History in my garden: A bottle by J.F. Edisbury and Co. Ltd. (Wrexham)

Damaged J.F. Edisbury bottle found in my garden

Last week I posted about a Chester Lion Brewery Co. bottle that we found in the garden, dating to the final years of the 19th Century, one of two bottles that were found in a part of the garden that was completely invisible beneath a tangle of dead trees, shrubs and weeds.  On the right is the second one that we found, labelled J.F. Edisbury and Co. Limited, Wrexham.

The J.F. Edisbury and Co. Ltd bottle is made of clear green-tinted glass, with seam lines running up each side.  The text “J.F. EDISBURY & CO. LIMITED WREXHAM is embossed in raised glass on one side of the bottle, as is the trademark, consisting of two crossed foxes within a frame in the shape of a shield.  The shield shape was a traditional frame for displaying the name of ingredients on jars that lined the shelves of pharmacy shop interiors.  The base has some slight damage, obscuring some raised text, but appears to end in the numbers 80 (or to start with the numbers 08).  Opposite it, on an undamaged section of the base, more raised text is clearly visible, and appears to read, C.S. and Co. Ltd. on one side of the base, perhaps a reference to the bottle manufacturer.  Unlike the Chester Lion Brewery bottle, for which I could find no duplicate online, there are plenty of examples of Edisbury bottles of this type, with long necks.

James Edisbury , father of James Fisher Edisbury

The Edisbury family has a long connection with the Wrexham area, and the name pops up repeatedly, mainly because of Josiah / Joshua Edisbury, High Sheriff of Denbighshire, who was responsible for building the earliest version of Erddig Hall c.1684 overlooking the river Clywedog.  He went bankrupt in the process of building it.   The Dictionary of Welsh Biography says that Edisbury’s brother John Edisbury (c.1646 – 1713), ruined himself by misappropriating funds to help his brother. In 1716 Erddig was sold to a successful London lawyer Sir John Meller who bought out the mortgage and debts that Edisbury had incurred, finished the work and added two wings that remain today.

Bersham Hall, Wrexham, which is still standing. Source: Francis Frith Collection

The owner of J.F. Edisbury Co. Ltd., to whom the bottle belonged, was James Fisher Edisbury,  born in 1837.  His father James was very commercially successful first as a retailer in Holywell and then in Wrexham as an auctioneer.  James Edisbury senior was born in 1803, and in 1829 married Elizabeth Walker Ratcliffe, eldest daughter of the late Henry Walker Ratcliff, a grocer.  She died in 1832 and James was remarried in 1834 to Sarah Ratcliffe.  In the 1835 North Wales Directory for the Holywell & Bagillt areas,  James Edisbury is listed as “High St. Grocer &/or dealer in sundries, and tobacconist:  Tallow Chandler, Wine and Spirit merchant.”  A daughter, Emily Walker Edisbury, was born in 1834  and James Fisher Edisbury was born in 1837.  Emily died in 1839  and Sarah died a year later in 1840.  James Edisbury had more than his fair share of loss.  At some point before 1855, when he is next recorded, he made the decision to move to the outskirts of Wrexham, purchasing Bersham Hall in 11 acres of land.  In 1857 he decided to move into the town for business reasons, letting out Bersham Hall. He appears to have had a major career change, becoming an auctioneer and appraiser, living and working at Brook Street in Wrexham.  He died on 21st September 1859, leaving Bersham Hall to his son James Fisher Edisbury.

The pharmacy business in the 19th Century

Jacob Bell, founder of the Pharmaceutical Society in 1841. Source: Pharmaceutical Journal.

Pharmacies began to rise in importance in local communities as scientific research into the relationship between diseases, ailments and potential treatments began to make real improvements to medical knowledge in 19th century Europe.  The Pharmaceutical Society was established in 1841, which moved to establish schools to standardize training and to regulate the sale of pharmaceuticals, but apprenticeship remained the principal form of learning until the end of the century.  Synthetic drugs were being developed, but traditional remedies based on herbal preparations were still dominant.

Pharmacists combined the roles of chemists, health consultants and dispensaries.  They worked alongside and often in competition with physicians to develop treatments for an enormous range of real and imagined conditions, frequently undercutting their more formally trained and qualified colleagues.  As the adverts on this page demonstrate, the public were becoming increasingly interested in their own symptoms and any treatments that might alleviate them.  Ailments at all levels of society represented lucrative business opportunities.

A recreation of a 19th Century chemist at the York Castle Museum’s “Kirkgate Victorian Street,” York. Source and copyright: Crinoline Robot, Miriam McDonald

Every town had at least one pharmacy, sometimes more.  For example, as well as J.F. Edisbury and Co., another Wrexham pharmacy Francis and Co., with premises at 53 Hope Street and 22 Town Hill in Wrexham.   The shops were lined with shelves and cabinets that held clearly labelled glass and ceramic jars full of the raw materials for the manufacture of pills, potions, gels, ointments and medicines, looking much like a traditional sweet shop.  A workshop in the rear usually contained the equipment for assembling these products.  The above photograph by Miriam McDonald shows a recreation of an actual pharmacy in contemporary York, giving an excellent idea of what sort of experience a customer would have had when they walked through the door of a British pharmacy in the 19th Century.

James Fisher Edisbury, chemist and pharmacist 

In this 1916 family photograph published in the Wrexham Leader, James Fisher Edisbury is at far right, four years before his death. Source: Wrexham History website

Top: 3 High St, Wrexham. Bottom: 4 Grosvenor Road. Source: Google Maps.

James Fisher Edisbury established himself as a pharmacist at 3 High Street, Wrexham.  The building is a remarkable survivor sandwiched between two deeply unattractive modern buildings.  By 1861 he is recorded as a master chemist and pharmacist in Wrexham.  James Fisher Edisbury married Harriet Jones in 1863.  She gave birth to a stillborn child in May 1864 and died herself two weeks later.  James Fisher remarried, to Minnie Jones, in 1867 and the couple lived in Bersham Hall, now sitting in only in 4.5 acres of land.  Like James Senior, they moved their home to Wrexham for business reasons, letting out Bersham Hall and settling at 4 Grosvenor Road.   In total they had seven children, one of whom died, and Minnie herself died at the age of 35 in 1882.  (Thanks to Annette Edwards for her article on the Wrexham History website for the information about two generations of the family’s history – please see that page for more James Fisher Edisbury’s family details).

James Fisher Edisbury’s business interests were embedded in the pharmaceutical industry, and he was a Member of the Pharmaceutical Society, (M.P.S.). The fascinating advert to the left gives a very comprehensive idea not just of the products that he was selling but the high quality of customer service that he offered to his valued customers.   The pharmacy offered a 24 hour service.  Although the shop was shut at night, those in need could obtain the services of the pharmacist by ringing the doorbell.  I don’t know what Chinese Floating Soap might be, but I want some!

According to his advertising, at some point in the late 1870s or early 1880s J.F. Fisher  and Co. became the proprietors of the North Wales Mineral Water Factory at Horse Market, Wrexham and seem to have owned the Penadur Spring Works also in Wrexham, perhaps towards the end of the century.   The company may  have bought the business from R. Evans and Co., as one advert refers to “J.F. Fisher and Co. (Late R. Evans and Co.)”.

By 1881 the company was producing mineral waters in Llangollen in a building adjoining the Cambrian Hotel, a coaching house in Berwyn Street, called the Mineral Water Manufactory.  Late Victorian Llangollen was enjoying an economic boom building on its existing stone and slate quarrying, manufacture of woollens and fabrics and tourist industry.  The canal network, the arrival of the railway and the construction of Telford’s Holyhead road all contributed to the success story, The Mineral Water Manufactory was a soft drinks business, which produced  aerated (fizzy) versions that were something of a late 19th Century novelty.  Edisbury bought the mineral drinks operation from Zoedone, together with nine vans, which delivered throughout Wales and had depots at Chester, Oswestry, and Birmingham.  In 1903 the Cambrian Hotel, Cambrian House and the mineral water factory premises were sold at auction in Llangollen but I do not know what happened to the drinks business, which may have moved elsewhere or have been absorbed into one or other of the Wrexham operations.

Back in Wrexham, adverts placed in various newspapers indicate that James Fisher Edisbury had a cure for just about every ailment from corns, warts and bunions to shortness of breath, bronchial problems, nervous afflictions and neuralgia.  An advert dating to 1883 indicates that he had also diversified into animal cures as the agent for a farm suppliers:  “IMPORTANT TO FARMERS. -J. F. EDISBURY is the authorised agent for the Pix Compo, Down’s Farmer’s Friend, and manufactures the celebrated Wheat Dressing for destroying slug, grub, and wire worm, and preventing the ravages of birds, 3, High-street, Wrexham.”  He also sold personal grooming and bathing products, such as hair brushes, tooth brushes, nail brushes, sponges and sponge-bags.  In one 1885 advert advertising sponges and gloves, there was also the mention of Cyprus Insect Powder as “the best exterminator of moths, beetles, fleas, &c.-non- poisonous and effectual, in Id, 2d, and 3d, packets, 6d and 9d tins.”  Another advert lists the “paints, oils, colours and varnishes” available to purchase from 3 High Street.

In 1887 J.F. Edisbury and Co. purchased a ginger beer company, A1 Stone Ginger Beer.  On last week’s post about the Chester Lion Brewery the topic of trademark infringement came up in connection with beer sales, and here is a similar example, with the company placing a notice in a local newspaper warning that the firm’s bottles were being used to pas off “very feeble and unpalatable imitations.”  A reward was offered to anyone bringing examples of such fraudulent products to the factory for testing.

In 1895 Ellis and Son from Ruthin ran a large advert in the Wrexham Advertiser and North Wales News advertising their own mineral waters.  They were mainly advertising their own operation in Ruthin, but in smaller letters also featured J.F. Fisher and Co. as an outlet for their products.  In the same newspaper, and next to the Ellis and Son advert, J.F. Fisher and Co. also had a large advert, focusing on their North Wales Mineral Water Co, which sold Penadur Spring Waters.  The latter advert mentions that the water had been exhibited in the Paris Exhibition and the London International Exhibition of 1891, reinforcing the sense of high-tech novelty.  At the same time, it emphasizes that this new product was very accessible, available not only via retail outlets, but also at railway station buffets at Chester, Birkenhead, Chester and Ruabon.  By diversifying, Edisbury may have been looking for a competitive edge to consolidate his position as he was not the only pharmacist operating in Wrexham in the late 19th Century.

Edisbury was also involved in the Aerated Water Manufacturing Company, which appears to have been another profitable Wrexham-based business.  The company’s Third Ordinary General Meeting in 1891 was held at the Wynnstay Arms, a few doors down from Edisbury’s premises at 3 High Street, and was reported in the Wrexham and Denbighshire Advertiser and Cheshire Shropshire and North Wales Register.  It was announced that the company was doing well. “On the year there was an increase, and due care having been exercised in the matter of expenses the net profit had proved to be in excess of what was stated in the prospectus. . . . That would be satisfactory to the shareholder.”  At the same time, it was revealed that “the Company had commenced the manufacture of British wines under Mr Hutchinson, who had special experience in the work, and he thought the wines produced were of high quality.”  These wines were medicinal rather than epicurean.  By 1895 James was selling the wines in his Wrexham premises:  “MEDICATED WINES.  J. F. Edisbury, M.P.S., 3, High-street, Wrexham. Coca Wine @ 2s 6d per bottle; Extract of Meat. and Malt Wine, ls 6d per bottle.”

James Fisher had a very strict record system for the supply of bottles of his products to customers, some of which were very expensive to manufacture, as explained in the second page below, taken from a J.F. Edisbury Co “pass book.”  The first and last pages of the pass book provided details of some of the company’s products, and the rest of it was a record of a customer’s account, tracking product deliveries and returns. You can flip through the pages of the book on the Internet Archive website here.  The outer envelope and cover of beautifully preserved pass book from the National Trust’s Erddig is shown below.

This sort of bottle return policy operated by Edisbury and other drinks suppliers probably accounts for why only two 19th Century bottles have so far been unearthed in my garden.

Green leatherette account book in a red leather-covered cardboard case. The account book is marked dated on the first page 1871.  Source: National Trust Collections

There are plenty of references to James Fisher Edisbury in the Wrexham local newspapers in the context of a number of civic activities.  He was a Justice of the Peace, was on a committee to organize the planning and building of a new retail arcade, which still stands, and was a Provincial Grand Officer of the Freemasons.   As well as a successful business entrepreneur and a Member of the Pharmaceutical Society, (M.P.S.), with fingers in several pies, he was clearly a solid and influential pillar of the Wrexham community.  James Fisher Edisbury died on 20th October 1920 at the age of 83.

Back to the bottle

J.F. Edisbury and Co trademark.

The bottle from my garden was unlikely to have been used for one of the aerated drinks, because these, being fizzy, had special storage requirements.  They were delivered in bottles with pointed bases that had to be laid horizontally, ensuring that the liquid inside would prevent the cork from drying out, ensuring that the gas was retained in the bottle.

This bottle, with its flat base, was not one of those  and could have contained any number of other J.F Edisbury products.  A the moment there it has not possible to narrow down which of the various wines, oils, medicines, tonics, and other potions that it may have contained.  Nor has it been possible to narrow down a date for the bottle.

Markings on the base of the bottle

There are still several other questions that have yet to be answered.  The crossed foxes trademark is very distinctive and appears on many of J.F. Edisbury and Co. bottles and jars, but I have been unable to find out where it came from or what, if anything, it refers to.  I have also been unable to find out anything about the markings on the bottom of the bottle, but hope that information on the subject will eventually come to light.  It is possible that the markings on the base refer not to Edisbury’s various enterprises, but to the bottle manufacturer.  The shape of the bottle, the presence of the cross-foxes trademark and the quality of the glass itself might help to narrow down a date for the bottle.  I do hope that some of these details will eventually emerge, and if you are reading this and have more information please get in touch.

Final Comments

This is a rather different story from the one I told last week about the Chester Lion Brewery bottle, and not merely because of the contrast between health drinks and beer.  Last week’s bottle was the story of big factory-style breweries, big investments in future technologies and large ambitions, and even a case of minor trademark fraud.  The Edisbury bottle, by contrast is the story of high street retail where success was achieved by offering wide product ranges and providing excellent customer service.  James Fisher Edisbury’s advertising speaks of a man who was highly organized, ambitious and driven to look for new ways to use his skills to find new markets, or to find new products for existing markets.  Where expedient he joined forces with other companies to retail their products and he invested in new infrastructure when required.  He saw the potential for health drinks and invested heavily in providing this to families who wanted to improve the quality of their lives and their overall well-being, and were attracted by novelty.  Looking around today at the proliferation of health-food stores and the growing interest in vegan diets, it is a far from unfamiliar story.

Sources:

Books and papers

Robinson, J. 2016. Looking back at 175 years of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society. The Pharmaceutical Journal April 15th 2016, Vol. 296, No.7888, p.296
https://pharmaceutical-journal.com/article/feature/looking-back-at-175-years-of-the-royal-pharmaceutical-society

Wilson’s Trades Directory of Wales, 1885. William Wilson & Sons.
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.2307/community.30136288

Cadw 2016. Llangollen. Understanding Urban Character.

Websites

Wrexham History, founded by Graham Floyd
James Fisher Edisbury, by Annette Edwards, August 2019
https://www.wrexham-history.com/james-fisher-edisbury-2/ 
Francis The Chemist by Annette Edwards, October 2018
https://www.wrexham-history.com/francis-chemist/ 

The Internet Archive
The North Wales Mineral Company. Pass Book
https://archive.org/details/b3047775x/mode/2up

The National Trust
Erddig, The Whole Story
https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/erddig/features/erddig-the-whole-story

Welsh Newspapers Online.  National Library of Wales
https://newspapers.library.wales/

History Points
Former Cambrian Hotel, Berwyn Street, Llangollen
https://historypoints.org/index.php?page=former-cambrian-hotel-llangollen

The Dictionary of Welsh Biography
EDISBURY family, of Bedwal, Marchwiel, Pentre-clawdd, and Erddig (Denbighshire)
https://biography.wales/

Gravestones.info
J.F. Edisbury and Co.
https://www.gravestones.info/data/edisbury-j-f-co/ 

Center for the History of Medicine
Jars of “Art and Mystery”:  Pharmacists and Their Tools in the Mid-Nineteenth Century 
https://collections.countway.harvard.edu/onview/exhibits/show/apothecary-jars

 

A late 19th Century bottle in the garden: The Chester Lion Brewery Co.

It has been a family tradition to collect bits of broken china, metal and glass that have turned up in our various gardens over the years.  Since buying the house in Churton, which included a large and very neglected garden, we have done a massive amount of digging, resulting in the excavation of staggering amounts of rubble and general rubbish.  As well as all the stuff that was thrown in a large skip, fragments of pottery, glass and metal were retrieved and retained.  This little collection consists mainly of little sherds of blue and white china in all sorts of designs, but there are other fun odds and ends too. I’ve written more about these fragments and why I collect them on the Garden page.  Most of them are too uninformative to talk about, but one or two objects are worth comment, of which a broken green bottle is one example, shown to the right.

This green bottle (found by my gardener Joe, who manages to dig astoundingly large holes in my garden in a matter of minutes), is a remnant of the “Chester Lion Brewery Company”  The bottle is made of thick-walled green glass, and the text is picked out in raised lettering, reading “This Bottle [missing text] . . . Chester Lion Brewery Company of Chester and Seacombe.”  There are no markings on the base.  The other half of the bottle was not found, but this piece contains all the information needed to pin down a date range for its production, and the story has a nice link to the former brewery on Churton Road in Farndon, now Brewery Motors.

The fabulous Lion Brewery Co trademark lion, before it was removed from the Lions Brewery building in 1968, immediately prior to the demolition of the building.

The Lion Brewery Company was located at no.26 Pepper Street in Chester, with entrances  opening on to Park Street, very near to the Newgate, just within the city walls.  It was demolished in 1968 to make way for a particularly nasty multi-storey carpark, one of  a number of unfortunate architectural monstrosities imposed on Chester at that time.  Today, the building’s exterior would probably have been preserved and the interior converted into high-end apartments, which would have been a rather better use of it.  The trademark of the brewery was a lion, and a stone lion stood at the top of the brewery’s tower, now on top of the multi-storey carpark’s stairwell tower.  It makes my teeth itch to see it in such an inappropriate context, particularly as most people don’t even know that it is there, but at least it is relatively safe.

The Lion Brewery until 1893

John Lightfoot Walker, who owned the brewery in the 1880s, claimed that the brewery was founded in 1642, but what grounds he had for this belief is unclear.  The BreweryPedia page for the Lion Brewery states that in 1768 a Mrs Wilbraham took over the business following the death of her husband.  Paul Hurley in his book Cheshire Brewing adds that it was run by the partnership Whittle and Jones in 1846 and was sold to another partnership, Walton and Clare, in 1873.  It is unclear where these details come from, as neither source provides references.

By the late 19th Century there was certainly a brewery of this name on the site.  From contemporary advertising for the brewery it seems to have been in the hands of a G.F. Clough, who entered into partnership with Liverpool architect Thomas Henry William Walker, an architect from Liverpool, and his brother John Lightfoot Walker sometime around 1882 . In 1885 G. F. Clough withdrew from the partnership.  In December 1888 the Liverpool Mercury reported that the remaining partnership in The Lion Brewery was dissolved when Thomas Walker retired and John Lightfoot Walker (1851-1925) was left in sole charge.  

Chapter heading from Alfred Barnard’s “Noted Breweries of Great Britain and Ireland” volume IV, 1891

In 1891, volume 4 of Alfred Barnard’s Noted Breweries of Great Britain and Ireland was produced, and he describes the brewery in great detail, an invaluable source of information.   He himself describes his four volumes as “a tourist’s description” (his italics) but he was obviously highly knowledgeable and having produced three previous volumes was very familiar with all aspects of the brewing process.  Barnard visited when the brewery was owned by John Lightfoot Walker, whose grandfather, according to Barnard, had been an eminent brewer.   The date of 1642 for the establishment of a brewery on this spot clearly comes from Walker, because he included the date on his adverts, and this is repeated by Barnard.

Barnard describes the guided tour of the brewery on a floor by floor basis, and it is a real insight into late 19th Century brewing to follow his journey.  The brewery had been substantially rebuilt in 1875, when it was provided with a state-of-the-art tower brewhouse.  Tower breweries were innovated in Germany, combining the benefits of well ventilated higher floors, the use of gravity to move liquid between processes, and a cost-saving smaller geographical footprint.  Accompanying the tower, which was “fully equipped with modern plant” and new offices, were various ancillary buildings arranged around a courtyard approached through an arch onto Pepper Street, at the centre of which was a well with a pumphouse over the top, which took water into the brewery.  An even deeper well was being planned to ensure a “practically inexhaustible” supply.  Barnard was greatly impressed by the modern features and fittings, the cleanliness, comfort and the fireproofing of the building and the personal interest that Walker took in his employees and their welfare.

Etching of the Lion Brewery from Alfred Barnard’s noted Breweries of Great Britain and Ireland volume IV, 1891 (p.262)

Walker started Barnard’s tour at the top of the five storey brewhouse, where there were malt stores and two cast iron tanks for storing 2000 gallons of brewing water that was supplied by the well in the yard.  The first part of the brewing process, taking place in the well ventilated top of the tower, was to soak barley grains to start germination.  They were then dried  a kiln to prevent further growth and to add flavour and colour, a process known as malting.  On the same floor there was a steam hoist for loading grain from the yard, and in the floor was a hopper for feeding the mill below.  The mill itself and the steam engine that drove the mill machinery were on the fourth floor.  The mill was fitted with a patent malt screen “for thoroughly cleaning the malt before it reaches a pair of steel rollers, which crush it at the rate of fifteen quarters per hour.”  The result was grist, which went on to be mixed with water.  On the third storey was the head brewer’s shiny new office, next to the mashing room, which contained a 12ft diameter oak mash tun fitted with draining plates.  Grains were taken away by means of a chute into the yard, where it was taken away by farm wagon.  The liquid extracted from the mashing process, called the wort, was run through copper pipes heated by steam coils into the “copper” or brew kettle for heating.  The wort was then cooled, having been delivered via other filters and presses, in a horizontal refrigerator and run into “capacious fermenting squares, the newest among them being made of white cedar wood and fitted with tinned copper attenuators and patent rousing apparatus.”  The rousing apparatus helped to suspend the yeast and improve the  rate of fermentation and was driven by “a wheel of great diameter” housed in the cellar, itself driven by waste water from other parts of the brewing process.  From there the beer was carried by copper pipes to the racking house, a paved room some 50ft long, where it was stored in kegs.  There’s an excellent animated graphic of a similar operation on the Hook Norton Brewery website: https://www.hooky.co.uk/our-beers/brewing-process/

Barnard describes how various cellars and ground level storage rooms contained different beers (stout, porter and public house ales) at different stages of readiness.  The yard contained stables, harness rooms, hay and corn lofts, dray sheds, a cask-washing shed and a repairing cooperage.  The obligatory sampling produced positive remarks about the bitter ales, the brewery’s speciality (“a bright and nourishing drink”) and the tenpenny ale (“a delicious beverage, clean to the palette and well hopped.”   As well as the brewery itself, the company owned more than 20 public houses, and they made an additional, important income from supplying hotels and private families in the city and suburbs. Barnard concluded that “it is quite evident that Mr Walker means to wipe out the opprobrium attached some time ago to ‘local ales’,” and predicted that the Lion Brewery would become “one of the largest and best patronized breweries in this part of the country.”

1882 and 1885 adverts for the Lion Brewery Co.

There are a number of adverts for the Lion Brewery under John Lightfoot Walker, describing the company as a “Brewers and Maltsters.”  The adverts say that the company sold ales, stouts and porters.  As well as brewing their own beers, they were agents for other breweries as well.  The adverts above, both of which state “families supplied” corroborates Barnard’s comment that the Lion Brewery supplied private homes as well as public houses and hotels.

Thomas Montgomery, the Chester Lion Brewery and the Joseph Salmon Brewery in Farndon, 1893 – 1902

The brewery prior to its demolition in 1968/9. Source: A Virtual Stroll Around the Walls of Chester website

The brewery changed hands in 1893, with the appearance on the scene of entrepreneur Thomas Montgomery of Liverpool, who purchased the Lion Brewery in July of that year and incorporated it as The Chester Lion Brewery Co. Ltd in 1896.  It seems surprising that John Lightfoot Walker sold the business, as he was still investing in new equipment in the late 1880s, and Barnard gives the impression that he had ambitions to continue growing the business.  Perhaps he over-extended himself with his programme of modernization, as well as his architectural projects in Hoole in Chester.  He was only 42 at the time, so was not yet due for retirement, and did not die until 1925.

Thomas Montgomery seems to have made his fortune as a house painter and licensed victualler before diversifying and purchasing several public houses, as well as the New Brewery in Stone in the Midlands. Thomas Montgomery was clearly no angel and was taken to court for trademark infringement, attempting to pass his own beers off as  those produced by well-regarded Stone brewers John Joules and Sons.

According to Paul Hurley, the Chester Lion Brewery purchased the Joseph Salmon Brewery in Farndon in 1898, which is during the period when the Chester Lion Brewery was still owned by Montgomery.  The Joseph Salmon Brewery, on Churton Road, a converted red sandstone tithe barn shown on the 1735 tithe map, is today the garage Brewery Motors.

In 1902 the New Brewery in Stone the Chester Lion Brewery and the Joseph Salmon Brewery in Farndon were bought from Montgomery by Bent’s Brewery, a Liverpool-based company established in the 1790s.  The Stone brewery continued to operate but the Chester brewery closed shortly afterwards, perhaps because it was purchased as part of a job lot of Montgomery’s holdings but was unwanted.  After being offloaded by Bent’s, the building was used for other purposes.

The Seacombe connection

Grosvenor Brewery, Seacombe. Source: CAMRA What Pub? website

The reference to Seacombe on the bottle’s raised script was something of a puzzle at first, but provides an interesting narrowing of the date to within a year-long period.  Seacombe is a district of Wallasey on the Wirral, overlooking the river Mersey.  The former Grosvenor Brewery on Victoria Road (now Borough Road) at Seacombe was purchased by Montgomery in 1889, although the previous ownership is a bit of a tangle and it is unclear if he bought the business as a going concern, or whether it had ceased operating for a period.  Here’s what CAMRA’s What Pub website has to say on the subject:

“The brewery was owned/ operated by John Hall Wright & co in 1860 with various owners over the years (P Evans & Co, then with Octavius Leatham as a partner, Hamer & Co, John Cattle, Leatham & co, Montgomery & Co). Enlarged and rebuilt in 1876 by its then owner, Paul Evans. In 1883 it had 11 pubs. Aldous & Bedford were registered owners from May 1895 but the company wound up in December 1897 at which time the brewer appeared to be John W. D. King.”

Thomas Montgomery business card. Source: BreweryPedia

The brewery’s 1876 make-over in had transformed it into a state of the art operation, something that seems to echo the investment made at Lion Brewery in Chester.  Montgomery appears to have had a particular interest in businesses that had invested in modern infrastructure.  Even 15 years on, this brewery was probably still a desirable purchase, even if just to obtain the equipment.  Surprisingly, Montgomery sold the Grosvenor Brewery at auction in 1899, just a year after purchasing it, for reasons unknown.

The decline of brewing in Chester

According to Lewis and Thacker, brewing almost disappeared from Chester in the late 19th century.  In 1871 there were thirteen breweries in Chester, of which seven appear to have been public-house breweries but most had closed by 1892 and only one, the Northgate Brewery, survived beyond 1914.  They put this decline down to “the elimination of public-house breweries and the concentration of ownership among the commercial brewery companies.” The three largest commercial breweries were Edward Russell Seller & Co. (sold to the Albion brewery in 1889 and closed shortly afterwards), the Lion Brewery (sold to bent’s in 1892, closing in c.1902-1903), and the Northgate Brewery.  The authors conclude that the history of brewing  in Chester “illustrates a wider transition in the economy from small-scale production to business concentration and industrialized methods. The trend weakened the city’s manufacturing base and was only partly offset by developments in the limited number of modern industrial concerns.”

Back to the bottle

The bottle clearly belongs to that short period when Montgomery held the Lion Brewery in Chester, 1893-1902, because the bottle is clearly marked The Chester Lion Brewery Co, rather than simply The Lion Brewery.  However, the Seacombe connection narrows the date even further to between 1889 and 1899, the brief period during which The Chester Lion Brewery owned the Grosvenor Brewery at Seacombe.  It is rare to be able to obtain a date so precise for a piece of garden refuse, and that’s really rather fun.  At this time, Montgomery’s Chester Lion Brewery apparently owned the Joseph Salmon Brewery in Farndon, so this bottle may have been purchased from there.

It would be fascinating to know which company made these thick-walled bottles and where that factory was located.  Perhaps those details will eventually come to light.  Only two 19th century bottles have come to light in the garden to date, both broken.  I wonder whether the bottle deposit scheme applied to many local bottles at this time, a system whereby the price of a bottle containing a drink included a deposit, which was returned to the customer when the bottle was returned to the point of purchase.  There are many examples of this during the 19th Century.  This would account both for the low number of bottles in my garden and the fact that the only two so far found were broken; Broken bottles could not be returned.

This broken bottle has taken me on a splendid journey.  The people who lived in my house at the turn of the 19th/20th Centuries will have bought the bottle for its contents, probably with no knowledge of the complex network of activities and commercial deals that produced it, much as I have no idea what sort of commercial history and technical innovation has gone into a bottle of Aspall dry cider.  Once simply a vessel for a drink, my broken green bottle has become a piece of data, a footprint of history found discarded as rubbish in my back garden.  If the bottle was capable of having a viewpoint on the subject, I am sure it would be very surprised to find itself featuring as the star attraction on a blog post.  A very happy find.

A second late 19th Century bottle was also found in the garden, and is described here, this time from a Wrexham pharmaceutical company called J.F. Edisbury and Co. Ltd.

Sources

Books and papers:

Barnard, A. 1891. The Noted Breweries of Great Britain and Ireland, volume IV, p.264-267. Sir Joseph Caston and Sons
https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=nnc1.0035544031&view=1up&seq=272&q1=lion

Hurley, P.  2016. Brewing in Cheshire. Amberley Publishing.

Latham, F.A.  1981. Farndon. The History of a Cheshire Village. Local History Group

Lewis, C.P. and Thacker, A.T. (eds.) 2003.  Late Georgian and Victorian Chester 1762-1914: The economy, 1871-1914, the limits of reorientation. In A History of the County of Chester: vol.5 part 1, the City of Chester: General History and Topography, p. 185-199.  Available at British History Online:
http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/ches/vol5/pt1/pp185-199

Pearson, L. 2019. The Brewing Industry.  A report by the Brewery History Society for English Heritage, February 2010. Historic England
https://historicengland.org.uk/images-books/publications/brewing-industry/bhs-brewing-ind-shier

Websites:

A Virtual Stroll Around the Walls
Vanished Pubs of Chester, by Steve Howe
https://chesterwalls.info/lionbrewery.html

BreweryPedia
History of Bent’s and Montgomery’s Breweries, Stone
http://breweryhistory.com/wiki/index.php?title=History_of_Bent%27s_and_Montgomery%27s_Breweries,_Stone
Montgomery and Co.
http://breweryhistory.com/wiki/index.php?title=Montgomery_%26_Co
Montgomery’s Brewery Company and Bent’s Brewery Co. Ltd. of Stone, Staffordshire, by Philip A Talbot

http://breweryhistory.com/wiki/index.php?title=History_of_Bent%27s_and_Montgomery%27s_Breweries,_Stone
Chester Lion Brewery Co. Ltd.
http://breweryhistory.com/wiki/index.php?title=Chester_Lion_Brewery_Co._Ltd

Liverpool Mercury, Friday, 17th December, 1875:
New Grosvenor Brewery, Seacombe
http://hiddenwirral.blogspot.com/2013/09/wallasey-news-19th-century.html

WhatPub?
Grosvenor Brewery, Seacombe
https://whatpub.com/pubs/WIR/831/grosvenor-brewery-seacombe

Hoole Road – South Side
Hoole History and Heritage Society
http://www.hoolehistorysoc.btck.co.uk/StreetsofHooleNewton/HooleRoad-LightfootStreettoShellGarage

Walking from Eaton Hall Bridge north towards Chester

Another walk along the Dee, this time to the north of Aldford, on another glorious sunny spring day.

The walk from Churton heading north along the east bank of the river Dee to the Eaton Hall bridge at Aldford was described here a few weeks ago, and was followed a few days later with a look at the story behind Eaton Hall Bridge itself.  This walk picks up the footpath from Aldford and heads north.  The footpath crosses the bridge from the east to the west bank, and turns right sharply to follow the river to the north.  For those of you following local footpaths on the Cheshire West and Chester Public Map Viewer, see the map below as copied from the site.

Crossing the bridge from Aldford, follow signs right to walk northwards along the Dee along the side of the Eaton Hall estate. I turned back at the sluice, after about half an hour.  Source of map:  Public Map Viewer, with my annotations

If you are driving to Aldford, it seems to be okay to park outside the Aldford church.  There were certainly a number of dog walkers parked there, and there is no signage or road markings to indicate that this would be unwelcome.

It was only a short outing because a serious amount of garden weeding awaited, and when I reached the Eaton Hall sluice gate, which empties a small canal into the river, I turned around and came back (about half an hour each way), but it was enough to establish that this section of the riverbank has a rather different character from the east bank between Churton and Aldford.  Instead of the fields that follow the Churton to Aldford section of the Dee to the east, the presence of Eaton Hall estate, fenced off all along that stretch of the path, creates a more contained and intimate feel to the footpath.

If you are starting from Aldford, go to the church and head through the white gate next to it, along the footpath that dissects the field, and over the bridge.

View from the bridge looking upriver, to the south.

As soon as you cross the bridge, you will see a sign indicating that the roadway ahead is private, and that you need to turn right.  Almost immediately, there is a second sign warning of flooding.  This is clearly no joke.  Even though it was bone try on this occasion, there are long sections that preserve deep sections that were clearly deep mud, endlessly trampled by boots.  As the sign says, there is clearly a risk of being cut off in wet weather, as much of the footpath sits in a narrow section between the river on the one side and a big fence along the Eaton Estate on the other.

Ramsons (wild garlic) just beginning to flower.

 

Eaton Hall Bridge (Iron Bridge) at Aldford, built by William Hazledine to a Thomas Telford design

An idyllic section of the river Dee passes through the Eaton Hall estate, itself part of the Grosvenor estate, with Eaton Hall one side of the river and Aldford on the other.  Connecting the two parts of the estate across the river is the Grade-1 listed Eaton Hall Bridge (otherwise known as Iron Bridge), built in cast iron by William Hazledine (1763–1840) to a design by Thomas Telford (1757–1834).  Like Aldford village itself, also part of the Eaton Hall estate, the bridge and its immediate surroundings are manicured, coiffured, and meticulously polished.  Funny to think of the gracefully decorative bridge as a direct outcome of the innovative Industrial Revolution, one of the dirtiest, noisiest and most polluting episodes in history.  

The first Marquis of Westminster, Robert Grosvenor.  Source:  Wikipedia

A public footpath crosses the bridge from the south and continues to follow the river north on the western bank towards Chester (a few days ago, I described a walk to the bridge along the footpath from Churton, heading north along the eastern bank of the Dee). The bridge is still used for road traffic today, but because it is on a private estate, the daily load has always been very limited, and the bridge had remained in good condition since it was completed in 1824.  Repairs were required in 1980, when some of the iron struts (load-bearing beams) were replaced with steel.

The Eaton Hall Bridge was commissioned by the Marquis of Westminster, Robert Grosvenor who reinvented Eton Hall in an imitation and extravagant Gothic style (by William Porden) and simultaneously restored the gardens and driveways.  It seems surprising that he chose a traditional aesthetic for his house but a modern iron bridge to connect the two parts of the estate, and that may account for the ecclesiastical-style ornamental flourishes that embellish the bridge’s design, also derived from Gothic architecture.

Model of Craigelachie Bridge at the National Museum of Scotland, Source: Grace’s Guide

The Eaton Hall bridge was modelled not on Thomas Telford’s more ambitious suspension bridge projects over the Menai Straits and Conwy river, but on his earlier Bonar (completed 1812) and Craigellachie (completed 1815)  bridges.  It was a formula that worked, and was used again after Eaton Hall Bridge had been completed, with Telford’s Mythe and Holt Fleet bridges.

Like its predecessors, Eaton Hall Bridge was made of cast iron that was produced in William Hazledine’s iron foundry at Plas Kynaston at Cefn Mawr before being sent by canal to Chester and down the Dee to Eaton Hall.  Hazledine and Telford had met when Hazledine had a small foundry in Shrewsbury.  Telford arrived in Shrewsbury to become county surveyor for Shropshire, responsible for all public building works, and the two men, both Freemasons, became friends and professional collaborators.  Hazledine trained as a millwright, but  his family owned a small foundry  and Hazeldine went on to grow his iron casting business with the large Coleham Foundry at Shrewsbury.  He established the Plas Kynaston foundry to service the construction of the Pontcysyllte aqueduct (1794-1805), thereafter taking advantage of the canal network to carry his cast iron in segments to be transhipped by river or sea to where it was needed.  The civil engineer and surveyor for the Eaton Hall Bridge job was William Crosley (b.1802-d.1838), a well-respected canal and railway engineer who is not recorded as a contributor in previous Telford-related projects. The construction of Eaton Hall Bridge was supervised by Hazledine’s right hand man, William Stuttle, who implemented most, if not all, of Hazledine’s works on behalf of Telford.

The bridge consists of a single 150ft (46m) arched span, the same as that of the Bonar and Craigellachie bridges, formed of four ribs (30 x 2 ft / 9.15m x 62cm) that were cast in seven sections.  The ribs are connected with wrought iron bolts and braced by transverse plates.  It has open spandrels (the roughly triangular sections between arch and bridge top) featuring lattice bracing.  Over the top of the arch, the bridge is fitted with cast iron deck plates, which support the metalled roadway.  These are bolted together and lie over the full width of the bridge, 17ft (5.2m) wide.

The stone abutments at either end are made of plain, pale yellow ashlar sandstone, and curve outwards to meet the river bank. At the entrance to the bridge at either end, and on both sides, are short octagonal posts.   These posts are consistent with other Telford bridges, most of which have some sort of carved stonework detail flanking each end of the bridge, usually considerably more elaborate.

The Bonar, Craigellachie and the later but very similar Mythe and Holt Fleet bridges were elegant but rather plain.  At Eaton Hall bridge a lively ornamental element was added.   The spandrels, spandrel struts and outer arch ribs were provided with decorative cast iron motifs that give it a slightly frivolous edge, consisting of trefoils, quatrefoils and mouchettes.  Cast iron fretwork  (a repeating design of interlaced linear elements) is also bolted to the outer bracings, something that was done at other bridges but generally with a much simpler motif.   I don’t know what the original colour arrangement was supposed to be, but today it looks excellent in light blue and white.  The build date is cast into a the crown of the arch on the south side.  

None of Telford’s earlier or later bridges have this delicate ornamentation.  The only exception of which I am aware is Waterloo Bridge at Betws y Coed (1815), which has themed ornamental components in its large corner panels, as well as a bold statement spanning the full arch, commemorating the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo.

The gently arching road crossing the bridge is flanked with lovely white cast iron railings with short “dogbar” intervals between  decorative features and decorative details beneath the rail adding real elegance to the overall impact.  At the apex of the bridge are a pair of cast iron double gates made to the same design, that today are usually kept open.  The railings terminate in the octagonal sandstone pillars.

Gates at the crown of the bridge.

It seems clear that although it was built to a Telford design, Telford himself was so busy with other projects that he was not involved with the contract.  William Hazledine presumably took responsibility for the job, using the designs for Bonar and Craigellachie bridges, for which Hazledine had cast the iron and implemented the build.  Hazledine himself was probably also rather busy on Telford projects at this time, and the work itself seems to have been carried out by the civil engineer William Crosley, who performed the essential survey work, with William Stuttle, Hazledine’s trusted Clerk of Works and Stuttle’s son William Westaby Stuttle helping to implement the build. Being  experienced in the building of this type of bridge, Hazledine and the Stuttles would have needed minimal input from Telford.  

Telford’s workload was certainly immense at this time.  Just a few of these projects include ongoing on the Mythe Bridge over the Severn at Tewkesbury (started 1823 and completed 1826), the reinvented 3000 yard / 2743m Harecastle canal tunnel (started 1822 and completed 1827) and the Holyhead road (started 1810 and completed 1829) that included Holyhead harbour and two fabulous suspension bridges crossing the Conwy and Menai Straits.  He was also involved in a number or road and railway surveys.  Hazledine’s foundry provided the cast iron and the construction expertise for these as well.  This probably accounts for the presence of William Crosley, who was not usually employed by Hazledine and seems to have been brought in specially for this job.

By this point in both Telford’s and Hazledine’s careers, Eaton Hall Bridge was a very small  private project, but its decorative flourishes means that it stands out from other Telford and Hazledine bridges for its fragile beauty.  That it was the subject of much pride by those most closely involved with its construction is indicated by the incorporation of the names of its key builders  into the bridge’s design, preserved in raised cast iron lettering in the far corners of the delicate ironwork:  “William Hazledine Contractor” (in the northwest corner), “William Stuttle, Founder” (in the southwest corner), “William Crosley Surveyor” (at the northeastern corner) and “William Stuttle Junior Founder” (southeastern corner).  Unfortunately, apart from one corner that is clearly visible from the footpath (William Stuttle Junior), the other three are partially concealed by tree branches, so I was unable to get clear photographs.  The absence of Telford’s name in these credits also suggests that Telford was not directly involved in the construction of the bridge.

Next to the bridge and to its south, on the west bank of the river is Iron Bridge Lodge, a typically polished Grosvenor Estate building.  It was commissioned by the first Duke of Westminster, designed by the Chester firm of architects Douglas and Fordham and completed in 1895.  The plastic-topped black shed next to it doesn’t contribute anything positive to the aesthetic, but I assume that it is only temporary, and the Lodge is an otherwise very attractive addition to the bridge and its surrounding scenery.  There is a full description of it on the Historic England website.

View from the bridge to the north


Sources: 

Books and articles

Ching, F.D.K. 1995. A Visual Dictionary of Architecture. John Wiley and Sons Ltd.

Glover, J.  2017.  Man Of Iron.  Thomas Telford and the Building of Britain. Bloomsbury

Rolt, L.T.C. 1958, 2007.  Thomas Telford. The History Press.

Pattison, A.  n.d. William Hazledine (1763-1840): A Pioneering Shropshire Ironmaster.  West Midlands History https://historywm.com/articles/william-hazeldine-1763-1840  (Pattison’s full 278-page M.Phil, on which the article is based, is available here: https://etheses.bham.ac.uk/id/eprint/3358/1/Pattison12MPhil.pdf )

Website resources

Grace’s Guide
Eaton Hall Bridge https://www.gracesguide.co.uk/Eaton_Hall_Bridge
William Hazledine https://www.gracesguide.co.uk/William_Crosley_(1802-1838)

Historic England
Eaton Hall Bridge
https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1129943 
Iron Bridge Lodge
https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1138387

Engineering Timelines
Eaton Hall Iron Bridge
http://www.engineering-timelines.com/scripts/engineeringItem.asp?id=785

A walk along the Dee from Churton to the fabulous Eaton Hall Bridge at Aldford

Ordnance Survey Landranger 117, annotated with route details.

On yet another lovely spring day I again neglected the garden in favour of discovering one of the local walks, again from Churton to Aldford, but via a much longer route and this time to the west of the villages.  A couple of weeks ago I described short a walk from Churton towards the Dee, actually my first walk from Churton, but on that occasion I stopped short of actually reaching the river.  On Saturday I walked down the same track to the  Dee and headed north as far as Thomas Telford’s wonderful 1824 iron-built Eaton Hall Bridge at Aldford, before walking back through Aldford, over the B5130 and across the fields to Churton.

I’ll talk about the bridge on a separate post because it deserves some special attention, but here are details of the walk, which took over 3.5 hours at a fairly fast pace, but with stops to take photographs, chat to others and drop in at the Aldford village shop.  Although it is a short 45 minute walk by the shortest route across the fields from Churton to Aldford, the path along the Dee takes over twice as long to walk because it follows all the bends in the river.  The footpath numbers quoted throughout are derived from the Cheshire West and Cheshire Public Map Viewer.

The walk is very straightforward.  The start is reached by walking down the footpath that runs in a straight line from Hob Lane in Churton is “Churton by Aldford FP2.”  The track is wide and inviting, heading downhill as Hob Lane itself vanishes round a corner.  The hedges that flank the track are full of interest, but they form a fairly solid wall, so there’s not much else to see beyond.  The footpath simply follows the course of the river until Aldford comes into view on the right, and shortly afterwards the Eaton Hall Bridge becomes visible through the trees to the left.  The OS map (Landranger 117, the relevant section of which is shown above) indicates a short cut just north of the woodland section, eliminating a somewhat angular bend in the river, but I didn’t follow it.  In the future, given that it would cut out most of the less scenic portion of the river, I would take this short cut.

It is a nice walk from Churton to the Dee and as on my previous walk a couple of weeks ago, the high hedges largely block views of the fields but are very beautiful in their own right, with an increasing number of bluebells and campions at their feet.  By the Dee itself, there are dense zones of wild garlic, which is delicious.

Wild garlic, which will produce lovely star-like white flowers soon.

This less scenic section is immediately visible when you emerge from the track beyond Hobs Lane and turn right along the Dee.  It is really rather dispiriting.  There is a lot of flood damage in the form of fallen trees, branches and washed up debris, but rather more off-putting is on the opposite of the river, a stretch characterized by small chalets, many of them in a poor state of repair or completely derelict, with a series of messy landing stages made of pieces of scaffolding.  Not a promising start, but once that stretch ends, the rest of the walk is thoroughly enjoyable.  As I said above, there is a short cut that eliminates some of this section.

It is not always possible to see the river, because the footpath is set back from the edge and after the recent dry weather, the river is currently sitting rather low in its river bed, a couple of metres below the riverbank.  There are a lot of trees and shrubs growing on the bank, all now coming into leaf, and these hide the river from view along some sections, but where the river is visible it is very fine.  The riverbank trees are lovely in their own right, the spring leaves and catkins picked out in the sunshine.  The views across the well-maintained fields and hedgerows to the east give a sense of openness and order, the dark green crops a contrast to every light spring colour surrounding them.

 

Most of the footpath is very open, and there were a lot of butterflies, mainly red admiral, small tortoiseshell, painted lady and peacocks, although most refused to sit still long enough to be photographed.  There are also some small tracts of attractive woodland clearly marked on the Ordnance Survey map, one of which, just outside Aldford, is absolutely carpeted with more delicious Ramsons (wild garlic) that is just about to come into flower, after which it should be a spectacular sea of white blooms.  

 

 

A 10-year scrub clearance  and tree replacement scheme managed by the Eaton Estate along the banks of the Dee, which is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), has resulted in the planting of very young saplings supported in green tubes flanking the path in single, double or triple rows like a very short guard of honour.   The clearing of scrub, as well as flood damage, should considerably improve the river bank.  It will be interesting to see how it develops in the future. 

 

The Telford bridge just outside Aldford is an absolute treat.  It first emerges as brief glimpses through the trees before its fully glory becomes apparent, a thing of industry and restrained fantasy, solid and intricate, functional and decorative.  Above all, with ironwork picked out in pale blue and white, and with smart, narrow railings along the top of the bridge, it achieves an most refined elegance.  It spans a particularly well-manicured section of the Dee, linking two highly-polished parts of the Eaton Estate, itself part of the Grosvenor Estate.

 

Map and overlays copied from the Cheshire West and Cheshire Public Map Viewer. Poulton FP4 is the Telford bridge and the black dot in Aldford is the church.

Again using the online map viewer, the footpath (Aldford FP13) leaves the bridge road and crosses a field diagonally, heading for the impressive remains of a motte and bailey castle (of which more on a future post) and, just beyond, Aldford’s distinctive St John the Baptist church.  I walked from there along School Lane and turned left into Rushmere Lane, which flows into Green Lake Lane.  There, I paused to buy a few supplies from the well-stocked Aldford village shop before heading over the B5130 and threading my way through the fields, along footpaths Aldford FP6, Aldford FP4 and Churton By Aldford FP7 to Churton, swinging a particularly divine brown cob loaf for which there was no room in my rucksack.

It is an excellent circular walk if you have a few hours to spare.  In total, it will take about 3.5 to 4 hours depending on how fast you walk. It took me about 3.5 hours, but even pausing to photograph and chat, I’m a bit of a route-marcher.  If you prefer to stroll, it will take longer.

After having spent a winter in semi-hibernation (I truly hate the cold), by the time Churton was in sight my poor legs felt like a pair of old dogs that just wanted to curl up and sleep in front of the fire.  On the back of that thought, I remembered that on my way back from the Roman road last week, I was walking along Edgerley Road and ahead of me saw a man and a golden Labrador.  They were standing in the middle of the road engaged in an obviously fraught dialogue.  The dog, not old but clearly miffed about something, was refusing to move.  All four feet were glued firmly to the floor, and he was deaf to argument, persuasion and entreaty alike.  He simply wasn’t moving any further.  I did grin.  After giving the dog the usual ear massage and some general fuss, which was rewarded with soft eyes and a wagging tail, I offered commiserations to his owner and moved on.  My amused sympathies were with the owner at the time, but after today’s walk I have switched allegiances, and my empathy is now firmly the Labrador who didn’t want to move one more step.

 

A touch of Rome just east of Churton #2 – The Walk

Yesterday I went to find the section of the Roman road that runs from Chester, through Aldford, and down to the east of Churton.   The Roman road that starts in Chester and passes to the east of Churton is Margary’s road number 6a, also known as Watling Street West. On the Cheshire West and Chester’s Public Map Viewer, the section of it that passes through Aldford and passes Churton is public footpath “Aldford FP8.”  I described the background to Roman Chester and the British road system yesterday, in part 1.  The walk I took to find the traces of the road on the ground is the subject of this post, part 2.

The Roman road that starts in Chester and passes to the east of Churton is Margary’s road number 6a, also known as Watling Street West. On the Cheshire West and Chester’s Public Map Viewer, the section of it that passes through Aldford and passes Churton is public footpath “Aldford FP8.”

Plan from David Mason’s comprehensive book “Roman Chester. City of the Eagles,” 2007, p.50. My annotations in colour, picking out structures mentioned in the text that flank Watling Street West on the start of its route to Aldford, Churton, Whitchurch and beyond. Click image to enlarge.

By AD 200, after repairs and reconstruction, with new buildings added, Deva had fulfilled all of its architect’s original hopes, and plans of the fortress at this time allow reconstruction of the first part of the original route from fortress. On today’s city plan the route of Watling Street West begins at the Chester Cross, at the head of Bridge Street. The Bridge Street stretch of the road within the fortress walls was called the Via Praetoria. The fortress headquarters (principia) and neighbouring legionary commander’s residence (praetorium) would have been located here, behind the Chester Cross, facing down Bridge Street. The building housing the Victoria pub (with a toast to our friend Jack), and the neighbouring St Peter’s Church both sit over parts of the the principia and praetorium.

Proceeding down the Via Praetoria, flanked first by the scamun tribunorum (senior officer’s quarters) on each side and then by the thermae (bath-house) on one side, and what may have been the valetudinarium (hospital) on the other side, a traveller would have crossed the Via Sagularis that ran along the inner edge of the rampart. At that point he or she would have been stopped at a large stone gateway mid-way along the southern wall of the fort, the Porta Praetoria, which would have been one of four substantial defensive checkpoints for those going in and out. Sadly, the gateway was destroyed when the Medieval defences were extended. From here, the route passed down the path of Lower Bridge Street, crossing a bridge over the Dee into what is now Handbridge and was then a canabae legionis (civilian suburb) that sprawled beyond the fortress walls.

A section of the route of 6a from Aldford to Churton – LiDAR and Ordnance Survey. Click to see the bigger image. Source:
Roads of Roman Britain online gazetteer.

Once the bridge was crossed and the canabae legionis traversed, a left-hand turn down Eaton Road follows the path of 6a/Watling Street West to Eccleston. Much of the line of the road from here is shown both on the LiDAR (remote sensing) image and the corresponding Ordnance Survey map (from the Roads of Roman Britain website). Some 2km (1.2 miles) to the south of Chester, the road passed through Heronbridge (once a large Roman civil settlement on the west bank of the Dee), before crossing the Dee again, at Aldford. A Roman presence at such crossings, such as a fortlet, roadside inn (mansio) or way-station (mutatio) was not unusual, but to date there is no evidence for any such installation at Aldford.

From Aldford the road passed to the east of Churton and the Roman works at Holt, which were on the west side of the Dee. There was no bridge but the river could be forded at low tide. There is currently no evidence that a Roman site was established at or near Farndon on the eastern bank of the river. The road continued on its way from east of Churton through Tilston and Malpas before reaching Whitchurch (Mediolanum). From Whitchurch, another stretch of Roman road ran to Wroxeter (Virconium Cornoviorum) and from there travellers could proceed either southeast to London (Londinium) or Colchester (Camulodunum), and from these bases to the rest of Europe, or south to Caerwent (Venta Siluris).

A second and short stretch of road into this long section to the north of Churton at Aldford, and is also shown on the above map. In Ivan Margary’s scheme, this stretch of is 6aa. The route had been proposed during the 19th Century, but was not confirmed until recently. Although much of the route is under modern development, sections of the proposed section of road were identified by LiDAR, confirming that the road headed south through Huntington to Alford. LiDAR also revealed what is thought to be a previously unknown Roman camp fort along the path of that road. LiDAR, a remote sensing method, has become invaluable for revealing sub-surface features without excavation.

The map on the right is from the online  Map from the online Cheshire West and Chester Public Map Viewer

The red arrow shows the line of FP8, the footpath that runs along a stretch of the original Roman road, Watling Street West (also Margary’s 6a). Although I did a circular walk, along the footpaths marked by the arrows, the photographs below show only the Roman section of my walk, between Aldford and the section of the roadway that runs east of Churton. I will post photographs of the full circular walk that incorporated the Roman section in the next couple of days. There is nothing particularly Roman about it, apart from the broad width of the track and the fairly straight route that it takes, but it makes a very fine walk in its own right, with plenty of scenery and some wide, colourful vistas. I was intending to follow FP8 as far as FP10 (the diagonal path that runs back to where three paths meet on the yellow B-road, Edgerely Road). In fact, just past the dauntingly named but aromatically inoffensive slurry bed (marked on the map above as a blue rectangle) and on the other side of a metalled lane, the grassy path was flooded with very gungy, muddy ankle-deep water and I really didn’t fancy getting a boot fool of distinctly fetid sludge. Instead, I retraced my steps and turned west to cut along the metalled track that leads from FP8 to Grange Farm (of which it is a part) and retraced my original path along FP6 to Edgerley Road (along the route that I took a couple of days ago). So there remains a small run of the Churton section of Watling Street West accessible on public footpaths that I have yet to complete.

Roman Road Watling Street West (Margary 6a) where it crosses Edgerley Road.  The section south of the road is not a public footpath.  Source: Roman Roads in Britain Gazeteer

As the above maps show, Watling Street West bypassed Farndon completely, running to its east.  There is speculation, currently unsupported by archaeological evidence, that there may have been some sort of Roman installation at the present crossing between Farndon and Holt, because this may have been the best place to ford the river.  The tile and pottery works to the north of Holt on the east bank of the Dee made use of the river for most of their transportation needs, but a connection to Watling Street West would have been desirable, via a small branch road.  Even if there was a small Roman presence at Farndon, like a fortlet, it did not attract a large community and there was no reason to divert the main line of Watling Street West.  It is only when Farndon became an expanding community, some time after the construction of a permanent bridge, that a route from Aldford to Farndon was established.  Today, the B5130 passes along the 6aa (Huntington to Aldford) route rather than the 6a (Bridge Street to Aldford) route and then heads through the middle of Churton before arriving at Farndon.  Churton grew up as a small ribbon development along this new route, its earliest buildings apparently dating to the 17th century.  This route eventually replaced the section of Watling Street West that ran from Aldford to the east of Churton.  We are lucky that Watling Street West still survives as a farm track and public footpath.

Aldford viewed from Lower Lane

Footpath FP7 across a field from Lower Lane, just short of the B5130 road that runs through Churton and  Aldford.  A short flight of wooden steps leads to a stile.

Footpath across the field from Lower Lane  The footpath goes through the hedge and heads south, to the right

There are good views over the fields as you head to the south.

Follow the footpath to the east end of the restricted byway (RB16 on the map above), turn left and proceed along footpath FP8 along the Roman road

After crossing a small metalled lane leading to Grange Farm, the track runs out and a grassy and soggy section of the footpath leads further south.

The sogginess became very wet indeed and I turned back at this point, and will resume on another day.

Looking back the way I had come, the Roman road heads back towards Aldford and I turned left towards Grange Farm and a dry route back to Churton.

A note on walking conditions. Some of the walk follows a small lane but the rest runs through fields and young woodland or coppices. It is all very easy underfoot. However, at this time of year, and following any recent rainfall, sturdy damp-proof hiking footwear is strongly recommended as there is a bit of slightly uneven ground and some very muddy sections. Hereabouts, the land is not always well drained, and standing water tends to gather and linger soggily on the surface.

Sources:

Books and journals:

Davies, H. 2008. Roman Roads of Britain. Shire Archaeology

Frere, S.S., Hassall, M.W.C. and Tomlin, R.S.O. 1988. Roman Britain in 1987. Britannia, Vol. 19 (1988), p.415-508

Jones, G.D.B. and Webster P.V. 1968. Mediolanum: Excavations at Whitchurch 1965–6. Archaeological Journal, 125:1, p.193-254

Lathan, F.A. 1981.  Farndon. The History of a Cheshire Village.  Local History Group

Margary, I. 1973 3rd edition). Roman Roads in Britain.  John Baker 1973.

Mason, D.J.P. 2001, 2007. Roman Chester. City of the Eagles. Tempus

Mason, D.J.P. 2007. Chester AD 400-1066. From Roman Fortress to English Town. Tempus.

Peel, J.H.B. 1976. Along the Roman Roads of Britain. Macmillan

Shaw, M. and Clark, J. 2003a. Cheshire Historic Towns Survey. Aldford Archaeological Assessment. Environmental Planning, Cheshire County Council

Shaw, M. and Clark, J. 2003b. Cheshire Historic Towns Survey. Farndon Archaeological Assessment. Environmental Planning, Cheshire County Council

Ward, S. 2013. Chester. A History. The History Press

Website resources:

Cheshire West and Chester – Public Map Viewer
https://maps.cheshirewestandchester.gov.uk/cwac/webmapping

Roman Roads Research Association http://www.romanroads.org/

The Roads of Roman Britain
http://roadsofromanbritain.org/index.html
http://www.romanroads.org/gazetteer/cheshire/cheshire.html

A Web-enhanced version of Roman Roads in Britain by Thomas Codrington,
published by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, London, 1903
https://tinyurl.com/75ujdd43

A touch of Rome just east of Churton #1 – Background

Yesterday I went to find the section of the Roman road that runs from Chester, through Aldford, and down to the east of Churton.  I have divided this post into two parts.  The first part, below, looks at the background to Roman roads in Britain.  Part 2 describes the walk itself.

The Cuppin Street excavation one lunchtime, 1986 or 87. My photo.

As mentioned in the introduction to this blog, I trained as an archaeologist and spent my summers in the 1980s digging up various parts of England and Wales. Although technically a prehistorian, my early excavation experience also included the Roman temple site at Caerwent (Venta Silurum in southeast Wales), the basilica at Silchester (Calleva Atrebatum in Hampshire) and three consecutive seasons with the Grosvenor Museum team on the multi-period Cuppin Street site in Chester (Deva). Whenever modern building work takes place in Chester, the city’s archaeologists are given time to undertake excavations. Before we started digging it up, under the capable direction of Dr Simon Ward, the site was an informal, roughly surfaced car park that was destined to become the Magistrates Courts, originally just outside the Roman town’s walls.

A collapsed road was one of many important features that made up a truly fascinating site. The metalled road had a central dip along its depth, which we set out to investigate. Black tar from a defunct Victorian gasworks oozed into a very deep trench, where a friend and I were excavating what lay beneath the road. A wood-lined drain beneath the road had slowly collapsed over time, becoming blocked with general waste, the middle of the well-made road had gently subsided into the void, creating a bizarre concave profile. Drains in Deva were often located under roads, and could be up to 5ft deep. The Cuppin Street example was one of several major and minor roads and lanes that punctured Deva from all directions. I’ve had something of an interest in Roman roads ever since.

Deva (later Deva Victrix) was at the far northwestern edge of the roman Road network Where England and Wales met at the point where the Dee emptied into its estuary. It was a strategically important Roman base with a large command area over much of the northwest and north Wales. The legionary fortress was established by at least AD79 in the territory of the Cornovii who were based at Wroxeter (Virconium Cornoviorum), although Rome’s presence in the Chester area predates the permanent fortress by two decades. There is no indication of violence, and it is possible that the Cornovii had already come to terms with the Roman invaders, perhaps as early as AD43 when Claudius entered into treaty relationships with a number of kings. Whatever Roman presence had been here previously, the fortress was established in AD79, having been started in around AD74-75, and was built by the Second “Adtiutrix” Legion. In AD86 the second legion was sent to the Danube and was replaced by the Twentieth “Valeria Victrix” Legion, which remained until the withdrawal of the Roman army from Britain in AD 410.

One of Julian Baum’s stunning impressions of Deva, showing the
beginning of Watling Street West (Margary 6a) and the Dee
crossing. Source: Julian Baum, Take27 Ltd.

When completed, the Deva fortress covered over 60 acres (24 hectares) on the standard playing-card plan (see site plan below), and eventually housed up to 6750 soldiers, servants and slaves, and was the headquarters of the local legion. It was a sizeable entity, 20% larger than both Caerleon (Isca) and York (Eboracum), which were both permanent legionary fortresses that were built at much the same time as Deva. It has been suggested that this size may have been needed to accommodate some unusually grand buildings under orders from an important official resident at the fortress, perhaps the provincial governor who, appointed by the emperor himself, would have required a more impressive portfolio of amenities than the usual fortress would have provided. A civilian entourage followed the military, including merchants, service providers and families of the soldiers (legionnaires were not permitted to marry until AD212, but this did not prevent them having partners and children). They were not permitted to live within the fortress so settlements (canabae legionis) grew up as suburbs immediately in the vicinity of the fortress. Also near to the fortress were the site’s cemeteries. Other small civil settlements growing up further afield at Heronbridge, a farming community, and the smaller Saltney. A tile and pottery works was established further down the Dee at Holt.

Roman roads of the Chester area. 6a and 6aa leave Chester and head south, meeting at Alford. 6a continues south, passing to the east of the Dee and the villages of Churton and Farndon. Map source: The excellent “Roads of Roman Britain” online gazetteer.

The fortress was in a good strategic position, convenient both for subjugating fractious groups in north Wales and for maintaining control over the northwest, where subjugation of the troublesome Brigantian tribe had become a priority. It was built on a rise in the land within a bend in the river Dee, meaning that it had natural defences on two sides, which contributed substantially to the security of the walled fort. The racecourse, on the Roodee, sits on the location of what was once a natural harbour, enabling a busy port to flourish on the Dee just beneath the fort. This was a natural extension of the road network, enabling the fort to be provisioned, with both soldiers and supplies being brought in from Europe, and for local commerce to develop along the coast. The Romans brought a wide selection of foods to Britain that we now think of as everyday, but were then luxury items, including apples, pears, cherries, grapes, asparagus, cabbages, carrots, onions, turnips, cucumbers, fennel and dill. High value perishables like these were much better transported by sea than road, which was both slower and could seriously jolt fragile produce. Other luxury items usually trusted to sea rather than road were high quality but delicate or costly objects like samian pottery, glass and vessels of wine. To link north and south, the river required the provision of a bridge, and this was erected where Lower Bridge Street crosses the Dee into Handbridge. In its place is now the Old Dee Bridge, dating to the 14th Century. The road went on to Whitchurch and Wroxeter, from where a number of destinations were possible. Today it is known as Watling Street West. Other roads out of Deva headed north, east and west, as shown on the map below.

The vast and complex road network was the glue that bound the impressive imperial infrastructure of forts, fortresses, fortlets, towns, inns, way-stations, camps and industrial centres. It is a remarkable cat’s-cradle of long straight stretches, most metalled or paved, others very rough, with some following much older trackways. Today many modern roads follow these original Roman routes, like Watling Street, along which the A5 now travels. Roman roads were planned out by teams of engineers and surveyors.  There are no documents detailing how the task was achieved, but the first step was probably to establish the line of the road, which was planned as a more or less straight line, as the crow flies, from a to b (in this case Chester to Whitchurch).   Just as today, the army had trained surveyors and engineers.  A map would probably have been prepared, and the required line would have been staked out

The profile of Stane Street in Surrey offers a good idea of how many roads were built in Roman Britain. Source: Epsom and Ewell History Explorer website.

Although the local geology, geomorphology and soil structure determined the exact construction of roads, they followed a basic conceptual idea of how a road should be built.  Roads were flanked by drainage ditches, which carried rainfall runoff and provided quarry material for a raised section along the road.  In profile, the roads were were usually built up above the level of the surrounding landscape and were cambered, with a curved top and sloping edges to aid drainage.  Many modern accounts describe four or more levels of construction, but Hugh Davies says that this belief, widespread but incorrect, was probably a misreading of the work of a famous Roman architect called Vitruvius who certainly describes for successive layers, but was actually referring to paved areas around prominent buildings rather than roads.  In the case of roads,  a standard arrangement was usually much simpler, consisting of two levels, although road construction methods differ from one place to another.   The standard arrangement consisted of an agger (a built-up section of road between the two drainage ditches), a layer of rough metalling consisting of stones, cobbles, pebbles  and smaller infill, and then a top layer of smaller stones and/or gravel.  Some were then topped with paving stones, which helped to preserve them.  The agger could be up to 1.2m (4ft) but was often raised only just above the level of the surrounding landscape.  Like forts and temples, roads were not strictly standardized.  Today some remarkable examples survive, but the greater majority have been destroyed or eroded.  Re-use for modern roads and expansion of urban settlement have destroyed sections of roads, while weather damage and compaction over the centuries have flattened many of the surviving roads and broken up their surfaces.

Sasha Trubetskoy’s schematic map of Roman Britain, based on
Harry Beck’s London Underground map of 1933. Click image to see a bigger version. Source:  Sasha Maps

Modern knowledge of this vast network, extending from the south coast into mid Scotland, has been built up by extensive detective work from the 18th Century onwards. Initial research into the British Roman road network was based on the “Antonine Itinerary,” written in c.AD 200, one of handful of surviving Latin documents that provide records names and other data that can help to located both and the routes of roads. The document is made up of a series of lists, and each list, or iter, provides details about the start and end point of each route, its total mileage (mille passus or m.p, meaning 1000 paces) and notes places distributed along the routes. The lists only cover about 25% of British roads, and are by no means complete, but they have been an invaluable research tool. Today, with dedicated work on foot, together with the use of remote sensing technologies from the air, each year new discoveries help to fill the obvious gaps and to reveal unsuspected stretches. One of the most important organizations contributing to this task of identifying sections of the road network is the terrific Roman Roads Research Association, which builds on work pioneered by Roman road expert Ivan D. Margary. Margary devised a numbering system to both identify and categorize Roman roads, publishing his comprehensive “Roman Roads in Britain” in 1955, which continues to be an invaluable reference. The Roman Roads Research website includes an invaluable online gazetteer, the Cheshire section of which has been assembled by David Ratledge and Neil Buckley, with many thanks for such a great resource. The outcome of all of this research is nicely captured on a cleverly conceived schematic map designed by cartographer Sasha Trubetskoy, using the London Underground of map of 1933 designed by Harry Beck as a template.

The Roman road that starts in Chester and passes to the east of Churton is Margary’s road number 6a, also known as Watling Street West. On the Cheshire West and Chester’s Public Map Viewer, the section of it that passes through Aldford and passes Churton is public footpath “Aldford FP8.”  This is the subject of part 2.

 

Sources:

Books and journals:

Davies, H. 2008. Roman Roads of Britain. Shire Archaeology

Frere, S.S., Hassall, M.W.C. and Tomlin, R.S.O. 1988. Roman Britain in 1987. Britannia, Vol. 19 (1988), p.415-508

Jones, G.D.B. and Webster P.V. 1968. Mediolanum: Excavations at Whitchurch 1965–6. Archaeological Journal, 125:1, p.193-254

Lathan, F.A. 1981.  Farndon. The History of a Cheshire Village.  Local History Group

Margary, I. 1973 3rd edition). Roman Roads in Britain.  John Baker 1973.

Mason, D.J.P. 2001, 2007. Roman Chester. City of the Eagles. Tempus

Mason, D.J.P. 2007. Chester AD 400-1066. From Roman Fortress to English Town. Tempus.

Peel, J.H.B. 1976. Along the Roman Roads of Britain. Macmillan

Shaw, M. and Clark, J. 2003a. Cheshire Historic Towns Survey. Aldford Archaeological Assessment. Environmental Planning, Cheshire County Council

Shaw, M. and Clark, J. 2003b. Cheshire Historic Towns Survey. Farndon Archaeological Assessment. Environmental Planning, Cheshire County Council

Ward, S. 2013. Chester. A History. The History Press

Website resources:

Cheshire West and Chester – Public Map Viewer
https://maps.cheshirewestandchester.gov.uk/cwac/webmapping

Roman Roads Research Association http://www.romanroads.org/

The Roads of Roman Britain
http://roadsofromanbritain.org/index.html
http://www.romanroads.org/gazetteer/cheshire/cheshire.html

A Web-enhanced version of Roman Roads in Britain by Thomas Codrington,
published by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, London, 1903
https://tinyurl.com/75ujdd43

Churton and Aldford Footpath FP6

Still exploring routes between Churton and Aldford after my walk along Churton by Aldford FP4, today I went along FP6.  The FP numbers refer to the interactive Cheshire West and Chester’s Public Map Viewer, from which the map at the foot of this post is copied.

From Churton, head down Pump Lane, turn left into New Lane and then right along the footpath that passes the stud farm.  Keep going past the the metal kissing gate on the left, staying on the metalled road until the left-hand corner.  Then climb the stile into the field and head straight on.  There are a number of stiles on this part of the walk.  Shortly you cross a small stream, cross over a field diagonally and then pop out on Edgerley Road, where there are two footpath choices on your left.  Choose the one on the left, following the path of the stream.  This is footpath FP6 and you can follow it in a straight line all the way to Aldford.

FP6 is a particularly interesting as well as scenic route, taking in views over the rapeseed fields, Grange Farm where tall, slender trees (possibly poplar?) flank a wide track north and were shining bright and light in the sun.  The little cluster of lovely buildings at Brooklands on Lower Lane is particularly nice, and immensely peaceful.  Most of my walks are circular, but this time I enjoyed it so much that when I reached Aldford I turned around and came back again.

 

From the Cheshire West and Chester’s Public Map Viewer, with my arrows added in blue.

A note on walking conditions.  Although there has been standing water on other walks, this one was very dry except for a bit of hoof-trampled mud around the stile from the field into Edgerley Road, and this was easy to walk around.  It is all on the flat, and although the first part to Edgerley Road is partly field, most of it is track and metalled road.  It is very easy-going underfoot.

Snow in April

In spite of the cold, in my more optimistic moments the sunshine and clear blue skies seemed to argue for a steady drift towards the heat of summer.  I had been walking on footpaths in the fields to the east of Churton in the bright sun yesterday and in spite of the hypothermic conditions, which were fairly savage, it was something of a surprise, to look out of the window a couple of hours later and find myself confronted by a solid sheet of snowfall.  It settled, but thinly.  After a very cold night it was still providing a light blanket over my garden when I woke up this morning, but by midday it had melted away.

 

Across the fields from Churton towards Aldford

I had noticed a footpath sign whilst delivering My Village News in the eastern section of the village, pointing past the stud farm.  So yesterday, on another bright, sunny day I went to investigate the possibilities.  It was bitterly cold with a sharp, unforgiving wind, but very beautiful. I hadn’t bothered looking up the footpath on a map, so was just happy to go wherever it went, but was surprised to find myself heading north rather than east, as the footpath took an abrupt left-hand turn in the rough direction of Aldford.

The north of Churton, and as well as being a picture village with an interesting history (about which there will be details on a future post), has the twin benefits of a village shop and the excellent Grosvenor Arms.  Chester Road, that links the two villages with Chester to the north and Farndon to the south, is very busy and there are large stretches with no pavements, so walking along the road is not viable.  It had always been my plan to see if there was a footpath through the fields to Aldford, so it was therefore good news that I had found myself on a footpath heading in that direction.  Helsby hill was ubiquitous to my right, and eventually the spire of St John\’s church at Aldford came into view.

Having seen various signs to other footpaths, all clearly officially sponsored by the council, when I returned home I had a scoot around on the Internet and found the Cheshire West and Chester Public Map Viewer, a really invaluable resource for walkers (and horse riders).  It showed me where I had erred in my attempt to reach Aldford (ending up at Glebe Farm) and introduced me to the vast network of footpaths that criss-cross the West Cheshire area.  Impressive and a promise of great walks to come.  I was initially somewhat confused by the repetition of footpath numbers, but you have to check the placename that precedes the number.  At first it made me go slightly cross-eyed, but I soon go the idea. I started off on Churton by Alford (CbA) FP1 and turned left into CbA FP4. That  segued seamlessly into CbA FP7.  I next crossed on to Aldford (A) FP6, which leads via Lower Lane to Aldford.  On the return leg, walking back down FP6, I saw that there was a footpath to the left and when I looked it up on the map viewer this was another FP7, but this was an Aldford FP7, not a Churton by Adford FP7.   It can be a tad confusing at first.  I have circled both on the map to the left, to clarify matters.  The red arrows show the route I took.

Skirting the edge of fields and through a young patch of woodland, the original path bifurcated, and it became clear that there was a complex network of well-marked paths, with excellent signage provided by Cheshire West.  My first route took me on a path that emerged on the main road at Glebe Farm on a section with no pavement, so I retraced my steps and took one of the other branches, which linked to a narrow lane that led to Aldford.  A great find. I had had the footpaths almost completely to myself, but the lane was clearly a favoured promenade, with a lot of dog walkers out and about.

It was a remarkably diverse walk.  The fields were all quite different.  One was turned over to neat little rows of small saplings, including tiny conifers and fruit trees just coming into blossom.  Another, a deep lush green with a baked red track dramatically bisecting it, had clearly been used for growing sweetcorn, as aged husks remained on the track.  Desiccated and skeletal remains of last years verges ran along one field, a meter tall.  I look forward to identifying them when they emerge later in the year.  Farmhouses in the traditional local red brick Grosvenor Estate style looked out over the rolling landscape, and in a dip a large patch of blue water glistened alluringly.  A field of ransoms provided a lovely yellow contrast to all the green, brown and blue.  In the patches of woodland there were big rabbit sets, and the sunlight filtered through the mainly deciduous bright new leaves, but there were also carpets of pine cones. The walk back, providing a different perspective on things, was equally rewarding.  The little patches of woodland,  in geometrically precise shapes, were young and presumably planted deliberately, and were small jungles of bright new growth.  The further I walked, the more I realized that Cheshire, or at least this western edge of the Cheshire Basin, is not as flat as I had expected it to be.  The term “undulating” seems to fit the bill.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sources:

The footpaths on the walk are shown on the Ordnance Survey maps of the area, but Cheshire West and Chester Council has developed the Cheshire West and Chester Public Map Viewer, a really invaluable resource for walkers (and horse riders).   it is free to use, and there is no need to register.  On the ribbon at the top of the screen, you can click the + symbol in the ribbon at top left, which gives you a drop-down menu.  From the Leisure and Culture tab, you can chose which options you want to display on the map.  I chose Bridleways, Footpaths, Restricted Byways and Walking, which gave me the tracks shown on the above map.   It is worth playing around with the features to find out how to get the most out of the site.