Wednesday, 22 September 2021

Bringing History To You!

Dan Edmonds is the Community Engagement Officer at Cheshire Archives and Local Studies - quite a challenging role to take on amidst Covid restrictions!  His post is supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and this is a snapshot of the valuable work he has been doing as part of our ongoing 'Cheshire Archives: A Story Shared' project.

Since starting at Cheshire Archives six months ago, my work as Community Engagement Officer has been an interesting journey. This is my first job in the Cheshire region, having been based just across the border in sunny Manchester for the past decade. It’s been a great opportunity to learn about the different groups of people which call this historic region home, find out what they want from an archive, and to help introduce our service to new groups of people.

As readers may well be aware, we are currently in the midst of applying for funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund. We hope to use the project funding to set up two new history centres - one in Chester and another in Crewe - as well as to develop new ways of making the collections we hold accessible to more people across the region.

My role in all this has been to meet with community groups, arts and heritage organisations, and members of the public. The aim has been to find out what people know about our service already, what kind of events, educational programmes, and activities they would like to see us host, and to find out how we can support and work alongside other organisations doing valuable work in the region.

Some of this has involved running surveys, focus groups, and discussions with people we want to work with and reach out to. This hasn’t always been straightforward given the pandemic and the restrictions on meeting in person! Often when you run consultations like these, it’s best to attend meetings of other organisations and ask their thoughts face-to-face, but that simply hasn’t been an option for several months. Instead we’ve run a battery of focus groups and discussions on Teams and Zoom, asked culture, heritage, and community organisations to run online surveys with their members and service users, and talked with individuals who run these groups about their perspectives.

We’ve had some really positive discussions, learning about what people find interesting about their local area, the different ways we can use the arts to bring local heritage to life, and finding out how we can help local communities through heritage-based events and activities. We’re looking at how we can use Audio-Visual workshops to teach young people about the history of the River Weaver, how asylum records can throw light on how women’s mental health is talked about today, how our historic maps and naturalist collections can shine a light on historical and contemporary biodiversity, and how histories of migration in Cheshire can help us understand the importance of different communities in shaping the region, to name just a few!

We’ve also been learning about ongoing and exciting new initiatives that we can support – from services which partner volunteers to talk with isolated elder members of the community, to providing resources for ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) and BSL (British Sign Language) classes in the region. We’ve been looking at how we can work with voluntary organisations who train young people in cooking and cheffing, drawing on our collection of historic cookbooks and recipes. It’s been really interesting speaking to organisations which represent marginalised communities, and hearing from them how we can reshape our activities to ensure that we are as inclusive as possible.

We’ve also been running events, both to bring archival materials to new audiences, and to trial new ideas we have about how to make our collections relevant to larger numbers of people. We’ve headed down to Chester Market to talk to members of the public about what our new history centres and digital services should look like, we ran a drop-in ‘Document Repair Shop’ to demonstrate what the conservation process looks like in practice, and we’ve worked alongside staff from the University of Chester and Cheshire West and Chester Museums to set up a memory-gathering day and pop-up display about Brown’s of Chester. It was wonderful to speak with so many former employees and one of my personal highlights was to see impromptu reunions between members of staff who hadn’t seen each other in years!


Most recently I’ve been preparing for our online cookalong, hosted by theatre chef Leo Burtin, which drew on some of the recipes and remedies that we hold in our collections.  The Taste of History event was attended by around 30 people, with many cooking along on the day. We saw some truly impressive ‘ragoos’ and syrups being prepared, and heard about a whole host of family recipes and remedies which were important to people! It was wonderful to see how Cheshire’s culinary traditions could inspire people in so many different ways.  And I’m currently developing reports on our consultations that can go in our final bid to the Lottery Heritage Fund. It’s certainly a busy time, but also a very exciting and rewarding one!

To stay up to date with the latest news and events from Cheshire Archives and Local Studies, subscribe to our newsletter here or visit our web site,

Wednesday, 8 September 2021

Cheshire's Emergency Services

September 9th is Emergency Services Day (or 999 Day) in the UK, and one of its aims is "to promote the heroes who serve/have served". As we recognise the vital role the emergency services play in our communities, Cheshire Archives and Local Studies is looking back at first responders from times gone by. There is a proud tradition of people working for the emergency services in our county - read on for a glimpse of the records we hold about the fire, police and ambulance services of Cheshire’s past.


There are many records relating to the fire service, going back centuries. As early as 1570, the City of Chester Assembly’s minute book contains an order on the provision of fire buckets, with every member of the Assembly having to provide and maintain a certain number. Councilmen were each responsible for one, Sheriff Peers provided two and Aldermen four (ref: ZAB/1/123). But before too long this had changed: the minutes of 24th August record, 
“Whereas buckets provided against fire under a former order (Jan 20th 1570), are by now wearing out…all strangers admitted in future to the City, are to pay for the cost of providing two buckets.”
Several fires had apparently recently occurred. (ref: ZAB 1/258)

We have archives covering a range of fire services from across Cheshire: from records of Tarporley Fire Brigade from the start of the 20th century (ref: D 5156) or fire service-related material in archives of local councils like Lymm (ref: LUL/5) and Northwich (ref: D 7474/78), to how much it used to cost to fight fires (ref: DCH/GG/
37), medals commemorating firefighters’ service (ref: ZDF 9-13) and photographs of ceremonial occasions (ref: ZDF 32-62), among many more. But a significant number of our records are from Chester Fire Service, the origins of which date to the early 19th century.

These photos show an extract of the Schedule of Fires from 1925, which gives details of supposed causes of fires and how they were extinguished. And the annual reports of the Chief Fire Officer from 1955-60 are similar, but have further details relevant to the era such as recording how calls for the fire brigade were received (by ‘exchange telephone’, ‘private telephone’ or ‘caller at the station’, for instance). In both volumes, fires are attributed to children playing with matches. The Annual Report of 1957 notes a fall in some causes of fire over the previous year, but states: 
“causes traced to the carefree disposal of lighted cigarette ends and young children being allowed access to matches regrettably remains almost constant.” 


As well as the fire service, we also hold records of the Chester City Police Force from 1836 to 1945. Popular items in the collection include photographs of criminals charged and convicted in the 1860s and 1870s, for crimes like stealing an umbrella or a shawl, embezzlement or begging (ref: ZDPO/2). There are more modern records relating to the police too, such as archive material from the Gay Police Association, a police staff association that had members from all UK police forces and ran from 1990 to 2014. Document reference D 9081/245 is a 2003 training resource for ‘Policing Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Communities’.

Our Local Studies collection has a large range of books, pamphlets and articles related to the emergency services. Along with titles showing how the police service has developed over time, for example A Short History of the Macclesfield Borough Police Force (ref: 114735) or Peelers to Policemen (ref: 016802), one that gives a flavour of life as a police officer in times past is A Policeman’s Notebook by Thomas Smethurst (ref: 223013). It recreates the notes taken by a member of the Stalybridge Police Force in 1914 and is an account of incidents in the police “in the days when birching was a legitimate punishment, when playing games in the streets on Sundays and letting a chimney set on fire were offences, and when attempted suicide was punishable”.


Some archive material can come from unexpected sources. This image of an early ambulance is from the records of Mostyn House School in Parkgate. It is a postcard showing a British Red Cross ambulance car for the Italian Army in 1916 and, according to a note by the head teacher printed on the back, its £475 cost was partly funded by “the boys, old boys, parents and friends” of the school.

Also from the First World War, we have an application to Warrington Borough Council for a proposed ambulance station. The detailed drawing shows aspects of the building like a nurse’s room and treatment room - but also space for the ‘ambulance carriage’.

From the Second World War, several files of correspondence survive from 1940 about ambulances and first aid, such as detailed information about medical supplies in Bollington Urban District Council’s archives (ref: LUB 2638/1/8-9). St John’s Ambulance is also covered, for example with certificates for an Annie Rowe in ‘First Aid to the Injured’ and ‘Home Nursing’ gained in 1939 (ref: EMC 15/24/18,19), and later ambulance service-related records include the Ambulance Service Scheme within the 1946 National Health Service Act (ref: ZDDH/5/1), amongst others.

But as we mark Emergency Services Day, we are fortunate to have some images of first responders of the past. This c.1916 photograph from Cheshire Image Bank is an ambulance from the Red Cross Auxiliary Hospital in Bromborough – the ambulance driver is thought to be a surgeon.

This photograph shows the Northwich Police Force outside their police station during the 1910s.

And these are members of the City of Chester Fire Brigade, c.1920 - complete with their fire engine and dog mascot.

All of these records and more are available to view at Cheshire Record Office in Chester, and our online catalogue can be searched here.


Friday, 27 August 2021

Walk Through History with the Cheshire Image Bank

Have you ever walked down your local high street or through your local park and wondered what the scene looked like 25, 50 or even 100 years ago? Over the last year staff at Cheshire Archives and Local Studies have been doing just that in their home villages and towns, aided by the Cheshire Image Bank. Cheshire Image Bank (CIB) is an online image repository filled with over 30,000 snapshots of life in Cheshire since the 19th century, covering people, places, and events. Staff recreated images from CIB to show what has and hasn’t changed in Cheshire over the decades and centuries. We have posted these on our twitter page @CheshireRO using the hashtag #WalkThroughHistory. Some are included below, plus new views to add to our back catalogue. Take a step back in time with us, and perhaps be inspired to recreate your own Walk Through History.


The Square at Parkgate in the 1960s and 2020s. Parade House can be seen in the centre, with Nicholls Ice Cream Shop and Post Office next door. Parade House was built in the early 18th century as private housing but now contains shops. Nicholls was established in 1937, though our Neston Building Plans Database has a record between W. K. Nicholls (the client) and J. S. Allen (the architect) for works to a residential and retail property dated 1934. Perhaps this is when Mr Nicholls first purchased the building to turn it into the ice cream shop we see today? (Image ref: c01027).


The Bull’s Head on London Road in the 1960s, with Church Street on the left. This pub dates to at least the 18th century when John Royle is listed as licensee. You can find previous pub landlords for an inn or pub near you using our online trade directories. Poole’s Radio and Television shop can also be seen on the left (Image ref: c00931).


Lymm Square and Cross. The cross dates to the early to mid-17th century and was restored in 1897, as a commemoration to Queen Victoria on the occasion of her diamond jubilee. We have a blog about Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee celebrations in Cheshire, if you would like to learn more. Around the square are shops, including “Williamson’s”, “Saville Bros”, a chemist, and a sign for “Henry Milling & Co. Ltd. For quality in groceries & provisions” (Image ref: c00986).


In Sandbach we found ourselves outside Mary Frost’s hat shop located at 34, High Street. Miss Frost is listed as a milliner (a person who makes or sells women's hats) in the 1910 Kelly's Directory of Cheshire, and in the 1906 edition, but not in 1902, which helps us to date the image to the early 20th century (Image ref: c08060).

Sandbach Literary Institute and Parr’s Bank in the early 20th century, with the fountain visible on the left. The institute on Bradwell Road was built between 1857-8 and designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott. Parr’s Bank Limited existed between 1782 and 1919 and was founded in Warrington (Image ref: c05459).


Aldford Parish Church, St John the Baptist, in the 1920s and 2020s. The church was built in 1866 on the site of a previous church and designed by Chester architect John Douglas (c04803). For further information on Douglas, why not check out our blog article about his life and work? We hold the baptism, marriage, and burial registers for Aldford Parish at Cheshire Record Office dating back to the 1600s, see P/91.


Wheelock Street shops and the White Bear Inn photographed in the 1950s. The White Bear was built around 1625 and was one of the main coaching inns for the town (Image ref: c08970). In the record office, we have archives relating to the sale of the White Bear Inn (D/8774/27), or the White Bear Hotel as it was then known, by William Roylance Court to Wilson's Brewery, at the turn of the 20th century. The White Bear was also the location for several prominent auctions of local land, of which we hold the sales catalogues for the Barony of Shipbrooke estate (135786), Croxton Bank (135804), and the Sproston Green Estate (136097).  

Lastly, to finish this Walk Through History, a 1915 postcard of Middlewich, showing the “Bull Ring” area, with the church and shops visible, including “The County Stores” and “W. Kinsey”. We can also see a sign for “The Carbinier Inn” on the left. This is quite clearly the spelling on the sign, but the 1910 Kelly’s Directory of Cheshire has it listed as the “Carabineer’s Inn”, with the licensee given as Arthur Elton. In the 1906 trade directory the licensee was John Simons, and in 1902 it was Thomas Jackson. Further back in 1878 the inn is spelled “Carbineer” and listed as an inn and posting house, under John Woodward (Image ref: c10888).

Monday, 2 August 2021

A student's virtual experience at Cheshire Archives!

We always enjoy playing host to work experience students during the summer holidays, and last year we were disappointed not to be able to offer any placements as a result of the pandemic. This year,  equipped with a lot more experience of remote working, we were able to offer our first ever online work experience placements!  Read on to hear what student Noah thought of his placement...

As someone who loves history, my work experience with the Cheshire Archives has been a great experience. I have had a chance to contribute to the archives which has been quite rewarding and it has also left me with a few questions and ideas that I can now go away and consider.

My week started with indexing Parkside Asylum cases and noting down any interesting cases that I came across. The main challenge here was deciphering the handwriting. For each new page there was different handwriting and so each case took some time to figure out what the letters were in the different scripts. On top of this, some of the spelling was questionable at times. However, after some time I did get used to this new style of writing and became much more efficient at understanding what was being said. Many of the cases were sad to read because it was clear that the majority of the people had mental health problems and were by no means “lunatics”. Some had depression, or as they termed it “melancholia”, others had delusions about religion amongst other things.

One of the cases that stood out to me was that of 19-year-old Thomas James Lloyd. His “attack” as they called it had been going on for “several years” which would make him younger than me when he began to experience problems. I think that the text speaks for itself:

"Had in his hand a small horn which he said was sanctified. Continually blowing it (sounding the Bugle as he termed it) and he was struggling to win all nations for Queen Victoria's sake. Had a plan for poisoning the Devil. That he had sanctified the school his bed and bedclothes. That the Lord had told him by trances and wisdom what to do. Moses Samuel Brickhill, one of the Labor Masters who informed me that he would suddenly leave his work move a few paces, tear the grass and lift it high: implacing a blessing upon it. That he put a chamber utensil on his head and poured its contents down his back."

Photograph of Thomas James Lloyd

Extract of Thomas James Lloyd's case notes, reference NHM 8/2/6/124a-e.
View the full case notes here.

As with many of the cases that I saw, though with this one in particular, I wondered what caused this to happened and what their life was like after being in the asylum. Whilst they are given names, I could not necessarily get an understanding of what they were like as a person. This is perhaps therefore a limitation of records such as these. As with a lot of history, maybe these questions that I have about
who that person was may go unanswered.

Chester: River Dee, Queens Park Bridge. Ken Evans. Copyright 2020 Chester Chronicle. 

The second project that I did was sorting out photographs taken by Ken Evans, a photographer for the Chester Chronicle. The photographs covered a long time period, from the late 1940s to the 1990s. My first job was to date as best we could the photograph. I went about this by looking at the clothes, the age of people if they were known and looking at the whole image with a holistic approach to get an idea which decade it was from. This was made easier if on the back of the photograph (this was accessible by the photograph’s accession number) there was further information. The accession number also helped with my next job which was to title the image. For this I had to find out where it was and who was in the photograph if anyone. Sometimes this was virtually impossible because the background was some unidentifiable building or trees. However, this was a very fun part of this project. If there were some unique buildings, say a church, I could Google “churches in x” and various images would come up and I would be able to cross-reference the photograph with other photographs. Moreover, I could go onto Google Maps and find out what orientation the photograph was in which led me to walk about Chester on Google street view.

Chester: River Dee, 1953. Ken Evans. Copyright 2020 Chester Chronicle.

The next job was to write a brief description of the photograph. This could be one line or several, depending on how much was going on in the photograph. However, a rough guide to this was to describe people, places and events. After this I needed to find out some further information on what was going on in the photograph. This needed to be generally related to Cheshire and fortunately if it was a famous person, for example Prince Charles, I could look up other photographs of them in the Cheshire Image Bank and look at what other people wrote about them. My final two tasks were to note if the photograph could be put in a popular collection (I had a few royal visitors) and to write down any keywords that related to the photograph. This would make it easier for people to find a picture on a particular topic, say the Groves.

Chester: The Cross and Eastgate Street. Ken Evans 1951. Copyright 2020 Chester Chronicle. 

With that, that was my final task. Some parts of the work experience were easier than others, though I had to always be conscientious knowing that whatever I wrote had to be accurate in order to be able to be useful.

Some questions that this experience has left me are:

  • What are the limitations and positive attributes of different types of documents?
  • How have the terms used to describe mental health problems changed over time?
  • How can we work with the fact that we do not have access to all information?

I would like to finish by thanking all those working at the Cheshire Archives who put this together despite the coronavirus!

Thank you Noah for all of your hard work during your placement!

Thursday, 17 June 2021

Living Memory: A 'Talking' Tour of Chester!

Living Memory: A Talking Tour of Chester is a historic walking tour by Cheshire Archives and Local Studies.

The tour was created using the Chester Archaeological Society’s collection of oral history recordings, which have been newly-digitised thanks to the British Library’s National Lottery Heritage project Unlocking Our Sound Heritage. 

It features interviews with a range of Chester residents, talking about their experience of the city over the course of the 20th century.  You will be able to hear the voices of these local residents as you explore some of Chester’s most scenic spots.  Find out how the park’s flower beds were put to use during the Great War, hear from an eyewitness to the unearthing of the amphitheatre, and even discover local residents’ favourite 1920s ice creams!

The tour is self-guided, so you can choose which sites you want to visit and in which order (our suggested route can be found below).

There are two ways to access the tour:

  1. Download the ‘Echoes’ app, and access our tour via this link. As you walk along the suggested route, the app will automatically play the audio clips.

  2. Access the sound recordings below. As you walk along the suggested route you can listen to the appropriate clips by hitting the play button. 


You can download a copy of the walking tour map here.

Let's get started!


1. Cheshire Record Office

Welcome to Cheshire Archives & Local Studies where this converted warehouse holds miles of shelving full of records that document almost 1000 years of Cheshire life. Some of these records are oral histories recorded on cassettes, and tape cannot be trusted to survive for decades. Without the National Lottery Heritage Fund project run by British Library and the expertise at the north west hub at Archives+ in Manchester the voices on our talking tour would have been lost. In the early 1980s the Chester Archaeological Society recorded older residents’ recollections of life in the city throughout the twentieth century – we hope you enjoy a tour of the city through their eyes.

2. Roman Amphitheatre


A schoolgirl, when Dee House was the Ursuline Convent School, is an eyewitness when the first trace of an amphitheatre is discovered in 1929 – but to discover more the sweet shop must be demolished.


3. Grosvenor Park

Flower beds are planted with beetroots during the war – the park-keeper’s son recalls the park was planted very differently when his father was in charge.



4. Grosvenor Park Lodge

The park-keeper’s family lived in the Lodge – what was it like inside?


5. Duke’s Monument

A little girl witnesses a zeppelin appear over the city in 1917 or 1918. But did she? We have not found any evidence that zeppelins carried out raids as far north as Chester, but this memory is so vivid we can only imagine the terror they inspired that perhaps a nightmare or an eyewitness account made this very real 80 years later.



6. Belvedere

A view of the river – perfect vantage point to watch the regatta!



7: Queen’s Park Suspension Bridge

Opened in 1923 – replacing a narrow private bridge that allowed businessmen from Queen’s Park to catch their trains!



 8: The Grand Opening 

Two women are determined to cross the new Queen’s Park Suspension Bridge before the Mayor on the day of its Grand Opening!



9: Bandstand


Promenade along the Groves and imagine the sounds and sights of the city illuminated.


10: Ice Cream on the Dee


Fancy an ice cream? In this clip you can almost taste the ice cream from the 1920s – though we think ice cream today is probably closer to how it was in the 1920s than what was available in the early 1980s!




Have you taken our Talking Tour of Chester? We'd love to know what you thought! Please complete this very short survey to help us to develop future Talking Tours in Cheshire. 


Friday, 26 March 2021

The Census Detective - What clues are you leaving behind?

It all started with the will of Mary Crewe, spinster, late of Watergate Street in Chester. What struck me was the fact that she had left quite substantial sums of money to her family and to charity but made her mark with an 'X' in her will. How did she have almost £20,000 in today's money but could not write her name?

The will of Mary Crewe, 1875

Intrigued, I decided to find out more about Mary's story. What followed was a detective trail involving several sources, highlighting the strengths – and weaknesses - of census returns as evidence.

A look on Cheshire BMD shows Mary’s death registered in 1875 and reveals her age as 82, which gives us a birth year of about 1793.

Entry showing the death of Mary Crewe in 1875 on Cheshire BMD

This approximate year of birth was my next step for a ‘quick look’ at the census returns for where she lived and who with. Not so quick! A search on Ancestry in the 1871 census for ‘Mary Crewe’(exact) born five years either side of 1793 in Chester gave no results.

However, widening the search for similar names and for places in ‘Cheshire’ instead of Chester provided a promising result. 

Mary ‘Creeve’, a 76 year-old cook born in Tilston, is living with her employer, Miss Maria Wynne, a ‘Lady’ and a 19 year-old housemaid, Phebe Williams.

The census return for 1871 showing Mary Crewe living with Miss Maria Wynne and Phebe Williams in Chester

A look back at Mary’s will reveals something interesting. Mary names Miss Wynne, spinster, as her executrix (a female executor). So Mary had appointed her employer to carry out her last wishes.

Extract from Mary's will showing Miss Wynne as her executrix

The same search using Find My Past correctly identifies Mary’s surname as ‘Crewe’ in the 1871 census. It also gives an entry in 1851 for her as a servant aged 55 in the household of Hugh Calveley and his niece, Miss Wynne, in Northgate Street, Chester. Both Hugh and Maria are described as ‘independent’.

I couldn’t find an entry in Find My Past for 1861 looking for Mary Crewe. However, she’s there in the entry for Miss Wynne and Hugh Calveley, now in Watergate Street. This entry for Mary Crewe aged 63 (born around 1798 at ‘Sellstone’) is picked up clearly by Ancestry, but with an obvious mistake in the index for her place of birth!

With the 1841 census, it’s only when I searched for Mary and Miss Wynne in vain that I found them in the household of Hugh Calveley. The 1841 census rounds ages up to the nearest five years, so Mary’s age here is given as 35 - now we've got a birth year around 1816!

1841 census return showing Mary Crewe living with  Hugh Calveley and Miss Wynne

Lessons learnt

·       Even when the name of a person or place seems clear, be aware that the census returns were transcribed by people with no local knowledge and there are mistakes

·       There are clearly differences in transcription between  Ancestry and Find My Past. If you can’t find an entry on one, try the other!

·       If the person you’re looking for doesn’t appear, try and find other members of the same household

·       Using ages can be tricky. Mary's birth year ranges from 1795 to 1816 according to the census. It could be deliberate or careless reporting, and perhaps the correct age of a domestic servant wasn't a matter for great accuracy?

Going back to Mary’s will and my original question for a moment …

Mary left £25 to each of her four great nephews and two donations of £19 19 shillings to charity. As a domestic servant, how was she so well provided for?

The answer lies in the will of Hugh Calveley, who leaves Mary the sum of £100 in 1868, with the condition that she is still in his service at the time of his death.

Extract from the will of Hugh Calveley, 1868

Miss Wynne’s will, made in 1868, leaves an annual allowance to Mary of £26 and a codicil, amending her will after Mary’s death, leaves £19 19 shillings to Phebe Williams, the housemaid). Curious that same amount appears in both wills, just under the £20 limit that you had to pay legacy dues to the taxman!

What does this indicate about long term employees and their employers?

Clearly both Hugh and Miss Wynne valued their staff, Mary Crewe in particular. There’s an entry in the Cheshire Observer on 11th December 1875 for Mary’s death, which describes her as ‘…for 60 years the faithful and attached servant of Miss Wynne’s family’.

Cheshire Observer, 11 December 1875

Another thing that struck me looking at this story – it is far from the full story! We see Mary’s life and circumstances as a glimpse every ten years and have to piece together what we can from the fragments the census returns give us (and not always willingly!).

Looking for Mary, we find Maria and her bachelor uncle, Hugh. How did they become a household for so long? What else can we discover about them?

Our Overleigh Cemetery database shows an entry for Mary and the UK Find a Grave database on Ancestry takes us to an image of Mary’s grave there. She’s buried with her brother, George and somebody called Hannah... but that is another story!

Think about the information we have provided on the census returns throughout our lives, what would a researcher far in the future make of our stories?


Monday, 8 March 2021

Women of Cheshire

You will go back a long way to find your first significant woman in Cheshire history and Aethelflaed, Saxon Lady of Mercia, rebuilding Chester in 907, but to make it onto our list you need to find their stories in our archives...

Cooking the books

Elizabeth Raffald honed her skills in domestic service for 15 years. Her final job was housekeeper at Arley Hall in Cheshire before she married and went on to be a formidable businesswoman with a keen eye for an opportunity in 18th century Manchester. 

Portrait of Elizabeth Raffald

She ran a cookery school, domestic staff agency, delivered high end dining to Manchester’s new money homes, used the information she collected to publish Manchester’s first trade directory listing businesses, services and potential clients. And in 1769 published the first cookbook in English of original recipes – 800 of them – we made and loved eating her Herb Pie.

Elizabeth Raffald Society

For the record

Women appear equally in official records but these are bare glimpses and hints at lives lived. Take Parish registers recording baptisms, marriages and burials since the 1500s. In Taxal in 1707 there is a record of Hannah Wright and Anne Gaskill marrying, and in 1750 in Middlewich Maria Sproston marries Sarah Richardson 'commonly called Peter' – of course we will never know the whole stories, but this doesn’t make them any less fascinating.

We have managed to put some flesh on the bones of the life of a woman whose headstone has become famous in Overleigh Cemetery in Chester. Mary Jonas ‘the mother of 33 children by one husband’ - this note appears with her final contribution to the parish registers when she died aged 85.

Parish record noting Mary Jonas is 'The mother of 33 children by one husband'

Dear Diary

Women’s voices are hard to hear in official record-keeping but diaries are where lots of women have found their voice in recording their lives, experiences and feelings. Frances E. Crompton goes on to become an author and her diary is written in a way that you can imagine she was looking forward to telling her friends and family tales of a honeymoon gone wrong. There is lots to relate to … reality not living up to expectations … and that impractical and uncomfortable new frock that you love anyway.

Aged 22 in 1686 Sarah Savage began keeping her ‘spiritual diary’ and she kept writing until her death aged 87. And we have the first tiny volume of fewer than 100 pages, with such small writing and so many words. Yes, there is lots about sermons, her faith and life events, but there is so much more. In 1716, the person closest to her, Jane Hunt dies unexpectedly, and Sarah keeps her alive in conversations with her through her diary-keeping. Evidence of enduring best friendship.

Diaries in our collections have one thing in common. We know all about the authors because we can ask questions when people offer them to us. But this one came to us via a secondhand shop, the only clue to the writer's identity is an entry on her birthday. We can tell that she had Warrington connections and was nursing during the Second World War in Morecambe. The diary is intimate, full of detail, she is a complicated woman living through extraordinary times – one day we will perhaps discover who she was and what happened to her. We had to use our imagination and images from magazines to picture her. Or perhaps she would prefer to remain a mystery?

Women in politics and activism

We can't put together a blog celebrating the women of Cheshire without mentioning some of the inspiring women leaders and activists who have shaped our county. 

In 1894 a 24-year-old tailor named Ada Nield was sensationally dismissed from the Crewe clothing factory Compton Brothers clothing factory. Her offence? Inciting female co-workers to unite and demand a “living wage” instead of their current “lingering, dying wage”. For weeks Ada’s anonymous letters, signed “A Crewe Factory Girl”, had been printed in the Crewe Chronicle, garnering support from men’s unions as well as the local MP. As a result of these letters she had to leave Comptons, but working arrangements were improved.
Example of the letters that Ada wrote

Her letters attracted the attention of the Independent Labour Party, who offered her employment when her identity as the Crewe Factory Girl was eventually discovered. Ada became active in the ILP and by the end of 1894 she has been elected as a Nantwich Poor Law Guardian (one of the very first working-class female Guardians). In the years leading up to the First World War, Ada (now married as known as Ada Nield Chew) became an active supporter of the movement for women's suffrage.

Councillor Alift Harewood MBE was born in Anna Catherina, a sugar planting village in Guyana, in 1934. She trained as a nurse and midwife before coming to the UK and settling in Macclesfield. 

Alift worked as a nurse for 59 years, and during that time became very politically and socially active within the Macclesfield community. In 2012 she became the town's first Black mayor, and was re-elected again in 2016. She remains active in local politics and is a passionate advocate for gender equality. 

Alift shared her incredible life story with us in 2011 as part of CHAWREC's Journeys to Cheshire oral history project. 

Home front

We are all aware of the impact of turbulent world events on women’s lives. The First World War was the first global conflict to have a ‘home front’ and arguably accelerated change in women’s roles in society generally and some women’s lives were changed forever. In the ICI collection you will find inspirational photos of women working in Brunner Mond’s chemical works at Northwich that captivate with their camaraderie. Kept with them is a newspaper clipping – Florence Gleave died aged 20 and was a ‘canary girl’ – women turned yellow as working with TNT caused toxic jaundice.

Women at the Winnington Works, c. 1914

See them in West Cheshire Museums' Working Women online exhibition

You will find women in our ‘First World War Servicemen’s Index’ … a project that we named without realising that women in nursing units were still serving abroad in 1919, and of course that women over 30 had just got the right to vote. Search ‘nursing’ in Unit Keyword to find five women.

What has she got to do with Cheshire?

So Eleanor Ormerod wasn't born or, as far as we know, ever spent time in Cheshire – but, bear with us, if her father had not produced his ‘History of Cheshire’ she may not have had the skills or means to follow her own path as an insect expert in Victorian England. Her impact on farming was global as she reported on 'injurious insects'. Not that her father was impressed, his papers only record his sons' achievements. He surely would have been if he knew she keeps remarkable company with Darwin in having a ‘self-replicating manufacturing machine’ or free 3D printer model named after her! (And there is a Cheshire connection, her assistant was Robert Newstead, first curator of the Grosvenor Museum in Chester.)

Watch an interview with George Ormerod's biographer discussing Eleanor here

You can find all these women in our archives - and millions more - who would you add to the list?