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Beachcombers of Wallasey
By Tony Franks-Buckley
Beachcombers is a term describing individuals or groups of people searching through the sands for any valuable goods. This has been a common practice in New Brighton and elsewhere along the Wallasey shoreline for several centuries. In the early 16th Century to the mid 19th Century the area was plagued with the Wallasey Wreckers and Smugglers. They could be regarded as the early beachcombers, but instead of removing items with care, the Wreckers would violently remove objects from the living, the dead and just about anything else they could get their hands on. Historians in the past such as James Stonehouse have mentioned that smugglers including women would waste no time in removing objects from the dead, by biting ears and fingers off the corpses floating in the River Mersey, rather than struggle to get earrings and rings from the unfortunate victims.
As time moved on the 19th Century seen the birth of New Brighton and along came the seaside resort. A wonderful time of leisure and entertainment had by many whom visited this new seaside resort, but with them followed the new beachcombers, whom would scour through the sands looking for anything that may have been dropped by the day-trippers.
The 20th century brought a time of technological advancements and new ways of combing through the sands, the metal detector. Modern day Beachcombers now occupy our sands using modern pieces of equipment to search for the fortunes that have been dropped by the unfortunate. Egremont shore and Mother Redcaps is still a popular area for detectors searching for the long lost fortune of Mother Redcap, yet it is still to be found.
One thing that will never change is the amazing stories of local legends and here we shall talk about Beachcombers through the years.
One of Wallasey's interesting Characters Jose Pepe Ruiz wrote a book "Beachcombers Buttercreams and Smugglers Caves" in it he writes about several eccentric characters. Here is a few that were mentioned in relation to Beachcombers in Wallasey.
Duck Duck possessed a hook for his right hand due to having his right arm severed below the elbow during an accident whilst hay-cutting in a hay-Cutting loft on the corner of Mount Road and Albion Street. His surname was Wilkinson, he came from one of the oldest families in New Brighton and he gained his nickname because, whatever the weather he would be seen employing his sand scratching trowel on the gravel by the pier. His trowels were made by his grandson, Mr Keith Hogg, who would sharpen them regularly for his grandfather.in latter years, Duck was a familiar sight on the promenade outside the Floral Pavilion Theatre, where he would look after the cars. He would never ask for any money, but received some handsome tips from his satisfied clientele.
Wallasey Bill Worked as a night watchman in the Tivoli Theatre. He always Dressed in a Seaman’s Woollen jumper and peaked cap. Whatever the weather he would follow the first morning tide out under the pier looking for money that had been dropped by the holidaymakers the evening before. He worked alongside Larry Flyn, whose family were well known in New Brighton.
The Mad Muller
The Mad Muller, like Wallasey Bill, who wore a Seaman’s knitted pullover and a peak hat, could be found in all weathers sand scratching on the Wallasey foreshore. During the summer month, The Muller would often ask holiday makers to move their feet whilst he scratched round their deckchairs and because of this eccentric habit, he received the nickname of Mad Muller.
During his later years, the Muller lost the use of his legs and was confined to a wheelchair. He loved to ride on the River Mersey Ferry Boats to Liverpool and would wheel himself up to the bus terminal that was situated on Virginia road behind the Floral Pavilion and the bus conductor would help him onto the vehicle, placing his wheelchair under the stairs. On one occasion after the Muller had paid his fare and gone through the ferry tollgates at Seacombe Ferry, the brake on his wheelchair malfunctioned, this resulted in the chair and the Mad Muller running dangerously near to the roadway that ran down to the landing stage.
It was down to sheer luck and quick thinking by a Mr Walter Garbutt, the then Master of the Ferryboat and his mate, prevented a disaster. For, just as the wheelchair was about to run towards the river, they both seized it simultaneously, arresting its progress. It sounds like a comedy sketch out of an old Black n White movie. Sadly the Mad Muller died in his 70s and is regarded as the most eccentric of the early Wallasey Beachcombers.