Sunday, December 23, 2007

Quaggy Meols

Ever heard of a place called Quaggy Meols? Hardly surprising if you haven’t; it’s a name that’s fallen out of common usage nowadays. How about North Cape? Again, a title that would have been familiar to Fylde and Wyre residents during the nineteenth century but which, two hundred years later, is now as obscure as a cultured grockle.
Well, both locations were (and indeed still are) basically one and the same, this description by H. Thompson (one time Borough Engineer) possibly helping you pin it down: “Rabbits were the principle fauna and as men populated the district a few roamed across to note the possibilities of the area. It was so poor the no one appeared to desire it. It was termed ‘Quaggy Meols’, a combination of wet or marshy land and sand hills."


Yes, now you’ve got it. It’s Fleetwood, of course. (It was probably the rabbits that gave it away. And yes, that is a photograph of Fleetwood Marsh above, although, as far as I’m aware, there are no rabbits visible on it.) H. Thompson was speaking from an obviously biased (not to mention borderline objectionable) point of view, as most borough surveyors did back then. C. E. de Rance, for example, described the residents of Pilling as being prone to idiocy because of their reluctance to marry outside the family. This, actually, is still true today, of course, but it’s hardly the sort of comment you’d expect to find in a surveyor’s report.
The idea that ‘no one appeared to desire’ Quaggy Meols isn’t terribly accurate either. The Romans obviously found the place interesting enough (as evidenced by the various coin hoards discovered around the peninsula), as did the monks of Duelacres Abbey and their sheep, the prize rams of which they kept on Tup Hill, otherwise known as the Mount. And the local Celts were quite content to built their settlement on Bourne Hill. Come to that matter, the Norse had a liking for the place as well, because it’s from them that the name Quaggy Meols derives.
All of which, in a roundabout way, brings us to the question: “What exactly were the Norse up to at Fleetwood?” Well, how about this suggestion, concerning a similarly named Meols near the mouth of the Dee Estuary, from Julian Richard’s ‘Viking Age England’ (Yes…he’s the bloke off ‘Meet the Ancestors’ so he’s got a good idea what he’s talking about): “The name is derived from the Old Norse word for sandbank, melr, and it has been suggested that a pre-Viking beach market may have been taken over by Norse traders.”
Now we’ve got your attention. The idea of a Viking market on Fleetwood beach (obviously predating the modern day Fleetwood Market, and even the one granted through a charter by King John to the Duelacres’ lay-brothers in 1216) also explains the existence of Min End ford, another Norse name (although the ford itself was Celto-Roman) referring to the Wyre Estuary. It’s no wonder the Norse considered it important enough to give it a title. After all, once you’ve got your stalls set up, you have to encourage all those friendly shoppers from Over Wyre to spend their coffers on your wares, so it’d be worth keeping those sandstone blocks well and truly intact.
There is another Meols not a million miles removed from the Fylde and Wyre, North Meols, beyond the Ribble, somewhere in the general direction of Liverpool. And, according to Julian Richards, any place name ending with suffix ‘wick’ (such as Salwick) would also have been a Viking marketplace. Yes…those Norse were well up for turning a quick profit around this district, which probably explains why so many of them eventually settled down here.
Now, for a marketplace you also need a watering hole, if not for our ale-soused Norse men and their post Romano-Celtic customers, then for the animals being traded on the sands. And what do we have at the Fleetwood end of Min End ford (i.e. the patch of beach directly in front of the Lower Lighthouse)? We’ll give you three guesses.
Let’s turn to our old favourite, William Thornber, for a full description: “Leigh, in his Natural History of Lancashire, informs us that at Mine-End, at the mouth of the river, there is a purging water, which springs out of the sand. “This, no doubt,” he adds, “is the sea water which filters thro’ the sand, but by reason of the shortness of its filtration, (the spring lying so near the river,) or the looseness of the sand, the marine water is not perfectly dulcified, but retains a pleasing brackishness, not unlike that which is observable in the milk of a farrow cow, or one that has conceived.”
We’re not ones to let such claims go unchecked, so we set out in search of this ‘milk flavoured’ spring ourselves. And, of course, we found it, as can be seen in the photograph below, although ‘brackish’ and ‘pleasing’ are not words we’d use in association with its taste. In fact, the words we’d use are best off not being mentioned on a family site such as this.


Still, it’s interesting to imagine the Celts and the Norse getting steadily pickled together, their long ships beached in the spot where, nowadays, you tend to find Icelandic trawler undergoing maintenance and repairs, trading jewellery and sheep and horses and weapons and the latest in agricultural technology (such as spades and ploughs) and all sorts of other stuff (cosmetics such as eye shadow and make up were big with the Vikings…and not amongst the women either) on the shore at the river estuary.
So, just because some nineteenth century historians and borough surveyors with more cynicism than sense tend to dismiss the area as empty and desolate, don’t let them sway your opinion. There’s more to our quaggy humps and bumps than might, at first, meet the eye.

7 comments:

The Actor said...

So, are the lighthouse family really vikings in disguise ?

Brian Hughes said...

Martyn,

The lighthouse family? I take it you mean that group of unshaven old bums who hang around lower light with carrier bags filled with Special Brew? They're not vikings...they're D'rhegs.

Ann O'Dyne said...

No Wabbits?
wrong wrong wrong.
They paid attention to the ducks during hunting season and now they are The Amphibious Wabbits ... lurking sardonically below the surface ... just waiting to cut you down with a Bugs-like quip.
A Quaggy Quip

Bwca said...

"Fleetwood Marsh"?

fantastic band.
I named all my children Rhiannnon.

Brian Hughes said...

Annie,

You're thinking of Fleetwood Mac...the local flasher.

Ann O'Dyne said...

wah ha ha.

and 'Quaggy Meols'?

just up the road from me there's nothing but paddocks of dry grass and a brass plaque that says
"This was the site of
The Whim Holes"

Brian Hughes said...

I think 'Quaggy Meols' is the name of our town flasher's girlfriend.

"This was the site of The Whim Holes"

That's a field full of holes that were dug just for something to do on a hot afternoon, I take it. At least I hope that's what they are and it isn't a mis-spelling.