Hamilton and Parkgate
Nursey Maid who became Nelson's lover
Throughout the ages the area of Ness, Neston and Parkgate, situated
on the Cheshire side of the River Dee, has viewed the ebb and flow
of both man and river. Time and tide may wait for no-one but the
footprints left by those who have passed through this, the most
romantic part of the Wirral Peninsula, are still to be found. Ness
with its Saxon origin, a high point of land, with Neston no doubt
derived from Nesse's Ton, the homestead.
Both manorial lands were drawn up at the time of the Norman conquest,
20 years later the Domesday survey states that Ness is worth an
estimated 20 shillings and Neston 13/4. Down through the centuries
the medieval lands were continually being bought and sold by the
knights of the day. But perhaps Ness is best known for its most
famous daughter, under her later name, Lady Hamilton, the nursery
maid who became the wife of an Ambassador, confidante of a Queen,
the woman whom Romney painted and Nelson loved.
Born of humble origins, a daughter of the village blacksmith, she
was baptised in Great Neston in 1765, 'Amy daughter of Henry Lyon,
of Nesse, by Mary his wife'. During the early life of this most
eminent of all mistresses, it is rumoured that the young 'Emy' was
in domestic service at Chester. In 1781 she was the mistress of
the Hon.Charles Greville, and then in 1784 became Mrs Emma Hart.
She then married Sir William Hamilton and began frequenting that
most fashionable of bathing places, Parkgate!
Here Lady Hamilton often partook the seaweed cure to help eliminate
the skin condition from which she suffered. She met Nelson in Naples
and their child, Horatio, was born in 1801. Four years later, Lord
Nelson vanquished the French-Spanish fleet in the Battle of Trafalgar.
Lady Hamilton died in 1815, at the age of fifty. Today, it is hard
to imagine that the township of Neston was a most prominent place
in the Middle Ages.
With the silting up of the Dee at Chester the port moved first to
Shotwick then to Neston, during the Tudor period when a 'New Key'
was built, adding to the exuberance of the area with its seaway
backdrop. Just south was, within living memory, a coal mine, first
operated in the mid 18th century. Coal was transferred to the base
of the shafts by subterranean canal and the last movement ceased
By the late 18th century, Neston had become a main line coaching
stop - the public house proliferated to meet the demand of the traveller
and sea passenger to Ireland, now sailing from the new surburb of
Parkgate. It was not unusual for Pilgrim adventurer, or voyager
to be held up for up to three months waiting for favourable winds,
so making well use of the taverns.
Many a colourful personage was to pass this way Dean Swift in 1707
- the great musician, Handel was expected, but eventually sailed
from Holyhead John Wesley was a regular 18th century commuter to
and from Parkgate and in his journals we find the following entry:
'August 1760 '- I took my leave of my friends and about noon embarked
for Chester, on Tuesday, we landed at Parkgate, being in haste,
I could not stay for my own horse, which I found could not land
till low water so I bought one, and set forth without delay.'
Wesley's next trip was in April 1762 when he was due to preach at
4.30 in the morning, but the winds changed, so he sailed away. This
distinguished preacher was often to be seen in Parkgate over the
next twenty-nine years, the last time in 1789. Many early toursts
were to perish on the crossing between Ireland and Parkgate, not
always by natural means.
'Wrecking' was not uncommon on this coast line; the wreckers were
quite enterprising in their methods and I have heard tell of accounts
whereby these insidious ghouls would lame a donkey, tie a lantern
to the animal's head and make it walk to and fro on the shoreline.
From out at sea this would appear to be the mast headlight of a
ship riding the swell safely at anchor! Accordingly the approaching
vessel would be beached, or worse, and ready for looting. Smuggling
too, with its more glamorous image but in fact a highly precarious
pursuit, was also common.
Smugglers and customs officer alike would shoot first and question
last. Tea, tobacco, and spirits were always top of the smugglers'
shopping list - the tobacco a possible thread to the clay pipe industry
at Chester. Even the fishermen of old Parkgate may have suppl,,
mented their income by Lhis fruitful but perilous form of employment.
If smuggling was not to one's taste then there always that well
known local crustaecian, Parkgate shrimp, savoured by all lovers
of this Bonne Bouel- from the Dee estuary.
Sadly now the tradition of shrimping at Parkgate has all but gone,
although the memories long remain of 'Morecambe Nobbies' - the hand-held
net, or from time to time the sight of a horse and cart trawling
the shallows. This most picturesque of niches has seen it all happen
... a rich tapestry of life with more than a touch of salt in the
air, and still calling across the sands of the Dee.
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