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A "flood map" shows areas prone to flooding and or water-logging, and Wales (in red). The last thing you want when invading the other side of the Dee is to be cut off from retreat by heavy rain. Or, if you live on the "wrong" side of the River Dee, find yourself cut off from rescue by floods and waterlogged ground. Over thousands of years the frequent floods would have selected a natural boundary and the easier crossing points. such as Pulford, Holt and Aldford attracted settlements - and later a castle each.

Pulford and its neighbour Poulton are very interesting in terms of pre-Roman history. The Roman's probably selected the site of Roman Chester for its defensive value, a sheltered climate and good communication possibilities. Much the same can be said of the settlement at Poulton, which dates back to well before the Romans and also sits on a strategic river crossing over the Dee.


  • "PULFORD: a parish in the lower division of the hundred of BROXTON, county palatine of CHESTER, comprising the townships of Poulton and Pulford, and containing 318 inhabitants, of which number, 186 are in the township of Pulford, 5¼ miles (S. S. W.) from Chester. The living is a rectory, in the archdeaconry and diocese of Chester, rated in the king's books at £6 15s 10d, and in the patronage of Earl Grosvenor. The church is dedicated to St. Mary. Earl and Countess Grosvenor support two schools in the parish, one for boys, and the other for girls. A Cistercian monastery, a cell to the abbey of Combermere, was founded in 1153, by Robert, the Earl of Chester's baker, the monks being placed in it to pray for the earl while a prisoner in the hands of King Stephen. This establishment, on account of the frequent incursions of the Welch, was removed, in 1214, to Dieulacres in Staffordshire. In a field, called the Castle Hill, are traces of a foss and other remains of an ancient fortification" - From Samuel Lewis, A Topographical Dictionary of England (1831)
  • "POULTON, a township in the parish of PULFORD, lower division of the hundred of BROXTON, county palatine of CHESTER, 5½ miles (S. by W.) from Chester, containing 132 inhabitants. A Cistercian abbey was founded here, in 1153, by Robert, who was butler to Ranulph, second Earl of Chester; but the monks, having suffered greatly from the frequent incursions of the Welch, were translated, in 1214, to Dieulacres in Staffordshire, and thenceforth, till the dissolution, Poulton continued parcel of the possessions of that monastery" - From Samuel Lewis, A Topographical Dictionary of England (1831)

Lewis is a little wrong with the numbering of his Earls of Chester: the Ranulph in question was Ranulph De Gernon.

A Brief History

Pulford and Poulton lie on the western bank of the Dee and are home to the Poulton Project, a landscape archaeology research project jointly established between Liverpool University and Chester Archaeology. The starting point was the investigation of a medieval chapel site, but the discovery of flints at Poulton along with large quantities of Roman material, occasional Saxon ware and numerous burials has extended the historical scope of the project back at least as far as the 7th millenium BC. In the Lower and Middle Palaeolithic ("Old Stone Age") hunting was based on big game animals, such as mammoth, bison, rhinoceros and lion. By the late Upper Palaeolithic, when evidence for occupation of Cheshire becomes clearer, these species were extinct and the dominant food animals included reindeer and wild horses. See: "Before The Romans" for more on this period.

This map shows the sea level raised 15meters shows the "Backford Gap" quite clearly. It can also be seen how Ince is an island. Inis is the old Irish, Manx word for "island". Burton Point protrudes into the estuary at the top left.

The first traces of mankind at Poulton are small, "microlithic", tools and weapons for hunting and fishing that were used by nomadic hunter-gatherers in the Mesolithic ("Middle Stone Age") from the end of the Lower Dryas to c.6500 years ago. In the early part of the period, it is believed that the Mersey still flowed through the "Deva Spillway" (which runs north of Chester Zoo and is followed by the Canal) to enter the Dee estuary between Blacon and Chester. The sea level around 9000 years ago was still around 20m (66ft) lower than it is today and extensive areas of what is now the sea off the North Wirral would have been low lying wetlands - although whether there was a late-existing land-bridge between Britain and Ireland is still hotly disputed. The warmer climate changed the Arctic environment to one of pine, birch, and alder forest; this less open landscape was less conducive to the large herds of reindeer and wild horse that had previously sustained humans. Those animals were replaced in people's diets by pig and less social animals such as elk, red deer, roe deer, wild boar and aurochs (wild cattle). Part of the badly damaged skull of an auroch was found on the Roodee in Chester, buried in river silt, although it is not clear if the animal had been killed by hunters or simply died close to the riverbank.

In the Neolithic ("New Stone Age") forest clearance and agriculture arrived and a Timber Circle ('wood henge') was constructed at Poulton. From the Bronze Age (around 4000 years ago), Poulton has a cemetery group of barrows and evidence of cremations as well as some coarse pottery. Towards the end of the Bronze Age the ring-ditch of the ritual enclosure was ceremonially closed. The people at this time may well have spoken a language which was the ancestor of modern Welsh. As this site argues, the peoples of the east of England may already have been "Anglo-Saxons". In Britain, the Bronze Age is considered to have ended around 700 BC with the more widespread iintroduction of improved forms of iron.

Very Coarse Pottery

The distinctive shape of Cheshire VCP is intended for the evaporation of brine.

Research at Poulton, has found large amounts (10 kg) of very coarse pottery (VCP), or briquetage. Such pottery is associated with the production, storage and transport of salt. Briquetage is a coarse ceramic material used to make evaporation vessels and supporting pillars used in extracting salt from brine or seawater. Thick-walled saltpans were filled with saltwater and heated from below until the water had boiled away and salt was left behind. Often, the bulk of the water would be allowed to evaporate in salterns before the concentrated brine was transferred to a smaller briquetage vessel for final reduction. Once only salt was left, the briquetage vessels would have to be broken to remove the valuable commodity for trade.

Roman Pulford

While a great deal is known about the military of Roman Chester from over two centuries of excavation and scholarly research, the rural area around the fortress remains poorly understood. Tiles stamped with the mark of Legio XX have been found on the site but it is not known whether they were made there or brought from elsewhere. The remains of what appear to be bones from domestic animals suggests only some influence of the Romans and may be interpreted as a continuation of the Iron-Age culture with the adoption of some Roman food habits, such as the consumption of oysters. There is some evidence that at least one Roman kiln existed in the area and this could suggest a continuing ceramics industry from a very early period.

Medieval Pulford

Cheshire as a whole was the poorest and least populated of the West Mercian shires: apart from Medieval Chester itself there were no towns of any size.

The low-lying land south of the chapel site on higher ground near Poulton would have flooded often, possibly supplying new nutrients.

Before 1066 all land in Cheshire had been held by Earl Edwin of Mercia and Anglo-Saxon thanes or the Church. Locally, Earl Hugh of Avranches held Eaton himself. The two barons who held the most manors in this area as tenants under him were Hugh Fitz Osbern (Pulford, Gresford, Allington) and Osbern Fitz Tezzo (Dodleston, Gresford). They appear to have been close although not related as once thought. Osbern Fitz Tezzo's son was named Hugh, making him also Hugh Fitz Osbern (and leading to some confusion among genealogists after Leycester mixed them up). They both held further manors elsewhere in Cheshire (about 10 each in total) and Lincolnshire. Richard Pincerna (Baker) held Poulton along with another manor in "Dudestan" called Calvintone, but it is not known where that was. Eccleston was held by Gilbert de Venables with 11 other manors and Farndon was held by Bigot de Loges along with 14 other manors in Cheshire. The church, in the form of the Bishop of Chester at St Johns and the canons of St. Werburgh’s, held land in Farndon and Pulford respectively. The Domesday Book recorded two entries for Pulford, which is somewhat confusing, but suggests it was divided into two shares:

  • "This Church [of St. Werburgh] holds Pulford and held it in the time of King Edward. There is ½ hide taxable. The land is one plough. There is one villager and one smallholder. The value was 4 shillings; now 5 shillings."
  • "The same Hugh [son of Osbern] holds Pulford. Wulfric held it as a free man. There is one and a half hides taxable. The land is one plough, and there are two riders, and one villager, and two smallholders. This land was waste; now the value is five shillings."

Ormerod reports that Hugh Fitz Osberne had ejected the Saxon proprietor of Pulford. The similarity of his name to other noted Normans and errors and assumptions of antiquarians and genaologists has led to a good deal of nonsense creeping into "family trees". There may also be spurious inclusions of his name into at least one charter possibly forged by later monks (see: Richard of Avranches).

Poulton Chapel

The earliest ecclesiastical structure on the Poulton Chapel site is thought to have been a single-cell structure built in the Saxon period, as evidenced by some 170 pieces of Anglo Saxon pottery, specifically 10th century Chester Ware, that have been found in conjunction with the earliest phase of construction. The later chapel is thought to have been built by the Cistercian monks of Poulton Abbey. In 1870-72, John Marius Wilson's "Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales" described Poulton thus:

  • POULTON, a township in Pulford parish, Cheshire; on an affluent of the river Dee, 4¼ miles S of Chester. Acres, 1, 391. Real property, £1, 723. Pop., 132. Houses, 22. A Cistertian abbey was founded here, in 1153, by Robert Pincerna; and was removed, in 1220, to Dieulacres in Staffordshire.

According to Janauschek, the abbey itself was founded between 1153 and 1158, but moved to Dieulacres between 1199 and 1214. However, foundation must have occurred by 1153 at the latest as Ranulph De Gernon died in 1153. The exact location of the associated abbey has yet to be established as no above ground structure remains.

The foundation of the Abbey poses an interesting problem. The various historical sources enable the following story to be put together (using the original language):

The Local History Society produced an excellent book.

Ranulph De Gernon (1128-1153), Robert Pincerna's master, passed almost his whole life in war and unrest. With alternate success he opposed king Stephen, and levied war against him during a great part of his reign. In 1141 the king surprised Ranulph in Lincoln castle, but he escaped by the outer postern, and hastened to muster a sufficient force to attack the king in return, and, although he at first succeeded and made the king his prisoner, he was unfortunate soon after, and being himself taken prisoner by the king about the year 1145 he was shut up in close confinement in the castle of Lincoln. As the earl's loyal liegeman, Robert Pincerna was probably with his master in his several battles; on the last occasion however he escaped being taken prisoner with him, and, that he might use his liberty for his master's good, he resolved to found a religious house where continual prayer should be made for the earl's safety, and he accordingly gave to God, the Virgin Mary, and William first abbot of Combermere, a moiety of his township of Pulton, to found there a convent of Cistercian monks to pray for the health and safety of his master the earl Randle Gernons, and of the earls Hugh and Randle his predecessors, and of his own wife Ivetta, his son and heir Robert, and the souls of his ancestors. This charter was sealed by the grantor and Ivetta his wife, and by Robert their son and heir apparent; and, which is rare, the grantor and his wife are set down among the witnesses of the gift, and, which is still stranger, another of the witnesses calls himself "Willielmus spuens mendacium," or, according to the Monasticon " Spernens mendacium." (Ibid) In or about the year 1151 Robert Pincerna became a benefactor of the priory of Stoke near Clare, a cell of the abbey of Bec in Normandy. Earl Randle soon afterwards was set at liberty, so that the prayers his butler had instituted for him, one may hope, had not been in vain. His misfortunes however were not ended, for in 1153 he died of poison, administered to him by William Peverel.

The interesting issue here is that when Robert Pincerna grants the rights to the Cistercians he is not able to consult with Ranulph and gain his approval, as he was then a prisoner of king Stephen. It is probably for this reason that after the death of Gernon, Hugh de Kevelioc, his son and successor, confirmed Robert Pincerna's gift:

The charter seal without the secretum is engraved in Ormerod's History of Cheshire (vol. i. p. 32).
  • "Hugh, earl of Chester, to his constable, steward, justice, sheriff, barons, knights, ministers, and all his [liege] men, as well French as English, present and to come, greeting. Know ye that I have granted, and by this my charter have for ever confirmed, to the monks of Pulton all the moiety of Pulton, with all its appurtenances, which they hold in fee farm from Robert Pincerna, and whence any service ariseth to me. And know ye that I claim for the said monks freedom and quiet from every service belonging to me from the same land, and henceforth I will look to Robert Pincerna for the same service; wherefore I will that no one by any means destrain the same monks for such service, and I enjoin that no one in any wise presume to molest them on that account. Witnesses: the abbot of Chester, John constable of Chester, William Patric, Alured de Cumbrai, Radulf fitz Warin, Richard de Pulford, WilHam the chaplain, (with many others. Dated at Chester)."

This charter is sealed with the earl's seal, an armed knight on horseback in full career, and with a head in front face as a secretum. The seal without the secretum is engraved in Ormerod's History of Cheshire (vol. i. p. 32). The deed has no date, but as John was not constable of Chester until 1172, it is probable that Robert Pincerna had then been dead some years.

Pulford Castle

The Normans built a line of defence (see: Cheshire Castles) from the Dee Estuary to defend Cheshire from the Welsh. It ran roughly NW to SE and comprised at least nine castles starting with (1) Shotwick on the North side of the Dee, then (2) Chester Castle, (3) Dodleston, (4) Pulford, (5) Aldford, (6) Holt, (7) Shocklach, (8) Malpas and (9) Old Castle.

A modern flood-warning map from "riverlevels.uk". The area covered broadly equates to the area where the fisk of flooding in any year is greater than 1% (the "hundred year" flood risk). Note how the Norman Cheshire Castles occur at defendable crossing points. The flooding define a natural border, as shown by the dashed red line, which is very close to the current England/Wales border.

Pulford Castle is a small motte and bailey guarding the crossing of Pulford Brook, which forms the border between England and Wales (see: Poulton and Aldford), and adjacent to the Wrexham–Chester road. It was founded in the 12th century by Robert de Pulford. Only the earthworks remain. In 1313, a jury of the Chester county court found that the lord of Little Caldy (Wirral) held that manor by the service of "palisading" (i.e. repairing the wooden defences) of Robert de Pulford's castle at Pulford.

There is some evidence that there was also a castle at Poulton (see sources and links).

In more modern times, RAF Poulton was a World War II Royal Air Force airfield at Poulton, Cheshire from 1 March 1943 until 1945. It was used as an Operational Training Unit and Tactical Exercise Unit for Hawker Hurricanes. It is now disused.


Following the purchase of Pulford by the Grosvenors in or about 1816 a small brickyard and timber yard at "Cuckoo’s Nest" was steadily developed and enlarged. The Eaton Estate narrow gauge railway, which opened in 1896, provided a branch line facility to the Cuckoo’s Nest Estate Yard and transported coal and other materials. Between 1919 (when the western portion of the Eaton Estate including Cuckoo’s Nest was sold) and World War II brick making continued and the Eaton Estate continued to use the Estate Yard. During and after WW2 brick making was replaced by pressed concrete until the 1990’s. In 2002 the derelict brick works and works yard were developed into the Bell Meadow Business Park and residential units.

Parish Church

Pulford & Poulton Local History Group has an excellent website.

The Parish Church of St. Mary, Pulford, in its present form, was rebuilt in the 1884 restoration to a design by John Douglas. The church has its origins in the twelfth century when, according to ancient record, the first Rector of Pulford (Hugo) was appointed. Although the first building was probably wood, a more substantial stone building was possibly erected as early as the sixteenth century. Various repairs to the traditional sandstone and square tower were only cosmetic and merely postponed a complete restoration. The 1884 enhanced design now incorporates a tall spire (120 feet high) and an improved bell chamber that eventually housed eight bells. on 31st July 1991 the spire was destroyed by fire (fueled in part by an accumulation of jackdaw nesting material, which bellringers had been attempting to remove) and has been rebuilt. The only evidence of the earlier church is the brightly coloured plaque on the wall of the south aisle. It is to the Burgayney family and starts with Wm. Burgayney of Pulford, son of Anthony and Katherine. There follows, his son William, student of Corpus Christi College in Oxford, who died 25 August 1689, and his wife, daughter and co-heir of David Lloyd, who died 25 July 1670. He in turn had a son William who married Rachel the daughter of Randle Holme. Holme almost certainly made the memorial board. It had been mislaid during the rebuilding of the church in the 1880s and was rediscovered at an auction some 70 years later by a canon from Chester Cathedral. Rachel died 30 March 1693 and is buried at Chester. William and Rachel had children William and Rachel.

Other Douglas Architecture

John Douglas (11 April 1830 – 23 May 1911) was an English architect who designed about 500 buildings in Cheshire, North Wales, and northwest England. He was the son of John Douglas Snr. (c.1798–1862) a self-made Cheshire builder, joiner, some-time timber-merchant and surveyor, and was born at Park Cottage in Sandiway. His mother, Mary Swindley (1792–1863) was the daughter of a blacksmith from Eccleston. Before setting up on his own in around 1860, he was trained in the mid/late 1840's under Edward G. Paley in Lancaster. From his training with Paley, Douglas learned to design in a Decorated Gothic style. The Gothic Revival was paralleled and supported by "medievalism", which had its roots in "antiquarian" concerns with survivals and curiosities. When Douglas moved to Chester in the early 1860's the use of Vernacular Revival elements had already been started, particularly by James Harrison and also by Thomas Mainwaring Penson, but it was Douglas and Lockwood who developed it. Although Douglas achieved national fame as an architect, practised throughout his career from offices in Chester and never, for example, became a member of the Royal Institute of British Architects. Many of the architects training and working in Douglas's office were influenced by him. These included Edward Ould. Other architects who did not work in his office were also influenced by him: these include Lockwood, Strong and Beswick.

Wikipedia maintains an entry on Listed buildings in Pulford and the local history book mentioned above contains an excellent survey of them.

Related Pages

Sources and Links