Mother Redcaps

The nursing home which stands on the Promenade between Caithness and Lincoln Drives was formerly a building known as Mother Redcap's, The Half-way House, The White House, and Seabank Nook. Built about 1595 by one of the Mainwaring family, on a piece of the Moor which he claimed to own, just above high-water mark, it passed in time to the Davis family who were related to the Mainwarings, and was purchased in 1862, by Mrs Maddock who cancelled the licence. It was built of red free-stone with walls nearly three feet thick, and had two mullioned lower front-room windows. The outside walls were covered with thick planks from wrecked ships. This timbering in time fell off and was not replaced, bare stone walls being left. The front door was of oak, five inches thick, studded with square headed nails (the remains of it, much decayed, were found in the cellar by Mr Kitchingman when making alterations in 1888). There were indications of it having had several sliding bars across the inside, and slots were also found at the sides of the lower windows as though at one time strong shutters had been fitted to them. Immediately on the inside of the front door were evidences of a trap door into the cellar under the north room. The way into this cellar was concealed by a rough wooden lid with the remains of hinges and shackles at the sides. It would seem that the forcing of the front door would, by withdrawing the bolt of the trapdoor, let the intruder fall eight or nine feet into the deepest part of the cellar. This trap would be used for the deposit of goods also. There was a way into this cellar from the back of the staircase in the passage from the south to the north room.

Under the house stairs seven or eight steps led down into this cellar. If the front door lid or trap were down, the visitor, unless he turned to the right or left into the south or north front room, would proceed (there being no lobby) straight upstairs, and if anyone were in the cellar at the time he could run up the steps under the staircase and get out at the back of the house, there being a narrow doorway at the top of the steps into the yard. When the front door was open the entrance to the south room was a closed by it. All this existed in 1888. Behind the stairs was a door leading to the old kitchen at the back of the house and so into the open backyard. In this yard was a well about twelve feet deep, dry and partly filled with earth. There seemed to have been a hole made at the west side of the well, appearing to lead into the garden, but probably leading into a passage, to be referred to later. There was a small stream of good water at the back of the house, which supplied the house and also the small vessels that anchored off here. There was a primitive brew-house at the back, and even down to about 1840 the house was noted for its strong, home-brewed dark ale. There was another large cave or cellar at the south end of the house; indeed under the greenhouse (1930) it sounded hollow, and the coarse mosaic was laid on the top of large, flat, sandstone flags placed over this hollow. This cavity was entered by a square hole with steps as though it were an old dry pit well. Part of the yard was in reality the roof of a large cavern, composed of flagstones carried on beams.

Mother Redcaps, 1900sOn it stood a large manure heap, and a stock of coal and coal scales completed the disguise. This coal was supplied by flats and was retailed to the inhabitants of Liscard and Wallasey. When the cave was used for the reception of any goods that were better kept from the public gaze, the coals and a few odd barrels were manoeuvred so as to conceal the cavity, and the appearance of any disturbance of the ground was obliterated. At the end of this cave was a narrow underground passage (mentioned in some books as leading to the Red Noses) which led to a concealed opening in a ditch that ran down from the direction of Liscard. It is probable that this tunnel joined the one from the old well in the yard. The ditch was a deep cutting as far as a pit that was about halfway up what is now Lincoln Drive. At the edge of this pit grew a large willow tree, with long overhanging branches which formed an excellent concealed look-out commanding the entrance of the river. The trunk of this tree was sawn in sections in 1889, and when Lincoln Drive was cut through the pit, the root was rolled down the hill to the garden where for twenty-three years it formed a rude table in the summer-house. A cutting from this tree was planted by Mr Kitchingman in 1890 at the back of the house and grew higher than the house itself.

The beams inside the house on each side of the fireplace were of old oak, but as some were too decayed to keep they were removed; two, however, were retained. The one in the north room is quite sound, almost blue black and as hard as steel. The chimneybreasts are of great area inside, and in the two ground floor rooms were cavities (near the ceiling over the oak beams) with removable entrances from the top of the chimney breasts inside the flues.

In the south room there was a cavity hardly sufficient to conceal a person of more than small stature, the wall of which had to be pierced when Mr Kitchingman made the small staircase to the studio. There were a few other small cavities in the walls papered over where the sailors, it was said, hid their wages and share of prize-money.

The strand in front of the house was formed of coarse pebbles and star grass, with side walls of stone, that on the north side being particularly strong, to resist the rush of the flood-tide. These walls ran down to the strand on each side. The north wall was in situ when the sea wall was built by the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board (1865) and remains still across, under the promenade. It formed a shelter for boats stored on its south side, and could be made higher by sliding boards between thick posts. Sometimes with a north-west gale and high tide the water flowed into the cellar. There was a wooden seat across the strand in front of the house composed of thick timbers from wrecks. It had a short wooden flagstaff at one end with a large plain wooden vane at the top. This vane was supposed to work round with the wind but it was in reality a dummy; the staff fitting down into a round wooden socket in the shingle could be turned in any direction and was used by the smugglers for signaling. When the vane pointed to the house it meant 'Come on,' and when pointing away, 'Keep off.' At the other end of the seat was another post, with a sign hanging from it adorned with a portrait of Old Mother Redcap holding a frying pan on a painted fire, and underneath these words:

All ye that are weary come in an take rest,
Our eggs and our ham they are of the best,
Our ale and our porter are likewise the same,
Step in if you please and give 'em a name.
-Mother Redcap.

This post acted as a kind of counterpoise to the vane. The old seat and sign were seen by Mr Kitchingman's father when, in his twentieth year (1820), he stayed there for a short time. When this house was built about 1596, rumour has it that it was the only building on the river front between the old Seacombe Ferry boat­house and the old herring curing house at Rock Point, now New Brighton. The house became a tavern in the Privateering days of 1778-90, and was much frequented by the officers and crews of the Privateers, the Redcap, 16 guns; Nemesis, 18 guns; Alligator, 16 guns; Racehorse, 14 guns; Ariet, 12 guns; and other small vessels made use of the good anchorage known as 'Red Bet's', opposite the house. A small cannon, punched with the broad arrow, was unearthed during Mr Kitchingman's alterations. It had a spike welded on the end to replace a wooden handle, long since decayed away, to turn the gun in the desired direction. It was evidently a bow-chaser from some Privateer. It was placed by Mr Kitchingman in his garden, together with the remains of two flint muskets found near, and of about the same date. Another interesting find was a 'Nine-hole stone', supported by a pedestal of brick. Nine Holes is a French game, halfpence being thrown at the holes, and was the forerunner of bagatelle. It was supposed that this stone was fashioned by some French sailors (possibly prisoners of war confined in Liverpool and on parole). This was the suggestion of old Captain Griffiths, aged eighty-five years, and an inmate of the Home for Aged Mariners. He recognised the stone and told Mr Kitchingman that he had played on it when quite a boy and called the game 'Bumble puppy.'

Stonehouse, writing in 1863, and describing the activities of the Pressgang about 1797, says:

“The men used to get across the water to Cheshire to hide until their ships were ready to sail. Near Egremont, on the shore, there used to be a little, low public-house known as Mother Redcap's, from the fact of the owner always wearing a red hood or cap. The public-house is still standing and I have often been in it.”

“At the time there were no inner walls to divide the room on the upper floor, but only a few screens put up of about seven or eight feet in height to form compartments. The roof was not lathed or plastered. When I saw it last, some twenty-five or more years ago (1838), the joists and timbers were all open to view Mother Redcap was a great favourite with the sailor men, and had their entire confidence. She had hiding places for any number. There is a tradition that the caves at the Red Noses communicated in >>

some way and somewhere with Mother Redcap's. The men used, on returning from their voyages, to deposit with her their pay andprize money until they wanted it. It was known or at least very commonly believed that Mother Redcap had in her possession enormous (for her) sums of money hidden or put away somewhere, but where that somewhere was, it was never known, for at her death very little property was found in her possession although only a few days before she died a rich prize was brought into Liverpool which yielded every sailor on board at least £1,000. Mother Redcap's was swarming with sailors belonging to the Privateer directly after the vessel had come into port, and it was known that the old lady had received a good deal of prize money on their account, yet none of it was ever discovered. Some few years ago, I think about ten or twelve (1850), a quantity of Spade Ace guineas was found in a cavity by the shore. It has always been a firm belief with me that some day a rich harvest will be in store for somebody. Mother Redcap's was the resort of many a rough hard-hunted fellow, and many a strange story has been told and scene enacted under the old roof.”

Aspinall refers to these good old times thus:

“At these times the sailors in our merchant service had to run the gauntlet as it were for their liberty, from one end of the world to the other. A ship of war, falling in with a merchant vessel in any part of the globe, would unceremoniously take from her the best seamen leaving her just hands enough to bring her home. As they approached the English shore our cruisers hovering in all directions would take their pick of the remainder. But the great terror of the sailors was the press gang. Such was the dread in which this force was held by the sailors, that they would often take to their boats on the other side of the Black Rock that they might conceal themselves in Cheshire, and many a vessel had to be brought into port by a lot of riggers and carpenters sent round by the owners for that purpose.”

Mother Redcaps in the distance, 1900sTwo entries in the Wallasey parish registers, both in 1762, refer to the risks the sailor ran. Under the date of 29th March, appears, 'William Evans drowned in endeavouring to escape from a cutter lying at ye Black Rock'; and again on 6th November, 'John Goss sailor drowned from ye Prince George tender in his Majesty's Service', the tender being the ship to which the men were sent immediately on being 'pressed.' In his notes Mr Kitchingman says: 'Except in Mr Stonehouses' Streets of Liverpool there does not seem to be any information to be obtained from writers about this spot. I can readily understand this as it was so out of the way and used for such secret purposes. I came on the scene and rooted it out for myself.' In another place, he says: 'My father lodged at Mother Redcap's in 1820, and many of the notes of the old house here set out were made by him in that year.'

From the stories they were able to collect, it seems evident that this house was a port of call for privateers, fishermen, and a place from which pilots boarded vessels, besides being put to other uses. In 1690 the troops of William III were encamped on the Leasowes awaiting embarkation for Ireland. There is a tradition that at the time of King William's embarkation, dispatchers were conveyed in a roundabout way to Chester, from Great Meols to Mother Redcap's, and then by fishing boats up the Mersey to Stoke and Stanney, instead of from Meols via Parkgate.

At an earlier period a small privateer called the Redcap cruised between here and Ireland. She took several dispatchers for King James's partisans up to Stoke and Poole on the secluded upper reaches of the Mersey where some of the old Roman Catholic families resided.

Mr Coventry, a pilot well versed in Wallasey and Liscard folklore, stated that he had it from his ancestors that several of James's adherents landed at Mother Redcap's. On one occasion three persons of some distinction were hurriedly landed from a ship. Horses were in readiness, and without a word the travellers rode off rapidly towards 'The Hooks'. Very soon afterwards a boat with an armed crew came from up river and made a hurried search.

Mr Coventry said that the explanation his father heard at the time was that these refugees had made their escape from Ireland and were intending to proceed for refuge up the river towards Stoke or Stanney, but the tide being out, horses had been obtained here. The armed boat had been lying in wait higher up the river above Seacombe Point, and discovering the probability of a landing being made at Mother Redcap's, hurried down the river to intercept it.

Fine view of Mother RedcapsOld Mr W. Whittle told Mr Kitchingman about 1896 that there was a great dispute concerning the right-of-way on the premises about 1750. It seems that when a dead body was found on the beach it was brought here and taken in by the back door. On removal for interment, on account of some superstition it was taken out by the front door. Certain people claimed that if twelve bodies passed through in one year it gave a right-of-way for living people to pass through the house at any hour, day or night. An attempt was made once and once only, for a fierce fight ensued. Whittle at one time had an idea of purchasing this cottage, but hearing this story which came from his wife's grand­father, he consulted Mr W. H. North, senior, about the legality of the supposed right-of-way; but Mr North only laughed at him. Doubtless the attempt referred to was a dodge on the part of the coastguard to obtain right of entry into the house.

Mr W. Coventry once told Mr Kitchingman he believed Mother Redcap was a comely, fresh-coloured, Cheshire-spoken woman, and that she had at one time a niece to help her, who was very active but very offhand in her manners, and who afterwards married a Customs officer.

Mother Redcaps in ruins The first steam voyage across the Atlantic from Liverpool was made in the year 1838 by the City of Dublin Company's steamer Royal William, 617 tons, 276 horse-power. She left the Mersey on 5th July. A party of the Liverpool Dock trustees and shipowners assembled at Mother Redcap's to witness the departure, and a cannon was fired from the front of the house as a farewell salute when the steamer passed on this side of the river to enter the Rock Channel. Mr J. Askew, the harbour-master, and Captain Dobie, of Messrs Brocklebank's ship Rimac, made speeches, and the belief was expressed that the vessel would not get beyond the Cove of Cork.

On 6th January 1839, a terrific hurricane swept over the neighbourhood. Many survivors of the wrecked ships St Andrew, Pennsylvania, Lockwood and Brighton were landed on the shore under the shelter from the west (the gale being from west and north-north west) by the Magazine lifeboat, aided by the steam tug Victoria, and were brought to this house.

A piece of sheet lead, weighing nearly three and a half hundred-weight, was blown from the roof during the gale and carried by the force of the wind to nearly low-water mark.

Mother Redcaps in ruins Mr J. Kitchingman was, it is said, born in the house in Withens Lane, lately the Horse and Saddle Inn. When he retired from Warrington, where he practised as a solicitor, he purchased and restored, in 1888, Mother Redcap's which had previously been a fisherman's cottage. He gave the land in front of it, when this portion of the promenade was made, on condition that it should not be used as a thoroughfare for carriages. When Royalty came to open a new addition to the Navy League Buildings, the royal and other carriages did drive along this part of the promenade, which so annoyed Mr Kitchingman that instead of leaving his house to the district, he left it instead to be used as a Convalescent Home for Warrington people, as his family belonged to that town. As it was not suitable for this purpose, powers were obtained to set aside the will, and the property was sold. Mr Robert Myles became the purchaser, and he opened it as a cafe, bearing once more the name of Mother Redcap.

Mother Redcaps Nursing Home, 2009Sadly, like so many landmarks on the Wallasey shoreline, Mother Redcaps was demolished in 1974 to make way, after many years of being a wasteland, for an old people's rest home bearing the name Mother Redcaps.

The home still retains the stone arched gate way at the front but this is partly bricked up to defend against the tide.

The Rise and Progress of Wallasey - A History Of The Borough by Woods E Cuthbert and Brown P Culverwell (published 1929)