The Dart Champion's Cottage

In a quiet corner of Lancashire sits a house that only a few years ago spent it's 20th anniversary of dereliction. There are very few clues inside as to the history of the building itself but one thing is clearly for certain. Who lived in a house like this? A dart player did, and quite a successful one as far as local tournaments go. Trophies could be found all over the house, won at several iconic Lancashire pubs such as the Kings Arms in Ormskirk, where runners up badges were earned in 1983 and eventually league winners shields were brought home in 1987. 5-aside winners were achieved in 1991 at the Greyhound, which is another iconic pub over in Ormskirk. The name 'Tony Davies' inscribed on the trophy leads us to think this was a sporting man's legacy however one of the trophies states 'Individual Runner Up Ladies 1986' so this was clearly a darting-mad household. The final month on the calendar displays June 1999, and a creaky old barn lies outside in the overgrown gardens that gives clues to Horse-riding haven taken place on the land as well as some good old classic car maintenance. There was clearly a quaint family life here with chess boards left out alongside toys, ladies shoes and fashion catalogues. All in all a pretty nice rural life was led here. No dramas or hauntings to talk about, so I won't make anything up for the sake of it. Sometimes a place's story is best told through photos alone, and the stories are kept private in the memories of their relatives. Enjoy

Then & Now

ethelfeda

1900-2022

Ethelfleda Railway bridge ticket booth. The oldest crossing at Runcorn gap, the bridge opened officially to goods trains and pedestrians in 1869. Named after Ethelfleda the Queen of the Mercians of the late 9th century whose kingdom’s most northerly border was at Runcorn.

Originally a ticket booth was located on both sides of the River Mersey. On the Runcorn side the booth was located in Lord Street at the bottom of the access steps, and in Widnes at Viaduct street. In later years tickets were only sold on the Widnes side. Persons wishing to cross from Widnes to Runcorn purchased their tickets before they went onto the footpath but people coming in the other direction paid their fare after they had already crossed the bridge.

During the Second World War a sentry was posted on each side of the bridge. The sentries checked each person who crossed the bridge to ensure that no saboteurs accessed the bridge which carried such a vitally important railway link between Liverpool and the South.

The new Runcorn-Widnes bridge eventually provided pedestrian footpaths that would be free to use in 1961. Because of this, tolls for using the footpath were withdrawn in 1962 and staff who manned the booth were taken away from the bridge. However even though the new road bridge was available for the public to use, more people continued to use the railway bridge footpath. Most likely due to the feeling of suddenly getting a good deal!

Without a staff presence problems occurred on the Ethelfleda Bridge footpath including the throwing of stones and bottles by youths which caused a great deal of annoyance to householders in the West Bank district of Widnes. The wooden walkway had also started to perish and gaps had appeared, allowing pedestrians to catch a glimpse of the water below. British Railways were very keen to close the footpath and eventually the steps were demolished and the booth entrance bricked up to this day. There are still many residents including myself that never got to enjoy the experience of crossing the Ethelfleda and seeing her up close, who hope that one day the walkway will be restored.


We saved Borrows Bridge!

This little structure alongside the fields in Cheshire will now always be know as 'our bridge'. In September 2021 I woke up one day and walked across the beautiful route on the canal behind our house only to notice that a Homes England poster had been stapled to a telephone mast. On it was a notification of intent to survey this land for 'new' access to open up potential development in the fields beyond. Hours of paperwork and emails later the long journey began to save it from from potential damage or even demolition by building a two-lane replacement just yards away. Workmen came and went. Alarm bells were ringing for many months but eventually after Historic England agreed to visit the site and evaluated the application, the documents were handed over to the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport in February this year. Borrows Bridge and it's hand cranked crane and stop planks were built to James Brindley's design on the extension of the Bridgewater canal in 1770. They are now officially Grade II listed.

You can view my interview announcing the news here

Read the article on the story published in the Liverpool Echo here

To view the listing visit the Historic England website here

Manor Farm

The property which gave Manor Farm road and Manor Park in Runcorn its name. Originally part of the Brooke estate at Norton. It was one of two farms cultivating land where the Sandymoor houses are today, the other being Keckwickford Farm. It was on the north side of the Daresbury Expressway, just before the roundabout where the dual carriageway ends. The pictures show the farmhouse in 2017 just a year or so before it was demolished to make way for a small housing development. Only the barns survived, having been sold separately to the house and developed into accomodation around a decade before.

The property was unfortunately never listed, and as you can see the slate was removed from the roof by the final land owners, said to be the applicants for it's replacement with housing, allowing for the weather to take it's toll and bring the state of the house beyond repair. The only reason it survived demolition for so long was due to nesting birds and bats that were frequently found in it's loftspace. It became renowned in it's final years by explorers who admired it's 'wacky tacky' wallpaper. The coat of arms above the front windows were painted on by the 'Willets' family that use to farm there. The farmer George Willett was reportedly the last to live there, with the farmland having disappeared with the creation of Sandymoor in the late 80's / early 90's.

1970's - the last decades of the farm in operation

1960-2017

2017-2021

Cheshire Day 2022

To celebrate National Cheshire Day 2022 here are three of my favourite spots in the county that I call home.

Halton Castle. Which was first built in 1071 as a motte and bailey castle, and rebuilt in the 13th century in local sandstone. It's purpose was to oversee the passage of the River Mersey estuary from Halton Hill near Runcorn and was besieged twice in the civil war. A courthouse was added in the 18th century to sentence and house vagrants from across North Cheshire and it is this building that's now a public house, playing host to without doubt one of, if not the best the best pub garden in the country. One of the highest points in the county, it's easy to see why a castle was built here, providing views of Liverpool, Lancashire, Manchester and the rest of Cheshire up to 40 miles away.

Lewis Carroll Centenary Woods, dedicated in lasting memory to the Alice in Wonderland author who was born here in Daresbury in 1832. These beautiful rolling Cheshire fields were without doubt a huge influence to his novels. You can easily imagine the Cheshire cat hanging from this curling branch as you pass by. It's one of my favourite places in the world

The historic crossroads in Vale Royal, one of the most central points of the county. There are two rare vintage iron signposts here and a red postbox in the middle of the lane. Before the invention of the car, country roads would have been much more primitive and Cheshire was known for it's secluded rural villages. Some such as this in Budworth Heath still show very few signs of the modern world. With the A559 only a quarter mile away, this quiet lane would only ever typically be visited through the centuries by local travellers on their way to and from Knutsford, hence the name of the road.

To read more about Cheshire Day click here

The Crooked Beauty

One of the most jaw dropping buildings you'll see anywhere in Britain. This photograph isn't doctored, it really is that wonky. Starting in 1504 it took just over a century to complete this fairytale mansion. Due to sitting on a natural bog surrounded by an ornamental moat, the timber eventually warped and sank under the weight of it's whopping 200 tonne roof tiles and fashionable extensions that would make a modern day architect weep. Amazingly it is still 100% structurally sound thanks to extensive preservation works, and due to the crippling financial fate of the Moreton family it quietly lived through the influential Georgian & Victorian eras under tenancy of working class farmers. As a result Little Moreton Hall is almost entirely unaltered and is one of the most original surviving Tudor buildings in existence.

Then & Now

2015 - 2021. Worsley new hall's walled garden, Greater Manchester. Shot during the end of a long stint of dereliction before it was extensively restored into RHS's newest gardens, taking on the name 'Bridgewater' from the estates original owner. The Duke of Bridgewater is best known for building Britain's first inland navigation - the canal of the same name which runs adjacent to the site. The furnace in the distance once used coal from the Duke's own local quarries to heat the walls of the garden, allowing for exotic non-native plants to be grown.

The Duke Of Bridgewater, Francis Egerton was not entirely over-joyed with his new Estate at Worsley and he was recorded as describing the area as “a God-forsaken place, full of drunken, rude people with deplorable morals.” Nonetheless, he commenced with a new building project to create a new country seat. He decided to replace Brick Hall, which was built in the eighteenth century, with Worsley New Hall. The foundations for the New Hall were laid in 1839 and the Gothic-revival building was completed in 1846. Below is a comparison between the entrances of the gates in 1905 compared to now, showing what was once known as 'church lodge' guarding the entrance to the estate as per tradition.

At the same time Egerton began to plan his new country house, he also redeveloped the gardens and grounds of his Worsley Estate. Edward Blore (1787 – 1879), the architect who designed Worsley New Hall, was also commissioned to design a gardener’s cottage in a sympathetic Gothic-style to the architecture of the main house. Blore was a leading architect of the early-nineteenth century and he was perhaps most famous for his restoration of Lambeth Palace and the completion of Buckingham Palace. There is some debate over the age of the head gardener’s cottage. It was originally presumed the cottage was completed in 1834, however more recent archival research by the Archaeological team at the University of Salford has determined that the cottage was more likely constructed around 1840, and this ties in more with the construction of the New Hall itself. The first gardener to occupy the cottage was Peter Clare lived there with his wife, Alice and it survived along with the estate as it progressed through generations right up until the first world war when it was vital to the running of the estate and to the war effort, as they supplied the Red Cross hospital which had been set up in the Hall. This period of use sadly resulted in a fire breaking out, leading to it's inevitable demolition. No trace of it exists now, leaving the gardeners cottage as one of the only clues to what the main hall would have looked like to this day. The image shows the cottage in 1905 compared to now at the recently opened RHS Bridgewater.

Northern Monument 35

Whitby Abbey, a 7th-century Christian monastery that later became a Benedictine abbey, situated overlooking the North Sea on the East Cliff above Whitby in North Yorkshire. Once the centre of the medieval Northumbrian kingdom, the Abbey and its possessions were confiscated by the crown under Henry VIII during the Dissolution of the Monasteries between 1536 and 1545, and the ruins of the Abbey have continued to be used by sailors as a landmark at the headland ever since. It has also long since the Victorian era been associated with the inspiration for Dracula; Bram Stoker's 1897 novel featured Count Dracula as a creature resembling a large dog which came ashore at the headland and runs up the 199 steps to the graveyard of St Mary's Church in the shadow of the Abbey ruins. The Gothic literature of the time was set in foreign lands full of eerie castles, convents and caves. Whitby’s windswept headland, the dramatic abbey ruins, a church surrounded by swooping bats, and a long association with jet – a semi-precious stone used in mourning jewellery – earnt this spot on the Northern coastline a fitting association with the story.

Then & Now

1890-2020. Preston Brook north tunnel, the Toll House. After approaching the Trent & Mersey canal to or from Runcorn laden with goods and materials, barges would need to pass through several tunnels in order to pass the rolling Cheshire landscape on their way to or from the Midlands. This toll house was one of at least two that I know of in the village, tasked with charging each canal boat as it passed though. Beyond the tunnel lies the first set of locks where the water would by all accounts be 'owned' by another canal company which at the time of the photograph was the North Staffordshire Railway Company. At this point shown the water is still shared with the Bridgewater canal, and the giving and taking of water at the meeting of the two canals was extremely regimented. There was no tow path through the 1239 yard tunnel, so the horses were detached from the boat and lead to the south portal along the lane directly above the tunnel known as 'tunnel end', while two of the crew or paid men passed the barge through the dark tunnel by lying on planks positioned near the front of the barge and pushed with their legs all the way to the other end. It was a strenuous and time consuming job that often resulted in long queues at either side. These bottlenecks eventually became part of the driving force behind the need for the Anderton boat lift, which allowed a much quicker route from Northwich to the Mersey. It would have been in operation for a few decades by the time of the first image, drastically reducing traffic through the tunnel. Before this time it would have been unlikely to get this photograph without a waiting barge during daylight hours. The Toll House would eventually see it's purpose begin to diminish with the introduction of engine powered barges that removed the need for workers to escort them through the tunnel, but by this time the industry had already started to die down. The railways and ship canal had drastically improved both the volume and speed of goods travel across the region and eventually the tolls would no longer provide bountiful profits for the canal owners. The structure reportedly still existed in the 1980's although it goes without saying that modern amenities would have been almost non existent and it's unlikely to have been lived in until it was demolished, leaving the bridge itself giving almost no hint of a toll house ever existing at all.

The second image shows the view from the south portal of the tunnel after passing through the entrance in the first photograph. Having now passed through, the canal boat here is heading towards lock 76 on the Trent & Mersey canal known as Dutton stop lock. The cottages above remain largely unchanged in more than a century, but the towpath has seen significant improvement in the years since the canal was repurposed for pleasure boats and the path primarily used by pedestrians.

Then & Now

1967-2021 Norton Priory. In the years following the moment when the Brooke family left the house in 1921, the house was almost completely demolished in 1928 yet the undercroft was retained and roofed with a cap of concrete. In 1966 the current Sir Richard Brooke gave Norton Priory in trust for the benefit of the public. The original black and white photos were a document of the state of the site following hand a century of dereliction. Four years later in 1971 J. Patrick Greene was given a contract to carry out a six-month excavation for Runcorn Development Corporation as part of a plan to develop a park in the centre of Runcorn New Town. What followed would eventually become the most extensively excavated monastic site in Europe, with one of the UK's most iconic museums and gardens at it's heart. The first image shows the 12th century grade I listed medieval undercroft, the last surviving section above ground of both the original priory and the subsequent house of the same name. The undercroft was left open to the elements for many years until it was later sympathetically restored and the museum built around it for permanent protection. The second image shows the summer house or 'garden loggia', a grade II listed structure in yellow sandstone, possibly designed by James Wyatt in the late 18th century. Situated in the Brookes family gardens, having been left open to the elements for half a century. Nature had all but consumed the structure until it was later re-landscaped.

Porcelain

These picturesque ruins of a porcelain works on the north coast of Wales once produced porcelain from deposits of china clay found on the head of the cliff. The site closed in 1920 after being damaged by fire, adding to the list of historic ruins here that include the remains of an ancient church, and the remains of an Iron Age settlement on the headland above the works. Nowadays only those on the coastal path will ever come across this site, as the road to the works was eventually reclaimed by nature.

Planes, Trains and Automobiles

The Silver Jubilee road bridge c1961, an Airbus A319 en route to Liverpool Airport, and the Ethelfleda Railway Bridge c1868. For many decades this has been the central artery of the River Mersey at Runcorn gap where all modes of transport meet. The only thing missing here is a ship on the canal in the distance, which would take some serious luck and planning.

Northern Monument 34

Situated deep in the moors off an ancient Roman road known as 'The Street' is St Joseph's shrine. When the Goyt Valley was a flourishing community in the mid 1800's, the shrine was a popular destination for people seeking a peaceful place to pray. Now the villages and farms of the valley are long gone; vanished with the advent of the 20th century reservoirs of Fernilee and Errwood, leaving the monument now isolated and forlorn amongst the pine trees.

9/11 - Two Decades On

20 years ago to the day I remember vividly the moment I became aware of the events unfolding in Manhattan. At 12 years old I was in the early years of high school, and it was quarter past 3 in the afternoon in the UK. I'd arrived home and put my bike against the garage before peering in through the window to say hi to my Mum who was usually always busy doing something on any normal day, but she was on the edge of the sofa pointing and telling me to look at the TV screen. For the next few minutes I just stared in silence through the glass. By this time the second tower was billowing smoke and those images would only get worse as I eventually made my way inside. At such a young age I was incredibly impressionable, having grown up on American media during the 90's it felt personal despite being more than three thousand miles away. As the events unfolded, whether I liked it or not an anger boiled up inside me that I couldn't quite explain. Having a comfortable, trauma-free upbringing in a place that never brought any struggles I had no reason to hold any social grudges or retaliate against anything that threatened my way of life. Suddenly that changed not only in me but in my friends and those around me. Two decades on, I am sceptical as to whether or not my reaction was a natural one. Whether or not it was sculpted by western media or exaggerated by our own personal background, we simply detested the idea of what had attacked us from afar. We became angry, and that anger would bubble away inside me for several years as a young teenager. The images on TV fairly quickly turned to the villainous footage of those identified as responsible for what happened in New York, and as young teenagers we felt as though there was a Muslim culture brewing on the other side of the world that threatened everything about what we previously felt was a safe future.

Unlike some people of my age around the country, I came from a predominantly non-multicultural background, so it was unfortunate that my first experience with this culture was a negative one. My hatred turned into curiosity and through no real intention I suddenly found myself getting full marks in religious studies classes concerning this 'new found' culture that was suddenly on the news and a topic of conversation wherever I went. In hindsight I realise these classes were more than likely put there to make us understand the culture so that we wouldn't automatically vilify it. Either way, September 11th 2001 stayed with me for many years. I remember creating an art piece I put together depicting the events alongside a written piece in memory of the victims, which my teachers decided should be spoken out in front of the entire year in the assembly hall. Not my calmest of moments, but looking back it was clear that should I have been 10 years older I'd have been the ideal recruit for the forces heading into the middle east. Those men were likely no different to me, but simply had the misfortune to be born earlier. They had the passion, the patriotism and the anger built up inside of them with the will to bring peace and normality back to our lives. We now know many of them never returned home, and only became statistics in a campaign that almost exactly 20 years on achieved very little. Unlike me, they never had two decades to come to terms with what happened that day and detach themselves from the outrage that our leaders fed to us in order to justify an unjustifiable war. Churned up into political motivation and sparking intense cultural divide. It's quite surreal to know how much time has passed since that day, and to reflect on how it impacted the world around us. 2,977 people will never get that luxury, but they will never be forgotten.

Then & Now

1901 - 2021 Hilbre Island Lifeguard station. Lifeboats were stationed on Hilbre Island from 1848 to 1938, and were crewed by Hoylake volunteers who could launch at any state of tide. Pictured with her crew is the ‘Admiral Briggs’ (1895-1914), which saved 16 lives during her service on Hilbre. Isolated and without electricity or running water, the crew would wait by the open fire for a signal to head out on a rescue mission. During WW2 the island was chosen to install defensive measures and personnel against a possible invasion by water, and although they were never put into action, the station would not reopen after the war ended. With a new station on the north parade of the Wirral taking its place today. If you can time it right with the tides, you can still make the walk from the mainland, and the original stone lifeboat station with its slipway leading towards the Irish sea can still be seen today, battered by more than 80 years of weather after being left to the elements.

Then & Now

1960-2021. Castle Park House, Frodsham Cheshire. A former country house surrounded by extensive grounds that originates from the late 18th century, when it was built on the ruins of Frodsham Castle which burnt down in 1654. Sadly there are no image records of the original house, as it was extended in the 1850s, and its gardens were laid out by Edward Kemp. This image was taken after passing through many families when the house came to be used as offices by Runcorn Rural District Council until it was refurbished thanks to the heritage lottery fund in 2006. It now holds the archives of the Frodsham and District Local History Group, and the house and most of the park land is now held subject to the terms of the Castle Park charitable Trust.

Northern Monument #33

Castell Dinas Brân, a truly ancient corner of Britain. Roughly translated as the "crow's fortress" or "fortress of Brân", it has occupied this steep hill in the Vale of Llangollen since at least the Iron Age and possibly as far back as the 9th century. The early fortifications have largely been obliterated by a medieval castle built in the mid-thirteenth century by Gruffudd Maelor, who inherited the land and built the castle most likely in the place of a Royal Palace or Hall that preceded it.

Gruffudd Maelor died not long after the construction in 1269 and the castle passed to his son of the same name. He supported the Welsh cause during the First War of Welsh Independence. Dinas Bran's power did not go unnoticed by English forces. In 1277, during Edward I's venture into Wales, the Earl of Lincoln, Henry de Lacy, besieged the castle. The Welsh lord of Dinas Bran was forced to submit to the invading army, which promptly set the site afire, completely destroying it.

Though De Lacy exclaimed to the King that here was no greater castle in England nor Wales, Edward was not impressed and it was never restored. The hill was fortified on occasion by both kingdoms during small scale conflicts, but all accounts from the centuries that followed tell tales of travelers noting its ruinous state upon the hill serving merely as a viewpoint across the valley, with one of Henry VIII's chroniclers claiming that the only living being willing to inhabit the castle ruins was the eagle who returned each year to breed. The king would come to pass Acts of Union in 1707 extending English laws and norms into Wales. This was the first major political union in what would become the United Kingdom, and signalled the end of the need for defensive castles and fortifications across the Isles.

The poet William Wordsworth would eventually visit Dinas Brân, perfectly putting it into words;

"Relics of kings, wreck of forgotten wars, To the winds abandoned and the prying stars."

Dutton Sluice

Demonstrating the best of British: Dutton Sluice, built as part of the Weaver Navigation Improvement of 1874. Red and cream sandstone from the Cheshire quarries of Runcorn. Cast iron sluice-gates from foundry's in Paisley Scotland, blown glass lanterns from St helens, and segmental iron arches and walkways from iron works in Ellesmere Port. A culmination of efforts to control the flow of a once-natural waterway, with the goal being to allow seaworthy ships to transport valuable salt minerals from Northwich in Cheshire to Liverpool in Lancashire. Those men involved won't have known it at time, but they were operating at the peak of British industrialisation. An era that would continue beyond the Victorians only to eventually be irreversibly stopped in its tracks by the Great War.

Castell Beaumaris

Inside one of the north turrets of Beaumaris castle, an unfinished 'concentric' symmetrical fort that dates way back to 1295 when its construction began as part of Edward I's campaign to conquer north Wales. He was hell-bent on conquering - so much so that he got distracted and started to invade Scotland and never managed to finish building it. Despite never fulfilling its original design, it's location overlooking the eastern entrance of the Menai Strait meant that it continued to hold significant strategic purpose, and it passed through the hands of the English and the Welsh many times over the centuries until peace finally came and it was declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1986.

Greenfield Mill

Melin Maes Glas (Greenfield Mill) established in 1776, known locally as the battery works. It was the business of Thomas Williams of Anglesey, dubbed as the 'copper king' who sent copper ore from his mines on the island to Ravenhead in St helens to be smelted, and in ingot form to Greenfield to be worked into goods under the heavy tilting battery hammers. The wheel pits are still visible where the waterwheels turned to move the hammers and left marks on the brickwork. He patented a process to produce copper bolts for ships hulls, and built a rolling mill for the production of copper rollers for printing onto cloth and to produce thin sheets of copper. At its peak this became a huge operation, extending into a brass foundry and battery mill, until by the early 1800's supplies of cheap ore from Anglesey were becoming depleted and the ships and barges using the River Dee to traverse the north coast of Wales found it increasingly hard to supply Greenfield Wharf due to changes in the shipping channel. It eventually closed in 1847 and found several industrial uses as small scale metalworks for the next century before becoming a coal yard and eventually falling into the hands of the local council in the 1970's who have since preserved it as a site of valuable local heritage.