On Thursday 22 June 2017, Phil Cook led a History Walking Tour from the Corner of Boughton and Hoole Lane to Westminster Road Bridge.
The development of the Shropshire Union Canal and of industry along it, followed by the arrival of the railways and the building of Chester General Station, have helped to shape the lives of the people across Boughton and Hoole. This article introduces a selection of the interesting history explored on the tour with Phil Cook, and could be useful to anyone who also wishes to revisit the areas covered.
Members of Hoole History & Heritage Society took a walking tour from Westminster Road Community Centre, onto Boughton via the junction with Hoole Lane, explored this area and the canal side, returning past the long steel footbridge (closed June 2014) next to Westminster Road (Station View) Bridge on the narrow roadway, from which buses and large vehicles are banned today.
From the Junction of Hoole Lane and Boughton
Arriving at the junction, standing outside the Health Centre, it is hard to imagine it as the open undeveloped land it was in the early 1800s.
Buildings which stood before the Civil War, were razed to the ground by Parliamentary forces when Chester was besieged, and the road, which follows the route of a Roman road, has been in use for a very long time.
Looking east to where Boughton divides, the distinctive black and white building, dating from 1900, was designed by John Douglas for the Co-operative Society and stands on the site of the ancient Boughton Chapel (destroyed 1643). The Co-op store in Walker Street, Hoole (although not designed by John Douglas) was also built at this time. John Douglas was a noted Chester architect, and he designed the original building of what became Westminster Road School, now Hoole Community Centre.
St. Paul’s Church dates from 1830. John Douglas, a member of its congregation, rebuilt the complex, adding the south aisle in 1902 and the spire in 1905. St. Paul’s School also began its life in a hall below the church, moving to a location near the canal later.
The rise in the ground near St. Paul’s Church was called Gallows Hill; it was last used for public execution on 9th May 1801.
Many buildings in and around Chester are the work of either John Douglas or Thomas Lockwood, who was the architect of the Campbell Memorial Hall (1876) beyond the church. It was originally the church hall and caretaker’s cottage.
The Memorial Hall was the location of a British Restaurant during the Second World War. It provided a staple meal for about one shilling and sixpence and was set up by the government in order to supplement food rations. There was also a British Restaurant established in the Mission Hall on Westminster Road in Hoole.
Looking in the opposite direction, towards the centre of Chester, almost facing the end of what is now City Road, we imagined The Barrs, the ancient gateway built across the road, from which stretched the outer line of fortifications during the Siege of Chester in the Civil War, which had been removed in the early 1770s.
An area densely packed with industry and housing
The construction of the canal during the 1770s, the building of the Leadworks and shot tower in 1800, the arrival of the railways in 1840, followed by construction of the water company’s reservoir, filter beds and water tower, led to this area becoming densely packed with industry and with housing.
A large number of terraces of small houses were built to the north of the main road through Boughton and along Hoole Lane towards Station View.
The Steam Mill was built for the firm of F.A. & J. Frost, millers, renamed F.A. Frost & Sons in 1854. Once a disused cotton mill, the present structure, with its tower, dates from 1834. By 1892 around 100 people worked there. When Milns Seeds took over the building the name on the mill tower changed.
It has been suggested that some of the Irish troops who fought in the Civil War may have settled in Boughton, and there were small waves of Irish migrants who arrived 1730 and 1748. However, the Potato Famine of 1851 saw an influx of Irish families into what became known as ‘Little Ireland’.
The building of the canal, and the railways and Chester General Station, created opportunities for employment. The 1851 census recorded 12 Irishmen employed as railway labourers. However, 271 were shown to be working as agricultural or farm labourers.
Many of the early terraces of housing were of poor quality and quickly built for owners to rent out. There was also overcrowding. The census recorded 18 people living in one small house in Steven Street.
In October 1851, the Chester Chronicle reported on a controversy over the definition of the term ‘Boughtonian’, pointing out that the term was not being used to describe the respectable gentry of Boughton. Rather, it was applied to ‘poachers, vagrants and idle persons who infest’ Boughton, and ‘who are a pest’ to the whole community.
In 1857 St. Paul’s school moved from the hall beneath the church and opened as a Day School under the Industrial Schools Act, into the grounds of the Industrial School. It was for the children of the Steam Mill and Leadworks workers of the parish, where it remained until 1941.
Irish immigration had highlighted social problems already in existence.
In Hoole, the 1851 Census records labourers who were employed in industries along the canal, as well as in jobs connected with the operation of railways and Chester General Station.
In the years leading up to the First World War, the Railways and the Leadworks were the two biggest employers in Chester.
The Leadworks of Walkers, Parker& Co was established on the north side of the new canal in the late 1790s. The opening of the canal and the availability of land enabled them to purchase all the land between what became City Road and Hoole Lane, between the canal and the land which became the railway. In 1854 the site covered 16 acres.
The Shot Tower is 168 feet tall, with a diameter at the base of 30 feet narrowing to 20 feet at the top. It has been estimated that, with two other shot towers in Britain at that time, at least a third of the musket balls fired by the British at Waterloo were made here. It is probably the oldest such structure still standing in the world. It is Grade 2* listed.
The oldest public clock in Chester, made in 1803 by Whitehurst of Derby, was installed in the wall of one of the sheds facing the canal opposite St. Paul’s Infants School. After production ceased in 2001, the clock was removed, and, possibly, stolen.
St. Paul’s school site, in the grounds of the Industrial School, was occupied by Boughton Retail Park. St. Paul’s had moved a little further west in 1972-3, until 2008, when it was closed and quickly demolished. It was in 2014 that further redevelopment led to the building of the Waitrose Store, car park and units.
In August 2016 local newspapers reported that a second redevelopment plan for the Leadworks and Tower area, designed by Broadway Maylan, award winning architects, had been approved to commence. This followed a serious fire in the tower in December 2015. On completion of the new scheme the base of the shot tower will become a Heritage Interpretation Centre with a focus on the historical elements of the Leadworks site.
At the Junction of Hoole Lane and Boughton: The site of Boughton Health Centre
Opened on 5 January 1852, Boughton ‘Ragged School’ stood on this corner site.
The first meeting of The Chester Ragged School Institution had taken place on the 6th September 1851. Its objective, reported in the Chester Chronicle, was to provide instruction for the children of the poor; those who were prevented, by their circumstances, from all other means of improvement, other than by elementary education and industrial training.
The Society had decided to establish two ‘day schools’, one on Boughton, and one in Bridge Street.
As it was an Industrial School, from 1867, magistrates could send children to this school instead of to prison. It was inspected by the Home Office, not by the Board of Education.
In 1870 national compulsory elementary education was introduced and most Industrial Schools ceased to exist. However, this school survived into the twentieth century, finally closing only in 1908.
It was the Directors of the Shropshire Union Railway and Canal Company who had made a generous grant of the parcel of land at the corner of Boughton and Hoole Lane. From his detailed research into the history of railways, Phil Cook believes that he has established a link between the location of the school on this site, and the history of early railway development.
His theory is that this ‘railway’ land was available to be gifted in 1851, only because of the lack of success in progressing a scheme proposed in 1837. The St. George’s Harbour and Railway Bill had been presented to Parliament then, which included building a harbour at Llandudno, establishing a linking ferry service to Dublin, and constructing a railway to Crewe via Chester and along the North Wales coast to it. There was no suggestion of a station to serve Chester on the plans which Phil has examined, but he believes that this site would have provided the most suitable location for it, had the Bill ever been approved. There were three attempts to get acceptance, and the land may have been speculatively purchased with this in mind. However, the railway lines which were actually constructed led to the building of Chester General Station where it stands today.
It is of interest that Lord Robert Grosvenor was one of two MPs for Chester in 1837. He disapproved of the new- fangled railway and objected to any plan for it to approach or to cross land on the Eaton Estate.
Earl Grosvenor’s sons, Richard (1845-1869) and Hugh (1869-onwards), made important personal and philanthropic contributions to the establishment of elementary schools for the poor in Chester in the middle of the 19th Century.
Richard supported the opening of St. Paul’s Day School under the Industrial Schools Act, for the children of the workers of the parish at the Leadworks and the Steam Mill.
Hugh Grosvenor provided the land and buildings for what became Westminster Road School in 1865 by deed (1841 Act).
The Industrial School building was used by the Civil Defence Rescue Service from 1943. It was a civilian volunteer body established by the Home Office, in 1935, and volunteers were ascribed to different units depending on experience or training. The operation of civil defence was the responsibility of the local authority.
In 1941, during World War 2, it replaced the Air Raid Precautions (ARP), and also included wardens, firemen, the Auxiliary Fire Service (AFS) and the National Fire Service (NFS), fire watchers, rescue, first aid, stretchers and covered industry.
To Hoole Lane Lock and Hoole Lane
Hoole Lane was the well-established route to Guilden Sutton, traditionally known as St. Ann’s Lane. It was informally called Workhouse Lane after the opening of the workhouse in 1878, but this name did not last.
Brindley Place has replaced the buildings destroyed in an explosion and fire. The new complex is named after James Brindley, the great canal builder who surveyed the route of the Chester Canal to Nantwich and Middlewich in 1770.
The site of Chester Engineering Company used to stretch along the canal here, and the site was the location of Lookers until the late 1990s.
The small chapel with a spire dates from the early 1880's. It was St. Paul’s mission, linked to the Church and its parish. It is thought that it may have been provided for the use of the travelling population of canal boatmen and their families. The Mission is also the work of John Douglas, now converted into houses, next to the lock keeper’s cottage.
The black and white building is the Lock Vaults Public house. Between it and Station View Terrace, the Anglo-American Company had a small depot just before the Second World War, listed in Kelly’s Directory 1939.
In 1833 there were proposals to build a Birkenhead to Chester Canal that would have joined the Shropshire Union via a shallow lock just to the east of Hoole Lane Lock. The proposed route would have taken it through where Signal Court now stands, in a straight line roughly along what is now Crawfords Walk and Hamilton Street, passing just west of Newton Lane, curving gently at the junction of Brook Lane and Well Lane to pass through Upton and some of the site now developed as the Zoo, then crossing the Chester-Ellesmere Port Canal near Caughall. Had it been constructed, Hoole would have been an altogether different place.
Here, the tower of the waterworks dominates the view. It is a prominent local landmark, also visible from many parts of Hoole.
In the 1830s a pumping station was built at Barrelwell Hill to lift water out of the Dee, to be transferred by pipeline to the Water Works alongside the canal, then filtered and stored prior to distribution. In 1889, the tower, with its 1,200 cubic metre capacity cast-iron tank was raised 20 feet and brickwork was added to cope with increased demand for water.
On the opposite side of the canal Chester Cottage Improvement Company, founded in 1892 by the Duke of Westminster, built Tollemache Terrace, to help to improve social housing. The Terrace was in contrast to the nearby back-to-back terraces of Station View and Cross Street.
The lock beyond Hoole Lane Lock, looking east, was originally called Spittle or Spittlefield Lock. It was built on land which belonged to the Hospital of St. John, a mediaeval foundation, hence Spittlefields. This name was in use in 1810.
Gordon Emery, in ‘The Old Chester Canal-A History and Guide’, records the change of name in 1810, when Mr Jones of ‘the chemistry’ was instructed to lay no more soil on the towing path.
In 1807 he had been granted permission to take cooling water from the canal for his steam engine, on condition that cinders from the engine be used to repair the tow path, and that he paid an annual rent of two guineas.
Mr Jones, proprietor of the Gallic Acid Works near the Spittlefields, appeared on the Tithe Map for Great Boughton, on a site 80 yards east of the lock. The small chemical works probably used oak galls and bark to make the acid which was used in tanning.
The name Chemistry Lock had become officially associated with this lock by 1856. The Canal Company appointed Samuel Dunning as the lock keeper, Hoole Lane and Chemistry Locks.
Major and Co., listed as manufacturing chemists here, may well have taken over from Robert Lewis Jones, but after fires in 1845, 1852 and 1861, when the walls were ‘Much shaken such that the building will have to be erected afresh’, the works were transferred to Queensferry and eventually became part of the Midland Tar distillers.
The re-alignment of Station View Road has been considered many times. The bridge over the canal at Hoole Lane was rebuilt in the early 1920s, but any re-alignment would require the widening of the bridge over the railway. Additional land has been purchased for this purpose. The existing bridge is narrow and without footpaths and requires reconstruction. After the Second World War, it was felt that, should the reconstruction be achieved, the road could be connected with Hamilton Street by widening Crawford’s Walk, creating a traffic link between Boughton and Hoole.
To Lightfoot Street and Westminster Road
The brick arch on the canal side of the Westminster Road Bridge dates from the opening of the Chester & Crewe Railway on 1st October 1840, when the Chairman of the Crewe & Chester Railway Company was Jack Uniacke, the Mayor of Chester. The principal contractor on the line was Thomas Brassey. A note in the plans, dated November 1836, requires the road to be raised by 12 feet in order to pass over the railway line. The Act of Parliament which authorised the line was one of the first signed by Queen Victoria, ten days after her accession to the throne on 20th June 1837. Prior to the introduction of railways, it took a couple of days to reach London from Chester in the fastest stagecoaches, but, by 1848, it was possible to reach London by train in six and a half hours.
Land from the estate of Thomas Brassey was later purchased by the Chester Poor Law Union Guardians to use as the site of the new workhouse in Hoole Lane. A good view of Chester Station used to be possible from the footbridge which is now closed. There were railway allotments between the two railway bridges in the past, but the introduction of the Power Signal Box brought this use of the land to an end.
There have been three major fires in the area of Lightfoot Street in living memory. On 8th May 1972 the brakes of a freight train failed, and it ran into Chester Station, carrying kerosene, sulphur oil and petrol. One of the tank wagons exploded and a major fire broke out, leading to the evacuation of properties in Lightfoot Street. Fortunately, the train had been routed into a bay in order to prevent its derailment, which might have led to much worse consequences.
On 25 October 1996, a large fire broke out in Pickfords warehouse. It took 100 firemen 12 hours to put it out. 12 houses on Lightfoot Street were destroyed and 100 people were evacuated.
On 2 December 2010, the large LNWR Goods shed was badly damaged by fire and the roof and gable ends were removed.
After crossing the railway bridge towards Hoole, on the east side was the British Rail Staff Association Club, complete with its own miniature steam operated outdoor railway. Railway workers formed a close-knit community, working and socialising together. Anti-social working hours affected the way of life of railway families from the area until the mid- to late- eighties when employment patterns and transport changed significantly with the greater reliance on the car.
At the junction with Lightfoot Street, Flookersbrook passes beneath the road. It was culverted in 1865. The culverts were made at Thomas Brassey’s Canada Works in Birkenhead.
Looking across to Westminster Road, the white building is remembered as the Drury House Off-Licence. It was originally designed as a public house by John Douglas for the Drury Brewery but was not given a license (see Article on Westminster Road). Mr. Crawford, whose name was given to Crawford’s Walk, and the building of Hoole Park, also had his name on this building in the 1870 Town Plan.
It is a good point from which to remember the plans for a canal and a widened ‘through road’ which, if constructed, would have had great consequences in this area.
- Research by Phil Cook - Article composed and submitted by Linda Webb