Lady 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 in 1928.

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.