Thursday, 26 March 2020

Time for Tea!

We’ve been browsing the collection at Cheshire Archives and Local Studies for all things tea-related, so pop the kettle on, relax with a brew, as we go on a tour of Cheshire tea-time traditions past and present…

Afternoon tea first became fashionable in the 19th century, when Anna, the seventh Duchess of Bedford, got peckish around 4 o’clock (who doesn’t?!) With dinner not being served till much later, she and her friends began to take cups of tea with bread, butter and cakes to sustain themselves through the afternoon and early evening. It became a fashionable social event, usually served between 4 and 5 o’clock.

For those of you who favour coffee over tea, coffee houses were popular haunts in the 17th and 18th centuries for men to meet for conversation and business, whilst enjoying the drink newly arrived in Europe. Prior to this, coffee had only been considered as a form of medicine. Tea, hot chocolate, and light meals were also served in coffee houses. One such coffee house in Cheshire was King’s Coffee House, located on King’s Street, Knutsford. Opened in 1907, the building housed council offices, a coffee house and a memorial to novelist Elizabeth Gaskell.

What about a slice of cake or biscuit to go with your brew? You need look no further than Mrs Elizabeth Raffald (1733 – 1781), housekeeper at Arley Hall in the 18th century. She then went on to become a successful writer after her cookery book “The Experienced English Housekeeper” was published in 1769. Containing 800 recipes and pieces of advice for ladies, housekeepers and cooks, the book was so popular there were around 20 editions printed in her lifetime. Did you know that the origins of the modern wedding cake can be traced back to her? Why not try out her recipe for macaroons?!

Several of the recipes to be found in “The Experienced English Housekeeper” are for traditional cakes and tasty treats associated with Cheshire. They include: 
  • The Old Chester Pudding – made from flour, milk, breadcrumbs, suet, castor sugar, blackcurrant jam, bicarbonate of soda and a pinch of salt. Steamed for 3 hours, then a blackcurrant sauce is made as an accompaniment
  • Bun Loaf or “Bara Brith” – Welsh Bun Loaf, with origins in Cheshire. Made from raisins, currants, sultanas, sugar, lard, flour, candied peel, mixed spice, yeast, hot water, milk and eggs. Also known as speckled bread
  • Chester Buns – made from butter, flour, castor sugar, egg, milk, and yeast
  • Chester Cake – a simple and economical cake, made using flour, baking powder, stale cake (!), golden syrup, currants, and ground ginger.
Where could you buy your cake ingredients from, as well as tea and confectionary, in the 19th and early 20th centuries? Bollands in Chester was established in 1846, as a fine tea and coffee merchant, located on Eastgate Row. You could also give your patronage to Dutton’s in Chester, which served “dainty afternoon teas”.

So whatever your beverage of choice, and wherever you choose to enjoy it, we hope you have enjoyed this “dainty” look at the afternoon tea tradition in Cheshire!

Thursday, 27 February 2020

John Douglas - Chimneys and Chester

Have you ever noticed the plethora of chimney sizes and shapes in the city of Chester? You might think this is a niche subject, but once you start looking up it can be quite addictive! One of the most famous architects associated with chimneys in Chester is John Douglas, and this blog post will introduce you to him and his beautiful work. Why not make it into a tour of the city?

John Douglas was born in Sandiway in 1830 and worked prodigiously in Cheshire as an architect. He became articled (bound to a firm to undertake training in order to qualify in a profession) to the prominent Lancaster architect E.G. Paley during the 1840s. Here he gained grounding in ecclesiastical commissions which would influence some of his later work. He worked on grand houses including Eaton Hall (his principal patron being the Grosvenor family), Oakmere Hall, Shotwick Park and Broxton Hall, as well as lodges in parks, and churches, even entire rows of shops! His style was very broad, as you will see from the examples below, borrowing from European architecture with a romantic, fairy-tale flair influenced by Germanic castles. His work is characterised by half-timber, brick and terracotta, a mix of Gothic and Renaissance elements, and barley sugar twist chimneys.

From 1860 he lived and worked at No.6 Abbey Square, before moving with his family to Dee Banks and retaining No.6 as his office. Douglas went on to partner with Daniel Porter Fordham, and later Charles Howard Minshull. Douglas produced the Abbey Square Sketch Book, in three volumes dating from 1872 to 1889, consisting of sketches and architectural drawings by many contributors [ref: 220399].

Sadly Douglas’s wife and four of his five children died during his lifetime. Douglas then spent the last years of his life in Walmoor Hill, Dee Banks, a building he designed, and passed away in 1911. Douglas was a member of the Chester Archaeological Society for half a century, joining in 1861, and his obituary can be found in the 1911 edition of the society’s journal [ref: 011059];
…his reproductions of the Cheshire style in both City and Country are a pleasing monument to this memory.”
So in memory of Douglas, here is a whistle-stop tour of several buildings associated with him which you can still see today in Chester:

  • 1-11 and 13 Bath Street – built on land owned by Douglas in 1903. Incorporating sandstone, the houses are detailed, with conical-roofed turrets. No.13 was to have formed part of a projected street which would have linked up with Grosvenor Park Road, though this did not come to fruition. 
  • Grosvenor Park Lodge – a Grade II Listed building, originally the park-keeper’s lodge, built 1865-7 for the second Marquess of Westminster. The external walls bear ornamental carvings representing William the Conqueror and the seven Norman Earls of Chester. The lodge is a picturesque little building, with a stone ground storey and half-timbered above, evoking older Tudor buildings. 

  • Grosvenor Club and North & South Wales Bank, Eastgate Street – Douglas made additions to this building in 1908. This is now the HSBC, next to the Eastgate Clock. 

  • East Side of St Werburgh Street, St Oswald’s Chambers - again built on land owned by Douglas, for S.J.R. Dickson in 1898. The buildings feature ornamental carved woodwork and are gable-fronted. Douglas purchased the street to maintain a uniformity of architecture, rather than a mix of styles being produced from different owners. 
  • 29-31 Northgate Street – Douglas worked on part of the rebuilding of Shoemakers’ Row in 1902. 

  • Diamond Jubilee Memorial Clock – towering above the crowds on the streets below, you can get a fantastic view from the Eastgate Clock of the chimneys and rooftops associated with Douglas. Possibly his most famous work, the clock commemorates Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee, although it was actually completed two years later in 1899. 
  • 6-11 Grosvenor Park Road – high steep roofs and several gables, slender octagonal turrets, moulded red bricks and tiles, all characteristic Douglas touches. Built in 1879-80, the buildings lead to the main entrance of Grosvenor Park and its lodge also by Douglas. Built at the same time, today we can still see the Grosvenor Park Baptist Church, again featuring octagonal turrets and dramatic skylines. 
  • Parker’s Buildings, Foregate Street – plus the two buildings flanking it, were designed by Douglas in 1888 and built by George Parker as model tenement buildings. The buildings were later modernised and re-opened in 1982 by the Northern Counties Housing Association Limited. 

Although many designs by Douglas are still visible today, others have been demolished, such as his work on the Little Nag’s Head Cocoa House in Foregate Street, a half-timbered, ornately carved building. Many of his other designs and schemes remain unexecuted. 

We have books, pamphlets, visual materials, correspondence, sketches, and plans at Cheshire Archives and Local Studies, so if this has inspired you to research an old Cheshire building near you, or you are interested to see which other works Douglas contributed to in the county and beyond, why not get in touch? You can also visit to explore our visual collection online.

Friday, 14 February 2020

Absent Voters' Project—Katherine's rare and unusual ranks

After running for the past six years, with 1000's of hours of work put into it, we have finally completed an amazing project and are ready to share the results with you. The Cheshire First World War Servicemen's Index Spring 1919 Absent Voter's Lists online (or Absent Voter's Project for short) is now complete! The 1918 and 1919 Absent Voters' lists are an invaluable resource for anyone seeking ancestors serving in the First World War. Absent Voters' lists give names and addresses, details of individuals' service, service number, unit or ship. With the help of volunteers, these lists have been transcribed and are fully searchable.
You can find the site here and a walk through of how to use the site is on our YouTube channel here. These coming blogs are written by our volunteers who made this possible and give an insight into what they enjoyed about the project.

Working on the Absent Voters Lists for 1919 has immersed the volunteers in the world of the men and a few women, who were registered to vote during the First World War but who were not at home to do so. The database records names, addresses, ranks, regimental numbers and units for members of all the forces. This means that it should also be possible to search not just for the family member you are researching but other force members in their household at the time. Some families I transcribed sent three or four sons to war.

A section of the absent voters list showing three males from the same family in the military.
Three of the same family sent to war

Between the Cheshire Archive volunteers thousands of entries have been transcribed. Some of the most common ranks in Cheshire feature Private, Corporal, Lieutenant, Able Seaman, Air Mechanic and Gunner whilst the rarer ones are Artist, Writer and Bandsman. Some of the common units feature the Cheshire Regiment, Royal Engineers, Royal Field Artillery, Royal Garrison Artillery, Royal Army Medical Corps, the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force. The less common ones that I transcribed were the Royal Canadian Horse Artillery, a camel corps and the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. The women, numbering less than five, that I transcribed, were nurses or matrons in the Royal Army Medical Corps. An overview of the Cheshire lists shows the enormous range of ranks and units from every corner, offering insight into the enormous contribution made by our county.  

A screenshot of the absent voters' website showing the details of a nurse serving in the war.
A nurse's details are listed

Being part of the Absent Voters project has been fascinating. Hopefully the newly transcribed records will provide vital information for anyone interested in researching a family member who served a hundred years ago, in the Great War.   

This project was funded by Cheshire East Reflects.

Absent Voters' Project— Mike and Military History

After running for the past six years, with 1000's of hours of work put into it, we have finally completed an amazing project and are ready to share the results with you. The Cheshire First World War Servicemen's Index Spring 1919 Absent Voter's Lists online (or Absent Voter's Project for short) is now complete! The 1918 and 1919 Absent Voters' lists are an invaluable resource for anyone seeking ancestors serving in the First World War. Absent Voters' lists give names and addresses, details of individuals' service, service number, unit or ship. With the help of volunteers, these lists have been transcribed and are fully searchable.
You can find the site here and a walk through of how to use the site is on our YouTube channel here. These coming blogs are written by our volunteers who made this possible and give an insight into what they enjoyed about the project.


When you first start to researching your ancestors military history during WWI, why is it so difficult to obtain their official service records? The conflict took place just over one hundred years ago; so surely these documents would be the most detailed set of records of an individual that you will find anywhere! Unfortunately even the resources of the modern internet do not provide this facility. The truth is that most soldiers’ service records dating from the First World War were sadly destroyed by Luftwaffe raids on the old Public Record Office during the London blitz. Only a few records survived the bombing and fire damage caused to the record office. Consequently information on ordinary servicemen’s files is very limited.

A section of an absent voters page, showing printed info and extra annotations
A sample of the extra information you can find in the lists

My Grandfather served as a soldier during the Great War of 1914 - 1918, but I had no information to start with; apart from his known address. I began my search with the Absent Voters List (AVL) at the Cheshire Record Office, and this document provided me with his rank, service number, unit and division in which he served. Eureka! This was the start of an unimaginable story of a hero. That is why I volunteered to help with transcribing the Absent Voters List.

Teaming up with other distance transcribers working on this project unlocks priceless data for both amateur and professionals alike. In the pursuit of military, family, and local history studies it has become a valuable asset as an online research tool.

A photo of Mike

Distance Transcriber.

This project was funded by Cheshire East Reflects.

Absent Voters' Project— Tina's Experience

After running for the past six years, with 1000's of hours of work put into it, we have finally completed an amazing project and are ready to share the results with you. The Cheshire First World War Servicemen's Index Spring 1919 Absent Voter's Lists online (or Absent Voter's Project for short) is now complete! The 1918 and 1919 Absent Voters' lists are an invaluable resource for anyone seeking ancestors serving in the First World War. Absent Voters' lists give names and addresses, details of individuals' service, service number, unit or ship. With the help of volunteers, these lists have been transcribed and are fully searchable.
You can find the site here and a walk through of how to use the site is on our YouTube channel here. These coming blogs are written by our volunteers who made this possible and give an insight into what they enjoyed about the project.

My name is Tina and I have been volunteering on the Absent Voters project for 2 years. As a qualified archivist I always get involved in as many projects as I can but I also have a keen interest in history of the World Wars and have volunteered on projects such as the Merchant Navy Crew List transcription project and Operation War Diaries, so this project really appealed to me.

A photo of Tina

I have submitted entries for mostly the Wirral parishes, starting with Irby, where I live. I was struck by the socio-economic information the pages offer for their parish. For example, Thurstaston had very few entries and there were several Officers, compared with larger towns where there many more entries with a wide variety of ranks, but a lot of Privates and Labourers

It was interesting spotting a few women included in the list serving in nursing roles such as Laura Ellen Tuson of Silverdale Road, Lower Bebington who was serving in an auxiliary hospital in Myrtle Street Liverpool, and Violet Baxter of Thornburn Road, New Ferry, who was serving at 1st Southern General Hospital, Birmingham.

I've enjoyed learning all of the units and regiments and ranks/roles in the British Armed Forces and seeing the wide variety of units Wirral and Cheshire men entered.

Cecil Arbuthnot St George Moore's absent voter entry
Cecil Arbuthnot St. George Moore

There were also some fantastic names. Cecil Arbuthnot St. George Moore, a Lieutenant in the Royal Engineers, was just one that I couldn't help researching further.

This project was funded by Cheshire East Reflects.

Tuesday, 28 January 2020

Game, set and match!

With the Australian Open Tennis Championships in full swing and Six Nations Rugby about to begin, we’ve been inspired to look at sport-related items at Cheshire Archives and Local Studies.  We are fortunate to hold archive material from sports clubs across the county, featuring items from athletics to yachting (we don’t have any sports beginning with Z!)  This includes photographs of people taking part in everything from tennis and rugby to early examples of gymnastics and even roller-hockey.  In addition, Cheshire Image Bank is a collection of over 30,000 digital images of Cheshire people, places and events from anywhere that lies, or once lay, within the county boundary.  It can be viewed and searched online at and the web site is a treasure trove for images of sport.

  As tennis and rugby have prompted us to look through our sporting records, here are some Cheshire Image Bank photographs of each of those sports.  They show members of the Alexandrea Park Tennis Club in Hoole, Chester, during the 1930s (reference: P1620) and an early picture of Runcorn Rugby Football Club in the 1890s (ref: C02914).

Football is recognised as this country’s most popular sport, and many people remember photos of their school football team - this one from the Image Bank will surely prompt some memories.  It is of Blacon Junior School football team in Chester, from 1954 (ref: CH 9243).  There are many different football teams featured on the Image Bank and in our archives, but this one comes from Birkenhead Police, taken in 1923 (ref: D 7271).

We hold a much earlier record relating to football as well.  This document (ref: EDC 5/1608/70) is from Consistory Court papers of 1608, and concerns a libel case brought against a John Loram and a John Howell for playing at football in the churchyard at Dodleston on Easter Monday with brawling and fighting.

For those who don’t read seventeenth century English, it is just possible to make out the words football, Dodleston, quarrel and brawl! 


It could be argued that cricket is the UK’s national sport.  As well as items such as team photographs and fixture lists, our cricket-related collections include these rules from Shrigley Vale Cricket Club in 1872 (ref: D 6265/37). We like rule number five which declares “that no fielder be allowed to lie down, or smoke during a game” as well as rule 10, “that any member swearing, using coarse language, or making himself disagreeable by his conduct on the field, shall be fined sixpence”.  Similar rules and etiquette can be found in some of our golfing records: this handbook from Prestbury and Upton Golf Club in the 1950s recommends the strict observance of a list of “unwritten laws” which “marks the finished Golfer and adds to the pleasure of one and all on the Links” (ref: 229413).


Athletics seems to have been popular for many years.  This 1899 programme from the Alexandra Athletics Club of Crewe celebrates their twenty-third annual athletic festival, and shows that the club was founded in 1866 (ref: 221494). We have various photographs of athletes: this early 20th century one is of Middlewich Athletics team - the number of medals some of the members are wearing suggests they were quite successful! (ref: D 7164) 

Other team photographs include these from a scrapbook of the Royal Chester Rowing Club (ZCR 419/3).  The one on the left is the club's 2nd VIII taking part in the North of England Head of the River Race in March 1957, on the River Dee.  We also like the one on the right, an old car loaded with a canoe captioned 'Henley 1937'.  Members of the rowing club certainly took part in the Henley Regatta - but whether that car was driven there from Chester, we do not know!
Amongst the records of the Knutsford Gas and Waterworks Company there is archive material related to horse racing at Knutsford.  This race card, giving details of the horses in each race and the jockey colours, is from 1854 (ref: D 4222/25) - and the photograph featuring the racecourse grandstand dates from the 1870s (ref: D 4222/26).
We also have photographs of some more unusual sports.  This is the Neston Quoits Team, photographed in 1895 (ref: D 6278/1).  And the impressive displays on the right (ref: CH1720) are by the Gymnastic Group of the Cheshire Regiment, photographed in 1902.
Along with many early photographs of men’s sports, we were pleased to find some of women’s teams as well.  A favourite is this one taken in 1915, of Widnes Ladies' Swimming Club (ref: C00344).

And finally, this picture taken between 1900 and 1909 is of the ladies roller-skating hockey team at the Empire Rink in Widnes (ref: C00342).  Roller-skating in those Edwardian dresses must have been quite a challenge!

Records relating to a range of sports can be searched in the Cheshire Archives and Local Studies catalogue on our web site at and can be viewed in our search room in Chester.  And for any local football fans, there will soon be a new exhibition in our search room display case.  From 4th February 2020, it will feature archive material from Chester City Football Club going back to the 19th century.  Why not come in and take a look?

Tuesday, 17 December 2019

Homes fit for Heroes

It is one hundred years since an Act of Parliament transformed housing in the UK. There was a significant housing shortage at the end of 1918 - 600,000 homes were needed in England and Wales alone - and many soldiers returning from the First World War were having to share accommodation or live in poor conditions.  Prime Minister David Lloyd George promised “habitations fit for the heroes who have won the war” – which became the slogan ‘Homes fit for Heroes’ in the general election he called the day after the 1918 Armistice. 

The government based their post-war housing policy on a report of a committee chaired by MP (and architect) Sir John Tudor Walters, set up to consider ‘Provision of Dwellings for the Working Classes’.  It included recommendations on minimum standards in the design of houses and the layout of housing estates – low-density garden suburbs, rather than the overcrowded narrow terraces of the past - and formed the basis of the 1919 Housing and Town Planning Act.  This became known as the Addison Act, after Dr Christopher Addison MP, who was influential in its creation and implementation as Minister of Health. 

The Addison Act was ground-breaking because it made housing a national responsibility for the first time, recognising that private companies would not be able to provide the quantity or quality of homes needed for working people at affordable rents.  It promised Government subsidies to help construct half a million houses within three years. Providing uncrowded, well-build homes on secure tenancies at reasonable rents to primarily working class people represented a significant change in social policy and to the future lives of these people. 

As the economy grew weaker in the 1920s, cuts had to be made and fewer than half of the planned homes were completed under the provisions of the Addison Act.  However further housing legislation through the 1920s and beyond extended the duties of local councils to make social housing (‘subsidy houses’) available – initially using land acquired following the Addison Act - and under the provisions of the inter-war Housing Acts, local councils built 1.1 million homes. 

Cheshire Archives and Local Studies hold a wide range of records relating to council housing, from the earliest houses outlined in the Addison Act.  Our collections include large numbers of plans and correspondence relating to the construction of council houses across the county, minutes of Housing Committees dealing with construction and management, records related to slum-clearance that took place nationally following the 1930 Housing Act, and Local Studies publications and images which can be viewed on the Cheshire Image Bank. 

Addison housing is mentioned by name in the minutes of Crewe Borough Council’s Housing Committee (document reference: LBCr 2407/10/2).  The images below, taken from a meeting in August 1925, refer to a report on contracts for Addison housing.  The minutes record details such as the builders doing the construction and the costs of the work, and also give an insight into the people who would be living in the new houses.  Their circumstances were typical of those the Addison Act was designed for: of 36 new tenants, ten were labourers and five worked on the railway as porters, goods porters, shunters or firemen.  Three were listed as shift foremen, and other professions included a machinist, blacksmith, motor driver and postman.  All the tenants had families, ranging from two to seven children, and for five of them, “an addition to the family is stated to be expected shortly”.  Almost 60% of this group (21 out of 36) were ex-servicemen, and all but one family were living in lodgings or with parents.  For three of the prospective tenants, the men’s wives and families were living separately in other towns. 
Having been granted an affordable Addison house, there was an expectation the tenants should look after them – and it seems this included the garden.  The image below shows the minutes of a Committee meeting that took place on the Gresty Road Housing Site in Crewe where members viewed “with considerable distress” the state of some tenants’ gardens, and privet hedges that were “not properly trimmed”.  They resolved to send tenants a strongly worded letter – unless their gardens were properly cultivated, the Committee would “seriously consider” terminating their tenancy! 
Further north east in Cheshire, the records of Macclesfield Rural District Council show the varying levels of rent paid by tenants for different types of houses.  In its Register of Houses Provided by the Local Authority (ref: LRM 4993) two columns show the “appropriate normal rent per week” and a lower “rent charged per week” – for example what could have cost ten shillings and sixpence in rent per week for a three bedroom parlour house cost eight shillings and sixpence for council tenants.

As for the construction of the houses, Cheshire Archives holds building plans and associated correspondence from across the county.  Addison houses were divided into five main designs, known as Types A to E, although individual councils were permitted to adapt them.  The simplest had a living room where most of the cooking would be done and scullery where you would wash, others would have most of the cooking done in the scullery but had a separate bathroom, and the most luxurious had an upstairs bathroom.  A superior version of each type would have an additional parlour - around 40% of immediate post-war local authority homes had them.  Most Addison houses had three bedrooms – only 15% did not, in contrast with 60% of pre-war houses that had only two bedrooms – and all had indoor toilets and covered coal stores, which had not been the norm in working class homes before.

This 1924 application for a subsidy house in Hungerford Road, Crewe (ref: LBCr 6492/57/43) is one of many bundles of contracts, correspondence and plans we hold for individual tenants. It is a three-bedroom parlour home.


And though they are almost a hundred years old, these Runcorn Rural District Council plans and blueprints for Type A houses in Frodsham  Lordship are still bright and clear.  The technical drawings of external elevations and internal floorplans clearly show the layout of the three-bedroom non-parlour house, with living room and scullery. (ref: LRR 27/64 and LRR 27/30).  
Designs for Type B and C houses are illustrated by these plans from Lache in Chester.  They date from 1931 but the designs include both parlour and non-parlour semi-detached homes, and a short terrace, in a style in-keeping with the Addison Act.
In terms of layout of estates, local Council planners were clearly adhering to the standards of the Tudor Walters report in their proposed housing in Helsby in 1929 (ref: LRR 27/51). Spacing between and in front of houses, good-sized gardens and a mixture of different styles of houses were used in the same area, to avoid the uniform and overcrowded feel of working class homes of the past. 
The Addison Act was the catalyst for an extensive council house building programme one hundred years ago, but this important housing continued ­to be provided after the 1920s, including in Cheshire.  The building work mentioned above at the Lache estate in Chester was not completed until after the Second World War, for instance, and building started at Blacon, also in Chester, in 1946 and continued until it was one of the largest council estates in Europe by the 1970s.  At the end of that decade, a third of the British population lived in social housing.  What began ­­with the Addison Act and Homes Fit for Heroes had a lasting effect on the lives of working class people and their families for most of the 20th century. 

All these documents and more are available to view at Cheshire Record Office in Chester.