Hoole Bridge West - also known under the names of Brook Street, Flookersbrook, Hoole Road & Hoole Railway Bridge
If you stand at the bottom of the steps of Hoole Bridge in the entrance to the Railway Station Car Park and look north-east you will see the trees of Flookersbrook that line Hoole Road. Step forward a few paces and you will be standing on the site of the ancient bridge which crossed the stream called Flookersbrook at this point.
When the Railway Station was built in 1848 the stream was diverted and culverted to run closer and parallel to what are now Lightfoot Street and West Street, but because it was the boundary between Chester and Hoole and Newton its original bed is shown on the 1898 and 1911 O.S. Maps. The railway lines and the Station were actually built in the flood plain of Flookersbrook and there are early records of the Station being affected by flood water.
Turn around and you are looking up the original part of Brook Street; stagecoaches heading for Manchester came down Frodsham Street (derivation of name obvious) and Brook Street, over Flookersbrook Bridge where you are standing and along the turnpiked Hoole Road towards Warrington. Maps of the route refer to John Oliver at Hoole Hall and Robert Brittain at Hoole Bank House.
Flookersbrook Bridge could date back to Roman times, as the Roman Road into Chester from Wilderspool and Frodsham, through Bridge Trafford, Hoole Bank and Newton Hollows would have crossed Flookersbrook at this point. Prior to the Civil War of 1645 earthworks known as Flookersbrook Flankers were built to protect the Bridge and Flookersbrook Hall.
In 1840 the railways arrived; a line from Birkenhead terminated on the north side of the Bridge, one from Crewe on the south side, both near the premises of Joseph Newall, whose wheelwright workshops were specified in the Act of Parliament which allowed the railways’ construction. Each line had its own station and offices on either side of Brook Street. Plans for other lines, from Shrewsbury, Holyhead, Warrington and Mold were being put forward by the Railway Companies and by 1847 proposals for a General Railway Station at Chester were approved, with a bridge that had to span seven railway track widths. Thomas Brassey was awarded the tender to build the Station and Goods Yards; the tender for the Bridge was won by E.L. Betts, railways contractors.
In January 1890 a new steel bridge replaced the old one but the original basic structure remains today and although renewal works have been carried out since, the crossing is as it was 170 years ago; then though the west end of it terminated in a circus of streets (no roundabout!), clockwise Lower Brook Street, Francis Street, Egerton Street, Brook Street, and leading to St. Anne’s Street finally the wonderfully named Black Diamond Street, from whose offices and yards the coal brought there to the sidings from the Welsh collieries was sold. All of this changed when Hoole Way was built.
The area below the bridge was to be used for railway purposes, joiners’ and plumbers’ workshops, and even the arches were used for paint and carriage spares stores and a mess room. Messrs. Pooleys who supplied weighing apparatus, so important to the goods business, also had their premises here. Across the road was the Station Master’s House – this was originally Brook Cottage, which is where Thomas Brassey lived when he built the Station; it is now the offices of Avis Car Hire.
There were a number of public houses here and a brewery owned by the Drury family, who built the off-licence Drury House at the end of Westminster Road. On the other side under the shadow of the Bridge was the stonemasons Henry Clegg est. 1878 – they constructed Hoole’s War Memorial. Fitted into the narrow triangle of land at the end was the Railway Cocoa House built in 1880 by John Roberts from a design by John Douglas, Cheshire’s noted Architect, for a total of £909. Cocoa Houses were built in various parts of the city as temperance alternatives to the pub in an attempt to combat drunkenness and the misery it brought.
Over the years there have been a number of attempts to improve the narrow, dangerous roadway the Bridge carries. In the 1870s the Hoole Local Board complained about its state and how the railway’s vehicles queuing at its weighbridge impeded the flow of traffic. In 1902 a conference at Chester Town Hall called for it to be widened, “on cattle market days it was impossible for pedestrians”. A scheme was proposed for a carriageway at least 30 feet wide plus 10 feet wide pavements; this was ruled out and in 1905 an amended scheme costing £15,500 was agreed, the costs to be shared between Chester, the County Council, Hoole Urban District and Newton Parish Councils; this would see the construction of a footbridge alongside the existing structure. 112 years later, we are still waiting.
Hoole Bridge - East Side
If you use Hoole Bridge as a driver or pedestrian, you may often be impeded by vehicles turning into the roadways on either side by Hoole Bridge Building Supplies. These were the roads, each equipped with a weighbridge, which serviced the Railway Station’s Goods Sheds and Yards. To the south was the huge LNWR shed which became the Chester Enterprise Centre until it was destroyed by fire in 2010; to the north the GWR sheds and yards.
Goods traffic was an essential part of the railway companies’ business and in 1849, 67 men handling 180,000 tonnes a year were employed at Chester; by 1855, 80 goods trains a day moved 684,000 tonnes in a year. Previously this freight would have been moved by road or canal; additionally the expanding Victorian economy which followed from the industrial revolution saw a terrific increase in the movement of both raw materials and finished products.
Freight also included materials for the erection of houses, factories, and civic buildings – bricks, slate, timber, cement etc.; coal; agricultural products and machinery – the new fertilizers, bone meal, lime etc.; and the new reapers, threshers and drillers plus the steam engines to run them; farming produce, corn, vegetables, fresh dairy produce, and milk arriving on special milk trains which picked up daily at small halts in the countryside. When the Royal Agricultural Show was held in Hoole in 1893 many of the exhibits would have come this way to be taken to the Showground on Hoole Road [see the Royal Agricultural Show in Hoole].
Cows were driven up and down Hoole Road and Lightfoot Street on a regular basis, to the pens located on this side of the Bridge; some would have come on cattle boats from Ireland into Birkenhead Docks. Chester’s main cattle market was at Cow Lane Bridge but locally livestock sales were held at The Ermine Hotel. The 1876 Flookersbrook Improvement Act stipulated that provision should be made for the watering of horses and cattle at the large pit located there.
Railway plans show a large number of stables erected here. Horses were very important to the operation of the station, moving goods and freight, and delivering it; moving materials necessary to make the station work – coal for the locomotives, ballast for the lines, building materials for its maintenance; shunting and moving carriages and wagons if a locomotive wasn’t fired up. In the 1861 Census for Newton, Joseph Parry can be found living in Ashby Place: employment – “keeper of horses at the railway station”.
The General Railway Station had opened in 1848. By 1858 the number of passengers had increased to 1,500,000 and there were over 50 passenger trains a day. By the late 1860s the number of users had increased to 2,500,000 and extra platforms and lines were planned in 1870 and completed by 1890.
The increase in the use of the Station led to demands from those living on the eastern side to have their own entrance. The Hoole History & Heritage Society has discovered in the public records at Kew the original memorial (petition) for this signed by 197 prominent and influential members of the community. Eventually in 1890 it was agreed by the railways’ companies that “the difficulty of accommodating traffic on the Hoole side would be disposed of by the introduction of a long overhead passage leading to the new island platform”.
The Hoole entrance to the station was built. It had its own ticket office (platform tickets were also available), stairs up to the manned ticket barrier and then an enclosed walkway to the descent of stairs to each platform. The bricked-up entrance to the footbridge can still be seen today by the hairdressers/beauty shop. Sadly the footbridge infrastructure has been destroyed, so any suggestion that it re-open would be prohibitively costly.
Footbridge entrance at bottom right, with stairs up and descents down onto platforms Nos.1, 2 and 3. The steps down onto platform 3 appear in the photograph by signal box No.3A.
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).
History Walking Tour - Boughton to Westminster Road Bridge
Phil Cook led a History Walking Tour June 2017 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.
- Article by Ralph Earlam, initially published in ‘Hoole Roundabout’ in February 2017 - http://www.hooleroundabout.com
- Railway plans with permission of Cheshire Record Office
- Article by Ralph Earlam, initially published in ‘Hoole Roundabout’ in March 2017 - http://www.hooleroundabout.com
- 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