Hoole is one of the largest neighbourhoods in Chester. Situated roughly a mile north-east of the city centre, Hoole starts from the Hoole Railway Bridge and runs all the way up Hoole Road (A56) to the Hoole Hall roundabout, where the M56 motorway starts.
It is a popular residential neighbourhood. Much of the current housing stock consists of Victorian terraces of houses and villas, and semi-detached houses dating from the 1930s. In the 1960s and 1970s, Hoole declined into genteel decay. Some of the larger properties were divided into bedsits and small flats to provide housing for students and the unemployed. Since the mid-1990s, the area has once again become desirable. The large Victorian villas are being restored to their original purpose as family homes. One reason for Hoole's popularity is its proximity to Chester Station - ideal for commuters.
Hoole has a thriving History and Heritage Society - whose website is well worth exploring and provides much more detail than is provided here.
A Brief History
The ancient village of Hoole dates back to at least 1119, when it was first recorded in the records of the Chartulary of the Abbey of St. Werburgh. It remained a separate entity until 1954, when it was incorporated into the City of Chester.
Hoole lies on the Roman road which leaves Chester via Frodsham Street and Brook Street, continuing through Flookersbrook into Newton Hollows, which still exists as a sunken pathway and connected with Mannings Lane before the construction of the now disused railway. Mannings Lane then continues the line through Hoole Bank, and it becomes known as "The Street" in Mickle Trafford, a name which frequently denotes a Roman road. The name "Hoole" is thought to mean 'at the Hollows' (or hole) and most likely refers to the 'hollow way' formed by the road. The modern Hoole Road follows a parallel course. "Hoel" means a "paved way or road" in Welsh, and this could be the origin of its name.
Flookersbrook is where cattle were watered on their way to the market in the city and for many years was the boundary of the City of Chester.
- History of Hoole Bridge - fascinating stuff!;
Historically, Hoole was in in the parish of Plemonstall, the place of Plegmunds well which can still be seen today. Little is known of the early life of Plegmund except that he was of Mercian descent.
A later tradition, dating 300 years after his death, stated that Plegmund lived as a hermit at Plemstall in Cheshire. His reputation as a scholar attracted the attention of King Alfred the Great, who was trying to revive scholarship. Some time before 887, Alfred summoned Plegmund to his court. There he worked with three other scholars, Wærferth, Bishop of Worcester, Æthelstan and Wærwulf in working on translating Pope Gregory the Great's treatise "Pastoral Care" into Old English.
The bounds of Hoole Heath were described in 1339 as extending from:
- "the yate called Chester yatem nygh Flokersbroke, and so folloyng Wysnaysichnere a cet’eyne place wher a grange of the p’sons of the Church of Plemondestow sometime being…neare Hogheshey a’ynst Pykton Dale unto Saltesway, which is the Kyng’s Highway ner Chest’r…and so flooyng….unto Sasse Diche, and so unto the town of Newton…" (cited in Hanshall 1817)
Some of the lands in Hoole passed into the possession of the church. There exists evidence in the form of a quitclaim by Robert, son of Herbert de Hoole of a transfer of land to Simon the Abbot and the Abbey of St Werbergh (1284-1288). This may be the origin of the name "Bishopsfield" on some maps, and "Bishops Ditch" as a name used for a part of Flookersbrook in the past.
The Valley of Demons
Early tourists were somewhat disparaging:
- "The native of Chester remembers how three roads branch off outside Eastgate and how beautiful and pleasing are the names of the places to which they lead. The road straight in front straight in front leads to Christ's Town (Christleton), that on the right to the Old Ford (Aldford) but if it turns to the left it comes to a place which they rightly call the Valley of Demons (Hoole) with reference to the hiding places of those who lie in wait... the wanderer... is despoiled by thieves and robbers" ---Lucien the Monk
The fear of robbery probably stemed from the fact that Hoole Heath had been granted by the Earl's of Chester as a sanctuary for criminals who had fled to the Palatine county of Chester. Hugh of Avranches established three "asyla" in Cheshire. These were at Hoole Heath near Chester, Overmarsh near Farndon and Rud Heath near Middlewich. These were places to which a felon from any place in the country (or Wales) could flee and seek the protection of the Earl. The sanctuary at Hoole Heath may well be the reason for the bad reputation of Newton Hollows. Hemingway describes them as follows:
- These sanctuaries were the source of much emolument to the earls, who received fines from all such persons when they came to reside under their protection a heriot at their death and in case of their dying without issue claimed their goods and chattels.
Thus we see that the tale of criminals being free if they escaped the "hue and cry" and reached Chester is only partly true. Much later, in the times of Edward II, they were described as follows:
- By an inquisition taken before Hugh de Audelith Justice of Chester on Sunday after the feast of St Peter ad Vincula it was found That a certain large piece of Waste called Overmarsh was in ancient times ordained for strangers of what country soever and assigned to such as came to the peace of the Earl of Chester or to his aid resorting there to form dwellings but without building any fixed houses by the means of nails or pins save only booths and tents to live in.
In in the reign of Edward III:
- The jury declare upon their oaths that the Moor which is called Rudheath was formerly a waste place very anciently assigned and set apart by some of the old Earls of Chester for the reception not of their own subjects but of all fugitive strangers coming to the aid of the Earl's peace either from England or from any other countries And there is an inquisition of the same tenor relative to the other of Hoole Heath.
Earl Hugh is also supposed to be the origin of a rule that during fairs held in the city no felon could be arrested except for crimes committed at the fair. The beginning and end of the fairs was therefore indicated by the suspension and removal of a glove on the south side of St Peter's church (see Gloverstone).
Some later visitors to Hoole were hardly more complementary, as can be seen from the following two reviews:
- Chester Beer Project: The Beehive (now shut);
- Chester Beer Project: The Flookersbrook (now changed hands);];
Hoole and the Civil War
- "The day following Mr Whitby's mansion, Bache hall and Flookersbrook hall - Sir Thomas Smith's - were also burnt down lest they might afford lodgements to enemies from another quarter."
During the Battle of Rowton Moor, 24 September 1645, at Hoole Heath, Charles Gerard was attacked by about half of the units of the besieging Parliamentarian army under Colonel Lothian. Thus engaged, Gerard was unable either to attack Michael Jones or support Marmaduke Langdale at Rowton Moor. The Royalist troops heading towards Chester to rejoin with the King later ran into the ongoing fight between Charles Gerard and Lothian at Hoole and even more troops were sent out from Chester to assist. In the confused fighting which followed "as much dispersed as the greatest rout could produce...", Lord Bernard Stewart was killed. It was this last stage of the battle that King Charles watched from the Phoenix Tower.
Early documentation states that Hoole Hall was first occupied by John de Hoole, the Lord of Hoole. Further documentation suggests that Rev Sir William Bunbury purchased the hall in the 14th Century and the family owned it for the next 400 years. During the English Civil War (1642-1647) the hall was burnt to the ground by parliamentarian troops as they advanced upon Chester. Daniel Lysons writes, in his Magna Britannia (1810):
- "The township of Hoole lies two miles NE from Chester; the manor was at an early period in a family of that name afterwards in the Troutbecks from whom it descended with several other Cheshire manors to the present Earl of Shrewsbury. Hoole Lodge the manor house is occupied by Charles Hamilton Esq. Hoole old hall now a farm house is said to have been the abbot of Chester's grange: it is certain that the abbot had an estate here which he purchased of John de Hoole Lord of Hoole in the reign of Edward II but it may be observed that Hoole old hall, now the property of Dr Peploe Ward, was bought of Sir William Bunbury whose ancestor David de Bunbury purchased of the Calveleys certain lands which had been the property of John de Hoole above mentioned. Webb in his Itinerary written in the year 1662 speaks of the pleasant and sweet seat of Sir Henry Bunbury at Hoole. There are also in this township two modern mansions called Hoole Hall and Hoole house the former is the property and residence of Mr John Oliver the latter is the property of Mr Hamilton and in the occupation of Brigadier General Broughton."
Ormerod, writing in the early 19th century, noted that ‘the site of Hoole Hall on this estate is still marked by strong stone foundations, adjacent to the village of Hoole, near the second mile stone on the Frodsham road’ (1882, 813).
The present Hoole Hall was built c.1760 for Rev.John Baldwin with extension and some alterations for the Hamilton family. His son Thomas Baldwin (1742-1804, or "Baldwyn"), a clergyman, tried, in 1783 after resigning from his position as a Huntingdon curate, to fund the construction of a balloon by subscription, but was unable to raise enough money. A display of Thomas' exploits, which included his design for a "grand naval air balloon" from 1784, is still found at Hoole Hall.
Baldwin's luck was to change when Vincenzo Lunardi, the dare-devil Italian balloonist, visited Chester in 1785. On Friday, 2nd September the Chester Chronicle reported:
- "Mr Lunardi presents his respectful complements to the public with thanks for the favours that he has already received and begs leave to inform them that he has resigned his place in his balloon to T.B. esq a Gentleman of Chester"
"T.B." was Thomas Baldwin. However his flight came about, Baldwin then wrote a highly detailed and lengthy account of the voyage, with the impressive title: Airopaidia: Containing the Narrative of a Balloon Excursion from Chester, the Eighth of September, 1785, taken from Minutes made during the Voyage: Hints on the Improvement of Balloons, and Mode of Inflation by Steam: Means to Prevent their Descent over Water: Occasional Enquiries into the State of the Atmosphere, etc. The Whole Serving as an Introduction to Aerial Navigation: with a Copious Index. Baldwin wrote:
- "On Thursday the 8th of September 1785, at 9 in the Morning was first fired one of the Cannons (a six-pounder) from the Castle-yard to inform the City and Neighbourhood that the necessary Preparations were making to inflate the Balloon."
He started with the release of a smaller balloon of his own as a sounding device, making it quite clear that he had almost beaten the French to it with his own earlier work:
- "At 10 o'Clock the process began with the inflation of an airistatic Globe eighteen feet in Circumference of Silk Tiffany made the latter End of the Year 1783 and decorated with Painting, Mottoes and Devices: in the Performance of which little Work, Mr Baldwin was the Sole Projector, Architect, Workman and Chymyst .. It was intended to serve as a sort of Pioneer, to delineate the Track of the Great Balloon. It fell at some Miles Distant, tis said unfortunately on a Hedge and was presently torn to Pieces by the Eagerness and Avarice of the Pursuers who expected and undeservedly obtained the Reward promised in the letter appended to it."
Further details of Baldwin's exploits can be found on the page for Chester Castle. In the 19th Century, the Hoole Hall acquired a floating staircase and a spacious Conservatory, now grade II listed. During the 19th and 20th Centuryies the Hall saw many changes in residents and at some point during the 19th Century, one of them housed a family of monkeys in the Conservatory. The last family residing were the Holmes family who stayed until the British Army took over the property for Western Command in 1940. After the second world war the Hall was passed over to British Telecommunications for offices, which subsequently stood empty for many years. The complete site was sold at auction on 30th June 1982 to Wolverhampton & Dudley Breweries who after nearly 2 years were granted planning permission to turn the grand hall into a Hotel, Bar and Bistro.
Hoole becomes respectable
Ashby place represents the rural housing that once stood in the area. Infill development of large detatched houses later took place around its edges. The 19thC Hoole Road became lined with early Victorian grand terraces and semi-detached houses. Hoole's population grew from 177 people in 1801 such that there were c. 5,900 in the smaller Hoole urban district during the period 1911–31. Early development around what are now Hamilton Street and Westminster Road consisted of good quality housing for the moderately prosperous middle-classes. Later development of terraced housing for the "working classes" was also of reasonable quality. Some lower quality terraced housing once existed, for example in Law Street (built 1890's), but this relatively small amount of housing at the bottom end of the market was demolished in the 1960's.
Hemingway writing in 1831 describes it as follows (listing a lot of people he probably knew and hoped would buy his book!):
- ..the lovely hamlet of Flookersbrook abounding with neatly built modern dwellings to which if the epithet of splendid be inappropriate the claim of elegance and comfort is justly due to each of which is appended richly cultivated garden ground. Here are the comfortable residences of Major Cotton the Rev John Thorpe, Mr John Williamson, Mr Cross, Mr Lightfoot, Mr T Walker, Alderman Broater, Mr Humble &c &c. It is hardly possible to pass this approach to the city without being reminded of the villas in the neighbourhood of the metropolis - the width of the road the respectable and good looking tavern called the Ermine - the pool of water in front of an excellent footpath on the north side of the road over hung with willow trees and the clean and rural appearance of the neighbouring cottages all all have ever contributed to fix an impression upon my mind such as I have just stated.
Samuel Lewis in 1848 described it as follows:
- "HOOLE, a township, in the parish of Plemonstall, union of Great Boughton, Lower division of the hundred of Broxton, S. division of the county of Chester, 2½ miles (N. E.) from Chester; containing 294 inhabitants. It comprises 745 acres, of a sandy soil. The tithes have been commuted for £80 payable to the rector, and £22 to the Marquess of Westminster. Various plots of land here, belonging to the Rev. Mr. Hamilton, of Hoole Lodge, and others, have been laid out for building purposes, such as the erection of villas, &c., by Mr. Rampling, architect, of Liverpool; and some of the plots have been sold at the rate of 5s. the square yard, or £1210 per acre; while, before the introduction of railways, the price was not more than about £150 an acre."
By 1870, Hoole had grown somewhat and John Marius Wilson's Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales described Hoole thus:
- "HOOLE, a village and a township in Plemonstall parish, Cheshire. The village stands near the Chester and Manchester railway, 2¼ miles NNE of Chester; and has a constabulary office, a lecture hall and reading room, and a national school.-The township comprises 743 acres. Real property, £6, 144. Pop. in 1851, 427; in 1861, 1, 596. Houses, 314. The increase of pop. was caused by proximity to Chester r. station. The landowners are the Earl of Shrewsbury, W. Brittain, Esq., and Mrs. Hamilton. Hoole Heath was allotted to the chiefs from Wales and elsewhere who went to Hugh Lupus' standard. A church was built in 1868."
In 1864 the Hoole District Board was set up. This later became the Hoole Urban District Council. Hoole remained a separate urban district in Cheshire until 1954 when it was made part of the County Borough of Chester. Even from the 1900's minutes of the Hoole UDC show that unification with the city of Chester was an almost constant subject of debate and difference of opinion. The main concern being the effect on rates. As the ancient boundary of Chester was defined by Flookersbrook, this placed it less than half a mile from the City center.
In 1873, a new Chester Union Workhouse was erected at Hoole at a cost of about £30,000. The design for the buildings was opened to competition and the winning plans were submitted by W Perkin and Sons. The new workhouse had a large T-shaped main building facing to the east, with a separate infirmary to its west and a school to the south. After the opening of the new workhouse, the old Roodee workhouse site was used as a confectinary works by the Cheshire Preserving Company. The Roodee Workhouse building was demolished in the early 1900s. Following the opening of the new general wing at the West Cheshire Hospital in January 1983, the City Hospital, which the Hoole Workhouse had then become, ceased to be a general hospital, and specialised in geriatric cases. The hospital closed in 1991 when it was demolished. The pillars which supported the gates to the entrance drive to the Workhouse remain today, as does the Chapel of St James the Less.
The rapid growth of "workers housing" in Hoole was not without its problems. In 1905 the Chester Courant reported (8th Feb):
- Dr. Butt presented his annual report of the health of the district. He said there had been 93 deaths in an estimated population of 4,948, being a percentage of 18.7 per thousand. That was considerably higher than the average for the last ten years, the increase being entirely due to the abnormal high infantile mortality, 36 infants under one year having died. The number of cases of phthisis had declined. Births numbered 191, an increase of 40 compared with 1903, betng equal to a rate of 38.6. That was considerably higher than the average for the last ten years. Of the births 93 were males, and 98 females. During the year there had been 30 infectious easts, two of which were in the Chester Union. In the Workhouse there had been 94 deaths a population of 468, or 200.8 per thousand. Ten births had been registered in the Workhouse during the year.
Although Chester's population doubled between 1841 and 1911, its social character changed little. The city was polarized between a middle- and upper-class population whose income came from land, agriculture, trade, and, increasingly, inherited wealth, and a working class employed in declining manufactures or in unskilled and casual jobs in the service sector. The distinctive economic base meant that Chester lacked both a significant class of industrial capitalists and a sizeable skilled working class employed in modern industries. The City council had difficulty in finding land for development within the borough boundaries, and sometimes had to buy sites for housing in the surrounding rural districts. In such areas the cost of roads, electricity, sewerage, and other services laid on by the borough could not be recovered because the rates went to the county.
Hoole's economy can perhaps be considered as stalled during the first half of the 20th Century. The small size of a county borough such as Chester could lead to organizational inefficiency and a tendency to reactive, short-term decision making. The City sufferred a constant shortge of money during the first half of the 20th Century. This meant that there was little to be spent on preserving the City's past and parts of The Rows (especaiily in Watergate Street) fell into serious disrepair. Chester could perhaps have increased its revenues more if it had been able to extend its boundaries to include those areas of the surrounding rural districts, including Hoole, which had become suburbs and for which the county borough provided most of the services. They included both council and private estates, many of whose residents worked in Deeside or Ellesmere Port. Attempts at widening its boundaries, however, usually encountered strong opposition from Cheshire county council. In 1932 the City council planned a large extension into both Cheshire and Flintshire, but dropped the proposal when it became clear that a parliamentary Bill would be vigorously contested by Cheshire county council and that the government would not allow the borough to extend across the Welsh border. In 1936, however, the county agreed to surrender Blacon, the built-up part of Newton, and a part of Hoole which included the City Hospital and the railway station. It was not until 1954 that the rest of Hoole urban district was added to the City. The 1938 OS map shows that Park Drive, Pine, Maple and Cedar Grove had been constucted by that time. In the late 1950's a large council estate was constructed to the north of Hoole and cheap semi-detached housing in Pipers Lane was built as a fringe between council housing to the west and the bypass (A41) on the east.
In 1917 Leonard Cheshire was born in Hoole Road (in the building which is now the "BaBa" Hotel). Cheshire did not take part in the "Dam Busters" raid but took over command of 617 "Dam Busters" squadron later in the war, and was the official British observer of the nuclear bombing of Nagasaki flying in the support B-29 "Big Stink". He is one of the few people awarded a VC not for a single incident but due to cumulative action throughout the war. Cheshire dedicated the rest of his life to supporting disabled people, combining this with lecturing on conflict resolution. In 1948, he founded The Cheshire Foundation Homes for the Sick, which, in 1976, became the Leonard Cheshire Foundation, now styled Leonard Cheshire, which continues his work to support disabled people globally. On 5 April 1959, in Bombay's Catholic Cathedral, he married Sue Ryder, also the founder of a charity. Former Pink Floyd member Roger Waters once described Cheshire as "the only true Christian I've ever met."
On 24th October 1996, one of Chester's worst fires ever engulfed Pickford's storage warehouse and led to the destruction of much of Lightfoot Street. Pickford's was never rebuilt after the Lightfoot Street Fire and the site is presently occupied by a development of flats named Thomas Brassey Close after the railway engineer. On 2nd December 2010. The Chester Enterprise Center burned down in the second Lightfoot Street Fire. The cause of the fire was evidently a heater left on overnight. Lightfoot Street is named after John Lightfoot (licensee of the Ermine, Flookersbrook, from 1818 to 1820). He died leaving everything to his son, but was not aware that his son had pre-deceased him by a few days. The consequent litigation dragged on for years, complicated by the fact that Lightfoot had sold land on which much of Flookersbrook had been built. When the matter was finally settled, many years later, the original deeds of the houses in Halkyn Road and nearby record a huge number of signatures to put the matter to bed.
On 17 July 2009 sixteen flats on Hoole Lane were destroyed following an explosion on the first floor. More than thirty firefighters tackled the resulting fire at the two-storey building in Wharton Court.
Hoole has its problems. CWaC's policity on "no drugs/alcohol in the city center" has pushed the issue into the suburbs. Dog fouling is also a major issue. You can report it "on line" but don't expect it to be cleared-up quickly. Despite CWaC going on at length about the hazards of dog excrement, they are not swift to deal with it. Parking in Hoole is also an issue due to its proximity to Chester Station and the reluctance of some people to pay for parking. In residential streets like the late 19thC. Halkyn Road many residents have taken to flagging over their front gardens to provide for parking.
Sources and Links
- "A virtual Stroll" on Hoole - a very extensive site with much history and many photographs;
- Hoole Local History Society on Victorian Hoole;
- Hoole in newspapers around 1900;
- Hoole on Wikipedia;
- Hoole on Genuki;
- Streetlife.com provides a local "chat" facility for Hoole residents;
- Hoole on "openstreetmap";
- Daily satellite image (NB sometimes it is cloudy!);
- All the other maps of Hoole you might ever want;
- Old images of Hoole;
- HooleRoundabout local magazine;
- Flookersbrook blog;
- Thomas Walker of Flookersbrook;
- Roman remains in Hoole;