Why is Cleethorpes called Meggies? The facts and fables behind the name

Why is Cleethorpes called Meggies? The facts and fables behind the name

If you’re heading to the east coast seaside this summer, it will probably be to either Skeggy or Meggies.

Lincolnshire’s biggest resorts share very similar histories, but unlike Skegness, the origin of Cleethorpes’ unusual nickname is shrouded in some mystery. The name “Cleethorpes” itself is simple enough, originating in old words for clay (clee) and village (thorpes).

So where on earth does “Meggies” come from? According to one theory, daytrippers would spend their “megs” - Victorian slang for halfpennies - in the resort.

Meggies Fish and Chips restaurant and takeaway, in Market Street -Credit:Rick Byrne
Meggies Fish and Chips restaurant and takeaway, in Market Street -Credit:Rick Byrne

Others recall the tram fare from Grimsby to Cleethorpes being known as a “meggie”. Or perhaps the nickname originates with local soldiers, who called themselves the “Meggies” after their commanding officer, Captain H W Meggitt, to distinguish themselves from the Yellowbellies of the Fens.

Captain Meggitt was a well-known personality in the area, frequently mentioned in the local press, until he retired with the honorary rank of major in 1893. His volunteers - the 1st Volunteer Battalion of the Lincolnshire Regiment - could often be seen parading at fairs and other events with a marching band.

His name may just have been a coincidence, however, because in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the resort of Cleethorpes was well-known throughout the Humber region and beyond as “Meg’s Island”.

At the start of the 1902 summer season, a reporter from the Hull Daily Mail described the scene on a May bank holiday at a packed “Meg’s Island”. His article was headlined: IN TRIPPERLAND. "MEG'S ISLAND" IN ITS ELEMENT.

He wrote: “Cleethorpes was in its element. The welkin [sky] rang with the piercing sound of the penny tin horn; streets were strewed with orange peel, hairpins, and empty biscuit bags; the donkeys worked overtime; the oyster sellers and rock merchants made hay while the sun shone —and the wind blew.

“And it did blow, with a vengeance! Fair trippers had to hold on to their hats till their arms tolled. Even if the ill-wind rudely disturbed their bank holiday coiffures, however, it did them good bringing the fresh colour to their cheeks.”

How much and how little things change.

The name was still in use more than 20 years later. In August 1925, the Mail reported on how thousands of people were daily crossing from Hull to “Meg’s Island” and extra boats were being put on the cope with the demand.

Until the middle of the 19th century, Cleethorpes was little more than a fishing hamlet of a few hundred people. Traditionally, Meg’s Island was supposed to be the area around Isaac’s Hill.

Commenting on Rod Collins’ local history site, one correspondent recalls how true Meggies were meant to have been born above Isaac’s Hill.

“The highlands of Cleethorpes were surrounded by water from Beacon Hill to Trinity Road up and around High Cliff. … Throughout the ages it became custom for anybody born above Isaac’s Hill to be known as a ‘Meggie’. Old Clee was the area the other side of the moat.”

A colourful story behind the name was put forward in the Sheffield Daily Telegraph in March 1906, a time when Cleethorpes was a popular resort for holidaymakers from around southern Yorkshire and the Midlands.

A reporter wrote: "Where Cleethorpes stands was in days of old an island. A woman called Meg lived there alone, and ever since then the place has born known as Meg’s Island, whilst the name of Meggy has been attached to the trawlers which have sailed out of Cleethorpes."

Yet another theory suggests that Meg’s Island is actually a corruption of the earlier “Mag Highland”, meaning big hill.

Writing in 1901, the historian C Ernest Watson explained how: “The Mag Highland or ‘the Big Hill,’ was a reasonable name enough for the rising ground on which Cleethorpes stands in a district destitute of hills … and if, in the course of time, “Mag” became “Meg” it was because the former word had been lost in ordinary speech.”

Over time, Mag Highland became Meg’s Island and the villagers became known as “Meggies”.

A reference to Meg's Island in a report about Cleethorpes in 1902
A reference to Meg's Island in a report about Cleethorpes in 1902

If that is the closest we’ll get to solving the mystery, I cannot end this article without mentioning one very modern definition of Meggie. According to the Urban Dictionary website, which collects slang words from around the country, a “meggie” is a person who is “totally awesome”.

Cleethorpes, we never doubted it.