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1868 - The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland

"CHESHIRE, one of the sea-side counties in the N.W of England, lying between 52° 56' and 53° 34' N. lat., and between 1° 47' and 3° 11' W. long. It is bounded on the N. by Lancashire and Yorkshire; on the E. by Derbyshire and Staffordshire; on the S. by Shropshire and Flintshire; and on the W. by Denbighshire, Flintshire, and the Irish Sea. Its form has been compared to that of an eagle's right wing extended, as it were, from the Wirrall to Yorkshire. Its extreme length from N.E. to S.W. is about 58 miles; its extreme width from N. to S. about 32 miles. It is about 200 miles in circuit. Its area is 1,104 square miles, or 707,078 acres, and it includes within its limits 103,294 houses, of which 5,420 are unoccupied. Its population is 505,428, according to the census of 1861. There has been an increase of 49,703 persons, or 11 per cent. since 1851, and of 313,123 persons, or 163 per cent. in the last 60 years. The old Celtic inhabitants of Cheshire had, in common with those of Staffordshire, Flintshire, Shropshire, Warwickshire, and Leicestershire, the name of Cornavii, or Cornabii. This, at least, was the Latinised form of it, and it may, perhaps, still be traced in the name of Kinderton, the ancient Condate. Cheshire was included in the Roman district Flavia Cæsariensis. When the Romans abandoned the island, the Britons again became masters; but were compelled to yield this portion of their territory Ethelfrith, the Saxon King of Bernicia, in 607. 28, Egbert, King of Mercia, conquered and annexed it to his own dominions, giving it the name of Ceastrescyre. About 200 years afterwards it was overrun by the Danes, but recovered from them by Alfred in 877. Chester first became an earldom under Canute, who bestowed it upon Leofric. There were, however, only three earls of Chester before the Conquest, when William gave the county to Hugh d'Avrenches, or Lupus, with the permission to hold it "tam libere ad gladium, quam ipse Rex tenebat Angliam ad coronam." It was constituted a county palatine. The earls of Chester had eight barons holding of them, their own parliament, and their own courts of law. The government of the county continued to be equally independent even after the earldom had become an appanage of the Prince of Wales; but in the reign of Henry VIII. it was made subordinate to the crown. The Cheshire families made common cause with Hotspur, and lost 200 knights and squires at thee battle of Shrewsbury. They suffered also terribly in the wars of the Roses, and especially at the battle of Blore Heath, when the Cheshire men were engaged in almost equal numbers on each side. In the Civil War Cheshire was the scene of several engagements. Lord Byron, the royalist commander, defeated Sir William Brereton at Middlewich in 1643, and laid siege to Nantwich in 1644. He was at length put to flight by the united forces of Fairfax and Brereton, and compelled to take refuge in Chester. The whole county submitted to the parliament after the battle of Rowton Moor and the fall of Chester in 1646. A royalist insurrection broke out in 1659 under Sir George Booth, who raised 3,000 men and fought a battle with General Lambert at Winnington Bridge, near Northwich. He was defeated, and afterwards taken at Newport Pagnell, whence he was sent to the Tower. The surface of Cheshire is generally flat, and the county was formerly called "the Vale Royal of England," from the abbey of Vale Royal, founded by Edward I. There is, however, on the eastern border a range of hills extending into Derbyshire; and on the western side a line of hills extending from Fredsham southwards. Beeston Rock, on which there is a castle, is one of the outlying hills of this range. It is a conspicuous object from every part of the county. There are no forests in Cheshire, for Delamere Forest has no claim to the title; it is a barren sandy tract, covered with heath and moss. The county is not very well wooded, but there are some very fine oaks growing in the hedge-rows. There are several meres, or lakes; but none of them of great size: Comber Mere, from which Lord Combermere takes his title, is the largest, and is three quarters of a mile in length. Cheshire is watered by the Dee, the Mersey, the Weaver, the Wheelock, the Peover, the Tame or Thame, the Dane, and the Bollin. The Dee rises in Merionethshire, flows eastward through Denbighshire, past Bangor, Iscoed, and Worthenbury. It then flows N. to Chester, marking for some distance the boundary between Wales and Cheshire. From Chester Bridge it runs in an artificial channel, 3 miles in length, and near Flint Castle it becomes an estuary, 3 miles wide, and empties itself into the Irish Sea. The sands at the mouth of the Dee render the navigation very difficult, but ships of 600 tons may reach Chester by the cut which was made in 1754. The Mersey is formed by the junction of the Etherow, the Tame, and the Goyt. From Stockport to Liverpool it forms the boundary between Cheshire and Lancashire. Between Runcorn and Liverpool it is an estuary of considerable breadth, but at Liverpool its channel is contracted to the width of three-quarters of a mile. About 5 miles further N. it falls into the Irish Channel. Its navigation, like that of the Dee, is impeded by sands at its mouth, but the evil is not beyond the remedy of an excellent system of pilotage, to which Liverpool is mainly indebted for its commercial prosperity. The Weaver was, in 1720, made navigable by a system of locks from Frodsham Bridge to Winsford Bridge. It rises in the N. of Shropshire, receives the Dane and the Peover as tributaries, and itself falls into the Mersey below Fredsham, The Wheelock is a small tributary of the Dane. The Bollin rises in Macclesfield Forest, and falls into the Mersey at Rixton. The Tame rises in Yorkshire and joins the Mersey at Stockport. There is also in Cheshire an excellent system of water communication by canals. The Bridgwater canal traverses about 24 miles of the county, crossing the Mersey at Ashton. The Grand Trunk, or Trent and Mersey canal runs through the centre of the county from Preston Brook past Northwich, Middlewich, Sandbach, and Church-Lawton, into Staffordshire. There is a canal between Chester and Nantwich, which is connected by the Middlewich branch with the Trent and Mersey canal. The Ellesmere canal affords communication between Chester, Nantwich, Middlewich, and Whitchurch. The Macclesfield canal joins the Grand Trunk with the Peak Forest canal, passing by Church-Lawton, Congleton, and Macclesfield, to Ashton-under-Lyne. The climate of Cheshire, like that of Wales, is moist, but not very cold. The Derbyshire hills on the E., the Welsh hills on the W., and the Irish Sea beyond, produce an annual rainfall far above the average of the eastern counties. The land is consequently well adapted for grazing, and but very little corn is grown. A clause is generally inserted in the leases to the effect that not more than one-fourth part of a farm shall be ploughed, meadow and pasture being more valuable than arable land. The farms in Cheshire are not commonly more than 100 or 150 acres in extent, and the chief produce is the cheese for which Cheshire is famous. The soil is generally clayey or a sandy loam, with a substratum of marl, resting upon the New Red sandstone. The most important minerals found in Cheshire are rock-salt and coal. The salt was first discovered near Marbury, in the parish of Budworth, in 1670. There are now mines at Witton, Wincham, Marston, and Lawton. The salt is sometimes found white and transparent, sometimes of a reddish brown colour-in the for mer case it is chloride of sodium, almost pure; in the latter there is a small proportion of oxide of iron present. Many thousand tons of salt are also annually extracted from the brine springs, which were known to the Romans, who from this circumstance named Nantwich Salinæ. The district in which the salt is found at traversed by the Weaver and its tributaries, and the transit is consequently easy. Coal of good quality and in considerable quantities is found at Denwall, in the hundred of Wirrall, and at Worth and Poynton, in the N.E. of the, county. The two latter collieries supply Stockport, which is in a degree dependent on them for its prosperity as a manufacturing town. There are quarries of freestone at Runcorn, Manley, and Great Bebington; and of limestone at Newbold-Astbury. Mow-Cop Hill supplies mill-stones. Iron and cobalt have been found at Alderley Edge; copper and lead at Alderley Edge and in the Peckforton hills. The great increase in the population of Cheshire during the present century may be attributed to the prosperity of its manufactures, of which cotton and silk are the chief. Large numbers of immigrants are attracted by them from Wales and from Ireland. Fustian, calico, tape, ribbons, thread, gloves, and stockings are also manufactured at Stockport, Macclesfield, Congleton, Sandbach, and Knutsford. The mines also afford employment to a considerable number of labourers. According to Domesday Book there were 12 hundreds in Cheshire, but the county then included portions of Flintshire and Lancashire. It is now divided into 7 hundreds: Bucklow, Macclesfield, Northwich, Eddisbury, Nantwich, Broxton, and Wirrall. The shire is divided into North Cheshire and South Cheshire, each division returning two members to parliament. The former consists of the two hundreds of Bucklow and Macclesfield, the latter of the remaining five. The county is included in the North Wales circuit, and the assizes and quarter sessions are held at Chester. Cheshire constitutes an archdeaconry belonging to the bishopric of Chester, and includes 7 deaneries and 147 parishes. It has 13 market towns Chester, the county town, a seaport, and a city; Stockport, Macclesfield, Congleton, Knutsford, and Sandbach, manufacturing towns; besides Nantwich, Northwich, Middlewich, Malpas, Frodsham, Tarporley, and Altrincham. Other important towns are Stalybridge, a portion of which is in Lancashire; Runcorn, a port on the Mersey; Hyde, Sutton, Crewe; the three watering-places of Great Neston, Park-Gate, and New Brighton; and Birkenhead, the great suburb of Liverpool, which lies on the Cheshire side of the Mersey. There are some remains of Birkenhead Priory, of Rock Savage Priory, and of the castles of Haulton (built by John of Gaunt) and Beeston-rock. There are many tumuli near Prestbury; and in the township of Butley, near the high road from Stockport to Macclesfield, several cairns were discovered in 1808, about 3 feet below the surface. The great sword of Hugh Lupus, Earl of Chester, was formerly in Sir Hans Sloane's collection, but is now in the British Museum. It is nearly 4 feet long; its blade is 21 inches wide at the top, and tapers gradually to a point; the handle is gilt, ornamented with scrolls of foliage and flowers, and inlaid with mother-of-pearl. Cheshire is divided into nine Poor-law Unions: Chester, Stockport, Macclesfield, Altrincham, Runcorn, Northwich, Congleton, Nantwich, and Wirrall. Among the natives of Cheshire were Bishop Heber, who was born at Malpas; Bishop Wilson, who was born at Burton, in the Wirrall; Holinshed and Speed. At Nantwich Milton's widow died in 1726. The principal noblemen's seats are those of the Marquis of Westminster, at Eaton Hall, near Chester; of the Marquis of Cholmondeley, at Cholmondeley Castle; of Viscount Combermere, at Combermere Abbey; of the Earl of Stamford and Warrington, at Dunham Massey; of Lord Crewe, at Crewe Hall; of Lord de Tabley, at Tabley Hall; of Lord Vernon, at Poynton; and of Lord Delamere, at Vale Royal Abbey. There are, in addition to these, many others belonging to the untitled aristocracy of the county, several of which are built of wood and are of great age. Railways and telegraph wires cross Cheshire in all directions from Birkenhead to Chester; from Holyhead and the extreme North of Wales to Chester; from Manchester and Warrington to Chester; from Chester to Crewe, and from Crewe to Stockport and Manchester; from Stockport, by Macclesfield and Congleton, into Staffordshire; and from Chester, by North Wales, to Shrewsbury. The London and North-Western railway and its branches connect all these lines with London and with the North."