March 30 marks the date the county was given its own Charter of Liberties by King Edward I in 1300 — in effect its very own Magna Carta.

Wiley Cheshire had managed to agree its own, separate charter to the 1215 document, designed to prevent the king from exploiting his power, thanks to Ranulf le Meschin, the hard-bargaining, third Earl of Chester. And, while the exact date is subject to some debate, it reflects the long history of Cheshire as a place of national status.

What’s more, it demonstrates how Cheshire has a history of doing things differently.

For example, Chester may have been founded by the Roman soldiers of the Legion II in 74AD, but it was Aethelflaed, Alfred the Great’s daughter, who was secured the city’s future when she founded the burh, or defended settlement, in 907AD. Like many of the strong female characters from local history, her story remains lesser known — yet it’s integral to the heritage of our region.

“We always talk about the important men from history but often forget to credit the strong female role models,” says Isabel Robertson, who leads the Women of Chester tour.

“Cheshire is increasingly recognising its girl-powered history but there are still more stories to tell, such as Francis Wilbraham, who set up a Nightingale ward in the Grosvenor Park during the 1866 cholera epidemic and whose all-female workforce risked their own lives to save others.”

TAKE A VIEW

In other ways, too, Cheshire does things differently.

From the widescreen views towards the Welsh mountains from medieval Beeston Castle to the bucolic village byroads around Tarporley, Tarvin and Kelsall, Cheshire has always punched above its weight in terms of picture-postcard aesthetics.

Beeston Castle

Chester was even named “the most beautiful city in the world” in 2022, beating Venice to the top spot, for having the highest percentage of buildings that align with the golden ratio – the mathematical ratio of proportions said to be a barometer of beauty. The aesthetic perfection of the golden ratio can also be found in Le Corbusier’s buildings and Leonardo da Vinci’s artworks.

It’s no wonder, therefore, that Chester’s Rows building at The Cross featured on the 7p postage stamps for the European Architectural Heritage Year 1975 alongside the likes of Charlotte Square, Edinburgh and the Royal Observatory, Greenwich.

MELTING POT

Cheshire, too, is a melting pot of cultures, historically drawing on its sandstone geology to fuel salt-mining and dairy-farming industries, while Roman Chester’s port ensured traders turned the Dee port into a cosmopolitan hub, a tradition that lasted into the Tudor period.

Anderton Boat Lift

Come the Industrial Revolution, Cheshire also blazed a trail. The Anderton Boat Lift remains a living testament to the industrial age, the 1875-built Cathedral of the Canals still a major landmark. When Charles Roe opened Macclesfield’s first silk-throwing (hand-twisting) mill in 1743, it led to a textile boom. Macclesfield boasted 71 mill factories at its peak, earning it the moniker of Silk Town. The Paradise Mill, a Grade II-listed weaving mill from 1862, recently re-opened as a heritage attraction.

Macclesfield Silk Museum

The Grand Junction Railway Company put Crewe on the map at the height of the Victorian railway boom with the Crewe Works completing its first train in 1843. Crewe went on to produce over 8,000 locomotives and the Crewe Heritage Centre now celebrates 185 years of rail heritage.

The region also continued to forge new paths in the 20th century with George Mottershead’s 1930s vision for a “zoo without bars” — still Chester’s number one-rated attraction on TripAdvisor. And, when Sir Bernard Lovell founded the Jodrell Bank Observatory in 1945, he couldn’t have imagined an upcoming role in the Cold War space race. The scientific, heritage and cultural importance of Jodrell Bank was finally recognised in 2019 when it was awarded Unesco World Heritage status.

Jodrell Bank

WALKING TRAIL

The Cheshire countryside, meanwhile, continues to inspire to this day.

The Sandstone Trail rises above the Cheshire Plain and now extends some 34 miles, running from northerly Frodsham to Whitchurch in the south. One of Britains first middle-distance trails, it was opened in 1974 and extended in the Nineties. After the Local Government Act 1972 changed Cheshire’s boundaries, The Sandstone Ridge, along which the Sandstone Trail runs, became the backbone of Cheshire’s new geography. The Ridge was shortlisted in 2021 for designation as an Area of Outstanding National Beauty (since renamed National Landscapes).

“I remember as a teenager walking past the red-sandstone outcrops along the escarpment beyond Rawhead towards Gallantry Bank and thinking it was Cheshire’s answer to the Grand Canyon,” says Paul Hyde, formerly Heritage Interpretation Officer for Chester.

It’s these points of difference that we in Cheshire celebrate today. A place that the local author Alan Garner describes perfectly in the Weirdstone of Brisingamen (1960): “The Cheshire plain spread before them like a green and yellow patchwork quilt dotted with toy farms and houses … the country rose in folds and wrinkles until it joined the bulk of the Pennines, which loomed eight miles away through the haze.”

* The Women of Chester tour is available to book via the Tourist Information Centre in Chester.

David Atkinson is a freelance writer and Green Badge Tourist Guide to Chester. He leads the Dark Chester tour, nominated for the Marketing Cheshire Awards Tourism Experience of the Year 2024. More: atkinsondavid.com.

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