Such Quantities Of Sand

Fond Memories of Wallasey's Golden Beaches

Written by Margaret O'Reilly in 1987

When I first read Alice in Wonderland at a very tender age, taking every word as Gospel, I was greatly puzzled by the behaviour attributed to the Walrus and the Carpenter, not because they were walking hand in hand – five-year-olds in the ‘Twenties didn’t know about poofters! – but because they reputedly wept like anything at what was, to me, such a pleasurable feature of life.

Before the construction, in the name of progress, of King’s Parade and the Bathing Pool complex, which by no means all the locals regarded with approval, the main attraction of Wallasey’s L-shaped coast-line was its sand. From Seacombe to Leasowe – Moreton was not incorporated into the Borough till 1928 – there was plenty for everybody; but the asset was enjoyed by two quite distinct classes of pleasure-seeker – residents and trippers; and as the poet so accurately proclaimed, Never the Twain...!

Wallasey-born children took the miles of golden sand (for golden it was, then!) absolutely for granted. It was there, we played on it, we liked it, but we didn’t enthuse about it, like the tripper-children did.

‘Look, Mam, the water’s coming nearer!’ we heard one shout, and thought how stupid he must be. Looking back, I suppose he came from somewhere inland, but we looked at each other with contemptuous amusement. To us, born within sound of the Mersey fog-sirens, the ebbing and flowing of the tide was as normal a part of life as bath-night or bread-and-butter.

Mind you, so long as we kept to our own patches we rarely encountered the trippers at all, except possibly on a Bank Holiday, when most residents avoided the entire shore-line like the plague! At Maddock Slip, the odd few, more enterprising that their fellows, might occasionally venture along the promenade from Egremont; but they received such a frosty welcome that they usually slunk away again, unmourned.

Depending on where they lived, the Wallasey children had their own stamping grounds and stuck to them. Seacombe and Poulton favoured Guinea Gap, so called because of a treasure trove said to have been found there in 1850. Egremont and Liscard went to Maddock Slip, which had the added attraction of a grassy slope called the Green Hill. New Brighton children played on the Lighthouse side of the pier, while Wallasey Villages had Harrison Drive and the sand dunes. Least well catered for was Somerville, from which area it was long walk to any part of the beach.

Egremont itself and the part of New Brighton shore adjacent to the pier was Trippers’ country, and we left them alone to get on with it.

Maddock Slip, only minutes from my home on Manor Road, Liscard, was haunted by the ghost of a woman who was murdered on the Green Hill at the turn of the century. In later life I was to meet a man who had seen her, an experience which shook him rigid!

As the Chinese have their Year of the Dragon/Dog/or whatever, so Maddock Slip had its Year of the Whale! I can’t remember exactly when it was that one was washed up, but it was very exciting event! It was small as whales go, and very dead by any criteria, but the local children, especially the boys, swarmed blissfully over it, using penknives to hack out fragments of whalebone to keep as souvenirs.

Though to some degree disinfected twice daily by the tide, it inevitably became a health hazard and was removed by the Council, but the episode was quite riveting while it lasted, and that was the only whale I have ever seen.

We weren’t very original in our use of the sand. Our favourite ploy was the building of a den, achieved by digging a circular wall above three feet high. On the inner side of this you flattened out a seat, and there you sat while the tide lapped round you, remaining till it was no longer safe to do so. One >

day a foolhardy boy left it too late, and had to be rescued by a passer-by, who threw him a lifebuoy, the only time I have ever seen one used, and pulled him to safety, whereupon the boy was instantly and thoroughly sick all down his rescuer’s jacket. The rescuer hastily left the scene, indignantly muttering that the next kid who got into difficulties could bloody well drown!

There was something therapeutic about the tide. It washed away all irregularities, all signs of man’s handiwork, leaving the beach clean and clear, ready for a fresh start.

Beyond New Brighton pier lay a huge expanse of sand, flanked on the landward side by coloured rock formations known as the Red and Yellow Noses, and at the water’s edge by the Lighthouse and Perch Rock Battery. A film called ‘The Magnet’, made in the early 1950’s and shot almost entirely on location in this area, must have caused exiled Wallaseyans all over Britain to shed nostalgic tears! My elder brother and his wife, who played together as children in the shadow of the Lighthouse, were all but thrown out of a cinema in Worthing, where they lived, because they couldn’t stop sobbing!

Harrison Drive was the residents’ tent-land, a canvas paradise only a twopenny bus ride from home! Week after week, the same families would spend the whole of Saturday and Sunday on the beach. A wide stretch of clean firm sand made ball games possible, and inter-family cricket matches often took place in a spirit of carefree camaraderie.

As the tide came in, there was good bathing and paddling under the watchful eye of Tony Ferrie, the Lifeguard, personification of bronzed beefcake! Twenty years later, he and his brother Dick were to become kind, patient and extremely competent swimming instructors at Guinea Gap Baths.
At night, the tents and all paraphernalia were stored in rented lockers nearby.

New Brighton catered for visitors from all walks of life, but Egremont was another story. Here came the have-nots of Liverpool’s poorer districts, to enjoy a day of half a day by the Mersey at very small cost, the fare for the ten minute crossing, pleasant in itself, being only a couple of pence.

Egremont was off my beat, but one afternoon, when I was about nine, I was driven by curiousity to walk along the Promenade to the ferry, arriving just as the Francis Storey was discharging its passengers. Erupting out of the turnstiles came a crowd of eager children and fat, cheerful mums, with a sprinkling of panting mongrel dogs. Turning right towards the slipway, they broke into a run, anxious to secure places on the one small patch of sand which the tide never covered. Their faces glowed with anticipation, cries of delight burst from their lips. Leaning over the railings, I watched, enthralled.

Untouched by the cleansing tide, the sand was full of litter and too dry to do much with, but they didn’t seem to mind. The children made castles and sand-pies that wouldn’t stand up; the mums, in cheap bright dresses, leaned against the wall of the promenade, watching their offspring and chatting.
The tide came in. Egremont crowded onto the dry patch and overflowed halfway up the slipway, jostling and shoving without rancour. Unaccompanied children produced bottles of water and jam butties. Mums clubbed together to hire big earthenware teapots from a couple of small tawdry shops nearby.
Suddenly a little girl of about my own age looked up and saw me.

“Eh, come on down!” she called, evidently taking me for a stranger feeling out of things. “I’ll make room for yer!”
She was wedged between a very fat woman and a big wet dog, near the bottom of the slipway. There was no way she could have found me a space, no way I could have reached it if she had; but she wanted me to share her enjoyment, and the knowledge warmed me.
“It’s all right, thank you!” I called to her. “I live here!”
Her eyes widened in her peaky little face.
“Eh, yer lucky little devil!” she said. Her voice was envious but in no way grudging. And suddenly I saw that I was lucky! In a flash of revelation I realised how thousands of people lived, snatching at bits of happiness, grateful for a patch of littered sand, a little sun, the dirty Mersey lapping on the shingle.
Suddenly I was fiercely proud of my home town that offered so much too so many! I hadn’t heard of escapism, release, assuagement. I just knew that my home tome gave people something they needed, and I was glad for them.
“I’ve got to go now!” I told the little girl, “I hope you have a nice time!”
“Ooh yes, I will do, ta!” she answered confidently, taking another swig from her bottle of water.

I expect she’s a grandmother now!