Hoole and the Railways

From Hoole History and Heritage Society

The coming of the Railways and the making of modern Hoole[1]

The impact of the railways on the small settlement of Hoole

Illustration from 'Bradshaw's Guide'

In 1841, the small village of Hoole was part of a world where the parish boundary of St. Peter's Church, Plemstall (or Plemondstall as it was called in the tithe records) and the city parishes of St. Oswald's and St. John's still shaped the identity of the community and an appreciation of what was lawful. The rigid social hierarchy was based on aristocratic landowners with shared certainties in their religious and political principles and matters of taste. Major landowners included the Earl of Shrewsbury and the Hamilton and Brittain families.

Bagshaw’s 1850 Directory described Hoole township in 1841, with its ‘gentile houses’, as “47 Houses and 294 inhabitants” with "743 acres of sandy soil”.

However, between 1841 and 1861, on the same acreage, the population rose from 294 to 1,596. By 1881 just under 3000 people were living in Hoole - an increase of 900%!

It was the growth of the railways from the 1840s onward which brought people to Hoole from all over the country.

Although Chester never became a true Railway Town (like Crewe), the railways had a direct and major impact in changing permanently the social structure of the city and the employment of its citizens. The history and development of the suburb of Hoole directly flows from the railways.


All of the new arrivals needed accommodation and, although some railway employees were able to find cheaper accommodation in New Town and the area around the canal side, the growing workforce needed to be within walking distance of the station. There was a great local demand amongst the many employees of the railways and its associated workshops for appropriate places to live. Land sold to the railway company may have had restrictive covenants preventing industrial development, but these would not have covered residential development.

Although there were already some villas and smaller houses north of Hoole Road in Flookersbrook before the arrival of the railways, the influx of so many new workers led to the development of a Victorian suburb of considerable diversity.

The nature of railways meant around-the-clock working. That demanded that houses had to be built close to the station or the engine shed. This, in turn, led to the building of some of the terraced houses in Hoole. Development spread from a nucleus around Faulkner Street. Streets of modest terraced housing spread towards the London and North Western Railway Goods yard and across Hoole Road towards the Great Western Railway goods and engine shed. The map below clearly shows the position of the competing railway lines and the proposed site of what became the present Chester station.

Map taken from 'The Birkenhead Railway' (LMS & GW Joint) by T.B.Maud. Published by RCTS

Hoole Bridge curves instead of going in a straight line on from Hoole Way because as the 1846 map shows, the railway was built directly across the historic straight route from Brook Street onto the turnpike of Hoole Road (a toll road which began at Flookersbrook, run by a Turnpike Trust).


The 1851 to 1881 census returns for Hoole show the arrival of railway workers from far away, including a railway inspector from Scotland living in Hoole Villas, locomotive firemen in Peploe Street (now Westminster Road), who had arrived from Penzance, and the Railway Manager, William Peabody from Northamptonshire who lived in Lightfoot Street.

Local people also found employment including George Hulse, a porter at Chester Station. George Lloyd, who had been born in Hoole, was a railway policeman.

The variety of jobs listed in the census returns shows the impact of the railways on employment. Listed jobs included railway fitter, engine driver, porter, railway clerks, shareholders and railway agents, engine cleaners as well as other connected trades such as bookbinders, tailors, and commissioning agents.

In 1899 Hoole was described as a ‘Commercial Nest’ because so many of its residents travelled to Liverpool or elsewhere each day. It was asserted that only 4 out of 75 occupiers in Hoole Road derived their living from Chester.

The railways had created a new class of people –the commuters!

Making Tracks![2]

Members enjoyed a fascinating tour of the area around and inside Chester Station on 25 June 2015 led by Phil Cook.

Phil's knowledge of, and fascination with, the history of the railways in Chester is boundless and his enthusiasm brought the past to life for us.

Standing next to Hoole Road bridge we could visualise the platforms of the two rival (and unconnected) railway lines of the Chester and Crewe Railway and the Birkenhead Railway which both arrived in 1840. These stood where Avis Car Hire and The Live Rooms (the old Post Office Club) now stand, with sidings stretching across behind The Town Crier and beyond The Queen Hotel. Initially passengers from Crewe and Birkenhead would have had to walk between the two to continue their journey!

Did you know that Hoole Bridge is curved because it had to avoid the dead straight line of the old turnpike road running from Brook Street up to Hoole Road beyond where the bridge now ends?

Social class distinctions were rigidly observed with 'The Queen Hotel' being built in 1860 to serve first class passengers while 'The Albion' opposite (now 'The Town Crier') served the lower orders although an underground passage did connect the two.

Chester Station, constructed by the world-famous railway builder and local man Thomas Brassey, was completed in 1848 to an Italianate design. "It wouldn't look out of place in Padua, Verona or Florence", was one admiring comment.

On 1 August 1848 (when the Chester to Holyhead railway had been completed) the first journey of the evening Irish Mail Train from Euston to Holyhead began, a service which still leaves Euston mid-evening today.

We finished by craning our necks upwards to the roof of the central island platform to see the carved wooden owls placed to deter pigeons. Look out for them the next time you catch a train!

Celebrating the 170th Anniversary of the Opening of Chester Railway Station[3]

On 1 August 2018, Hoole History and Heritage Society had a stand at Chester Station at the Community Rail Day, held to celebrate the 170th Anniversary of its opening. The Society’s display was about the history and building of Chester Railway Station, and several other societies and railway operators were present.

During the day Phil Cook led three walking tours of the Station, starting with a morning tour arranged for Hoole Community Centre’s over 55s, which was very well received. Phil’s afternoon and evening tours were well supported by members of the Society and other visitors to the event.

The Railway Age at Chester started with the opening of the Chester & Birkenhead and the Chester & Crewe Railways, but it was the impending arrival of more railways at Chester that led to the suggestion that building a joint station, common to all Railway Companies using Chester, would improve the facilities for passengers.

In October 1845, the Grand Junction Railway Company, which had taken over the Chester & Crewe Railway, made a proposal to that effect, and, in December 1846, a Joint Committee was formed to draw up plans. At first, consideration was given to building the new station closer to the centre of Chester, but this would have entailed extensive approach track alterations, landowners to placate, buildings to be demolished, and payments of compensation.

The Joint Committee agreed plans for a joint passenger station, separate goods shed and a road bridge at the end of Brook Street within months. It concluded that the station would have to be built close to where the railways already existed. Parliamentary approval would be sought by the Companies to build the station on part of the Flookersbrook estate, close to Brook Street.

When the idea of a joint station was first mooted, three companies were affected: The Grand Junction; the Chester and Birkenhead; and the Chester & Holyhead. The Shrewsbury & Chester arrived in November 1846.

In 1847, two Acts of Parliament were passed which authorised the Shrewsbury & Chester and the Chester & Holyhead Railways to construct the station at Chester, to be managed jointly by the London and North West Railway (which had absorbed the Grand Junction Railway) and the Lancashire & Cheshire Junction Railway (which incorporated the Chester & Birkenhead Railway on 22 July 1847) and the Shrewsbury & Chester Railway.

In a short period of time railways were rapidly developing a national network. With four busy routes meeting at Chester there would be a considerable interchange of passengers between trains.

Thomas Brassey was the chief contractor for the Station site. He started preparatory work in levelling and draining the ground on 22 January 1847. The site covered some 60 acres, with 8 miles of track. (At the time of opening of the station in 1848, the land in front of it remained open fields, with a footpath leading towards Cow Lane Bridge.)

Parliamentary approval for the station building work was given on 9th July 1847, the first stone was laid in August, and, although it was not yet quite complete, the official opening of the new station took place on 1 August 1848. The first train to call at the new Chester Station was ‘The Irish Mail’ which had left Euston at 8:45pm the previous evening.

The joint station building had been designed by the celebrated London architect Francis Thompson, who was commissioned by Robert Stephenson.

Exterior of Chester Station 1848: Illustration taken from Chester History & Heritage Newsletter Winter 2012. Cheshire West and Chester Council

Charles Grove, a civil engineer, under the direction of Robert Stephenson, supervised its construction.

The station block was built of dun-coloured brick, relieved with facings of Stourton stone. The centre two-storey section had all the usual station facilities at ground level, including a cloakroom with WCs, one of the first in the country. There were company offices above, numbering about 50.

The station façade proved to be one of Francis Thompson’s best. Both internally and externally the station building was regarded as a Noble Pile.

Behind a fine frontage of 1,050 feet there was a 750-foot-long departure platform with 290-foot-long arrival bays, backed by a large carriage shed, all covered with an iron and glass roof. The effect of the length was offset by pavilions with towers at the corners.

Inside, a 60-foot span iron roof was supported, opposite the platforms, on a brick arcade, behind which stood a large carriage shed.

At the time, the station was considered to be the most perfect in the kingdom. It was said to be the longest in England, with the longest platform.

The octagonal station master’s office on the central cross-platform, with its pagoda style roof, added a touch of whimsical charm to the station.

At each end of the main building, and projecting out from it, was a covered shed for cabs and omnibuses, each 290 feet by 24 feet, awaiting the arrival of trains. Both survive today, and the one at the east end is still very much as it was built, apart from the doors inserted in the side wall where it abutted the parcels office. (An 1883 official plan describes the West Pavilion as a Covered Cab Stand.)

The Illustrated London News described the station as ‘Italian’ or, more properly, ‘an English Railway building in the Grand Style.’

The Joint Companies wanted to make an impression on the local people and their shareholders, and the front of the station, facing towards Chester, achieved that.

The station and buildings had gas lighting and the railway had its own gasworks (and waterworks) on the Hoole side of the station site. There was also an electric telegraph office.

On the left-hand side of the main entrance, viewed from the roadway, there were 1st and 3rd class refreshment rooms with stores, scullery, and a kitchen between them.

Inside the station the faded inscriptions of 1st and 2nd Class survive on the exterior brickwork.

The refreshment room manager at the time was a Mr. Hobday who paid the Station Committee £500 a year for the right to operate it.

The timber and plaster work in the main refreshment room was worthy of note, and still worth going to see today.

Thomas Hughes, a writer of guidebooks at the time, praised the refreshment rooms, where: “If dinner a la mode lie uppermost in your thoughts- if you would enjoy an invigorating cup of coffee, unimpeachable pastry, a good glass of ale, or a fragrant cigar…the utmost wish of your soul will be gratified

The middle seven bays of the central station frontage contain carvings by John Thomas (1813-1862). Phil wonders how many people, hurrying into the station, have looked up to see them. (John Thomas sculpted the lions that stood at each end of the Britannia Bridge, and carried out commissions at Buckingham Palace and the Palace of Westminster.)

The station clock was originally in the centre of the façade. It is by Joyce of Whitchurch and a man used to wind this clock, weekly, until an electric motor was installed. The clock was moved so that it could be clearly seen by potential passengers approaching along City Road. One report states that it was moved in the 1860s at the time that City Road was being constructed, when the central entrance onto the platforms was widened. However, Phil has seen photographs from much later, showing the clock in its original position, as late as 1936, he believes. Does anyone have any old photographs or other information about the clock?

On the inside of the station there was a two-faced clock, each face protruding at an angle from the brick wall so that the time could easily be seen from most parts of the station. Today there is a cavity above the entrance where these clocks once stood.

Interior of Chester Station: Illustration taken from Chester History & Heritage Newsletter Winter 2012. Cheshire West and Chester Council

When the station opened, the London and North West Railway company accepted W.H. Smith’s offer to sell newspapers at its stations, which would have resulted in a kiosk or stall being established at Chester Station. On plans examined by Phil, the first indication of a newspaper kiosk or stall on the station is from the 1860s. This, along with the availability of refreshments, meant that the station became a place to visit for purposes other than catching a train, and a focal point for people in the surrounding area.

The glass roofing over the concourse and the bay platforms at each end was designed and built by C. J. Wilde, the civil engineer, with input from Robert Stephenson.

The main building contained the offices of the four railway companies represented on the station committee on its upper floor. Each railway company had its own ticket office on the ground floor. There were also separate waiting rooms for first and third-class passengers.

(In the mid-1860s the station committee was reformed to become a joint committee of the London and North West Railway and the Great Western Railway Companies)

Opposite the main entrance was the goods shed, measuring 270 feet by 170 feet, built by Thomas Brassey.

The Chester West Loop was opened at the same time as the new station, and it allowed goods trains to and from the Shrewsbury & Chester Railway to travel direct to Birkenhead. It was useful for turning locomotives and complete trains.

‘The Stranger’s Handbook to Chester, 1856’ said the following: “Twenty years ago the grounds were but plain kitchen-gardens and uninteresting fields. But a marvellous change has been affected since then and, as if by enchantment, a suburban Flookersbrook has become the very life’s blood of the city”.

World War 1 and the Railways

See also: World War 1 & the Railways

During World War 1, the railways and the war effort became entwined. The contribution which railways and the railway men made to the war effort; the railway industry during the war; and how the industry kept the country functioning whilst the network was stretched to the limit. In recognition, a special honour was bestowed on the railwaymen of Great Britain and Ireland at the end of the Great War.

The “Memorial” (Petition) of 1889

See also: The "Memorial" (Petition) of 1889

Submitted by 197 Signatories from Hoole, Flookersbrook, Trafford, Newton and Upton to ‘The Joint Railway Companies’

The document is a 'Memorial' (petition), urgently requesting that the Joint Railway Companies construct a pedestrian entrance to the General Railway Station from the Hoole side of the main railway bridge (now known as the Hoole Bridge). The main reason for this was to allow Hoole residents, many of them commuters, to have access to the station without the danger and inconvenience of having to cross the main road bridge.


  1. Article by Phil Cook, initially published in ‘Hoole Roundabout’ in January 2016 - http://www.hooleroundabout.com
  2. Article researched and written by Phil Cook and Linda Webb, June 2015, Hoole History & Heritage Society
  3. Article researched and written by Phil Cook and Linda Webb, January 2019, Hoole History & Heritage Society