The late medieval period in west Cheshire (AD c 1350-1600)



The late medieval period is marked by a shift in land use from arable farming to dairying. Land ownership patterns moved away from the great corporate institutions and baronies of the medieval period towards a new landed gentry based in the manors (now generally referred to as Halls). This pattern survived until the 1920s, when some 25% of the land in England changed hands in the greatest change of land ownership since the Dissolution. With the creation of many new halls in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, parks and gardens were established around them, and it is possible that some villages were replanned at the same time. These two processes encouraged the formation of large estates based on agricultural production.

Some of the moated sites and other small manors continued to be occupied up to the eighteenth century, often with rebuilding. This occurred at Dodleston, Eaton, Huntington, Huxley, Iddinshall, Overton, Puddington and Shotwick. Both Eaton and Shotwick blossomed into large planned estates with buildings influenced by Classical styles. At Eaton, particularly, it is possible to follow the development of the gardens and the removal of villages (Eaton itself, and the lost Figdale) to alternative locations.

Emparkment undoubtedly affected the buildings and activities over which the landowner had control, and some estate villages were created. This is particularly noticeable at Clotton Hoofield, where the Tollemache estate created a model village; others are known at Beeston and Tilston.

New halls were built in the sixteenth century at Broxton, Carden, Churton-by-Farndon, Christleton, Edge, Hampton, Horton, Peel, Duddon, Mouldsworth, Mickle Trafford, Overton, Tiverton and possibly Aldersey (although the dating of the latter is uncertain). Churton, Edge, Hampton and Overton were formed because of the break-up of the Malpas Barony. More halls were built in the early seventeenth century at Ashton, Clotton Hoofield and Tattenhall. After the Civil War new halls tended to be smaller, as at Chorlton Hall, Edge, Huntington and Horton-cum-Peel. These later halls are associated with small parks.


The well-known survival of the medieval arable landscape under pasture occurred as a result of the gradual shift away from arable farming during this period. There were still large areas being cultivated as arable in 1400. By the end of the sixteenth century, though, much had been converted to pasture for dairying. The often-repeated assumption that Cheshire has always been a dairying county is disproved by medieval documentation that shows that arable was much more important economically than stock rearing or dairying. There is evidence for the complete reorganisation of the landscape in some areas (such as Mollington) during the period.

Chester's port began to suffer from competition with Lancaster and, more importantly, Liverpool from the late thirteenth century onwards. Even so, it remained the regionally dominant centre for maritime trade.


In Chester, following the Dissolution of St Werburgh's Abbey in 1540, the old church was established as a Cathedral, its diocese initially covering Cheshire and Lancashire. There was also a spate of building work in the countryside at this time, with a fine example of fifteenth century work to be seen at Malpas.