The historic market town of Neston nestles in the Cheshire countryside and its tranquil appearance, with its many interesting buildings, belies its long and strategic history.
With its evidence of Viking settlements in pre-Norman times and its significant record in the Domesday Book of 1085 there is much of interest in the town, indeed the sandstone church situated in the centre of the town dates back in part to the 14th Century and contains many treasures.
Arguably the most prosperous period of Neston’s development was in the mid 1500′s when it established itself as a port with important coaching links to London and became the principle departure point for Spain, France and Ireland. Many notable figures sailed from Neston long before the port of Liverpool was developed. Later developments in the mid 19th Century saw coal mining and the railways come and go although a rail link still exists between Birkenhead and Wrexham.
The second rail link, which originally crossed over the existing line, making Neston an important junction, was closed in the mid 1950′s and converted into the Wirral Country Park, the first of its kind in the country, linking the towns of the west coast of the Wirral peninsular and providing access and pleasure for walkers, cyclists and horse riders alike.
Still boasting its Royal Charter dating back to 1728 supporting its market town status, weekly Friday markets, monthly Farmers’ markets, continental markets and Christmas markets keeps its historic market town image intact.
You can find out more about the history of Neston by listening to our Neston Audio Trails.
Neston was probably a Saxon settlement, and referring to “The Origins of Place Names” the first syllable ‘Nes’ means headland and ‘ton’ is a Saxon ending for a township – thus ‘a town on a headland’. An old map of the area shows this headland jutting out into the Dee Estuary – however, time and tides have long since eroded that away.
According to the “History of the Hundred of Wirral”, the parish of Neston in its early days, was the largest in Wirral, extending up to 9,000 acres and was values in the county books at £13,600 per annum.
Referring to the Domesday Book of 1085, the survey states that the inhabitants of Neston and Little Neston numbered 16.
The population in Great Neston in 1841 stood at 1,212 and by 1851 the Neston area population had risen to 3,578.
The last vestiges of the old manorial system which had controlled the area vanished with the sale of Mostyn lands, which had been considerable in size, leaving a serious vacuum in local administration. The Local Government Act of 1858 authorised local communities to elect boards, empowered to assume responsibility for certain matters such as water supply, drainage, sewage disposal and street lighting – and furthermore to raise a Rate to carry out these duties. The board met for the first time in August 1867 in the Church School. A Rate of 6d in the £1 was set.
It was subsequently decided that better premises were required for meetings and social events within Neston, and leading local residents decided to form a limited liability company to sell shares to finance the building of a suitable hall.
The site chosen was purchased for £500 and was a garden on which stood the Drill Shed, and used by the Neston Volunteer Rifle Corps – it had previously been the National School. The foundation stone of Neston Town Hall was laid on 6th September 1888 and it was completed in February 1889.
In 1894 the Board was dissolved, being replaced by Neston-cum-Parkgate Urban District Council. This became Neston Urban District Council in 1933.
In 1934, the Neston Urban District Council purchased the Hall from the Town Hall Company and all meetings were held in the Council Chamber upstairs. In further Government re-organisation in 1974, Neston Urban District Council merged with Ellesmere Port Urban District Council and Neston Town Hall and its Council Chamber was no longer the seat of Local Government. The basement, once used as the Drill Hall, houses part of the market every Friday. In 2013 Cheshire West & Chester employees moved from the Town Hall to Neston Library. In 2014 Neston Town Council moved in.
Neston 250 Years Ago
A large part of Neston belonged to the Mostyn family from 1672, when Sir Thomas Mostyn married the heiress of Neston, Leighton and Thornton Hough. A large estate map, on which this birds-eye view forms an inset, was drawn for Sir Roger Mostyn – who obtained Neston’s market charter – in 1732. The original is kept in the archives of University College, Bangor, but a copy is in the Neston Town Trail PDF Guide. The archives also contain a key to this map which tells us who owned or leased these houses at that time.
You may notice that the market place is named and enclosed on the north side of the Cross. The large house on the east side of the Cross, with a garden wall in front of it, was the vicarage. It ceased to be used as a vicarage in 1857, but the building remained as a girl’s school until the 1920s. It is now the town centre branch of Tesco.
The Mostyn family sold all their Cheshire lands in 1849.
Today Little Neston nestles in the shadow of its namesake, yet it has always been a distinct settlement. The village is mentioned in the Domesday Book when it was recorded that Robert the Cook held the land. In 1066 it was worth 13s 4d and in 1086 16s.
There are a number of 18th century houses with date stones near the Green. White House has the date 1732 with the initials of George and Jane Bedson and 26 The Green has the date 1731 which possibly commemorates a rebuilding of the house by Hugh and Anne Bennett.
This house was the former Durham Ox public house, which closed in 1928. The Royal Oak was an ancient single storey thatched building which burnt down in 1901 when it was replaced by the present building. The Methodist Church was built in 1872 and St Winefride’s Roman Catholic Church was opened in 1843 and it was designed by Augustus Pugin.
Coal mining started in 1757 in the area around the Harp on the Ness side. John Stanley the colliery owner built Denhall Quay in the 1760s and the coal was shipped to North Wales ports and to Ireland. The colliery had two underground canals to bring the coal from the coal face to the bottom of the pit shaft. The coal field was in decline by the mid 19th
Century as the accessible coal had been worked out. A new shaft was sunk in 1874. This mine had a railway link to the line on what is now the Wirral Way. The colliery closed in 1927 and some of the waste tips are visible on the right at the bottom of Marshlands Road.
Emma (birth registered as Emy) Lyon, who was to become Emma Hamilton, mistress of Nelson, was born in Ness, before moving to Hawarden, after the death of her father, a blacksmith, who worked at Ness Colliery. There are no records of where Emma actually lived in her brief time in Ness in 1765, but it was not Swan Cottage. Maybe someone will solve the mystery one day
Ness Botanic Gardens were started by A K Bulley who moved there in 1898 after making his money as a cotton broker in Liverpool. He planted shelter belts of trees and laid out the gardens. He started a commercial nursery, which became Bees Limited. He used the gardens to promote his products. A K Bulley was also a very important sponsor of plant collectors, which led to plants from overseas being established in Britain. After his death his daughter gave the gardens to Liverpool University in 1948.
Mealor’s of Ness were well known horse drawn plough makers in the late 19th century and the early 20th century. Joseph Mealor held two patents on ploughs, which were granted in the 1890s. Their ploughs were sold all over the country and had a good reputation. They also made metal railings and park benches and latterly the servicing and repair of lawnmowers. The company moved from Ness to Queensferry in 2010.
Parkgate boasts a rich mixture of quaint and grand buildings, many of them listed and some dating back to the 17th Century. They reflect the interesting history of this area, most recently as a fishing village, struggling to survive the encroaching salt marsh, but more notably a century of use as a port for Chester, a sea bathing resort, terminal for packet ships to Dublin and ferry point for crossing to Flint.
The origins of the name Parkgate lie in the deer park, which was enclosed about 1250. 350 years later this estuary anchorage and the few houses that had sprung up in the park were first referred to as Parkgate.
Wilfred Grenfell, the well known missionary doctor who set up hospitals in the wilds of the Labrador coast of Canada was born at Mostyn House, the large black and white building, which until July 2010, was a school run by the Grenfell family. Emma, Lady Hamilton, mistress of Admiral Nelson, was born in nearby Ness and returned to stay at Dover Cottage to take the sea-bathing cure for a skin complaint.
For more information, there are inexpensive booklets “This is Parkgate” and “The Parkgate Heritage Trail”, for sale in Nicholls Ice Cream shop and Mozkitos.
Once a purely agricultural community, Willaston is now largely a commuter village for the surrounding towns. However, it has its own churches, primary school, branch library, health facilities, pubs, garages, and a selection of shops and a weekly country market.
The Johnston Recreation Ground is home to football teams and a tennis club, and the adjacent meadow and woodland (cared for by the Friends of Willaston Meadow) are popular with walkers; there are also waymarked village walks. Entertainment is provided by a drama group and a choir, and a concert society organizes trips to concerts and theatres. There are two Women’s Institutes and a thriving horticultural society.
Organisations for children include a mother and toddler group, and there are Cubs and Scouts, Brownies and Guides, as well as Rainbows and Beavers for the younger ones. Willaston Residents’ and Countryside Society is a village forum that comments on planning matters and co-ordinates occasional communal events.
Burton gets its name from the sandstone outcrop known as Burton Point, which in Iron Age times had a hill fort. Burton derives its name from burgh-tun, which means the settlement by the fort and probably dates from Anglo-Saxon times.
Another name for a headland is Ness and so Neston was the settlement by the Ness. Burton Point is now part of Burton Mere Wetlands, owned by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.
Burton Parish Church is dedicated to St Nicholas, a patron saint of sailors. This is because in medieval times Burton was a port with access to the river Dee. The church was rebuilt in 1721 and the clock is unusual in that it has only one hand. Thomas Wilson was born in Burton in 1663 and became bishop of Sodor and Man. He founded a free school in the parish and the local primary school is named after him.
Burton Manor was originally built for the Congreve family as Burton Hall in the 19th Century. Henry Neville Gladstone bought it in 1902 and the house was greatly extended. The Gladstone’s sold the manor in 1924 and in 1948 it became an adult education college. In 2014 it is closed, and offered for sale by the owners, Liverpool City Council.
Behind the church in the woods are the Quaker graves which date from 1663. Among the interesting buildings in the village are the thatched cottage, Barn End, St Nicholas house with a date stone of 1711, Church House dating from about 1470 and opposite the Manor entrance Bishop Wilson’s cottage, which was built in the 16th century.