The following is an extract from the Liverpool Museum:
In the early medieval period Meols continued as a port, though now people traded with Ireland and the
Mediterranean. Finds include a pottery flask, which contained holy water from the shrine of St Menas in
Egypt and Byzantine coins from Turkey, dating from the 6th century AD. Later finds show that Viking
settlers used the port too. In 902 AD the Norwegian Vikings were expelled from Dublin. Norse settlers, led
by their chief, Hingamund, left Dublin for England. Aethelfleda, Lady of the Mercians of Chester, granted
them land in north Wirral. Viking place-names in Wirral show where they settled. The place-name Meols is
derived from a Norse word 'melr' meaning 'sand dune'. Meols became a beach market where Viking traders
could land their boats and exchange goods with other merchants. Viking ring-headed cloak pins from
Ireland would be typical of the objects that were traded. A discovery came from examining the ironwork. Dr
David Griffiths of Oxford University has recognised for the first time the contents of a Viking warrior burial,
with a shield boss, spear and axe. This provided further evidence of the strong Norse presence in north
Tiny rectangular plaque (14th century) with gilded, grotesque animal. Its two feet and a tail turn into three
leaves. Probably originally enamelled, this may have been part of the decoration on a knife handle or a
casket to hold valuables
The port of Meols was used right through the Middle Ages. Just as important, though, was the little farming
settlement of Meols. About 1500 AD the villagers lost the battle against the sand dunes which finally
covered the village. They moved a short distance to the south and established the new village of Meols
where it stands to this day. Particularly important is the collection of later medieval objects. This includes a
wide range of ordinary domestic items such as buckles and belt fittings, pottery, knives and agricultural
implements. There are also personal seals, pilgrim badges and armour. Dr Geoff Egan of the Museum of
London has described the medieval metalwork is the second most important group in the country after
Knives, spoons and pottery jugs give a glimpse of life in a medieval house. Clothes fittings, like buckles and
belt attachments, and leather shoes would be the everyday wear of people. This necklace and brooch
illustrated on this page though, would have been of special importance to the owners. The discovery of a
scale balance and a large number of coins is evidence of trade. Several stirrups show us that the villagers
had horses while iron arrowheads would have been used for hunting. Evidence of farming comes from the
iron tools that have been found, such as sickles for harvesting crops, shears for clipping wool and iron
spades for digging the ground.
During the 19th century erosion helped uncover the foundations of a number of medieval houses. The
houses, with their clay floors, had been hidden under the sand for many years. Visitors to the ruins
mentioned seeing the footprints of cows and people on the old village street. Unfortunately, nobody
recorded these finds in detail.
Parts of a late medieval (early 15th century)
pewter necklace with leaf pendants. A rare
survival of a base-metal version (for a man or
woman of ordinary means) of the fashion for
gold or silver collars worn by the aristocracy.
It is likely that little survives of ancient Meols
today. The coastal erosion which revealed the
objects also destroyed the settlements. The
objects collected by antiquarians in the 19th
century and kept public museums form almost
the only surviving evidence of what was once
one of the region's most important ports.
National Museums Liverpool has a small collection of material from Meols, from the collections of Joseph
Mayer and Henry Ecroyd Smith. Unfortunately many objects were lost in the fire at Liverpool Museum of
1941. Other groups of objects are in the Grosvenor Museum, Chester, Warrington Museum, the British
Museum, and the Williamson Art Gallery and Museum in Birkenhead.
Since 2000 a team of specialists from National Museums Liverpool, Oxford University, Chester Archaeology,
the Museum of London and other institutions has been working on a major catalogue of the 'Meols'
material, co-ordinated through National Museums Liverpool. The project aims to re-examine both the
existing material and the finds published during the 19th century, unite them in a single work, and make
them accessible to a wider public for the first time in a century.
The new research has raised a series of questions about what might survive behind the sea wall at Meols,
a topic which Silvia Gonzalez of Liverpool John Moores University is examining in detail.
The Meols project to catalogue the finds has been funded from a wide variety of sources, including the
British Academy, the Aurelius Fund, the Millennium Award Sharing Museum Skills scheme, PH Holt Trust, the
Roman Research Trust and Merseyside Archaeological Society. Grateful thanks are due to all of these
In 1846 the Revd Abraham Hume was visiting the parsonage in Hoylake, Wirral. He noticed some ancient
artefacts, including a Roman brooch on the mantelpiece. Hume asked how they got there and learnt that
local fishermen had found them on the shore at Meols. Realising the importance of the finds, he made
efforts to recover further objects.
Meols, on the north Wirral coast, is now seen as one of the most significant ancient sites in the north west
of England. For thousands of years, people had made use of a natural harbour called the Hoyle Lake. This
gave its name in modern times to Hoylake, the town which grew up nearby. During the early 19th century
storms and high tides had progressively washed away occupation deposits from a succession of
settlements along the north Wirral coast. In less than a hundred years the shore-line retreated nearly 500
metres at Dove Point. Metal items from these layers were deposited on the beach where they were later
The objects range from the Neolithic through to the 18th century. There is a strong emphasis on the later
medieval period but also a remarkable group of Roman, Saxon and Viking artefacts. After Hume began to
publicise the finds in the 1840s, the site came to the attention of antiquarians who competed for the
'produce of the Cheshire shore'. Many amassed considerable collections. It is estimated that over a
fifty-year period well over 5000 objects were found. A selection of the finest were published by Revd Hume
in 1863 in his remarkable book, 'Ancient Meols'. Over 3000 objects, including some illustrated by Hume, still
survive in modern museum collections, spread between no fewer than six institutions.
Meols' importance through the ages was due to its coastal location beside the Hoyle Lake, a haven on the
Irish Sea coast. The objects show that the port began to develop about 2400 years ago, during the Iron
Age. Finds such as a silver tetradrachm (a coin) of Tigranes I of Armenia, minted in Syria in the 1st century
BC and bronze coins of Augustus, suggest that there had been contacts with France and even the
Mediterranean before the Roman occupation of Britain. It is probable that a major item of the trade was
salt from the brine springs of southern Cheshire.
Reassessment of the Roman finds suggests military activity at Meols in the pre-Flavian period before the
foundation of the fortress at Chester and perhaps a market function afterwards. During the Roman period,
the port grew to be the largest settlement in Merseyside. Over 70 Roman brooches and 120 coins have
been found. This shows that Meols was a busy trading community. Ships sailing up the west coast of
Britain would have stopped off to pick up goods or raw materials and trade pottery and other items. The
local people may have lived in circular wooden houses, as the remains of such houses were found on the
shore in the late 19th century.
- Museum of Liverpool
|Roman copper alloy cosmetic pestle with suspension loop.