The Ermine is the oldest inn in what we now call Hoole and this article looks at its history from the 1730's to the 1950's. So the Ermine which this talk covered is the one shown in the picture below. To a casual observer there is little on the spot today to indicate the now "modernised" (and at the time of writing, closed) inn has any interesting history. There is a clear fork in the road and a stone which indicates the end of the "Frodsham Turnpike", but nothing to indicate that this was once the boundary between the City and the County, or on the route of an important Roman Road.
The talk was the third in a series of three interrelated talks but also touches on some of the other subjects covered in the past, both in talks and elsewhere on the Society website. It illustrates how seemingly unrelated bits of history connect together in the strangest of ways. In art, the Ermine turns up as a symbol of purity and it might be thought that it gets its name by being next to St Anne's Lakes – but that isn't the case. To start the story we need to go back to the Viking Hoole before the Domesday Book.
Ownership of the land
Before the Normans came there was a period of Viking settlement on and around the Wirral. The Vikings gave us place-names ending in “-by”. One of these Vikings was called Arni and the land he held is shown on this map to the right. It includes Newton. As well as Newton and Neston the places include: Bagillt, Capenhurst, Handbridge, Marlston, Netherleigh, “Opetune” (Upton on the Wirral) and Raby. At Neston, within the church of St Mary and St Helen are the remains of five early medieval decorated crosses (CSMR 2/1/2). The fragments consist of four shafts and one head, with one of the shafts re-used as a lintel in the belfry. The crosses are contemporary with, and related to, a group of circle headed crosses which occur along the western seaboard between Cumbria and Anglesey, in areas of Viking settlement (Harris and Thacker 1987, 279). So we can probably consider that Arni was a christian. Thus, the earliest known owner of land at Flookersbrook was Arni of Neston - and his lands passed to William son of Nigel, or fitz Nigel. Arni's burial place may be at "Arnehow" at Oxton - now a park known as "The Arno".
William FitzNigel succeeded his father Nigel of Cotentin as baron of Halton and Constable of Chester. His gift to St Werburgh’s of "Neutona" (Newton by Chester, a manor of 1 hide) with the service of Hugh fitz Udard, was included in a forged confirmation of Earl Richard dated 1119. The arguments that this charter is a forgery is that there is little reason for a young earl of 25 to draw up such a convenient list of donations to the church made "in meo tempore ecclesie sancte Werburge Cestrie" ("in my time to the church of St Werburgh of Chester"). Richard was in Normandy from October 1118, for most of 1119 and into 1120. Richard did spend some time in England, but monks are notorious for faking grants of land (see: THE CHARTERS OF THE ANGLO-NORMAN EARLS OF CHESTER, c. 1071-1237 for more on this).
The faked charter was convenient because Earl Richard became a casualty on the "White Ship". Richard drowned in November 1120, aged 26 having so very conveniently listed all his gifts to the church in a document of which the only copy rested with the Abbey. Notably Richard also managed to sign the foundation charter of the Abbey in 1093, despite having only been born in 1094. The White Ship was the "Titanic" of the Middle Ages, a much praised vessel at the forefront of technology and on its maiden voyage (after a refit). It was wrecked against a foreseeable natural hazard in the reckless pursuit of speed suggested by an influential passenger, while sailing in the moonless dark. The passengers constituted the cream of high society, thrown into the chilly waters with insufficient lifeboats - they only had one and that was swamped and sank.
Newton stayed with the church until the Reformation, which meant that it stayed as a single block of ownership. It was then “obtained” by “extortion” from the dean of the Cathedral by Sir Richard Cotton (1497-1556). At the time Cotton also gained Combermere. Cotton sold Newton to the Hurlestons of Picton. The Hurlestons came from Lancashire. Their coat of arms was already in use in Lancashire c 1460 according to Foster’s Feudal Coats of Arms, William Hurleton bore "four ermine spots in cross" Thomas Hurleston appears to have moved to Cheshire by about 1529, but sources disagree as to the exact details, with some sources suggesting a connection with Lancashire was maintained until the 1770's. The coat off arms is also known from the Heraldic Visitations of Chester 1580. Hurlstone or Harleton Hall in Lancashire was demolished last century and is now a golf-club.
Many members of the Society will have seen the coat of arms during our visit to St Peter (Plemstall Church). It is displayed on the wall next to the Hurleston family crypt to which the entrance is behind the altar. Many of you will recall that the church also featured in the talks on Plegmund and Thomas Baldwin (Balloonist). The crypt contains far more that what might be considered a tomb-chest which sits above it. The "spots" are the tails of the winter coat of the stoat (Mustela erminea), so the “Sign of the Ermine” is actually the “Hurleston Arms”. We learned quite a lot about the Hurlestons in the talk on Newton Hall.
In 1734 the last of the male line of the Hurleston's died and his property went to three nieces as co-heirs. Anne was a widow but was quickly re-married to the 10th Viscount Kilmorey, whose son Francis Needham became Earl Kilmorey. As a result, Kilmorey gained the ownweship of Newton. Kilmorey entered the British Army in 1762 and served in the American War of Independence, where he was taken prisoner at the Siege of Yorktown in 1781. He also fought in the French Revolutionary Wars but is best remembered for his role during the Irish Rebellion of 1798. He was in overall command at the Battle of Arklow and commanded one of the five columns at the Battle of Vinegar Hill. In 1804, he was appointed Colonel of the 5th Royal Veteran Battalion. He was promoted to colonel for life of the 86th Foot in 1810 and to general in 1812.
Anne's sisters Mary and Elizabeth married into the Leche and Barnston families respectively and the consequences of that can be seen on the tithe maps of the land to the north of Hoole.
The next Earl, another Francis Needham, when aged almost 60 ran off with his ward (aged 20) in 1843. He set up his mistress in an adjoining house with a tunnel between the two. Priscilla Anne Hoste died of heart disease on 21 October 1854. She was laid to rest in the Kilmorey Mausoleum, in an ancient Egyptian design, cost £30,000 to build and was moved several times between Lord Kilmorey's homes. He died in 1880. Kilmorey was succeeded in his titles by his grandson Francis, his eldest son Francis Needham, Viscount Newry, having predeceased him.
Francis Needham, 3rd Earl of Kilmorey was involved in a royal scandal when his wife had an affair with Francis of Teck. This involved the Cambridge emeralds which were originally acquired by Augusta of Hesse-Kassel, the Duchess of Cambridge (Queen Mary’s grandmother) in 1818 at a charity lottery in Frankfurt, Germany. The box that was the prize is said to have contained somewhere between 30 to 40 cabochon emeralds. The emeralds were almost lost to the royal family when they were passed onto Prince Francis of Teck (Queen Mary’s brother) and when he died suddenly in 1910 the emeralds fell into the possession of his mistress, Ellen ("Nellie ") Constance Baldock (Kilmorey's wife). Luckily, Princess Mary of Teck (later to become Queen Mary) retrieved the emeralds under questionable circumstances.
The third Earl built Ermine Road. Prior to this there was simply a path across the fields as described by Fred Lowe in the Cheshire Sheaf:
- "On the left-hand side of Flookersbrook stands the Ermine Hotel, an old-established hostel, with its extensive stabling and auction mart. The earliest licensee I can remember was a Mr. Fern, who carried on the business for many years. The late Mr. George Barnes held the licence for some time, and retired a few years ago. During the annual training of the Cheshire Yeomanry Cavalry a troop was always billeted at this hotel, where there was plenty of accommodation for them. Close to the hotel, through a gateway, there was a pathway across a large field called the Ermine Field, which led to Brook-lane and opposite the entrance to Dickson's Nursery. At that time there were no houses near. Now we have the Ermine-road and Halkyn-road and a number of streets, forming a small town of itself"
The cavalry of the Cheshire Yeomanry can trace its history back to 1797 when Sir John Leicester of Tabley raised a county regiment of light cavalry in response to the growing fears of invasion from Napoleonic France. They possibly took part in the Peterloo Massacre, which was a charge into the crowd at a public meeting at Saint Peters Field, in Manchester.
The third Earl built Ermine Road to take advantage of the sewers as descibed in "The coming of sewers to Hoole in the mid-19th century".
The 4th Earl (yet another Francis Needham) was fairly ordinary, but leased and later sold off his land in Newton. In 1916 he was appointed as an Irish representative peer, to sit in the House of Lords for life representing Ireland. No more such peers were appointed after the independence of the Irish Free State in 1922, and when Kilmorey died in 1961 he was the last such surviving peer.
There is mention elsewhere on this site (under “Hoole Road”) that in a 1670 document there was a John Anderson as inn-holder in Newton (presumably at the Ermine). The site was a good place for an inn, being situated just outside the City/County boundary as marked by Flookersbrook, on what had been a Roman route to Warrington, the lowest ford on the Mersey. There have been various speculations over the years whether the latter place takes its name from the Saxon Wærings or the Roman place-name "Veratinum". Beyond former Flookersbrook bridge the original course was along the line later taken by Kilmorey Park, Newton Hollows, Mannings Lane, and the Street as far as Trafford ("Street-ford") Bridge. The road was realigned through the villages of Hoole and Mickle Trafford when it was turnpiked as far as the existing turnpike at Warrington in 1786. The relevant legislation was:
- "An Act for mending, widening and keeping in repair the road from Flookersbrook Bridge within the Township of Newton near Chester to the south end of Wilderspool Causeway, Warrington and from the market town of Frodsham to Ashton Lane End in the Township of Ashton in the County of Chester".
On 1st June 1786, William Cawley of Mickle Trafford was appointed Surveyor of the Flookersbrook-Frodsham section. He was an engineer who also worked on canals. There is a marker stone at the Ermine end of Hoole Bridge relating to the Frodsham Turnpike. The Chester and Frodsham Turnpike Trust merged with the Chester and Tarvin Trust and the Ashton and Frodsham Trust in 1868, but the route was disturnpiked in two parts in 1870 and 1883. The next public house along the turnpike was "The Old Royal Oak", which was located at Oak Bank just beyond the M53. There was no "toll-booth" at the Ermine, the first being some way up the turnpike near the Traffords.
Before 1529 the livestock market in Chester was apparently held in Bridge Street and Lower Bridge Street, but in that year it was confined to the latter, presumably because of the nuisance caused by the animals. Evidently they remained a problem, because in 1596 a proposal was put to the Assembly to take a toll of ½d. for every calf brought to market in return for cleansing the site. A horse market was held on the Gorse Stacks in the late 16th century, and a swine market in Eastgate Street until 1640. The horse market formerly held in Northgate Street was relocated near the Bars in Foregate Street in 1677. By the 18th century the cattle market was established in Upper Northgate Street, where by 1820 it was obstructing the road. The 1845 Improvement Act provided for the purchase of land, and in 1850 a new site, the Paddock, was found in George Street, adjoining the Gorse Stacks. While Chester’s main cattle market was at Gorse Stacks local livestock sales were held at The Ermine, just outside the city limits, presumably to avoid tolls.
The chart below tells two stories - that of the Walker, Pickering and Lightfoot family, who were for a while tenants of the Ermine, and that of unrelated tenants. In neither case is the list complete.
In 1780 one Mary Artingstall published the following notice:
- MARY ARTINGSTALL, of FLOOKERSBROOK, near this City, Begs leave to inform the Friends of her late Husband, John Artingstall, deceased, THAT she intends to continue the PUBLIC BUSINESS, as usual, at the Sign of the Ermine, in Flookersbrook aforesaid; and also to carry on the MAKING of MALT, under the Management of the Person employed by her late Husband, to whose Friends she returns her sincere Thanks; and assures them and the Public in general, that those who will please to favour her with their Commands, shall be served with the above Article upon the best and most reasonable Terms, By their oblig’d and faithful Servant, MARY ARTINGSTALL
The Artingstalls take the story of Ermine back further. 1732 saw a certain amount of unrest in Chester centered around the Mayoral elections - sporadic disorders culminated in a clash in Bridge Street in early October between a Whig mob (allegedly reinforced with disguised soldiers, revenue officers, and Liverpool sailors) and Tory supporters who included Welsh miners. As reported by Cooke:
- "...a large body of colliers, and other countrymen, were brought from the neighbourhood of Wrexham, by the direction and under the influence of Mr. W. W. Wynne. The citizens hearing of their approach, retired into the castle, and there armed themselves with old swords, helmets, and breast-pieces; and, thus formidably accoutered, sallied forth to meet their foes. A bloody encounter ensued in Bridge Street; and the Welshmen, after several of them were dangerously wounded, were soon routed and put to flight"
The latter came off worse, and the Whigs, suspecting that Tory aldermen were admitting more freemen after dark, broke into and wrecked the Pentice. The mayor called for dragoons from Warrington to help restore order and appointed c. 270 special constables. Fifty dragoons arrived on foot and according to "a letter from a freeman of the city of Chester to his friend in London" (text here) were lodged in Hoole, with 25 of them quartered at the Ermine (then in the hands of a John Artingstall) and the remainder at a neighbouring house in Flookersbrook. The letter reproduced below is the statement of John Artingstall (inkeeper) who is almost certainly Mary Artingstall's father in law. The politics in 1732 are far too complicated to discuss here, but the Jacobite leaning Tories were out of power nationally but held sway in Chester. This is taken from a pamphlet about the riotous elections in Chester in 1732.
One of the sources of the trouble was that in March 1732 a private bill, supported by members of both parties, was laid before the House of Commons, read twice, and referred to the further consideration of a committee under the chairmanship of Sir Richard Grosvenor. It related to the canalisation of the Dee. Those who opposed the bill included: experts who doubted engineer Kindersley's competence (claiming that he had been responsible for a similar scheme at Rye, where widespread flood damage had resulted from his efforts), those who felt that the plans were influenced by a desire to reclaim land (they were right), the London cheesemongers (who had a monopoly on Cheshire), Liverpool corporation and Roger Mostyn. Many members will recall we had a talk on the River Dee, and there is more on cheese here.
Then Sir Richard died in July (he would soon be followed by his successor, Sir Thomas). The Whigs made an issue of the canalisation of the Dee which the Cheesemongers were opposed to. Chester MP's had been opposing the Weaver Navigation and Liverpool Docks as this would take trade from the city. As a result things became so heated that the Dragoons ended-up in the Ermine.
In 1745, with the country much troubled by a rising of the Scots and a large number of prisoners brought from Carlisle to the Castle at Chester, Dr Cowper informs us that:
- "Shortly after the surrender of Carlisle a number of were brought prisoners in sixteen carts to Chester and lodged in the castle which they completely filled. In consequence of this the Spring Assize was held at Flookersbrook but no sort of business was brought before the Grand Jury." - as quoted in Hanshall
In all probability the Assise may well have been held at the Ermine.
Walker Lightfoot and Pickering
From here on we have a fairly good idea who was involved with the Ermine. Mary Artingstall married anew to John Lightfoot and their daughter Catherine married Thomas Walker. They had various interests in brewing, tanning and malting and a daughter married a Pickering another malting and brewing family from Frodsham (co-incidentally on the site of the old Cheese dock at Frodsham).
Hemingway writing in 1831 describes this part of Hoole as follows (listing a lot of people he probably knew and hoped would buy his book!):
- ..the lovely hamlet of Flookersbrook abounding with neatly built modern dwellings to which if the epithet of splendid be inappropriate the claim of elegance and comfort is justly due to each of which is appended richly cultivated garden ground. Here are the comfortable residences of Major Cotton the Rev John Thorpe, Mr John Williamson, Mr Cross, Mr Lightfoot, Mr T Walker, Alderman Broster, Mr Humble &c &c. It is hardly possible to pass this approach to the city without being reminded of the villas in the neighbourhood of the metropolis - the width of the road the respectable and good looking tavern called the Ermine - the pool of water in front of an excellent footpath on the north side of the road over hung with willow trees and the clean and rural appearance of the neighbouring cottages all all have ever contributed to fix an impression upon my mind such as I have just stated.
The Thomas Walker he mentions is the one shown in a painting by Daniel Clowes (1774-1829) described as "THOMAS WALKER AT FLOOKERSBROOK, CHESTER signed, oil on canvas, 62.5 x 84.5cm". Possibly dating from c. 1805, after Walker's marriage to Catherine Lightfoot, this handsome picture depicts Walker on a horse which he was reputed to have bought from the Shah of Persia. Walker was also a tanner; his yards can be seen in the background. The painting was exhibited in Chester at the Grosvenor Museum, in 1985 as part of "The Clowes Family of Chester Sporting Artists." Illustrated and discussed in the catalogue, this is designated as D.47 in the catalogue raisonné. In was auctioned on May 25, 2000, UK. According to Blouin Art Sales Index, the painting was Lot 507, Lawrences Auctioneers Ltd., Crewkerne. The painting was being sold for $18,415 USD.
The Pickering/Walker/Lightfoot involvement with the Ermine was just one stage in the evolution of that family, who also left their mark on Hoole in terms of some street-names. As many will recall from the talk on Robert Lewis Jones, Charles W. H. Pickering left brewing to become a successful banker and he was approached by Cyrus Field for funding to lay a transatlantic cable. It was Pickering who sent the first message which ended “...on earth peace, goodwill towards men”. The Lightfoot Walker side of the family ran the Lion Brewery in Pepper Street. The three largest commercial breweries were Edward Russell Seller & Co. (sold to the Albion brewery in 1889 and closed shortly afterwards), the Lion Brewery (sold to Bent’s in 1892, closing in c.1902-1903), and the Northgate Brewery. Bent's owned many pubs in Chester including the "Red House".
In 1832 poor George Hogg went bust resulting in the following notice:
- "Sale at the Ermine Inn, Flookersbrook, Near Chester (Under an Execution from the Sheriff.) TO BE SOLD BY AUCTION, By MR. JOHN BROWN, on Monday next the 16th and Wednesday the 18th April, THE whole of the Household Goods, and Furniture, Brewing Vessels, Stock in the Cellars, &c. &c. the property of Mr. George Hogg; comprising several sets of bedsteads, with moreen and chintz hangings, capital feather beds and bedding, (most of them new within the last twelve months), mahogany chests of drawers, and chamber furniture, parlour carpets, mahogany chairs, dining tables, with D ends, several painted dining tables, eight days clock, a quantity of casks and brewing utensils, also the barr fittings. Likewise, a few barrels of ale, a sow with eight young pigs, and two fat pigs. A number of wood hurdles, a quantity of Potatoes, some horses geers, sacks, tools, a quantity of timber, and a variety of articles. The sale to begin each day at eleven o’clock. Chester, April 10th, 1832".
Isaac David Jacques
In 1842 Chester still had two stations separated by Hoole Bridge but Jacques decided to cash in by adding a bowling green to the Ermine and advertising thus:
- "ERMINE & RAILWAY INN, Flookersbrook, Chester. J. D. JACQUES takes the present opportunity of returning his grateful acknowledgments to his friends and the public, for their kind patronage and support which he has been favoured with since his commencement; and begs to inform them, that in addition to his old Establishment, he has added a splendid BOWLING GREEN, close adjoining the Chester & Birkenhead, and Chester & Crewe or Grand Junction Railway Stations. He invites his friends to an inspection, where they will meet with every accommodation; choice and good Wines, Spirits, home-brewed Ale, and London Porter of first-rate quality. Saddle Horses, neat Gigs, Cars, Phætons, and Chaises, on the shortest notice, and on reasonable terms"
In 1866 magistrates in Nottingham denounced the performances of a five-year-old boy, Daniel Day, who entered the lion’s den in his father’s menagerie. In 1871 - five years later, Daniel is now 10 and performing at the Ermine.
Newton's Town Hall
Charles Brown, of department store fame, lived at Folly House (despite local estate agents claiming he lived at "Spring Lodge" and "Poplar House" when trying to sell them). Brown is quite an interesting character: a Liberal Party member and banned from politics for bribery. His political sanction came from the Corrupt and Illegal Practices Prevention Act 1883. At the time elections in Chester were a little different than today – instead of making promises which they might not keep in return for votes, the electorate quite reasonably preferred candidates who would hand over money, beer and other favours (such as an outing to Rhyl) before the vote was taken. For some reason Brown's conviction was hardly mentioned in the Chester press, but everyone knew about it and for a while Chester was actually denied the right to have an MP.
Brown tried to establish his fiefdom in Hoole by claiming the title of "Lord of the Manor of Hoole" The Lord of the manor was once the Earl of Shrewsbury and apparently it stayed with him until 1990 when it was sold it to a Mr Hoole from Bedfordshire who bought it to match his name. It was last auctioned in 2007 with a reserve price of £5000. The outcome is unknown.
As described in the article Hoole Local Board Petition 1894 Charles Brown was very much involved with the discussions as to whether Flookersbrook should move from Newton to Hoole as the border between the two was shifted to the Cheshire Lines railway (now the Millennium Greenway). He was a principal opponent of the scheme, together with the Earl of Kilmorey, the Dixon's (who had major agricultural interests in the area) and William Williams the builder (who was then in the process of developing Halkyn Road). They organised a meeting at the "Ermine": the traditional meeting place of Newton Parish Council. The argument, and that as to whether both Hoole and Newton should become part of the City, rumbled on for years, with the arguments about whether the Ermine cattle market should be closed frequently being mentioned. The "Newton Party" were ultimately unsuccessful - the Civil Parish of Newton was finally abolished in 1936.
Last Days of the Old Ermine
The Ermine is covered in some detail on Steve Howe's website, (which is always worth a visit) but here is a snippet of what Andy Bunce had to say about the place where his father was once the landlord:
- "Dad went back in the 1970s but the old place had gone. He said that a car showroom is where the yard and outhouses had been. The barman who served them a pint said that when they knocked the old place down they found rooms that hadn't been opened for years, some had even been blocked up."
In 1951 it is claimed that the Chester Model Railway Club started negotiations with the Birkenhead Brewery Co for the hire of a “large room” in the Ermine (this may be an error, as Bent's were the owners). At the 1954 AGM it was reported that The Ermine Hotel was scheduled for modernisation and members should look out for new premises. They moved to Northgate Station and in October 1969 became the only model railway to be closed by Beeching.
The modern pub and its surroundings provide scant clues to the historical role of the Ermine and its links to other elements of local history. A little digging reveals connections with a Roman Road, dodgy Norman charters, a tomb-chest at Plemstall, a fine mansion in Newton, riots in Chester and even the Transatlantic Cable.
Sources and Links
- Viking Hoole:
- Hoole Local Board Petition 1894:
- The coming of sewers to Hoole in the mid-19th century:
- Newton Hollows:
- Hoole Bridge:
- Hoole Road:
- Plemstall Church: