A History of the County of Chester: Volume 5 Part 2, the City of Chester: Culture, Buildings, Institutions. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 2005.
This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.
Local Government Boundaries
The Medieval Liberties
The liberties of the city of Chester, first explicitly defined in 1354, derived from Chester hundred as it was constituted in 1086 (Fig. 1, p. 2). The hundred then comprised the city of Chester, the 'bishop's borough' and 'Redcliff' to its east, Newton to the north-east, and Handbridge and 'Lee' (later Netherleigh and Overleigh) south of the river Dee. (fn. 1) The term 'city' may have referred only to the walled town and its common fields to the north. Immediately east of the walls lay the bishop's borough, around St. John's church, and 'Redcliff', named from the red sandstone cliff between St. John's and the Dee. 'Redcliff' presumably covered all the extramural area later within St. John's parish, but the name was not in current use after the 11th century. (fn. 2) Newton was probably 'new' in relation to Chester itself. South of the river, Handbridge clearly extended beyond the hamlet of that name at the southern bridgehead and may also have included the detached part of St. Bridget's parish which comprised the meadows known later as the Earl's Eye. Netherleigh and Overleigh lay respectively further south and south-west. Chester hundred was bounded to the south by Marlston, Lache, and Claverton, east by Huntington and Great Boughton, and north by Blacon and Upton by Chester, (fn. 3) Upton being a large manor which certainly included Bache and probably Hoole. (fn. 4)
Chester hundred was not recorded again after 1086, and its rural parts north of the city (except Newton) and south of the river (with some additions) later fell within the liberties of the city. Newton was probably excluded from the liberties because it belonged to Chester abbey from the abbey's foundation c. 1092, (fn. 5) and there is no evidence that the city ever sought jurisdiction over it. The abbey's manor of St. Thomas, immediately outside the city's Northgate, however, was within the liberties, and an apparent attempt by Abbot Richard Oldham in the early 1480s to withdraw it met with failure. (fn. 6) In 1509, soon after obtaining a royal charter conferring extensive privileges, the city followed up that victory over the abbey by confining the abbot's liberty to the precincts of the abbey. (fn. 7)
The liberties also excluded Chester castle, the seat in turn of comital, palatine, and county government, (fn. 8) together with a small area in front of the castle gate, called Gloverstone from the stone marking the limit of the city's jurisdiction. Gloverstone's own boundaries were obliterated by the early 19th-century alterations at the castle. (fn. 9) Later in the 19th century there was a separate civil parish of Chester Castle, coincident in area with the castle precincts and Gloverstone. It was not part of the municipal and county borough of Chester, lying within Chester rural district until local government reorganization in 1974. (fn. 10)
On the south the liberties as defined in 1354 extended beyond the former limits of Chester hundred, taking in part of Lache to the south-west, (fn. 11) and part of Claverton to the south-east. (fn. 12)
The boundary of the liberties was long left undefined. Earl Ranulph III c. 1200 confirmed the citizens' rights 'in the city of Chester' without saying where the city ended, and Earl John in the 1230s granted them liberties as citizens, without saying where they were exercised. The earliest reference to the liberties as a definite geographical area was in Edward I's charter of 1300, which was concerned, among other matters, with pleas 'within the city and its liberty' and the powers of bailiffs 'within the liberty of the city'. (fn. 13) Perhaps because of doubts about the limits, in 1351 the citizens offered to pay not only to have their charters ratified but also to have the boundary of their franchise fixed. The chamberlain and justice of Chester perambulated the boundary in 1353 (fn. 14) and it was confirmed by the Black Prince's charter of 1354. (fn. 15)
The perambulation began in the south-east at Claverton ford on the Dee, and headed west by way of Heronbridge on the Chester-Eccleston road. (fn. 16) The whole of the southern boundary followed drainage ditches, known at least in part as the Great (or Grey, or Green) ditch, (fn. 17) to the Chester-Wrexham road and then along field boundaries and another ditch to Lache Lane. It passed through Lache to the Black pool, a creek or inlet of the Dee, which it followed north to the river. It then crossed the river, in the 14th century a broad tidal estuary, to the mouth of a stream which at one time had been known throughout its course as Flooker's brook. (fn. 18) The northern boundary of the liberty then followed the brook past Pool Bridge, Stone Bridge, and Bache pool; further east the brook was called Bishop's ditch, which led east then south to the Roman road east of Chester. The boundary followed the road as far east as the eastern boundary ditch of St. Giles's hospital, which it followed south to the Chester-Tarporley road, next following the road a short way to Sandy Lane. Following the lane under the cliff on the right bank of the Dee, then the river bank itself, the boundary returned to the starting point at Claverton ford.
The boundary was identical to that defined in 1354 when it was viewed by the mayor in 1540, with changes only in some of the landmarks and minor place-names. For example a lane now ran along the boundary from Lache Lane to the Black pool, while a gallows stood by Black pool further towards the Dee, giving that part of the creek the name of Gallows pool. On the north bank of the Dee the 16th-century name for the lowest reach of Flooker's brook was Port pool, and east of Bache pool it was called Newton brook. East of St. Giles's the boundary was marked by a merestone. (fn. 19) By 1573 the point where the boundary crossed the Chester-Wrexham road was known as Hangman's hill, though the gallows which had once stood there had been removed. (fn. 20)
By 1573 parts of the boundary were in danger of being lost or forgotten through the neglect of ditches and the diversion of Flooker's brook. (fn. 21) Perhaps because of the risk of obliteration, the boundary was viewed more regularly from the later 16th century than seems previously to have been the case, in 1594, 1621, 1635, 1652, 1675, and 1686, when the Assembly ordered that perambulations were to take place every seven years. (fn. 22) From 1635, if not earlier, dated boundary stones were set up wherever needed during the perambulation. They survived into the later 20th century or were recorded earlier for 1635, 1652, 1686, 1702, 1708, 1715, 1736, 1750, 1785, 1807, 1812, and 1814. (fn. 23) Later perambulations of the boundary, by then extended, were made in 1841, 1857, 1866, 1873, 1913 (Fig. 2), and 1972, the last occasion ahead of the incorporation of Chester into a much larger local government district. (fn. 24)
By the early 18th century the silting of the Dee estuary had made the course of the boundary across it uncertain. In 1713 Finchett's Gutter (the lower course of Flooker's brook below the Stone Bridge on Parkgate Road) was marked as the boundary between the liberties and Blacon, and in 1717 the Dee Navigation committee was ordered to make a new straight cut for part of it. (fn. 25) The later canalization of the river along the southern edge of the estuary and reclamation of land to its north led to the boundary's being pushed west to take in a triangular area formerly part of Blacon marsh. It was defined on the north by the old course of the river below Blacon Point and on the west by a line which ran straight north from the new cut at Saltney to Bumper's Lane, then waveringly north-west, all the while crossing fields laid out on reclaimed land. At its southern end the line was fixed in 1731, the date on a boundary stone set close to the Dee, but for the most part it ran through land permanently reclaimed only after a bank was raised in 1754, and was marked by stones set up by the parish of Hawarden (Flints.) in 1762 and the mayor of Chester in 1785. (fn. 26) It also formed the boundary between England and Wales.
Modern Boundary Extension
By the 1830s the built-up area along Foregate Street and Boughton continued beyond the liberties into Great Boughton township, while along Hoole Road only a short gap separated the city from the hamlet of Flookersbrook, which straddled the boundary between Hoole and Newton townships. In 1835 the municipal boundary was enlarged to coincide with the parliamentary boundary extension of 1832, taking in the contiguously built-up part of Great Boughton as far as the Tarvin Road canal bridge, Filkins Lane, and Heath Lane, but leaving Flookersbrook outside. (fn. 27) In 1836 the added area was brought under the local improvement and police Act. (fn. 28)
The arrival of the railways at Flookersbrook in the 1840s obliterated a long stretch of the city boundary, which lay directly under the extensive area of sidings and railway company buildings around the station. (fn. 29) To the south-west of Chester, the railway was also responsible for the growth of the industrial suburb of Saltney, which straddled the city and national boundary. (fn. 30) Although the parliamentary constituency of Chester was enlarged in 1868 from Newton, Hoole, Saltney, and Great Boughton townships, (fn. 31) the municipal boundary did not follow suit, and the constituency in any case was extended again well beyond the town and its suburbs in 1918. (fn. 32) When Chester became a county borough in 1889 its boundaries were thus unaltered from those of 1835 and fell well short of the actual built-up area in several directions. (fn. 33)
Two boundary disputes with the county which had their origins in the 18th century were resolved in 1898. The Acts of 1788 and 1807 which authorized the rebuilding of the castle had provided that any land within the liberties bought by the rebuilding commissioners should be deemed part of the county. (fn. 34) The area opposite the castle entrance used for the militia barracks, and various pieces of land in Lower Bridge Street and Grosvenor Street had thus passed out of the city of Chester and into the county's jurisdiction. Although some of the property had been sold off by the county authorities, and all of it paid city rates, its status remained doubtful until the county agreed to restore it to the city, except for a triangle between the south-west corner of the castle and Grosvenor Road. In a separate case, c. 100 a. on the western side of Chester, between the old bed of the Dee and Sealand Road, was claimed by both city and county. Although the boundary along the old bed had been perambulated as recently as 1873 and was marked by boundary stones, (fn. 35) the county and Blacon cum Crabwall civil parish had assessed the disputed area for rates, and it was agreed in 1897 to transfer it formally to Blacon. Both alterations came into effect in 1898, (fn. 36) reducing the area of the borough from 2,960 a. to 2,862 a. (fn. 37)
Suburban development immediately outside the borough boundary continued apace in the later 19th century and the early 20th, in Great Boughton, Newton, Upton, and especially Hoole, (fn. 38) where the boundary was difficult to trace through a maze of railway tracks and station buildings. (fn. 39)
In 1898 the city pressed unsuccessfully to incorporate the whole of Hoole urban district and parts of the civil parishes of Great Boughton, Newton, Saltney, and Sealand, the last two in Flintshire. (fn. 40) When the county borough boundary was eventually extended in 1936, Hoole remained independent and was indeed enlarged. (fn. 41) Newton civil parish was abolished and divided between Chester (153 a. on the west) and Hoole (288 a. on the east). Blacon cum Crabwall civil parish was also abolished and the greater part of it, 985 a., together with 8 a. in Little Saughall, was added to Chester in anticipation of a rapid growth of suburban housing there. Upton civil parish was unaffected. Elsewhere there were some additional but minor adjustments to the county borough. The boundary with Hoole was nudged north from the area of the station to a line which could be recognized on the ground, adding to Chester 47 a. which covered railway company property and the Chester Union workhouse. The city also gained 48 a. from Great Boughton which included a new housing estate south of Christleton Road, while the straight boundary of 1835 running from Sandy Lane to the Dee was kinked around the houses which had been built since then in Dee Banks. To the south the boundary was straightened at Heronbridge by taking 3 a. from Claverton, and extended to include 35 a. taken from Marlston cum Lache south of Lache Hall. As a result the area of the county borough was increased to 4,140 a. Hoole urban district, besides incorporating part of Newton, took 99 a. from the south end of Hoole Village civil parish, 11 a. from Guilden Sutton, and 5 a. from Great Boughton, so that its south-east boundary followed the Chester-Warrington railway line. Taking into account the loss to Chester, the urban district increased from 334 a. to 672 a.
In 1954 the Chester (Extension) Order dissolved Hoole urban district and incorporated most of it in Chester, omitting the rural 156 a. in the east, which were added to Hoole Village civil parish, and 18 a. at the hamlet of Piper's Ash, transferred to Guilden Sutton. Although the Order also added 22 a. from Upton to the county borough, (fn. 42) the greater part of Upton and Great Boughton were left out even though they had become increasingly suburban since the 1930s. (fn. 43) Likewise, East Saltney, a populous suburb of Chester across the Welsh border, remained outside the county borough. (fn. 44)
Under the 1972 Local Government Act Chester county borough and the rural districts of Chester and Tarvin were united in 1974 as Chester district, (fn. 45) stretching from the Mersey to the Shropshire border and including within one local government boundary, for the first time since the Middle Ages, the city, the castle, and all the continuously built-up area except for Saltney.
Chester's nine medieval parishes were not mapped until 1833, (fn. 46) but there is no reason to suppose that the boundaries as then defined were substantially different from those of 1200, by which date all the churches were in existence. The parishes of St. Michael, St. Olave, and St. Peter lay within the medieval walls, and St. Martin's almost entirely so. St. Bridget's was partly extramural but confined to the liberties. Holy Trinity and St. John's extended beyond the liberties, and St. Mary's and St. Oswald's far beyond them. The partly extramural detached portion of St. Martin's parish in the Crofts may originally have been the parish of a tenth church, St. Chad's, which had disappeared before the Reformation. (fn. 47)
The evolution of the parishes and the final shape of their boundaries have been plausibly explained as the successive subdivision of territories attached to the two oldest foundations, St. Oswald's and St. John's, as new churches were established from the 10th century onwards. (fn. 48)
St. Oswald's had the largest of the extramural parishes and perhaps also originally included all the area within the Roman walls except for the small part belonging to St. John's. In its final form, however, the intramural part was confined to the north of the walled town. St. Oswald's was the church associated with the minster (later abbey) of St. Werburgh, and its parish also included much of the community's landed estate around the city, both within the liberties and without. Within the liberties the parish covered 468 a.; in all it extended to 7,736 a. (fn. 49)
St. John's parish, by contrast, was mainly extramural, coinciding with the probable extent of an early estate east of the Roman fortress belonging to the minster church, namely the bishop's borough and 'Redcliff' in the north-east part of the liberties and a small part (91 a.) of Hoole township. (fn. 50) The part within the liberties covered 257 a.
The third large parish, St. Mary's, lay on both sides of the river. To the north it included an area between the Roman walls and the Dee. South of the river it took in all the liberties except for Earl's Eye and extended beyond them to Claverton and Marlston cum Lache townships. The parish also had a large detached portion north of Chester, covering the townships of Upton by Chester and Little Mollington, to which Moston and part of Chorlton townships were added in 1599. (fn. 51) Within the liberties St. Mary's extended to 1,444 a.; in all it covered 4,307 a.
St. Peter's, probably the oldest of the smaller parishes, lay entirely within the Roman walls and covered only 7 a. Its irregular but rectilinear boundaries seem to have followed property divisions, and included detached burgage plots on Eastgate Street. Its southern boundary followed lanes along the northern edge of a major Roman building.
St. Bridget's and St. Michael's parishes lay respectively west and east of Bridge Street in the southern part of the walled town, except that St. Michael's included some isolated burgage plots on the west side of the street. St. Michael's was entirely intramural and covered only 8 a., whereas St. Bridget's also had as a detached part the meadows of Earl's Eye south of the river and covered 163 a.
Holy Trinity had the largest parish within the walls, and beyond them included most of the Roodee, Blacon marsh, and the manor of Blacon, the last being outside the liberties. (fn. 52) The part within the liberties covered 394 a.; including Blacon the parish covered 1,348 a.
There were four extra-parochial enclaves in the city: the precinct of St. Werburgh's, which included the Kaleyards outside the city wall (18 a.); the castle, with Gloverstone (9 a.); St. John's hospital outside the Northgate, also known as Little St. John's (1 a.); and Spital Boughton, the precinct of St. Giles's hospital at Boughton (3 a.).
The parish boundaries were much altered in the 19th and 20th centuries. The site of new St. Bridget's church in Grosvenor Street, formerly within St. Martin's and St. Mary's parishes, was transferred to St. Bridget's after the church was consecrated in 1829. (fn. 53) The parishes of St. Michael and St. Olave were united in 1839, and those of St. Bridget and St. Martin in 1842. (fn. 54) New ecclesiastical districts were formed in the suburbs from the mid 19th century: Christ Church, Newtown; All Saints, Hoole; St. Paul's, Boughton; and Lache cum Saltney. (fn. 55)
In the 1880s the intramural boundaries of the older parishes were rationalized. Within the walls St. Peter's was enlarged, while St. Oswald's and St. Mary's became wholly extramural when parochial functions were transferred to new churches built in the suburbs north of the city and in Handbridge. (fn. 56) Further changes were made in 1960 when St. Peter's parish was again enlarged and Holy Trinity became wholly extramural, the city-centre church being replaced by one in Blacon. (fn. 57) In 1967 Little St. John's, which had acquired parochial functions, was united with St. Oswald's parish. (fn. 58) More significantly, under a Church Commissioners' Scheme of 1972 a united Chester parish for the central part of the city was created by merging the parishes of St. John, St. Oswald with Little St. John, Christ Church, St. Bridget with St. Martin, St. Peter, and St. Michael with St. Olave (fn. 59).That scheme left the outer suburbs in the independent parishes of Holy Trinity without the Walls (Blacon), Lache cum Saltney, St. Mary without the Walls (Handbridge), St. Paul (Boughton), and Hoole, to which a new parish for Plas Newton was added (by dividing Hoole parish) in 1982.
Until the 1460s the administrative subdivisions of the city for civil purposes were four quarters based on the four main streets. Other divisions for the outlying areas beyond the walls were added later. From the 1480s the divisions were generally called wards; nine existed by 1507–8 and in 1533 there were fifteen. (fn. 60) Although nine of them (not the nine of 1507–8) were named from the parish churches, they were based upon logical divisions of the street plan rather than parish boundaries and had clearly evolved from the original four quarters.
To the north, St. Oswald's ward covered Northgate Street from the Cross to the Stoups in the corn market; Cornmarket ward ran from there to Parsons Lane (later Princess Street); and Northgate ward from Parsons Lane to the northern walls, including the Crofts. Beyond the northern walls St. Thomas's ward took in all the extramural area.
In Bridge Street the west side from the Cross to Cuppin Lane formed St. Bridget's ward, the east side from the Cross to Pepper Street St. Michael's ward. South of Cuppin Lane and Pepper Street, Beastmarket ward covered both sides of Bridge Street as far as Castle Lane and St. Olave's Lane. South from there, everything west of Bridge Street and Handbridge was in St. Mary's ward, and everything to the east in St. Olave's ward.
Heading east from the Cross, the first part of Eastgate Street as far as Fleshmongers Lane (later Newgate Street) and St. Werburgh's Lane formed St. Peter's ward. The lanes themselves and the rest of the street as far as the Eastgate comprised Eastgate ward. Outside the walls St. John's ward covered Foregate Street as far as Love Lane, and St. Giles's ward covered the Bars and Boughton.
By the 1600s the number of wards had been reduced to twelve by the absorption of Cornmarket ward into St. Oswald's, Beastmarket ward into St. Olave's, and St. Peter's ward into Eastgate. The twelve continued until 1835, being adopted, for example, as the divisions of the city for the purposes of the local improvement and police Acts of 1762 and 1784. (fn. 61)
After municipal reform in 1835 the city was divided into five electoral wards radiating from the city centre: St. Oswald's north-east, Boughton east, St. John's southeast, St. Mary's south-west, and Trinity north-west. (fn. 62) Their boundaries were altered and a sixth ward, Newton, was added when the county borough was enlarged in 1936. Hoole urban district, created in 1894 with two wards, East and West, also had a new ward called Newton added in 1936. When the urban district was incorporated into the city in 1954 its wards and the existing city ward of Newton were recast as Hoole and Newton wards, the other five city wards being unchanged. (fn. 63) After local government reorganization in 1974 the area of the former county borough and its suburbs was divided into six county-council wards and 15 (increased in 1999 to 16) city-council wards. (fn. 64)