Before I start telling you about my walk, I will let you know about an interesting coincidence. I was born and brought up in Wirral, which, at that time, was in Cheshire. My roots go deeply into the old county because my earliest known paternal ancestor was my Five Greats Grandfather James Roberts, a Parkgate fisherman who died in 1797. However, my Dad’s maternal Grandad was Thomas Yoxall and my wife’s Great Great Grandfather was Richard Yoxall. I’ve known this for a while, but have only recently discovered that both of these Yoxalls were descended from Moses Yoxall (1754-1826) from Sproston near Middlewich in Cheshire. My wife, Anne, is therefore my sixth cousin and we have Cheshire roots in common. We were unaware of this when we met in York in 1979.
Richard was my wife’s Great Great Grandfather and Thomas was my Great Grandfather. They were second cousins, but had probably never even heard of each other and did not know that they had roots in Middlewich. Richard lived in Burnley and Thomas in Moses Street in Liverpool and then in West Kirby.
Anne is on the left with her Auntie Judith (also descended from Richard Yoxall) pointing at two Yoxalls on Middlewich War Memorial in July 2013. I find this ancient and combined connection to Middlewich is quite intriguing.
I set off on the dreary morning of 30th October along the towpath of the Trent and Mersey Canal and joined the Shropshire Union Canal, heading for Winsford.
It was not long before I spotted one of my favourite landscape features – evidence of the daily lives of our medieval ancestors – ridge and furrow patterns in two adjoining fields next to the canal. They might be 600 – 900 years old:
According to the Tithe Map and Apportionment of 1841, this field was called Litters – a name I have never come across before. I am looking for its meaning and will update the post when find it. It belonged to George Wilbraham and was farmed by John Cheshire. The picture shows how the ridges do not run parallel to the hedges, showing how the enclosures cut across the old open fields. These ancient features have not been destroyed because the fields have been used as pasture and have rarely been ploughed since they were enclosed. Modern Cheshire is famous for its dairying, but, in the middle ages, it was more arable.
Soon after this I left the tow path and joined the footpath for Clive Farm. I followed the country lane and saw a number of badger setts in the adjoining bank:
A bit further along I found some beautiful fungi, the like of which I have never seen before:
Soon I reached the edge of Winsford and saw the body of water known as the Flash:
A beautiful open space.
You might think that the Flash is a natural lake, perhaps formed by the glaciers. In fact, it’s a piece of industrial heritage. By the middle of the 19thC, Winsford was Cheshire’s largest salt-producing town. Hundreds of thousands of tons of the mineral were mined each year, leaving vast subterranean caverns which collapsed, causing depressions on the surface which then filled with water.
I followed the footpath up to Winsford Town Centre. It goes through the above pleasant park area called the Dingle. This is rather nice, because my Great Grandad Yoxall lived in the Dingle in Liverpool before he moved to the Wirral. At this point, I couldn’t understand why the road leading into the town, called the High Street, is a rather bleak looking dual carriageway rather than a typical high street lined with shops and houses. My imminent visit to the library would later answer my query. But first I explored the shopping centre:
It looks as though the old town was demolished sometime in the 60’s or 70’s. I then discovered the War memorial:
War memorials always help me to get orientated – I learn about local families and general demography. This one bears the name of my relation, George Yoxall, who also appears on the Middlewich Memorial. More about him in another post:
Soon after, I entered the Local Studies section of the library and browsed through books and the Middlewich and Winsford Guardian from the early 20thC. At last, I began to understand the local townscape. Yes indeed, the old High Street had been largely demolished and replaced by a large through-road. The old town was considered to be too dilapidated and dirty. Indeed, it used to be known as “Darktown” and was an unhealthy concentration of slums, factories and workshops associated with the salt and chemical industries, lying between the settlements of Wharton and Over.
There are two large buildings which tell us about the importance of salt and chemicals – the Verdin Exchange, named after Joseph Verdin (1838-1920), the head of a huge salt-mining concern:
And the Brunner Guildhall, whose plaque speaks for itself:
Clearly, the salt and chemical magnates tried to put something back into the community. Perhaps they felt guilty about the subsidence and the slums.
I walked down the hill towards the River Weaver, where Wine’s Ford must have been and looked back up the hill towards the above buildings and could see the layout of the old High Street. The houses and workshops on the right have gone; the new highway is on the left beyond the grass verge:
The next part of the walk was the most striking. It followed the River Weaver and contained an intriguing mixture of industrial archaeology and nature:
There are signs of former industries and current flourishing businesses, such as AMCOL:
There are more picturesque flashes:
Healthy local wildlife:
Working Salt Mine:
I felt that I was on a landscape of great significance to Britain and possibly to the world. It was clear that millions of tons of salt are still being extracted at sites like this, but strangely enough, I did not see a single person working at the mine, just mounds of salt and jumbles of lifts and conveyor belts. I couldn’t hear anything happening either.
Eventually, I left the Weaver Valley and headed north-east towards Moulton. I soon lost sight of the salt mines and the landscape became agricultural again:
When I reached the village, its straight edge, bordering the fields and its rectilinear pattern reminded me of a Roman fort:
I like starlings. They seem such cheeky creatures and appear, by their mimicry, to be making fun of us all.
Finally, I met Anne and we went to The Bear’s Paw in Warmingham, a pub I can thoroughly recommend for its relaxing ambience, numerous cask ales and good food:
It was a not the ideal day for taking photographs, but it was good to get out, enjoy the fresh air, discover new places and learn something. I had never before taken the time to work out the geography of this little part of the world. The brief visit to the library in the middle of the walk helped me to understand what had gone on in the past and why Winsford looks like it does today. At the end of it all, I felt tired but keen to do more the following day..