Tuesday, 21 June 2022

More Than a Shop - a Talking Tour of Chester

More Than a Shop: A Talking Tour of Chester is a historic walking tour by Cheshire Archives and Local Studies. 

In the early 1980s the Chester Archaeological Society recorded older residents’ recollections of life in the city throughout the twentieth century. These oral history recordings were recently digitised thanks to the British Library’s National Lottery Heritage Project Unlocking Our Sound Heritage and the expertise at the north west hub at Archives+ in Manchester.

The tour is self-guided, so you can choose which sites you want to visit and in which order (our suggested route is mapped out below, or you can pick up a printed version from our Record Office). 

There is also the option of listening to the recordings on our brand new listening kiosk, just drop in to our searchroom between Tuesday 21 June and Thursday 23 June during our normal opening hours (9am-4pm). We are based at Cheshire Record Office, Duke Street, Chester. 

We hope you enjoy a bit of retail therapy on a talking tour full of memories of shops past - lets get started! 

1:    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. 

2:    Setting the scene – Brook Street: A schoolgirl in the 1920s, whose route to school took her along Brook Street and Frodsham Street, with vivid memories of the sights and smells of shops at Christmas – but look out for the cows! She also remembers cows being driven from the cattle market where the bus station is now along Brook Street and Hoole Bridge to the railway sidings on Lightfoot Street. 

3:    Frodsham Street: ‘Two things couldn’t pass at the same time’ – much like today – chemists, shoe shops and bookshops – how much is that doggy in the window? 

4:    Foregate Street: Hear all about ‘Porky Pie Duttons’ where Marks and Spencers is now – with a sweet factory in the back!

5:    Eastgate Street and Eastgate Row: We now find ourselves in the heart of Chester’s shopping experience for over 200 years. Hear first how Browns, Bollands and Phillipson and Golder jostle for position – and then more details about what would have greeted you at each shop.

6:     Browns first...

7:    …and then Bollands...

8:    …and the curious figures from Venice that promoted the stationer and bookseller Phillipson and Golder. 

9.     Can you imagine taking a seat when you enter a shop and items being brought to you – or even brought to you sitting in your car outside. Welcome to the world of Minshull and Meeson.

10:    What would Browns customers or Mr Minshull and Mr Meeson have thought when F W Woolworth moved in across the street where Next is now? There is no ‘shopwalker’ and browsing is encouraged – and plastic goods arrive. And Woolworths expanded throughout the twentieth century filling the space between Eastgate Street and St Werbergh’s Street which leads us to the Old Market.

11:    Chester is about to open a new market replacing the new market mentioned here. But it is the old market that is brought to life – the china seller who smashes the items he doesn’t sell to the crowd entertain this young lad!

Wednesday, 25 May 2022

The Platinum Jubilee

This year’s Jubilee is a moment in time that is unique. As a once in a lifetime occurrence many people will want to mark this Platinum Jubilee, an event that will feature in the history books. The Jubilee celebrates 70 years on the throne for Queen Elizabeth II, no other British Monarch has reached this milestone. Let us travel back in time and see where it all began.

Over 70 years ago, on 6th February 1952 King George VI passed away peacefully in his sleep. ‘The King is dead, long live the Queen’, as the line of succession is never broken, his 25 year old daughter Princess Elizabeth suddenly became Queen.

On Saturday 10th February, the Proclamation of Accession was read out in the Town Hall Square by the Mayor of Chester, a Guard of Honour was supplied by the Cheshire Regiment who were mounted on the Town Hall steps. After the proclamation, the military band played “God Save the Queen” and the ceremony was brought to an end.

Reports from the newspaper suggest several thousand people were there to witness the proclamation and the mayor ‘led the townspeople in three rousing cheers for her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II’.

But it wasn’t until the following year, after a traditional period of mourning, that the Queen was crowned in Westminster Abbey on 2nd June 1953. The Coronation ushered in a new period in Britain’s history, following on from her marriage to Prince Phillip in 1947, it gave the public a chance to celebrate moving forward from the dark days of the Second World War to a new era.   


The Coronation was celebrated around the county and many places produced souvenir booklets and special events for the residents to enjoy. Similar to the Platinum Jubilee this year taking place over 4 days, the Coronation celebrations took place over a week.

Some parishes even ran special competitions for the best garden and the best decorated house, issuing certificates for the 1st, 2nd and 3rd placed houses.


Children received a gift to celebrate the Coronation, depending on the age of the child these ranged from mugs and sweets to chocolate and propelling pencils. But it wasn’t only the children that received gifts, senior citizens were also included with many receiving a commemorative tea caddy filled with ½ lb of tea.


The Queen has continued to celebrate milestones in her reign, in 1977 she celebrated her Silver Jubilee reigning for 25 years. Similar to the Coronation, events taking place in London were televised to the nation. The Jubilee was celebrated around the world and street parties were organised.

In 2002, the Golden Jubilee was celebrated meaning the Queen had reigned for 50 years. The Jubilee commemorated the monarch’s reign but also celebrated her people and featured 6 key themes including ‘Celebration', 'Giving Thanks', 'Service', 'Involving the Whole Community', 'Looking Forward as Well as Back', and 'Commonwealth'. The Queen’s Award for Voluntary service was created for the Golden Jubilee and is still awarded every year for examples of outstanding voluntary work.


Fast forward another 10 years to 60 years on the throne and the Diamond Jubilee. Only once before has a monarch reached this milestone and that was the Queen’s Great-Great Grandmother, Queen Victoria, who celebrated her Diamond Jubilee in 1897.

In 2015 Queen Elizabeth became the longest ruling Britain Sovereign surpassing Queen Victoria who reigned for 63 years. On 6th February 2017 Queen Elizabeth became the first British monarch to celebrate a Sapphire Jubilee, which commemorated 65 years on the throne.

This year's Jubilee celebrations culminate in an extended Bank Holiday weekend when the nation can celebrate this historic milestone. Special beacons will be lit across the country as has been the tradition for the other Jubilees. 

So in years to come, what will you say when asked how did you celebrate this Platinum Jubilee? Who knows, your celebrations may end up in the archives for future generations to see.

Tuesday, 17 May 2022

Spring has Sprung with Tunnicliffe

The staff here at Cheshire Archives and Local Studies are enjoying the change in seasons and have been getting out in their gardens, parks and green spaces to connect with nature.  To celebrate Spring we’ve turned to Cheshire’s most famous wildlife artist, Charles Frederick Tunnicliffe, for inspiration.

“Nature is lavish with her riches for those who have eyes to see” 

Charles Tunnicliffe, “My Country Book” (ref 112947).

Born in Langley near Macclesfield in 1901, Charles grew up in nearby Sutton where he sketched animals on the walls of the family farm buildings as a child.  A local teacher spotted his natural talent for drawing, and he attended the Macclesfield School of Art before winning a scholarship to train at the Royal College of Art, London.  
Here is a selection of his work.

Tarka The Otter

Tunnicliffe’s work was sought after commercially but he became a household name after illustrating the popular book Tarka the Otter by Henry Williamson in 1932. He went on to illustrate over 300 books during his lifetime and we are delighted to have many of them in the Local Studies collection at Macclesfield Library.

Birds and the RSPB

Tunnicliffe was captivated by wild birds and he developed a scientific approach to sketching them, drawing from life where possible. The RSPB commissioned Tunnicliffe to paint many illustrations for their magazine and books, and in 1975 they awarded him a gold medal for his services to bird protection.

Alison Uttley

The author Alison Uttley began writing tales for children while living in Bowdon, Cheshire, during the 1930s. She commissioned Tunnicliffe to illustrate 19 of her books, amazed at his “imaginative way of entering my stories”.

Brooke Bond Tea

From 1954 until 1999, packets of Brooke Bond tea included small coloured ‘picture cards’ which were collected and traded by thousands of children and adults. Tunnicliffe provided the illustrations for 7 sets of tea cards between 1957 and 1965 and they remain a favourite amongst collectors to this day.

Ladybird Books

Tunnicliffe was asked to provide illustrations for the publisher Ladybird in a series called ’What to Look For In…’ about the seasons. They were “so instructive and educational that grown-ups read them with as much delight as their children”. He also illustrated a ‘Ladybird Learning to Read Book’ that was heavily used in British primary schools.



Norman F Ellison started radio broadcasting in the BBC’s Northern Children’s Hour in 1945 with a programme called ’Wandering with Nomad’. It was a hugely popular show and ran for seventeen years. He wrote six adventure stories as ‘Nomad’, for which Tunnicliffe provided the illustrations.


Although Tunnicliffe made Anglesey his home until his death in 1979, his artistic output was inextricably linked to the Cheshire landscape and wildlife of his childhood and early career. These places may have changed over time, but for all the outdoor and nature enthusiasts amongst us, our local environment continues to inspire and create wonder.

Thursday, 5 May 2022

Making the Crossing: The Chester to Holyhead Railway

We continue the story of Cheshire’s railways with one of its most important lines. 175 years ago, this railway was the site of an early and tragic rail disaster.  Part 1, All Change at Crewe! is available here.

The early to mid-1840s saw Britain in the grip of ‘railway mania’. Low costs, speed and convenience made rail travel very popular - and lucrative. New railways for passenger and freight lines were quickly developed.

At that time the only communication links between London and Ireland were by horse-drawn coach or by sea. Both routes were made long and difficult by poor roads and harbour facilities. A railway that would take government mail dispatches more quickly to Ireland was well-supported in Parliament and the Chester and Holyhead railway was authorised in July 1844.

George Stephenson surveyed the route, which would extend the Chester to Crewe line along the North Wales coast. His son Robert Stephenson was the engineer, with Francis Thompson the architect and Thomas Brassey the contractor.

Building the railway was both challenging and extremely expensive. It required bridges over the River Dee, the River Conwy, and the Menai Strait at Anglesey. Progress on the railway was slow but the first section, between Chester and Saltney, opened in November 1846. It included a 250 ft long cast iron and stone bridge, designed by Robert Stephenson, that crossed the River Dee near to the Roodee. The bridge was opened with great ceremony. 

But just six months later, on 24th May 1847, disaster struck.  As a passenger train was crossing, the final span of the bridge collapsed. James Clayton, the driver, managed to get the 30-ton locomotive and its tender onto the far bank, but all four carriages and the guard’s van fell over 30 feet to the river below. Of the twenty-five people on board, five (the fireman and four passengers) were killed and fourteen were injured. Both local and national newspapers reported on the shocking and sensational incident.

Robert Stephenson was criticised for the bridge’s failure, threatening his reputation. An inquest was held in Chester and witnesses testified to seeing a fracture appear in the cast iron girders before the collapse.

Newspapers followed the case closely. After two weeks it was found that no one person was to blame, however the jury expressed concern about the use of ‘so brittle and treacherous a material as cast iron’.

Following the disaster, Robert Stephenson used only wrought iron on his railway bridges, including the Conwy Railway Bridge and the Britannia Bridge over the Menai Strait. Both were impressive engineering feats, particularly the Britannia Bridge at over 1500 feet long and standing over 100 feet above the water. On 5th March 1850, Stephenson himself laid the last rivet on the bridge and drove a test train across it, marking the completion of the Chester to Holyhead Railway.

The railway had a major impact on the city of Chester as a regional centre. The original Chester railway stations on Brook Street were little more than wooden shacks and converted houses. To cope with the growing traffic, the Chester and Holyhead and other rail companies agreed to build a new larger station. It was designed by Francis Thompson and built by Thomas Brassey. The station opened on 1st August 1848 to the acclaim of the local population.

The first Irish Mail train left the new station for Holyhead that same day. With the transportation of goods to Ireland, and an increase in trade from North Wales, Chester regained a good deal of the prosperity it had lost following the silting up of the River Dee. 

The line was fully opened to passengers on 18th March 1850 and was immediately popular. It enabled people to travel cheaply and quickly to holiday and tourism destinations in North Wales and Ireland. In 1858 a branch line to Llandudno, one of the early favourite holiday destinations, was opened. Throughout the late 19th and 20th centuries travel by rail to holiday destinations on the North Wales coast continued to grow.


Today the cause of the River Dee Railway Bridge collapse would be called metal fatigue. The bridge was rebuilt several times and eventually replaced with a completely wrought iron bridge in 1870. Robert Stephenson’s wrought iron Conwy Bridge still stands today, whilst the original Britannia Bridge was only replaced in 1980 after being severely damaged in an accidental fire. The railway line itself continues to be heavily used by passengers as part of the North Wales Coast Line.

175 years on from the tragic River Dee Bridge disaster, the greater story of the Chester to Holyhead railway is one of success.

These railway records and more are available to view at Cheshire Record Office in Chester. Transcriptions of several Crewe Works and railway companies’ staff registers can also be found at our web site here for Crewe, and here for four companies covering parts of Cheshire, Shropshire, Hereford and Wales.   

Keep a look out on our Instagram and Twitter pages for more from our railway collections soon!

Thursday, 21 April 2022

All Change at Crewe!

The world’s first inter-city railway was the Liverpool and Manchester, which opened in 1830. More railways soon followed. The first to enter Cheshire was the Grand Junction between Birmingham and Liverpool, which included the station we know today as Crewe.

On June 30th 1837, Parliament passed an Act authorising a railway between Chester and this new station. Its story is told through items in our Archives and Local Studies collections.

The railway might not have gone to Crewe at all. A line from Chester to Winsford was considered that would have been the shortest to link with the growing rail network.

The ‘father of railways’, George Stephenson, was chosen to engineer the line. He knew that railway building was already a difficult and expensive business and that this route would require tunnels and climbs through Delamere Forest.

He soon picked a longer, flatter route across 20 ½ miles of the Cheshire countryside. It would go directly through the township of Monks Coppenhall and meet the Grand Junction Railway at Crewe Station.

The man tasked with building the line was Thomas Brassey. Born near Chester in 1805, he has been called the world’s foremost railway builder of the 19th century. By the time of his death in 1870 ‘Cheshire’s Brunel’ had built an impressive 1/3 of the railways in Britain, 1/20 of the railways worldwide, and numerous engineering works such as Runcorn Bridge and Chester Railway Station.

Work on the railway began with optimism, but heavy rains in Autumn 1839 slowed construction down. Costs also rose as landowners began to realise the value of their land to rail companies. The railway’s investors soon couldn’t commit the capital needed to complete the line and work came to a standstill. In October 1839 the Chester and Crewe directors voted to sell the unfinished railway.

Rescue came when the Grand Junction Company absorbed the line and in May 1840 construction resumed. Local newspapers were finally able to announce that the grand opening would take place and publish the first passenger timetables.

The railway opened on October 1st, 1840. It had an immediate impact on everyday life. Travelling between Chester and Monks Coppenhall by coach took 2 1/2 hours and cost 8 shillings, whereas the same journey by rail would now take just 1 hour and cost 4 shillings. Cheaper and quicker travel across Cheshire and to places like Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester and eventually London was now accessible for the people of Cheshire. Passenger numbers grew quickly in the 1840s.

With the railway now a reality, Crewe was no longer just one of the stations on a single line and greater changes occurred that left an indelible mark on the history of Cheshire.

Early on, the Grand Junction Company saw Crewe station’s potential as a hub to link to Britain’s growing rail network. There was also the promise of linking with Ireland through an extension of the Chester and Crewe line to Holyhead. In 1840 they made plans to move their workshops and locomotive works from Edge Hill to Monks Coppenhall, just across the township boundary from Crewe station.

The company built 200 cottages ready for its workers and the rapidly developing settlement soon adopted the name of the station, marking the beginning of the town of Crewe as we know it today.

By 1842 Crewe station was the focus of 3 major railways. As more lines were opened it became a busy junction and in 1861 it was rebuilt to cope with the traffic. Over the last 185 years it has grown further and today has 12 platforms.

The Locomotive Works opened in 1843, marking the start of a great tradition of industry and engineering in Crewe. By 1848, it had over 1000 workers and built one locomotive per week. Production grew steadily in the 19th and 20th centuries and at its height the Works employed 20,000 people. The last locomotive ran off the line in 1991 and the site is now occupied by the Crewe Heritage Centre museum.

Today, passengers continue to use the Chester and Crewe railway to cross Cheshire and reach the rest of Great Britain and Ireland. The journey from Chester to Crewe takes around 20 minutes whilst Crewe to London takes around 2 ½ hours, something which would have been unthinkable in 1837.

Crewe is seeing major development and is currently bidding to become the home of Great British Railways (GBR), the new national rail operator from 2023. The railway station could also play an important role as a hub in the planned HS2 network.

185 years since it was first approved, the Chester to Crewe railway is still changing life for the people of Cheshire and connecting them with each other and the world beyond.

These railway records and more are available to view at Cheshire Record Office in Chester. Transcriptions of several Crewe Works and railway companies’ staff registers can also be found at our web site here for Crewe and here for four companies covering parts of Cheshire, Shropshire, Hereford and Wales.   

And look out for our next blog, which continues the story of railways with the Chester to Holyhead line and the 175th anniversary of one of Cheshire's most famous rail disasters. (This was published on 5th May 2022, read it here.