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The River Gowy

Edition 1. 25th August 2013. Brendon Cox, Hoylake. New editions will appear at intervals.

The River Gowy flows from the mid-Cheshire ridge near Peckforton and Beeston Castles via Bunbury, back to almost where it started and then north via Hargrave and Tarvin to the Stanlow oil refinery, where it is joined by its tributary, the River Mersey. It reaches the Irish Sea between Liverpool and New Brighton.

Nowadays, the Gowy ambles through peaceful Cheshire countryside, but there was plenty of action during the English Civil War. It is not a well-known river and deserves a better press.

The village of Tarvin is named after the old name of the River Gowy (which flows very close by). The name comes from the Welsh terfyn, meaning 'boundary'. This is strange. The name Gowy also sounds Welsh. This is also strange. In fact, you might wonder if it has something to do with the Afon Gwy (the River Wye) which runs north to south close to the English border with South Wales in the same way that the Gowy runs south to north close to the English border with North Wales.

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All pictures are my own except:

The Headless Woman (suitably tinted by me), © 1966 Herbert Hughes,
The 2 Waverton Field images, © Google Earth,
Gowy Landfill Site - no © info;
. (taken 29/9/07 by Tony White, Chester U3A Environmental Issues Group),
The 3 images around Plemstall appear by kind permission of Laurence Scales of Allerton Oak.

Brendon Cox, 24th August 2013.

References such as SJ568581 in this section are UK Ordnance Survey National Grid coordinates.
There are numerous on-line programs to convert to latitude and longitude, for example: this one.

Map of the Gowy

A Map of the River Gowy

To see this map or any other images full size, click or touch on the image.

To open this 900x850 pixel map in a separate window, click here.

Source of the Gowy

Official Source of the Gowy (SJ539563)
in the field beyond

The River Gowy flows northwards from its source at Peckforton Moss beneath and to the east of the mid-Cheshire sandstone ridge. The other river to flow through west Cheshire is the Weaver, which has its source very close by. The Weaver flows south to begin with and curves around in a big semicircle through the industrial salt-working towns of Winsford, Nantwich, Middlewich and Northwich, eventually reaching the River Mersey at the ICI works, close to the Runcorn-Widnes bridge. The Weaver was used to transport the salt from the mines to the Mersey, where it was moved on to Garston, nowadays in South Liverpool. Here it was processed and moved on around the world. Garston docks were built to remove the need to use Liverpool docks, which were under the stringent control of the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board, and also for access to the Cheshire Lines railway system.

The Gowy is altogether different in character from the Weaver. It is never much wider than a stream and the only industry along its banks has been at the series of numerous water mills it powers. In recent decades it has met the Mersey at the massive Stanlow oil refinery. Though small, the river is fast-flowing and powerful for much of its length.

Top of Bulkeley Hill

The Top of Bulkeley Hill (SJ526552)
The Real Source of the Gowy and Weaver

Tyson up a Tree

Some Nutter up a Tree
Above the Peckforton Fault

Near the Pumping Station

Near the Severn-Trent Pumping Station (SJ530553)
The path leads up to some lovely walks

The water stored in the hills above Peckforton has been pumped in the past to the Potteries for the manufacture of china and earthenware. There is a pumping station a mile down the road (SJ530553) at the bottom of a steepish valley (which can be the starting point for some excellent walks). Up the steep side of Bulkeley Hill, behind the pumping station, runs a steep railway track, presumably associated with the water industry, and above that, on the flat top of the hill, is a reservoir. The best view of the track is looking down it from the top of the hill.

Sand Mine

Sand Mine in Coppermines Lane (SJ516543)

A mile to the south-west of here, at the base of Bickerton Hill, are the chimneys of some old copper mines. A lane (Coppermines Lane) climbs up from here and reaches a point close to the top of Bulkeley Hill. The lane passes a hollowed-out cave, which I took originally to be part of a copper mine. In fact it was a mine, but it was mined by the locals for sand, which they used as a floor covering.

Elephant and Castle

Elephant and Castle, Quarry Bank, Peckforton (SJ537566)

Near the source of the Gowy is a curiosity: a large sculpture of an elephant with a castle on its back. This Elephant and Castle appears to be carved from one piece (or maybe two pieces) of sandstone. One explanation of the Elephant and Castle tradition (which seems to turn up a lot in the UK) is that it is a corruption of Elenora Infanta de Castilla, Eleanor being the wife of Edward the First. After her death in childbirth on her way north to join her husband, he was so distraught he ordered a series of crosses to be erected at overnight stops along the funeral route from Lincoln to London. The last one is at Charing Cross station, where there is still a cross, though it is a replica of the original.

Elephant and Castle, Cathedral

Another One in Chester Cathedral

Among the choir stalls in Chester Cathedral is a carved image of an elephant with a castle on its back. This would have been carved centuries before the Peckforton sculpture, and before anyone in this part of the world had actually seen an elephant. It gives the impression that it has been carved by somebody who had been given a verbal description, and has lost something in translation.

The Peckforton sculpture is in a private back garden, so it is difficult to admire it for too long. It is shrouded in mystery, but is thought to be the work of a mason employed in the building of Peckforton Castle, the impressive looking edifice above the northern end of the ridge here. Although it looks old, Peckforton Castle is, in fact a relatively recent construction, built in gothic style between 1842 and 1851 for John Tollemache, a local landowner and MP. He later became a Baron, but wasn't exactly barren: he had 24 sons and one daughter in his two marriages. Macho Man. The Tollemache family, whose main roots are, and have been since the 15th century, in Suffolk, lived there until the second world war and owned the castle until the 1980s. Wikipedia says he only had 14 children, but I'm sticking to the numbers given in Peckforton and Beeston - 200 Years of Village Life in a Changing World. Wikipedia states that he was the largest landowner in Cheshire, eclipsing the likes of the Duke of Westminster, Lord Crewe and Lord Cholmondeley (pronounced Chumley).

Tollemache Chimneys

Tollemache Chimneys on Tollemache Land (SJ535583)
with Beeston Castle beyond

The Tollemache name appears as the Tolly in Ipswich-based Tolly Cobbold beers, which some of us remember from not too long ago. There are big links here with Greene King and Ipswich Town Football Club. There is also a link with Peckforton. The Tolly Follies were a set of pubs built in a gothic style that seems to be much in keeping with the family homes.

Peckforton Castle

The Highest Part of Peckforton Castle (SJ533580)

The Peckforton estate has been the setting for a number of films and TV series in the last few decades, including, I always thought, Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves, although the Peckforton Castle web site suggests it was another Robin Hood film that was filmed here (maybe Robin Hood, Men in Tights). Nowadays, you can stay in the castle (it's a hotel), or get married there, so long as you don't try to burn the place down, as one bridegroom tried to do recently after an argument over a bar bill.

Tollemache Mere

Peckforton Mere (SJ540578) from a footpath starting
from opposite the Castle Entrance (SJ538575)

The river flows north from Peckforton, via a small lake, Peckforton Mere, to Beeston village, under the impressive remains of Beeston Castle, which, unlike Peckforton Castle that faces it, is of genuine antiquity. Peckforton Mere was on Tollemache land and was used by that family (and 'some of' the villagers) as a swimming and boating pool, and in the 1930s (and probably before) was equipped with a floating stage of some quality, which seems to have been used for diving and boating. The Tollemache family seems to be developing into one of great significance in this part of world, as well as in Suffolk. They also had a little pad near London - Ham House on the banks of the River Thames at Richmond.

The Dysart Arms

The Dysart Arms at Bunbury (SJ568581)

It also turns out that this family held large estates in Scotland and became the Earls of Dysart (pronounced Dye-sar according to Wikipedia), a town on the south-east coast of Fife, to the east of the Firth of Forth. The town was part of the St Clair (or Sinclair) estate in the 15th century. In the early 20th century, its harbour was owned by the Earl of Rosslyn's coal company. There seem to be a few bells ringing here, but maybe you have to read The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail or Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code to hear them. There's a Lady Blanche involved here as well; was there a Lady Blanche in these books, or am I thinking of something else?

To the east of the Mere is Brickkiln Wood. Given that a wharf at Wardle, two miles north-east on the Shropshire Union canal, was used for the transport of 'draining tiles for agricultural purposes', you might wonder if they were manufactured here with raw material from Beeston or Peckforton Moss. The Gowy turns east at Beeston village and heads past a property called 'Priestland' (the Priestlands were a notable family around here) into the small village of Bunbury, where it passes a pub called (lo and behold) The Dysart Arms. I have no connection whatsoever with the company that has this establishment, apart from enjoying their formula of good food and beer and welcoming surroundings. There are a number of pubs of this chain around the region, all of which are difficult to leave.

Gowy: A Roadside Ditch

The Mighty Gowy at Beeston (SJ543587)
The shame of it all: a Roadside Ditch

Gowy by the Wild Boar

The Gowy by the Wild Boar Hotel
and the A49 (SJ558588)

The Wild Boar Hotel

The Wild Boar Hotel,
formerly Beeston Towers (SJ557591)

Between Beeston and Bunbury, on a bend of the busy A49, is an impressive black and white building of the traditional Cheshire style. This is the Wild Boar Hotel, which used to be the Wild Boar restaurant and pub/grill room. The restaurant proper was of some renown. At some time in the past it has been known as Beeston Towers and was a girls' school. The original part of the building appears to be very old, but in fact is mock Tudor, built 1886, with extensions added later. It still looks great though. I shall wander in for a pint next I am in the neighbourhood and see how it has changed, and report back. They can only tell me to go away. At the next junction to the south of here (half a mile or so), the Gowy gurgles out of the undergrowth on its way eastwards towards Bunbury. If you look north from the Wild Boar along the A49 you see a significant drop down into a valley. At the bottom of the valley is Beeston Market, where livestock has long been bought and sold, next to which is the London to Chester and Holyhead railway line and the Shropshire Union canal with the notable Stone and Iron Locks (SJ554598). Between the two is the river Gowy, which has turned 180 degrees, dropped to the valley floor and is flowing west towards Huxley.

David Ackerley has an interesting article on the Gowy, notably about the mills along its length, although he also mentions a real-life story of witches in the Bunbury area and a man, Seth Shone, who was plagued by them to such an extent that he placed stone voodoo images on the front of his house, which became known as The Image House (SJ557585), now directly by the side of the busy A49. The events are the basis of a novel by Beatrice Tunstall, The Shiny Night, which David Ackerley describes as 'an excellent read'. I hope I can find a copy.

Bunbury Church

Bunbury Church (SJ568581)

For a small village, Bunbury has an enormous church, across the road from the Dysart Arms. Most of what you see today is from 1385, when Sir Hugh Calveley built it as a collegiate church, which appears to mean that it had the system of governance of a cathedral but without a bishop. Its size certainly gives it the look and feel of a cathedral. This church was built on top of a previous one of 1320, which was a replacement for a Norman church of 1135. Previous to that there had been a wooden Saxon church dating back to the 8th century. These facts are from Wikipedia. The church and village suffered serious damage, surprisingly, in the blitz during the 2nd World War, when German bombers returning from a raid on Liverpool jettisoned their surplus bombs over this area. Houses were destroyed and the church roof had to be replaced. Calveley is another of these old Cheshire family names that crop up all over the county (especially in pub names), like the Egertons, the Grosvenors, the Hindertons, the Alderseys, the Massies, etc, etc. Sir Hugh is buried in Bunbury church (which is dedicated to St Boniface); he died in 1394 and his fine alabaster effigy lies above his tomb. Another old Cheshire boy who is buried here is Sir George Beeston, who died in 1601. At the age of 88 he commanded the Dreadnought against the Spanish Armada and eventually died at the age of 102. He was lord of the manor of Beeston, which name was adopted by one of his forefathers (according to John Elsworth, Churchwarden 2000).

Bunbury Mill Pond

Bunbury Mill Pond (SJ572580)

The Gowy here splits the village into two distinct parts: Higher Bunbury, the area containing the church, and Lower Bunbury, the larger part of the village. It is the driving force of Bunbury Mill a restored and working water mill which is open to visitors on Sunday afternoons through the summer, in 2013 from 31st March. There has been a mill on this site since 1290; it is one of many along this short river - at one time there were twenty or so working mills along its length.

Bunbury must have been a powerful place at one time. In 1642 there came the Bunbury Agreement in which the powers-that-be in the county gathered and declared that Cheshire would be neutral in the Civil War that was just beginning. Three years later, this part of the county was at it hammer and tongs. Cheshire and the port of Chester were important in the national scheme of things. The county of Cheshire was of vital importance in the North-South movement of troops and just about everything else. It is low and flat. There was Derbyshire and the difficult terrain of the Peak District to the east, and there was Wales to the west. The eastern side of the country was similarly important for movement.

Cheshire was important as a North-South route: low and flat. Chester was important, in the 1640s, as a port. It was particularly important to Charles I as he had armies in Ireland and the only sensible way of getting them into England was through the port of Chester. So Cheshire and Chester were important places to control in the Civil War.

Leaving Bunbury Mill

Gathering Speed Downhill after Bunbury Mill

The Gowy ambles on down under a couple of narrow lanes, past some people's beautiful gardens, turning westwards under the Holyhead and Chester to London Euston railway line back towards where it came from. It runs east to west here with the railway on one side and the Shropshire Union Canal a few yards away on the other. Half a mile back along the canal from the point where the river, canal and railway meet are the Bunbury Locks, which, like the village itself, are well worth a visit. A walk along the canal towpath towards Beeston and the castle is terrific on a good day, but depends to a large extent on the Shady Oak at Bate's Mill or the Beeston Castle Hotel (SJ553597) (near the Stone and Iron locks by the A49) being alive and kicking. There seem to be serious doubts about the future of these and very many similar establishments. The Shady Oak, in particular, should be one of the great pubs of the world. It sits in a beautiful position, with its garden area by the side of the canal moorings and its magnificent view across the canal to the rocky crags of Beeston Hill and the Castle.

Beeston Castle

Beeston Castle (Entrance at SJ540590)

Shady Oak View

From the Shady Oak Garden (SJ533603)

Bates Mill Pond

Bate's Mill Pond(SJ532602)

If you cross the canal from the pub by the kinky road bridge, which is just about wide enough for a car or van and has a right-angle bend on it (followed immediately by another one on the other side), you come to Bate's Mill which is powered by the Gowy. You can hear the force of the water running beneath it, together with what sounds like turning machinery. Perhaps it still serves its original purpose. On the other side of the road is the lovely mill pond, next to a private garden.

There are good walks involving the towpaths in these parts. A favourite was between the Shady Oak and the Dysart Arms in Bunbury. The river flows on alongside the canal with the towpath between the two, but then, in a mile or so turns abruptly right under an aqueduct which carries the canal, to travel northwards past Hargrave and Huxley towards Tarvin. The Shropshire Union goes straight on through Waverton and Christleton to Chester. The land around here looks flat and boring but it saw a lot of action in the Civil War. Looking upstream from the bridge over the Gowy (SJ500615), near the junction of the three roads to Tattenhall, Waverton and Huxley village, you can see Beeston Castle beyond the flat fields. Looking the other way, the river passes Huxley Lower Hall (SJ497623), although the Hall is not visible from here. The road westwards leads through the village of Waverton to Rowton. A few hundred yards the other way is (or rather, until December 2012, used to be) the Farmers' Arms public house.

The Farmers' Arms

The Farmers' Arms: A Pile of Rubble (SJ505615)
21st March 2013

The Farmers 16/05/2014

Something's Happening
16th May 2014

The Farmers' Arms was a fine old traditional country pub with a delightful room to eat in, in a small restaurant called Stuart's Table. In the Winter, I seem to remember the small bar had fires blazing on both sides. The story was that it was used as a hospital in the Civil War. We were invited to visit the Morgue Room, but being short of time, we had to say no. Years later, I thought I would go along with a camera and record the place for this web site, but I've left it too late. The pub has been demolished and is now a building site, but is due be replaced by another inn. You can get angry at things like this, but then you look at the council planning records, which are online. According to the experts, this building dated back only to 1750 at the earliest, was not listed, was not in a Conservation Area and was of poor quality - the photographs in the survey seem to bear this out. It is likely that there was a building on this site which was used as a hospital in the Civil War, but it wasn't this one. Hopefully the replacement will retain some of the ambiance of the old Farmers. Here is the Farmers' Arms as it was, old red telephone box and all.

The Headless Woman

Bloody Times: The Headless Woman at Duddon (SJ511648)

A reminder of the bloody times of the English Civil War can be found at another pub in this part of the world. The Headless Woman at Duddon stands on the important route between Chester and Nantwich. The main road nowadays is the A51, but for a long time there were shorter routes (one for walkers and packhorses, another via a ford at Stapleford for coach and horses) which cut across via Christleton and where the Plough Inn now stands, to this point on the modern A51. The packhorses crossed the river Gowy at the 'Roman Bridges'. There were three of them in mediaeval times, and there still are. There is an area around here called Hockenhull Platts, both names refering to local landowners. It seems that during the Civil War, when the Parliamentarians were getting close, the Hockenhulls (a Royalist family) left a maid in charge of their house and treasure. She refused to say where it was hidden and had her head taken off as a result. Why the soldiers thought that it would help them find the booty if they chopped the head off the only person who could tell them where it was, is a difficult question to answer. Of course, the story goes that her ghost wanders round with her head in her hands, haunting the area to this very day. I remember the headless woman figure standing in the pub car park many years ago. One day it disappeared. Somebody had stolen it! Or so the story goes. Maybe she'd had enough of hanging around a pub car park and just walked away. The figure is a ship's figurehead with the head sawn off and some bloody embellishments. I hope the pub survives. It was looking a little forlorn quite recently.

Parliamentary garrisons were scattered about the Cheshire countryside. In Cheshire, the Royalists had Chester and most of the towns. One of the Parliamentary garrisons was at Huxley Lower Hall (late 15th Century) on the west bank of the Gowy. The Lower Hall was originally the seat of the Clive family (as in Clive of India), while the original Higher Hall, which dates back to the 13th Century and beyond, was the home of the Huxleys, a family that has excelled in many fields. Thomas Henry Huxley was an eminent biologist, known as Darwin's Bulldog for his firm support of Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution, which was controversial to say the least. He became President of the Royal Society. The second Huxley to achieve this was his grandson Andrew, Nobel Prize winner for his work on the central nervous system. Two other grandchilren were Aldous, who wrote, amongst other things, Brave New World and The Doors of Perception, and Julian, first director of UNESCO and co-founder of the WWF. He also wrote books - fifty of them.

So Huxley Lower Hall was originally the Clives', but it seems that the Huxleys later bought it and moved from the old Higher Hall. [Huxley Higher Hall (not the original building, needless to say) is now a hotel]. The Lower Hall was taken over by Colonel Croxton (one of the aides of Sir William Brereton, who was the general commander in the North-West) and used as a base for the battle of Rowton Moor and the subsequent full-blooded siege of Chester. Beeston Castle was in Parliamentary hands under a Captain Steele. The castle is clearly visible from the Hall three miles across the fields and (as suggested by Herbert Hughes, editor of the Chester Chronicle at the time, in his book Cheshire and its Welsh Border) Croxton used to signal to Steele from an attic window on the south side of the property. The castle was taken SAS-style at dawn on 13th December 1643 by a handful of Royalist soldiers. The seemingly impregnable castle was overcome by a Captain Sandford and eight men, who sneakily climbed quietly up the sheer cliff to the north-west rather than taking the route they were supposed to up the gentler slopes on the other sides. Herbert Hughes in his book quotes Edward Burghall, who was the schoolmaster at Bunbury and who wrote an account of this episode, as saying, '[It] must have been by treachery, for the place was most impregnable'. Herbert Hughes goes on to say, 'Be that as it may, Captain Steele was marched off to Nantwich and shot'. There seems to be some inconsistency here, since Nantwich, by other accounts, was one Cheshire town that was in Parliamentary hands. Anyway, he was executed.

Now that the castle was held by the Royalists, the garrison at Huxley was in great danger. The land around here was [by day] a no-man's land, traversed only by spies and informers, and by night a murderous common where there was many a desperate ambush. However, the garrison did survive. Beeston Castle remained in Royalist hands until its surrender on 15th November 1645, and Colonel Croxton was the man who received it.

In fact there was not just one, but three Civil Wars, dated 1642-46, 1648-49 and 1649-51. The third was between Charles II's supporters and Parliament. The happenings in Cheshire that are described here belong to the first period. So what started it all? It seems that Charles I believed in the divine right of kings, which meant that, because God had chosen him as his representative, and because God was all-powerful, then his representative must also be all-powerful. So he was arrogant and was not prepared to be pushed around by common people who called themselves members of Parliament. He dismissed Parliament in 1629 (the doors of Westminster were chained and locked). These were the days of the sinister Star Chamber, where secret trials were held behind closed doors, so that injustice was not seen to be done. To go off at a tangent, the gold-starred dark-blue ceiling and the oak-panelled walls of the Star Chamber can nowadays be seen at the Leasowe Castle Hotel at Leasowe on the north coast of the Wirral, to where they were moved when the room at Westminster was revamped in the early 20th Century. Legend has it that King Canute (otherwise called Cnut, but not to his face) tried to hold back the tide here. Overlooking the sea, there used to be a wooden seat with his famous saying on the back rest: Sea come not hither nor wet the sole of my foot. The chair itself eventually fell to pieces and was replaced, but photographs of it remain.

Returning to the Civil War, it was eleven years later, in 1640, before Parliament met again. Charles could not do without Parliament entirely. He still needed its go-ahead for certain purposes; in 1640 he needed to raise funds to quell a rebellion in Scotland. This Short Parliament lasted 3 weeks before it was dissolved. The Long Parliament assembled for the first time later that year, on 3rd November 1640, but relations were still strained and Charles tried to have 5 MPs arrested on 4th January 1642, but failed. Parliament seized the arsenal stored at Hull on the east coast and refused the King entry to the town. At Nottingham on about 20th August 1642 Charles started to tour the country to supplement his forces. The first battle was at Edgehill near Banbury in Oxfordshire and was inconclusive. There was then a 'standoff' at Turnham Green (with Envy) to the west of central London, and Charles and his troops had to retire to Oxford, which became his HQ for the duration of the war.

In 1641 there had been a rebellion in Ireland, and Charles had had to send forces there to keep order. In 1642, with events hotting up in England, it was necessary to recall many of his regiments to reinforce the army. In Cheshire, the Bunbury Agreement declaring the county neutral was proving worthless, and several regiments were sent to Cheshire in 1643. Lord John Byron arrived in November with 5,000 men to attack the Parliamentary garrisons scattered about the countryside, most of which were quickly taken. The exercise appears to have been brutal. On the 26th December at the church at Barthomley, which is near Crewe to the south of the county, Parliamentary soldiers were smoked out and surrendered, but a dozen or more were executed in cold blood with Byron's approval. The next day, Sir William Brereton confronted Byron at Middlewich, but was defeated and was forced to back off to Manchester.

On the 29th December, in bitter weather and deep snow, Sir Thomas Fairfax set off with 1,800 cavalry from Yorkshire to cross the Pennines. Arriving at Manchester, he found Brereton's army in such a wretched state that he is said to have cried. At this time there were 2,000 parliamentary troops at Nantwich under Colonel George Booth. Byron attacked Nantwich on 18th January 1644 but was defeated with the loss of 500 men; by now his force was reduced to 3,500. However, he kept up the siege of the town. Three days later (21st January), with 1,800 cavalry, 500 dragoons ('mounted infantry' at that time), 2,500 infantry and a few hundred cudgellers (who presumably hit other people over the head with short, thick sticks), Fairfax and Brereton set off to relieve Nantwich and attacked Byron's troops. The weather helped them. There was a sudden thawing of the snow and a bridge was swept away, forcing the Royalist army to make a long detour to the headquarters at Acton, a mile to the west of Nantwich. The Royalists were defeated here by 25th January 1644 and Byron retreated to Chester with his cavalry. Many of the soldiers defected to the parliamentary side or were taken prisoner (1500 of them). A group called the Sealed Knot does re-enactments of battles, including the battle of Nantwich.

Colonel Croxton at Huxley Lower Hall was now able to join his comrades at the siege of Chester. This was a long-drawn-out affair which strangely included an intermission in the summer of 1644. It carried on through the following year. The battle of Rowton Moor was fought on 25th September 1645, when King Charles I, who was in Chester at the time, stood on King Charles' Tower on the old mediaeval walls of the city, close to the cathedral, and looked out south-eastwards to see his army defeated. It must have been a devastating blow. The intensity of the siege increased from then on and the city surrendered early in 1646. Kings and other high-ups seem to be able to come and go at will from besieged cities. I suppose Charles got out straight away and moved off somewhere else to continue his struggle. He sought refuge some months later with a 'Presbyterian Scottish Army', at Southwell in Nottinghamshire, which handed him over to the Parliamentarians in May 1646, an event which signalled the end of the First English Civil War. I must mention here that much of the general information on the Civil War has been gleaned from Wikipedia articles on the subject. Much of the material relating specifically to events in Cheshire is from a book by Herbert Hughes (Cheshire and its Welsh Border, 1966, Dobson Books Ltd.). I have seen copies advertised on sites such as eBay. Herbert Hughes was editor of the Chester Chronicle around the time he wrote the book, which is a collection of (in my opinion) entertaining and interesting occasional articles that he wrote for the paper. He does a pretty good job in one chapter of convincing you that William Shakespeare and William Stanley, Earl of Derby, are one and the same person. The Stanleys were a big family in the North West: Stanley Palace in Chester, Leasowe Castle (a seaside home of the Stanleys, Earls of Derby - on the sands by which the first Derby races are said to have been run), Stanley Road Hoylake next to the race course (now the Royal Liverpool Golf Club, situated on old Stanley land), West Derby and Croxteth Hall in Liverpool, the Stanley Dock, Stanley Park Liverpool, etc. etc. and not forgetting Accrington Stanley Football Club.

Golden Nook Looking East

On Golden Nook Bridge (SJ480617)
If you want a Canal Boat...

Golden Nook Looking West

... it looks like this is
the place to come

Huxley Bridge looking North

Looking North from Huxley Bridge (SJ500615)

If you stand on the bridge over the river Gowy at Huxley, so that behind you is the road to Beeston Castle which passes the Civil War hospital and morgue on the site of the Farmers' Arms pub, then to the left and behind in the distance is Beeston Castle itself. A few hundred yards to the right is Huxley Lower Hall, hidden behind a bend in the river. At the T-junction in front a right turn followed by a right-angle bend takes you ahead 3 miles to Rowton and what used to be moorland. Three miles beyond Rowton is the city of Chester. The road to Rowton crosses the Shropshire Union canal at Golden Nook Bridge and passes the Spitting Feathers brewery at Common Farm Waverton, which produces an excellent pint of beer. A field next to the farmhouse used to be the football pitch for our village team.

Common Lane Farm

The Spitting Feathers Brewery (SJ457637)

Plaque at Rowton Hall

The Plaque by the Rowton Hall Hotel (SJ447642)

Civil War Field Hospital

The Civil War Field Hospital (SJ449644)
Across the A41 from Moor Lane, Rowton

The story of the battle of Rowton Moor is shown on a plaque on the green close to the entrance to the car park of the Rowton Hall Hotel, which is in Rowton Lane, across the very busy A41 from Moor Lane. You can get married here as well if you want.

One Civil War property that is still standing (just about) in these parts is at the corner of the field on the junction of the A41 and Rowton Lane. I was told fairly recently that when we moved into our house in Moor Lane in about 1954, there was a man living in it. I think I remember it with four walls and a corrugated iron roof, but it has just been left to fall apart and there is little left of it now. But here it is, in its present state, recorded for posterity. It was a field hospital situated next to the battlefield, and it was here that the wounded were patched up.

Rowton Moor Area

Rowton Moor
and Surronding Area

Black Dog Farm Field

Roman Military Training Ground (SJ451639)
and Civil War Burial Ground?

There is another field, a few hundred yards to the south-east of here, again by the side of the A41, which also contains some history. The pictures are from Google Earth, the second one being an attempt to show up the markings in the field (marked 'Waverton'). This is at the junction of the A41 and Saighton Lane, close to the Black Dog Inn and Black Dog Farm. What shows up towards the right like a triangle cut off a playing card is the outline of part of what seems likely to be a Roman military training ground, the rest of it being under the road and the houses on the other side. The entrance to the ground is halfway along the left edge. This information is taken from Waverton - A History of its People and Places, edited by John Whittle, published by Waverton Parochial Church Council, December 2002. Stop press: I have just read, six months after writing about the training ground, in a book called Hidden Highways of Cheshire (R.J.A. Dutton, published 1999 by Gordon Emery) that the footpath that is fairly visible crossing the field past the entrance to the training ground is on the line of a likely Roman Road from Chester to Beeston, Bunbury and on to Chesterton, near Newcastle-Under-Lyme, and beyond. John Dutton, an amateur archeologist, the author of the book, is quite definite about this, though this route does not appear in other sources. However, the existence of a possible Roman training camp next to a possible Roman road, from two learned independent observers, is difficult to ignore, and to my mind turns the possible into very likely, but I'm no expert. Click here for information on Roman roads from Chester. Then click or touch on "South-East" for this one.

There are other marks in this Waverton field - in the lower left corner by the lane is a round hollow; in fact, the enhanced view suggests there may be two. I had a school friend in the late 1950s and early 60s who lived at Black Dog Farm. His father was a dairy farmer who had cows on these fields and I think this pit usually had water in it where the cattle drank. He told me that there was a tradition here that the pit was a burial site for soldiers killed at Rowton Moor. The land had sunk to form the watering pool. His family had for many generations run a farm at Bruera (another Welsh-sounding place-name on the wrong site of the River Dee), a mile south along this lane and it seems the tradition may have been passed down the line from father to son.

Ford Bridge, Stapleford

Ford Bridge, Stapleford (SJ482647)
A fast-flowing river here

Gowy Valley Sheep

Baaa Humbug
Gowy Valley Sheep

From Huxley bridge, the river flows north past the Lower Hall and its moat and old mill, past another old moat a mile further on, to Stapleford, where you will find the old Stapleford Hall, Stapleford Mill (SJ468668), Ford Farm and Ford Bridge. There used to be a ford here! The moats had a purpose. Centuries ago, they surrounded castles, as though this was a place to defend: from the marauding Welsh, or the marauding English?

West of here, along Guy Lane, which runs into Waverton and was presumably the old coach road to the ford, is the Crocky Trail (SJ469642). From very modest beginnings, the Crocky Trail appears to be turning into a major attraction. Wear old clothes.

Walk Mill Outside Wheel

Walk Mill Wheel and Feathered Friends

Walk Mill Inside

Wheels and Cogs Inside the Mill
Blurred Because They're Turning!


Coins Found near the Mill
From c973 in the Reign of King Edgar

Coming back along Guy Lane from the Crocky Trail to the west bank of the Gowy, before we reach Stapleford proper, we come to Walk Mill, next to Ford Farm. This is a working water mill with the mechanism restored, producing flour on a small scale to bake bread and cakes for the small café on the site and prestigious customers such as you and me and the 5-star Grosvenor Hotel in Chester. The coins shown here in this low quality photo-of-a-photo are in the Grosvenor Museum in Chester. They were discovered in 1997. They were used by the Vikings for trade with Ireland and are very rare. Only three had previously been found in England: at Chester, at Meols and at Welwyn Garden City! They were found with the remains of a purse and presumably belonged to a Viking. What he was doing here - maybe crossing the river at this fording point on his way to Chester or Nantwich - and how he came to lose them, we can only guess. Walk Mill is actually a modern building that replaces mills that have stood on this site since 1200. It is called Walk Mill because it was originally involved with the fulling (or cleaning) of woollen cloth, the process requiring workers to walk over the cloth. The mill is open to visitors: you can see the mill in action, buy the flour and eat the bread and cakes that are made from it. We bought a granary loaf and some scones. I can vouch for the excellence of the products.


Old Property, Tarvin Village Centre (SJ491669)

Stapleford is actually split into two regions, Foulk Stapleford and this area, Bruen Stapleford, both named after prominent local families. The Bruens lived at Stapleford Hall, which is a few hundred yards across the river from the mill, and slightly north, on higher ground. Their land stretched for some distance: Brown Heath near Christleton, some three or four miles away, is a corruption of Bruen Heath. One notable member of the family was John Bruen, a Methodist preacher who regularly walked the mile and a half from the Hall to his chapel in the centre of Tarvin village. He was often accompanied by the famous John Wesley, who was very active in these parts (when he wasn't on his travels) and centred his work on the Methodist chapel at Alpraham, a few miles south-east along the modern A51. Wesley is said to have done much of his preaching under a cherry tree in a field close to this chapel. A descendent of the original tree is still standing, or so it is said. I shall have to check this out. There's a good pub nearby. Ho Ho. In Chester Cathedral there is a window dedicated to John Wesley, which seems an odd touch but in those early days there appears to have been great respect between the two clans.

Tarvin village, with its fine church, churchyard, old schoolhouse and its old houses in the attractive main street, still retains plenty of charm and is well worth a detour from the busy main roads that now by-pass it.

Packhorse Bridges

Two of the Packhorse Bridges (SJ476657)

Packbike Bridge

and a Packbicycle Bridge

Stapleford was the crossing point for coaches on the route between Chester and Nantwich. The route divided into two by The Plough Inn public house, to the east of Christleton village, at the time when stagecoaches were around at any rate.

Packhorses and people on foot travelled by the more northerly route and crossed the Gowy via the 'Roman Bridges' as they are known locally. They are not Roman, but go back a long way, to mediaeval times. The three bridges and the pathways that use them are regarded as possibly the best example of a mediaeval packhorse route in the country. The bridges are in remarkably good condition. The packhorse and coach routes joined again a few miles to the east at Duddon and Clotton, close to where the headless woman does her haunting, before the route continues towards Nantwich.

Stamford Mill

Stamford Mill Pond and Mill (SJ468668)

The river continues north from the Roman Bridges to Stamford Mill through an area of flat, low meadows called Hockenhull Platts, named, again, after two local families. The ancient Hockenhull Hall is half a mile to the east, on the outskirts of the village of Tarvin. The land further to the west of here is 'Cotton' land, named once more after a prominent local family: Cotton Edmunds, Cotton Abbotts, Cotton Lane, Cotton Farm, Cotton Hall are all features in the near vicinity. Sometimes you wonder who some of these old Cheshire families are and where they came from. You can try googling a few names, for example: Edmund Cotton , and sometimes get lucky. I was wondering if the name Cotton had something to do with the Cotentin Peninsula in Normandy, which is where Hugh Lupus came from, and had strong connections with. He was the first Earl of Chester, William the Conqueror's second-in-command on the North Wales border, and his real name was Hugh d'Avranches, Avranches being on the Cotentin Peninsula, close to Mont St Michel. He was given the nickname Lupus ('Wolf') because of his savage brutality when dealing with the Welsh. He was not a very nice man by all accounts. A nephew of his was Gilbert, who was also a nephew of William the Conqueror (in other words, William and Hugh were brothers of Gilbert's parents, which gives something of a clue as to how Hugh got the Earl of Chester job). Hugh was known as le Gros Veneur ('Fat Hunter', although the Grosvenor Estate says 'Chief Hunter'). He liked hunting and was said to be 'so fat he could hardly walk'. Gilbert also took this name and it has been passed down through the centuries as Grosvenor. The Grosvenor family became the Dukes and Duchesses of Westminster, who nowadays own huge amounts of London and the rest of the country. Their Eaton Estate is about five miles to the West of Hockenhull Platts and Cotton Edmunds Farm, to the south of Chester and bordering the west bank of the River Dee. The present Duke appears to be a much more pleasant chap than his distant ancester. There is a statue of Hugh d'Avranches at Eaton Hall, though getting to see it might be a problem.

Stamford Mill

Stamford Bridge Inn (SJ466673)

The river continues northwards under the modern bridge carrying the very busy A51 to the west of Tarvin. Just to the north of the 'new' bridge (it has actually been there for many decades), the stone pillars of the old bridge it replaced are just about visible through thick undergrowth, just to the left of the photograph. Be very careful if you go investigating in there; there is a very nasty drop into the river. The line of the Roman road from Chester to Northwich and Manchester goes through this point. Looking back towards Chester from here, you can see that the modern road that follows the line is absolutely dead straight, as you would expect from a Roman road, but whereas the modern road now veers off to the right towards Tarvin and the steep winding hill through Kelsall village beyond, the Romans carried on in a dead-straight line past the front door of the Stamford Bridge Inn, across the road which leads uphill to Barrow, and through the fields beyond towards, and presumably through, Delamere Forest. At Northwich this east-west road met a north-south road which provided a route north to Warrington, which was the first crossing point of the river Mersey above the estuary. Warrington was an important town to the Romans, and they stayed here for a long time, from 79AD until 410AD.

Pebble Bedding

Pebble Bedding at Little Barrow (SJ468699)

A mile and a half north of Stamford Bridge the river flows behind Plemstall church. There is a crossing-point here carrying a footpath that leads back along the river and up onto the high ground of Little Barrow. The path before it joins the main road here (at Little Barrow) is deeply sunken into the ground, suggesting it may have been in use for a very long time. In the banks to the side of the path are smooth pebbles embedded in the solid sandstone. You can see these pebbles in the walls of buildings in the village. They are evidence that a mighty river flowed through here at one time (250 million years ago, when the sandstone wasn't stone, just sand on a river bed). The pebbles are smooth because they have come a long way - analysis shows that they originated in what is now central France. This rock structure is shown on geological maps as Chester Pebble Beds.

Plemstall Tomb One Side

The Hurleston's Tomb at Plemstall (SJ457701)

Plemstall Tomb Other Side

The Other Side

Stamford Mill

St Plegmund's Well (SJ455701) by Plemstall Church

The first thing that strikes people about Plemstall Church is that it is in the middle of nowhere; there is nothing around here but the solitary farm next door. There seems no reason for it to be here. It could be that the position was important at one time as a crossing point of the river Gowy between the high ground at Barrow and the village of Mickle Trafford, half a mile to the west, beyond which is a lane called The Street, thought to be Roman in origin.

The second thing is that there is a holy well here, St Plegmund's Well. The well dates back at least to 1301 and is dedicated to St Plegmund, a hermit who lived around Mickle Trafford, and who went on to become Archbishop of Canterbury. So it would seem quite natural to build a church at such a holy spot.

Walking into the churchyard at the back of the church is another surprise. This is a tomb housing members of the Hurleston family. It is spookily unlike other tombs you may come across. On the two long sides of the tomb there are carved images of skeletons holding some symbolic adornments. The adornments are connected with the coat of arms of the family. The skeletons are of a man and a woman - count the ribs. But it is the force of the imagery that takes you by surprise. You wouldn't want to meet these people on a dark night.

Gowy Landfill Site

The Award-Winning Gowy Landfill Site

A mile and a half west of here, as the crow flies, is Chester Zoo, one of the UK's top family attractions. I say 'as the crow flies' because it is a tortuous route through a maze of back lanes, and sure enough, if you wanted to go to Chester Zoo, you wouldn't start from here. Just north of Mickle Trafford is Trafford Mill which may or may not be a going concern and to the north of this, beyond Trafford Bridge (at "Bridge Trafford" for some reason) it passes the well-signposted, celebrated and award-winning Gowy Landfill Site. 'Gowy Landfill Site' would have been a great name for a 1970s progressive rock band. I can hear Whispering Bob Harris on The Old Grey Whistle Test whispering, "Good evening ladies and gentlemen; we've a real treat for you tonight in our specially extended show: Pink Floyd, Def Leppard, Led Zeppelin, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Barclay James Harvest, Aerosmith, Hatfield and The North, but to start us off here's Gowy Landfill Site". It is remarkable that such a notable feature as the Gowy Landfill Site is not marked as such on Ordnance Survey maps.

Helsby Hill Ridge

Helsby Hill. The North End of the Mid-Cheshire Ridge
drops abruptly here to Helsby and the River Mersey

Helsby Hill Face

Helsby Crags.
A sight familiar to travellers on the M56.

Helsby Face Zoom-In

The Man in the Hill
sees the sun going down

To the east are good views of the north end of the mid-Cheshire sandstone ridge, terminating in the dramatic crags of Helsby Hill, well loved by climbers. In fact, the ridge carries on beyond Helsby via Frodsham Hill to the rocky crags jutting into the Mersey at Runcorn. Across the river, it emerges again in south Liverpool to run through Woolton, Wavertree, Edge Hill (where it drops to the west into the centre of Liverpool itself) and north through Everton.

Gowy entering Stanlow

The River Gowy enters the Stanlow Refinery.
A Sad End to a Noble Stream.

Stanlow from the Air

The Gowy flows Under the Ship Canal,
past the site of Stanlow Abbey into the Mersey.
Liverpool Runway Top Left-Hand Corner

The river flows on through a nature reserve called Gowy Meadows, then under the M56 motorway until it reaches the massive Stanlow Oil Refinery. It flows via a straight cut through the refinery and passes under the Manchester Ship Canal to reach the Mersey next to what used to be, in the 13th Century, Stanlow (or Stanlawe) Abbey. The monks crossed the Mersey to farm land in Grassendale and Garston (now part of South Liverpool). From the river they walked up via what is now Grassendale Park (maybe along Monksferry Walk and Stanlowe View to the granary and living quarters in what is now Aigburth Hall Avenue, opposite Liverpool Cricket Club. The outbuildings are still standing and are now attractive houses but the main granary or grange, dated 1291, was demolished early in the 20th Century to make the road a bit wider. The houses of Stanlawe Grange are the oldest inhabited property and possibly the oldest remaining building in Liverpool, inhabited or not. (Quentin Hughes: Liverpool, City of Architecture). After a series of disastrous floodings and fires, the monks moved in 1296 to Whalley Abbey near Clitheroe in Lancashire. There are some rudimentary remains at the site of the abbey, next to the junction of the Gowy and the Mersey, but getting to see them poses a problem.

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