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Tag Archives: Cheshire

  • Historic England: Cheshire by Paul Hurley

    Most of Cheshire is flat, hence the name ‘the Cheshire Plain’, but in Disley and Macclesfield, featured at the beginning of this book, the land is far from flat, and the Cheshire Plain gives way to the Cheshire Peak District as the road passes through the windswept moor on the way to Buxton. This is an affluent part of the county, and of the country for that matter: Wilmslow, Alderley Edge and Prestbury have been given the sobriquet ‘Cheshire’s Golden Triangle’. Villages and towns in the area, such as Mottram St Andrew and Knutsford, slip off the tongues of wealthy celebrities and football stars.

    Besston Castle. (c. Historic England Archive, Historic England: Cheshire, Amberley Publishing)

    Cheshire is not only a panorama of bewitching beauty today, but it also drifts through the history of Britain like a golden thread. One of Prince Charles’s titles is Earl of Chester because down the ages Chester has been a very important city. It was once called Deva by the Romans who settled there and fortified it, and there were the battles with the Welsh who attacked it from across the border. It is Britain’s only remaining walled city in which the walls are intact, and they make a very pleasant walk for the many tourists who seek its antiquity. The same can be said for the ancient Rows, where there are shops on two levels dating from as far back as the eleventh century in some cases. Sailing ships once came up from the River Mersey to moor on what is now the famous Roodee. Racehorses have replaced ships at this popular destination; the oldest racecourse in Britain. Then there is Knutsford, home to the famous author Elizabeth Gaskell and a town with the sole right to append the prefix ‘royal’ to the name of its May Day celebrations; Lower Peover, where Generals Patton and Eisenhower planned D-Day; and Cheshire can certainly hold its own in the chocolate-box village stakes, with so many worthy of a visit that there are too many to mention here.

    Lovell Telescope at Jodrell Bank. (c. Historic England Archive, Historic England: Cheshire, Amberley Publishing)

    Cheshire once reached out and encompassed Birkenhead and every town on the west side of the Mersey. Nowadays most of the Wirral comes under Merseyside. Most of Cheshire’s losses were to Greater Manchester: Stockport, Hazel Grove, Altrincham, Sale and Stalybridge have been dragged away to become part of the great conurbation. Cheshire has gained Widnes and Warrington though, and Disley is still in the county.

    This book looks at the county as it was after the changes that came in 1974, when the centre of the county moved from Bostock and when so many pretty Cheshire villages became part of two of Britain’s biggest cities. Older residents still refer to their address as Cheshire, as in Stockport or Birkenhead, and not their correct title of Greater Manchester and Merseyside. The River Mersey formed a natural separation for Liverpool and Cheshire, but far-flung Cheshire villages like Dukinfield, Hyde and Romiley suddenly moved into Greater Manchester. But Cheshire can still be enjoyed as it is now – a special place and a great area to live.

    Paul Hurley's new book Historic England: Cheshire is available for purchase now.

  • 50 Gems of Cheshire by Mike Appleton

    The History & Heritage of the Most Iconic Places

    50 Gems in Cheshire is my third contribution to Amberley’s ‘Gems’ series and you’d think I’d have got the hang of it by now.

    50 Gems of the Yorkshire Dales was a jewel filled quest in a national park I knew like the back of my hand while although 50 Gems of Derbyshire took me to a different part of the country, I felt comfortable in the chocolate box villages and on the fells.

    Cheshire seemed an obvious port of call; being minutes from my home in Lancashire and relatively well known in terms of attractions and places to visit.

    Jodrell Bank… check… Sandbach… check… simple.

    Yet, this proved to be one the hardest projects I have undertaken because the county itself is a bit of an anomaly!

    Its current boundary covers roughly more than 900 square miles but historically was a lot larger. It took in the Wirral and stretched across to Black Hill, which is now in the Peak District and near Yorkshire.

    It also travelled as far down as Crewe and skirted along the Welsh border.

    Then, even though it is relatively flat, it has three distinct ‘tops’: the aforementioned Black Hill, which is the highest point in the historic county, but now effectively on the border between the borough of Kirklees in West Yorkshire and High Peak in Derbyshire – yes, it’s a Cheshire hill, in the Peak District near West Yorkshire! – Shutlingsloe and Shining Tor.

    Alderley Edge Mines take you underground as does Hack Green Nuclear Bunker. Stalybridge, near Stockport, is as far removed from Ness Botanic Gardens as you can get, as is Newton-Le-Willows, part of Merseyside, from the likes of Nantwich and Crewe.

    Then you could include Flintshire, which is now part of North Wales.

    How could I not include all these gems and thus stick to a modern 900 square mile restriction? In the end it was a relatively easy decision to take – but then I had to whittle the Gems down to 50!

    So old boundary, new boundary, there’s plenty of places to discover and the gems are designed to be visited in clusters. For instance, the Lovell Quinta Arboretum is a stunning collection of trees in the late Sir Bernard Lovell’s garden, the famous physicist and radio astronomer. It is a stone’s throw from Jodrell Bank and located in Swettenham, which is beautiful village in its own right. Delamere Forest has Hatchmere Lake as its neighbour while Parkgate and Ness can be visited in an afternoon.

    Here I present five of my favourites; I hope you enjoy them!

    Lovell Quinta Arboretum - Sir Bernard Lovell's 'reflection' pond. (50 Gems of Cheshire, Amberley Publishing)

    Lovell Quinta Arboretum

    Sir Bernard Lovell created this fantastic arboretum in the grounds of the house he bought in 1948. His vision was to collect a variety of trees and shrubs from around the world, based on the four volumes of W. J. Bean’s Trees and Shrubs Hardy in the British Isles and establish them in this quiet part of Cheshire.

    It was very much a personal project – he was meticulous in keeping records, hand-drawn plans and a card index for each plant – and was at the heart of developing it as the years progressed.

    As an astronomy pioneer, that level of detail is more than reflected in his arboretum and his home village, from the creation of the reflection pond to the avenues and areas that symbolised major events in his life. In 1996, the site passed into the watch of the Cheshire Wildlife Trust and is now with the Tatton Garden Society and the capable hands of Rhoderic Taylor, the curator.

    He looks after close to 2,400 plants, some of which are ‘champion’ trees, and others of international significance and importance. This is an amazing site with a varied and interesting collection. There is an honesty box in a prominent position, with a suggested entry fee of £2.50 per person, but to be honest, the walk is worth a lot more.

    Hack Green - A vast array of monitoring equiptment, as well as nuclear weapons. (50 Gems of Cheshire, Amberley Publishing)

    Hack Green Nuclear Bunker

    Sometimes a gem stays with you for a long time. I’ve been fascinated with the history of the Cold War and particularly the aftermath of an attack ever since I discovered a Royal Observer Corps Post while researching another of the 50 Gems series. It opened up a whole new area of underground discoveries for this speleologist and reflection of the world I was growing up in when I was a lot younger.

    Visiting Hack Green Secret Nuclear Bunker married those two interests together and brought with it a sense of poignancy, empathy and terror I never expected. This was a site of preparation for a nuclear attack, an operational Cold War base, the foundation of civil defence in the region and a reminder of how far we’ve come since the threats of that period.

    Starting in the canteen, you tour around the base and get to see what life would have been like at Hack Green. Your tour includes where nuclear fallout would have been tracked by top scientists, communications and BBC broadcast centres, Home Office briefing and conference rooms and their still operational radio equipment, a ROC Post, bunk rooms, the actual equipment Thatcher used to signal the attacking of the Belgrano in the Falklands conflict and a whole lot more.

    It is incredible, stark, frightening and weirdly reassuring. The fact that the government had all this in place in the event of an attack, to make sure survivors had the best chance of living, is pretty sobering. The team at Hack Green have created something that is educational and entertaining, non-political and utterly fascinating.

    At the top of Black Hill. (50 Gems of Cheshire, Amberley Publishing)

    Black Hill

    Reaching 1,909 feet, Black Hill isn’t a particularly majestic ‘mountain’ or somewhere that would be high on many peak bagger’s lists, but it retains a certain charm as well as being a real oddity.

    But the views on the way up to the summit are amazing on a clear day and getting to that point is relatively straightforward – from the A635 and along the well-paved Pennine Way, if you’re inclined to take that route.

    Its location makes it important too as I mentioned above!  It got its ‘bleak’ name because it was once covered in deep black bogs; exposed peat stripped back due to 150 years of pollution and wild fires.

    The difference between that description and the present day couldn’t be more contrasting as significant conservation efforts have taken place.

    Remedial work started on the 46-hectare site in 2003, aided by the Heritage Lottery Fund, before the Moors for the Future MoorLIFE project came to the fore. They spread 50 million sphagnum fragments on the moorland to reintroduce sphagnum moss, a key peat-building moss. They also planted bog cotton and bilberry, and these are evident as you reach the summit.

    Gawsworth. (50 Gems of Cheshire, Amberley Publishing)

    Gawsworth

    You only have to see the pictures here to understand what a beautiful village Gawsworth is.

    It’s peaceful, tranquil and its church is flanked by two pools, making it the most idyllic venue for a place of worship.

     

     

     

     

    Parkgate is an important salt marsh and has great views. (50 Gems of Cheshire, Amberley Publishing)

    Parkgate

    For everything Cheshire has to offer, the last thing you would expect to find is a coastal resort.

    Parkgate was an important port towards the end of the seventeenth century, serving as a leaving point for Ireland. Originally, ships docked further in stream at Chester but as the River Dee silted, alternative disembarkation points were needed.

    The first was built at Burton but as the river became less navigable, a location was found just outside the boundary of Neston’s hunting park. Parkgate was that ‘post’ and it became a bustling hub with ships anchored in the main channel – passengers and goods transferred by tender. It retained that status until 1815 before the majority of trade with Ireland passed through Liverpool.

    The area is managed by the RSPB, who purchased it from British Steel in 1979. Hen Harrier, Merlin, Skylark, Redshanks and Short-Eared Owls all call it home – with even more arriving when tides flush out mammals and insects.

    Taking a walk along the Parade is like stepping back in time. The site of the Old Customs House, once a starting point for donkey rides, provides a host of information, while on the opposite side of the road is Mostyn House School from 1855, the Ship pub and places to buy local seafood and the resort’s famous ice cream.

     

    Mike Appleton's new book 50 Gems of Cheshire is available for purchase now.

  • Secret Chester by John Idris Jones

    Godstall Lane had a hermit. Gerald of Wales wrote that this man was Hnry V of the Holy Roman Empire. (Secret Chester, Amberley Publishing)

    Before I forget, may I first put in a good word for Editor Jenny Stephens. She has been a star for my work on Secret Chester. It is the first time I have done this format, and there were many tricky moments. However, Jenny sailed through and put the book together in admirable form.  She juggled the images and the text in a way which brings out the pictures; some larger, some smaller; and also a good word for the printers; some of the pictures I was doubtful about, but the printers have done a sterling job, bringing out some details I could not see on the originals. The picture of Godstall Lane on page 7 for instance; very dark in the original but a great deal less so when printed. The paper is excellent quality and does good justice to the images; they are printed much better than I expected.

    Gee gees dates back to the first recorded horse race at Chester in 1539. (Secret Chester, Amberley Publishing)

    Well, there are lots of books on Chester, some of them with archive pictures, but I am hoping there is only one like mine. With new pictures and short explanatory text, it’s reliable and accurate but not academic. The mixture looks good to me; some history, some contemporary; some quirky things, like ‘gee-gees’ being derived from a Mr Gee who started the racecourse in c1550. Then to various things about the Romans, and King Arthur, who seems to have spent some time in Chester. I have put in lots of pictures of houses. They are so attractive with their half-timbering and carvings and have odd things like John Lennon’s grandmother being born in one.

    It is an outstanding place; packed with good details. The French restaurant Chez Jules used to be the Fire Station, and you can see the bays.

    Chez Jules restaurant in Northgate Street. (Secret Chester, Amberley Publishing)

    Not many know that the design side is misleading. Most of the half-timbering, Tudor-style, is fairly new; Victorian; designed in 1850-1890. I have dedicated the book to five architects; such good fortune to have them there at the same time. They really were outstanding designers and without them the city would be a pale shadow of what it is now. The buildings have survived time; some from the very early centuries are still fresh and good-looking.

    I think this combination of quality pictures of a decent size, with illustrative text, is a good commercial idea. I think people, tourists especially, will buy it; it is a souvenir of a visit perhaps. Very good news that genuine paper books are coming back and e-based material is in decline. On holiday in Spain last week I noticed fewer kindles around the pool and more books.

    I sincerely wish Amberley Publishing all success. They are taking a chance in a difficult marketplace. They are producing decent books of good quality content and material. I would like to mention Alan Murphy as well; as commissioning editor, he has excellent judgement and looks to the future in a very positive way.

    John Idris Jones' book Secret Chester is available for purchase now.

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