Newton Hollows

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Newton Hollows is shown in this 1831 map by Bryant.

The Hollows

Newton Hollows in Hoole is an ancient route into Chester and a superb example of a Medieval hollow way. Originally a Roman road, it was later used as a main route for people, cattle and herds of sheep. This constant traffic over 1,000 years has worn the ground into the Hollows. In part it may have been formed by a branch of Flookersbrook, which flows underground, roughly along the course of the track and only surfaces briefly between Ashby Place and Halkyn Road (early maps differ as to the course of the stream). It is part of a network of old tracks in the area which are surprisingly extensive and possibly formed part of the medieval infrastructure which allowed for the movement of salt, other goods and troops.

It remained the main route into Chester from the north until it was abandoned in the 18th century as a turnpike road was constructed (now Hoole Road). It almost certainly gave "Hoole" (Hole) its name.

In the mid 12th century, it was known (according to Lucien the Monk) as The Valley of the Demons, perhaps with reference to various robbers and thieves lying in wait for travellers. Lucien wrote:

  • "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".

Legend has it that the hollow was haunted by a 'Hound of Hell' with reported sightings of a huge, black dog with "great white teeth like knives". Despite the doubtful veracity of a huge, black slavering dog which haunted Flookersbrook and its vicinity, the church thought travellers through the Hollows needed some spiritual “protection”. The fraternity of St. Anne’s set up a ‘cross’ at the head of St. Anne’s lakes where the modern day Ermine public house stands. It was here that travellers stopped to pray for protection on their perilous journey, either from the supposedly spurious hound of hell or the very real bandits and thieves. St. Anne’s “Cross” was apparently not a true cross but actually part of an ancient statue which had “offended” (it was probably a nude Roman or Greek piece of art).

Hellhounds occur in myths throughout the world with the best known examples being Cerberus from Greek mythology, Garmr from Norse mythology, the Black Dogs of English folklore. There is a spurious one associated with the death of Charles Moston whose inquest was held at the Black Dog in Waverton.

Walking from nearer Chester, it is possible to follow the original route of the track. Although the first part is on pavement, the second half of the walk is unlit and can be muddy (but see below). Start at the end of Halkyn Road (by the vet) and enter Flookersbrook by the gate. The stream named "Flookersbrook" itself runs in a stone-lined culvert to the east, disappearing beneath the ground to surface again at Bache - although whether this is truly Flookersbrook is uncertain.

The large mock-Tudor house by the gate (Spring Lodge) was built by the builder of the 1890s Ruabon brick housing in Halkyn Road. Curiously, the then-owner of Flookersbrook Hall required that no windows overlook his land, and so the double-fronted houses on the north side of Halkyn Road were built without rear windows - some have now been added. To the east, the wooded area was enclosed by a special act of Parliament.

Flookersbrook Hall is the next mock-Tudor building. The original hall was demolished in 1644 when the Flookersbrook salient collapsed during the siege of Chester. Flookersbrook Hall was obviously rebuilt, but has now been divided into two dwellings. At the end of the woods, Flookersbrook emerges from its underground tunnel - you won't see it again.

Flookersbrook in 2015. It retains the "gas" style streetlamps (long since converted to electricity). This kind of lamp adorned many of the streets in the surrounding area until the early 1990'a when they were removed and replaced by taller steel and concrete lamps. The white building to the right - now called "The Gables" - was originally a farmhouse and dates from 1760 according to a datestone.

Kilmorey Park contains some large Victorian villas, but the cellars are prone to flooding due to the underground stream.

At the upper end of Kilmorey Park, cross Newton Lane and enter the Hollows proper. From here on, the path used to be muddy but the surface was improved in 2007. The Hollows passes behind the gardens of the adjoining houses and ends by the bridge at Fairfield Road. From here, it is possible to gain access to the cyclepath and return to the city by a roundabout route (via Liverpool Road) or to walk back down Hoole Road (or catch the bus).

Roman Road

Watkin, in his Roman Chester, tries to follow the course of the Roman Road northwards. This is the road known as Margary 701. It seems too big a coincidence for Newton Hollows not to represent the Roman line. It continues the alignment from The Street and Mannings Lane right back into Chester. Alongside "The Street" are field boundaries which define a tract of land some 56-60 feet wide. Mickle Trafford and Bridge Trafford on the Gowy are probably derived from a corruption of Stratford or Street Ford. In Roman times no doubt there would have been a bridge. Even a quick glance at the Lidar image is sufficient to see why the Roman's had to cross the River Gowy and its marshes at this point. It is by far the best point utilising approaches on dry land.

Watkin identifies a "Gibbet Piece" in Hoole, which was probably not a place of execution, but a location where the bodies of executed criminals were put on display in medieval and post-medieval times. He writes:

  • "The road, which is perfectly straight, is only shewn for about half a mile on the Ordnance Map, which makes its direct line terminate soon after "Salter's Lane" is passed, but we found its course plainly traceable across the fields into Tyre's (or Tyrer's) Lane (which leads down to some low meadows) and into the "Gibbet Piece" where executions (and I believe interments) took place in the last and beginning of the present century, a clump of trees marking the spot."

The Roman settlement at Warrington/Wilderspool seems to have been quite extensive from Stockton Heath in the south to under Warrington town centre itself. It appears to have been an important road junction with not just King Street but a probable road to Chester and perhaps one to Manchester as well. There also appears to have been two river crossings. Presumably a bridge at Wilderspool on the direct road north to Wigan and a second, probably a ford, at Howley. No fort has been found (yet) so it is classed as an industrial site and port with a primary purpose of supplying the military in the north-west.


2007 update

A recent visit to the Hollows was a little disappointing. The path had been "improved" by putting down a lot of shingle. While this avoids the mud, the new path seems far too wide and as many trees have been cut down, the short sight-lines which meant that new views were constantly appearing have gone. You can now see almost the entire length of the hollows from any viewpoint and have to dodge bikes. Cutting back so much of the growth also seems to have disturbed the ancient eco-system - there are few birds in sight or earshot and most of the wildflowers have been dug in. The majority of the plants growing seem to be stinging nettles and they are choking-out everything else.

Roman-themed sculpture at the top of Newton Hollows depicts a lode of (lead) ore, a pillar topped with a capital, fire and war, an amphora of oil or wine, a legionary horn, a millstone and sacks of flour, a Roman leatherworkers tool and a wide-brimmed gladiatorial helmet.

The 'new look' Hollows has, sadly, already been made subject to the attentions of vandals as a large number of the newly-planted young trees have already been destroyed. Many piles of logs remain from the draconian mass felling as part of the 'improvements'- no doubt for the benefit of wildlife- but they nontheless serve to make the place look half-finished and neglected and the long tradition by householders backing onto the Hollows of using it as a convenient place to dump their garden and other waste continues unchecked...

I do hope it recovers, but for me the ambience that the Hollows had as a "shaded and secret way" is gone.

2015 update

The Hollows is still, sadly, a shadow of its former self. Biodiversity among vegetation is low and dog-walkers seem unable/uninterested to clean-up after their pets. Some "Roman" additions do help, but it seems that the "magic has gone away".

2022 update

Perhaps things are looking up: as the Friends of Newton Hollows have set up a new site.

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