Copyright 2014 Hidden Wirral
Mother Redcaps is undoubtedly one of Wallasey's most famous land marks. The old white-washed, short; stumpy looking building was built by the Mainwaring family in 1595 on the river bank. It was a bold stone building with walls nearly three feet thick. The house was known by many names over the century's, names such as the Halfway House, the White House, Seabank Nook and several others. But to many locals and historians in later years it is simply known as Mother Redcaps due to its piratical past.
The name Mother Redcaps came about in the 1700’s when a elderly lady in her autumn years was the owner and proprietor of the tavern, and was well known for always wearing a red hood or cap. The tavern was frequented by sea farer's and smugglers as it was well known that Mother Redcap was trustworthy and allowed contraband to be hidden within the tavern, albeit im sure for a fee or cut of the profit. The activities of mother red cap over the years are well documented and in essence, she provided the first bank service to appear in Wallasey. She would store goods and currency within the building and sometimes even pay out prize money to the locals of which was be trusted to her as a neutral party.
The actual building looked like no more than a small white cottage, (Shown at top of the page) although this was the image that she wanted to portray, however inside it was a far different matter. Accounts shows that the front door was made of solid oak, five inches thick, studded with square headed nails. The remains of the door, although 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 door was a trap door into the cellar under the north room. It would seem that by forcing the front door, it would withdraw the bolt to the trap door, thus letting the intruder fall eight or nine feet to the cellar floor, rendering them immobile at the very least. The way into this cellar was concealed by a rough wooden lid with the remains of hinges and shackles at the sides and entry could be gained 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.
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.
On 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 blueblack and as hard as steel. The chimney breasts 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. An artificial harbour stood next to the old cottage(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 signalling. 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 boat¬house 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,2 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.”
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 communicated in some way and somewhere with Mother Redcap's. The men used, on returning from their voyages, to deposit with her their pay and prize money until they wanted it. It was known or at least very commonly believed that Mother Redcap 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 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 and many a strange story has been told and scene enacted under the old roof.”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.”
Smugglers and pirates were a real threat in the 1700's particularly to the Wallasey area, adored by both. They would often take wealthy residents and ransom them for money. There reputation also shows that they were also keen on kidnapping the poor and keeping them on board against their will to help out with labour on their vessel. This could also be said of the smugglers nemises, the Royal Navy.
The Royal Navy notoriously picked up young and able men and recruited them into the ranks many times against there wishes, but the great terror of the sailors was the press other side of the Black Rock that they might conceal themselves in Cheshire, and many a vessel had to be brought into gang. Such was the dread in which this force was held by the sailors, that they would often take to their boats on the port by a lot of riggers and carpenters sent round by the owners for that purpose.”
Two 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".
Encamped on the Leasowes awaiting embarkation for Ireland. There is a tradition that at the time of King William's 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, dispatches 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 dispatches 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 been told by his ancestors that several of King 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.
The smuggling went on in this area for century's and storeys denote that on one occasion when the smugglers were desirous of getting a cask of rum or some other merchandise away from one of the hiding places, but were prevented by the unwelcome presence of a duty officer. So it was arranged that one of the smugglers was to creep down to the shore from the Moor, and lie down in his clothes in the water, at the edge of the receding tide. The attention of the solitary officer at Mother Redcap's was called to the supposed body which had been washed ashore, and he made his way to it as quickly as possible. He had removed the watch, and was going through the pockets when the corpse came to life, sprang up, and laid out the surprised officer with a swift blow from a melee weapon. By the time he had come to, the rum had been removed from Redcap's, and started its journey to the moss at Bidston.
No blame could be attached to the 'drowned man' who stated:
"He was walking along the shore, when he must have had a fit, for the next thing that he became aware of was that he was lying in the sand with his pockets being rifled. Thinking he was being robbed by a stranger he attacked".
On another occasion a ship with tobacco on board was wrecked, and the watching officers saw two men run from the part of the wreck on the shore, along the beach northward, with two small bales as though they were about to depart for the Wallasey side. It took some time on the soft sand to overtake them, and when they were caught the packages were found to contain cabbage leaves and ferns. In the meantime their friends had made free with the real tobacco in the wreck.
Old 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
grand¬father, 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.
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 shipowner's 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.
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, the 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 café, bearing once more the name of Mother Redcap.
The small white cottage style tavern was demolished in 1885 and was rebuilt in 1888 in a mock Tudor style although it did continue being a public house. This is the taller building with spires which can be seen several old pictures that eventually became the café. Unfortunately this building also demolished, this time in 1974 to make way for flats. Nothing now remains of Mother Red Caps except the solitary archway that marked the entrance, a bygone to a time of smuggling and maritime history.
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At over 380 pages long, this book will bring back memories to the local residents, the day trippers and holiday makers who flooded into the area to enjoy all the attractions it had to offer such as: the largest tower in Britain, the pier, the theatres, the swimming pools, the fairgrounds, the parks, the busy shopping streets and all the other entertainments provided for their pleasure. The area of Wallasey has a recorded history that dates back to the days of Pirates & Smugglers in the early 16th Century. Wallasey became more well known for becoming a haven for rich merchants who built vast numbers of mansion houses and its time as a popular seaside resort from the 19th century onwards. Wallasey has that much history for such a small area, that it would be impossible to detail it all in one book. This book captures all the important factors of Wallasey that made is so popular with tourists and why merchants flocked from across the land to build their mansions amongst others. Take a step back in time and remember Wallasey from days gone by.