Picture of George Head

George Head

places mentioned

The Wirral

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I crossed the Mersey in a small steamer which leaves St. George's Dock every two hours in the day for New Brighton, one of those small watering places that abound on the Cheshire side of the river, on that peninsula which divides it from the river Dee. New Brighton is chiefly indebted to individual speculation for its existence, and is on the northern extremity of the peninsula aforesaid, contiguous to the battery and lighthouse. The landing at low water is at present decidedly bad, though means will probably by-and-by be taken to make it better. la the mean time no objections can be made on the score of safety, the punt on which we were received out of the steamer being so thick timbered and steady, that were all the people she could contain to stand on one side, their weight would be insufficient to bring that side down to the water. This punt having been pushed from the vessel by poles thirty or forty yards nearer the shore, which was very flat and sandy, one end of a platform, balanced in the middle on high wheels, was laid on her gunwale and the other on dry ground. Upon this platform we all walked out. The time allowed to the passengers before the departure of the steamer back to Liverpool is, I think, half an hour; however, it is sufficient, if an individual be brisk, to explore the wonders of this new watering place.

The coast at this point, like that of a great part of Lancashire, consists of sand hills; among these some new houses on a small scale have been built, besides a few villas with young growing plantations and gardens. Everything here, however, is in embryo, the place, three or four years ago, having been a barren sand bank, producing nothing but scanty blades of rushy grass, and hers and there a bush of furze. Already the ground has been subjected to tillage in the vicinity of the houses, and a field of good wheat was under the hands of the reapers. This was a sight that rather surprised me; the corn, nevertheless, was not only free from weeds, but both bright in the straw and heavy in the ear—the more interesting, as the land had been neither more nor less than pure sea sand; the amendment being, as I understood, marl and "sea sluch," (a black substance dug below high water mark on the sand of the seashore.) Considering that the voyage hither from Liverpool is only a quarter of an hour, it is quite extraordinary how total a change of scene is produced in that period of time, for the undulations of the sand hills afford many a sequestered spot, whence, with a total abandonment of the cares of the town, the citizen of Liverpool has an opportunity of enjoying, during his few vacant hours, a delightful mountain prospect towards the Welsh coast and pure sea air.


It is rather extraordinary, that so little communication exists between these small ports on the Cheshire side of the Mersey—that there is, in fact, no better conveyance from one to the other than via Liverpool. However, though the New Brighton vessels ply only once in two hours, those of High Seacombe, Low Seacombe, Woodside, and Birkinhead, depart every half hour There are also two or three other such places of daily resort, of which I make no mention, as I did not visit them.

At Low Seacombe an elevated spot is arranged as a tea garden, whence a delightful view is afforded of the lofty brilliant red brick walls and the docks of Liverpool. Here, on a summer's evening, may be seen, in a happy state of recreation, both young and old, the former seated in bamboo verandas, and arbours malted with evergreens, while the latter are amusing themselves, some of them fat fellows in their shirt sleeves, by trundling bowls across the lawn or playing at quoits.

Low Seacombe, which, by-the-way, is higher up the Mersey than High Seacombe, is divided from Woodside, the port next above it, by Wallazey Pool, a large inlet or creek, within which the tide ebbs and flows its whole length, viz., about three miles. Its direction being to the northwest, or thereabout, it may be said almost to cut off the tip of this tongue of land. Notwithstanding that, in situation, it is immediately opposite the town of Liverpool; that it is navigable at high water for small craft almost to its extremity; and that a nobler site for docks to any extent cannot be imagined, nature having almost formed them there already; it has been hitherto, with some trifling exceptions, wholly neglected, especially on the southern or Woodside shore, the greater part of which belongs to the corporation of Liverpool. Without entering upon the affairs of corporate bodies, or their local transactions, it is easier to imagine why the inhabitants of Liverpool should seize upon and retain so valuable an adjunct to their possessions merely for the sake of rescuing it from the hands of others, than to account for the inertness of the Cheshire people in letting it go. In the mean time, owing to the collision of interests, it is of little use to anybody; while the line of Liverpool docks on the opposite shore is extending both on the right and on the left. There is not even a ferry across it, or any communication between Low Seacombe and Woodside, except by crossing to Liverpool and back again.

While this natural harbour is allowed thus to lie waste, one cannot avoid coming to the conclusion, that the neglect is, to use a common expression, all in the way of business, and business in this money-getting town predominates even in the midst of pleasure. In fact, all these small watering places tend to show how incompatible one is with the other, and afford a pleasing example of the difference between recreation and dissipation. At Woodside even, seven minutes' passage across from Liverpool, and lying on the main road to the metropolis and Wales, the houses are all of small size, and an attempt a few years since to build a square, containing' what would merely be called, after all, "good houses," has utterly failed. The town is a place chiefly of daily resort, whither people arrive by the boats, for a few hours, or the whole day, and return back to Liverpool; passing the time as they think fit, the men in the coffee rooms, the women and children in excursions in cars or on donkeys.

Besides the mail coaches and public conveyances between Woodside and Chester, a coach runs daily to Parkgate, a small watering place on the Dee, from whence the ferry crosses to the town of Flint, in Wales. This coach is chiefly supported by the people who supply from thence the Liverpool market. The extent of sands, covered with abundance of cockles, is at low water very great, so that people can walk five or six miles, or as far as the channel of the Dee, which river keeps the opposite shore.


On the quay at Birkinhead, which is, in point of fact, but another name for a part of the small town of Woodside, probably to distinguish two ferries which ply from Liverpool, one to the former or south end, and the other to the latter or north end, the distance between both being less than a quarter of a mile, I encountered an individual who, a few years ago, had attained some celebrity. The same Commodore O'Brien, who formed a part of his late majesty's royal squadron, and was always to be seen in a vessel of his own, blow high, blow low, in their wake, in the expedition to Ireland, and while cruising in the Channel, was now engaged in an occupation certainly rather derogatory to the dignity of his profession—that of asking alms. The commodore, a native of the county of Clare, and a cripple, was sitting, his back reclining against the wall, in the midships of his vessel; this was built after the fashion of a Greenland canoe, having a close deck and a circular aperture, instead of hatches. Thus, as if at sea, with all secured, or, as the sailors say, "battoned down snug," the lower half of the owner remained in the hold, while his head and shoulders alone were above the deck. I ascertained the dimensions of this fairy bark, which were as follows: from stem to stern, seven feet; length of keel, six feet; breadth of beam, three feet; height of mast, six feet; draft of water, eighteen inches.


As I was walking from Woodside towards Biddestone lighthouse, the day being hot, I heard the clattering of hoofs behind me, and was accosted by a little boy, with the offer of a pony. I at first sight thought the whole troop were donkeys; but, on a second glance, I did certainly perceive that one of the quadrupeds really was a pony. The boy had just emerged, with his long-eared squadron, from the village of Biddestone, on his way to Woodside, in order to pick up customers for the day.

The colour of the steed in question was a light sandy dun, a black streak extending the whole length from the withers to the tail; which mark of distinction not only assimilated him to his companions, but, from long habits of intimacy, his manners had become so near akin to theirs, that in reality he was, morally speaking, just as much a jackass as a horse. Such as he was, I immediately engaged his services, upon paying a shilling down, with a promise of more, according to time, on delivery. I was also furnished with a stick into the bargain, which latter I soon found was doomed to more wear and tear in my service than the pony, which was of a nature at all events not to be ridden away with. In a few minutes he was tied up to a rack of hay in a stable belonging to the lighthouse.

Biddestone Hill, about three miles from Woodside, commands an extensive view of the country inland, while the forest of signal poles, with which the lighthouse is surrounded, give it, at a distance, an extraordinary appearance—that of a dock or harbour on the top of a hill. Hence the merchant vessels bound to Liverpool are signalled and telegraphed in the offing, the poles alluded to bearing the private signals of different individuals. And what must be remarked as rather singular is, that, notwithstanding the arduous duty which necessarily falls on the station, the whole is performed, almost exclusively, by young women, daughters of the veteran in charge. The old man, who is thus ably supported in the winter of life, is fourscore years old, and has held the office upward of forty years. Although boys are employed to run backward and forward, out of doors, with colours to the poles, and haul them up; and one of the three young women is married, and occasionally assisted by her husband; yet it is she who, being perfect in the whole code of signals, performs the responsible part of the duty. This couple were both at work together at the time I arrived, the young woman keeping the lookout, and calling the numbers, while the man, merely at her bidding, pulled the ropes. She not only kept him employed, but managed meanwhile to iron a shirt into the bargain.

The business of the youngest sister is to attend the light, consisting of eleven Argand lamps, with plated reflectors. Every four hours during the night the lamps are trimmed; these, the stove, copper, oil jars, and paved floor, are preserved in a state of cleanliness not to be exceeded; while no doubt, many a mariner, on a wintry and stormy night, both knows and feels that his life and safety are thus well confided to the never-failing care of —woman.


George Head, A Home Tour through the Manufacturing Districts of England in the Summer of 1835 (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1836) Conversion to HTML and placename mark-up by Humphrey Southall, 2009.

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