The Phantom Mersey ‘Water Walker’?

February 16, 2014
Crosby Beach Figure

Mysterious figure just off Crosby beach? Photo © Philip McKeown. Reproduced with permission.

Back in 2010 during our annual ‘Paranormal Week’ (PW) at Halton Lea Library in Runcorn, a gentleman called Philip McKeown showed the PW team a photograph he had taken sometime around 1983. The picture (see below) was a shot of the shoreline around Crosby taken during a stormy day. At first glance, everything in the picture appeared to be perfectly normal but, as Philip soon pointed out, on closer inspection there appeared to be a figure walking towards the shore – not through the waves, but right on top of them. He told us that where the figure was positioned, the water would have been around 5 foot deep. Philip went on to assure us that the photo had not been manipulated in any way, nor was it a double exposure. He also told us that at the time the photo was taken, he did not see a figure on the beach.

Michael Hadfield, a photographic expert from the Eximius Paranormal Research & Investigation team, made a copy of the picture and also made an enlargement of the portion of the picture which contained the figure in order to conduct a more detailed examination of the photo.

Michael noted a few intriguing things about the picture:

“There appears to be camera movement due to hand-holding with a slow shutter speed, yet the figure shows no evidence of this movement.”

“The scale of the figure appears to be ‘wrong’ for its location in the picture – though I admit there is little in its vicinity to accurately judge size.”

Michael concluded that it was one of the most intriguing photographs he had seen in a long time. I agreed.

Although fascinating, a fuller analysis of the photo was impossible due to the fact that we did not have access to the photo’s negative to scrutinise. In addition, because we did not have an accurate date and time for when it was taken, cross checking for things such as weather conditions, water levels and light levels was also impossible. Reluctantly we concluded that, although intriguing, the picture on its own did not constitute definitive proof of paranormal activity at work. Such is the frustrating lot of the serious paranormal investigator.

I did a basic background check on the Crosby area to see if A, anyone else had reported a similar sighting; and B, to see if the area had a paranormal ‘pedigree’, ie reports of other types of alleged paranormal activity.  Apart from a few ‘friend of a friend’ tales of a phantom horse seen/heard clip-clopping through the back streets and one very dubious story of a person who allegedly saw one of the statues that form Anthony Gormley’s art installation, ‘Another Place’, come to life and run down the beach into the water, Crosby appears to be a rather ‘quiet’ place in paranormal terms. So the photo remained in our ‘Intriguing but frustrating’ pile for several years.

A few weeks ago, whilst doing research for something completely different, I came across a story written by author Tom Slemen, printed in the Liverpool Echo in October 2008. It told the story of a woman called Rita Johnson who, in July 1971, whilst taking an early morning stroll along Seacombe Promenade (on the Wirral), saw a figure walking towards her across the river Mersey from the direction of the old Pier Head landing stage.  She described the figure as being dressed in a “long royal blue coat with white socks pulled up to his knees”. She could even hear the sounds of the figure’s feet splashing in the waves as it neared the Seacombe shoreline. Luckily, she wasn’t the only witness to see this, as another gentleman called Billy was also present at the time. As the pair watched in utter astonishment, the figure began to fade and eventually disappeared right in front of their eyes. Completely perplexed by what they had just seen, Rita and Billy scanned the waters in the hope of seeing the ‘water walker’ again, but alas it was the last they ever saw of him.

In his article, Tom Slemen suggested that the apparition could have been an example of what paranormal investigators call a Timeslip; the occurrence of a rift or flaw in the fabric of time that allows people in the present to momentarily interact with or (more usually) observe events from a past or future time. For Tom’s research had uncovered a curious event that had occurred in the area in July 1821 which seems to mirror what Rita and Billy had claimed to witness.

Mr Kent with his amazing Water Velocipede, Illustration taken from The Kaleidoscope,  lssue. 65 -  July 17th 1821.

Mr Kent with his amazing Water Velocipede, Illustration taken from The Kaleidoscope, lssue. 65 – July 17th 1821.

In July 1821 an Inventor called Mr Kent visited Liverpool in order to give demonstrations of his invention, the ‘Aquatic Velocipede’, a device which allowed him to ‘walk on water’. The device consisted of three tin floats connected with iron rods to a central seat which the operator sat on in an upright position. His feet were then strapped onto a pair of paddles that propelled the device forward at a speed of around 5 Miles per hour across the surface of the water. Immediately upon his arrival in Liverpool on the 11th July 1821 on the Steamship Majestic, Mr Kent mounted his ‘Aquatic Velocipede’, and foot-paddled his way across the river from George’s Dock to Seacombe Ferry-House where he came ashore, witnessed by hundreds of astonished bystanders who flocked onto the beach to greet him. Was the spectacle witnessed by Rita and Billy in 1971 a ‘replay’ of this event that had occurred 150 years earlier?

The clothes worn by the figure, as described by Rita, accurately match the reports from the newspapers of the day which describe Mr Kent’s attire as consisting of a Blue Coat and white pantaloons. In addition, when the newspapers described Mr Kent’s Aquatic Velocipede in action, they reported that from a distance Mr Kent appeared to be striding or skating upon the surface of the water completely unaided, with no part of his apparatus being visible to the onlookers. This would explain why Rita made no mention of seeing any kind of apparatus during her sighting.

Close up of the mysterious Crosby Beach figure. Photo © Philip McKeown. Used with Permission.

Close up of the mysterious Crosby Beach figure. Photo © Philip McKeown. Reproduced with Permission.

Looking again at Philip McKeown’s photo, is there a connection between Rita’s sighting and the figure Philip photographed walking just off the Crosby shoreline? The Crosby figure looks to be dressed in more modern looking clothing, say somewhere between the 1940s and present day rather than clothing typically worn by a character from the 1820s. So, although both figures were seen apparently walking on water, the resemblance between the two, in my humble opinion, ends there. But it is still very intriguing to hear of two reports, located less than two miles apart, of sightings of upright figures walking over the waters of the Mersey.

Perhaps whenever we find ourselves near the Mersey shoreline, we should take a few moments to look more closely at the waters, just in case history really can/does repeat itself.



  1. Reblogged this on Mysterious Times and commented:
    The latest over at Planet Preternatural. Take a look – thet are ALMOST as mad as we are 😉

  2. Reblogged this on No Faint Hearts in Fort Worth… and commented:
    Walking on Water: Intriguing Evidence of Possible “Time Slip” in the UK

  3. i had heard of the figure in blue walking over the Mersey in the 1970s, on some sort of machine. I was about 15 at the time.

    • Hi Eileen, many thanks for your comment. There have been a few attempts to cross the Mersey on foot in recent years, but I am not aware of any attempts to do so in the ’70s. Have you any other information that may help pin down a definite year or season?

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