Sandstone Ridge

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The Sandstone Trail is a 55-kilometre (34 mi) long-distance walkers' path, following sandstone ridges running north–south from Frodsham in central Cheshire to Whitchurch just over the Shropshire border. The path was created in 1974 and extended in the 1990s. Much of the route follows the Mid Cheshire Ridge but in places the trail also passes through the Cheshire Plain, including farmland, woodland and canal towpaths. The ridge and trail are easily accessible from Chester and even a short walk along it will touch on many interesting sites, from hill-forts to a nuclear bunker.

An excellent set of guide leaflets can be downloaded from Sandstone Ridge Website.


The geology of the Sandstone Ridge and the surrounding Cheshire Plain has had a great influence on the human activities which make up the history of Chester and its environs. Unlike elsewhere, this is not due to the presence of local minerals close to Chester, although there are economically important depositis of evaporites (including salt) to the east of the ridge and significant mineral resources in north Wales. Geology influenced settlement patterns, land-use, transport links and the economy.


The hills are composed of a range of sandstones of Permian and Triassic age. North–south faulting is in part responsible for elevating harder-wearing strata above the general level of the Cheshire Plain. Typically the higher summits are formed from the Helsby Sandstone a part of the so-called "Sherwood Sandstone Group". For an overview of the geology of the River Dee Valley see: River Dee Geology. The Sherwood Sandstone Group widespread in Britain, especially in the English Midlands. The name is derived from Sherwood Forest in Nottinghamshire which is underlain by rocks of this age. It has economic importance as the reservoir of the Morecambe Bay gas field, the second largest gas field in the UK. These sandstone rocks are found in northwest England as far north as Carlisle (and extending just into Scotland around Annan and Gretna) and in the Vale of Eden and then extending down the Cumbrian coast into Lancashire and Cheshire. They are mostly obscured by superficial deposits but the highest coastal cliffs in northwest England at St Bees Head are formed in the St Bees Sandstone, the lowermost formation within the group. In the northeast they extend from Hartlepool south through the Vale of Mowbray and the Vale of York, then south through Nottinghamshire into the English Midlands, though are very largely concealed by superficial sediments. They occur widely through the Midlands (though usually concealed) and notably in an outlier at Leek, Staffordshire. They extend south to the Severn Estuary and beyond there through Somerset to Budleigh Salterton on the coast of East Devon. There are further occurrences in Northern Ireland north and east of Limavady, east of Cookstown, between Dungannon and Armagh and along the Lagan Valley beneath Belfast and Newtownards and on the Antrim coast.

Traditional travel routes to Chester are much influenced by geology. The routes are only approximate. The blue dashed line shows the Sandstone Trail and the brown shaded regions are the Sandstone Ridge.

The Sandstone Ridge of Cheshire is otherwise known as the Helsby Sandstone Formation (where the type section is exposed at Helsby Hill) amd comprises around 250m thickness of sandstone with conglomerate and siltstone which occurs across the Cheshire Basin. Older literature includes it as part of the Lower Keuper Sandstone. It is often divided by geologists into an upper Frodsham Member and a lower Delamere Member. Faulted blocks of these rocks are largely responsible for the prominent west facing escarpment of the Mid Cheshire Ridge and the Helsby Sandstone is exposed in numerous localities there, southwards from Runcorn through Frodsham to Utkinton, spectacularly at the outlier of Beeston Castle hill and lastly within the Peckforton Hills. Only small parts of the ridge are formed from other rocks, notably the Tarporley Siltstone which forms the summits of some of the higher hills (Eddisbury and the Old Pale) and is a part of the younger Mercian Mudstone group. Sandstone does not preserve fossils particlarly well, so such remains are rare and in the past this may have led to the conclusion that at the time the rocks were laid down the region was a barren desert. However there are some fossils to be found and the region was probably more like the Nile valley with sand being layered both by the wind and by water. The wind deposited stone is softer as the rounded and polished grains do not cement well, whereas the fluvial deposits of coarse, interlocking sand particles form stronger stone which is better for building with. Heavier flows brought in pebbles leading to the formation of the "Chester Pebble Beds". The red colouration of sandstone is due to the presence of iron, effectively as a coating of rust on the grains: but in places the iron has been leached away by the action of water leading to a paler stone, such as that found at Manley, much favoured as a stone for construction, such as in Thomas Harrison's redevelopment of Chester Castle. In fact it is possible to argue that the lightness of the stone in a Chester building speaks to the wealth of it's builders and the transport available to them.

The Cheshire Plain extends from the Pennines to the Welsh Hills and from Shropshire to Southern Lancashire. The Sandstone Ridge divides the southern part of the Cheshire Plain into two parts the western Chester side known for its dairy industry (and cheese-making) and the eastern side known for it's salt production. There are two main routes through the ridge: the Mouldsworth Gap and the Beeston Gap. Both have been important travel routes for centuries and are followed by modern road and rail routes. A lesser branch of the ridge forms the spine of the Wirral and provides a watershed between the River Dee and the Gowy. The eastern side is largely drained by the River Weaver, which enters the Mersey at Frodsham near the north end of the Ridge. As well as the eastern part of the Cheshire plain having salt, the northern part of the Cheshire Plain has coal at an accessible depth. The western part of the plain has little in the way of mineral deposits.

During the last ice ages the ridge acted as something as a barrier to ice-flows which overlaid much of the Cheshire basin and deposited the Boulder Clay or "Glacial Till". Meltwater channels formed as the ice melted, some of which, such as the Backford Gap had economic consequences in the routing of rivers and canals. Others, such as the Urchin's Kitchen are smaller scale but still worth a visit. Both the Mouldsworth Gap and the Beeston Gap provided passages for ice and or glacial meltwater.

The Sandstone Ridge is generally overlain by free-draining brown earths and brown sands. The steep slopes and thin acid soils support concentrations of woodland, some ancient Oakwood, but much of more recent secondary origin or planted with conifers. Bird species are well represented, with several uncommon breeding species attracted to the elevated position, extensive woodlands and deadwood habitat, for example sparrow-hawk, raven and pied flycatcher. Lowland heath, a habitat of international importance, was once a common sight in Cheshire but like other areas in the UK it has become increasingly reduced and fragmented; however, restoration work on Bickerton Hill SSSI has resulted in the local expansion of this important habitat. A number of woodlands are listed as Local Wildlife Sites and/or SSSIs, such as Dunsdale Hollow SSSI. A number of other geological and geomorphological features in the type are listed as of regional importance (RIGGS). Some 80% of lowland heath has been lost since 1800, with the UK holding a fifth of the world's remaining stock. Pollen grain carbon dating has indicated that it has existed in the UK for 14,000 years[citation needed] as the ice-caps retreated. As the weather warmed, trees became established and replaced the tundra heath. But 5000 years ago man began to clear forests, and heathland re-established on acid, sandy soils. Its area is thought to have peaked around the 16th century - heathland being a wholly man-made phemomenon and not a "natural landscape". From then onwards agricultural and transport technology improved, allowing nutrients to be put back into the soil, nonheathland type crops to grow, or the heath was simply no longer managed as in the past.

Pasture dominates the land use and is enclosed by hawthorn hedgerows and sandstone walls in the south. Arable cultivation of fodder crops and potatoes plus orchards and fruit farming are located on the better draining, gentler slopes of the ridge.

Sources and Links


The Sherwood Sandstone Group is one of the major aquifiers in the UK and the exposed rocks on the Sandstone Ridge are believed to be an important source of replenishment to the aquifier. Rainfall, extraction from rivers and boreholes and the extent of surface forest cover interact in a complex fashion. Many of the ancient springs along the ridge have dried up or significantly reduced in flow, but it is often difficult to pin down to what extent this is due to changes in land use and management, river abstraction or pumping out of groundwater for human use.


As lowland heath occurs on a range of acidic (pH < 5) soils, "marling" was used as a way of raising the pH. Marl is a lime-like material (usually containg both limestone and clay) which was often deposited in the ice age. On sandy soils this practice of marling increases fertility and moisture holding capacity. The "marl pits", from which it was dug, very different from sand and brick pits, are easily distinguishable by the square edged gentle slope at one end of the pit and a steep rounded slope at the other. The shape was the result of a few hundredweights of marl being dug out and loaded into carts which were then hauled up the sloping end of the pit, a process that was repeated time and time again. Over twelve months the pit would partly fill with water so another pit was dug a few yards away. This process repeated over and over again led to parts of Chestire being dotted with marl pits. Later marl pits were often dug in the middle of fields to make the spreading of the marl an easier matter with another pit close by and even a third. Over the years some marl pits appear to have become joined together making an even larger area of water. As seepage of water out of a marl pit takes place only very slowly due to the relatively impervious nature of the marl, surface water is sufficient to keep it full. As a result Marl pits survive for many years.

Marling was not a regular practice, because the effects of it lasted for such a long time (around 30 years) which meant that it only needed to be carried out every generation or so. When it was used, however, it required thorough mixing with the earth and to be distributed on an extensive scale in order for it to be effective. Ideally it was spread in winter or autumn to achieve optimum effect, although it would appear that in practice it was often spread in the summer or spring. It required a relatively large amount of labour, with five to six men typically working for a fortnight under the supervision of the ‘Lord of the Pit’. The practice of marling appears to have been known about and undertaken to some extent since before the Roman occupation of Britain. Pliny records that the Celtic inhabitants of Britain, Gaul and Megara used marl in the 1st Century. The 16th, 17th and early 18th Centuries, were characterised by an increase in the number of marlpits and the practice of marling, partly because of the "agricultural revolution" which was taking place, along with population pressures and an increase in food prices which necessitated a growth in agricultural output. This continued until the late 18th Century, when lime began to supplant marl because of its greater convenience, its more rapid effect on the soil, its greater availability commercially and the shortage of labour for marling, along with the improved transport networks which enabled lime to become the more dominant fertiliser. Lime was later supplanted by artificial fertilisers in the mid-19th Century.

The once-a-generation marling gangs were accustomed to ask for gifts of money, which Ormerod states was spent in the local inn with much ceremony. The Lord of the Pit, on gaining the gift (even of a few coppers) would shout "OYEZ! OYEZ! OYEZ! This is to give notice that Mr------- has given us Marlers part of £100 and to whosoever will do the same, we will give thanks and shout". Then, like the harvesters, the rest of the gang would join hands and shout "Largess, Largess!". Gifts of more than sixpence were praised as "part of £1000". The whole ceremony would be repeated in the local inn prior to the money being spent on ale. Christina Hole in her "Traditions and Customs of Cheshire" records some of the songs of the marling gangs and she adds the fact that marling customs included may-poles, bull-baiting, dances in barns, "sword dancers" and processions of (supposed) virgins with garlands.


There is a popular misconception that Cheshires meres are caused by subsidence from salt extraction. This is not the case as many of the meres are "kettle holes" formed during the ice-age. Kettles are fluvioglacial landforms occurring as the result of blocks of ice calving from the front of a receding glacier and becoming partially to wholly buried by glacial outwash. Glacial outwash is generated when streams of meltwater flow away from the glacier and deposit sediment to form broad outwash plains called "sandurs". When the ice blocks, which are essentially "icebergs" on land, melt, so-called kettle holes are left in the sandur. For this reason kettle holes are often associated with glacial weltwater flow routes. Hatchmere in Delamere forest is a good example of a Kettle. The names of meres may indicate the uses to which they have been put: "Flaxmere", for example, may have been used for "retting" flax for the production of linen.

Meres evolve: they may shrink or become mossy bogs. The vegetation around a mere can speak of its evolution.

Wells and Springs

Sources and Links


Hill Forts and Castles

The early coastline, showing swamps (green), higher ground (brown) and hillforts: for more see: Before The Romans.

Hill forts in Britain are known from the Bronze Age (for more see: Before The Romans), but overall the great period of hill fort construction was during the Iron Age, between 200 BC and the Roman conquest. Although there are over 1,300 hill forts in England, they are concentrated in the south of the country, with only a few in Cheshire. Eddisbury is the largest and most complex of the Cheshire hill forts. The Cheshire hill forts differ from the southern hill-forts in one important respect: they belong to the late Bronze Age and the early to mid Iron Age. It has been suggested that the once widespread view that the Cheshire area was a hillfort dominated region at the time of the Roman invasion is false - an alternative view is that the hillforts were built early and abandoned by the Middle Iron Age (i.e after c500 BC).

Ormerod described the Eddisbury Hill Fort in 1819, wrongly attributing it to Æthelflæd:

  • 'With respect to the camp of Eddisbury we have the authority of the old chronicles for its being formed by Ethelfleda in the year 914, at the time when Chester was newly fortified and enlarged by her husband Ethelred. It is erected at a point calculated to command the British road, as well as the Roman road from Condate to Deva. The form is nearly oval, and its situation within the enclosure called the old pale, on the summit of the hill which gives name to the Hundred. It contains 11 acres, 3 roods, and 10 poles, of statute measure, and extends 250 yards in breadth, and 400 in length, exclusive of the projection of rock at the south east angle. The eastern side is irregular, being defended by a natural precipice, the other parts, being accessible by a gentle slope, are defended by a ditch and double rampart, with an entrance to the West. The ditch is about twelve yards wide, the ramparts, which are constructed with red stone, now buried under the soil accumulated by the lapse of centuries, are still fourteen feet high in some places. No other vestiges of buildings are distinguishable'.

While it is likely that Æthelflæd restored the fort to some extent, the original is much older.

The forts form two geographical groups of three, with Maiden Castle (Bickerton) on its own in the south of the county; Eddisbury hill fort is in the southern group with Kelsborrow Castle and Oakmere hill fort. Helsby Hillfort, Bradley and Woodhouses, form the Northern group.

Pits dating from the 4th millennium BC indicate the site of Beeston Castle may have been inhabited or used as a communal gathering place during the Neolithic period. Archaeologists have discovered Neolithic flint arrow heads on the crag, as well as the remains of a Bronze Age community, and of an Iron Age hill fort. The rampart associated with the Bronze Age activity on the crag has been dated to around 1270–830 BC; seven circular buildings were identified as being either late Bronze Age or early Iron Age in origin. It may have been a specialist metalworking site - excavations there in the 1980s located a bronze-working hearth together with crucible and mould fragments. The associated metalwork was of the Ewart Park phase (c 800-700 BC), but metalworking may have begun at the site much earlier. The source of copper was perhaps the vein that runs along the eastern side of the mid Cheshire ridge. Mines at Bickerton were commercially exploited during the nineteenth century (hence the pub called "The Coppermine"), and it is possible that mines were located nearby in the prehistoric period (some details on the mines can be found here).

There was another Iron-Age fort at Burton Point, which like "Blacon Point" once projected into the Dee estuary. To the south of the fort is a burial site that was excavated in 1878, revealing the remains of between 50 and 60 burials. It is not known whether these are of an early Christian date, or if they are the remains of the dead from a shipwreck in 1637.

Alternative theories have been put forward as to why there is a string of forts along the ridge. One group of theories believes that there was prehistoric commerce along a "ridgeway" which followed the high ground (rather like the Sandstone Trail) and that the forts provided safe trading and stopping places. Another cluster of theories asserts that the forts were there to defend the "choke points" around the north and south ends of the ridge and through the passes/gaps. Some of these explanations appear to assume that the whole string of forts was occupied at the same time and that may have not been the case. It has been suggested that the increasing use of iron led to social changes in prehistoric Britain: deposits of iron ore were located in different places to the tin and copper ore necessary to make bronze. As a result trading patterns shifted and the old elites lost their economic and social status: as power passed into the hands of a new group of people and this social unrest led to the construction of defensive sites. It has also been argued that the hillforts could have been military sites constructed in response to invasion from continental Europe, sites built by invaders, or a military reaction to social tensions caused by an increasing population and consequent pressure on agriculture. Yet another theory is that the hill-forts first sprang-up as ritual enclosures in the stone-age (6000 years ago) but were re-purposed when bronze was introduced (and possibly, given thst burial customs changed there was probsbly also social change) or that they were fortified as the climate deteriorated during the late Bronze Age/early Iron Age (some 3000 years ago) - putting pressure on society. Some evidence supports the idea that many ‘hillforts’ were abandoned as society changed in the middle to late Iron Age (after 400 BC). Whether the hill-forts plsyed any part in the regulation of the transport of salt across the Sandstone Ridge is undecided, although they do appear to be arranged to do this: fragments of pottery vessels of a kind believed to have been used to transport salt have been found at some of them, but they could have been the property of users of salt rather than evidence of a through-trade.

Caves, Mines and Quarries

The varying hardness of the laters of sandstone along the ridge has led to the formation of many rock shelters. Some of these are mere overhangs whereas others have been enlarged into quite sizable caves, the largest of which are the work of humans. In some caves enlargement took the form of the removal of fine white sand from the floor of the cave. This was put to various uses including scouring floors and agricultural equipment such as cheese-making vessels. The fine sand was also used for making moulds for castings.

There are protected bat roosts in some of the caves, and stories exist of a rare moss known as "Goblin's Gold" (Schistostega pennata) which apparently glows in the dark. Goblins gold acquired its name by how it tricks humans into believing that it is treasure stashed away in dark places such as caves and crevasses. Outside, a passerby would notice what looked like the green light of emeralds shining in the darkness of a hole or cave. This was believed to be the treasure stashed away by goblins! In reality, the lens-shaped cells of the moss have evolved to focus weak light on the photosynthetic structures and greenish-gold light is reflected back rather like that from a cat's eye. There is no light actually generated by the moss. Austrian Botanist, Anton Kerner von Marilaun wrote in Das Pflanzenleben der Donauländer in 1863:

  • On looking into the interior of the cave, the background appears quite dark, and an ill-defined twilight only appears to fall from the center on to the side walls; but on the level floor of the cave innumerable golden-green points of light sparkle and gleam, so that it might be imagined that small emeralds had been scattered over the ground. If we reach curiously into the depth of the grotto to snatch a specimen of the shining objects, and examine the prize in our hand under a bright light, we can scarcely believe our eyes, for there is nothing else but dull lusterless earth and damp, mouldering bits of stone of yellowish-grey color! Only on looking closer will it be noticed that the soil and stones are studded and spun over with dull green dots and delicate threads, and that, moreover, there appears a delicate filigree of tiny moss-plants, resembling a small arched feather stuck in the ground. This phenomenon, that an object should only shine in dark rocky clefts, and immediately lose its brilliance when it is brought into the bright daylight, is so surprising that one can easily understand how the legends have arisen of fantastic gnomes and cave-inhabiting goblins who allow the covetous sons of earth to gaze on the gold and precious stones, but prepare a bitter disappointment for the seeker of the enchanted treasure; that, when he empties out the treasure which he hastily raked together in the cave, he sees roll out of the sacks, not glittering jewels, but only common earth.

Minerals in solution have percolated through natural faults in the rocks of the sandstone ridge and been deposited as mineral veins. Since prehistoric times, these minerals have been exploited. A vein of copper occurs along the eastern edge of the Bickerton Hills. As yet, there is no evidence of prehistoric mining. But it’s possible that the prehistoric hillforts that dot the sandstone ridge may be linked to early copper mining, smelting and metalworking. Clear evidence of Bronze Age metalworking has been found on Beeston Crag and it’s conceivable that the copper was mined locally. Copper was mined on and off beneath the Bickerton Hills from the 17th century onwards. A Grade II listed engine house chimney is all that remains of the original mine buildings, which were demolished in the 1930s. Close to Gallantry Bank, the chimney can still be visited today.

Sources and Links


Sources and Links

Notable Sites on The Sandstone Trail

Here is a list of the weird and wonderful sights which can be encountered along the Sandstone Trail, or for some, visited by a short detour off it. Many are mentioned in guide-books, but as usual these often present myths, legends, misunderstandings and in one case an outright forgery as the truth. For convenience the rout of the Sandstone Trail is divided into three sections Frodsham to Tarporley, Tarporley to Duckington and Duckington to Whitchurch.

Frodsham to Tarporley

Frodsham sits beneath the imposing wooded escarpment of Beacon Hill, which is also known locally as Frodsham Hill or Overton Hill and whose top attains a height of just over 500 feet (152 m). The hill forms the northern end of the Mid-Cheshire Ridge, a range of sandstone hills that extends southwards to Delamere Forest and Tarporley. The town lies on three distinct fault lines: the Frodsham Fault, the Weston Fault and the Overton Fault. As a consequence there are many springs and wells in the area as the uplift resulted in trapping the water table at an elevation of around 200 feet (61 m), at which level springs developed


The etymology of Frodsham's name is not entirely clear. A literal translation of the Old English would give personal name of Frod or an old spelling of Ford, and ham which means a village or homestead; hence Frod's village or the Village on the Ford (Ford-ham). However, an alternative, more obscure etymology exists which suggests the name means "promontory into marsh", which would make sense considering that Frodsham had a promontory castle very close to marshland. Frodsham is unique as the name of a settlement in the British Isles. Earlier spellings of the name have included Fradsham, Frandsham, Frodisham, Ffradsam and Ffradsham. The town is of Saxon origin; its 11th-century church is mentioned in the Domesday Book. Frodsham was an important manor of the medieval Earls of Chester and was created a borough in the early 13th century, probably by Ranulf de Blondeville.

The mouth of the River Weaver, where it joins the Mersey, made Frodsham into a significant port for the coasting trade, particularly for the export of Cheshire salt, brought down the Weaver from Northwich and Nantwich. The arrival of the Trent and Mersey Canal at Anderton in 1773 was detrimental to the salt trade at first, but ultimately beneficial, as salt was tipped down chutes from the canal into barges on the river navigation. Access to the river was improved in 1810 by the Weston Canal, which provided a link to Weston Point, where boats could reach the River Mersey at most states of the tide, as the water was deeper. The navigation was completely reconstructed between 1870 and 1900, with the original locks being replaced by five much larger locks, capable of handling 1000-tonne coasters.

Sources and Links

The Bear's Paw, Frodsham

The "Bears Paw" (it is actually a Lion's Paw) is said to be used in the coat of arms of the Savage family, Lords of the Manor of Frodsham from the early 17th Century. John Savage, 2nd Earl Rivers, a Catholic Royalist and past mayor of Chester, had his seat at Halton Castle and the great manor house at Clifton near Runcorn, called Rocksavage. When Earl Rivers returned to Cheshire after the Civil War with Rocksavage being ransacked and uninhabitable, and Halton Castle dismantled, Earl Rivers retired to Frodsham Castle where he was stripped of the family honours and estates. He died on 10th October 1654. A few hours after his death with his body lying within, Frodsham Castle was set on fire and burned down - it was completely destroyed. There was another "Bear's Paw" at the end of Frodsham Street in Chester, it was demolished in 1956. The pub in Frodsham is on "Main Street", a relatively rare street name in the UK (there are about half a dozen). In the 18th century the Bear's Paw at Frodsham was the 'Bears Paw Hotel and Posting House'; Royal Mail coaches called there when travelling between Chester, Warrington and Manchester. When the Lancashire, Cheshire and Birkenhead Railway opened in 1850, Frodsham station was near the hotel and 'Railway Hotel' was added to its title. In 1903–04 the front and side of the building were restored by the Chester firm of architects run by John Douglas.

Sources and Links

  • Smith, Arthur R. (2009), "The Bears Paw - a brief history", Journal of the Frodsham & District History Society, Frodsham: Frodsham & District History Society (39), pp. 20–22
  • Historic England;

Castle Park and Synagogue Well

Castle Park is a manor house, park and gardens in Frodsham. The house is built on the site of Frodsham Castle, which burnt down in 1654. In the late 18th century the first house on the site, "Park Palace", was built by Robert Wainwright Ashley, a lawyer in the town. On his death the house was inherited by his eldest son, Major Daniel Ashley, but mortgaged to Philip Humberston of Chester. In 1851 it was bought by Joseph Stubs of Warrington (of the firm Peter Stubs Ltd), a manufacturer of engineers’ tools. He started to develop and extend the house and outbuildings and commissioned the noted landscaper Edward Kemp to lay out the woods and gardens. Stubs died before the work was completed and the house was purchased by Edward Abbot Wright, a Quaker cotton manufacturer from Oldham. The house then came to be known as "Castle Park", and, when the last of Wright's daughters died, was left to the inhabitants of the town. The stables have housed the Castle Park Art Center since 1986. Edward Abbot Wright, (who was a director of the Oldham-Manchester-Birkenhead Railway) once missed a train at Frodsham because the stable clock was slow and he ordered that in future it should be kept 3 minutes fast - it is still checked each day to make sure that it is.

The "Synagogue Well" is located in Castle Park. Charles Hope in his 1893 notes, writes:

  • “The Synagogue Well, evidently one of great antiquity, and, before an attempt was made to improve it, of most picturesque appearance, is in the grounds of Park Place, Frodsham, late belonging to Joseph Stubs, Esq.”

William Beamont in his 1888 "An Account of the Ancient Town of Frodsham in Cheshire" records in comparison to a similar site (possibly Horsley Bath at Peckforton or at the now-vanished "Beeston Spa") further south in the county:

  • “Such a fount there is at Frodsham, called ‘The Synagogue Well,’ which sends forth waters as copious and as limpid as that once frequented by Numa. It seems as if such a fount was necessary near an ancient castle; for as this fount rises close to the site of Frodsham Castle, so at the foot of Beeston Castle there is a similar spring. They both spring from the living rock, and both have a large square stone basin to receive the surplus water as it flows away.”

Beamont continues:

  • "..the basin of that at Horsley is called a bath, and, as might be expected, the Synagogue well was also called, for once there was a curate at Frodsham who was an inveterate bather, and he resorted thither every morning and bathed in the well even when it was frozen over, and he had to break the ice before he could have his invigorating bath. But he was of a swimming family, and his father, Sir Lancelot Shadwell, Master of the Rolls, might often be seen leading his seven sons in a swim down the Thames."

Synagogues often feature ritual baths called Mikveh or Mikvah, but there is no evidence other than the name that there was ever a synagogue hereabouts. One theory is that the name is a corruption of "St Agnes Well" (the patron saint of engaged couples - according to tradition, the usual offering is a few bent sewing pins). The dedication to St Agnes traditionally made a holy well popular with lovers, and the water was said to be good for helping find a romantic partner - rather like "Billy Hobbies Well" in Grosvenor Park at Chester. Another legend (as recorded by Christina Hole in her "Traditions and Customs of Cheshire") is that the well was walled in by the traditional "Wanderimg Jew" who found its waters refreshing: his only legend associated with Cheshire. Following a suicide in 1935, the bath-pool at the well was filled with stones and it is now dry as the water table has fallen. An earlier suicide's ghost is said to have haunted the park until it was "exorcised into the body of a crow" which was buried under a path at night.

Sources and Links

Overton Church (St Laurence)

The Domesday Book records the presence of a church with a priest in this position. In 1093 the tithes were given by Hugh of Avranches to the abbot of St Werburgh's Abbey, Chester. In the 1270s they passed to the monastery of Vale Royal when it was founded by Edward I. Following the dissolution of the monasteries the tithes and advowson passed to the dean and chapter of Christ Church, Oxford. The structure of the present church dates from around 1180. It is built from local red sandstone. In the 14th century the chancel was lengthened and the tower was built. In the following century the chancel was further lengthened and increased in height. In the 16th century the north chapel, and probably the south chapel, were added. Considerable rebuilding of the church was carried out by George Frederick Bodley and Thomas Garner between 1880 and 1883. This included removing the galleries and plaster ceilings which had been inserted around 1740. In the south wall of the tower have been re-set some Saxon and Norman carved stones. The principal features of interest are the Cll/C12 work, rare in Cheshire. In the churchyard is a sundial dated 1790. It consists of a copper dial and gnomon on a sandstone stem standing on a base of three round steps. It is listed at Grade II. Also listed Grade II is a tomb to the memory of the Wright family dating from around 1806. It consists of a truncated obelisk on a panelled square plinth in grey stone. The churchyard also contains the war graves of 21 Commonwealth service personnel, 15 from World War I and six from World War II. Also in the churchyard is the grave of Prince Warabo, the teenaged son of King Jaja of Opobo, Nigeria, who was sent to the former Manor House School in Frodsham but died in 1882.

Sources and Links

Beacon Hill

The Grade II listed secret nuclear bunker (hence no sign) is hidden by tree's, except for the communications tower.

Beacon Hill takes its name from a beacon which stood there in Elizabethan times. In 1588, when the 151 ships of the Spanish Armada arrived off the coast with the intention of invading England and overthrowing Queen Elizabeth I, it is said that beacons–that is, bonfires–were lit throughout the country to warn of attack, the news spreading from hilltop to hilltop from the coast where the Armada was first sighted to London and then throughout the rest of the country. The surrounding beacons were at Helsby Hill, Alderly Edge, Bidston Hill and Mow Cop.

The Former Anti-Aircraft Operations Rooms at Frodsham, Cheshire, completed in 1951, is listed at Grade II (making it illegal to bomb it). Unsurprisingly, the site is called "The Beacons". The Historic England listing notes state:

  • "Architectural interest: a building which expresses through its monumental and robust form the threat posed by the atomic bomb and the necessary measures to protect its occupants from the effects of nuclear attack. The plan illustrates the needs and functions of the tactical command of radar controlled anti-aircraft defences, as envisaged during the late 1940s. The structure is representative of design thinking before the introduction of the Hydrogen Bomb in the mid-1950s."

Anti-Aircraft Operations Rooms (AAOR) formed an integral part of the United Kingdom's anti-aircraft defences during the early 1950s and are a physical representation of early Cold War defence based upon the command and control experience gained during the Second World War. Thirty-two Gun Defended Areas (GDA) were established in the United Kingdom, of which 23 were in England. Each GDA was commanded by an anti-aircraft operations room that controlled the automated gun sites built around the periphery of major conurbations, ports, and centres of armament production. It was an integrated defence system designed to counter the threat posed by manned Soviet bombers carrying free-fall atomic bombs. By the mid-1950s, advancing technology and the threat of long-range ballistic missiles, rendered the system obsolete. Mapping the effects of nuclear weapons onto the UK government's own list of "likely Soviet targets" shows that the only places in the UK where there was a significant chance of comparatively little immediate damage from an all-out attack with hydrogen bombs would be Aberystwyth, Taunton and some remote parts of Scotland, but that does not consider fall-out.

The former Anti-Aircraft Operations Room (AAOR) at Beacon Hill, Frodsham was one of twenty-eight purpose-built examples constructed for the Royal Artillery between 1950 and 1951. It was under the command of 4 Group, 79 Brigade and controlled the gun sites in the Mersey Gun Defended Area. The operations room received long-range radar reports of the approach of hostile aircraft from the RAF’s Master Radar Stations. A trial Orange Yeoman / Yellow River (Type 82) tactical control radar associated with the AAOR would then pick up and track the targets before they were allocated to the automated gun sites within their GDA. It was paired with six gun sites, Crank (MY10), Thurstaston (MY24), Norley (MY39), Flint (MY45), Altcar (MY66) and Penketh (MY76). As the RAF began to study various air war scenarios, it became clear any sort of comprehensive air defense was hopeless in an era where a single bomber could destroy an entire city. They abandoned the idea of general anti-aircraft operations and began to focus entirely on the defense of the deterrent force in the form of the V bomber fleet. For this role the inland site at Frodsham was not needed as no Bloodhound missiles would be based in the area. It remained operation for a few years for training. Having stood empty for some time, the building was refurbished in 1986/87 and became the Cheshire County Standby Emergency Centre and the Cheshire Fire Brigade County Standby Control Centre; the main control being at Winsford. It ceased to be the County Emergency Control centre in 2008. There was no Cheshire County Control in the 1960's. Conversion of the County Hall basement (next to Chester Castle) was started in 1966 but stopped in 1968 when the room was found to have blocked high level windows. The local authority had another bunker under the council offices in Ellesmere Port, which was the subject of a planning application in 1990. According to the planning application (which was published)it included numerous facilities such as three-tier bunk beds, a kitchen and restroom, toilets and showers, an area for removing contaminated clothing, and rooms for scientific advisers, a management team, an emergency committee, and the chief executive.

There was also a "Secret Nuclear Bunker" at Hack Green near Nantwich. It was also a radar site before it was converted into a Regional Government Headquarters (RGHQs) - one of a network of 17 such sites throughout the UK - designed to enable government to continue in the aftermath of a major nuclear attack on the UK. It was decommissioned around 1992, when it probably became clear that any bunker would probably attract it's own bomb and in the event it was not destroyed would have nothing much left to govern. It is now a museum.

Sources and Links

Frodsham Caves

These, surprisingly large, sandstone caves are a well-known landmark on the east side of the Manley Road, so a detour from the Sandstone Trail is needed to visit them. The enclosure is part of a local dairy farm and consequently the caves are often used for shelter by cattle (wellies recommended). The caves are covered in graffiti, some of which is old and much of which is modern. The caves also have a fairly grim reputation in that at least one human body has been found there, and they were used in a fictional detective novel as the site for more bodies being found.

Sources and Links

Helsby Hill and Woodhouses Hillforts

On Helsby Hill, the remains of a promontory hillfort, 1.9ha in area, have been excavated. Helsby Hill has steep cliffs on the northern and western sides, providing a natural semicircular defence. Double rampart earthworks extend to the south and east to provide protection to those flanks.A buried soil was found under the hillfort containing fossilised pollen dating to the late Mesolithic to early Neolithic, between 7000 and 3001BC.[2] Further evidence suggests a burning episode dating to the early Neolithic occupation or woodland clearance dating to 4000BC to 2351 BC. The bivallate hillfort is protected on the south and east by two parallel ramparts and an unusual type of inturned entrance 11 yards (10 m) wide. There were three phases of hillfort construction at Helsby. The first stone rampart was constructed in the middle to late Bronze Age (1250-1050 cal BC) and consisted of a bank of well dressed, outer face of sandstone blocks and an irregular inner face, which was built on a slight batter; it was approximately 4 yards (3.5m) wide. A socketed bronze axe found at Helsby in 1925. This was followed by a series of colluvial deposits against the internal face of the stone rampart that formed the second phase of activity. The third and final phase was the re-building of the rampart in the post-Roman period, dating as late as 530 AD suggesting early Saxon re-occupation of the hillfort.

Helsby was located on the strategically important Roman road between Chester and Wilderspool near Warrington. The road existed between c. 79–410 AD to link the garrison of Deva to Wilderspool, which produced pottery that supplied the north west of England. The Roman road passed at the foot of Helsby Hill probably following the route of Old Chester Road. On the top of the hill a Roman bronze sestertius of the emperor Tiberius minted in Rome in AD22 was found and just off Vicarage Lane in 1958, an uninscribed Roman altar of red sandstone was discovered with a carved jug on one side and an axe and knife on the other. The first known settlers of Helsby were the Vikings in the 10th century[citation needed]. In fact, the name 'Helsby' is likely to be derived from the Viking name Hjallr-by, meaning "the village on the edge" (placenames with the suffix "by" often denote Viking/Danish origins: these are common on the Wirral e.g. Irby, Kirby, Greaseby, Frankby, Raby etc.). However, Old Norse suggests that Hjalli means edge and Hjallr means constructed platform or scaffold. The village was recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086 under the Norman name of Hellesbe. The top of Helsby Hill also has a former Royal Observer Corps post, which became operational in October 1962 and was decommissioned in September 1991. On the surface, the entrance hatch, ventilation shaft and other fixtures for monitoring devices survive, surrounded by a low earthen mound.

Woodhouse Hill has steep cliffs on the western sides, providing a natural defence. It is defended by a rampart to the north and east where the ground slopes more gently. Excavations in 1949 and 1951 showed that the rampart was originally 4m high and revetted with stone on both sides. A number of small rounded stones, believed to be slingstones, have been found on the site. The hill fort is protected as a Scheduled Ancient Monument. The hill has a summit of 137m AOD. The fort site and the surrounding areas form a part of within Snidley Moor Wood much of which is owned and managed by the Woodland Trust. A large number of flint and chert artefacts were collected from fields in the general vicinity of Woodhouse hillfort, in the 1950s by J. Adams. Flint is not natural to the area, with the nearest deposits of chalk containing flint being those of the Lincolnshire and Yorkshire Wolds or Northern Ireland. The Irish Sea Glacial Till and its associated gravels, however, also contain a limited number of flint nodules that could be a potential source for prehistoric groups. One of the concentrations of flint resources within the deposits associated with the Irish Sea Till was the valley of the River Weaver. Chert deposits outcrop in the Carboniferous Limestones of the Peak District and those bounding both sides of the Vale of Clwyd.

Sources and Links


The most noticeable legacy from the Romans can be seen in the three main roads that run through or alongside the parish of Delamere. The A54 follows the Roman road from Chester to Middlewich, while the A49 follows the road between the smaller Roman towns at Warrington and Nantwich. The road from Chester to the forts in Northwich and Manchester followed much the same route as the present A556, but taking a different line acrossEddisbury Hill, alongside the footpath from the Yeld to Stoney Lane, across Station Road at the foot of Eddisbury Hill, and on to Cuddington and Sandiway via Thieves Moss (named after highwaymen lurking in the forest when the road became a turnpike in the eighteenth century).

Alfred’s daughter Ethelfleda refortified Eddisbury Hill in 914 AD as part of the defence of Chester. The Domesday Book identified Eddisbury as a land for six ploughs, measuring a league in length (about a mile and a half) and the same in width. Willington, next to the Kelsborrow hillfort, was identified as land for two ploughs. William the Conqueror assigned the whole of the Forest de la Mara (Delamere) and the adjoining Forest of Mondrem to Hugh of Avranches, Earl of Chester.The Norman Forest of Mara extended all the way to the River Mersey in the north, to the River Weaver in the east, to the River Gowy in the west, and to the Weaverham to Tarporley road in the south (roughly where the A49 is now). The Forest of Mondrem extended from the other side of this road almost to Nantwich. After the earldom lapsed in 1237 the forest rights passed to the Crown, since which time the title Earl of Chester has been given to the heir to the throne (along with the title Prince of Wales since 1301). A royal hunting lodge (‘the Chamber in the Forest’) was built within the Eddisbury hillfort, probably on Merrick’s Hill. A 16th Cent silver hunting horn associated with the forest is on display at the Grosvenor Museum in Chester.

When Vale Royal Abbey was founded by Edward Iin 1270,the abbots were granted extensive rights to take timber and stone from the forest. The old sandstone quarries at Delamere Grove and Eddisbury Hill Park are thought to have provided stone for the abbey. The abbots converted much of the land to agriculture, so by the time the abbey was dissolved by Henry VIII in 1538, most of the woodland in Mondrem had been cleared. By the middle of the next century much of Mara had been cleared as well, and the deer were killed-off during the Civil War.

At the beginning of the nineteenth century the forest was essentially heath land, but a large part of it was reforested during the Napoleonic Wars in an attempt to supply oak for building ships for the Royal Navy. Through the 1812 ‘Act of Enclosure for Delamere Forest’ the Crown set aside half the land for the production of timber, and sold the other half to raise funds. This had a major influence on the subsequent development of the parish of Delamere as a scattered rural community. The extensive remaining woodland is now managed by the Forestry Commission, mainly as a recreational resource.

Sources and Links


There is a small cluster of round barrows close by the trail although a detour of some miles is needed to see them all. In Ormerod's History of Cheshire the following description is given a group of tumuli on Delamere Forest:

  • "A mile south east of the foot of the hill of Eddisbury, at the lower of a small natural lake called Fish Pool, are the tumuli known by name of the Seven Lows undoubtedly the "VII Loos" alluded to Leland as the "marks of men of warre" and much spoken of in his time. They are ranged in a form nearly semicircular and are of different sizes varying in diameter at the base from 105 to 40 feet. In a note at the foot of the page the measurements are detailed thus: Beginning at the tumulus in the annexed plan and following the semicircle the measure in diameter at the base 105, 45, 40, 105, 66, and 68 feet. The seventh has been carried away to form a road".

Only four of the seven mounds are now still visible with mounds 2 and 7 having been descheduled as ancient monuments in 1994 on the presumption that they had been destroyed through repeated ploughing. It has been suggested that the layout of the Seven Lows barrow cemetery (along with an eighth outlying barrow) bears a resemblance to the star cluster of the Pleiades but this remains a matter of conjecture.

The individual barrows are listed below - note that almost all are in very poor condition, not accessible or hardly visible from rights of way.

Sources and Links

  • The Archaeological Journal
  • High Billinge - on private land but can (just) be seen from a nearby road;
  • Seven Lows - more or less completely destroyed. The urn found in one of the "Seven Lows of Delamere" after an "accidental opening", is now in the British Museum;
  • Gallowsclough Cob - one of the best-recorded excavations in the Central Ridge area;
  • Glead Hill Cob - In 1879 a Mr John Harrison of the New Pale was levelling this large tumulus for the foundations of a house when "ten or twelve large urns (filled with burnt bones) were met with". Nothing much to see today.
  • Castle Cob - This mound 25m in diameter and 4m high is now located in a private garden, surmounted by a water tank and a summer house;

Castle Cob is peculiar in that while some sites list it as a barrow others list it as a motte. The Historic England listing states it is a motte, whereas Megalithic Portal states it is a burial mound.


Eddisbury Hill

Eddisbury, also known as castle ditch, is the largest and most complex of seven hill forts in Cheshire and dates back to the Iron Age. A Scheduled Ancient Monument, the hillfort follows the contours of its hill and measures 200 by 380 m (660 by 1,250 ft). It is surrounded by two ramparts with a ditch in between. The ditch is 10 m (33 ft) wide and 0.5 m (1.6 ft) deep. The inner bank lies between. The fort was begun before 200-100 BC and expanded in around 1-50 AD. The Romans slighted the site in 1st century AD. It was occupied again in the 6th-8th centuries, and an Anglo-Saxon burh was probably established at Eddisbury in 914. In the medieval and post-medieval periods quarrying and farming have damaged the site.

The Old Pale Hill at Delamere Forest rises to a height of 176 metres and is situated to the south of the area of the forest. Purchased by the Forestry Commision in 2,000, it is a major expansion of the Forestry Commission estate. The hill forms the high point of the northern mass of the Mid Cheshire Ridge. The summit, known as Pale Heights, has a notable trig point and three transmitter masts which carry radio, television and telephone signals, an open concert arena and a circle of red sandstone county stones, celebrating the views from Old Pale Heights and the geological interest of the site. Standing stones help the visitor to get their bearings in relation to the views while the large central stone represents Cheshire itself. The English counties of Derbyshire, Lancashire, Shropshire, Staffordshire and the Welsh counties of Denbighshire and Flintshire are all represented by a standing stone. Around the circumference of the platform there are topographical plaques pointing out all the surrounding summits and noteable features in view such as Moel Famau in the Clwydian Range and Shining Tor the highest point in Cheshire.

The trig point is notable because it is close to the point used to define a meridian for the early ordinance survey. Maps have the geometric problem that they are flat while the earth is a slightly distorted sphere. Measuring the distance east or west from the Greenwich meridian leads to issues as the surveying moves northward, so alternative meridians were used in different regions of the country. In the 1820’s the Delamere meridian (latitude 53º13’17”274N, longitude 2º41’03”562W) was adopted as a base-line for the north of England. The Delamere meridian played a central role in the production of the first Ordnance Survey maps that would remain as the standard until the new National Grid system was introduced in the 1940’s.

High-quality sandstone from King’s Chair in Delamere Forest was reputedly carted away along the old Roman road to build Vale Royal Abbey near Whitegate, in central Cheshire.

Sources and Links

Delamere Stone Circle

The Victoria County History records a site ‘with a circular setting of stone’ in Delamere close to Eddisbury hillfort. In 1937 a possible cist and cremation came to light during ploughing leading to an excavation which revealed a circle of stones 7ft in diameter. It is possible that the site may originally have been covered by a mound, as at Church Lawton III, but any traces could have been removed by ploughing. This is further supported by earlier sources which report that several cartloads of stone and two barrow loads of ‘soot’ (cremation remains?) were removed from the site. Excavations uncovered three pits outside the stone circle containing the cremated remains of an infant and an inverted urn, which proved to be a Collared urn containing a small fragment of bronze.

Sources and Links

Urchin's Kitchen

The Sandstone ridge acted as something of a barrier to the passage of Irish Sea ice during the last ice age and its hills are etched with numerous glacial meltwater channels, many of which formed subglacially. Particularly spectacular examples are those at Urchin's Kitchen in Primrosehill Woods and at Holbitch Slack near Cotebrook

Sources and Links

Kelsborrow Castle

Sources and Links

An Oakmere Murder?

Open water and peat deposits lie in Oakmere, a kettle-hole depression within Delamere Forest, and peat-cutting has given rise to additional pools and fens. The water is acidic, but slightly nutrient-rich. There are transitions at the water’s edge with soft rush (Juncus effusus), water horsetail (Equisetum fluviatile), common spike-rush (Eleocharis palustris), marsh pennywort (Hydrocotyle vulgaris), the moss (Drepanocladus fluitans) and bulrush (Typha latifolia). Small depressions in the peat are occupied by bottle sedge (Carex rostrata), common cottongrass (Eriophorum angustifolium), purple moor-grass (Molinia caerulea), cross-leaved heath (Erica tetralix) and the insect-eating round-leaved sundew (Drosera rotundifolia).

In the summer of 1815 a woman and a donkey-cart arrived at Oakmere. The woman was the impoverished Maria Hollingsworth, of Dutch birth, but supposedly, according to the version of the story linked to below, the widow of a soldier in the Cheshire Regiment, who was killed in Germany. The reference to the Cheshires raises an immediate suspicion about this story as, in 1810 the 22nd Regiment took part in the occupation of Mauritius (and were present at the capture of Port Louis) where it remained in garrison until 1819. The only time that any of the Cheshires had been in Germany was supposedly during the War of the Austrian Succession, when a detachment took part in the Battle of Dettingen (1743): King George II’s horse bolted during the battle and the King is said to have sheltered under an oak and to have presented an oak leaf to the soldiers who looked after him. The Cheshire Regiment (22nd Regiment of Foot) claims this honour: however, they were in garrison in Gibraltar at the time. The recorded varsion of the story adds that the widows husband had died at Bergen-op-Zoom having "gone there with Lord Cathcart". This would have been the second Earl Cathcard who indeed was present at the Seige of Bergen-op-Zoom in 1814. The initial British assault force (who took heavy casualties) seized part of the defences, but a well-managed French counterattacked and compelled much of the assault force to surrender. The 2,700-man French garrison sustained 500 killed and wounded and 100 captured during the action. Of the 4,000 troops in the British assault force, 2,100 were killed, wounded or captured. Bergen op Zoom is actually a port in the Netherlands about 70 kilometres (43 mi) south of Rotterdam and 40 kilometres (25 mi) north of Antwerp in Belgium: it has never been part of Germany. The Cheshires were not their either (as at the time they were in Mauritius).

The widow presented the following letter (with original spelling) at Vale Royal:

  • "Madame, Madame, Thumley, At Vale Royal, Cheshire. Most Honerth, Highborn Lady, My Lady Thumley," As I have heard, that I am at the present tim, at your property, namly at "the Oakmare,— We are latly, comen out of Germany, ware I lost my Husbunt. As I came into England, I vind Rents so high, that I do not know how to do for to live, without Charaty, as the same way as most of the people live abroad, so I am gone about, to seek some waste ground, for then I can live, and provide for myself, for I have a little to make a small beginning with, but Halas! I vind, that all the Commons are verbid. Now I am at rest, and this place I amable to live, if I may be there, but do not mean to make myself a Parish, for I never intent to submyt to Parish keping, for I belong to a foring Chapel, in London, but I may yet do for I myself, if I am permyted. Therefore,I humbly beg, Noble Lady, you would not denie me this favour, to stop here a few weeks, till I write up to London, for I cannot pay for Lorging. I humbly beg, that your honour may send some of your trusty servants to enquire, and to see ware we are. We shall not trouble anybody, for anything, nor hurt, nor destroy any thing, rather protect the remanes of the Trees, most noble Lady, I humbly begg, deny my not a little rest, at this peacable place. — I am, Your most obligint and humble Stanger, Maria Hollingsworth. Oakmere, July 17th, 1815."

Note that this letter does not make any mention of the Cheshires. The reported version of the story continues with Thumley showing the letter to Thomas Cholmondeley, who agreed that she could live on his land:

  • "Having obtained permission from Lord Delamere to live on his land, she set to work to make for herself a permanent abode. Upon a rising bank near the Mere, sheltered by a few Scotch Firs there stood two Ribs of a Whale, which had been placed there by Philip Egerton, Esq.of Oulton, who had rented the land from the Cholmondeley family. Between these ribs Mrs.H. formed a rude kind of dwelling, making a wall of sods, and a roof of boughs. By degrees she became an object of great curiosity to the neighbourhood, and the most absurd fables were circulated, it was even said that Napoleon was concealed under this strange disguise."

At the time of her arrival Napoleon had just abdicated: he was exciled to St Helena shortly afterwards: he died on 5th May 1821.

In 1820, Mrs H. recieved a letter supposedly from her son, who was in Hanover, stating that he intended to visit. Mrs H. kept a look-out and one day saw someone approaching who she believed might be her son. Whoever it was, called at a nearby property and upon entering did not emerge. At dusk, the occupant of that property emerged with a a large and heavy sack which was cast into Oakmere but refused to sink. The neighbour then retrieved the sack and buried it. Mrs H. believed the contents of the sack was the body of her son. In a subsequent investigation it was discovered that the son was actually alive and well and had never left Hanover! So the mystery remains of whose body was in the sack.

Sources and Links

Whistlebitch Well

This well was originally called "Twistle-bache Well" meaning that it was located near a fork in a river running in a shallow valley. It became famous in 1600 with the publication in London of a leaflet entitled "News out of Chestire" giving a report of a "new found well" the waters of which had seemingly miraculous healing powers. The leaflet consists of a ‘Letter lately sent from a Cheshire man, to a Gentleman a deere friend of his’, written at Chester on 12 August 1600. The author’s name is given simply as G.W.

The legend relates that in Delamere Forest a spring issued from the foot of a holly tree and here one John Greenway of Utkinton was cured, together with three of his sons, of "the ague" (malaria or another illness involving fever and shivering fits). The spring, which apparently tasted of liquorice, became well-known as a popular Elizabethan "spa" and was said to be able to cure ague (descrribed as "the Fittes"), "sore eyes, blindness, rupture, issue of water, gout, aches and griefs in the joints, lameness in knees and feet, erysipelas (a skin rash on the legs) and deafness". On August 2nd, 1600 one William Johnson came to the spring on crutches and was cured of his infirmity, leaving his crutches hanging in the holly tree. "G.W." describes the well as:

  • "..insensibly [imperceptibly] issuing from firme ground at the roote or foote of a shrubbie hull or hollin-tree’ [holly], the ‘Well or Cesterne being bordered with three or foure flagge stones’, and ‘almost foure square, conteyning South and North about 30. inches, West and East about 26. inches’. ‘The resorters thither hauing made some one or two slender weake dammes to stay the water, halfe a dozen yards or more beneathe the fountaine, there are by that meanes two small lakes or pooles, wherein poore people, when they are disposed, do bathe and wash themselues".

Christina Hole proposed that this was a well associated with St Stephen, whose location was lost when it was blocked-up by Æthelflæd, the eldest daughter of King Alfred the Great of Wessex, during her wars with the Danes. The leaflet certainly agrees with this stating that the well:

  • "beene of knowne, and notable vertue in the daies of…Queene Eadilflede, and vsed by her meanes and maintenance to the generall reliefe of people in those daies, but afterwards in the outrages and oppressions which the conquering Danes made in the Countrey, it was closed and stopped vp to preuent the benefite which the common rigorous enemie might haue receiued by it".

The "new found well" became so popular that Elizabeth I had to grant free access:

  • "The people as well of Cheshire, as all the bordering shires thereabouts, trauelling thither daily in greater and greater multitudes (even till they amounted by estimation to more than two thousand in a daie) Master Done [the Forester Royal, of Utkinton Hall – Delamere was a royal preserve] euen then at the first, although it were great disturbance to her Highnesse [Elizabeth I] Deere in the Forrest & occasion of much other inconvenience to the countrie, yet in regard of the notable comfort that sicke and diseased, and pleasure that heathfull and sound persons receiued by it; hath been contented to allow free accesse, and permitted all manner of meete prouision to be brought vnto it, with most carefull and Worshipfull foresight and heede, as well that no money nor fee should be exacted for the vse of the water which God had freelie bestowed on poore and rich, as also that there should be order and gouernment warilie taken ouer all such as resorted thither."

Today the spring rises into a small locked brick-built structure, and is piped a few yards into a holding tank, from whence it is pumped to provide the water supply of Primrose Hill, a house in the wood, which was formerly a hunting lodge. The overflow forms a small stream running eastwards through the woods. The well itself is on private land.

Sources and Links


The triple portrait of Mary Done, now in the Grosvenor Museum.

Utkinton derives from "Farm of Uttoc": Uttoc being a diminutive of the personal name Utta, paired with the early English ending "-ingaton". Through marriage and inheritance, the office of Master Forester of Delamere passed to Henry Done, of Utkinton, and remained in the Done family for over four-hundred years. Sir John Done (1577-1629), the 19th Master Forester, was actually knighted at Utkinton Hall, in 1617, by King James I following a day’s hunting in the forest. “Arise Sir John – a gentleman very complete in many excellencies of nature, wit and ingenuity.”

The last of the true Dones associated with the Master Forestership was Mary Done who married into the influential Crewe family. Her son, Sir John Crewe, became the 23rd Master Forester. Through the female line the title and estates then passed into the Arden family whose best known son was Richard Pepper Arden, Chief Justice of the Court of Common Pleas, who, in 1801, became Baron Alvanley, of Alvanley. Utkinton Hall, now a rambling farmhouse, dates from the Elizabethan period but is only a quarter of its original size. It was the seat of the Master Forester Dones and at once contained a chapel and a dungeon. It was plundered of its plate and jewels by the Royalists in 1644 and the stained glass and a staircase were removed to Tarporley Rectory in the 18th century. The glass then went to Vale Royal (Whitegate) and is now in the Burrell Collection, Glasgow.

The "Triple Portrait of Mary Done" by William Dobson, (1611-46), was painted 1635-38 and one of his earliest surviving works. It can be seen in the Grosvenor Museum in Chester. Around sixty of Dobson's works survive, mostly half-length portraits dating from 1642 or later. The thick impasto of his early work gave way to a mere skim of paint, perhaps reflecting a Civil War scarcity of materials. After Oxford fell to the Parliamentarians, in June 1646, Dobson returned to London. Now without patronage, he was briefly imprisoned for debt and died in poverty at the age of thirty-five. He may have painted at least one of the Cromwell portraits which later came to the home of the Cowper's at Overlegh Hall, Chester.

Sources and Links

Tarporley to Duckington

Salterswell and Tarporley

The easily visible and accessible Salterswell adjacent the main road just north of Tarporley, used until 18th century by those using the saltways criss-crossing Cheshire and its saline sources of Middlewich, Northwich and Nantwich.

A number of prehistoric finds have been discovered within close proximity of Tarporley (Neolithic stone axe CSMR 874, flint scraper CSMR 875 and a Bronze Age barbed and tanged arrowhead CSMR 2321) and while this does not suggest settlement, it does indicate prehistoric activity within the area.

1.5km to the north-east at Eaton-by-Tarporley is the only known Roman Villa in Cheshire. It is thought that Tarporley High Street was part of a Roman Road called the "Via Devana" which ran from Chester to Colchester. A coin of Claudius II was found in the vicinity of Tarporley and dates to 268-270 AD.

At Domesday, Tarporley was included in the Hundred of Rushton. The Domesday entry indicates that Tarporley was a small agricultural settlement. Like many Cheshire townships, it had suffered devastation in the harrying of the north by Norman forces 1069-70, and had made only a partial recovery by 1086. It received a Royal Charter in 1292.

In the post medieval period the manor passed from Hugh Dennis to the Hintons, and it was purchased c1590 by the Dones who, since the 13th century, had resided at Utkinton Hall to the north of Tarporley. The Done recreation room at Tarporley, originally built by Dame Dorothy Done in 1638 as a school, was restored and enlarged in 1888.

Tarporley was the scene of a minor skirmish in the Civil War. This took place on 21 February 1642 between Sir William Brereton’s forces (who were forced to retreat) and the Royalists from Chester. In the meadow near the church, a few traces of entrenchments thrown up by the Parliamentarians were visible in the mid-19th century (Bagshaw, 1850, 625 and CSMR 870).

Reverend William Cole, writing in 1775, said that:

  • “it was a disused market til Sir John Crewe built them a very handsome Market House and procured them a market on Thursdays, which however is not yet greatly frequented” (Cole, MMS1913, 295).

This was built next to the Swan Hotel (built 1769), from materials brought from Utkinton Hall. The date of its construction is not known. During the 19th century the market appears to have shifted to a more conducive site at Four Lane-Ends, which had a good road connection to the canal network. It was noted for its important weekly Corn Market, which was one of the most considerable in Cheshire in the 19th century (Peate, 1996, 41). Samuel Lewis (1843) writes of it:

  • "TARPORLEY (St. Helen), a market-town and parish, in the union of Nantwich, First division of the hundred of Eddisbury, S. division of the county of Chester; containing, with the townships of Eaton, Rushton, and Utkinton, 2546 inhabitants, of whom 1114 are in Tarporley township, 10½ miles (E. S. E.) from Chester, and 172 (N. W.) from London. This place, which is situated on the road from Chester to London, has a neat appearance, and consists of one long well-paved street, terminated at the southern extremity by the ancient manor-house. The Chester and Crewe railway passes near the town. At the close of the 13th century, a grant of a market and fair was obtained by Hugh de Thorpley, proprietor of the manor; the market is on Thursday, and fairs are held on May 1st, the first Monday after August 24th, and on December 11th. The town was governed by a mayor from 1297 to 1348; two constables are now appointed. The township of Tarporley comprises 1109 acres, of which the prevailing soil is clay. The living is a rectory, valued in the king's books at £20. 3. 4., and in the joint patronage of Lord Alvanley, the Dean and Chapter of Chester, and Sir P. G. Egerton, Bart.: the tithes have been commuted for £700, and the glebe comprises 12 acres, with a house. The church is an ancient structure, of red stone, containing some good monuments to benefactors of the parish. There is a place of worship for Wesleyans. A school, situated in the churchyard, was endowed with £20 per annum by Dame Jane Done, who also left a small bequest for apprenticing children: the school is now united with the Diocesan Board of Education."

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The Shady Oak

The "Shady Oak" (marked on older maps as the "The Royal Oak") and was the only canalside pub between Christleton and Barbridge. It was a favourite with the canal boatmen (it still is) and known as "The Shady". At the time of the mysterious death of Charles Moston it was known as "Bebbingtons" and was mentioned at the inquest into his death - in evidence that Moston had not been drinking prior to his death.

Robin Hood's Tump

The remains of a bowl or round barrow (National Monuments Record gives it as a bowl barrow), over a possible settlement, not far off the A51 near Tilstone Fearnall. At the top of the mound stands a sign, denoting it as a scheduled ancient monument which should not be damaged - perhaps the sign would have been better placed beside the "monument". Tump means a hillock, mound, barrow or tumulus. The Welsh words twmp and Twmpath may be related. The local legend associated with the Tump is that Robin Hood stood on it and shot an arrow at Beeston Castle crag (see the page on Ranulf de Blondeville, builder of Beeston for more on this connection).

Bowl barrows, the most numerous form of round barrow, are funerary monuments dating from the Late Neolithic period to the Late Bronze Age, with most examples belonging to the period 2400-1500 BC. They were constructed as earthen or rubble mounds, sometimes ditched, which covered single or multiple burials. They occur either in isolation or grouped as cemeteries and often acted as a focus for burials in later periods. Often superficially similar, although differing widely in size, they exhibit regional variations in form and a diversity of burial practices. There are over 10,000 surviving bowl barrows recorded nationally (many more have already been destroyed), occurring across most of lowland Britain. Often occupying prominent locations, they are a major historic element in the modern landscape and their considerable variation of form and longevity as a monument type provide important information on the diversity of beliefs and social organisations amongst early prehistoric communities. Despite limited excavation of the monument in the 1930's, Robin Hood's Tump bowl barrow survives reasonably well. This excavation located worked flint within the mound and also indicated that the monument is a rare example of a bowl barrow having evidence for earlier occupation preserved beneath it.

Sources and Links

On a clear day, Beeston Castle (nine miles from Chester) can be seen from the walls at the Phoenix Tower (but is best photograped with a long lens). Rowton Moor (where King Charles "watched a battle") is in roughly the same direction - so Charles would only have seen smoke. The trees in the middle distance are in Grosvenor Park. The parked cars are in the Tesco car-park in Frodsham Street. Since this photo was taken the view has been partially obscured by a new hotel building in Grosvenor Park Road.

Beeston Castle and Bunbury Church

There are many legends surrounding Beeston Castle. Local legend holds that Richard II hid his extensive Royal Treasure hereabouts before sailing to Ireland to quell an uprising in 1399. Richard never reclaimed his treasure as he was captured, upon his return, at Flint by Henry Bollingbrooke (Duke of Lancaster, and later Henry IV) and imprisoned at Chester Castle for a while in 1399. Many attempts have been made to find the "treasure" over the years and none of them have been successful. Stories have suggested that there are "secret" passageways leading from the well to a nearby farmhouse, a possible escape or re-supply route if the castle was under siege. Local legends place the treasure at the foot of the castle well (said to be around 365 feet deep - an impressive feat of mediaeval engineering) or in passages running off the well. Other tales tell of "demons" guarding the treasure in the well, the sight of which would instantly drive the beholder mad or strike them dumb. However the well has been explored by camera and neither demons nor treasure were encountered.

Sir Hugh Calveley - 14th Century Mercenary

Sir Hugh Calveley - whose tomb (one of the best of its time) is here although he may not be, was born the youngest son of David de Calveley of Lea, and his wife, Joanna. The family held the manor of Calveley in Bunbury. Estimates of the year of his birth range from 1315 to 1333. It is possible that he was a close relative, maybe even a half-brother, of Sir Robert Knollys. Along with many other Englishmen, the young Hugh Calveley served in Brittany, supporting Jean de Montfort's English-backed bid to become Duke of Brittany against the French-backed claimant, Charles de Blois, during the Breton War of Succession. An anonymous Breton poet's account of the Battle of the Thirty in 1351 has "Hue de Caverle" as a knight fighting on the English side (where he was defeated, captured, to be ransomed later). One estimate of the date of his knighthood is 1346, though documents from 1354 do not refer to him as a knight, and there is some evidence that he was only knighted later, in 1361. In 1359 Sir Robert Knolles and Calveley invaded the Rhône Valley. The city of Le Puy fell to them in July. The campaign ended when their way to Avignon was barred by the army of Thomas de la Marche, Deputy for Louis II, Duke of Bourbon, at which point both English commanders retreated. At the Battle of Auray on 29 September 1364, Calveley had the command of the reserve division of the forces of Jean de Montfort, under the command of Sir John Chandos. Charles de Blois was killed at Auray, enabling Jean de Montfort to claim the Duchy without further conflict.

After the conclusion of the Breton civil war, Calveley, along with many other soldiers, found himself unemployed. These soldiers, banding together in the "Free Companies" (i.e. mercenaries), continued to support themselves by raiding widely, causing a huge problem for the Kingdom of France. The solution to the problem was found when Aragon, France and the Papacy agreed to provide money to pay for the Free Companies to wage a campaign to support Count Enrique of Trastamara's bid for the throne of Castile, which at the time was held by Enrique's half-brother, Pedro of Castile. Calveley signed up as the most prominent of the English captains on this campaign, in which he was involved from 1365 to 1367. When hostilities resumed between England and France in 1369, Calveley was once again involved, first in raiding the possessions of Gascon nobles who had defected to the French. He took part in at least three further campaigns in the period to 1374; notably, he was one of the joint commanders of the English army disastrously defeated by Bertrand du Guesclin at the Battle of Pontvallain, 4 December 1370, though he managed to escape. From 1375 to 1378, Calveley was governor of Calais, an important port. Thereafter, he became one of the two Admirals of the English fleet, taking part in several sea battles. In July 1379, he was involved in a raid on Brittany led by Sir John Arundel, Marshal of England. On their return voyage, 20 ships and about 1000 men were lost at sea in a storm. Calveley was one of only 8 survivors.

There is no clear evidence for or against Calveley being buried at Bunbury, and the tomb may be merely a cenotaph erected by his campaign companion (and probably close relative), Sir Robert Knollys. In an attempt to clarify this uncertainty the tomb was opened on 25 April 1848, and according to Jno.Fenna, Churchwarden:

  • "I found the fragments of an oak coffin, apparently of uncommon size, almost crumbled to dust; the handles of the sides being iron were nearly entire. By the side of his coffin lay a lead coffin quite fresh, with the initials D.M.C. which I suppose to be that of Dame Mary Calveley. I measured some of the bones, which I have no doubt were Sir Hugh's, from their extraordinary size, . . the thigh-bone, was two inches or more larger than the average size of men. He is supposed to have measured seven feet six inches in height when he lived. There is a mark on the wall in Bunbury Church [probably lost in the 1865 restoration] which old people say was the memorandum of his height."

Despite the above statement, later historians consider the bones

  • “were quite clearly those of Dame Mary Calveley (ob.1705) and her husband, another Sir Hugh Calveley (ob.1648).”

This later Mary Calveley built Bridge House in Lower Bridge Street, Chester after the death of her husband left her a young and very wealthy widow.

Sir Ralph Egerton of Ridley - Standard Bearer to Henry VIII

Although there is also considerable uncertainly over the dates of Sir Ralph Egerton of Ridley and his subsequent marriage to Margaret, his exploits as a soldier in the service of Henry VIII are well documented. In 1509, for loyal service he was appointed Ranger of Delamere Forest, a position superior to the office of the Master Forester, a hereditary post held by no less than sixteen members of the Done family between 1244 and 1639. At the Battle of Tournay in 1513 Ralph Egerton distinguished himself by taking the French Standard. His royal master was very appreciative, for Ralph Egerton was knighted and appointed Standard Bearer of England for life at a salary of £100 per annum. Sir Ralph was also granted the Manor of Ridley. At his death Sir Ralph had left instructions for:

  • "a tomb for him with a large marble stone with his name and arms engraved thereon with this addition: 'The King's Standard Bearer and Treasurer to the Lady Princess,' as also a gilt plate fastened on the wall with his names and arms and additions aforesaid."

The supposedly impressive tomb has now vanished, although a memorial plate and an impressive chantry which he bestowed remain.

George Beeston - Elizabethan Sea-Captain

The manor of Beeston, but not the castle, was owned by the de Bunburys, who later took the name Beeston. Sir George Beeston (1500-1801, who has a memorial in St Boniface's Church, Bunbury) was, again acccording to local legend, commander (at the age of 89 if Ormerod is to be believd) of the Dreadnought at the time of the Spanish Armada in 1588. In fact, Sir George Beeston was only born in 1520, although he did command the Dreadnought. In February 1588, at Queenborough, he commanded the four ‘great ships’ that were to sail with Charles Howard, 2nd Lord Howard of Effingham, and after the Armada battle he was knighted by Howard on board the Ark Royal. The latin inscription on his tomb may be translated as:

  • "Here lies buried George Beeston, knight, a promoter of valour and truth; having been brought up from his youth in the arts of war he was chosen one of his company of pensioners by the invincible King Henry the Eighth, when he besieged Boulogne [1544]; he merited [the same] under Edward the Sixth in the battle against the Scots at Musselburgh [1547]. Afterwards under the same King, under Mary, and under Elizabeth, in the naval engagements as captain or vice-captain of the fleet, by whom, after that most mighty Spanish fleet of 1588, had been vanquished, he was honoured with the order of knighthood; and now, his years pressing heavily on him, when he had admirably approved his integrity to princes, and his bravery to his adversaries, acceptable to God, and dear to good men, and long expecting Christ, in the year 1601 and in the ... of his age, he fell asleep in Him, so that he may rise again in Him with joy. And together with him rests a most beloved wife, Alice, daughter of [Thomas] Davenport of Henbury, esquire, a matron most holy, chaste, and liberal to the poor, who, when she had lived in matrimony 66 years, and had borne to her husband three sons, John, Hugh, and Hugh, and as many daughters, Ann, Jane, and Dorothy, passed into the heavenly country in the year 1591 and in the [refer below] year of her age, with Christ for ever to live. The dutifulness of their son Hugh Beeston, esquire, the younger, Receiver General of all the revenues of the Crown as well as in the county palatine of Chester as in the counties of North Wales, set up this monument to parents most excellent and beloved."
Edward Burghall - Civil War Schoolmaster

Perhaps one of the most interesting facts about Beeston relates to the diary of Edward Burghall, then the Puritan schoolmaster of Bunbury who supposedly records the fate of the unfortunate Captain Steel of Beeston Castle in 1643/4 which had always been taken as a primary source. However when James Hall was preparing his "History of Nantwich" he discovered that parts of the supposed "diary" are a virtual copy of the diary of Thomas Malbon of Nantwich (actually written in 1651) and Edward Burghall (who died in poverty in 1665) is essentially a forger as regards parts of his supposed diary. See Hall's Memorials of the Civil War for a comparison between the two works. Edward Burghall's memorial is Bunbury's St. Boniface Church (built 1386), whereupon he is decribed as a "Paineful Schoole Mr".

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Peckforton Mere

A small promontory enclosure lies adjacent to Peckforton Mere out of which flows a very young River Gowy, close to Beeston Castle and Maiden Castle. The site which has been heavily damaged by ploughing remains undated, but is believed to be Iron Age.

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Horsley Bath Well

Coles description of Horsley Bath.

The area of land between Beeston Castle and Peckforton Hill to the south is marked by a number of springs and watercourses, which have now been drained and managed. However, prior to the 20th century, the spring water from this area was believed to have had curative properties and was compared favourably to mineral waters from the Malverns. One noted bathing pool and well is in the garden of Bath Garden Cottage and dated 1684 on inscribed tablet which reads:

  • Sinitati Sacrum Obstructum reserat Duruinterit Humida Siccat. Debile fortificat Sitamen arte bibis Dan jackson Scul P Anno D 1684

Which being translated, is:

  • "To fortify the sacred soundness of the body this was dug in the hard dry earth to strengthen the infirm and soundly quench the thirsty. Made by Daniel Jackson in 1684"

The well is in red sandstone ashlar rendered with cement with paved sandstone surround. It consists of a square pool with a flight of stone steps to one of the corners and to the corner diagonally opposite a spout allowing the water to fall into a dished bowl. To one side amidst a rockery of roughly hewn stone is the rectangular datestone which has a moulded border. To one side of the pool is the well which is similar of rectangular plan and has a set of steps leading down into it. According to Coward visitors would cast in pennies which through some curious chemical property of the water "shone like silver". The Reverend William Cole visited in 1757 when he was shown the well by a Mr Allen, the vicar of Tarporley.

The spring feeding the well has posssibly been known since the late bronze age as the hilt and lower blade of a deliberately broken sword of that period (8th Cent BC) was found in the inner chamber of the nearby Georgian Spa building during refurbishment work in 2007 and may well have been placed there as an offering to the "spirit" of the spring. This was not the only noted spring hereabouts: due west of Beeston Castle early OS maps have a "Beeston Spa" marked, although all that remains is a spring. Many of the springs have dried up as a consequence of water abstraction.

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The Peckforton "Cyclone"

By Stone House Lane stands the ancient Peckforton Oak on its grassy knoll. Known locally as the ‘Big Oak’, this huge tree was already old when John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, preached beneath its branches in October 1749. The tree later survived the freak ‘Peckforton Cyclone’, a tornado which occurred on the evening of 27th October 1913, with the loss of a limbs. According to a contemporary eyewitness, "a dark column of spinning air approached from the south, accompanied by thunder, lightning and torrential rain". During "four violent hours", Castlegate Farm, below Beeston Castle, lost its roof, hundreds of mature trees were uprooted, several cattle were hurled over a hedge: three of the cattle were killed, and a local man was hurled sixty metres into his neighbour’s orchard. As reported at the time:

  • "The storm in Cheshire destroyed Lord Tollemache's extensive greenhouses at Peckforton Castle, while on the hill opposite hundreds of trees were uprooted. “According to most accounts the storm lasted two or three minutes only.”

In fact, the "storm" lasted for at least five hours, but moved quickly. The storm responsible was first noted in South Devon at 1600 on Monday 27 October 1913 and it tracked more or less NNE, as far north as Cheshire where it passed Runcorn at approximately 2100, heading into Lancashire. Six people were killed in South Wales. The storm tracked along its course leaving scores injured and much property damaged. The windspeed was not recorded, as no weather stations in the affected area seem to have had an anemometer and estimates of its strength are thus based on damage done. Changes in air pressure, however, were recorded in several places. They revealed a sudden fall followed by a return to the previous pressure after an interval of fifteen to thirty minutes. The Albion Steam Coal Colliery, at Cilfynydd, was situated within a few metres of the western edge of the tornado track and a drop in pressure from 29.20 to 28.91 inches (988.8 to 979.0 millibars), was recorded. It was followed by an almost immediate rise.

Mr. H. Billet of the Meteorological Office, at the request of the M.P. for East Glamorganshire, Clement Edwards, was sent to the region visited by the storm and spent three days in South Wales collecting information. His report was published in September 1914 as a Geophysical Memoir. The Met office investigators stated:

  • "This fall of 0.3 inch, or 1/100 of the normal atmospheric pressure of 15lbs to the square inch, means a sudden change in the atmospheric pressure of 0.15 lb per square inch, or about 20 lbs per square foot. Such a change of pressure, if applied suddenly to the outside of a closed building, must produce an effect similar to an explosion within, and it is thus easy to understand how windows or even whole walls are blown outwards, as at the generating station at Treforest".

Actually, to shatter buildings in this way the peak overpressure might have been as high as 3 psi, with wind speeds possibly over 102mph. The Met Office investigation concluded with these points:

  • ". . . a genuine tornado of the type common enough in parts of America . . . The straight track with clean cut lateral limits, the violent electrical phenomena, the heavy rainfall, the roaring noise, the sudden decrease of barometric pressure, resulting in the blowing out of walls of buildings, as if by explosion from within, are all features which are common in descriptions of American tornadoes. The width of the track, three hundred yards and the rate of advance, 36 miles per hour, are of the same magnitude as in American tornadoes".

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The war memorial (in the churchyard) bears the name Philip de Malpas Grey-Egerton, which will be familiar to geologists. However this is the elder twin great-grandson of Sir Philip de Maplas Grey-Egerton the well-known palaeontologist and Conservative politician who sat in the House of Commons variously between 1830 and 1881 for Chester and West Cheshire. While travelling in Switzerland with Lord Cole (later to be 3rd Earl of Enniskillen) they were introduced to Prof. L Agassiz at Neufchâtel, and determined to make a special study of fossil fish. During the course of fifty years they gradually gathered together two of the largest and finest of private collections—that of Sir Philip Grey Egerton being at Oulton Park, Tarporley, Cheshire. Egerton described the structure and affinities of numerous species in the publications of the Geological Society of London, the Geological Magazine and the Decades of the Geological Survey; and in recognition of his services the Wollaston medal was awarded to him in 1873 by the Geological Society. The great-grandson was a Captain in the 19th (Queen Alexandra's Own Royal) Hussars and was killed in action at Brancoucourt Farm, aged 23, demonstrating the utter futility of a cavalry charge against machine guns protected by barbed wire:

  • “A well-known regiment [probably the 19th Hussars] had evidently been in action and had been held up by barbed wire entanglements, where the enemy had shot them down at his convenience. A couple of machine guns might have done the whole business. The ground was strewn with dozens of splendid horses’.

His twin brother, Rowland le Belward Grey Egerton also fell. He was a Second Lieutenant in the Royal Welsh Fusiliers. He was 19

Sources and Links

Droppingstone Well

Queen's Parlour Cave

Rawhead and Bloody Bones Cave

Musket Hole

Tower Wood

Gallantry Bank

Galantry Bank used to be called "Salters Lane". It has both a legend and a sinister explanation for the change of name. The legend is that Richard Egerton of Ridley, while courting Alice Sparke, variously described as a farmers daughter of Bickerton or a "servant maid", would ride up the bank and he was her "gallant". However Egerton was not to marry the farmer's daughter although they did have an illegitimate son, Thomas Egerton, who was born in 1540 in the parish of Dodleston, Cheshire, England. He was the son of Sir Richard Egerton and an unmarried woman named Alice Sparks. Pennant records:

  • "The mother had been so much neglected by Sir Richard Egerton, of Ridley, the father of the boy, that she was reduced to beg for support. A neighbouring gentleman, a friend of Sir Richard, saw her asking alms, followed by her child. He admired its beauty, and saw in it the evident features of the Knight. He immediately went to Sir Richard, and laid before him the disgrace of suffering his own offspring, illegitimate as it was, to wander from door to door. He was affected with the reproof, adopted the child, and by a proper education, laid the foundation of his future fortune."

He was thus acknowledged by his father’s family, who paid for his education. He studied Liberal Arts at Brasenose College, Oxford, and received a Bachelor’s Degree in 1559. He then studied law at Lincoln's Inn and became a barrister. He was a Roman Catholic, until a point in 1570 when his lack of conformity with the Church of England became an issue when his Inn passed on a complaint from the Privy Council. His first wife died, and he married Elizabeth Wolley, the widow of Sir John Wolley, and daughter of Sir William More of Loseley, Surrey. In 1597, in consequence of his "unlawful" marriage with his second wife, in a private house without banns, the he incurred a sentence of excommunication, and was obliged to obtain absolution from the Bishop of London.

He bought Tatton Park, in 1598. It would stay in the family for more than three centuries. Also at this time – 1597 or 1598 – he hired the poet John Donne as secretary. This arrangement ended in some embarrassment, since Donne secretly married Ann More, Elizabeth's niece, in 1601. Thomas later became Lord Chancellor in 1603. Thomas' son was created the earldom of Bridgewater (a Somerset seaport). His eventual descendant was Francis, the third, the last, and the famous Duke of Bridgewater, founder of British canal-navigation.

Unfortunately, the change of name had nothing to do with the "gallant" Richard Edgerton. The name is a variant of "Gallows-Tree Bank", as this was the site of a gibbet. A murderer named Holford, whose victim was called Sparke, had stabbed Sparke after Sparke married a Warburton of Bickerton for whomn Holford was a rival suitor, ended up hanging in chains in 1640. In 1645, on their return from raising the seige of Beeston Castle, princes Rupert and Maurice "came upon some parliamentarian troops near Bulkley Hall and , at the widow Fishers house, hung twelve of them on the branches of a crab which hanged a good way over the highway".

Nowadays Gallantry Bank is best known for the solitary chimney which is the ndustrial relic of a rural copper mine. Copper was mined here for 200 years but the yields were poor.

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Mad Allen's Hole

At some time in the past there would have been a large overhang of sandstone outside the cave entrance, however over the years this has collapsed and now partially blocks the entrance to the cave.

Mad Allen’s Cave or Mad Allen’s Hole as it is known locally was supposedly once the home of a John Harris. According to his legend, he was born on July 20th 1710 in the town of Handley and when his Father died he inherited estates in Tattenhall, Broxton and Handley. Although a wealthy man he turned his back on the lifestyle he could afford because his parents had forbidden him to marry the woman that he loved, a girl from Handley named Ann Egerton. Because of this he decided to never marry and to become a recluse and ended up living in a cave. It is said that initially he took up residence in a cave in nearby Carden Park estate. See Leche House for the history of the Leche family of Carden Hall and their town house in Chester.

Carden Park is of the most important Mesolithic sites in Cheshire. Here evidence for temporary occupation as long ago as 14,000 years came to light when flints were discovered in a rabbit burrow in 1985. In 1999 even earlier artefacts, made by the first communities to return to Britain after the Ice Age (between 12800BC to 12000BC), were also uncovered indicating that the Carden Park site had been in use for thousands of years.

However there is evidence to support the fact that Harris left the cave at Carden Park cave in 1760 and took up residence in Allenscomb Cave on Bickerton hill which later became known as "Mad Allen’s Cave". John Harris seemed to have the ability to blend in with his surroundings as he remained hidden for almost fifty years and, remarkably, was not discovered until 1809. It is said that four young men were gathering firewood for bonfire night on the 5th of November in 1809 when they encountered what they described as "a wild hairy man". The four men fled to the nearby village of Harthill where they recounted their story stating that they had seen this wild man entereing the rock face. The young men returned with others to the spot where they had seen John Harris enter the rock face and found him sitting next to a fire, after their initial shock at finding Harris who was now 99 years old he proceeded to tell them his life story and how he had ended up living in the cave. A handbill was published in 1810 which recounted the story as follows:

  • "Mr John Harris, the hermit… was a Man possessed of a very great fortune… and took his abode in Dens and Caves in the Mountains, in which he has resided ever since, which is the space of about 66 years; occasioned by his Parents refusing him marriage with one Miss Ann Egerton, in the parish of Handley, whereof he made a solemn vow never to marry as long as he lived, and to have as little conversation with mankind as possible. The first place he made his abode in, was a Cave belonging to W. Leech, Esq., of Carden, in the County of Chester, in which place he resided for the space of 20 years and upwards… Mr. John Harris keeps a servant Man whose name is John Barlow, aged 69 years; he was born at Barnhill and has lived with Mr. Harris near 50 years; this is his second Servant since he took to this way of life"

The story has been described as "fiction, invention of some wicked scribe", and it has been suggested that the "hermit" was actually a retired labourer engaged by the Tarletons of Bolesworth Hall to play the Anchorite and amuse their guests.

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Kitty's Stone

The viewpoint on Bickerton Hill is dominated by this memorial called Kitty's Stone. Kitty was the wife of Leslie Wheeldon who helped the National Trust acquire the northern end of Bickerton Hill in 1991. Surprisingly it is not made of the local sandstone but of Cumbrian stone. The wording on one side of the the memorial reads:

  • "BICKERTON HILL - This land has been acquired by the National Trust with the help of funding from Leslie Wheeldon in memory of his wife Kitty (nee Scott) so that others may enjoy these Cheshire hills as much as she did."

On another side of the stone is are two poems which Leslie Wheeldon wrote in memory of his late wife. One of them is entitled, "Gazing from Ardnamurchan Point to the Hebrides". Other memorials to Kitty Wheeldon include Kitty Wheeldon Gardens in Sale, a housing scheme run by the Salvation Army, and Wheeldon Copse located on Manley Road about a mile to the east of the village of Alvanley in North Cheshire and just over 2 miles south of Frodsham.

One of the rock-climbing areas nearby is known as "Kitty's Crag".

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Maiden Castle

The remains of an Iron Age promontory hill fort, Maiden Castle, are located on the southernmost summit of the southerly hill at an elevation of 212 metres. Maiden Castle dates from around 600 BC and is the most southerly of the seven hill forts in Cheshire. The double line of earth ramparts are still visible, forming a semicircle that encloses an area of 1.3 acres (5,300 m2) adjacent to the cliff edge. The enclosure has a single entrance at the east side with inturned defensive banks. Archaeological investigations have shown that both ramparts are strengthened by dry stone walling; the inner rampart also has timber strapping. The fort was destroyed by fire in around 400 BC, although the area was probably used as a settlement until the Roman invasion of Britain in the 1st century AD. The area around Maiden Castle was used for military training exercises during the 20th century, which included digging numerous two-man slit trenches. The heathland of the southerly hill went unmanaged from the 1940s until 1983, when 66 hectares (160 acres) of land were acquired by the National Trust; the trust's holding was extended by 51 hectares (130 acres) in 1991 due to a generous donation by the bereaved husband of Kitty of Kitty's Stone. Much of the southerly hill and the western escarpment of the northerly hill were notified as two separate Sites of Special Scientific Interest in 1979.

One guidebook states that the name Maiden Castle arose because it was "never taken". A local legend (recounted in "Cheshire - Traditions and History" by T. A. Coward) says that the present name of the "castle" arises because at some unspecified date an unspecified enemy was approaching the castle and the local women clad themselves with red shawls and deceived the enemy into thinking they were "redcoat" troops. Redcoats first appeared widely in Cromwell's "New Model Army" as it was the cheapest dye available and dying only involved a single stage. The story bears a remarkable similarity to that of the "last invasion of Britain" (at least of the mainland) by the Irish-American supposed "septuagenarian", Colonel William Tate who was employed by Napoleon to land 1400 troops in Wales and north onto Chester and Liverpool. Tate was in fact only 44. The troops, many of whom had been recruited from French prisons, landed near Fishguard on the morning of Thursday February 23rd, 1797 and promptly got drunk on wine the locals had recently removed from a grounded Portuguese ship. Within two days, the invasion had collapsed: Tate’s force surrendered to a local militia force led by Lord Cawdor on February 25th 1797. The surrender agreement drawn up by Tate’s officers referred to the British coming at them “with troops of the line to the number of several thousand.” No such troops were anywhere near Fishguard, however hundreds, perhaps thousands of local Welsh women dressed "in their traditional scarlet tunics and tall black felt hats" had come to witness any fighting between the French and the local men of the militia - it is possible that at a distance, and after a glass or two, those women could have been mistaken for British army Redcoats. The same story seems to have transferred to "Maiden Castle".

Possibly more relevant is that in Brittonic/British Celtic, "Mai-dun" means "great hill" (it may also be rendered as "principal fort") - and, despite what many guidebooks say, the name probably has nothing to do with "maiden's" at all. Maiden Castle sits at the centre of a fertile agricultural region, but also looks out towards other hillforts further north in Cheshire, to the West in Wales and South to those in Shropshire. It was probably an important territorial marker and the central hub of its local society.

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Duckington to Whitchurch

Grindley Brook

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Related Pages

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