The early modern period in west Cheshire (AD c 1600-1800)



Chester acquired an important strategic role during the Civil War of the 1640s, enduring a siege from 1644 to 1646. The city held out for the King in a county that was predominantly Parliamentarian, but eventually capitulated. Economic recovery after the Restoration in 1660 was rapid, although the city's population growth over the next 150 years fell below the national average. During the eighteenth century, Liverpool finally eclipsed Chester as a port, largely because of the latter's failure to expand. Even so, it remained an important stopover on the route to and from Ireland until the railways arrived in the mid-nineteenth century. The city grew as a service centre while its walls, restored early in the eighteenth century, and the growing recognition of its Rows as unique monuments helped to create a thriving tourist industry.

One of the characteristics of this period is the so-called ‘great rebuilding’ that followed the Civil War. Many new timber-framed buildings were constructed at this time, resulting in large numbers of surviving buildings of this period and correspondingly fewer of the Transitional period.

The military history of this period is dominated by the Civil Wars of the 1640s. In military terms, the city of Chester was an important Royalist stronghold, and various outworks were added to the medieval defensive system when the threat of siege first developed. These defences were modified to take in a smaller area when their length proved impossible to patrol effectively.

The second major site of the period is Beeston Castle. Having been a medieval stronghold, the castle was pressed into service during the Civil War as a Royalist outpost which, like the city of Chester, was besieged before capitulating to the Parliamentary army. This was effectively the end of the site's occupation, as the defences were slighted following its capture.

Three Civil War battlefields are located in the district, at Tilston, Oldcastle and Rowton. The records have not tended to show the effect of the wars on villages, apart from minor incidents. There are concentrations of mid seventeenth- century buildings at Barton, Beeston, Bradley, Burwardsley, Malpas, Mollington, Saughall, Tarvin and Tushingham that may reflect extensive Civil War destruction. Because of the importance of the Dee crossing at Farndon and fights for control of the Holt-Farndon bridge, there may be traces of destruction there, too.


Intensification of agriculture coupled with improvements in farming techniques, particularly in the eighteenth century, caused radical transformations to the rural landscape. Large areas of what had formerly been heathland were brought into cultivation, and by the end of the eighteenth century, there were few of the traditional commons and wastes left unenclosed. These new fields are often characterised by the linearity of their boundaries and a regular grid layout.

Saltworks existed at Wychough (or Dirtwich) and Aldersey, the former going back to the early medieval period; by the early nineteenth century the Tithe Awards record the locations of other saltings. Saltways are recorded in the county, and there is a Saltersbrook to the east of Ashton.

Mills are also numerous in this period, with many surviving examples. They are known at Bickley, Bridge Trafford, Bruen Stapleford, Cotton Edmunds, Duddon, Edge, Huxley, Saughall, Stretton, Tattenhall, Upton by Chester, Waverton and Willington. The first edition Ordnance Survey maps record the functions of mills which, in the early nineteenth century, were mostly for flour and corn milling. A notable exception is the fulling mill in Foulk Stapleford, recorded in the Tithe Award.

Fulling was an important process in the eastern part of the district, and is related to the wool industry. In Harthill, the name Fuller's Moor is evidence for the process, and a documented but unlocated mill may have been used. Other industrial processes include tanning, smithing and malting, all of which are located by Tithe Awards. It is not known how many of the fixtures involved in these industrial processes survive in the buildings, or, indeed, how many of the buildings still exist.

The earliest canal built in the district ran from Chester to Nantwich, and was known as the Chester Canal. By 1779, construction had reached Nantwich, and permission was granted to build a branch to Middlewich where it joined the Trent and Mersey Canal. A section linking Chester with the Mersey was built between 1793 and 1795.

There are few remains of loading and unloading points on the canal, considering the distance over which it was able to deliver supplies. There may have been loading points at Beeston, where a series of wider sections of canal exist, possibly connected with the coal trade. However, a simple survey would probably locate many more such basins.

The growth of the road system has been poorly documented. Turnpike roads radiate from Chester, and there are large numbers of toll cottages, whose condition and location should repay investigation. There is a great number of roadside quarries (for instance, at Saighton Grange); they may be associated with the great rebuilding programme of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Some bridges and other early industrial monuments have been listed, including bridges of varying date but still in use at Cotton Edmunds, Farndon, Hockenhull and Huxley. However, there is no complete list of such structures.