Cathy Taylor Simpson

The New Brighton Mermaids

Cathy Taylor Simpson

This story is dedicated to my mother Mary Margaret Taylor, who died on the 9th June 2022 and would have loved to have read about herself in it.

I cannot tell or write much more than this as it is my time to embark on a life of adventures. I will do it now while I have a pen in my hand, parchment to write upon and Lightning asleep at my feet.

Where shall I begin?

We are after all is said and done a family joined by and to the sea.

Our home, my home, is a coastal island with tall gold red sandstone cliffs, a wall of turbulent sea tides surrounding our land as it sits just a very short low tide walk away from the beautiful mainland sandy and rocky edged Wirral peninsula.

My Great Grandfather was a great yet feared sea captain and through his many voyages across the oceans had become increasingly wealthy and rich. His accumulating wealth gave him the freedom to take any land he wanted. This golden island he had sailed past on his many voyages drew his travel weary eyes so he secured ownership of a prominent portion of its land and settled his family here.

Great plans were drawn up by the finest architects to construct a grand residence that came to be named Montebello. Inspired in part from his many travels to Italy. In the fullness of time his home did indeed become a beautiful building both within and without. Its towers and turrets had a fairy tale quality pointing up to the skies. Its huge imposing white marble floors, stairs, balustrades and columns at both of its entrances hinting to visitors the great wealth of treasure within sourced from his many world travels by the formidable captain himself. Its position gave it unrivalled view of the

Made in Wirral illustration by Cathy Taylor Simpson. Collage of a mermaid ith blonde hair diving from th surface of the ocean down, with her tail sticking into the air

sea, sunsets and rises. It was hailed by sailors as the land low they sought to guide them on their return into the port of Liverpool safely.

Built much later by my two uncles the design of the equally imposing Villa next door was to cause much consternation to the architects and builders involved. It was not to be a normal residence but one that was both to be divided equally between the brothers yet directly linked for both of them by a huge sea facing first floor balcony stretching the length of their home. Neither brother can live it was then said, wholly together alongside the other and neither of them wished to live their gifted singular lives apart. The site of the villa earned it the nickname of The Slopes due to the dramatic drop below it, as it sits on the very edge of the cliff top. This allows the villa to fully exploit the panoramic, unimpeded views of all sea going traffic in and out of the Mersey Estuary. In essence it was a great white towering look out post ever watchful and watching. It straddled the sea caves beneath it that were once used by smugglers to illicitly import contraband and to store harvested wrecked ship’s cargo when ships inevitably got caught by the ever changeable tides on treacherous rocks half hidden by sand banks surrounding this peninsula.

Rumour has it that my twin great uncles were not really brothers or indeed twins at all. However it must be said that for two potentially unrelated people they were as close as two brothers should or would want to be, two peas in a pod. They amounted to a mass of contradictions both reliant upon each other and self-reliant, both educated and talented in equal measure in the arts and sciences respectively and completely devoted to their mother, my grandmother and eventually to myself. They prospered in later life by owning the monopoly over the River Mersey Ferries but that is another story.

Their mother, the Captain’s wife, Mary Margaret a tall strikingly red headed beauty of a woman, as lovely on the outside as she was within, too generous by half and loved by all that came to know her was before anything else a force to be reckoned with. She could predict the sea storms and tidal races from her childhood of growing up on the coast. She had often been consulted by the Captain himself before embarking upon any given voyage and on his return would be gifted with such remarkable baroque pearls that they were eventually joined together forming a priceless unique and otherworldly necklace and earrings. My grandmother was, in the Captain’s eyes, without equal and he was passionate about her. However it is said that every sailor has a girl in every port and the many arguments about his dalliances could be heard ringing and echoing throughout the marble chambers of their now strikingly monumental home. It is in short due to her determination, single mindedness and legacy that I can now live out a comfortable life free from any ties that bind or commitments. I am free to go where I will whenever I want. Her ultimate gift to me is that I answer to no man.

Following the birth of my uncles my bereft grandmother had been in mourning for the loss of one her twin baby sons who died at birth. She had been encouraged and eventually consented to take short good fresh sea air walks to restore herself and it was during such a stroll on the beaches below the cliffs that she chanced upon the small cry of an infant. She removed the covering seaweed, shells and sand to reveal a small sea baby boy so perfect and smiling that she instinctively scooped the abandoned soul up, dusted the sand from his cool skin, kissed and nestled him snugly within her Victorian Perambulator right next to her one surviving new baby son. The two children lay close together. She later said that it was only then that she felt herself restored and her world mended.

Not one person, in Montebello House at the top of the cliffs thought to question this new arrival. As there clearly happened to be more than enough baby provisions and goods, sourced in preparation for the new baby twin’s timely arrival everything was ultimately put to very good use. The household at Montebello simply moved forward, accepted and loved unquestioningly the sea child that quickly filled the void of what had recently dealt them such a terrible blow and loss. The wonderful gift of new life was welcomed, as if the sea child was always meant to be.

The two boys, my uncles Peter and Paul, were as children quite inseparable. Never to be found too far apart with a bond so close that they thrived with neither ever casting a shadow over the other. Their childhood adventures shared with my mother their younger sister were the stuff of legend. Carefully recorded in the pair of old leather bound journals that they had been gifted one Christmas. My mother likewise kept a sketch book filled with ink drawings of everything they did and saw captured in amazing pictures of a world so fantastic it defied belief. These journals and sketch book were eventually bequeathed to me in my grandmothers will with a short handwritten note telling me to be willing to take both a chance and courage in life.

The journals delved into frequently by myself shared many secret tales of great adventures with their sister, of climbing the sea cliffs, abseiling and swimming in mystery deep indigo turquoise lagoons, of glistening gold and scarlet sandstone gorges, of sunken castles covered with sea shells, submerged forests, smugglers treasure, wrecked ships, of chance secret long abandoned passages and the complete unexpected beauty of wild things that they had encountered and I could hardly ever have imagined existed. The woven stories and pictures of the jointly enjoyed creative fantasies depicted in these battered old records made my pulse race and my mind fill with the most other worldly incredible images. Totally captivating me, taking my imagination with them. Pictures from them danced before my eyes as I imagined being with them to share these extraordinary sights and times. The boys amazing array of grand adventures, filled my dreams with what sometimes felt like half familiar remembered places. They created within me a longing for something I could not fully name nor put into any sensible explanation.

The journals and drawings had very particularly recorded the days during and following the Great Spring Storm that violently tore across and through the peninsula wreaking havoc and destruction in its wake. On the beach and along the coastline below their home huge sand dunes mountains had been moved completely changing the landscape of the beach re-sculpting it into new unexplored valleys, gorges streams and waterfalls by the sheer force of the sour relentless wind that had screamed overhead for three days and nights. When the storm passed it gave them a fresh landscape and a new world to discover. The storm sea waves were sketched roaring up the cliffs with foaming white sea spray smashing against windows. Twisted trees, uprooted kitchen gardens, decimated orchards, flattened boundary fences and the strength to rip open the huge oaken gates.

My grandmother told me how, on the first still morning that dawned following the storm rumoured to end all storms, her twelve year old sons were up and out of the house making their way down the now perilous cliff path to descend to the beach below. Their younger sister by just a year was as ever close behind on their heels fearful of being left behind. The path down had been greatly reduced and great care was needed to navigate its now much eroded width and stability.

The sight that eventually met all three of children was one they had often talked about and all had longed for. The mouth of the huge golden arched abandoned smugglers cave was now revealed and even better there was a viable opening. The cave at the base of the cliffs had been exposed by the removal of a mountainous amount of sand dune that they had all dug at time and time again only to be rewarded by sand blown back against it the next time they visited. Over time the wind-blown sand had entombed the contents of these dangerous vaults completely plugging once well used and visited smugglers entrances. The storms gift allowed the three children to enter the caves within.

The storm having also collapsed part of the cave roof now allowed sunlight to stream through the gaps in the rock above. The sun had warmed the sheltering calm cave depths making it wholly inviting.  Signalling this welcome light reflected from the water danced against its walls making a beautiful sight to behold. A large still pool of deep turquoise and indigo sea water dominated the cave. Sunlight on the surface of the water shimmered with an unusual light as the waters beneath appeared to reveal glints of silver, gold, copper, jewels and pearls beneath. A treasure beckoned at the bottom of the pool. Overjoyed with their discovery the three children dared themselves to swim. All stripped off their outer things, jerseys, weather coats, shoes and dived into the water to enjoy its unusual warmth against their skin. The children’s happy laughter echoed off the sides of the cave along with the copious splashing as they swam together in this unusual place.

It was only then that my mother and her two brothers realised they were no longer alone. A fourth child had joined in the fun. This striking boy looked so very like one of my mother’s brothers that it quite confused them all to begin with. They watched him appear not to need to resurface as often as they had for air and the depth he could so quickly go to with little effort on his part. He had a knowing air and relaxed presence about him that was at once both calming and reassuring. He was content to glide beneath the water and waves splashing above him swimming so much faster that all four eventually gave up racing and sat contentedly on the small island of rocks in the middle of the pool. The new boy listened to everything they said to him and had slowly begun to answer their questions.

My uncles tell the family tale well in their journals and mention that the strange bond between their sister and the sea boy which was obvious from the start and only became stronger as every one of the summer days passed them by. It was shortly before the end of the summer though that my mother vanished and broke my grandmother’s heart. This loss of a beloved sister was later revealed the deciding factor for my uncles, on the exact position that their new villa would take. It would be sited to have unrivalled views of the Irish Sea and River Mersey making all ready to welcome their younger sister back when they hoped she would eventually chose to return home from the sea.

As I remember it, though it has become a somewhat hazy memory due to my age – I think I was just three years – I recall that I been playing alone by a small rock pool at low tide for too long and I was found by an old lady who I later realised was my grandmother. Having scarce understanding of the dangers of a turning tide and mesmerised by the small sea creatures dancing in my rock pool and delighting in the streams of light, my scales had dried close to my skin and in places it had started to feel uncomfortable and burnt. I gradually became aware of a cool shadow slowly passing over me, along with the protective penetrating gaze of a familiar face but aged in appearance that so closely resembled my mother. Having been called by her name Alexandria, I tried to stand. The sun had now vanished as the wind and storm clouds overhead built up. The lady reached out quickly and caught me gently wrapping me in the softest shawl. Sat on her knee she tended to me with such loving care that the last of my scales and fears disappeared.

Entering Montebello House we went immediately to the kitchens for warm bowls of water to wash my salty skin and to be urgently served a reviving broth. No one in the house has ever questioned my strange arrival or the name Alexandria that had been just been bestowed upon me. My two uncles appeared rejoicing in my arrival celebrating what they called my return with absolute relief and joy. I was heralded a miracle returned from the sea; I was home at last.

A huge creature also appeared loping towards me to join the welcome party. Sitting back it took time to study me gravely before licking my hand and pressing its big furry head into my small body. This was Lightning the giant Irish Wolf Hound or appointed guard dog of my new home. Lightning was and indeed still is my constant companion and very best friend in this new world of land and air. He is my shadow and protector nudging me along when and if I need it and joining me on my adventures when I walk down to explore the sea caves below and choose as I so often do to swim enjoying both my lives above and below the water.

Williamson Art Gallery & Museum