Our Cheshire Shore project is named in honour of the book published in 1863 by Canon Abraham Hume; “Ancient Meols, or some account of the Antiquities found near Dove Point on the sea-coast of Cheshire”. He realised that the large number of artefacts from several historic periods identified the site as being of high significance.
Wirral has a fascinating history along our sea-coast to the Irish Sea that has been long forgotten by most people including communities living in the area. We hope that this project will help to revive interest in the history of this area, and its place in our local and national heritage.
The Irish Sea coastline that we see now was very different in the past and extended much further out to sea. The coast has been gradually eroded away by the sea over the centuries, and the erosion would have continued to this day without the construction of the sea wall along most of the coastline. Many places that were once inhabited have been inundated. The township of Meols itself has probably migrated inland over the centuries as the sea gradually took away the land.
Before the construction of the sea wall along most of the Wirral coastline, the low lying areas beyond the beaches were regularly flooded both by high tides and during storm surges. This has left many traces of this action, but the same processes will have washed away other deposits and evidence. Trying to unravel the evidence is complex and specialised. We are relying on real experts who are assisting us to help us do this.
Two of the historic features along the coastline that are often recalled are the “peat beds” and the remains of a “submerged forest” that have been exposed on the coast from time to time.
One of our lines of investigation in this project is to find information on the ancient environment of Wirral. We are still developing an understanding of the “superficial” (ie. surface) geology of the area, the evolution of the coastline over hundreds/thousands of years, the evidence of ancient flora and fauna, the presence of extensive coastal and inland marshes and watercourses, and where wooded areas and open heathland existed. Although this is not our primary interest, an understanding of the scientific evidence on the ancient landscape provides us with information to support our range of other parallel projects.
We are beginning to accumulate information on this evolution of the coastline, and the low lying marshy areas in north Wirral which are still evident (for example – the marshy areas you can see while driving along the M53 between Bidston and Woodchurch). This task is being supported by eminent scientists in Environmental Sciences and Geology. We could not do this without their expert guidance and help, and for which we are grateful.
The recovery of dateable physical evidence is the primary objective we have. We hope that local landowners will be willing to cooperate with future archaeological investigations by Wirral Archaeology.
What are now empty beaches along the Irish Sea coast were at one time a hive of activity. Beached fishing boats of all sizes were a common sight along the whole coastline here certainly into the late 19th century. The Hoyle Lake, a natural sea harbour protected by large sandbanks, was used by sea going sailing ships for loading and unloading goods and passengers. It is common knowledge that King William and his army gathered inland on Wirral’s coast before embarking at Hoyle Lake and sailing to the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.
Well into the 19th century the Mockbeggar Wharf area was used for partly unloading sea going ships to lighten them before sailing into the shallow channel that led into the Mersey and Liverpool. The cargoes were placed into carvel built sailing boats known as Mersey Flats which followed the larger craft into the Mersey to unload. The same process was used in reverse to load more goods into ships preparing to leave. Similar boats or barges were used elsewhere. One example is the Thames sailing barge.
There is a link between this project and our main interest which is – The Search for the Battle of Brunanburh. We are investigating the possibility that the areas that we now know as Wallasey Docks and the marsh areas – parts of which lie below sea level – between Woodchurch – Upton – Hoylake – Meols – Bidston – Leasowe may have been the place called “Dingesmere” included in the famous poem in the Anglo Saxon Chronicle about the Battle of Brunanburh.
The location of “Dingesmere” has not been definitely identified beyond all doubt. However, the theory proposed by Professors Judith Jesch and Stephen Harding and Dr. Paul Cavell that it is a derivation of the “Ting mere” – the mere overlooked by the Viking parliament at Thingwall is a strong contender.
Locally other theories have been proposed for the location of “Dingesmere”; on the Dee and Mersey. Others think that it refers to the sea generally without identifying the place.
We do not know if the “Dingesmere” association with Wirral is true or if it can ultimately be proven, but as we delve deeper into the evidence that confirms the nature of the ancient landscape, its flora and fauna, the historical record, and the geological and environmental evidence the theoretical case is strengthened.
We do not yet know, but hope to investigate, if there may be locations in the extensive areas of wet and marshy ground where preservation of dateable artefacts might be found. This is part of the objective for the Cheshire Shore project – to identify areas for investigation.
The thousands of artefacts that have already been recovered along the coast during the 19th century show that the area has been used for centuries and millennia, for travelling, trading, and manufacturing. Many of these can be viewed at Liverpool Museum. It is believed, based on these extensive archaeological finds that the coastline – and particularly the Meols area – was a major trading port before and during the Roman period. This use continued during the early medieval period when the area was occupied by a Hiberno-Norse (ie. Viking) tribe led by Ingamund (See the book “Viking Mersey” by Professor Stephen Harding on this) , and during the late medieval period.
There have been many Roman and Viking era finds in the past along Wirral’s seacoast. During the Roman period the largest legionary fortress in their Empire was built at Chester and it is known that they established an Irish Sea fleet. The fleet is understood to have been based at a place named as “Portus Setantiarium” but the exact location of this base is not proven. There are various places where the naval base could have established, including Fleetwood, or at the mouth of the Ribble near Preston, or at Meols.
We do not know why Birkenhead does not seem to have entered the debate but it would have provided a more sheltered deep water harbour than Meols with a possible land route connecting it directly to the Romans main north western base at Chester. The high ground at Wallasey still provides a commanding view of the approaches from the Irish Sea, the Mersey and Dee. None of the other candidates can claim this advantage.
It is intriguing that in 1845 during the construction of a rail cutting between Woodside and the new Wallasey Pool docks, a very substantial Roman bridge, described as being 100 feet long and 24 feet wide and supported on 2 intermediate stone piers, was discovered in Birkenhead. Such a large bridge could only have been built as part of a major infrastructure establishment in the area, but we do not know if any other discoveries of Roman remains have been found to explain this.[# For more information on this see our Roman roads project]
The Vikings are known mainly for their warlike tendencies, and raids on rich churches and monasteries. But they were mainly manufacturers of saleable goods, sea borne traders and merchants. Their revolutionary clinker built ships enabled them to sail long distances to trade in many commodities. There were far more of their bulk carrying trading ships known as a “knarr” than their warships known as “longships”.
One of the major “commodities” sold by the Vikings were slaves… During the early medieval period it is believed that the main Viking trading centre at Dublin was also the largest slave market in northern Europe. Slaves were sold by the Irish Sea Vikings all over northern Europe and into the Mediterranean.
Evidence of the extent of the trading connections with Meols into all these areas have been extensively documented. (#) This includes pottery, metal goods, and coins from as far away as Constantinople, Russia and Persia.
(# See the notes below on “Ancient Meols” by Canon Hume, and “Meols; the archaeology of the North Wirral coast” by Oxford University Archaeology Unit).
Interestingly, there are few known finds from the Anglo Saxon period or the early Norman period. This may partly be the result of the Wirral being “laid to waste” after Hastings. Chester and Wirral were the last Anglo Saxon area of organised resistance to fall to the Normans, and its fate was probably determined by that resistance. In 1070 Chester was the last Anglo Saxon stronghold refusing to accept the rule of William of Normandy. The city was besieged and sacked. The Norman’s then carried out the brutal “harrying of the North” in which they laid waste (ie. destroyed) villages, homes, people and crops across the northern counties.
But the installations and facilities that must have existed over hundreds of years to service this very lengthy period of activity along the Wirral coastline have now been lost below the sea.
Some lines of investigation in this project.
On 22nd January 1864 workmen carrying out repair work on the embankment near Leasowe Castle discovered a complete skeleton. At the time it was thought that the remains were prehistoric. The skeleton was recently rediscovered in the British Museum and radio-carbon dating proved the remains are from the Roman period. The skeleton is the oldest complete burial found in Merseyside, and the only Roman period skeleton found here.
This Wirral Archaeology project is described in more detail on a separate page.
It is included here as another example of the multiple layers of history along the Wirral coastline.
Oxford University of Archaeology, Monograph 68. Published 2011. Updated 2020. By Dr David Griffiths and Dr Rob Philpott and Dr Geoff Egan.
This very important catalogue of archaeological finds from the Meols area was created in a partnership between Liverpool Museum, the University of Oxford and the British Museum.
This is how they describe this area –
“Meols, on the north coast of the Wirral Peninsula…, is one of Britain’s richest and most fascinating archaeological landscapes”.
(NOTE: Wirral Archaeology is a serious amateur archaeology group. We are not a metal detecting club. We do not support the activities of some individuals and groups who are only interesting in finding, keeping and selling heritage artefacts.)
This is only a very brief snapshot of a few of the interesting historic sites along the Wirral coast. It shows that there is enough material to create a worthwhile “History and Heritage Trail” here. There are great views too! The “Viking Age in the North West” app developed by the University of Liverpool is an example of a free to access mobile guide. Why not do the same for our local Wirral heritage – which includes much more than the Vikings?
Tell us what you think?
Can you help this study?
Do you have or know of any artefacts, old maps or authentic documents that can help us shed more light on the history of Wirral along “The Cheshire Shore”?
If you are willing to provide information please contact us using the enquiry form on the website: https://www.wirralarchaeology.org/pages/contact
You can download this paper here