Flookersbrook (the area of modern Hoole) takes its name from the eponymous stream that ran nearby. A stream where fisherman or “Flukers” (fluke-catchers) as they were sometimes locally known, cast their nets. As late as 1643-5 Roger Hurle(s)ton late of the city of Chester held several fisheries in the River Dee with:
- "Flookenetts, draught netts, stall netts, &c."
Fluke is Old English ‘flocere’, Medieval English ‘flokere’ and also, perhaps for reasons which will become clear, Old Norse ‘flokari’. We know nothing in detail of events at Flookersbrook after the departure of the Romans, whose road passed through (see: Newton Hollows and Roman Hoole) but we do know something of Chester and possibly of Plemstall around the year 900. Werburgh's remains are traditionally said to have been translated to Chester for safety in 876 and Plegmund (later Alfred's Archbishop) is said to have been living at Plemstall at some time before he was summoned to Alfred's court around 887. Given that Flookersbrook lies on the route between them one might assume it was generally quite peaceful. Around 900 itself matters get somewhat confusing with Vikings in Chester in 894 and Alfred's daughter Æthelflæd being involved in refortification shortly thereafter. The supposed religious foundations of Æthelflæd are dotted around the Wirral and along the Mersey and clearly are at or near a boundary between an area of Mercian control and Viking settlement.
The earliest known owner of land at Flookersbrook was Arni of Neston (see: "Open Doomesday") - and his lands passed to William son of Nigel, or fitz Nigel. Arni is possibly a Viking name, and it has been suggested, in "Viking Wirral" that his burial place is at "Arnehow" at Oxton - now a park known as "The Arno". Thus "Flookersbrook" can claim to have a Viking connection.
William FitzNigel is probaly the same who succeeded his father Nigel 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 the almost certainly forged confirmation of Earl Richard dated 1119 (Barraclough, Charters of the Earls of Chester, 14–16, no. 8):
- "Willelmus constabularius dedit Neutonam simul cum servicio Hugonis filii Udardi de quatuor bovatis, et cum servicio Wiceberni de duabus bovatis."
"Udard" or "Odard" is often said to be the ancestor of the Duttons, but there is considerable doubt about much of the ancestry of Cheshire gentry. The arguments that this is a forgery hinge on the fact that there seems little reason for a young earl of 25, who in 1119 could not have known he was to drown the following year in the wreck of the "White Ship", 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"). Also, Richard was in Normandy from October 1118 and for most of 1119 and into 1120. Richard did spend some time in England, but monks are sometimes notorious for faking grants of land. A (possibly also) forged confirmation in the name of Earl Ranulf II adds the information that his deed was witnessed by Ralph the steward, who was in the habit of donating his master's property to the church while Ranulf was held by enemies.
The transfer of Newton (including Flookersbrook) from someone of possible Viking ancestry to the Normans (by conquest), and then to the Church (under dubious circumstances), was the start of a recorded series of disputes over the ownership and access to the Flookersbrook corner of Hoole (or as some might see it, Newton) which continued for centuries.
Opinions differ as to what was actually known as "Flookers Brook". Some evidence points to the name being applied to the stretch from modern-day Flookersbrook to what was Bache Pool, all of which now runs through an underground culvert, passing beneath Brook Lane (hence the name) near its present day railway bridge, and running along the edge of the supermarket car-park to emerge just to the west of Liverpool road (where it cuts visibly through the Bunter sandstone). Daniel Lysons in his "Magna Brittanica" (1810) writes of it:
- "Flookersbrook rises near Chester and running to Bach there joins a stream which in its course from Coughall by Moston and Mollington divides the hundred of Broxton from that of Wirral and falls into the Dee a little below Chester"
Hanshall repeats more or less the same in his History of the County Palatine of Chester. Flookers Brook might seem an insignificant watercorse to merit mention in a major geographical work, but along almost all of its length it was the boundary of the City of Chester. Lysons also gives some information on Flookersbrook the hamlet:
- "The township of Newton comprising the hamlet of Flookersbrook is situated about two miles north from Chester. The manor which had been given to the abbey of St Werburgh by William constable of Chester descended with Croughton till after the death of Charles Hurlestone Esq when it passed in marriage with Anne the elder co heiress of that family to Henry John Needham afterwards viscount Kilmorey and is now the property of his son the present viscount. Newton Hall the property of Lord Kilmorey is occupied by George Parker Esq. Flookersbrook was sold in the reign of Henry VI by John Massey of Kelsall to John Bruen from whom it passed successively to the Barrows and Sneyds of the latter family it was purchased by the Smiths of the Hough. Flookersbrook Hall then the seat of Sir Thomas Smith was destroyed during the siege of Chester in 1644 or 1645. This property has since passed through various hands in a divided state"
Other evidence also applies the name Flookers Brook to the section of brook which ran somewhere along where Lightfoot Street and the railway now lie. Given that building railways and railway stations requires the purchase of land, Chester Station was built on what was then the edge of the built-up area, near a stream reached by the appropriately named Brook Street - which led to the original hamlet of Flookersbrook. Brook Street was probably not the original route to Flookers Brook as it is believed that the roman road from Chester to the Roman industrial site at Wilderpool near Warrington would have led to the North Gate of the city, the "Quartermasters Gate".
Valley of the Demons
The two bodies of water which were connected by this brook were Bache Pool and St Annes Lakes. St Annes Lakes were located roughly where the enclosed wooded areas near the northern end of Hoole railway bridge now lie (they also give rise to the name of the proposed "St Anne's House" development, and before that to St Anne's street which runs from near Northgate towards Hoole), and was the site of a shrine errected for the convenience of superstitious travelers about to pass through what in medieval times was known as the "Valley of the Demons" (modern day Hoole) and especially Newton Hollows. The Valley of the Demons is mentioned by Lucian the Monk (writing in about 1200):
- "The native of Chester remembers how three roads branch off outside Eastgate and how beautiful and pleasing are the names of the places to which they lead. The road straight in front leads to Christ's Town (Christleton), that on the right to the Old Ford (Aldford) but if it turns to the left it comes to a place which they rightly call the Valley of Demons (Hoole) with reference to the hiding places of those who lie in wait... the wanderer... is despoiled by thieves and robbers" ---Lucien the Monk - Bodleian Library, Bodley 672.
The tendency of "thieves and robbers" to lie in wait hereabouts may be due to the fact that Earl Hugh established three "asyla" in Cheshire. These were at Hoole Heath near Chester, Overmarsh near Farndon and Rud Heath near Middlewich. These were places to which a felon from any place in England (or Wales) could flee to the Palatinate and seek the protection of the Earl. The sanctuary at Hoole Heath may therefore be the reason for the bad reputation of Newton Hollows attributed to Lucian the Monk. Hemingway describes them as follows:
- These sanctuaries were the source of much emolument to the earls, who received fines from all such persons when they came to reside under their protection a heriot at their death and in case of their dying without issue claimed their goods and chattels.
Thus we see that the tale of criminals being free if they escaped the "hue and cry" in England and reached Cheshire is only partly true. Much later, in the times of Edward II, they were described as follows:
- By an inquisition taken before Hugh de Audelith Justice of Chester on Sunday after the feast of St Peter ad Vincula it was found That a certain large piece of Waste called Overmarsh was in ancient times ordained for strangers of what country soever and assigned to such as came to the peace of the Earl of Chester or to his aid resorting there to form dwellings but without building any fixed houses by the means of nails or pins save only booths and tents to live in.
In in the reign of Edward III the same arrangement were mentioned again:
- The jury declare upon their oaths that the Moor which is called Rudheath was formerly a waste place very anciently assigned and set apart by some of the old Earls of Chester for the reception not of their own subjects but of all fugitive strangers coming to the aid of the Earl's peace either from England or from any other countries And there is an inquisition of the same tenor relative to the other of Hoole Heath.
Fraternity of St Anne
Some believe that the "protective" statue was a re-used work from Roman Chester, whereas others believe that it was not a figure but a cross errected by the "Guild or Fraternity of St. Anne", which had close links with the vicars of St Johns, and was apparently founded in 1361 and refounded in 1393. The purpose of the Fraternity was to hold masses for the dead and in consequence they were frequently granted property or money in wills. Their ownership extended to property in Hoole:
- "Possessions of the Fraternity of Saint Anne in the City of Chester." (First Account.) "Rents and farms in the City " Saynt Anne's House with houses, gardens, ftc., demised 12 Feb. 1 Edw. iv. for the term of 100 years. Foregate Strete. Cowlane. Seynt Johns Lane. Estgate Strete. Castell Lane. Iremonger Rowe. Northgate Strete. Parsons Lane. Watergate Streete." The messuages and tenements here mentioned are entered as leased to divers persons for terms of years, at various dates from the reign of Edw. iv." - "Rentes and farms in divers towns called Felde Renttes " Newton. Hole near Chester. Annes Heye near Seynt Annes Crosse" ("Hole" is "Hoole")
The Fraternity of St Anne was so much feared as a wealthy agency supporting "superstitious uses" that in the last year of Henry VIII and the first year of Edward VI two Acts were passed which suppressed all such fraternities, and, conveniently, appropriated their property to the Crown. The Fraternity of St Anne was dissolved in 1547 and their building in Grosvenor Park was purchased by Sir Hugh Cholmondeley and converted into his town house (destroyed in the Civil War). As noted by Lysons, the land at Flookersbrook was held by the Massey family of Kelsall prior to 1450 and later passed to the Bruens of Tarvin and the Sneyds before being bought by Sir Lawrence Smith of Hough, 1516–82 (1st MP for Chester 1545). He built the first Flookersbrook Hall, slightly to the north of the present Hall, which remained in that family until just after the Civil War.
Smith was apparently a good-hearted fellow: the History of Parliament online states that he paid for:
- "the annual painting of the city’s four giants, one unicorn, one dromedary, one luce [pike], one camel, one ass, one dragon, six hobby-horses and six naked boys"
His funeral was well attended when he died on 23 Aug. 1582, and was buried at St. Bridget, Chester.
- "The funeral sermon was preached by Mr. Goodman, standing in the window of the high house next adjoining to the church, because the church was so little, and the company so great."
In February 1643 work began on protecting the suburbs of Chester by banking-up an earth rampart to adsorb artillery fire. A major salient was planned to enclose Flookersbrook Hall. The extent to which these works were completed is unknown but by late 1643 the Royalists were under increasingly heavy pressure and the extensive outworks could no longer be defended. The "Great Siege of Chester" (John Barratt) states that on 16th November Sir Abraham Shipman the deputy governor of Chester. Decided the present outwork could not be defended.
Shipman therefore gave orders to a tough, non-local veteran of the Irish Wars (1642-3), Colonel John Marrow, who commanded a Regiment of Horse (previously Lord Cholmondley’s Regiment of Horse, later Colonel Robert Werden’s Regiment of Horse), to burn "unknown to the Mayor", the suburb of Handbridge. The next day Bache and Flookersbrook Halls were both burnt, as part of a "scorched-earth" policy by the defenders of Chester as the Royalists retreated from Hoole to a defensive line now occuupied by the canal. However within a year Marrow's career would come to an abrupt end when he was shot retreating from Tarvin towards Chester. As for Shipman, he would serve briefly as governor of Chester and would survive until the restorarion, when he would be granted the govenorship of Bombay. A series of disagreements and misunderstandings with the viceroy on-site prevented his taking-over Bombay from the Portugeuse, and Abraham died of fever on 6 April 1664 on the island of Anjediva together with over 300 of his 500 men.
In 1666/7 there was an end to the protracted dispute between, Francis Talbot, the Earl of Shrewsbury and the Mayor and Citizens of Chester. This dispute had gone on since at least 1652 and concerned whether the citizens of Chester had grazing rights on land in Hoole north of Flookersbrook. We find the resolution of this in an agreement (ZA/B/2/156) dated 20th August 1666:
- "Certain proposals were read which had been agreed upon on June 21st last between William Davenport, gent., on behalf of Francis Earl of Shrewsbury, and Thomas Willcocke, Alderman, on behalf of the Mayor and Citizens of Chester, for ending all differences between the Earl and the City. By these proposals the Mayor and Citizens should have the herbage and pasture of that part of Hoole Rake and St. Ann's Rake which had been agreed upon by the said referees. All other persons were to be excluded, except those who lived "within that compasse" and had rights of common there. This area was to be fenced and severed at the charge of the City. The Earl was to allow 20s. at first, but afterwards it should be preserved at the sole charge of the City. At the time of ratifying this agreement the Mayor and Citizens should pay £200 to the Earl for the toll of the Bridgegate, the presentation of the Sergeant thereof and all other profits from the same, and for the costs recovered at law. The Earl should have the "Intacke" on Hoole Rake called "Traffords Intacke" for him and his heirs for ever with freedom to inclose and improve. The Earl should still be owner of the soil to Flookersbrooke, and all offenders and breakers up of soil should be presented and fined at his court as formerly. The Earl should grant liberty to break the soil there only to Citizens and to such as the Mayor should approve. The Assembly unanimously approved the proposals, except the provision about the "Intacks". As it lay within the limits intended to be apportioned to the City, it was thought most convenient that the Citizens should enjoy it with the rest of the commons there."
"Intacke", derived from the Old Norse inntak, was an improvement to land carried out by a few members of the community, by which they brought into use land which was normally unused. St. Ann's Rake was Hoole Lane. To state that the dispute over pasture was protracted is something of an understatement, as similar disputes were recorded by an inquistion hheld in the 13th year of Edward III (c1340 - when Flookersbrook is expressly mentioned) and would not be resolved until Hoole became part of the City of Chester in 1954.
Flookersbrook hall had been rebuilt by 1686 when Roger Whitley recorded dining there in his diary:
- "November 30. Tuesday, I went to Chester with Mainwaring in the coach to meete the Bishop; the rest went on horseback; we met the Bishop at Flooke Brooke; brought him to the Palace; stayd ½ houer with him; went back to Flooke Brook; there was Hurleston, his sonne, Griffith, Minshall, Mainwaring, my sonne, Swetnam, Morgan &c. dined there, parted about 5; went to the Sunne; there we found G.Mainwaring, Edwards, Lloyd, Murrey, Golborne, Ravenscroft; we parted at 10; I lay at Doctor Angells."
Dragoons at Flookersbrook
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. 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 loadged 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.
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
The River Gowy?
George Ormerod cites a very peculiar version of the course of the Gowy, with it actually dividing the Wirral from the rest of Cheshire by flowing into both the Dee (as Flookersbrook) and the Mersey:
- "That, therefore, which they call the Gowy, hath his head not far from Bunbury, and runneth north-west by Beeston Castle, to Teerton and Huxley, where it divideth itself into two parts ; one goeth west to Tattenhall, Gosburn, Lea Hall, and at Aldford falleth into the Dee. The other part goeth northwards to Stapleford, Hocknel-plat, and Barrow (where it taketh in a brook that Cometh from Tarporley and Tarvin), and so passeth to Plemstow-bridge, Trafford, Picton, and Thornton, where it divideth itself again into two parts; one of which keepeth its course north-west to Stanley, Stanney, and Poole, and afterwards falleth into the Marsey. The other part goeth south-west to Stoke, Croughton, Chorlton, the Baits, and so falleth into the Dee, hard by Chester, being there called Flooker's-brook, and divideth Wirral from the rest of Cheshire; and therefore some imagine that it is called Wirral."
This supposed course of the river is used to define parts of the bounary of the Broxton Hundred. However, it may well be that significant parts of the river were diverted at various times and in various places, particularly to power water-mills, or to prevent or reduce flooding. Even today, the boundaries are often the old ones and do not always follow the mid-line of the river. However diversion of the river was never on the scale that Ormerod implies. Why Ormerod should get it so wrong is a mystery, as he lived at nearby Chorlton Hall in Backford while writing his "History of Cheshire" and should have been familar with the local hydrology.
"The lovely hamlet"
Hemingway, writing in 1831 describes this part of Hoole as follows:
- "..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 Broater, 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." - "History of the City of Chester from its foundation to the present time." by Joseph Hemingway, 1831 pg. 346
Even at this time the city of Chester was still keen to expand its boundary across Flookers Brook. Parliamentary papers from 1832 (Vol 38, Part 1, pg 59) contain a report which concludes that:
- "Flookersbrook , however , does not contain above six Houses of 10l . annual value , and as it is not so connected with the Town of Chester as actually to form a continuation of it , ( as is the case with the Houses in Great Boughton) we do not consider it desirable to alter the ancient Boundaries of the City for the purpose of including any portion of the Townships of Hoole and Newton."
Thomas Walker (1782-1857) was the owner of a significant part of what is now Flookersbrook, with the tithe map (above) showing his holdings in dark green. These included a tan-yard, a maltsters, a brick bank and at least 6 houses and cottages.
So how did it come to be that "Flookers Brook" was thought to flow north-to-south and not east-to-west? Already by 1789 a map by James Hunt has the brook labled as flowing east-west, while the road to the north is named as Flookersbrook. The answer may also lie in the Flookersbrook Improvement Act, 1876, which related to:
- "Such of the lands situate in the townships of Newton and Hoole and county of Chester, comprising in the whole two acres two roods and three perches or thereabouts, bounded as follows; ...and on the north-west in part by property belonging or reputed to belong to the said Earl of Kilmorey, on the other part by property belonging or reputed to belong to the trustees of the will of the late John Lightfoot, in other part by property belonging or reputed to belong to the trustees of the settlement made on the marriage of the late Maria Broadbent, in other part by a certain street or occupation road, ..."
The reason for all the "reputed" ownership was a long and complex legal dispute over the will of John Lightfoot - for more see: Lightfoot Street and Walker Street. A complex set of Bylaws accompanied the Act, and these hint that the stream now known as Flookersbrook used to be somewhat larger. The Bylaws approved in October 1876 stated that it was an offence to
- "fish with net or rod or in any other way interfere with the fish or water fowl".
With Flookers Brook culverted and now largely buried from Boughton to Bache, the original brook eventually became forgotten except as a relic existing in some place and street names. The name of the brook becomes Bache Brook as it emerges from its underground course and so many people associate the name Flookersbrook with the minor stream that flows through the hamlet of Flookersbrook then vanishes underground. This stream actually flows underground beneath Kilmorey Park and Newton Hollows.
In 1867, as a part of a search for arms thought to have been secreted there by the "Fenians" (Irish Republicans), "Flookersbrook Pits" (as St Anne's Lakes had become) were dredged and 150 rounds of ammunition found. 1200 'strangers' believed to be Fenians came to Chester from Ireland and the North-west of England and were expected to attack the Castle to obtain arms (see: Fenian Plots).
In March 1882 a certain "G.T." recalled the coming of the railway to Flookersbrook. Flookersbrook Bridge was in those days a picturesque brick structure and nearby stood a small cottage whose tennant and owner was a shoemaker. The shoemaker steadfastly removed to move out even when as act was passed for compulsory purchase. G.T. informs us that he watched what happened next with another schoolboy as recalled in the extract on the left. The "Sheaf" mentions the person in charge of the eviction was Robert Lewis Jones.
"The Talk of the County"
Saint Annes lakes were a watering place for cattle and horses, but dissappeared rather quickly at the end of the 19th Century and were replaced by a single drinking trough. The condition of this trough was the subject of much debate. As discussed in local council meetings and reported in the Chester Courant:
- The second resolution alluded to section 28 of the Flookersbrook Improvement Act, 1876. This section said that such power (meaning the power invested in the trustees) should be exercised subject to the condition that ample provision should always be made and maintained by the Trustees for watering horses and cattle at the large pit next to the Ermine Inn by means of the streams and waters running into and supplying the said pit. In the plans deposited at the time of the Act the superficial area of the pit was 22,100 feet. This had been reduced to 3,600 feet, and now it had come down to the very modest area of 11 feet. The Act said that ample provision should be made and maintained by the Trustees, and if they considered that the reduction he had mentioned was in accordance with the Act- well he did not. He had seen forty head of cattle drinking out of the pit when it was there, but ever since the present trough had been placed in its position, he could honestly say he had never seen a cow or a horse drinking from it. He had only seen one animal touch it, and that was a dog, who had got into it bodily. (Laughter).. ..Mr. BRADLEY, in seconding, said he thought the matter deserved their serious consideration. He had seen Mr. Brown's man emptying the trough, and the man had almost seemed to collapse during the process. The offal and the refuse he had seen taken out had disgusted him. It would knock a man down at a hundred yards. (Laughter). The supply was useless, and people dare not let their horses and cattle drink at it. It was the talk of the county, and the next thing they would be having would be an epidemic of typhoid.
One theory is that the "Flookersbrook Improvement Act" from 1876 was intended to correct the problems caused by years of a cattle market at the Ermine - what had been a set of elegant lakes had become a watering place for cattle and trod into a stinking morass of cow dung and mud. "Mr Brown" was a member of the Brown family of "Brown's of Chester" in Eastgate Street who had held the mayorality - he didn't want a problem on his doorstep. With Hoole being outside of the City, and the land management being entangled in the complex case of the trustees of John Lightfoot (died 1832), Brown had to find a solution. Just why the cattle market (run by the Pickerings) at the Ermine was so popular remains unclear, although it may have something to do with taxes and by-laws being avoided by holding it there - just outside the then city boundary. On the other hand it could have simply been the proximity of the railway.
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 (a significant local landowner), 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. They were ultimately unsuccessful - the Civil Parish of Newton was finally abolished in 1936. Matters then collapsed into something of a farce as reported in The Courant . By 1901 things had progressed to the point where the inhabitants of Flookersbrook were threatening to block the connection between Ermine Road and Hoole Road , the argument rattled on into 1904  and 1905 . It appears that one reason for the dispute coming to an end were increasing attempts after 1906 by the City renewing its efforts to increase its boundary to include both both Flookersbrook and Hoole.
- William Fitz Nigel;
- Some more on the history of the Ermine Hotel;
- The 1899 debate over Newton, Hoole and Chester;