1902 Encyclopedia > Cheshire


CHESHIRE, a maritime county in the north-west of England, is bounded on the N. by the Mersey, which separates it from Lancashire, on the N.E. by Yorkshire, on the E. by Derbyshire and Staffordshire, on the S. by Shropshire and Denbighshire, on the W. by Flintshire, and on the N. W. by the Irish Sea. Its greatest length from east to west is about 48 miles, and its greatest breadth from south to north about 33 miles. It possesses an area of 705,493 statute acres, or 1102 square miles; and its population in 1871 was 561,201 persons (males, 271,033; females. 290,168). Since the first census in 1801, the population has increased by 368,396 persons, or 191 per cent, and since 1851 the increase has amounted to 105,476 persons, or 23 per cent, in twenty years.

The formation of the county is generally flat, with some hills on the east on the Derbyshire and Yorkshire boundary, which extend also to the Staffordshire side. There are also lower hills near Chester and Flintshire, and at Alderley Edge and Beeston insulated hills standing up out of the prevailing level. The principal geological formation is the New Bed Sandstone, which occupies nearly the whole of the central and western part of the county. A small patch of lias occurs in the south. The Coal Measures extend along the eastern side on the borders of Staffordshire and Derby-shire, and also are worked on the banks of the Dee below Chester. The principal mineral produce is salt, which is found as rock-salt in mines at Northwich, and is manu-factured there and at Winsford, Middlewich, Sandbach, and Lawton, from the brine-springs overlying the rock-salt. Lead and copper are also found, though not in great quantities. Copper was worked at Alderley Edge at an early period, but the works were discontinued until lately, when they have been recommenced.

The flora of the central plain of Cheshire, which repre-sents its most characteristic vegetation, is intermediate between that of the northern and southern counties of Britain. The botany of the high-lands east of Macclesfield is nearly ericetal in its nature, akin to that of the West Riding of Yorkshire, whilst in the west the botany of Wirral shows more variety than that of the Midland region, and is more southern in its character. The curious system of marl-pits, and the frequent inland meres, each of which has a vegetation of its own, render Mid Cheshire pre-eminent among English counties for the development of such species as Carex and Potamogetón. Two rare species may be cited to prove the strong admixture of northern elements in the flora, viz., Arundo stricta at Oakmere and Saxífraga Hirculus, now unfortunately extinct, at Knutsford. As compared with one near or south of London, a Cheshire arable field shows a lamentable paucity of species. A botanist would only in a day's walk mark 150 species of flowering plants, as against 300 species marked in the same time in Kent or Sussex.

The principal rivers in Cheshire are the Dee, which, rising in the Welsh mountains, forms the boundary between the county and Denbighshire and Flintshire, and ultimately, having formed a wide navigable estuary below Chester, falls into the Irish Sea; the Mersey, which rises in the Yorkshire hills, forms the county boundary along the whole of its northern side, and having given the opportunity for the formation of the ports of Liverpool, Birkenhead, and Buncorn, also fall into the Irish Sea; and the Weaver, which, rising in the south-west of the county, traverses it in a north-westerly course, and being joined by the Dane at Northwich, empties itself into the Mersey at Weston Point. By means of a series of locks, the Weaver has been made navigable for vessels of 200 tons as far as Winsford, and thus furnishes a means of transporta-tion for the salt produced in the locality. The profits of the navigation, which was originally undertaken by a few Cheshire squires, belong to the county, and are paid over annually to the relief of the county rates. At present, in consequence of a large outlay in further deepening and improving the navigation, all payments to the county treasury are suspended, but on an average of late years from £16,000 to £20,000 has been paid over.

Distributed over the surface of the county are small lakes or meres, and it seems to have been a point of honour for the old houses of the gentry to have been built on their banks. Combermere, Tatton, Bostherne, Tabley, Dodding-ton, Marbury, and Mere, with a host of smaller waters, are dotted over the county: whilst nearly in every field are old marl-pits, whence in former days the sole supply of manure for the permanent pastures was obtained.

The climate is temperate and damp; the soil is varied and irregular, but a large proportion of it is a thin-skinned clay. In only one spot of the county is the soil said to be fertile enough to feed a bullock to the acre. The agriculture of the county, which some twenty-five years ago was back-ward and discreditable, has marvellously improved in the last quarter of the century. The land, which was wet and full of rushes, has been drained; its fertility has been increased by the periodical application of bone-dust; the old crooked fences have been removed or straightened ; and the farm-houses and buildings, which were insufficient for the decent accommodation of man and beast, have been replaced on many estates by modern structures well adapted for their purposes. Dairy-farming is the description of agriculture still principally pursued, and in March 1875 there were, according to the Board of Trade returns, 96,170 cows in the county, whose milk if all converted into cheese would have yielded a produce of about 16,000 tons of cheese. But though the tendency to make cheese in some parts of the county still prevails, the influence of the larger population gathered together round the purely agricultural part of the county has greatly diminished the production of the staple article, whilst the competition of American cheese has made the manufacture of all but the best qualities unpro-fitable. Liverpool, Manchester, Stockport, Macclesfield, the cotton districts in the north-east of the county, and the Staf-fordshire Potteries on the south-west, all demand a supply of milk, meat, and garden produce, and the facilities of transit afforded by the railways have in many cases already changed, and gradually in many more will change, the character of Cheshire agriculture. Although in some cases the Cheshire tenant-farmer is little more than a labourer owning cows, working as hard as his own labourers, and with as little or less education, yet there are now a large number of farms as well and skilfully cultivated and producing as large produce to the acre (thanks to the facilities of obtaining manure from the larger towns) as any in the United Kingdom.

During the years 1865 and 1866 a mighty calamity swept over this county. The cattle plague, which had in 1745 destroyed 30,000 head of cattle, appeared in the second week of October 1865 on the southern border of the county. Spreading itself there, and breaking out almost simultaneously on the north-west, west, and east, it had by the 21st February 1866 destroyed 36,823 head of stock. On that day an Act of Parliament was passed to authorize slaughter and to give compensation, and in consequence 35,675 cattle were killed. A loan was granted from the Treasury, on the security of the county rate, of £270,000 to pay the compensation for losses after the 22d February, which entails an annual charge on the county rates of £14,583, 14s. lOd. until the year 1896. Although by this terrible loss many individuals were ruined, and for the time great distress was caused, yet on the whole the agri-culture of the district was benefited. Landlords discovered that stringent clauses in their leases might safely be mo-dified ; tenant-farmers became convinced that cheesemaking was not the whole duty of the agriculturist, and the possi-bility and even the necessity of new ways of farming, and of the introduction of sheep or feeding-stock, became ap-parent.

From the agricultural returns for 1875 (which, however, are not complete) it appears that the average acreage de-voted in Cheshire to corn crops is exceptionally low, being 16'2, while the average of all England is 31 '2. The follow-ing table shows the distribution of the acreage in the county, and the numbers of live stock in the years 1872 and 1875 :—

== TABLE ==

In the latter year there were 84,981 acres under corn crops, and 31,686 under green crops, both showing a de-crease as compared with 1872.

The county is intersected by railways in every direction. At Crewe the London and North-Western Bailway divides into three sections, and takes its passengers or goods to Manchester, Liverpool, Chester, and the North. From Stockport and Manchester the Cheshire lines run into the centre of the county and across Delamere Forest to Chester ; and there are lines from Chester to Birkenhead, to Manchester, to Shrewsbury, and into the different parts of North and South Wales.

The canals, too, still convey goods from Buncorn and Ellesmere-port to the Staffordshire potteries, and afford means of communication between Manchester, Liverpool, and the interior of the county.

The principal towns are Chester, Birkenhead, Maccles-field, Stockport, Northwich, Crewe, and Congleton. At Stockport the manufacture of hats and cotton is carried on, and Macclesfield and Congleton are the seats of the silk manufacture. At Crewe are situated the great work-shops of the London and North Western Railway, and round the station, where in 1841 there was a wooden box to take the tickets and one solitary farmhouse, there is now crowded a population of nearly 30,000 inhabitants. The trade of Northwich and Winsford is the manufacture of salt, by the evaporation of the water from the brine. During the year 1875 it is calculated that 1,500,000 tons of salt were produced, of which 1,000,000 were for export, 350,000 for chemical works, 100,000 for agricultural purposes, and 50,000 for domestic use. In that year there were in Cheshire 1261 salt-pans, employing over 3000 men. About 150 men are engaged in rock-salt mining, and the carriage of salt on the Mersey and Weaver employs at least 1000 men and 500 boys. Steamers are now largely employed in the inland navigation, between thirty and forty being engaged in the carrying trade.

Besides being in part a manufacturing and in part a purely agricultural county, Cheshire, more perhaps than any place except the districts round the metropolis, is the home of business men. The manufacturers of Manchester, the merchants of Liverpool, the gentlemen employed in the pottery trade, all have their villas here. At Alderley and Bowdon near Manchester, in the Wirrall hundred on the banks of the Mersey, at Alsager on the Staffordshire border, are to be found congeries of the dwellings of rich men, which vie in their appointments and surroundings with the houses of the great landowners of the county. Perhaps no stronger proof can be given of this fact than that, in the return lately furnished to the House of Commons of a summary of the returns of owners of land, the number of properties between 1 acre and 10 is reported to be 3166 out of a total number of 23,720, add the average rental per acre is ¿£24, 13s. These proportions are in the whole return for England and Wales exceeded only in the ex-metropolitan parts of Surrey and Middlesex, and in the mining and manufacturing counties of Lancashire and Glamorganshire.

Cheshire is emphatically a county full of large estates. In the return just quoted may be found the fact that the rental of estates between 5000 and 10,000 acres amount to 20-4 of the total value of the county, a larger percentage than in any English county save one. Of the owners of more than 10,000 acres Lord Tollemache of Helmingham owns 25,380; the marquis of Cholmondeley, 16,842; the duke of Westminster, 15,001 ; Sir Henry Delves Broughton, 13,832 ; the Bev. T. France Hayhurst, 10,650; and Lord Crewe, 10,148 ; whilst Lord Egerton of Tatton, ' Lord Harrington, Lord Stamford and Warrington, Lord Derby, Sir P. D. M. Grey Egerton, Lord Haddington, Lord De Tabley, Lord Delamere, Lord Stanley of Alderley, Lord Kilmorey, Lord Shrewsbury, Mr Legh of Lyme, Mr Leigh of Adlington, Mr B. E. Warburton, Sir Charles Shakerley, and Mr Bromley Davenport make up the seventeen who are returned as owning between 5000 and 10,000 acres each. This list of landowners is composed of men whose names, with one exception, are historic in Cheshire, so small, spite of the neighbourhood of Liverpool and Manchester, have been the transfers of the large estates from their original owners to the capitalists of the present day.

For parliamentary representation the county is divided into East, West, and Mid Cheshire, each of the three sections returning two members to the House of Commons. In East Cheshire the registered electors in 1876 were 6,587 ; in Mid Cheshire, 8241 ; and in West Cheshire, 10,178. There are besides represented within the county the boroughs of Macclesfield and Birkenhead, part of the city of Chester, the limits of which extend into Wales, and parts of the boroughs of Warrington, Stockport, Ashton-under-Lyne, and Stalybridge, all of which extend more or less into Lancashire. There is one court of quarter sessions in the county, which holds its meetings alternately at Chester and Knutsford, and is adjourned from one place to the other for the trial of prisoners at intermediate sessions. The rateable value of the county as assessed to the county rates is £2,690,701.

Perhaps no county has advanced more in material prosperity than Cheshire has in the last half-century. In none have more places of public worship, both of the Church of England and of the various Nonconformist bodies, been erected. In none have more schools been built. The wages of the agricultural labourers are high; and from the ranks of that body has the army of engineers, porters, and high-class artificers, who are employed in the manufacturing districts and at Crewe, been largely recruited. Yet still the county is cursed with the sin of drunkenness, and with the evil consequences of that sin, in a fearful degree. Whilst serious crime has decreased steadily there has been an increase of all the light offences.

The history of Cheshire is intimately connected with that of the city of Chester. In the time of King Alfred the pre-sent county formed part of the province of Mercia, but it was afterwards separated, and by William the Conqueror it was constituted a county-palatine. William bestowed the earldom on his nephew Hugo Lupus, and the title has belonged since then to the heir-apparent of the English Crown. The palatinate privileges existed intact until the reign of Henry VIII., when they were much curtailed in favour of the Crown, and after the Civil War of the Com-monwealth they were almost wholly removed. The county was first represented in Parliament during the reign of Edward VI.

Two Roman roads traversed Cheshire, the north-west branch of Watling Street, running from Chester through Northwich to Stratford, where it crossed the Mersey into Lancashire, and the Via Devana which entered from Salop and extended to Chester. Many handsome and interesting mansions exist in the county, some of them being admirable specimens of Elizabethan architecture. Among the most noteworthy may be mentioned Bramall Hall near Stock- port, Brereton Hall near Sandbach, Crewe Hall, the seat of Lord Crewe, and Eaton Hall, the seat of the duke of Westminster. (G. W. L.)

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