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Topic: Recollections of old Moreton

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Recollections of old Moreton


Here follow some notes and recollections starting with memoranda of a visit back to Moreton in about 1972, including a conversation with old Ted Smith who was the sexton at the parish church when I was little. 

  Friday, July 9th. F.O.Paul’s former estate.  Nothing of the house but the foundations left, brambles, weeds, trees.  The ground he gave to the scouts for their huge camping field is untended.  The swimming pool ruined, in fact dereliction everywhere—rubbish, rubble, junk.

Looking for the old cemetery or churchyard, I felt thoroughly disoriented for the first time.  The area of it was there, but no sign of stones. Odd that such an ancient site should have seemingly disappear without trace. Then I headed for the thickest brambles, and found it. 

 Saturday, July 11th.  Beautiful day, clear, sunny, and very bright, filtered camera stopped down to 125/11-16.  Began with Overchurch hill.  A fifteen-year-old boy came up while I was trying to make a composite picture of the old churchyard mound. His accent was so thick that I had trouble understanding him, but he told me that a master at the Overchurch school arranged an “expedition” to dig in the churchyard.  (This explained the signs of digging I saw.) He tried to show me the chief place, but it was quite overgrown with bramble.,  They found some skulls and bones, and he (the lad) found a silver tray and spoon, which they presumed had belonged to the church.  From his jokes about “bones for the dog” I gathered that the tone of the “expedishin” was curious but jocular.  The boy thought the churchyard was about 200 years old. Later a pair of girls joined us, and watched with that strange muteness of children.  A pretty child, the elder one, about 13, well-spoken.  It was her presence, I suspect, that made the boy take to firing his air-pistol.

Some scouts on the scout-field today, so some use is still made of it, though its condition is a disgrace. Photographed the old 4th Moreton Peewit patrol’s oak, pruned a bit over-zealously, but still a great-rooted blossomer.  More scouts’ tents. 

Down to Moreton proper, where I learned that the parish was established in 1863, the church built by William Inman, “inaugurator of steamship emigration,” &c., ob. 1881. That the Webster family owned “Overchurch Hill” before F.O. Paul, later had “Leasowe Bank.”  Did Webster buy Overchurch from the church?

Then round the village, what’s left of it.

Mr. Smith told me that old Mr. Minnie lived in Woodchurch, opposite the church there.  With the spoiling of the village they put him into a council house.  Broke his heart.

Old Gervase de Brotherton is still around it seems, in a council house too, made some attempt to hold on to his farm. He was a ferocious old chap when I was little. 

Blanche tells me that a man called Vaughan built Glebelands Road.  This was formerly Glebe Fields, belonged to the church (Ted Smith). Hoylake Road was very narrow as late as the 30s—Dig Lane cottages had gardens, hedges on both sides.  The cross was grass, a tree with seats round it.  Bethell’s row of shops was houses.  There was a farm where the District Bank stands.  What is now Mortimer’s was a farm, too.

 Monday, July 12th.  Evening, fine and clear. Set out for the shore, but left it too late.  Called on Ted Smith to borrow his book, had a long chat with him. He told me the names of farmers. Two before Jack Smith at the corner of Sandbrook Lane, Jeffreys.  What is now Dodd’s was Jones.  Mortimer’s was Piggot.  There were four Parkinsons. Old Parkinson had four sons.  Ted’s father worked for Mr. Parkinson. 

In his day, leaving Moreton, going towards Bidston, on the right there was nothing after Stanley’s and Miss Dodd’s until Lamb’s, where the house still stands.  On the other side, nothing after Orchard Road (Hawthorne Road then) until Armchair Farm and Armchair Cottage except the cottage facing the end of Chapel Hill Road.

Barnston Lane, though, used to be Chapel Hill (Is this where the chapel of ease was?)  Now follows a summary/transcript of Ted’s conversation.

Mr. Thomas Webster of Leasowe Bank had two sons. Here every year the children had a treat, and in the evening the grownups came for dancing on the green.  Mr. Colin always danced with ‘Mary Ann’, who had the cottage at the corner of Mary Ann’s Lane. She was a little round dumpy body.  Ted told me stories of Little Harry Jones, who’d do anything for money.  Ted was at school with him, but you didn’t have to teach him anything, he had it all up here (said Ted, pointing to his head).  There was an old Mr. Jones lived on Rosslyn Drive, a relation of  Jones’s, but he’d never seen Little Harry, and he wanted to. Do you know Little Harry, Ted?  he asks me.  Yes, I says. Well, it wasn’t long after, I heard Harry was back and I went to see him.  Hello Harry, I says. Hello, Ted, How are you?  I’m fine, I says. Listen Harry, there’s a gentleman on Rosslyn Drive, Mr. Jones, he’s a relation of yours, your Dad’s cousin, and he wants to see you.  Will you go? Has he any money? asks Harry.  He’s not short, I says. Well I’ll come, says Harry. I’ll be there at the gate, waiting for you, I says.  So Harry was there, and I took him in to Mr. Jones.

Harry took a look at him. He’s one of ’em,  he says.  When we got settled down, Mr. Jones looked at Harry.  He’s one of ’em, he says.

If Little Harry had known how much he had, he would have stuck to him. He’d do anything for money, Little Harry, he was that sharp.

My father worked for Mr. Parkinson, and the threshing machine was there. They got down till the straw was about so high, and it was moving up and down.  Ted, says Mr. Parkinson, that’s full of rats. So they got galvanized sheets and put ’em round the straw, and they brought every dog they could find.  There were that many rats…well, I couldn’t tell you how many they caught.  When it was all over, they made a pile of rats in the corner.  That’ll do for now, says Mr. Parkinson.  Next morning when Mr. Parkinson saw my father, he says, Ted, he says, did you move them rats?  No, I didn’t, says my father.  Well, they’ve gone, says Mr. Parkinson.  And they had, every one, and it was a big pile.

It turned out it was Little Harry that took them. You see in those days, you got a halfpenny a tale for every rat you caught from the Agricultural Board, so Little Harry’d taken a sack and put them in it, and carried them away, first thing.

Neither farmer paid him.  First one says, I’m not on the committee any more. You need so-and-so.  Can’t remember his name, Holt Avenue, farmed between Upton Road and Saughall Massie Road.  A long walk.  Harry carried them to Bank’s Hill—you’re  out of my district.

So he never got paid? Oh, no, but he’d do anything for money, Little Harry.

There was a postman, name Pownall, came from Upton. Could do anything on a bicycle.  When he delivered the letters to Dodd’s at the farm by the lighthouse, it had a big kitchen, they’d all be sat at breakfast.  In through the door he’d go, never get off his bike, ride it right round the table and out again.

The treats were formerly at Inman’s—Inman had a tower built on the house from where he could see his ships coming into the river—Mr. Inman used to come out on the lawn throwing coppers to the children.

Squire Vyner came twice a year on rent day to the Plough, then the Druid’s Arms.  On his wife’s birthday, he planted walnut trees in all the gardens.  (The Vyners acquired Moreton along with Bidston from the Derbys at the end of the 17th century.  I think my uncle Harold bought the land he built on from Vyner.  No sign of them by the time I came on the scene.  Their main house is in Yorkshire, near Ripon.  They were jewelers in Charles II’s time.)

 Ted speaks very affectionately—and admiringly—of Mr. Inman, of the Websters, of Mr. Paul.  After Inman died, Leyland of the Leyland shipping line took the Manor house at Upton, then Stern (who was still there when I was a child: how vividly I remember summer mornings in June, and the cuckoo calling across the fields from Upton Manor woods).

 Ted told me there was a Moreton Hall where Orchard Road now is.  It had a big pond to it, big enough for a boat.

Some more notes from Mr. Smith’s Recollections.  Smiths—Lingham cottage  (which I remember well)—Birkenhead  Corporation’s care of the Common—all the tents.  Old Mr. Smith was caretaker.  There were sports on the Common on Bank Holiday, greasy pig and greasy pole.  Crowds came.  A committee arranged the sports, Roger Halsey being one.

Leasowe Bank, the Websters’ house. Mr. Smith’s grandfather who lived on Reeds Lane was the gardener there, his uncle a handyman.

Barton house stood where Lloyd’s Bank now is.

Holt Avenue farm belonged to Evans.

Church Farm was where the District Bank is.

Carr Farm now held by Mr. Smith’s cousin.

Millhouse farm. 

Lamb’s Farm at the Reeds Lane roundabout (I remember that).

 Mr. Thomas Webster, “a nice old feller.”

 In Mr. Smith’s day, the Wilsons lived in Felicity Cottage.

 A couple of memories of my own. When I was a child, there was still an impressive long, one-storey thatched cottage next to Poston’s Garage, with a large, beautiful garden of flowers and vegetables, and another opposite Chapel Hill Road. And opposite Poston’s, on the other of the road, at the corner of Sandbrook Lane, there was Smith’s Farm, farmed by Jack Smith.  I loved to watch him milking his cows as I walked home from school.  I loved it when the threshing machine came, driven by a magnificent steam tractor--I could watch if for hours. The house was a fine, typical Wirral house of yellow sandstone, with an impressive sandstone wall. 

Bertie Parkinson pastured his cows on the field at the top of Sandbrook Lane, just past our house.  He and his cows would walk past twice a day, coming and going.  His farm was at the corner of Barnston Lane and Maryland Lane.  A grumpy old fellow.   Opposite Smith’s farm at the bottom of Sandbrook lane was Stanley’s Farm, run by the two Miss Stanleys. 

The Povalls lived in Old Hall Farm—Miss Povall taught at Barnston Lane School, I think.  The Biddles were at the farm down by the Lighthouse. 

During the war, Harold (my uncle) and his friend Wilf Bates had the Lighthouse and its attached land for a vegetable garden.  They went fishing, too, and caught a lot of codling, whiting, fluke, and flounder, a godsend to my aunt—and a lot of our neighbours, too—in those days of tiny food rations.  I took the fish round to them at two shillings or two and sixpence a pound, and if I was lucky they’d give me a sixpence or a threepeny-bit as a tip.

Incidentally, when I was a child there were no mud flats at Moreton, nothing but miles of glorious golden sand.  I remember vividly the sheer joy of being a little boy running through the water out on the sand between tides.  Pollution came after the war with all the house building, and the emptying of raw sewage into the sea.

In those days, too, the embankment was sandstone, great blocks of it, as well as concrete. 

Hard to believe, but 70-80 years ago, the north Wirral still had wide stretches of open country.  It was a lovely place to grow up in.

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