Category Archives: Conservation

The 1898 Sibbersfield Lane milepost along the Chester-Churton-Worthenbury turnpike

Today I was able to take a photograph of the 1898 Sibbersfield Lane milepost, just on the way out of Churton as the road heads towards Crewe-by-Farndon (which is on the other side of the bypass).  I have been taking photographs of the mileposts since I first became interested in the turnpike.

The turnpike (or tollroad) that ran from Chester to Worthenbury was marked with mileposts.  All of those surviving date to 1898, when the council was obliged to take over the turnpike.  They presumably replaced earlier ones.  I have been collecting them, digitally, for over a year now.  So many of them were completely encased in foliage and shrubs that it was impossible to verify their existence until the winter, when all the leafage died back.  I have posted about the turnpike in two parts.  The first looks at turnpikes in general, and the second looks at the Chester to Worthenbury turnpike in particular.  Another post includes photographs of the mileposts as I have located them.

Sibbersfield Lane is a very fast road, and it is not at all safe to stop, get out and take photographs, and as much as I would have liked to get some good shots, it was clearly unwise to get out of the car to risk life and limb, so these are two shots taken from the car, with my handbag camera.  I didn’t have the professional camera that I usually use, so they are a bit blurred.  The camera was, however, perfectly level, and this can be seen by the line of road and hedge.  It is the poor, sad milepost that is at a perilous angle, slowly subsiding into a ditch.  It seems, otherwise, to be in reasonable condition.  I will alert Chester West and Cheshire Council, but it seems unlikely that it will be high on their list of priorities.

 

The late 19th century Churton village pump

A little way down Pump Lane, opposite Churton Hall in the village of Churton is a cast iron hand-activated water pump, in an alluring shade of bottle green.  Its original manufacturer marking is almost illegible, but apparently reads “G. INGOLD B. STORTFORD,” referring to G. Ingold of Bishop’s Stortford.  The modern paintwork makes this illegible today.  I haven’t found any photographs of the pump prior to 2005 when it was renovated and reinstalled, but there must be plenty in local collections, so perhaps some will turn up.  It looks as though it is in very good condition, at least externally, its paintwork glossy and its structure intact.  Its What Three Words location is ///lance.alas.prune.

Pumps were installed from the 18th century, and began to replace wells in the  latter half of the 19th Century.  Wells in Churton are recorded at Churton Hall, Pump Lane, inside and out, and inside Cherry Tree Cottage on Chester Road, discovered during renovation work, the latter now sealed over.  Latham says that well water was very hard in the Farndon area, and that most houses had some form of rainwater storage as a common supplement to use of the well, for washing clothes and other tasks were softer water was required.

There were two primary types of upright pump commonly installed in Britain in the mid-late 19th Century: the lift pump and the force pump.  The Churton pump is probably a lift type.  These are relatively simple, with two valves opening and closing as a piston is lifted and dropped with the lever.  When the handle is lifted, the lower vale opens and the upper valve closes.  The barrel draws the water up the downpipe, filling the barrel below the piston.  When the handle is pushed down, the lower valve closes and the upper one opens, forcing water into the barrel about the piston.  The next upward pull of the handle pushes the water out of the spout, with water again filling the barrel below the piston.

Pumps relied on bringing water up from local aquifers via boreholes, which were the biggest part of pump installation.  A simple screw-shaped auger could be used for soft soils (I use a small one for planting daffodil bulbs), but percussion drilling was required for sinking a borehole through stone, a far more laborious and expensive process.   

The first village standpipe pumps were made of wood, which inevitably rotted, and later lead.  Lead was malleable and enabled smaller pumps to be made, but it was expensive and was targeted by thieves for melting down for resale, in spite of the threat of transportation, which was the standard punishment for theft of village pumps. Cast iron, a new technology in the 18th century that spread during the 19th century, replaced both.   Cast iron pumps were cheap to produce and far less prone to decay.  They spread rapidly into villages that had not previously been able to afford a pump, and found their way into homes, inns, farms and public institutions such as schools and hospitals.

Public pumps were not merely water sources but, much like the office water fountain today, places where people bumped into one another and where information, news and gossip were exchanged.  Some activities were easier to carry out at the pump itself rather than carrying the water back to home or business, whilst some better-off residents paid for the water to be delivered to them.  Comings and goings at the pump made it a social as well as a functional resource, and probably changed the dynamic of village life quite substantially once installed.

Servicing the pump was important, replacing the more vulnerable parts to ensure that it stayed functional.  The pump would sometimes be out of commission during the winter months due to frozen water, and the pumps themselves might be chained up to prevent use, and wrapped against the cold to protect them from frost damage.  I do much the same (wrapping, not chaining) with my high-tech hose reel and my outdoor taps.


fdfsdfsd

So far a precise date for the installation of the Churton pump eludes me. Latham says that the village pump at Crewe-by-Farndon was installed by William and Mary Barnston in the 1850s, and the one in Farndon by Mary Barnston in about 1877.   However the Churton pump is on the Churton-by-Aldford side of the road, inset into a field on that side of the road.  This is relevant because Churton was divided at that time into two parts, Churton-by-Aldford and Churton-by-Farndon, the division between the two running down the middle of Pump Lane.  Churton-by-Aldford came under the Grosvenor family’s Eaton Hall estate, and Churton-by-Farndon came under the Barnstons of Farndon, so the pump, if not paid for by public subscription, is more likely to have been donated by the Grosvenor family rather than the Barnstons of Crewe-by-Farndon.  On the other hand, I can find no record of a village pump in Aldford at around the same time.  Aldford, of course, was a model village, built from scratch by the 2nd Marquess of Westminster in the mid-19th Century, and the houses may have been supplied with running water.  So the question of how and precisely when the Churton pump arrived remains, for the time being, unanswered, but there are clues to establishing a rough date.  

G. Ingold of Bishop’s Stortford (Hertfordshire), made pumps for a variety of locations, although usually in the south, including villages in Essex and Cambridge.  The company had been founded in 1851 by John Ingold for sinking wells and manufacturing pumps.  He was based at Rye Street with a workshop in Apton Road in Bishops Stortford.  Following the death of John Ingold, the business was taken over by his son George, but the latter was marking pumps “G. Ingold” well before his father’s death.  This seems to put our pump quite late in the 19th Century.  This is born out by a number of wells and pumps in Uttlesford in Essex, where the date was recorded.  The earliest marked as “G. Ingold” as opposed to merely “Ingold,” was in 1873, then 1886, with a cluster of five in the 1890s.

Where images are available, all of the Ingold pumps looked very similar. As far as I can tell from the Essex and Cambridge examples posted on the web, most Ingold pumps had handles to the rear, with only some, like the Churton pump, fitted with handles at the side.  The Ingold spouts often had a thorn-like feature at the top of the bend, a bucket hook, often decorated.  This is absent on the Churton pump, although there is an indentation where one might have been located, visible in the photograph above left.

There are two modern signs on the walls flanking the Churton pump.  One is a disclaimer notice drafted by a local solicitor, commenting on the quality of the water available from the pump, saying that  it derives/derived from an artesian aquifer and warning that one drinks at one’s own risk.  I did try to activate the pump, giving it a really good go after heavy rainfall when the aquifers were all filling up, but it produced nothing.  Although I’ve never tried to use a village pump before, there was no feeling of resistance as you might expect of a lever raising a piston.  Thanks very much to Irene Mundy and John Gallagher for the information that When the renovated pump was reinstalled it was discovered that the pipe delivering water up to the pump was deeper than expected. Half way down the pipe towards the water reservoir another, secondary pumping mechanism had been attached in the past.  Although the pump initially drew water, it eventually ceased to function.  It’s nice that it did work for a while, and it still looks great.

The other sign refers to the restoration.  Although it says that it was a Millennium project, commemorating the arrival of the 2000s, Latham comments that the renovated pump was not actually installed until 2005.  The sign records that the project was supported by both Barnston and Grosvenor estates, both with vested interests in the village, as well as the Chester City Council.  The engineering and installation work was carried out by A.E. and K.E. Jones, farmers near Pant yr Ochain (Gresford), and the welding by J. Vale.  Someone must have a record of the project and the installation of the pump, including photographs of the installation and official opening, which would be really good to see.  The Eaton estate repaired the stone wall that encompassed the pump.  If any more details come to light, I will cover the restoration project on another post.

It was super, late last summer, to see that the sandstone trough beneath the pump had been planted out, and that a very attractive display of bedding plants had replaced the straggling weeds (see also the photo at the top of this post).  Many thanks to whoever took the trouble.  It was great to see it looking so good.  The photograph was taken in August 2021.  The other photos on this post were taken in May 2021.

—-
For more information on village pumps
I recommend the short book, Village Pumps by Richard K. Williams and the Village Pumps website (details of both below), both of which provided a lot of the general information in this post and are comprehensive resources on the subject of all types of village pump.
______


Sources:

Books and papers

Latham, F. 1981.  Farndon: the History of a Cheshire Village. Farndon Local History Society

Williams, R.K. 2009.  Village Pumps.  Shire Library

Websites

The Recorders of Uttlesford History
https://www.recordinguttlesfordhistory.org.uk/

Village Pumps website
http://www.villagepumps.org.uk
Village Pumps: Churton entry
http://www.villagepumps.org.uk/pumpsChesh.htm#C10C

Waymarking.com
Village Pump, Widdington, Essex
https://staging.waymarking.com/waymarks/wmC4MW_Village_Pump_Widdington_Essex_UK

 

Comparing a Churton village postcard, the 1911 map and a modern photograph

1, Fourways. 2, Cross Cottage. 3, Hob Cottage. 4, The Old Red Lion, extension or combined with the earlier building?. 5, The Old Red Lion (former pub with half-timbered section, barely visible here but marked by three square planters). 6, Rowley Place (1-4). 7, New Cottage. 8, Stone House (formerly Stone Cottage and Lilac Cottage, now one house). On the other side of Stone House, and out of view in both postcard and photograph, is Cherry Tree Cottage, dating to 1610 and beyond it Wayside Farmhouse, Highway Farm and The Byre.

This is a tinted version of a black and white photograph used for this distinctive postcard of Churton.  I have seen several for sale on eBay, but all of them were unposted and unmarked, whereas I like to see the stamp, post mark, recipient address and to read the message.   This is a particularly good example.  The postcard was printed in Germany as many early postcards were. It has a Edward VII Halfpenny stamp (Edward VII came to the throne on the death of his mother, Queen Victoria, on 22 January, 1901, and died on 6 May 1910) and bears a Chester postmark dated April 16th 1911.  It was destined for an address in Bootle.  See the message at the end of the post.

On the photograph above and on the maps below, the red numbers have been added for ease of identification, but do not relate in any real-world way to the buildings themselves, none of which, apart from the homes that make up Rowley Place, were allocated Chester Road numbers, and all of which are known instead by their house names.  Several buildings are set back from the road today, and are not visible in the postcard, so have not been mentioned here but are shown on the top of the two maps below.  Note that numbers 4 and 5 refer to what make up the same residence today, but were clearly built at different times in the past.

Modern map of Churton from the Public Map Viewer, compared with the 1911 map (Cheshire Sheet LIII-3, a 1909 revision of the 1872-4 and 1897 -1898 surveys).  Between 3 (Hobbs Cottage) and 4 (part of the Old Red Lion), the thatched half-timbered house is still shown.

Many of the buildings and features shown in the photograph are still present today, but there is one notable omission. Eventually I hope to get to grips with the histories of individual buildings, including my own, but for the time being I have confined myself to playing “spot the difference” between the early 20th century postcard and the photograph I took in March 2021.

The most notable of the buildings that was in the postcard but is absent in the photograph is the half-timbered thatched building that sits between Hobbs Cottage (3)  and the Red Lion (4 + 5) on the photograph, a wonderful looking place that may date to the same period as Churton Hall Farm (in Pump Lane).  It was built directly onto the red sandstone bedrock, and has a small flight of stairs over the bedrock to reach the front door.  If anyone has any information about it, please get in touch.  Its site is now the driveway that gives access to The Nook, which is set back from the road.  A startling sight in the postcard is the regiment of telegraph polls, with seven rows of crossarms.

Almost completely hidden in the postcard is the Old Red Lion, which seems to have been thatched at that time.

Two buildings post-date the 1911 map:  Sandrock and New Cottage on the plot marked 7.   Most other changes are cosmetic, but like the the usual modernizations of window frames but a A  number of minor embellishments have been made to existing properties. The shutters have been removed from Fourways (1).  A sympathetic roof conversion has been fitted to  part of the former Red Lion (4), the porch over Fourways (1), has been changed for something a bit more effective and Hobbs Cottage (3) has been fitted with a small bay window on the ground floor and its brickwork has been rendered and painted.  A road sign for Pump Lane has been added to Cross Cottage since the photo in the postcard was taken (2).  At first glance I thought that the  same signpost pointing down Pump Lane to Coddington had been retained, but it has either been replaced or moved, because it is no longer in front of Hobbs Cottage.

Do get in touch if you have further insights.

As to transport, a novelty of the image compared to today is that there is no traffic thundering up and down!  Instead, there is a one man on horseback retreating down the road at a plodding pace, and a horse-drawn carriage with a small group of people around it, together presenting a very peaceful rural scene.  Ron Parker, who was born in the village, told me that when he was a child they used to play ball in the road.  Heaven help anyone who tried it now.

The note on the postcard was written on a Sunday evening at 6pm in April 1911 by one Jim (presumably Jim Rogers) to his mother Mrs Stanley Rogers.  It  says that they were just going out to attend the Congregational Church at Farndon, having been to “the Parish” in the morning.  This was presumably the Congregational chapel built in 1853, now a home named Chapel House.  The Parish church would have been either St Chad’s in Farndon or St John the Baptist Church in Aldford, depending on whether they were staying in Churton by Farndon or Churton by Aldford.  The two civil parishes were only combined to form a single parish in 2015.  The visitors had already been to Chester on a sunny day, when it was so warm that they had had to carry their coats, and on the following day they were making an early start for a trip to Llangollen.  It must have been quite a trek by horse-drawn carriage. Even with the warm weather, they were enjoying a fire in their sitting room on that Sunday evening.  Jim finishes the card by pointing out that “on the other side is a picture of the conveyance that brought us here”.

Churton seems like a rather remote spot for a holiday break, particularly when the means of getting there was horse and carriage, but that’s very much what this message appears to indicate.  It would be interesting to know the details of the end-to-end journey that ended in a horse and carriage ride into Churton.

If you own a used copy of this postcard (i.e. one that has been posted and has a stamp, postal mark and message), do share the details of it either by commenting here, or by getting in touch with me.  It would be good to build up a picture of the sort of experiences people had when they visited Churton, and to know why they visited in the first place.

 

The Big Butterfly Count 2021

The Big Butterfly Count runs i Britain between 16th July to the 8th August, so we are just in time to join in.  Every year I do the Big Garden Birdwatch, counting birds that land in the garden in a given hour.  It ran this year in January 2021, before I moved to Churton, but I’ll be talking about that next year when it comes around again.

I had not, however, heard of the Big Butterfly Count.  It was reported in the latest edition of the magazine New Scientist, so I fired up my web browser to get the details.

The Big Butterfly Count “is a UK-wide survey aimed at helping us assess the health of our environment simply by counting the amount and type of butterflies (and some day-flying moths) we see.”  The idea is to sit in a promising spot (for example, in your garden, in a park or along a footpath) for 15 minutes and take note of everything you see in that time.

You will need to register for an account, which is free, after which you can download and print off a butterfly identification chart (which also lists the species in which they are interested), and then send in your results.  You can do this via a free smartphone app or via your web browser (computer, tablet, etc).

I am going to spend my 15 minutes in front of my Black Knight buddleia, which is a great butterfly attractor.  A tremendously good excuse for abandoning the weeding and mellowing out with the wildlife 🙂  I had to chase out a peacock butterfly from the living room only this morning.  On a recent walk there were many types in the hedges flanking the footpath section of Knowl Lane at its western end as it approaches the Dee, and I suspect that I will find that the species that prefer those hedges and the ones gracing my garden will be very different.

Find out the details on the Big Butterfly Count website.

 

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.