented to the winner of a horse race at a Chester fair in 1512. The second footnote revolves around Henry Gee, who became mayor of Chester in 1539. One of the many reforms Gee introduced, was an annual horse race meeting on the Roodee. The original prize of a silver bell was presented to the winning owner of, “The horse that ran before all others”. The start date of this event makes Chester Racecourse the oldest continuous site of horse racing in the British Isles. Finally, due to his involvement and love of horse racing, Henry Gee’s name became synonymous with race horses, as today they are still often called, ‘gee gees’. By 1817, the vast crowds attracted to the annual Chester races made it economically viable to build the first grandstand. This proved to be an unqualified success, as the tight nature of the track enabled race goers to watch and enjoy every facet of the racing action.
During the nineteenth century, Chester races attracted: “The most perfect mix of society from all over the British Isles”. This is a proud tradition the racecourse continues up to the present day. In recent years, Chester has extended its racing programme, staging fifteen days of competitive and quality racing. However, the prime event remains the three-day festival meeting in early May, and with historic races like the Chester Cup, the Chester Vase, the Ormonde Stakes, the Cheshire Oaks, and the Dee Stakes, this three-day meeting attracts top racehorses from Britain, Ireland and sometimes France. A racecourse not only steeped in history, but also renowned for its style, innovative nature and of course, inimitable racetrack.
There are few more thrilling sights in British Racing than the horses thundering into the final furlong at Chester and much like the tight turns of the 1 mile, 1 furlong course and participants who race the hallowed turf, the team at Chester move quickly, stay balanced and tight to the curve. In recent years, the unique setting of the Roodee has grown to encompass many purpose-built facilities from which to enjoy a raceday at Chester, serviced by an award-winning team and accompanied by mouth-watering menus and an extensive selection of wines and Champagnes. This winning combination, culminating in the ‘Chester experience’, is what we are famed for. Jockeys, trainers and racegoers, whatever the result, all return home with a smile on their face.
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Cheshire Roman History
This page gives some information, hopefully interesting and entertaining, about Roman times in Cheshire and the Wirral peninsula.
A good place to start finding out about Cheshire Roman History is with a trip around the ancient city of Chester with an official guide , and a look at this document , issued by Cheshire County Council, now called Cheshire West and Chester to distinguish it from the other lot. I can summarise this information here and try to add a few extras. Just as I am not a trained geologist, neither am I an expert on Roman or any other history, so I would urge people to treat any information given here with caution.
800BC to 410AD
British Tribes in Roman Times
800BC to 1BC: The Iron Age in Britain. The local people (in present-day Cheshire and Shropshire) were called the Cornovii. According to a Wikipedia article there was another tribe of the same name in the north of Scotland (and perhaps another in Cornwall, which, if true, may give a hint as to the origin of the name Cornwall). Apparently, these tribes appear to be unrelated to each other. To the West, among others, were the Ordovices in North Wales and the Silures in South Wales. These two tribes gave their names to the Ordovicean and Silurian geological periods, since the defining rock sequences of these two periods were first recognised in these tribes' territories. To the North of the Cornovii (across the River Mersey) were the Brigantes. The Cornovii capital, according to the above article was a hill-fort on the Wrekin, a hill near Shrewsbury which stands alone and is a landmark from far off in all directions. The Wrekin, by the way, looks like a volcano, but isn't one, although it was formed by volcanic activity in pre-cambrian times, and the rock is, among other things, lava. The name Wrekin, it seems, derives from the Virocon part of the name Viroconium Cornoviorum, the township (Wroxeter) that the Cornovii moved to under the Romans. Not many people know that.
55 to 54BC: Julius Caesar invaded southern Britain after taking Gaul (basically, Western Europe) from 58BC on. He did not, however, consolidate the British conquests, though his successors made treaties with the rulers of the southern kingdoms and trade increased between southern Britain and the Roman Empire. These facts, by the way, are taken from the Ordnance Survey Map & Guide to Roman Britain, an excellent and fascinating publication, and apologies for quoting the previous sentence virtually word for word from it. The same applies to some of what follows.
The Roman Invasion of Britain.
Occupation Dates and Generals/Governors
43 to 47AD: After a century of military inaction against Britain by Octavian (Julius Caesar's successor), Augustus (the first emperor), Tiberius and Gaius (Caligula), emperor Claudius conquered south-east Britain with 40,000 men, and then began the conquest of Wales.
71 to 73AD: The conquest of Northern England. After the famous campaign in 60-61AD by Boudicca and her East Anglian tribe the Iceni (during which Colchester (Camulodunum), St Albans (Verulamium) and London (Londinium) were destroyed) and the suicide of Claudius' successor Nero (I don't suppose the two events were related), Vespasian became emperor. He was in command from 69 to 79AD. The Romans were finally in control of Wales (the Borderlands up to Prestatyn, Central Wales and the South at least) by the early 70s. There were forts at Prestatyn and Ruthin. I suppose that, now relatively safe from attack from the west, the time had come to attempt a conquest of Cheshire and the north-west of the country and move north from there.
79 to 105AD: So the Romans arrived in Cheshire in the early 70s AD and by 79AD had built a permanent fortress in Chester. This was one of three permanent fortresses in Britain at the time. The other two were at York (headquarters of the 9th Legion Hispana and later the 6th Legion Victrix) and Caerleon (on the outskirts of Newport, South Wales), home of the Legio II Augusta. Chester originally housed the 2nd Legion Adiutrix (meaning Auxiliary). A Roman legion consisted of some 5,000 to 6,000 troops. The Romans did not seem to have things all their own way by any means. In Britain they had had one very early false start with Julius Caesar, a hundred years of umming and ahhing, not knowing whether to try another invasion, obliteration in the east of the country by Bouddica and now in 86 to 87AD an embarrassing retreat by Agricola (who was in charge of the invasion of Scotland) from all regions north of the River Forth. Things got worse by 105AD when they were forced out of Scotland altogether. Emperor Hadrian came along in 122AD and ordered the building of a wall which closely followed the present-day Scottish/English border. Much of it is still there, in fact. You can walk the route (or take the bus).
Things were equally bad in mainland Europe. In 9AD, the Roman army had been annihilated in Germany, in 68AD there had been civil war in the empire and now, about 87AD, the 2nd Legion Adiutrix were forced to leave their base at Chester (known as Deva to the Romans - the name Castra and later, Chester, was used only well after the Romans had left) to help out in mainland Europe. Deva was, from that time on, home to the 20th Legion Valeria Victrix. Valeria Victor. Valeria seems to refer to Marcus Valerius Messalla Messallinus, who led the legion for a while, and made a good curry.
Much of the detail on Chester in this and the other history pages is taken from old versions of the Official City Guide and also from a collection of Notes of Historical Interest on Chester, 1961, by Francis Goodacre, who was a Voluntary Guide for the city. This was issued to City Guides at the time: I have a copy because my father was one. Francis suggests that Friends desirous of having knowledge of Chester are advised to put themselves in possession of the Official Guide, and more particularly to visit the Grosvenor Museum in Grosvenor Street, as a preliminary to seeing the various objects of interest in the City. The link came later. I don't think computers had been invented in 1961.
105AD to 410AD. The 20th legion was garrisoned in Chester for about 300 years, Chester being a fortress, rather than a city. The local people lived outside the walls, which, by 105AD, had been rebuilt in stone, replacing the earlier timber and turf fortifications. There were settlements at Saltney and Heronbridge, both on the west side of the River Dee, Saltney a mile to the south-west of the fortress, Heronbridge a mile south. The local tribe of Cheshire and Shropshire were the Cornovii. Their base when the Romans arrived was a fort on the Wrekin in Shropshire, but they then moved their capital to Wroxeter, near Shrewsbury, named by the Romans Viroconium Cornoviorum, incorporating the name of the local tribe in the Roman place-name, as happened repeatedly throughout the country. The local people of each tribe, or civitates, lived in communities (the largest of which are called civitas capitals) close to the military strongholds. For their retired soldiers, who had completed 25 years' service, the romans built towns called Coloniae, close to the large fortresses, where the veterans were provided housing and some land. The first of these was built at Colchester in 49AD. Other capitals followed at Gloucester, Lincoln and York, etc., but not at Chester. In fact, a glance at the map shows no large civilian settlements in Cheshire or to the north of it. Wroxeter is the nearest civitas capital to Chester and there was a smallish fortified settlement at Whitchurch, half way between. The small local Chester settlements at Heronbridge and Saltney are not marked on the Ordnance Survey Roman Britain map. It would appear that there may have been mutual benefits from this arrangement, that cooperation between the locals and the military meant that the locals were protected against encroachment by other tribes and the Roman masters had a labour force. It seems from contemporary accounts that the Cornovii, anyway, were not war-painted savages, but sophisticated people who could farm, produce fine jewellery and pottery, trade with the outside world and run a salt-production industry around Middlewich (Salinae). [These are personal thoughts, by the way, without a lot of in-depth research]. However, it does seem that relations between Romans and locals could have been a lot worse, though in places there may have been a fine line between order and anarchy. The East Anglian uprising 60 years earlier, for instance, was caused by an act of gross stupidity, as Simon Shama describes it, by the local Roman governor, who didn't seem to like the idea of women rulers. He had Boudicca flogged and her daughters were raped. This caused wide-spread resentment of the Roman rule and the resulting uprising in the area produced some major victories over the Romans. They must have been shocked that their invincibility was not set in stone after all, but they took control again in the end. Boudicca took her own life, in preference to being captured by these barbaric Roman savages.
Buildings and Roads
The original walls of the fortress at Chester were rectangular and less extensive than the ones you see today, enclosing an area of 60 acres compared to the later 100 acres. It was Ethelflaed (AKA Ethelfleda, Ethelfreda, Aethelfraed etc.), daughter of King Alfred, who began the process of restoring and extending the walls in 907AD, although this was done in stages and the work was not finally complete until about 1230 to 1250. The extended walls enclose about 100 acres. Ethelflaed had built a castle overlooking the river and wanted the new walls to surround and protect it. This was replaced on the same site later by the Normans. Chester castle doesn't really look like an old castle is supposed to look - it was replaced at the end of the 18th century and is now used as Crown Courts and a military museum. The central Norman tower, however, is still in place. It is possible to visit the castle. Click here for a fine article on the history of the walls in Chester during the first millenium AD.
Roman Pipes in the Grosvenor Museum
(image borrowed from roman-britain.org)
The Romans knew how to build villas, fortresses, plumbing systems, baths and roads. There are lengths of Roman piping on display in the Grosvenor Museum in Chester which bear the name of the emperor at the time. The trouble is, the piping looks very much like sewage piping and you wonder if someone was trying to tell him something. A lot of Roman-style villas were built in Britain during the Roman occupation of the country, with their hypocausts to provide their warm bathing and their often magnificent mosiac floors. I, for one, always thought these villas were lived in by the higher Roman echelons, but it seems that many were owned by the local British chieftains. The Roman system of governance was to encourage the local tribespeople to carry on as normal and work with them for mutual benefit, so the Romans got their food, their salt, iron, silver, lead and other minerals and building materials, and the Britons got to live in a safer and more civilised manner, close to, and protected by, the Roman garrisons, rather than in an earth-and-wood fort on top of a hill in the middle of nowhere, and under threat all the time from other tribes. The local chiefs were encouraged by a taste of the Roman good life. Simon Shauma, in his TV series The History of Britain says that some of the younger men in particular were invited to Rome for an especially good time. The thought of coming back home and enjoying the same sort of life-style in luxurious mansions, just for toeing the line, must have been impossible to resist. Although there are plenty of villas of this age around the country, there is only one that has been found, so far, in the North-West of England. This is at Eaton near Tarporley in Cheshire. The placename Eaton seems to crop up a lot in connection with Roman activity the meaning of the name is invariably given as 'settlement on an island', as in ton meaning settlement, which has come down to us as town, and ea (often eye) meaning island. There are a number of eyes in my part of the world: Little Eye, Middle Eye and Hildeburgh's Eye in the Dee estuary, and the Roodee in Chester. Hildeburgh's Eye is better known nowadays as Hilbre. The Roodee in Chester is where the racecourse is now, the name coming from 'Rood Eye', which meant Island of the Cross since an ancient cross stood there (and what's left of it still does). In Roman times, the course of the river Dee was along the line of the current west wall of the city what is now the Roodee was the Roman port. The mooring rings for the boats are still there by the side of the racecourse. The river's course moved out westwards over time, leaving an island (the Rood Eye), and eventually the original river course silted up, leaving this flat piece of land as it is today.
The Romans laid down the fundamentals of road construction that we still use today. We have the benefits of tarmac for a nice smooth top layer but the layers beneath are pretty much laid out as they were two thousand years ago, with stones of increasing size as you go down. Drainage has always been the key to a successful road. The first thing was a cambered top surface to throw water off to the sides of the road, where it would be caught and led away by a ditch. Water penetrating the top flagstones would mostly run off sideways over the cambered layer of compacted, or cemented, sand or clay. Any water passing through that would drain to the side of the layers of stone. This diagram may be missing curbstones between the road and the ditch to hold the whole structure together.
Roman Villa at Eaton, near Tarporley
The villa at Eaton, near Tarporley, is a rare, possibly unique, sighting in the North-West of England. Much of the rest of the country seems to be well endowed. One thing that seems to strike home from a glance at the Ordnance Survey map of Roman Britain is that the majority of these villas (including Eaton) appear to be distant from the known roads and fortresses at the time, which suggests that the wealthy people who lived in them must have felt safe. Or maybe our knowledge of the road system at the time is incomplete. In Cheshire, we know that two roads, at least, left Chester, one to the south (across the river) and one to the east (through the Eastgate). It seems likely that a third road went north through the Northgate. Nothing went west to Wales from the fortress because this was the port and the river was essentially part of the sea.
The road to the south from Chester (Deva) went via Whitchurch (Mediolanum) to Wroxeter (Viroconium Cornoviorum), near Shrewsbury, where it turned east and then south-east to London (Londinium). This Chester to London road was called Watling Street and the Wroxeter to London stretch became known as the A5. The road east from Chester ran via Northwich (Condate) to Manchester (Mamucium) then on to York (Eburacum) and was also known as Watling Street. In fact this was an extention of the original Watling Street. So Watling Street eventually ran from London to Manchester and York via Shrewsbury and Chester, hardly the typical straight-line route that we associate with Roman roads.
Roman Roads in Cheshire and Beyond
There is no concrete evidence for a road leading north out of Chester. However, sections of Roman road have been found running parallel to and to the west of the mid-Wirral M53 motorway, which strongly suggest a route between Chester and a point somewhere west of present-day Birkenhead.
There is a book in existence called The Streets of Liverpool by which has reached the light of day again courtesy of Liverpool Libraries and Information Services, William Brown Street, Liverpool L3 8EW. The book was reprinted during the build-up to the 800th anniversary in 2007 of Liverpool's Charter. It is a fine and entertaining book, first published in 1869 and written by James Stonehouse, who acknowledges communications with near friends and aged acquaintances, who lived "when George the Third was king," whose memories of the good old town are still green - George III was king between 1760 and 1801. The book is mentioned here because of something that is written in a chapter called The Silent Highway, by which he means the River Mersey (though the phrase was originally applied to the Thames). James Stonehouse says, "There is a great deal of mystery and speculation relative to the early history of the Mersey estuary. It has been conjectured, with considerable show of reason and probability, that in the time of the Romans, and even beyond the period of their exodus, in the reign of Valentian, this great arm of the sea did not exist. He goes on to suggest that the stream flowed between Biston and Wallasey hills, and makes the point that in the Itinerary of Antonine there is no mention of such a significant estuary and river. He also mentions the map of Ptolemy (Claudius Ptolemaeus), a Greco-Roman mathematician and astronomer amongst many other things, of Britain in about 150AD, which he says fails to recognise the Mersey, even though the map in a great many respects is remarkably accurate (if you ignore the fact the Scotland, for some reason, is sideways). In fact, a map as we know it does not exist, but his coordinates (latitude and longitude) of inland towns and coastal features (such as estuaries and promontaries) do, and are readily available online, for example here. I have my doubts as to some of the place-name assumptions and thought I might try to use known places (Chester, York, Lincoln etc. haven't moved) to correlate his grid with the modern one, and then pin-point the unknowns. It must have been done before, I know.
James Stonehouse may be overdoing it a bit when he goes on to say: It is therefore conclusive that in the dark ages of the Anglo-Saxons, of which period so little is known, this noble expanse of water must have been formed. In fact there is a tradition extant that, at a remote period, there was a bridge of some sort that connected the two counties, and that immense woods and forests were only divided by a narrow strip of stream, while the geological features of both its banks were identical. It is certainly a curious circumstance that the same dexcription of trees and underwood are discoverable on the Cheshire and Lancashire shores, both in subterranean and submarine situations. What we do know is that there was certainly a forest growing from Meols and the north Wirral coast, looking as though it was heading out towards the Formby. The tree stumps and roots were submerged in Liverpool Bay but appeared in photographs taken at very low tides at the end of the 19th century.
As an aside, the Streets of Liverpool has some nice sparks of Scouse wit (odd, maybe, since the writer came from London, but then he'd been 37 years in Liverpool when he wrote it): It will be noticed that the streets in this locality [London Road] are mostly called after some illustrious men, whose names are quite "household names" amongst us. Such as Lord Nelson, St. Vincent, Bridport, Camden, Hotham (late Duncan), Trowbridge, Stafford, Seymour, Anson and Great Newton Streets. Pellew Street, out of Copperas Hill, was proposed to be called Trollope Street, after the admiral of that name, but the ladies beginning to be residents in its vicinity objected to the title, as being too demonstrative of their calling.
What are the best Roman Sites in Cheshire?
1. Chester Roman Amphitheatre
Chester Roman Amphitheatre is Britain’s largest known Roman amphitheatre. Originally part of the Roman settlement of ‘Deva’ which was founded in around 79AD and is now modern day Chester, Chester Roman Amphitheatre would have been able to seat between 8,000 and 12,000 spectators.
Two amphitheatres were actually built on the site of Chester Roman Amphitheatre, both stone-built with wooden seating but each quite different in other respects.
At its peak, Chester Roman Amphitheatre was a place where Rome’s 20th Legion trained and where the people of Deva were entertained. More recent findings have suggested that it was also the site of gruesome shows where gladiators were chained and tortured. The exact activities which would have taken place are unclear and archaeologists are still exploring Chester Roman Amphitheatre.
Sadly, little has remained of this once great structure. Most of its materials were used to construct the Chester City Walls and much of it is buried under the modern landscape. However, the outline of the amphitheatre is clear.
2. Dewa Roman Experience
Built on the former site of an ancient Roman fort, Dewa Roman Experience is a hands-on archaeological site containing the remains of this a Roman legionary base.
The Roman fort site at Chester was a strategic base for the Roman army circa AD 50. Initially the site had been a small fort used to defend Chester’s harbour and crossing point of the river Dee during campaigns against tribes in Wales and to the north and east of Chester. The name ‘Deva’ in Latin means ‘Holy One’, and takes its name from the river.
The Romans based themselves at Chester temporarily in the beginning, as resources were diverted to dealing with the Boudiccan uprisings in AD 60. A permanent military presence was established soon after, however, as the Romans attempted to conquer Britain in its entirety. The Second Legion was later stationed in Chester, circa AD 78, but the legion was withdrawn in AD 87 to help defend the Rhine frontier.
The Romans set great store by fighting conflicts at sea – Chester’s excellent harbour was therefore ideally suited as a base, and was subsequently developed into a major military centre. Its importance was demonstrated when the Romans chose it as the intended point of departure for a planned invasion of Ireland, although the plan never came to fruition.
Circa AD 90 the fort was occupied by the Twentieth Legion, and the legionary depot was rebuilt with stone. The Twentieth Legion was involved in campaigns against the Picts in Scotland whilst stationed in Chester, as well as periodically being involved in refurbishment work until the Romans’ departure from Britain in the 5th Century.
Today, visitors to Dewa Roman Experience may immerse themselves in Roman Chester – the fort was excavated in 1991 and visitors can wander through the streets and explore archaeological remains.
The visit begins with a virtual trip on board a Roman galley. There is a museum on site, and visitors can also take part in a number of historical themed activities, such as trying on Roman armour, firing a catapult and creating a mosaic. Additionally there is a soldier patrol, where visitors may experience life as a soldier, preparing for battle and defending a Roman amphitheatre.
Contributed by Chris Reid
3. Chester Roman Gardens
Perhaps in contrast to the above, this pretty reconstructed Roman site is made up of a number of Roman finds and artefacts gathered from various sites in Roman Chester.