Moreton Page 5

Shanty Town 

Life in the shanty town on Moreton Common earlier this century. I would like to point out that I have absolutely no idea who wrote this. It appears in the Wirral Journal Autumn 1991.

Local folk will have been aware of the invasion, during July, of hordes of itinerant travellers looking for a place to settle for a while on Wirral. The problems experienced on Moreton Common during this past summer, whilst worrying, are nothing really new to this part of the peninsula. These wide, open spaces by the sea have lured folk of a somewhat similar disposition in times past; hear what a rambler said of his visit to Moreton about the early 1920s: ‘Till pretty recently, Moreton was no more than a tranquil cluster of old Wirral homesteads, but just at present its name is associated with contention by reason of a number of camp dwellers, whose wholesome aspiration for liberty and love of nature is not uncharacteristic of the soil. You catch something of the new atmosphere on stepping down towards the village. Almost the first house you come to is called “Jocular Cottage” and the next is dubbed “Rainfall Villa”. There is such a merry and-bright don’t care if it snows air about the choice of titles that you anticipate more novelties, but you do not find them.’

Like today’s ‘travellers’, these folk had no permanent homes of their own, and many were suffering the effects of the post-war depression. So they flocked to this damp, low-lying part of Moreton, particularly on Kerr’s and Fellowship Fields, and erected make-shift chalets and huts, caravans, bungalows, and even old railway trucks. Facilities and services were non-existent: water was obtained from standpipes, and sanitation was primitive, to say the least!

A guidebook of the time described the scene: ‘The most distinctive feature of Moreton is to be found on the flat land near the shore, where one storied wooden dwellings have been put up in such numbers as to form a veritable Bungalow Town; caravans and marquees are also used as habitations. Many of the bungalows are unexceptional both as to design and convenience; but there are others whose suitability for occupation is by no means obvious; and the wooden structures erected to serve as shops do not add to the picturesqueness of the scene. Their presence has led to certain difficulties with the local authorities and there is also distinct liability to flooding after heavy rain.’

That was something of an understatement: almost every photograph taken of Moreton’s ‘shanty town’ shows folk with their trousers rolled up. The womenfolk were often taken to Moreton Cross in a punt to get their shopping; and they always carried a towel in their baskets to dry their feet after paddling through the mud and water. The authorities look upon the scene with some displeasure; the 1929 Borough Plan states: ‘In this district of Moreton there exists, unfortunately, a large number of caravans, shacks and bungalows, the existence of which has placed upon the area a stigma, the eradication of which will take some considerable time. Not only are these erections unsightly, but the living conditions are exceedingly bad; their removal is a task which should be undertaken without delay.’

The Report went on to insist on the necessity for offering alternative living accommodation; this should be in the same area, for these folk had ‘in all probability settled there for the reason that they would be in close proximity to the sea coast and able to enjoy those amenities which such a situation affords’.

The Wirral guide-book previously mentioned, makes a similar suggestion: ‘The pure air direct off the Irish Sea, the bathing, and the somewhat unconventional life prove attractive to thousands; and every year witnesses an increase in the number of those who sojourn here for part of the summer.’

So, eventually the cinder tracks and the chalets, the makeshift shops and the mud, were swept away, and eventually the housing developments of Leasowe and Moreton grew up to give those ‘lovers of the soil’ four square brick walls, front pathways and hot & cold running water. And what they gained in comfort, they no doubt lost in fellowship, comradeship, and good old-fashioned fun. Moreton-in-the-mud had died Moreton-in-Wirral was born.

Taken from Moreton Station