Category Archives: Holt

Valle Crucis Abbey #4 – Patrons, abbots and priors

Cadw sign at the site showing a cutaway of how the interior of the Valle Crucis abbey church may have appeared

Part 1 of this series about Valle Crucis Abbey near Llangollen introduced the background to 12th Century monasticism in Britain, via St Pachomius and St Benedict, and talked about the Cistercians, the spread of the Cistercian order in Wales and why Valle Crucis was located where it was.  Part 2 looked at how the buildings at Valle Crucis were used and how the monastic community functioned.  Part 3 looked the architectural development of the abbey, an architectural jigsaw of a story from foundation in 1201 to dissolution in 1536.

Part 4 and upcoming part 5 look at how the patrons, abbots, priors and monks of the Cistercian Order contributed to life at Valle Crucis.  In Part 4, the top levels of the abbatial hierarchy are introduced, and in Part 5 the main body of the monastic community is described, all helping to build a view of what sort of people were to be found at the abbey, and what life was like within the cloister.

It is the way of the literate world that more is known about those at the top of the hierarchy than those of the main body of the community, because it is the patrons and abbots whose names were on formal documentation, and who were accountable to the mother abbey at Strata Marcella, to the General Chapter at Cîteaux, to the pope, and ultimately to God. More mundanely, the abbots were also subject to the vagaries of political activity and war, and as leaders of the abbey were named as its representatives.  Even so, there are considerable gaps in the list of abbots at Valle Crucis, many of whom are simply unrecorded and others are known only by their names, and even then not always with certainty, and sometimes only partially.

Normans, Cistercians and Welsh princes

The remains of Strata Florida in midwest Wales. Photograph by Jeremy Bolwell. Source: Wikimedia

Although Wales had its own monastic tradition both before and after the Norman invasion in 1066, by 1150 Norman lords had established houses attached to a number of monastic orders in Wales, connected with French orders.   The Normans also set about normalizing the priesthood, bringing it under the archdiocese of Canterbury, and a number of new dioceses were established, each under a new, Norman-sponsored bishop.  Welsh Cistercian monasteries were spawned by  the Anglo-Norman abbeys in Tintern and Whitland in the south.  Whilst Tintern remained embedded in the Norman-Marcher tradition, Whitland’s fortunes became bound up with the Welsh princes in the 12th century when the Lord Rhys ap Gruffudd restored the fortunes of Deheubarth by claiming it from the Anglo-Norman Robert fitz Stephen.  Lord Rhys assumed patronage of both Whitland (founded with monks from Clairvaux) and Strata Florida in mid-west Wales (founded with monks from Whitland), the latter initially founded by fitz Stephen.  The new Welsh monasteries spawned by Whitland spreading from south to north, were all founded with this sense of being true to the Cistercian order, the spirts of St Benedict, the Virgin Mary and Christ, but were, at the same time, Pura Wallia, pure Welsh.

The regulations and charters of the Cistercians formalized the original intentions of St. Robert of Molesme Benedictine Abbey, who founded the Cistercian order in 1098.  Robert was was conscious that the  labora component of the Benedictine motto “ora et labora” (prayer and work) had been largely abandoned.  In the Cluniac order in particular there was too much comfort, a lot of elaborate and time-consuming ora and very little labora.  Cistercian abbeys were intended to be self-sufficient, combining work, prayer and solitude, distant from the distractions of urban areas.  This was Robert’s vision for the New Abbey at Cîteaux.  Robert was recalled somewhat forcibly to Molesme to resume his role, but was succeeded as abbot at the New Monastery by Alberic (1099-1109), who built on Robert’s initial work and successfully obtained papal privilege for the new abbey and its community in 1100.  Alberic was in turn succeeded by Stephen Harding in 1109, an English monk and theologian who consolidated his predecessors’ work over the next 25 years.

The New Monastery at Citeaux as it is today. Source: European Charter of the Cistercian Abbeys and Sites

Abbot Stephen Harding is usually credited with much of the underlying structure that ensured the success of the Cistercian order.  He appears to have understood that new abbeys, each one its own world isolated from its predecessors and peers, meant that standards would be difficult to maintain.  One of his priorities was to standardize life throughout the Cistercian network of abbeys, to ensure conformity to both the Benedictine Rule and Cistercian values, and it is generally thought that he produced the official constitution for the Order, the Carta Caritatis (Charter of Care), ratified by the Pope in 1119.  Amongst other regulations were a number that dealt with governance and accountability.  The governance was to ensure that all abbeys had the resources to conform to the Cistercian vision.  The accountability was the means by which abbeys were monitored, disciplined and assisted.  

Aerial view of Valle Crucis. Source: Coflein

Records of life at Valle Crucis are sketchy.  To complicate matters, as the centuries passed and the Cistercian order relaxed some of the more severe of its dictums, daily life changed accordingly.  This means that there is no single Valle Crucis way of life because as ideological decay set in, so did the way in which lives were lived.  This phenomenon of gradual departure from early Cistercian values is by no means unique to Valle Crucis, and was remarkably consistent across the Cistercian abbeys and across the centuries.  Some of this is visible at Valle Crucis, and the records that do survive give some insights into a few of the peaks and troughs at Valle Crucis.  Between what is known about Valle Crucis and what is known about Cistercian abbeys in general, we can make a fair stab at getting to know some of the people and their roles.

Patronage of the abbey

The founder and first patron of Valle Crucis

Cistercians might seek relatively remote locations, but they never made any decisions about founding new abbeys without the input of the Cistercian order, local senior clergy and influential secular local dignitaries.  The most important of these secular authorities was the patron who put up the money for the building of the core monastic buildings, including the church, and provided the abbey with lands to secure its income.  Welsh monasteries were not merely religious but had a political and territorial role.

Valle Crucis Abbey in its valley setting today. Source: Archwilio

Prince Madog ap Gruffudd Maelor of Powys Madog (north Powys, northeast Wales) was the last of the major landholders in Wales to invest in a Cistercian establishment, and was convinced by four of the nearest abbots that he should found a monastery in his territory, extending the reach of the Cistercians in Wales.  Investing in Valle Crucis was not a light-hearted undertaking.  As well as land on which to establish the monastic precinct (the monastery buildings, the abbey church, the gatehouse, storage facilities and possibly farm buildings), the abbey had to be allocated lands to ensure that it could at least achieve self-sufficiency and, ideally, to make a profit to fund future activities.  Although monks took a vow of poverty, some abbeys and priories became very wealthy in their own right.  In the case of Valle Crucis, endowment  first meant relocating the village that already occupied the land chosen for the abbey, and providing it with land and other properties, such as mills and fishing rights.  The lands subsequently allocated to the abbey, both highland and lowland, suitable for livestock grazing and agricultural development respectively, had previously fed into Madog’s own coffers.

Depiction of purgatory in the 15th Century Les Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry. Source: Wikimedia

In return, what did Madog acquire to compensate himself for the ill-will of villagers and farmers, the loss of a useful revenue stream?  The position, prestige and identify of the Welsh princes in the 12th Century was dependent not merely upon political power, but also on spiritual security, which could be secured by investment in monastic establishments and the prayers that would be dedicated to them by the monks.  Richard Southern’s epic narrative about the Middle Ages emphasises the importance of monasteries to patrons (p.225):

The battle for the safety of the land was closely associated with the battle for the safety of the souls of their benefactors.  It was this double objective that induced great men to alienate large portions of their property for monastic uses.  They and their followers and families . . . believed that their temporal and eternal welfare equally depended on the warfare of the monks.

At the same time, his personal prestige would grow along with the monastery.  He had achieved a new status, a validation of his authority and a connection into the wider European world of erudition, culture and divine integrity represented by the spread of the Cistercians and their influence.  With a Cistercian abbey in his heartland, no-one could accuse any ruler of presiding over an uncivilized land.  The spread of the Cistercians in Wales was often connected with reinforcing power, prestige and identity, whilst still maintaining a Welsh personality all wrapped up in a nicely Christian package.  A neat trick.

By investing in a monastic establishment, Madog also stayed on the good side of the Church.  More importantly, what he obtained for himself and his family was the most important direct commodity that the abbey had to offer – its prayers.  As the horrors of purgatory loomed ever closer, patrons hoped that the strength and integrity of monastic prayer would offer powerful intercession.  The prayers of monks who were so close to the divine might work wonders on behalf of the deceased and his family.  Although the Cistercians initially banned burial of secular people within monastic premises, no matter how important, this rule was not observed at many Cistercian monasteries, and certainly at Valle Crucis part of the arrangement seems to have included the burial of Madog and members of his family within the monastic precinct, yet another step nearer to God.

Patrons descended from Madog ap Gruffudd Maelor

When Madog ap Gruffudd Maelor, prince of Powys Fadog (north Powys) died in 1236, his son Gruffudd Maelor ap Madog (c.1220-1269/70), appears to have taken over most of the responsibilities of Madog’s role, although the domains were split between all five of Madog’s sons.  It was Gruffudd who in the year of his father’s death re-confirmed the founding charter, meaning that Valle Crucis retained the properties and assets that had been bestowed upon it by Madog.  He had two sons, Gruffydd Ial ap Madog and Madog ap Gruffydd Maelor.  The family had complicated allegiances, swapping sides between the Welsh and the English, but retained their lands until Edward I took Powys Fadog in 1277.  Gruffudd’s sons were both buried at Valle Crucis, and had presumably taken over the patronage as their father had done before them.

Patronage under English rule

Map showing Bromfield and Iâl (Yale). Source: Rogers 1992, p.444

Valle Crucis, located in a part of Powys known as Bromfield and Iâl, found itself in the middle of several political tugs of war and it is difficult to know what sort of patronage followed between the death of Gruffyd and the suppression of Valle Crucis in 1536.  The answer lies somewhere in the history of Bromfield and Iâl, which had become something of a diplomatic bargaining chip. It seems worth recounting some of that history in order to highlight how political complexities could impact both Valle Crucis and other monastic establishments in Wales.  

Following Edward I’s conquest of Wales Edward I’s reparations to Valle Crucis were generous, but these were intended for replacement of stock, repairs to property, and general compensation for the injury to the dignity of the monastery, but Edward did not replace the Powys princes as patron.  Madog ap Gruffyd, the great-grandson of founder Madog ap Gruffudd Maelor, was buried in the abbey in 1306, as was his cousin Gweirca, implying that they continued to support the abbey even after Edward I.  However, on the death of Madog ap Gruffyd everything changed.

Much of the following has been based on information from the 1992 doctoral thesis The Welsh Marcher Lordship of Bromfield and Yale 1282-1485 by Michael Rogers (any errors are, of course, my own).  Rogers quotes a charter of Edward I from 7th October 1282 at Rhuddlan:

Notification that the king, for the greater tranquillity and common benefit of him and his heirs and of all his realm of England, has granted by this charter to John de Warenne, earl of Surrey, the castle of Dinas Bran, which was in the king’s hands at the commencement of the present war in Wales, and all the lands of Bromfield, which Gruffudd and Llywelyn, sons of Madog Fychan, held at the beginning of the said war . . . saving to the king the castle and land of Hope . . . ; and the king also grants to the earl the land of Yale, which belonged to Gruffudd Fychan, son of Gruffudd de Bromfield, the king’s enemy; doing therefor the service of four knights’ fees for all service custom and demand . . .

Seal of John de Warenne, 6th Earl of Surrey. Source: Wikipedia

Two years later in 1284, John de Warenne granted Bromfield and Iâl to his son William, who died young in 1286.  The crown once again took possession whilst John tried to claim his rights to the lands, but in the following year Bromfield and Iâl were restored to John, in spite of possible claims of William’s baby son, also John, born in 1286.  When John de Warenne died on 27th September 1304, his grandson and heir, William’s son John was still a minor and became a ward of the king, with Bromfield and Iâl remaining in crown hands until 1306.

The history of Bromfield and Iâl was tied closely to the history of the village of Holt, which was also given to John Warren on Madog’s death, and which also passed to William.  John began the castle, which William subsequently continued to build.  Holt and its castle passed by marriage into the hands of the Earl of Arundel, who fell foul of Richard II and was executed.  After reverting to the crown and again being granted to the Earls of Arundel, Holt and its castle were granted by Richard III to Sir William Stanley, together with Chirk Castle the lordship of Bromfield and Iâl (now known as Yale) in 1484. It is this family that appear to have taken on the patronage of Valle Crucis.  Unfortunately Stanley was himself executed for treason in 1495.  Holt Castle next passed to William Brereton, who was apparently also a patron of Valle Crucis, before being executed in 1536 under Henry VIII for most foolishly tinkering with Ann Boleyn.  Bromfield and Iâl was then transferred to the crown under Henry VII and subsequently Henry VIII.

Sir William Stanley. Source: Wikipedia

In 1536 the Act of Union withdrew the special status of the Marcher lordships, and Bromfield and Iâl were incorporated into the new county of Denbighshire, together with Chirkland, Denbigh and Dyffryn Clwyd. 1536 was a momentous year for Bromfield and Iâl, and marked the dissolution of Valle Crucis.

After the death of Madog, with Bromfield and Iâl passing to John de Warenne, Valle Crucis had now of passed from the Welsh line to the English.  In spite of its location in the territory of Bromfield and Iâl, it is by no means clear whether Valle Crucis received any real material support from de Warenne or subsequent owners of the land.  On the other hand, it seems as though the descendants of the former Welsh ruler of Powys Madog still took an active interest in the abbey, and that local landowning patrons may have been involved with the abbey’s writing of Welsh history and its connection with Welsh poets, whom local gentry also supported.  The Trefor family, from whom two of the 15th century abbots as well as bishops of St Asaph were derived, is one example.

It was not until the arrival of Sir William Stanley in the picture that clear support for the abbey is once again demonstrated.  Whilst it is possible that the Stanley family may have continued to support the abbey on a private basis after Sir William’s death, it is more likely that reversion to the ownership of the crown changed the abbey’s circumstances yet again.  Eventually Bromfield and Iâl passed to Henry Fitzroy, duke of Richmond and Somerset, who became the patron of Valle Crucis and who was involved in untangling the problems that ensued, not long before the dissolution, under Abbot Robert Salusbury.

I suspect that there is a lot more to be said on the above, and hope to dig out some more details as I continue to look into Valle Crucis.

Abbots of Valle Crucis

One of the ways in which Cistercian standards were maintained was in the strict hierarchy of the abbey.  The senior position was abbot, who was supported by a prior and, at larger establishments a sub-prior.  Beneath them were the choir monks who made up the primary community of the monastery.  Although monks were in theory equal in status, many of them had particular responsibilities, and the requirement for self-sufficiency meant that these roles were very clearly delineated and were of importance to the smooth running of the abbey.  The monks assigned certain roles were called obedientiaries.  The monks will be discussed in part 5.

The role of the abbot

The remains of Strata Marcella, the abbey from which Valle Crucis was founded. Source: Coflein

The most important person in the abbey was the abbot (from the Greek abbas, father).  He would normally be assisted by a prior, the second in command.  The abbot was responsible for maintaining order according to the Cistercian regulations.  He was accountable to both the mother abbey, Strata Marcella in mid Wales, as well as the founding abbey, Cîteaux, for the abbey’s performance and adherence to Cistercian standards, as well as for internal morale and discipline.  An abbot could have been a prior or an experienced monk before being elevated to the most senior position within a new abbey.  He could be promoted internally from within his own abbey or another Cistercian abbey on the retirement, death or elevation of a predecessor. Alternatively, when a new abbey was established the mother house provided the abbot and monks, and the new abbot was responsible for managing not only the monks but also for overseeing the building of the monastery and its church, a process that could take 40 years or more.

Most importantly, the abbot was responsible for ensuring that salvation was ensured for all of of the monks under his authority.  Salvation could only be achieved by undivided focus on God, achieved by adhering to the Order’s rules, including obedience, commitment and remarkable self-discipline.  Individual breaches of internal order would be profoundly disruptive to the community as a whole and, depending on the nature of the transgression, could place the individual’s soul in jeopardy.  Even the most dedicated and devout might find frustrations and difficulties associated with such a life.  Maintaining strict discipline, albeit with compassion, empathy and care, was of fundamental importance for a community that lived together, usually for life, and the abbot was responsible for the wellbeing of both individual monks and the community as a whole, the father of his community.

Salvation.  God seated in glory with angels to either side, proclaims salvation; the archangel Michael fights the 7-headed dragon as devils are hurled by other angels from the sky.  From the Cistercian Abbey of Citeaux. Source: Wikipedia

The abbot was also responsible for the welfare of the monastery’s finances and its economic  self-sufficiency.  Each abbey received land and associated assets to ensure that it was self sufficient, but these resources did not manage themselves and, with assistance from key obedientiaries, the abbot was responsible for ensuring that the abbey achieved ongoing financial security.  Obedientiaries, monks with specific roles within the community, were each allocated a budget to finance their particular area of responsibility, and the abbot would have been responsible for overseeing how to allocate funds, and how these individual budgets, once allocated, were employed.  The running of a monastic establishment was equivalent to running a business, and the abbot was its managing director.

Each year, abbots were obliged to proceed to the heart of the Cistercian order, the New Monastery at Cîteaux, to attend a meeting called the General Chapter, which discussed matters of policy, changes to the rules and statutes, and disciplinary matters and ensured that standards were maintained. Sometimes abbots at lesser abbeys such as Cymer near Dolgellau, or abbeys going through economically rough patches, were forced to borrow the funds required for this long trip, which might place a heavy burden on the economic resources of the monastery.    

Abbots of Valle Crucis

The abbey took its tone from the abbot, and there were both successes and failures recorded at Valle Crucis.  Nothing much could be done about the war waged by Edward I on the abbey’s properties, and although reparations were made by Edward twice in the late 13th Century, the financial constraints and perhaps even some privation within the community may have been felt.  It would have been the job of the abbot at that time of these and other difficulties to mitigate the impacts of the worries and any challenges that the abbey experienced.

There are no likenesses of any of the abbots of Valle Crucis, with the possible exception of a stone effigy that may have been Abbot Hywel, shown below and discussed further in part 5.  The Cistercians did not believe in adorning their monasteries with art works, and even though later Cistercian abbots might have indulged themselves with portraits, during the dissolution of the monasteries, Henry VIII commanded that all the assets of the monasteries be sold or destroyed.  Only a few Cistercian portraits therefore survive, and none of them were from Valle Crucis.

Sculpted face at the far end of the slype. Source: Wikimedia

Valle Crucis, founded in 1201 with monks and an abbot, Abbot Philip, from Strata Marcella, received an annual visitation from the abbot of Strata Marcella, or his proxy, throughout its life to ensure that it was conforming to the rules and values of the Cistercians.  Nothing is known of Abbot Philip, except that his appointment as abbot of an important new house marks him out as a highly responsible and suitably motivated individual, in all ways suitable for the daunting task of bringing up a monastery and its economic infrastructure from scratch.  Certainly the architectural development of the abbey argues that Abbot Philip was very capable in at least that respect, but a statute issued early in his tenure refers to him rarely celebrating Mass or receiving the Holy Eucharist.  He was apparently not alone, as the Abbots of Aberconwy and Carleon were also found guilty of the same lax behaviour.   

There is mention of an an Abbot Tenhaer in 1227 and again in 1234.  Nothing about him is known, but three dates tie in roughly with his tenure.  In the mid 1225 and 1227 Valle Crucis was recorded as being in dispute with neighbouring monasteries Strata Marcella and Cwmhir respectively, probably in connection with grazing rights.  In 1234 the General Chapter recorded that the incumbent abbot had allowed women to enter the monastic precinct.  The name of the abbot is not given, so the guilty party could have been either Tenhaer or his immediate successor whose name is not recorded.

Between approximately 1274 and 1284 an Abbot Madog or Madoc is known, his name recorded in two notable documents.  The first was a letter to the Pope in 1275, in which seven of the Welsh Cistercian abbots defended the reputation of Llywelyn against charges made by Anian, Bishop of St Asaph. The other six abbeys were Aberconwy, Whitland, Strata Florida, Cwmhir, Strata Marcella and Cymer.  Valle Crucis is recorded in the same year as having only 5 monks.  The second document is a document dating to December 1282, which notes a loan from Prince Llywelyn ap Gruffud of £40.00 to “expedite and sustain Abbot Madog” on abbey business.  That was a substantial sum – the National Archives Currency Convertor estimates that today this would equate to £27,762.78 (or 47 horses, 88 cows or 173 stones of sheep wool) It may well have had something to do with Edward’s two major assaults on Wales in 1277 and 1282–83 respectively.  Edward’s generous compensations to Valle Crucis and other northern abbeys indicate the level of damage inflicted on the monastic establishments, allocated to Valle Crucis in 1283 and 1284 (£26 13s  4d and 160 respectively – the latter the highest sum paid to a Welsh Cistercian monastery).

Fragment of a gravestone, possibly from Valle Crucis and perhaps showing Abbot Hywel. Photograph by Professor Howard Williams. Source: ArchaeoDeath blog

An Abbot Hywel is mentioned in February 1294 and July 1295. The dates tie in with a record showing that Edward I placed the estates of Roger of Mold in the care of the abbey in 1294 (whilst Roger was on Crown work in Gascony), and then visited in person in in 1295, making oblations (religious gifts) of “two cloths.”  It is possible that he is the same Hywel Abbas shown in the fragment of a gravestone effigy showing a tonsured monk, first recorded in 1895 and now in Wynnstay Hall near Ruabon, which was on loan for a period to Llangollen Museum. A photograph of the effigy is shown left.  Professor Howard Williams and colleagues have researched the fragment, the style of which is consistent with the late 13th century, and believe that it probably came from Valle Crucis.  Whilst it may have been one of the choir monks, the investment in the carving of the slab argues that it was someone of more importance.  

Abbot Hywel was succeeded by a number of abbots about whom, again, almost nothing is known, but in 1330 Abbot Adam was appointed and is apparently mentioned on several occasions until perhaps January 1344.  It is thought that the inscription that remains clearly visible on the rebuilt gable on the west façade of the abbey church belongs to this abbot, claiming credit for the restoration work.  His inscription was not consonant with Cistercian ideas of modesty and humility, but this type of autograph was by no means unknown in the Cistercian Order.

St Asaph Cathedral, which dates back to the 13th Century. Source: Wikipedia

Again there are some names or partial names recorded, but this was the period of the Black Death that arrived in 1349, when keeping up to date records was probably the last thing on most people’s minds, and it is not until Abbot Robert Lancaster that more details are again available.  Abbot Robert was installed as abbot of Valle Crucis in about 1409, the year in which the papacy was reunited under pope Alexander V after the Great Schism of 1378.  Shortly afterwards he was elevated to the bishopric of St Asaph.  He held the positions of Abbot and Bishop simultaneously, until September 1419.  His is an interesting case, although not unique.  In that same year, 1419, a petition to the pope records that he had undertaken repairs to the monastery following a fire possibly inflicted during the Owain Glyndŵr rebellion.  Another extension to his twin role was granted In June 1424 for another fifteen years.  The conflicting demands of St Asaph and Valle Crucis may have tested his leadership skills because there is papal correspondence to the monastery, reminding the monks of their vows of obedience to the abbot, implying that there had been at least one serious breach of discipline or a challenge to his authority.  Abbot Robert may have retained the abbacy of Valle Crucis up to the time of his death in March 1433.  It is somewhat ironic that 6 generations on from Madog ap Gruffudd Maelor, the founder of Valle Crucis, the damage inflicted on the abbey during the Welsh rebellion between 1400 and 1410, was lead by Madog’s own descendent Owain Glyndŵr.  This time, there was no compensation, and it is not known how Valle Crucis, under Abbot Robert, was able to fund its own recovery.

The English Richard or John Mason held the position of abbot, for a period period lasting between February 1438 and July 1448, which may have been a period of neglect, although the evidence for this has not been clearly stated.  Abbot Mason was English, which may have caused difficulties within a Welsh context.  Although 18 years after the end of Owain Glyndŵr’s rebellion, nearly a generation on, there must have been residual resentment and a sense of loss amongst the Welsh gentry of Powys Fadog, if not amongst those monks of the Valle Crucis community who retained a sense of Welsh identity.

Sculpted head at the far end of the slype. Photograph by Llywelyn2000 Source: Wikimedia

There is a gap of some seven years in the records, but the three abbots that followed, Sîon ap Rhisiart (John ap Richard, 1455-1461), Dafydd ab Leuan ab Iorwerth (1480-1503) and Sîon Llwyd (John Lloyd) seem to have engineered a turnaround in the fortunes of the abbey, which now came under the patronage of the Stanley family who have been discussed above.  Under these abbots, Valle Crucis became a centre for literature and poetry.  At the same time, it seems to have become a rather more gregarious establishment than in previous centuries, entertaining high profile guests in fairly lavish style, praised in verse by Welsh poets Guto’r Glyn, Gutun  Owain and Tudur Aled.

Abbot Sîon ap Rhisiart (John ap Richard) was abbot between c.1455 and 1461.  David Williams refers to him as an “abbot-restorer,” who was from an important local family, the Trefors.  He is best known for the enthusiasm with which his hospitality was received by the poet Gutun Owain who described Valle Crucis as “a palace of diadem.”

Abbot Dafydd ab Leuan ab Iorwerth seems to have become abbot in February 1484.  He may have come from the Aberconwy monastery, and was again a member of the important local Trefor family.  He too was being praised by the Welsh poet Gutun Owain for his hospitality, commenting, with hindsight somewhat ambivalently “how good is the lord who loves to store his wealth and spend it on Egwestl’s noble church.”  Owain also praised Dafydd’s architectural achievements, including a fretted ceiling in the abbot’s house.  The village of Egwestl was the one that Valle Crucis had supplanted, and the abbey was still known locally by the village name.  Abbot Dafydd became deputy reformator of the Cistercian Order in England and Wales in 1485, a position of considerable importance.  Between 1500 and 1503 he was raised to the position of Bishop of St Asaph in Wales which, like Abbot Robert Lancaster earlier in the same century, he held concurrently (in commendam) with the the abbacy of Valle Crucis.  He died in about 1503.

Abbot Sîon Llwyd (John Lloyd) became abbot in about 1503 and stayed in the position until about 1527.  He became one the overseers of the compilation of the Welsh pedigree of Henry VII, a royal appointment, and in 1518 he was described as “king’s chaplain and doctor of both laws.”  Like his two predecessors, he was praised in verse for his hospitality by a well known poet, this time Tudur Aled.  Although he was buried at Valle Crucis, his tombstone was moved after the suppression and placed outside the church of Llanarmon yn Iâl.

Henry Fitzroy, duke of Richmond and Somerset, and patron of Valle Crucis during the abbacy of Robert Salusbury and during the dissolution of the abbey. Source: Wikipedia

Unfortunately but interestingly, this relatively brief period of glory was followed by disgrace.  The richness of the abbey in its late years, and its comfortable lifestyle, seems to have attracted quite the wrong sort of abbot, of which more in the next post.  The member of a local family was appointed to the post of abbot, although it is far from clear how he was able to obtain the position.  The family was prominent and well respected, but Abbot Robert Salusbury, who held the position from 1528-35 has been implicated in a number of crimes and felonies and appears to have had no training as a monk.  As Evans puts it (Valle Crucis Abbey, Cadw 2008):  “He was a totally unsuitable candidate, who appears to have been imposed upon the abbey;  he was probably under age, never served a proper novitiate as a monk, and does not seem to have been properly professed or elected.” Five monks left, leaving just two behind, forcing Robert Salusbury to acquire seven more from other monasteries, who he paid to serve.  In February 1534, with matters clearly out of control at the abbey, Henry Fitzroy, duke of Richmond and Somerset, Lord of Bromfield and Iâl, and patron of Valle Crucis, sent a visitation (inspection) to Valle Crucis, headed by Abbot Lliesion of Neath (reformator of the Cisternian order in Wales), and accompanied by the abbots of Aberconwy, Cwmhir and Cymer.  Things were soon set in motion for change.  In June 1534, the abbey was put under the care of the Abbot of Neath. in 1534, assisted by the prior Robert Bromley.  Salusbury was sent to Oxford for re-education, with a generous allowance, but the order’s good intentions were wasted.  Salusbury was eventually imprisoned in the Tower of London for leading a band of highwaymen in Oxford.

Abbot John Herne/Heron/Durham had the unenviable task of succeeding Robert Salusbury.  He had been a monk of the Abbey of St Mary Graces, Smithfield, London. It must have been something of a culture shock transferring from one of the Cistercian order’s few urban locations to the rural splendours of Valle Crucis, especially as he found the finances in such a poor state that he was forced to borrow £200 to meet the expenses of his own installation.  He was abbot of Valle Crucis from June 1535 until August 1536.  He was abbot when the Valor Ecclesiasticus, Henry VIII’s valuation of all the abbeys in the  realm, was carried out.  All monastic establishments valued at less than £200.00 were listed for immediate suppression and and the abbey was closed accordingly in 1536.  Henry Fitzroy, patron of Valle Crucis, died in the same year, at the age of 17.  After the suppression of the abbey, it is recorded in March 1537 that Abbot John was granted a pension.

Priors and sub-priors

The opening page of the Valor Ecclesiasticus, showing Henry VIII. Source: Wikipedia

The prior was secondary only to the abbot, was usually promoted from within the abbey’s own ranks and could rise to abbot of the same or another establishment, particularly a new, daughter establishment.  

The only prior to receive  attention in records associated with Valle Crucis is Prior Robert Bromley, who had been at Valle Crucis since about 1504 was passed over in favour of Robert Salusbury in 1528, a clearly very bad decision.  Williams says that he was given several privileges, perhaps as compensation for being passed up for the abbacy in 1528:  “He was now absolved from ecclesiastic censure due (if any) for not wearing the habit; he was permitted (because of infirmity) to wear linen next to his skin, long leggings of a decent colour (the monks were normally hare legged beneath their habit, and a ‘head warmer’ under his hood; he was allowed to talk quietly in the dorter [dormitory] . . . . and to eat and drink in his own (prior’s) chamber” (The Welsh Cistercians, p.68).  Such concessions were usually allowed only to the abbot.  When Salusbury was ousted by the Abbot of Neath in 1534, it was put in Bromley’s care temporarily, but he had no desire to become abbot of such a neglected establishment.  He too was a victim of the Valor Ecclesiasticus, and was respectably pensioned off.

Final comments on part 4

Valle Crucis from the south

As I was trying to untangle the stories of Powys Fadog and Bromfield and Iâl with a view to determining how they impacted patronage of the monastery, and to see what sort of political world surrounded and incorporated the abbey, it became increasingly clear why there were peaks and troughs in its career.  Whilst there were  periods of investment in architecture and scholarly output, it was also clear, and perfectly understandable, that the abbey had been through periods of downturn and neglect.  

The Black Death of 1349 raised questions in secular minds about the value of the clergy and of monastic prayer, whilst the Hundred Years War between 1337 and 1453 and the Great Schism of 1378-1409 inevitably challenged more than the idea of a unified Cistercian identity, placing Britain and France (the homeland of the Cistercians), in opposing camps.  For the entire period of the Great Schism, the annual General Chapter at Cîteaux was cancelled, with a papal bull from Urban VI releasing the Cistercians outside France from their obedience to the abbot of Cîteaux.  The General Chapter resumed in 1411, but the tone of Europe, the perception of the Church and the character of the Cistercian order had changed. It was during the late 14th and 15th centuries that the abbots of Valle Crucis became more worldly, less committed to the original ideals of either St Benedict or the earliest Cistercians.

The penultimate abbot, Robert Salusbury, was clearly a very poor decision, but demonstrates how both the abbey’s current patron, Henry Fitzroy, and the Cistercian order mobilized together to resolve the undoubtedly embarrassing problem.  They might not have bothered had they known how soon their world was to come tumbling down.


Part 5 is coming shortly, and will talk about the monastic community below the level of abbot and prior, and how the monks and their colleagues lived their lives.  All parts are available, as they are written by clicking on the following link:

Sources for part 4:

Tying in various bits of data would have been a lot more difficult without the excellent Monastic Wales website, a brilliant resource for all monastic establishments in Wales, which lists a number of abbot names mentioned in documents, highlighting gaps in the sequence and allowing a clear impression of what is and is not known about both the abbey and its abbots.  I used this as my starting point for reading about the personnel at Valle Crucis.  As usual, The Welsh Cistercians by David Williams (2001) and the booklet Valle Crucis Abbey by D.H. Evans (2008) have been invaluable.  

All sources for the series are listed in part 1.


A short walk along the Dee at Holt, taking in Holt Castle

Holt Castle

After a morning of shifting logs, the sad remnants of an enormous fallen tree, from one end of the garden to the other and stacking them in the shed, I was fairly stiff and very bored.  It was a lovely day, so even though there is an immense pile still sitting there, I put the wheelbarrow back in the garage and decided to go and walk along the river, taking in Holt Castle.

A number of people have asked me if I’ve visited the castle yet, and my answer that the last time I saw it was probably 30 years ago always seems a tad lame, given how close it is.  I will talk about the castle on another post, but it was interesting today to see how much it has changed.  When I was last there, it was inaccessible and covered in ivy.  I remember the doorway hanging in the side of the wall, and remembered that it was built on a sandstone base, and that local sandstone was quarried from around the castle to provide building material and form a moat, but I had forgotten anything else that I knew about it.  Today, I was so pleased to see how well it has been served since I last saw it.  There is now a staircase leading to the top of the castle, from which the views of the Dee and the fields beyond are excellent, and there is plenty of signage to explain all the features remaining, and to show what existed in the Middle Ages.  I must try to find the photographs I took 30 years ago for comparison.

I was walking straight into the sun, which was beautiful but blinding, so after visiting the castle I retraced my steps and headed instead towards the bridge, crossed the road just before it, and went through the gate into the grass field that flanks the Dee to its west, heading north in the direction of Chester.  It was only a short walk.  I did not pass out of the field onto the track, which was covered with deep pools of muddy water, but the sun on the grass made it glow, the reflections in the river were lovely, and the cobwebs forming silver nets on the ground were glorious, and all in all it was a really rewarding stroll.





Visiting and accessibility notes

There is no carpark for the castle, but during the week there is plenty of on-road parking.  The footpath leading down to the Dee is well maintained, but as it opens into the open grass it is muddy and a little slippery after rainfall.  That is true for the worn footpaths around the castle too, so suitable footwear is required.  The path leading up to the top of the castle is gravel set into a plastic matrix, and felt very safe underfoot.  The metal staircase up tot he top of the castle is also well-textured underfoot, with a good handrail.  It’s only a short flight.  Do note that the noise from the bypass is considerable, so if you were thinking of carrying on along the Dee to the south after seeing the castle, do bear that in mind.

The walk along the Dee has no car park on the Holt side, but cross the bridge and there is a small car park on the Farndon side, to the south of the river (to the right as you cross from Holt into Farndon).  You can then return across the bridge on the narrow footpath to do the walk on the west of the river heading north.  As you open the gate, you may again find that the converging feet and paws have muddied the approach from the field, making it slippery.  The rest of the walk through the field is slip-free, and on the flat.

Hidden Holt: An illuminating must-visit exhibition currently at Wrexham Museum

Cover of the free English/Welsh booklet accompanying the exhibition published by Wrexham Heritage Service, 2021.

My thanks to Brian Payne of the Holt Local History Society for alerting me to the fact that the Hidden Holt exhibition has been launched at the Wrexham County Borough Museum, running until 29th January 2022.  I went last week my father, and we were both bowled over by how good it was.

The exhibition introduces the Roman tile, brick and pottery works that were spread across a number of fields to the northwest of Holt, next to the river Dee.  It uses an excellent combination of original artefacts, video,  information boards and both old and new photographs and diagrams to track the twin stories of the site itself and the history of its discovery and excavation.  Holt Local History Society has a long-standing interest in the Roman works, and commissioned the most recent geophysical survey work at the site, so it’s great to see their contribution to the story being celebrated.

The exhibition (free to enter) is in Gallery 3, to the left as you move beyond reception and the café to enter the display areas.  I’ve given an overview below, but I seriously recommend that you just go – it is a tremendous, professionally-produced and beautifully designed little exhibition with some superb objects on display and some excellent information boards that explain what you are looking at.  You won’t regret it.  If you’re in the mood, the café serves a great coffee and what looks like a rather delicious lunch 🙂

Survey and excavation

Arthur Acton –  page 5 of the booklet accompanying the exhibition.  Source: Wrexham Heritage Service, 2021

The story of how the site was recognized and investigated begins in the early 1600s when landowner Thomas Crue of Holt Hill suffered repeated damage to his plough on broken brickwork and eventually discovered a series of fifty 2ft-tall posts and recorded this in a letter now in the British Museum.  The letter was mentioned in the book Roman Cheshire by W. Thompson Watkins (1886).  Retired chemist and keen amateur historian Alfred Neobard Palmer read the book, and in 1905 decided to hunt for the remains that Crue had found.  He tracked down the original letter and accompanied by local vicar Jenkyn Jones, and with the permission of the landowner Mr Beard, he engaged in a series of fieldwalking expeditions that found plenty of fragments of Roman bricks, roof tiles and pottery over an area of some 20 acres.

Fold-out plan of the kilns at Holt, published by Grimes in 1930. (Scanned from my copy of “Holt, Denbighshire”)

Palmer was not an archaeologist, and the task of excavating the site was taken on by Wrexham solicitor and amateur archaeologist Arthur Acton.  Work began in 1907,  in Wall Lock Field, and continued until 1915.  Although he lectured prolifically about the site, Acton never published his work.  Fortunately some of his records survived, and he sold the finds to the National Museum of Wales.  After five years of admirable work, the Assistant Keeper of Archaeology at the National Museum, William F. Grimes who was better known as a prehistorian, published a comprehensive 235-page report on the site, complete with site plans, photographs and object illustrations.

Photograph and logo from the Archaeological Survey West website:

Work did not stop there, and during the 1970s Geoffrey Bevan conducted both field walking activities and an excavation, finding Roman material that filled dozens of boxes, which were donated to the Grosvenor Museum in Chester.  Most recently, Holt Local History Society commissioned Archaeological Survey West to carry out a geophysical survey of the site,  to accurately fix the positions of the known buildings and to identify any unexcavated and previously unknown structures.  This was successfully completed in 2018, and demonstrated that the Holt complex was even bigger and more complex than Grimes, via Acton, had been able to determine.  There is, of course, the potential for future field research.

The exhibition

Piece of a colander manufactured at Holt, on display at the exhibition

The exhibition is based mainly around discoveries made during the Acton excavations, using the Grimes and later reports to explain what was found and what has been discovered since.  Between them, Crue, Palmer, Acton, Grimes, Bevan, Holt Local History Society and Archaeological Survey West have produced a history of what lies beneath those lush green fields, and this is what the exhibition introduces.

As usual usual the exhibition’s narrative is arranged in a clockwise direction, so turn left as you walk in to Gallery 3.  The exhibition begins with a video that explains the history of survey and excavation and then talks about the site itself.  It is well worth taking a seat and watching.  It lasts about 15-20 minutes and is chock-full of information with some terrific photographs, diagrams and artist impressions of what various structures may have looked like.   The technique of superimposing building plans over a modern aerial view of the fields is particularly useful for understanding how the site was composed and what each element consisted of.   From there, the excellently designed displays take the visitor through the site’s history.

Site plan of the Roman tile and pottery work displayed in the exhibition. Also in the excellent booklet accompanying the exhibition, full details in Sources below. Click to see a bigger version with fully legible text.  Source: Wrexham Heritage Service, 2021

The site was more elaborate than I realized, composed of a number of buildings as well as the kilns.  The image on the right is shown at full size in the exhibition, and shows how big a complex the Holt tile, brick and pottery works actually was.  This is a bang-up-to-date site plan, combining the information provided by Grimes in 1930 with the details obtained by Archaeological Survey West in 2018. What this and a lot of Acton’s photographs makes clear, is that the site was a fully integrated operation combining industrial, public and domestic architectural components. A senior manager had his own house, complete with hypocaust (under-floor) central heating, there was a public bath house, presumably for workers, a series of kilns for the manufacture of mainly tiles and pottery, and a barracks that may have housed workers, or alternatively a detachment of the Roman army based at Chester at this time.  The features shown in blue are unrecorded / unexcavated.  Those in dark brown are the building locations fixed in 2018, and those in paler brown those estimated by Grimes based on Acton’s work.

The main kiln plant at Holt, published by William Grimes in 1930. Scanned from my copy.

Although now the archaeological remains are covered with fields, Acton used photography extensively, and his site plans were detailed, many published by Grimes, and used in the exhibition to reveal and explain the different components of the site.  This is very helpful not only for understanding how the site worked as an end to end operation, but is invaluable for putting the objects into context.  Objects on their own tell a limited story, but when contextualized in terms of the buildings in which they were produced and used, come to life.  The exhibition does this brilliantly.

It was a good location for a tileworks.  Building stone was available in the immediate locality thanks to the Bunter sandstone, alluvial clay was available locally, woodlands were present for the provision of fuel to feed the kilns, and the river Dee provided direct access to Chester, 12 miles / 19km away, passing the civic settlement at Heronbridge.  The generally flat environment meant that building of roads was not particularly laborious.

The visitor is taken step-by-step through the production process, explaining how the kilns and drying sheds  were built and how they functioned. The kilns formed two main units, a larger (139ft / 52m long, consisting of a row of six kilns) and smaller twin-kiln built on the natural bed-rock.  Each kiln was rectangular and tile-lined with an arched stoke-hole for access.  A round pottery kiln was also located on the edge of the main kiln complex.  The oven floor was fascinating, consisting of a raised floor of tiles plastered with clay that were pierced with holes that acted as vents.  I was fascinated to see that the drying shed was provided with a hypocaust, better known as the under-floor heating system that was used in villas and bath houses.  These, like the kilns, were stoked and kept hot to ensure that the tiles, pottery and bricks were dried through after firing.

The exhibition displays a number of artefacts, including a roof tile, a brick and a triangular atefix tile marked with the letters LEGXXVV, an abbreviation for the twentieth legion, known as Valeria Victrix (valiant and victorious).  The antefix tile, one of which is shown in the exhibition (photo left and illustration below) also shows Legio XX’s dramatic running boar symbol.   Legio XX was stationed at Chester from AD87, and the Holt works appears to have been established shortly afterwards, reaching its peak output at around AD135, and falling out of use in the mid 3rd Century.

Antefix tiles from Holt. Source: Grimes 1930

A display board shows the vast range of products that were made at the site, including floor and roof tiles, and a variety of different pottery forms.  There is a good explanation of how the roof tiles, called imbrex and tegula (plural imbrices and tegulae), worked.  A good memory for me – I dug up a lot of these tiles at my first ever dig in Silchester.  The arched imbrices, sit snugly over the upright edges of two facing tegula tiles, as shown in the above photograph, and the the triangular antefix tiles were placed to cover the ends of the imbrex.

Green-glazed ware found at Holt. Source: National Museum of Wales

Examples of the pottery found at the site are on display, with some really fine examples, including ollae (jars), urcei (jugs), lagenae (flagons), cattili (plates), calices (drinking bowls), and testa (lids).  I particularly liked a partly preserved ceramic colander and a mortarium (the latter working like a modern mortar, but with bits of stone embedded into the interior base of the pot to create a rough surface for grinding spices and seeds).  Green-glazed pottery, a luxury ware that I had never come across before, was also made at the site.  It is rare in Britain, so it was excellent to see examples of it on show.  A photograph of the green glazed pottery found at Holt (from the National Museum of Wales website) is shown below.

The workers also turned their hands to other types of objects made from clay – one cabinet shows a marvellous piece of shaped water pipe that was manufactured at the site.

Section of water pipe manufactured at Holt

All of the output manufactured at the works was sent by boat downriver to Chester, the exhibition suggests that a short may have been dug out at Holt in order to make loading the ceramics easier, its course marked today by annual floodwaters that, as they recede, leave a line of floodwater in what could well be a Roman channel.

Samian pottery found at Holt. Source: Grimes 1930

Interestingly, the exhibition shows that even though huge amounts of pottery was being made on-site, there were particularly favoured types of ceramic being imported.  Samian (terra sigillata), a truly gorgeous luxury dark red ware that has moulded decoration on its lustrous surfaces, was found in surprising quantities.  This was usually imported from south-eastern Gaul (France); a Roman experiment with samian production in southern England produced inferior pottery and was very short-lived.

Imported black-burnished ware was also found at Holt, which the exhibition explains was made in Dorset.  At sites in southern England it is common (we found bucket-loads of it at Silchester), but when found at northern sites, it was probably imported to fulfil a particular need or desire.  The works manager might have wanted high-status ceramics, and any soldiers at the site may have craved the comforts of home, but another option is that it was being imported for use by a nearby settlement.  One of the findings of the 2018 geophysical survey was the presence of a possible Roman fort or marching camp to the west of the site, suggesting that the site may have been on the edge of an unidentified vicus settlement, or village.

Coins on display in the exhibition.

The coins at the site are invaluable for their contribution to creating a timeline for development of the site, but are works of art in their own right.

The exhibition provides another insight into the inhabitants of the site by displaying some of the other objects they owned, like small pieces of jewellery made of bronze, manicure equipment, a beautifully crafted needle and a delectably delicate silver spoon.  These are objects that people chose and kept on them, intimate reminders that these were real people who lived complicated lives in which personal appearance had an important role.

Silver spoon from Holt on display at the exhibition. Source: Grimes 1930

A map at the end of the exhibition was riveting, showing how widespread Roman presence in northeast Wales actually was, showing everything from single find-sites to industrial sites like that at Holt, the settlements at Heronbridge and Plas Coch, and the villa at Rossett, the latter two sites both recent discoveries.  It looks as though there will be more Roman discoveries in the future, filling out a picture not merely about the activities of Romans in Britain, but on their interactions with local communities, something which remains poorly understood.

Museum details

The museum is an excellent resource, a small but modern with excellent displays and a lot of great information on professionally produced display boards into context. At the time of writing (August 2021) masks must be worn and you need to leave your name and telephone number with reception.  For opening days and times, plus directions, see the Wrexham County Borough website:

A booklet accompanying the exhibition is available both in the museum foyer and under the video screen in Gallery 3.  The cover and some of the pages from the booklet are shown at the top of the post, and full details are in Sources, below.   A leaflet, Holt: Legacy of the Legions, is also available from the museum, or can be downloaded.

It is a real shame that the Hidden Holt gallery is only a temporary feature, but Wrexham Museum has a lot more to see, and I will be posting about some its permanent displays in the future.


Books and papers

Grimes, W.F. 1930.  Holt, Denbighshire:  Twentieth Legion at Castle Lyons.  Y Cymmrodor.  Society of Cymmrodorion.

Ward, M. 1998. A collection of samian from the legionary works-depot at Holt.  In (ed.) Bird, J. Form and Fabric.  Oxbow Monographs 80.

Ward, M. 1998. Some finds from the Roman works-depot at Holt.  Studia Celtica 32:43-65

Booklets / leaflets

Wrexham Heritage Service 2021.  Hidden Holt.  The Story of a Roman Site.  The Discovery of a Roman Legionary Tile and Pottery Works at Holt, near Wrexham.  (Booklet accompanying the exhibition in both English and Welsh)

Holt Castle Conservation and Interpretation Project.  Holt. Legacy of the Legions.  An introduction to the history of the Legionary Works Depot at Holt. (Leaflet, including site plan, available from the museum)


Hidden Holt
Wrexham Museum

Hidden Holt – Roman history revealed in a new Wrexham Museum exhibition
Wrexham Council News

Holt Local History Society

National Museum of Wales

Roman Glazed Pottery from North Wales
National Museum of Wales

The Pottery Kilns of Roman Britian by Vivien Swan (database)

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.


The 1854 turnpike from Chester to Worthenbury via Churton, with a branch to Farndon – Part 2: The Turnpike

View west from the turnpike.

This is part 2 of the story about the Chester to Worthenbury turnpike, a rural toll road that ran peacefully through Huntington, Aldford, Churton (with a branch to Farndon), Crewe-by-Farndon, and Shocklach before terminating at lovely Worthenbury.   Part 1, posted the day before yesterday, looked at the background to turnpikes (toll roads) in the 17th to 19th Centuries, and their roles in everyday life as a setting for the Chester to Worthenbury turnpike.  Part 2 looks at the turnpike itself.  As I said in Part 1, the reason for splitting the post into two is that it turned out to be a fairly mammoth topic.  If you prefer to read it as a PDF or print it, you download the PDF by clicking here.

Most former turnpikes are still busy.  For example, when you wait patiently at Milton Green to turn on to the A41 that runs from Chester to Whitchurch, the thundering HGVs that happily ignore the “please drive carefully through our village” signs make it is difficult to imagine it populated with quietly plodding horses and carts.  It is a different story once you have driven from Crewe-By-Farndon via Shocklach to Worthenbury, because an entirely different leap of the imagination is required.  This time, it’s a case of wondering why such a quiet and rural stretch of road could ever have been sufficiently busy to require turnpiking.  Churton, Shocklach and Worthenbury are all well-defined villages, but other places marked on the map, such as Crewe-by-Farndon, Castletown and Caldecott Green are little more than a single big house and/or farm with a couple of associated buildings.

Scenery flanking the road that was turnpiked in 1854.


The route of the Chester to Worthenbury turnpike

In many areas, the presence of a Roman road dictated the line of Medieval and later roads, but the Roman road that once ran from Chester through Aldford fell out of use.  As you head south from Aldford, a small lane to the left, Lower Lane, indicates where the path of the Roman road splits from the B5130 and thereafter becomes a series of farm tracks and footpaths, its route sitting in between today’s A41 (Chester to Whitchurch) and A483 (Chester to Wrexham).  This Roman road, known today as Watling Street West (or more prosaically 6A), passed through Ecclestone, Heronbridge and Aldford then veered to the east of Churton, bypassing both Churton and Farndon  (I have written about the Roman road in an earlier post, here).  

The bending course of the road that was turnpiked in 1854. My photograph CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Later, however, the establishment of Farndon as an important crossing to Holt and the rest of north and mid Wales meant that the path of the Roman road southeast of Aldford, was abandoned during the Middle Ages, and the line of the road shifted instead west towards the Dee, passing through what is now Churton before reaching Farndon.  This route was established at least during the reign of Edward I, (reigned 1272-1307), who followed it on one of his peripatetic Royal Itineraries, heading south from Chester through Ecclestone and Malpas.  Rachel Swallow says that a toll gate was documented at Shocklach at around 1291, all traces now vanished. 

The Chester to Worthenbury turnpike followed a path from Chester through Huntington, Aldford and Churton before heading down what is now Sibbersfield Lane and across the modern bypass before vanishing down the quiet, wending country B-road to Worthenbury.  As with every turnpike, an Act of Parliament was required before Trustees could be appointed, and this was the Chester, Farndon and Worthenbury Turnpike Road Act 1854, “An Act for making a Turnpike Road from Chester, by Farndon, to Worthenbury, with a Branch therefrom to the Village of Farndon,” which passed into law on 3rd July of that year.  The exact wording of the first part of the Act is shown below the bibliography, Sources, right at the end of this post.  It was the last road in Cheshire to be turnpiked.  Here is the description of the route from the 1854 Act:

A Turnpike Road to commence in Boughton in the Parishes of Saint Oswald and Saint John the Baptist, or One of them, within the Parliamentary Borough of Chester, by a Junction with the Road leading from the City of Chester to Whitchurch opposite and near to a Public House called the “Jolly Gardener,” and to terminate in the Township and Parish of Worthenbury in the County of Flint by Two Junctions with the Whitchurch and Marchwiel Turnpike Road, one thereof at or near to a certain Farm House called “Broughton Lodge,” and the other thereof at or near the Finger Post at the Junction of the present Highway from Shocklach with the Whitchurch and Marchwiel Turnpike Road : A- Branch Turnpike Road to commence from and out of the said intended Turnpike Road in the Township of Churton, by Farndon and Parish of Farndon, at or near the Point where the existing Highways leading from Churton to Farndon and from Churton by Crewe and Shocklach to Worthenbury respectively diverge, and to terminate in the Village, Township, and Parish of Farndon by a Junction with the Turnpike Road leading from Wrexham to Barnhill near to the Raven Inn, all in the County of Chester.

A court case that followed the demise of the turnpike is useful for describing the state of the road before it was turnpiked

“Before and until the passing of the Chester, Farndon and Worthenbury Turnpike Road act of 1854, it consisted of an ordinary fenced road, varying in width from about 20-30ft, of which nine feet wide only was paved with stones along the centre;  the sides not being metalled were of grass or earth.  The stone of which the pavement was formed was got in the township from the lands alleged in the indictment . . . . The road, which was an ordinary carriage highway was at that time repaired by John Brock Wood, the owner of the said lands.”

The stones of the old pavement were used in the construction and macadam was brought from Penmaenmawr to lay along its surface.  The width was not expanded beyond the original fences that flanked it.

The Chester to Worthenbury turnpike trust

The sheer number of trustees appointed in the 1854 Act staggered me, as I had been imagining something in the region of ten or twenty responsible dignitaries.  There were 66 (give or take – I may have lost one or two in the process of counting).  After including “All Her Majesty’s Justices of the Peace for the Time being acting for the County of Chester, for the County of the City of Chester, and for the County of Flint respectively” the Act goes on to name individual trustees, and here they all are:

Sir Richard Puleston of Emral Hall. Source: Puleston Ancestry.

The Honourable Hugh Lupus Grosvenor commonly called Earl Grosvenor, the Honourable Richard de Aquila Grosvenor commonly called Lord Richard de Aquila Grosvenor, the Honourable Henry Cholmondeley commonly called Lord Henry Cholmondeley, Sir Robert Henry Cunlife Baronet, Robert Ellis Cunliffe, Sir Watkin Williams Wynn Baronet, Sir Philip de Malpas Grey Egerton Baronet, Philip Le Bel- ward Egerton, Samuel Aldersey, Thomas Aldersey, the Rector of Aldford for the Time being, Roger Barnston, Harry Barnston, Thomas Boyden Clerk, Richard Barker, Francis Henry Barker, Thomas Chorlton Glutton, Charles Colley, Hugh Colley, Henry Crane, Tanat Wynne Denton, Thomas Dixon, Thomas Dixon the younger, James Dixon, the Minister of Farndon for the Time being, William Wynne Ffoulkes, Edward Francis French, Alexander Price French, Philip Stapleton Humberston, Thomas Cowper Hincks, Thomas Cowper Hincks the younger, Thomas Hignett, John Hignett, Robert Broadhurst Hill, the Minister of Holt for the Time being, Robert Howard, Francis James Hughes, Townsend Ince, Thomas Jones, John Hurleston Leche, Sir William Lloyd, Richard Massie, John Finchett Maddock, Thomas Finchett Maddock, Townshend Mainwaring, Henry Water Meredith, Robert Buckley Orton, Sir Richard Puleston Baronet, Francis Richard Puleston, Theophilus Puleston, Charles Potts, Henry Potts, Charles William Potts, William Parker, John Parker, Richard Powdrell, William Rowe, Samuel Rowe, John Rogers, Thomas Vernon Royle; Joseph Sparkes, John Townshend, Charles Townshend, John Williams, Edward Tilston, John Brock Wood, William Henry Wood, the Rector of Worthenbuiy

Pratt’s 1912 study offered the following comment on the sheer number of trustees that could be in charge of a turnpike:

One result of the excessive localisation of the turnpike system was that trusts of absurdly large proportions were created to look after absurdly small stretches of road. “The fundamental principle,” says a writer in the “Edinburgh Review” for October, 1819, “is always to vest the whole management in the hands of the country gentlemen; and, as they act gratuitously, it has been the policy of the law to appoint in each act a prodigious number of commissioners—frequently from one hundred to two hundred, for the care of ten or fifteen miles of road; and thus a business of art and science is committed to a promiscuous mob of peers, squires, farmers and shopkeepers, who are chosen, not for their fitness to discharge the duties of commissioners, but from the sole qualification of residence within a short distance from the road to be made or repaired. . . .

The whole time of the meetings of turnpike trusts was “occupied in tumultuous and unprofitable discussions, and in resolving on things at one meeting which run a good chance of being reversed at the next; that the well informed and civilized commissioners become very soon disgusted with the disorderly uproar, or the want of sense, temper or honesty of some of their companions; and that the management finally falls into the hands of a few busy, bustling, interested persons of low condition, who attend the meetings with no idea of performing a public duty, but for the purpose of turning their powers, by some device or other, to the profit of themselves or of their friends or relations.

Scenery flanking the road that was turnpiked in 1854. My photograph CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Local landowners could invest their own funds to improve a road, but generally loans were taken out to meet the initial set-up costs, with the interest theoretically being paid back from the income derived from tolls, or at least that left over after paying salaried staff and carrying out frequent repairs.  Even where the accounts tallied, which they often did not, huge debts were accrued.  The Select Committee on Turnpike Trusts in 1839 reported that eighty four trusts had paid no interest in years, and that the total estimated debt of English and Welsh turnpike trusts together exceeded £9,000,000, a staggering sum in those days. It seems remarkable, under these conditions, that a new turnpike Act was passed in favour of the Chester to Worthenbury turnpike so late in the turnpike era.

The reasoning behind the creation of the turnpike

One of the many farms that lines the turnpike’s route. My photograph CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

The Chester to Worthenbury road wended its bendy way at its own leisure through agricultural land, connecting a number of villages, including Churton, Crewe-by-Farndon and Shocklach.  A drive down that section of the road south of Sibbersfield Lane confirms it as a winding, rural road with a few farm buildings along its routes, the few villages very small and quiet.  A branch ran from Churton into Farndon.   Worthenbury, a rural village that has changed very little since the 19th Century, was not an obvious destination for traders, merchants, carriers or passenger vehicles, traditionally the main users of turnpikes.   The destructive impact of the transportation of heavy loads of cheese was given as a primary reason for the creation of a turnpike between Chester and Whitchurch.  The production of Cheshire cheese was certainly of great importance to the county, as Defoe explains in 1725:

This county, however remote from London, is one of those which contributes most to its support, as well as to several other parts of England, and that is by its excellent cheese, which they make here in such quantities, and so exceeding good, that as I am told from very good authority, the city of London only take off 14000 ton every year; besides 8000 ton which they say goes every year down the Rivers Severn and Trent, the former to Bristol, and the latter to York; including all the towns on both these large rivers: And besides the quantity ship’d both here, and at Leverpool [Liverpool], to go to Ireland, and Scotland. So that the quantity of cheese made in this country, must be prodigious great. Indeed, the whole county is employ’d in it, and part of its neighbourhood too.

However, this situation was over a century before the Chester to Worthenbury turnpike was mooted and there’s no indication either in contemporary newspapers or in the Act itself whether the carriage of Cheshire cheese or any other particular problem was a reason why the Chester to Worthenbury turnpike was deemed worth the cost and effort.  The Act merely says that the turnpike “would be of great public value,” which is somewhat unhelpful.  Crosby suggests “the rather remote possibility of abstracting traffic from the Chester-Wrexham and Chester-Wrexham roads,” but the encyclopaedic New Historical Atlas of Cheshire (2002) is silent on the subject, as is Latham’s Farndon

Scan of map showing turnpike roads in Cheshire, from the New Atlas of Cheshire (Phillips and Phillips 2002, p.77).  The Chester to Worthenbury turnpike is shown in green at the far left, crossing the Broxton to Wrexham Turnpike (in yellow).

Perhaps the object of the exercise was to improve the quality of the road network in this part of West Cheshire. This area was rather isolated.  The canal network bypassed the Dee, south of Chester, with the 1772 Chester Canal (now part of the Shropshire Union) heading southeast from Chester via Beeston to Nantwich to Birmingham, linking into other parts of the canal and turnpike networks as it went, and the Dee itself was only navigable by very light traffic. By the end of the 18th Century there were already serviceable turnpikes between Chester and Whitchurch and Chester and Wrexham, which accounted for most of the market-bound and commercial traffic.   

The turnpike  linked up with Whitchurch after passing through Worthenbury, but it was a very rambling route, and the Chester to Whitchurch turnpike would have been a much better option unless you were starting from somewhere like Churton, Farndon or Holt.  The New Atlas shows an intersection with the Wrexham to Broxton turnpike (now the A534), which was opened in the period 1760-1789, linking the Chester to Wrexham and Chester to Whitchurch roads.  There was a turnpike between Bangor On Dee and Malpas, which opened in 1767.  Although the road between Worthenbury and Bangor on Dee (the B5069) does not appear to have been turnpiked, it was a short stretch and would have been easy enough to maintain in good condition if there was sufficient motivation.

Emral Hall, Worthenbury.  The lower photo shows the ballroom, now preserved (thank goodness) in the Town Hall at Portmeirion.  Source: Wrexham Online.

A number of large estates and prosperous farms were located along the route of the turnpike.  The largest of these were Crewe Hill in Crewe-by-Farndon, Boughton Hall near Threapwood and the magnificent Emral Hall just to the south of Worthenbury.  Crewe Hill was the principal home of the Barnston family, and the base of their wide-ranging and profitable estate that included land in and around Farndon and extending north to the middle of Churton.  The lovely half-timbered Broughton Hall was sadly demolished in 1961, but at the time was the home of the Howards.  Emral Hall also tragically demolished in the 1930s, was the home and estate of the Pulestons throughout the 18th and 19th Centuries.  Others along the route, from north to south, are Aldford Hall, Churton Hall, Sibbersfield Hall, Crewe Hall, Shocklach Hall,  Kingslee and Caldecott Hall.  Trustees included community members from all areas through which the turnpike passed, so members of the family present on the trustees list does not prove that they were driving forces behind the turnpike, but it is still interesting to see (where these family names can be traced) which estates provided family members as trustees.  

  • Broughton Hall, demolished 1961. Source: Threapwood History Group.

    • Aldford Hall:  The Earl of Westminster and Lord Richard de Aquila Grosvenor
    • Churton Hall:  Roger Barnston and Harry Barnston
    • Sibbersfield Hall:  William Rowe and Samuel Rowe
    • Crewe Hill:  Roger Barnston and Harry Barnston
    • Caldecott Hall:  Philip Stapleton Humberston
    • Broughton Hall:  Robert Howard
    • Emral Hall: Sir Richard Puleston (baronet), Francis Richard Puleston, and Theophilus Puleston


Sibbersfield Hall, just outside Churton. Ordnance Survey 1888-1913.  Source: National Library of Scotland

Other trustees on the above list with a vested interest in being able to get around were the Rectors of Aldford and Worthenbury and the Ministers of Farndon and Holt.  Trustees Samuel Aldersey and Thomas Aldersey of Aldersey Hall, would also have benefitted from the tunrpike road, to which the road on which Aldersey Hall was located was linked.  And so it goes on.

There are apparently some omissions and question marks too.  Although a large building is shown on the site of Churton Lodge, no details are available on the Tithe map.  Shocklach Hall was only built in the 1850s, so was perhaps itself under construction at the time, or built partly because the turnpike was there.  In the 1840s tithe maps the land on which it as located was owned by Emral Hall.  Crewe Hall (as opposed to Crewe Hill) was owned and occupied by the Bennion family when the 1838 tithe map was published, but they do not appear as trustees.  

Crewe Hill from the garden. Source: Landed Families of Britain and Ireland website

Some of the very few buildings along the turnpike route at Crewe-by-Farndon and Shocklach.  From left: Crewe Hall, one of the buildings in the village of Shocklach, the Bull in Shocklach and Kingslee.  My photograph CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Toll cottages along the route

The tollgate was usually accompanied by a toll cottage.  The Grade-2 listed, two-storey brick-built Cross Cottage in Churton is built across the junction between Chester Road and Pump Lane and, by virtue of the fact that it was built to serve the turnpike, must have been built at around 1854.  It is strategically located just to the north of where the road splits into two, one road going into Farndon and the other proceeding via Stannage Lane, to Crewe-by-Farndon and on to Worthenbury.  Both roads were part of the turnpike, with the Farndon section a branch of the main turnpike to Worthenbury.  The attractive recessed arch, which is at both front and rear, was once centred in the middle of the building, and was provided with a slender band of sandstone between the upper and lower floors.  An extension of uncertain date, possibly the 1930s, breaks down this symmetry, although it was done sympathetically using almost identical bricks to the originals but does not repeat the sandstone band.

The rear view of Cross Cottage. Source: mylisting365.

The roof is currently hipped (converging in from four sides onto a central ridge), but before the addition of the extension, the roof was probably pyramidal, converging from four sides onto a single point.  The original roof was probably also made of slate, as today.  There are two chimneys today, but there will only have been the one in the 19th Century, with a central flue.  Although it was Grade II listed in 1984, there are no details on the Historic England website about the interior, and whether any of the 19th Century interior survives in tact.

The listing details are as follows:

  • NGR 4180856444
  • List number 1228714
  • First listed 28th December 1984

Toll collectors could improve their wellbeing by keeping livestock and growing fruit and vegetables in the confines of their properties, and some toll cottages were provided with a small amount of land that could be used for either the keeping of livestock or the development of small horticultural plots.   Cross Cottage was provided with a large garden that could have been used for either.

The bridge at Worthenbury. My photograph CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

I went looking for any other toll cottages that might have been built along the road.  On some turnpikes additional toll gates were added as a way of trusts earning more revenue, but there was nothing that looked remotely like a toll cottage.  There should have been one at Worthenbury, the end of the turnpike.  In cases where a river crossing was present, toll gates were often set up against a bridge, making it more difficult to evade, but although there is a beautiful old bridge in Worthenbury, the western side of it is open fields, and the eastern side is now the site of a modern home, part of a housing estate.  The bridge replaces one that was damaged by floods in 1872, and was built in 1872-3.  This was the period when the Chester-Worthenbury turnpike was amalgamated with the Chester-Whitchurch.  Still, tolls would have required ongoing collection, and if there was a toll gate here, there’s no sign of it now.

The toll collectors

There is a toll-house at Churton so it of course follows that there must have been at least one toll collector, possibly accompanied by his family.  Regrettably, I have not yet worked out who he/they might have been, because the commercial directories available online don’t mention a Churton toll collector during this period (the1857 Post Office Directory of Cheshire and the 1864 Morris & Co.’s Directory of Cheshire).  Whilst the Delta variant of Covid is still at large, it’s probably not a good idea to start hitting the record offices, but perhaps someone who has checked into the available resources can illuminate me.  Speculating, this absence from the directories may be because although early turnpikes were manned by manor employees and then by specially hired toll collectors, the appointment of later collectors was given into the hands of specialist contractors, who would bid for the lease at auction.  It may be that under such conditions, the toll collectors were deemed to be transient members of the community.

Toll collectors had an ambivalent position in local society.  Because toll charges were lengthy and complex, incorporating a large number of variables, a toll collector needed to be both literate and numerate, and hopefully (but not always) trustworthy. As people of responsibility, often living in custom-built homes with their families, toll collectors might be people of high status within a community.  Although in many ways, toll collectors were about as popular as tax collectors are today, they provided a vital role.  A toll house could bring prestige to an otherwise fairly nondescript community, even attracting the building of inns where passengers could purchase refreshments and where carriage horses could be rested or changed, meaning that gentry and clergy could be regular visitors, raising the status of an entire village.  

The 1898 mile post at Shocklach. My photograph CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

The toll charges for Chester-Worthenbury are probably described in the 1854 Act, but this too is not available without tramping the real-world archive trail, and I will update this post when I have the chance to check this out, as a copy is apparently available locally.  Each turnpike Act set out the maximum toll chargeable for each animal and category and size of vehicle, and all the multiple variables of each.

As I said in Part 1, the mile posts that dot the western verges of the former turnpike post-date the end of the Cheshire turnpikes.  Disturnpiked in the 1870s, there must have been mile posts because they were a legal requirement, but when Chester County Council was created on 1st January 1889 and was given the job of maintaining highways, it presumably replaced the original milestones with its own iron ones, all dating to 1898.  I have found some of these, marked on the Ordnance Survey map, but not others.  The one shown in Part 1 is in Churton and the one shown above is in Shocklach.

The final days of the Chester to Worthenbury turnpike

The lovely Georgian St Deiniol’s Church in Worthenbury. My photograph CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

The Chester-Worthenbury turnpike was never much of a success and was amalgamated with the Whitchurch Trust in 1871.  The joint body expired in 1877.  Presumably, and not very surprisingly, the Worthenbury turnpike failed to justify its costs, and the Whitchurch turnpike was probably put out of business by the London and North Western Railway.  The railway’s important route to London via Crewe had opened by 1840, and the branch that ran from Chester to Whitchurch opened between 1870 and 1879.

An indictment concerning repairs to the road following the lapse of the Act

Rural landscape to the east of the once-turnpiked stretch of road that passes through Churton. My photograph CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

The most interesting part of the turnpike’s history, or at least the most interesting bit to survive, refers to what happened when the Act for the Chester to Worthenbury section had been disturnpiked, and a question arose over responsibility for its ongoing care arose.  In 1890 an indictment was raised in Crown Court for failure to repair a highway.  The issue was by no means straightforward.  The law stated that responsibility for repair of a road that had formerly come under a turnpike trust would revert to common law liability on the lapse of the trust, but only if “the highway remains similar in character to what it was up to the time of the passing of the Turnpike Act.”  For those roads that were significantly altered, “as to destroy what was the old highway, the common law liability is put to an end by operation of the law.”  In addition, there were ambiguities about the responsibilities for occupiers versus mere owners, where roads were concerned.

The indictment covered several stretches of road that had become “miry, deep, broken and in great decay,” due to “such want of due reparation and amendment.”   This included the stretch from Huntington to Farndon.  The same allegation was made against stretch from Chester to Saighton.  The text from the court case is damning.

“The liege subjects of the Queen could not and still could not go, return, pass, repass, ride or labour on foot with their horses, coaches, carts and other carriages in, through, and along the said public highway aforesaid as they ought and were wont and accustomed to do, without great danger and common nuisance of all the liege subjects of our said Lady the Queen, her crown and dignity, and that the defendant, by reason of his tenure of certain lands and tenements situate in the said township of Huntington, ought to repair and mend the same.”

It goes on:

“As to the road mentioned in the first count [Saighton was the second] it was proved that before and until the passing of the Chester, Farndon and Worthenbury Turnpike Road Act of 1854, it consisted of an ordinary fenced road.”

The individual who had taken responsibility for repairing the road before it was converted to a turnpike was John Brock Wood, who is recorded in the list of trustees for the turnpike.  The record of the indictment states that there was no evidence that he had contributed to its maintenance during the continuance of the Act, but on its expiry in 1876 he resumed repair work, continuing to do so until his death in 1888.  The person who inherited John Brock Wood’s responsibilities “the devisee in trust of the said lands” continued to repair the road in the belief that he was legally liable.  He provided proof that he had expended £155, £224 and £206 in 1887, 1888 and 1889 respectively.

View from the former turnpike over the fields to Worthenbury

The prosecution (Tatham and Proctor for Carrington and Baker, Chester) claimed that as John Brock Wood had accepted responsibility before the establishment of the Trust, it was now the devisee in trust’s responsibility following the expiry of the Act.  However, the law stated that if significant alternation had taken place during the conversion of a road to a turnpike, the original owner was no longer responsible for maintenance.  In fact, Chester County Council had been approached with a view to taking on responsibility for the road, but they had refused to do so under Section 97 of the Local Government Act 1888.   The estimated costs were in excess of £400 and may have been as much as 1000.

The defense (the company Cunliffe and Dawn for Churton, Chester) claimed that the alternations to the road when it was converted to  a turnpike were so extensive as to destroy any liability that either he, or for that matter John Brock Wood, should have had.  In response, the prosecution argued that by repairing the road, the defendant had acknowledged the liability and could be indicted for non-repair.

The judge overseeing the proceedings, Lord Coleridge C.J. ruled in favour of the defendant.  In his view, citing Rolle’s Abridgement from the reign of Charles I, the occupier and not the owner is the person responsible for repairs, and the defendant was the owner but not the occupier.   In addition, he found that the road had been significantly altered, and therefore liability for the repairs should not fall on the original owner or occupier.  The indictment was quashed.  The judge was concerned that under these circumstances, the “graver question” was if any person was actually liable to repair the road.  He does not, however, come to any conclusion about how to resolve the problem.

In the end, Chester County Council must have adopted the road, but this may have been at a much later date.  Section 97, “Saving as to liability for main roads,” which they used to avoid the responsibility, falls within Sections 92-98 “Savings.”  It reads “Nothing in this Act with respect to main roads shall alter the liability of any person or body of persons, corporate or unincoprorate, not being a highway authority, to maintain and repair any road or part of a road.”

As always, please let me know if you have any questions
or have some more information to contribute



Sources for parts 1 and 2:

Books and papers:

An Act for making a Turnpike Road from Chester, by Farndon, to Worthenbury, with a Branch therefrom to the Village of Farndon, 1854

Benford, M. 2002. Milestones.  Shire Publications

Crane, N. 2016.  The Making of the British Landscape.  From Ice Age to the Present.  Weidenfeld and Nicholson

Crosby, A.G. 2012.  New Roads for Old. Cheshire Turnpikes in the Landscape 1700-1850.  In (eds.) Varey, S.M. and White, G.J. Landscape History Discoveries in the North West.  University of Chester Press, p.190-223.

Cunningham Glen, R. 1895. Indictment presented before Lord Coleridge, C.J.  Reg. vs. Barker.  Reports of Cases in Criminal Law argued and determined in the courts of England and Ireland, vol.XVII, 1890-1895. Reported by R. Cunnigham Glen Esq., Barrister at Law. Horace Cox

Defoe, D. 1724–1726 (Rogers, P. ed.). A Tour Through the Whole Island of Great Britain Penguin (particularly, Volume II, 1725, and its appendix).

Harvie, C. and Matthew, H.C.G.  1984, 2000.  Nineteenth Century Britain. Oxford University Press

Hindle, P. 1998 (3rd edition).  Medieval Roads and Tracks.  Shire Publications Ltd

Keys, D. 2016. Discovery of huge Bronze Age wheel sheds light on transport in prehistoric Britain.  The Independent, Friday 19th February 2016

Langford, P. 1984, 2000. Eighteenth Century Britain.  Oxford University Press

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

Local Government Act 1888 (51 and 52 Vict. c.41). Section 97, Saving as to liability for main roads.

OS Landranger map 117 2016.  Chester and Wrexham.  Ordnance Survey

Phillips, A.D.M. and Phillips, C.B. 2002.  A New Historical Atlas of Cheshire. Cheshire County Council and Cheshire Community Council Publications Trust.

Pratt, E.A. 1912.  A History of Inland Transport and Communication in England. Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner and Co Ltd.
Project Gutenburg:

Pryor, F. 2010.  The Making of the British Landscape.  How We Have Transformed the Land from Prehistory to Today.  Allen Lane

Swallow, R. 2013-14. Two For One:  the Archaeological Survey of Shocklach, Castle, Cheshire. Cheshire History Journal, No.53, 2013-4

Wright, G. N. 1992. Turnpike Roads. Shire Publications Ltd.


A Collection of Directories for Cheshire
Cheshire County Council

British Listed Buildings
Cross Cottage, Churton

Broughton Hall, Threapwood
Threapwood History Group

Cheshire Tithe Maps Online
Cheshire Archives and Local Studies

Emral Hall, Worthenbury
Wrexham Online 

Historic England
Cross Cottage, Churton

Dig Diary 19: Discovering Britain’s Oldest, Complete Wheel
February 29, 2016
Must Farm Dig Diaries

National Archives
Chester and Whitchurch Turnpikes Trust

National Library of Scotland Mapfinder
OS 6-inch map, 1888-1913

Peterborough Archaeology
Must Farm Bronze Age Settlement

Turnpike Roads in England and Wales

The 1854 Act (excerpt)

Most of the Act is in big undifferentiated chunks, so the paragraphs in the following excerpt are mine, simply to aid with digestion.  The URL of the source of this excerpt is at the end, but if you want to see the entire Act, paid subscription is required.

[3rd July 1854]
Chester, Farndon and Worthenbury Turnpike Road Act 1854
(17 & 18 Vict.) c. lxxxvi
An Act for making a Turnpike Road from Chester, by Farndon, to Worthenbury, with a Branch therefrom to the Village of Farndon.

ANNO DECIMO SEPTIMO & DECIMO OCTAVO VICTORIA REGINA. ********.*****************.********************* Cap. lxxxvi. An Act for making a Turnpike Road from Chester, by Farndon, to Worthenbury, with a Branch therefrom to the Village of Farndon. [3d July 1854.]

WHEREAS the Formation and Maintenance of a Turnpike Road from Chester, by Farndon in the County of Chester, to Worthenbury in the County of Flint, with a Branch therefrom to the Village of Farndon in the said County of Chester, would be of great public Advantage: And whereas certain of the Highways in the Line of the said intended Road and Branch, or Portions thereof, might advantageously be made available for the Purposes of such Road and Branch ; but the same cannot be effected without the Aid and Authority of Parliament : May it therefore please Your Majesty that it may be enacted ; and be it enacted by the Queen’s most Excellent Majesty, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, in this present Parliament assembled, and by the Authority of the same.

That in citing this Act for any Purpose whatsoever it shall be Short Title. sufficient to use the Expression ” The Chester, Farndon, and Worthenbury Turnpike Road Act, 1854.” H. That in this Act the following Words and Expressions shall Interpreta have the several Meanings hereby assigned to them, unless there be tion of [Local.] 15 D something Terms. 1302 Appointment of Trustees. Power to appoint additional Trustees. 17 & 18 VICTORUE, Cap.lxxxvi. 171e Chester, Farndon, and Worthenbury Turnpike Road Act,1854. Something in the Subject or Context repugnant to such Construction ; (that is to say,) The Expression ” the Trustees,” or ” the said Trustees,” shall respectively mean the Trustees for the Time being acting in the Execution of this Act : The Word Lands ” shall include Messuages, Tenements, and Hereditaments of any Tenure : The Expression ” Toll Gate ” or ” Toll Gates” shall respectively include Turnpikes, Bars, and Chains. III.

That all Her Majesty’s Justices of the Peace for the Time being acting for the County of Chester, for the County of the City of Chester, and for the County of Flint respectively, together with the Honourable Hugh Lupus Grosvenor commonly called Earl Grosvenor, the Honourable Richard de Aquila Grosvenor commonly called Lord Richard de Aquila Grosvenor, the Honourable Henry Cholmondeley commonly called Lord Henry Cholmondeley, Sir Robert Henry Cunlife Baronet, Robert Ellis Cunliffe, Sir Watkin Williams Wynn Baronet, Sir Philip de Malpas Grey Egerton Baronet, Philip Le Bel- ward Egerton, Samuel Aldersey, Thomas Aldersey, the Rector of Aldford for the Time being, Roger Barnston, Harry Barnston, Thomas Boyden Clerk, Richard Barker, Francis Henry Barker, Thomas Chorlton Glutton, Charles Colley, Hugh Colley, Henry Crane, Tanat Wynne Denton, Thomas Dixon, Thomas Dixon the younger, James Dixon, the Minister of Farndon for the Time being, William Wynne Ffoulkes, Edward Francis French, Alexander Price French, Philip Stapleton Humberston, Thomas Cowper Hincks, Thomas Cowper Hincks the younger, Thomas Hignett, John Hignett, Robert Broadhurst Hill, the Minister of Holt for the Time being, Robert Howard, Francis James Hughes, Townsend Ince, Thomas Jones, John Hurleston Leche, Sir William Lloyd, Richard Massie, John Finchett Maddock, Thomas Finchett Maddock, Townshend Mainwaring, Henry Water Meredith, Robert Buckley Orton, Sir Richard Puleston Baronet, Francis Richard Puleston, Tlieophilus Puleston, Charles Potts, Henry Potts, Charles William Potts, William Parker, John Parker, Richard Powdrell, William Rowe, Samuel Rowe, John Rogers, Thomas Vernon Royle; Joseph Sparkes, John Townshend, Charles Townshend, John Williams, Edward Tilston, John Brock Wood, William Henry Wood, the Rector of Worthenbuiy for the Time being, and their Successors, being duly qualified to act as Trustees of Turnpike Roads in England, shall be Trustees for putting this Act into execution.

That it shall be lawful for the said Trustees, at any Meeting under this Act, to elect any Number of Persons, duly qualified to act as Trustees of Turnpike Roads in England, not exceeding Three in the whole, to be Trustees for, the Purposes of this Act, in addition to the 17 & 18 VICTORIAE, Cap.lxxxvi. 1303 The Chester, Farndon, and Worthenbury Turnpike Road Act, 1854. the Trustees hereby nominated, and such Trustees so elected shall have the same Powers and Authorities for executing this Act as if they had been hereby appointed. V. That the said Trustees shall meet together on the Twenty-first Meetings of Day after the passing of this Act, or as soon after as conveniently Trustees. may be, at the Exchange in the City of Chester aforesaid, or at some other convenient Place in Chester, and shall then and from Time to Time afterwards adjourn to and meet at such Times, and at such Places on or near to the said Roads, as they shall think proper. VI.

That the said Trustees may appoint Committees out of their Power to take the Care and Management of any particular Part point Committees. of the Roads, or to execute any of the other Purposes of this Act, according to such Instructions and Regulations as shall be laid down by the said Trustees at any General or Special Meeting ; and the said Committees and their Officers may proceed and act according to such Appointment, but subject always to the Authority and Control of the said Trustees. VII. That this Act shall be put into execution for the Purpose of Roads to making and maintaining, according to the Provisions of this Act, the which Act is applicable. Turnpike Road and Branch herein-after mentioned ; (that is to say,) A Turnpike Road to commence in Boughton in the Parishes of Saint Oswald and Saint John the Baptist, or One of them, within the Parliamentary Borough of Chester, by a Junction with the Road leading from the City of Chester to Whitchurch opposite and near to a Public House called the “Jolly Gardener,” and to terminate in the Township and Parish of Worthenbury in the County of Flint by Two Junctions with the Whitchurch and Marchwiel Turnpike Road, one thereof at or near to a certain Farm House called “Broughton Lodge,” and the other thereof at or near the Finger Post at the Junction of the present Highway from Shocklach with the Whitchurch and Marchwiel Turnpike Road : A- Branch Turnpike Road to commence from and out of the said intended Turnpike Road in the Township of Churton, by Farndon and Parish of Farndon, at or near the Point where the existing Highways leading from Churton to Farndon and from Churton by Crewe and Shocklach to Worthenbury respectively diverge, and to terminate in the Village, Township, and Parish of Farndon by a Junction with the Turnpike Road leading from Wrexham to Barnhill near to the Raven Inn, all in the County of Chester. VIII. And whereas Plans and Sections describing the Lines and Power to Levels of the said intended Roads, and the Lands through which the make Roads &c. according to deposited Plan, &c. Power to deviate from Plan to a certain Extent. 17 & 18 VICTORIAE, Cap.lxxxvi.

The Chester, Farndon, and Worthenbury Turnpike Road Act, 1854. Same are to be carried, together with Books of Reference containing the Names of the Owners or reputed Owners, Lessees or reputed Lessees, and Occupiers of such Lands, have been deposited with the Clerk of the Peace for the County of Chester, with the Clerk of the Peace for the County of the City of Chester, and with the Clerk of the Peace for the County of Flint respectively : Be it therefore enacted, That it shall be lawful for the Trustees to make and maintain the intended Turnpike Roads.

The 1854 turnpike from Chester to Worthenbury via Churton, with a branch to Farndon – Part 1, Background

Every now and again one of my posts turns into something that needs to be split into  two or more parts.  This is one of them.  I found the subject so gripping that the post acquired a momentum all of its own and has grown into something of a monster, more diplodocus than tyrannosaurus, but still a bit of a beast.  I have therefore divided it into two.

Former toll cottage, Cross Cottage, on the corner of Pump Lane and Chester Road (my photograph, CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)

This first part looks  at turnpikes (toll roads) in general, as a background to the Chester to Worthenbury turnpike.  If you wish to save or print this as a PDF, please click here.

The second part looks at the turnpike itself, which ran from Chester through Huntington, Aldford, Churton, Crewe By Farndon and south through the villages along that road to Worthenbury, with a branch that ran from Churton to Farndon.

Anyone pausing to look at Cross Cottage on the corner of Chester Road and Pump Lane in Churton might wonder why it was located with its façade facing diagonally across the corner of these two roads.  This diagonal aspect is typical of many toll-houses, some of which were hexagonal in other parts of the country, in order to provide the toll collector with the best view of the approaching traffic.  The rest of the building does not immediately suggest its role as a toll-house to anyone more familiar with the single-storey Welsh ones, which are generally tiny, charming and fairly easy to spot.  Cross Cottage is brick-built, has two storeys, and is a substantial albeit rather bijou structure (more about it below).  It was built on the turnpike (or toll road) that was established by an 1854 Act of Parliament to run between Chester and Worthenbury, via Aldford, Churton and Shocklach, with a branch to Farndon.

Turnpikes and tolls from the 17th to 19th Centuries

Although the wheel had been known from around 1000 BC during the later Bronze Age, for much of British prehistory and early history the easiest means of transporting goods was by water, either coastal or riverine.  Travel over land was much more challenging until at least the 16th Century, even though the Romans, with their superior planning and engineering, may appear to give lie to that statement.  Prior to Roman roads and once again following the withdrawal of Rome in the 5th Century, the condition of tracks and roads was fairly grim.

From Tudor and Stuart times the responsibility for roads had fallen on the parish or township.  The Highways Act of 1555 set this down in law.  Members of the parish were obliged to contribute labour and equipment for repairs, in batches of consecutive days.  For parishes in rural areas with no major byways this was not necessarily a problem, but parishes that hosted major routes were victim to very unfair financial burdens and the condition of roads from one parish to another became very inconsistent. During the 16th  and 17th Centuries matters deteriorated as oxen- and horse-drawn waggons and carts replaced packhorses, and carriages capable of travelling longer distances became more common.  In the first half of the 16th century the long wheelbase waggon had been introduced, which allowed much heavier cargoes to be carried.  The Highways Act of 1662 included measures to try to reduce the damage to major highways by prohibiting the use of more than 7 horse teams to pull vehicles, and by banning the use of wagons with wheel widths that were in excess of 4 inches.

The London to Birmingham Stage Coach by John Cordrey, 1801. Source: Birmingham in the 18th Century

Carriages and coaches were a particular phenomenon of the late 18th and early 19th Centuries, when improvements in design, particularly improving ride by use of spring-loaded, shock-absorbing suspension and much better reliability via improved wheel design meant that both public and private transportation was much more common, faster, and could be pulled by more horses, all of which inflicted damage on roads.  Post, mail coaches and stage coaches began to offer a network of passenger travel across Britain.  Pratt gives the following statistics:

Over 3000 coaches were then on the road, and half of these began or ended their journeys in London. Some 150,000 horses were employed in running them, and there were about 30,000 coachmen, guards, horse-keepers and hostlers, while many hundreds of taverns, in town or country, prospered on the patronage the coaches brought them. From one London tavern alone there went every day over eighty coaches to destinations in the north. From another there went fifty-three coaches and fifty-one waggons, chiefly to the west of England. Altogether coaches or waggons were going from over one hundred taverns in the City or in the Borough.

The development of the turnpike network from 1741 to 1770. Source: Langford 2000, p.34-5

The state of roads in England and Wales became so poor that some were almost impassable in the winter.  Connections between villages and market towns were threatened, some becoming virtually cut off in bad weather.  Collection of rents became difficult and long distance trade was always in jeopardy in some regions.  This situation was aggravated during the 18th Century as the population expanded, and the demand for goods and produce increased.  As the Industrial Revolution gained momentum and coal, building materials, textiles and more food began to be needed all over the country as well as for export markets, cargoes were moved both locally to town markets, and then on to river and canal wharves and coastal ports and for transport over long distances and people travelled far more widely on business.

To take control of important routes, and place the cost of maintenance on the users rather than the parish through which they passed, turnpike trusts were set up to manage the rebuilding of existing bits of the road network and to construct new linking sections of road.  An initial experiment was set up in Lincolnshire in 1663, and in 1706 an Act of Parliament established a turnpike along a stretch of the A5, that became a model for future turnpikes.  The first of these turnpikes, or toll roads, were rolled out during the 18th and early 19th centuries, peaking in the early 1800s.  The Acts of Parliament that were required to establish a turnpike endured for a fixed period, initially of 21 years.  When this period expired, the Act could be renewed or permitted to lapse (“disturnpiked”).  In 1741 new legislation gave trustees the right to install weigh-bridges, and any load over 3 tons carried a surcharge.

The Rebecca Riots. Illustrated London News 1843

Tolls were payable by users of the turnpikes to foot the bill for them in the long term, with toll rates based on usage of the road.  This meant that the cost of maintaining the road fell on those who used it, much like modern road tax, rather than on the often landless and impoverished members of the parish.  A single person on horseback would pay much less than someone taking animals or a cart of goods for sale at market.  Again, it’s a bit like modern road tax where a four-wheel-drive or a van is charged at a higher rate than a small runabout.  Some people were exempt from tolls, including those attending church on a Sunday, clergymen, voters attending elections, mail coaches and funerals.  Local gentry were not exempt, and nor was farm traffic.  Although often very unpopular, penalties for damaging turnpikes began as whippings and up to three months imprisonment but were escalated, as protests increased, to include the possibility of deportation.  This did not prevent a number of protests and even riots being organized, mostly by farmers.  The best known of these are the Welsh Rebecca Riots of 1839-1843, when farmers dressed up as women to avoid identification, but there had been many earlier examples too. Most everyday personal protests took the form of attempting to cheat the toll or evade it entirely, rather than inflicting any physical damage.  Toll cheating was a favourite pastime.

Others, however, were much more enthusiastic.  Daniel Defoe, writing in 1725, was a fan.  Travelling around Britain and writing his “A Tour Through the Whole Island of Great Britain” he described one section along Watling Street in ecstatic terms:  “The bottom is not only repaired, but the narrow places are widened, hills levelled, bottoms raised and the ascents and descents made easy.”

Each new turnpike trust was authorized by an individual Act of Parliament, which initially lasted for 21 years, after which they could be renewed until the decision was made after the first half of the 19th Century to allow all turnpikes Acts to expire.   The turnpike trusts were composed of local landowners and dignitaries, including clergy and the new class of professional men that included ambitious local merchants and manufacturers.  Although the trustees were not paid, it was absolutely in their interests to improve the economic infrastructure of their particular areas.

The trustees in turn appointed salaried officers, such as solicitors and bankers, to do the actual work of building and maintaining the road and managing the collection of tolls.  Turnpikes helped to establish reliable timetables and improved the dependability of the mail.  Ribbon developments grew up along them, particularly as they headed out of a town, or passed through a major intersection, and new coaching inns were established to meet the needs of passengers, horses and carriage crew.   In 1745 it had taken a fortnight to reach Edinburgh from London, but by 1796 this had been reduced to two and a half days, and by 1830 just 36 hours.  By the end of 1750 there were 166 turnpike trusts covering 3400 miles / 5500km.  By the 1870s turnpikes covered 19,000 road miles (30,000km).

Most turnpikes simply repaired existing roads and others reinvented existing roads in terms of their construction, sometimes rerouting them.  Only occasionally were entirely new roads were built.  The Chester to Worthenbury stretch was somewhere between the first two of these, improving the road surface and drainage whilst maintaining the original width and route of the old road.

The main activities required for the establishment of a turnpike were hard-surfacing and draining as well as signposting.  The surfacing was required to prevent animals and cart and carriage wheels from carving up the roads, and drainage, as the Romans had discovered, was required to maintain the surface and prevent it reverting to deeply indented mud.  Edwin Pratt’s 1912 study of inland transport (an invaluable source of information for this post), was most unflattering about the quality of the turnpikes before Thomas Telford and particularly John Loudon MacAdam began to standardize a better, reliable way of surfacing roads:

Although a vast amount of road-making or road-repairing was going on, at the very considerable expense of the road users, and to the advantage of a small army of attorneys, officials and labourers, it was not road-making of a scientific kind, but merely amateur work, done at excessive cost, either with unintelligent zeal or in slovenly style, and yielding results which mostly failed to give the country the type of road it required for the ever-increasing traffic to which expanding trade, greater travel, and heavier and more numerous waggons and coaches were leading. Before the adoption of scientific road-making, the usual way of forming a new road was, first to lay along it a collection of large stones, and then to heap up thereon small stones and road dirt in such a way that the road assumed the shape of the upper half of an orange, the convexity often being so pronounced that vehicles kept along the summit of the eminence because it was dangerous for them, especially in rainy weather, to go along the slope on either side.

John McAdam. Engraving by Charles Turner. Courtesy of the Trustees of the British Museum

This was probably not true of all turnpikes, but was clearly valid in a daunting number of cases.  In the early 19th Century McAdam’s first insight was that road surfaces needed to be impermeable so that water did not pass through to the soil beneath and begin to run away, collapse and otherwise undermine the road above.  His second insight was that stones laid as road surfaces should be  broken and angular, not rounded, so that when subjected to the weight of traffic they would consolidate, compact and bear weight.  He ran successful experiments to test his ideas.  This was the first strategic and standardized approach to road building in Britain since the Romans left.

Signage, much like the M6 Toll today, advertized the presence of a turnpike, and promoted its use, but also showed routes to villages along roads with which it intersected.  A gate was set up and a toll cottage or at the very least a hut was usually built.


1898 milepost, just to the north of Churton (my photo, CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)

Milestones or mileposts were set from the first half of the 17th Century onwards, starting in southeast England, mainly for the benefit of mail coaches and other passenger vehicles.  Turnpikes were encouraged to install them from the 1740s and in 1766 became obligatory when it was found that as well as being useful for coachmen and passengers, it enabled accurate measuring of distances for the pricing of different routes.  It also helped to improve improved the reliability of timetables, something to which the turnpikes themselves, had enabled, particularly relevant in bad weather.

There are some very fine milestones dotted along the road along the line of the old Chester to Worthenbury turnpike, but all are dated to 1898, two decades after the expiration date of the 1854 Act.  They were erected by Chester County Council after it had accepted responsibility for the road.  A forthcoming post will talk about the milestones.  Sadly, if there were original milestones belonging to the 1854-1876 Chestser to Worthenbury turnpike, which in theory there should have been, none remain.  They may have been removed when the 1898 ones were put in place.  Looking around online for earlier mileposts in Cheshire, they were all made of stone, some of sandstone, engraved with the mileage details, and some are badly eroded.  Perhaps some fallen and lost ones will eventually turn up.

I am keeping a record of all the surviving 1898 mileposts, as I find them, and the condition that they are in on another post, here.

The end of the turnpikes

Arguments that turnpikes were an impediment to free trade were also beginning to be heard, and national infrastructure was gradually coming under more active government control.  The Local Government Act of 1888 put responsibility of roads into the hands of local councils, at which point many of the turnpikes became redundant, although sections 92-98 of the 1888 Act provided for some exclusions.

Railways of England and Wales 1825-1914. Source: Harvie and Matthew 2000

According to Crosby, by the mid 19th Century the network of turnpikes in Cheshire covered around 590 miles.  As the the railways began to cover more parts of the country, far more efficient at transporting both people and cargoes, including livestock, turnpikes were no longer as important.  In the 1840s, as railways took off, income from tolls fell dramatically.  From this time forward, and particularly from the 1860s, as turnpikes came up for renewal most were allowed to lapse, and the government decided to referred to as “disturnpiked.” In 1895 the last of the turnpikes closed down.

Some villages that had been bypassed by a major turnpike, suddenly became economically prosperous when railways were run through them.  For example, Aberdovey, a small but important port for the coastal trade in mid-West Wales (known to many of today’s West Cheshire residents for its golf course), was bypassed when an east-west turnpike was built following the Merioneth Turnpike Act of 1775, but when the railway arrived in the middle of the 19th Century it became an increasingly important port for the transportation of Irish livestock, and became a popular destination for tourists.  Rail fares began to undercut stagecoaches and were faster, and the stagecoaches rapidly went out of business as the reach of the railway network grew.  Most of the last turnpike survivors had become feeders to the railways.

However, one of the major reasons for turnpikes being disturnpiked was that they were always something of a headache.  Construction methods were not standardized until very late (and then only if the trust chose to go down that particular path), and care was highly variable.  Pratt puts this down in part to the way in which labour was sourced:

Managed or directed by trustees and surveyors . . .  the actual work on the turnpike roads was mainly carried out by statute labour, pauper labour or labour paid for out of the tolls, out of the receipts from the composition for statute duty, or, as a last resource, at the direct cost of the ratepayers, who were thus made responsible for the turnpike as well as for the parish roads.  Statute labour was a positive burlesque of English local government. Archdeacon Plymley says in his “General View of the Agriculture of Shropshire” (1803): “There is no trick, evasion or idleness that shall be deemed too mean to avoid working on the road: sometimes the worst horses are sent; at others a broken cart, or a boy, or an old man past labour, to fill: they are sometimes sent an hour or two too late in the morning, or they leave off much sooner than the proper time, unless the surveyor watch the whole day.

The milestone outside Glebe Farm, part way between Churton and Aldford

The piecemeal organization of the turnpikes meant that they served local interests but only sometimes contributed to long-distance travel and communication.  Even on a region by region basis, there were big gaps in good quality road infrastructure because a county as a whole was not of much interest to local trusts.  This significant failing in centralized strategy for inland communications was something that the government knew it needed to address, particularly as manufacturing became increasingly industrialized, demand grew and merchants wanted better access to a much wider geographical choice of markets.  In a period of expanding opportunities and spending power, turnpikes had helped to improve conditions for the economy and for passengers, but they had simply never been able to meet the needs imposed on them by the late 19th Century.

For two centuries turnpikes had been essential to the support of local links and longer distant trade and travel.  The toll houses established were usually added at each end of a turnpike and  sometimes in between, and some of those remain dotted around this and neighbouring counties.  Some of the mileposts and signposts also continue to be dotted around the modern rural landscape.  When Cheshire County Council was formed on 1st January 1889, it inherited an excellent network of roads linking all its key towns and villages, most of which had been turnpikes and soon began to position its own mileposts on major highways, many of them former turnpikes.

As always, please let me know if you have any questions
or if you have additional information to contribute

Part 2 can be found here

Sources for Parts 1 and 2:

Books and papers:

An Act for making a Turnpike Road from Chester, by Farndon, to Worthenbury, with a Branch therefrom to the Village of Farndon, 1854

Benford, M. 2002. Milestones.  Shire Publications

Crane, N. 2016.  The Making of the British Landscape.  From Ice Age to the Present.  Weidenfeld and Nicholson

Crosby, A.G. 2012.  New Roads for Old. Cheshire Turnpikes in the Landscape 1700-1850.  In (eds.) Varey, S.M. and White, G.J. Landscape History Discoveries in the North West.  University of Chester Press, p.190-223.

Cunningham Glen, R. 1895. Indictment presented before Lord Coleridge, C.J.  Reg. vs. Barker.  Reports of Cases in Criminal Law argued and determined in the courts of England and Ireland, vol.XVII, 1890-1895. Reported by R. Cunnigham Glen Esq., Barrister at Law. Horace Cox

Defoe, D. 1724–1726 (Rogers, P. ed.). A Tour Through the Whole Island of Great Britain Penguin (particularly, Volume II, 1725, and its appendix).

Harvie, C. and Matthew, H.C.G.  1984, 2000.  Nineteenth Century Britain. Oxford University Press

Hindle, P. 1998 (3rd edition).  Medieval Roads and Tracks.  Shire Publications Ltd

Keys, D. 2016. Discovery of huge Bronze Age wheel sheds light on transport in prehistoric Britain.  The Independent, Friday 19th February 2016

Langford, P. 1984, 2000. Eighteenth Century Britain.  Oxford University Press

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

Local Government Act 1888 (51 and 52 Vict. c.41). Section 97, Saving as to liability for main roads.

OS Landranger map 117 2016.  Chester and Wrexham.  Ordnance Survey

Phillips, A.D.M. and Phillips, C.B. 2002.  A New Historical Atlas of Cheshire. Cheshire County Council and Cheshire Community Council Publications Trust.

Pratt, E.A. 1912.  A History of Inland Transport and Communication in England. Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner and Co Ltd.
Project Gutenburg:

Pryor, F. 2010.  The Making of the British Landscape.  How We Have Transformed the Land from Prehistory to Today.  Allen Lane

Wright, G. N. 1992. Turnpike Roads. Shire Publications Ltd.


A Collection of Directories for Cheshire
Cheshire County Council

British Listed Buildings
Cross Cottage, Churton

Broughton Hall, Threapwood
Threapwood History Group

Cheshire Tithe Maps Online
Cheshire Archives and Local Studies

Emral Hall, Worthenbury
Wrexham Online 

Historic England
Cross Cottage, Churton

Dig Diary 19: Discovering Britain’s Oldest, Complete Wheel
February 29, 2016
Must Farm Dig Diaries

National Archives
Chester and Whitchurch Turnpikes Trust

National Library of Scotland Mapfinder
OS 6-inch map, 1888-1913

Peterborough Archaeology
Must Farm Bronze Age Settlement

Turnpike Roads in England and Wales



Raspberries and strawberries have arrived in Holt, and they are perfectly heavenly

I popped into Bellis in Holt to buy some compost, together with a few flowering pots of this and that in the garden centre on Monday and, blissfully, their own-grown raspberries and strawberries have arrived.  The taste of summer.

Raspberries are my favourites, but the strawberries, small and firm, are wonderful too, and both are being picked in the morning.  Super fresh.  If you are tempted by the strawberries, do go early.  On Monday they had sold out by 11am on Monday and although yesterday I was there at about 1015, they were vanishing fast.

Yesterday I bought a punnet of raspberries for myself and one each of raspberries and strawberries for my father.  By this morning, I had eaten the entire punnet of raspberries without any accessorizing (no sugar, no cream, no anything), and they were truly heavenly – sweet but with a tiny hint of sharpness.  I had the restraint not to eat the ones I had bought for Dad, but it took every ounce of self-discipline that I had 🙂

Dad had his raspberries in the evening with crème fraiche, which I can also recommend.  The slightly tart edge to the crème fraiche is a perfect complement to the sweetness of the fruit, less heavy and rich than ordinary cream, a visual delight and an absolute party on the taste buds.

I have been grazing on some of the strawberries this morning, much like I did on Smarties as a child, but there are plenty left over for a small dessert this evening.  Bliss.


Cheshire Proverbs 2: “Holt Lions, Farndon Bears, Churton Greyhounds and Alford Hares”

“Holt lions, Farndon bears
Churton greyhounds and Aldford hares”
(J.C. Bridge  no.190, page 73)

Joseph Bridge devotes over a page to the content of this very local proverb, but he focuses exclusively on the Holt lions and by the end of it neither he or I are any the wiser about what the bears, greyhounds and hares refer to, or what the overall meaning might be.

Title page of Ray’s “A Collection of Enlish Proverbs.” Source: Royal Society.

Holt was originally in Cheshire, an English borough in Wales, so although it was the only of the villages to the west of the Dee, it was not entirely the odd one out in this list of local place-names. 

Previous writers suggested that the Holt Lions might refer to Roman tile and pottery works to the north of Holt.  John Ray’s A Collection of English Proverbs (1670), quoted in Bridge (p.x) provides a plausible if completely unverifiable example:  “I conjecture that the Roman name had been Castra Legionis, and the Welsh Castell Lleon, or the Castle of the Legion;  Because it was garrisoned by a detachment of the Legion at Chester.  The English borderers might easily mistake Lleon for the plural of Llew, which signifies a lion, and so call it the Castle of Lions.”  Bridge provides a convincing list of references that associate the two during the Middle Ages. The Reverend R.H. Morris’s The Diocesan  of History 1895 reinforces this message, saying that as late as the Elizabethan period the alternative name, Castrum Leonum or Castle of Lions was in general use and that its seal incorporated a Lion Rampant, suggesting that there was a heraldic link between Holt and lions.

None of this, however, accounts for the greyhounds, bears and hares, although Latham speculates that these too might have been associated with family coats of arms, now lost.  I originally wondered if the Churton greyhounds might refer to the hounds shown on Aldford road and house signs, but only a few of those are in Churton and are, anyway, much later in date.  Latham adds “It can be said in support of this suggestion however that the base of the font in Holt church, which dates from 1490, includes what appear to be carvings of all these
creatures.  This was examined by Mr. E. E. Dorling in 1908, and his findings were published in Vol. 24 of the Transactions of the Historical Soc. of Lanes. & Cheshire. He mentions a hart’s (not a hares) head with reference to the house of Stanley, and considers that the collared hound sitting in a panel on the font is ‘none other but the greyhound badge of King Henry VII’.”

Any ideas?  If you have more information, please get in touch.

For more about this Cheshire Proverbs series, see Cheshire Proverbs 1.



Bridge, J.C. 1917. Proverbs, sayings and rhymes connected with the city and county palatine of Chester. Phillipson and Golder.

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