The historical significance of this remarkable feature of our local townscape
Newton Hollows is a unique urban hollow-way (sunken lane) to the north-east of Chester in Hoole (and possibly the source of Hoole's name?). It was created over hundreds of years by the constant passage of people, carts, and animals. It stretches, in its walkable section, from Newton Lane to the Fairfield Road footbridge over the Millennium Greenway. This section is 506 metres long and rises from 19 to 27 metres above sea level, heading out of Chester.
The lane has since been converted to a recreational path, although the steep banks associated with the hollow-way remain.
Where it meets Mannings Lane, the northern end of the lane was curtailed by the introduction of the railway in the late 19th century (c.1874), suggesting that, by that time, the lane had ceased to have any utility as a through-route.
That isolated and unmanaged section used to be linked to the open section by a short tunnel, a handsome structure, under the walkway approach to the Fairfield Road bridge.
The tunnel was stopped-up in the 1980s because the brickwork had become unsafe.
The name first appears on the Tithe Award of 1842 as a “Newton Hollow”. Its current status is that of a Public Footpath, and Historic Monument. It was subject to a programme of regeneration in 2007, stressing its associations with the Roman occupation of the area from approximately 79CE to 385CE, and has subsequently been robust enough to withstand the spread of residential development in Hoole during the Edwardian period and the 1930s.
Today, the Hollows is known to generations of Hoole residents, young and old, as a place to play, to walk the dog, and to be a little wary of, given its medieval reputation as the lair of the “Hound from Hell”.
The Roman Road
The Hollows originated as part of the Roman road between the legionary fortress of Chester and the important Roman manufacturing centre at Wilderspool (Warrington).
The route was not one of the Imperial Military Roads, which were paved, two carts wide, and used for the distribution of mail and the movement of troops.
Rather, it was a civil route for the movement of people and goods and had to be only one cart wide. It may well have originally been a trackway used by members of local British tribes, following the natural lie of the land between rivers, and avoiding the marshy ground on the flat land to the west of Helsby and Frodsham Hills and the sea.
Connection between places
The geographically strategic importance of the points on the River Dee and the River Mersey, occupied respectively today by Chester and Wilderspool, far pre-dates the development of the two settlements during the Roman occupation.
By a strange coincidence, each of the rivers has one point on it which is both the highest navigable place for a sea-going vessel, and the lowest convenient crossing for people and animals. These two points are where the two settlements later developed. Any route between them was of equally great significance. This is the route on which Newton Hollows lies.
Little was known of the Roman industrial settlement of Wilderspool (Veratinum), until in 1786, Thomas Greenall, a successful St Helens brewer, decided to build a new brewery in Wilderspoool to take advantage of fresh spring water. Digging of foundations revealed signs of Roman workshops, furnaces and kilns, and a lead-lined coffin.
Subsequent 19th century excavations revealed an earthenware actor’s mask, unique in Europe, a woodworker’s plane, and many funerary urns, all on splendid display in Warrington Museum.
It was concluded that Wilderspool had been a major manufacturing supply centre for the Roman garrisons of northern Britain. Equipment for horses, soldiers’ clothing, everyday pottery, glassware, had all been produced at Wilderspool, and transported to the fort at Chester, which was used as a military depot.
The route in detail
The Roman route from Chester to Wilderspool is today obscured in part by the line of the A56, the modern descendant of the two Turnpike Road Trusts set up in 1786 from Flookersbrook to Frodsham, and from Frodsham to the Saracen’s Head on the southern side of Wilderspool. However, the original route can be discerned by a study of old maps and by walking of sections of it.
In outline, the following is the suggested route as a list of roads and places that a reader may wish to explore, either on foot, or from his or her armchair:
- From Chester city centre: Frodsham Street, Brook Street, Chester Station Car Park Flookersbrook, Kilmorey Park Avenue, Kilmorey Park, Newton Hollows, Mannings Lane South,
- The Hollows today
- The Street (from the Latin via strata meaning paved road) in Hoole Bank, High Street (Dunham-on-the-Hill), Robin Hood Lane, (Helsby), Iron Dish Caravan site (opposite Helsby High School), Howey Lane (Frodsham),
- Sutton Weaver, Preston-on-the-Hill, Daresbury Village, Higher Walton, Lower Walton, Wilderspool (site of Morrison’s Supermarket, and the former Greenall’s Brewery).
- Article by Monty Mercer, some parts of which were initially published in ‘Hoole Roundabout’ in December 2016 - http://www.hooleroundabout.com
- Pictures with permission from Steve Howe’s website http://www.chesterwalls.info