In his surprising discoveries in deepest Cheshire, James Ruddy from Trip Reporter reveals that Cheshire is far more than trendy villages packed with soccer millionnaires, tudor mansions, Freisian cattle and 'Roman' Chester.

Chester Roman gardens (picture: Chester BID)

Little wonder so many Irish families flocked to the back-breaking salt mines, textile mills and canal digging sites of bygone Cheshire.

There was work aplenty for men – and women - prepared to endure the danger and exhaustion of jobs that killed plenty and crippled many more in accidents - and in conditions that would be utterly illegal today.

Two centuries ago starving broods from as far afield as Donegal and Dublin could find plenty of painstaking toil in silk centres, like Macclesfield, in the east of the county — even for their five-year-olds, who would employ their delicate fingers for many hours a day refining the valuable threads.

Further west, around Northwich, was the geological miracle of priceless underground salt reserves that greedy mine owners turned into a living nightmare of subsiding houses and sinkholes for their workers who had to dig ever-more extraction shafts.

Even in quaint and affluent ‘Roman’ Chester, Irish connections abound, most notably in the grandiose 1869 Victorian Gothic Town Hall, which was designed by Co. Down architect William Lynn, went hugely over budget and was opened by Queen Victoria’s son, Prince Edward (who later became King), and Prime Minister William Gladstone.

On a less imposing note, the nearby Irish pub, the 19th century Dublin Packet, is named after the boat which regularly sailed from Dublin up the River Dee, before the waterway silted up. Its most famous landlord was Everton’s greatest-ever player, Dixie Dean, who played for England and towards the end of his pre-war career turned out for Sligo Rovers.

It was Irish linen imports — in the 1780s over 3000 miles a year were being brought in by ship — which attracted the skilled Irish weavers to Chester, as well as many of their many unskilled friends and relatives who worked on the local farms and roads.

The Chester Irish were scattered across the city in the 19th century but the main ‘ghetto’ was around since-demolished Steven Street, with 467 residents in one census, which has been described as ‘poor, riotous, tight-knit and happy.’

Among them were some who became locally lauded, like war hero Sergeant Thomas Heaney, who was Chester-born to Irish parents and lived on the street with his Irish wife Catherine.

His name is inscribed on the Town Hall War Memorial, as he enlisted in the First World War and fought valiantly in France, before returning in 1918 with trench fever, from which he soon died and was buried with full military honours.

His son, James, who had enlisted with him, survived the awful Gallipoli campaign, and returned to join his widowed mother, who managed, singlehandedly, to bring up all seven children - one of whom even became Mayor of Chester.

A nibbling deer at Tatton Park (picture: Sue Mountjoy)A nibbling deer at Tatton Park (picture: Sue Mountjoy)

Such fascinating facts emerged as I spent a few days spent ambling around Cheshire and Chester, which are bursting at the seams with great museums and eateries, glamorous shops and fine hotels, from the most tranquil of rural idylls, like Wychwood Park, to the liveliest of city centre places, like Chester’s Macdonald New Blossoms.

Of course, if retail therapy is your thing, then you might like to try the well-stocked charity shops in the ‘millionaires’ triangle’ (Wilmslow, Prestbury, Alderley Edge and Knutsford) which are often stuffed with the unwanted designer-wear of the local rich and famous (think Manchester City and United glitterati).

I picked up many a bargain there a few years ago when I lived in nearby Poynton – where I once narrowly avoided a head-on collision with Wayne Rooney on a sharp country bend.

River Dee at Chester (picture: Sue Mountjoy)

On a more cultural note, you might fancy a walk up the steep sandstone hill to medieval Beeston castle, which has rewarding views over the Cheshire Plain to the one-time warring tribespeople of Wales. A long siege there during the English Civil War ended after the starving defenders resorted to eating the castle cats.

A short drive away took my partner and photographer Sue Mountjoy and me to the fascinating Lion Salt Works, where 19th century men toiled in creaky buildings to produce the precious crystals which were boiled in giant vats and sent across the Empire for huge profits.

Tatton Park, on the other hand, took us on a leisurely tour of the vast estate, where you could spend a whole day at the mansion, medieval manor house, working farm and gardens. Don’t get as close as I did to the inquisitive deer though!

With Putin making us wonder if we might need to dig a big concrete hole in the back garden, the Hack Green Secret Nuclear Bunker was our next quirky call. It used to be the region’s Cold War nuclear operations centre, where ‘the lucky few’ top politicians and civil servants would survive an attack living on tinned food, filtered air and dodgy water as they plotted the future – if there was one!

Of course we couldn’t visit Chester without a wander along the two-miles of restored Roman walls, the 11th century cathedral (you can see Wales from the top), the excavated Roman amphitheatre and the relatively new Storyhouse, which houses a theatre, cinema, library and a yummy Eastern Med brasserie.

Of course, Chester is often packed when there is a meeting at its Racecourse, the oldest working course in the UK. Known as the Roodee, it was established by Sir henry Gee in the 16th century and, apparently, is where the term ‘gee-gees’ was first coined.

Further afield we studied the Irish navvies’ living conditions at the historic National Waterways Museum, at Ellesmere Port, Chester Zoo, the Silk Museum, and, for stargazers, Jodrell Bank, with its range of talks and Dome Shows, both at Macclesfield.

The Pheasant Inn, Cheshire

The Pheasant Inn (picture: Sue Mountjoy)

Related

Chester Visitor Information Centre
Tourist Information Centre
Chester Visitor Information Centre

**Please note that the Visitor Information Centre will be closed on 26th & 27th February 2024**

Macclesfield
Cheshire Peak District
Barnaby festival 2010 photo competition winner

Macclesfield is perfectly placed to enjoy a weekend break in the Peak District. Within minutes of the town centre you can escape to the Peak District National Park and enjoy spectacular views across Cheshire.

Northwich
Town
Northwich Artisan Market Crowds and Stalls

With a rich, varied history and close ties to the salt industry, Northwich is a thriving market town nestled in the heart of Cheshire.

The Dublin Packet
Pub/Inn
Dublin Packet

Traditional pub situated right in the heart of the city centre. Real Ale, lunch, coffee and drinks.

The River Dee
Natural Feature
The River Dee

The river is 70 miles long and stretches through Wales and Chester. On the bank of the river is the 'Groves', a paved promenade complete with bandstand, cafés, restaurants and public houses.

Tatton Park
Historic House / Palace
Daffodils in the Parkland at Tatton Park

Tatton Park’s ancient Parkland is just waiting to be explored.

Macdonald New Blossoms Hotel
Hotel
A suite at Macdonald New Blossoms Hotel, Chester

Find Chester’s historic city centre on your doorstep when staying in New Blossoms, with elegant tradition and contemporary comfort in which to return to after time spent exploring famous Roman and medieval landmarks or enjoying some retail therapy.

Wychwood Park Hotel and Golf Club
Hotel
Wychwood Park Hotel - Exterior

Set in the beautiful Cheshire countryside and surrounded by landscaped grounds, Wychwood Park is a stylish and modern conference venue and hotel.

Wilmslow
Cheshire Peak District
Wilmslow

Wilmslow is a shopper’s paradise. From designer boutiques and upmarket interior designers, to chic charity shops and Hoopers department store, Wilmslow is a small place with a big attitude.

Prestbury
Cheshire Peak District
c. David Holt

Sitting in sight of the Pennine foothills astride the River Bollin, pretty Prestbury dates to Anglo Saxon times. Its original name was Preosta burgh meaning the borough or dwelling of the priests.

Alderley Edge
Cheshire Peak District
alderley edge

The picturesque village of Alderley Edge sits in the east of Cheshire and offers a fabulous range of shops, cafes, restaurants and bars. Famed for being home to the rich and famous it’s known as the Champagne capital of Britain.

Knutsford
Cheshire Peak District
Gaskell memorial tower in Knutsford

If you are visiting Cheshire, do not overlook this quaint and quirky market town.  Conveniently situated just off the M6 (its more than its motorway services) it is an ideal town for a day or weekend visit.

Poynton
Cheshire Peak District
Poynton

Poynton nestles in the foothills of the Peak District National Park and is a perfect base for exploring the Cheshire countryside.

Beeston Castle and Woodland Park
Heritage / Visitor Centre
Beeston Castle and Bridge - English Heritage

Set 350 feet above the Cheshire Plain on the sheer rocky crags Beeston Castle is a magical site with something for everyone.

Lion Salt Works
Heritage / Visitor Centre
Lion Salt Works

Cheshire’s salt – the precious mineral on which this county sits – has been prized since Roman times.

Hack Green Secret Nuclear Bunker
Museum
Hack Green Secret Nuclear Bunker

Discover the secret underground world of government. How would you survive a nuclear attack?

Chester Cathedral
Cathedral / Minister
Chester Cathedral

Chester Cathedral is many things to many people: a vibrant community of worship, an ancient abbey, an archaeological treasure, a cultural hub, a centre of musical excellence, a unique blend of modern and medieval history.

Chester Racecourse
Event Venue
Race fixtures throughout the year at Chester Racecourse

Chester Racecourse is the oldest Racecourse in Britain & the oldest in the world still in operation.

Storyhouse
Library
The Art Deco exterior of Storyhouse

​​​​​​​Storyhouse is Chester’s multi award-winning £37m theatre, library, restaurant and cinema.

National Waterways Museum
Museum
National Waterways Museum

Unlock the wonders of our waterways at National Waterways Museum, Ellesmere Port.

Silk Museum
Museum
Paradise Mill Looms, Macclesfield

Join an Up Close Tour of the Silk Museum where our expert guides look at all aspects of Mill life and silk production, the inspiring Pattern Books and the beauty of the textiles to the global phenomenon of silk.

Jodrell Bank
Heritage / Visitor Centre
Jodrell Bank, Cheshire

Jodrell Bank is an amazing, unique, and awe-inspiring place. A world-leading deep-space radio observatory, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and an award-winning national visitor attraction.

The Chester Tour
Walking Tour
Discover more about Chester on a Chester Tour

Be enthralled by the tales and anecdotes of those who have contributed to the rich heritage of this much-loved city, beginning in Roman times, through the vibrant Medieval expansion period, the desperation of the Civil War, the Georgian elegance and the Victorian revival, right up to the present day.

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