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!

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?

Friday, 26 February 2021

A Pub in Parkgate

Would you like to learn more about a local business or building from the comfort of your own home? This blog will take you through some of our online resources using the example of The Boat House, a pub in Parkgate at the end of The Parade.

Our first port of call is the Cheshire Tithe Maps website, available through the Cheshire Archives and Local Studies website. Cheshire Tithe Maps Online allows you to view and search almost 500 tithe maps and compare these alongside other historic mapping. Together with the information recorded in tithe apportionments, they are a unique record of land ownership, occupancy and use in Cheshire 150 years ago. The video clip below talks you through how to use the website for your research. 

The tithe maps website will also allow you to search by person or by plot, if you wanted to see what else was owned by the Mostyn family for example.

To delve deeper into this website please see our previous blog You are here! But who was before? Discover history on your doorstep using Cheshire Tithe Maps Online.

Now let’s see what we can find using the digitised trade directories available to view and search online via our website. Trade directories were the Yellow Pages of their day, produced from the 17th century onwards to meet an increased demand for information on commerce and industry. This video shows you where to find them and how we can use them in our research.

If you are interested in carrying out research into the history of the Johnson family using census records, then you can use your Cheshire library card to access the Ancestry website from your own device at home. Full free access is available at your local library, and at the record office itself. For more information on using Ancestry Library Edition, why not check out our beginner’s guide on our YouTube channel?

Next, using the Neston Borough Building Control Plans Database which is also available on our website, we can search for any information relevant to the Boat House, or the Pengwern Arms, between the years 1868 and 1950.

Lastly, let's visit the Cheshire Image Bank to see if any images of the Boat House have been digitised and available to view online.

The image bank is available through our website. We continually digitise and add new images to this online collection, bringing together pictures of Cheshire’s people, places and events, and we currently have nearly 31,000 images available online.

A search for “Parkgate” in the top right search box brings up 138 results, including several which will be of interest in our research, or you can follow the steps demonstrated in the below video clip.

If you were interested in obtaining a digital copy of an image, please click on “How to Obtain Prints” on the left-hand menu.

You may also like to visit our Flickr page, where we have further material digitised and grouped into albums.

We have now learned more about the history of The Boat House without even leaving our sofa! We have been able to find images of the pub, the names of its publicans and know that it stood on land owned by the Mostyn family. We know alterations were made over the years, that its name changed, and we have found its location on 19th century tithe and ordnance survey maps. Why not explore our online resources yourself, travel back in time and see what you can find out about your local area?! Keep curious!