‘It looked like the sea; actually it was the estuary, seven miles wide, of a river: White horses westward marked where the real sea began. The Welsh mountains, gaunt and black and cloudy…lay across the river….On the shore were the remains of an antediluvian forest with ugly black stumps showing, and farther up an old stubby deserted lighthouse. There was an island in the estuary, with a windmill on it like a curious black flower, which you could ride out to at low tide on a donkey. The smoke of freighters outward bound from Liverpool hung low on the horizon. There was a feeling of space and emptiness..’
– Malcolm Lowry, Under The Volcano, chapter 1
Yesterday we walked along the promenade from Leasowe lighthouse to Meols. It was a brisk November morning, bright where we were, but offshore we could see rain clouds track across the bay and eventually make landfall at Formby. The sunlight produced a rainbow, but the most spectacular effect of the lighting was to see a large flock of oystercatchers wheel and swirl above a sandbar out at sea,turning from black to silver like a shower of fireworks falling as the sun caught their plumage.
The name Leasowe comes from the Anglo-Saxon leasowes or ‘meadow pastures’. Its sand dunes are the largest on the Wirral, but much of the area is at or below sea level and is protected by the concrete coastal embankment.
Leasowe Lighthouse was built in the 19th century on the site of an older lighthouse erected in 1763. Erected by Liverpool Corporation’s Docks Committee, it is the oldest brick-built lighthouse in Britain, and was operational until 1908. There are seven floors which can be reached by a cast iron staircase of one hundred and thirty steps. Over the entrance there is a tablet bearing the inscription M.W.G. 1763, this is commemorating the then mayor of Liverpool, William Gregson.
The last keeper of the lighthouse was a woman. Mr. and Mrs. Williams were formerly keepers of the Great Orme Lighthouse in Llandudno and they transferred to Leasowe. Shortly after moving Mr. Williams was taken ill and it was during his illness that his wife took over the duties. When the building ceased to function as a lighthouse Mrs. Williams was moved into a cottage but she kept the lighthouse as a teahouse for summer visitors and it became extremely popular. After the death of Mrs. Williams in 1935 the lighthouse was closed to the public and put to no further use. In 1973 it was painted white but nothing more was done until 1989 when it became the base for the ranger service of the North Wirral Coastal Park.
That rather strange name, Meols, originates with the Vikings, deriving from melr, the Old Norse for ‘sand dunes’. But this has been a place of human settlement for 2500 years. Since about 1810, a large number of artefacts have been found relating to pre-Roman Carthage, the Iron Age, the Roman Empire, the Anglo-Saxons and the Vikings. These include items as varied as coins, tokens, brooches, pins, knives, glass beads, keys, pottery, flint tools, mounts, pilgrim badges, pieces of leather, worked wood and iron tools. They came to be discovered after the beginning of large-scale dredging (to accommodate the needs of the nearby growing seaport of Liverpool) started to cause notable sand erosion along the coastline near Meols.
These finds suggest that the site was used as a port as far back as the Iron Age some 2400 years ago, and was once the most important seaport in the present-day northwest of England. Thus trading connections are believed to have reached far across Europe. The objects (which will be on display in the new Museum of Liverpool from 2011) show that the port began to develop about 2400 years ago, during the Iron Age. Finds such as a silver tetradrachm (a coin) of Tigranes I of Armenia, minted in Syria in the 1st century BC and bronze coins of Augustus, suggest that there had been contacts with France and even the Mediterranean before the Roman occupation of Britain. It is probable that a major item of the trade was salt from the brine springs of southern Cheshire.
Many of the present day inhabitants of Meols show Viking ancestry. In 2002, University of Nottingham researchers began investigating the degree of Viking blood still extant in the village.
- Meols, Wirral: an ancient port: Museum of Liverpool
- Great Sites: Meols: article by David Griffiths, Oxford University in British Archaeology magazine, December 2001