LIFE IN THE BIG HOUSE - CHRISTLETON

David Cummings

Christleton

Introduction

Life at The Old Hall through the 17th century taken from material deposited at the Cheshire Record Office in the papers of the late Rector A. A. Guest Williams. They relate to life at the Hall at the time when it was occupied by Robert Townsend, Recorder of Chester, and his family. It is a fascinating account of this period and contains previously unpublished material gathered by the Local History Group in its research for the book Christleton “2000years of History.”

The Old Hall

The Old Hall would seem to be the natural place for the Lord of the Manor of Christleton to live. However this hasn't been the case. It was built soon after 1603, by a member of the Egertons who had their main family seat at Tatton Park. It was originally an elegant half timbered building. John Egerton was described as a husbandman in a will of 1667 and possessed a coat of arms of six quarterings. The building was later purchased by Gerard Townsend a "Merchant of Chester" around 1710 and he was succeeded by his son Robert Townsend, a Lawyer and Recorder of Chester. In later years the house was occupied by The Ince Family, Mrs Mary Legh, J Verney Lace, and Major & Mrs Currie. It was purchased in 1946 by the Guest Williams brothers, but they were themselves related directly by marriage to the Ince, Legh and Currie families going back to at least 1747, and possibly earlier. Following the sale of the property in 1974, it has been substantially restored.

Although the Old Hall itself was built in 1603, there is some evidence of buildings of an earlier period on the site. Above the Tudor looking fireplace in the main hall, the original grate for which is still preserved, there are on the right oval of plaster, the emblems of the English Rose, the Unicorn and the Thistle of Scotland- hailing no doubt the Stuart Dynasty. On the left oval panel is a curious device of a crest, or badge of an oak tree, with an eagle preying upon an infant. There is no doubt that house was originally built in black and white timber frame style, but was encased in 1890 in red Ruabon Brick by Rector Lionel Garnett, possibly to help preserve it from decay. Parts of a tunnel still surround the building, giving rise to the legend that the tunnel was used by the Parliamentarian forces during the civil war, when the Old Hall was occupied by Sir William Brereton the commander of The Parliamentarians in Cheshire. It is said that the tunnel running east to west carved under the sandstone ridge allowed troops to move easily between the Old Hall, Manor House and Church where the main garrison would have been stationed.

The Townsends

Towards the end of the 17th century the Old Hall was purchased by Gerard Townsend, a rising and wealthy merchant in Chester. Gerard, the son of Robert Townsend, married Sarah Stratford, widowed daughter of Randle Vause. They had many children, all baptised in Christleton; but the eldest son, another Gerard, whose son predeceased him at the age of nine months, was succeeded at Christleton by his brother Robert Townsend a very shrewd lawyer and Recorder of the City of Chester from 1754 to 1787. He was evidently a grasping and ambitious man of affairs, who married three times for profit. First to Elizabeth daughter of William Farrington of Eardshaw, by whom he had two surviving daughters Anne and Elizabeth; secondly to Anne younger daughter of John Myddleton of Chirk Castle; and thirdly to Betty, widow of Thomas Farrington, but there are no more children. His eldest daughter Anne was advantageously disposed in marriage to Mr Cecil Forester, and their son, the first Lord Forrester, married the daughter of the Duke of Rutland. Elizabeth married Thomas Ince, an ensign in the Army and son of the Reverend Thomas Ince, a minor Canon of the Cathedral and later a much loved Rector of Handley. His wife Susan Robinson was the daughter of Hugh Clough of Plas Clough, and a lady of distinguished parentage from Denbighshire.

The Cost of Food

One of the benefits of having a Lawyer living at the Old Hall was that he always kept good accounts and particularly receipts, and we have found a wonderful source of material on life in the 18th century by reading the papers relating to the Old Hall. In this section I include the cost of food bought from;

J Bulkeley in Eastgate Street

A leg of mutton; 4s. butter; 4s. lard; 10d. cheese; 1s. potatoes; 7s. milk; 1s 2d.
gooseberries; 3d. soap; 1s. sugar; 8d. beef; 7s. bread & flour; 11s 8d. 3 cream cheeses; 2s
beer; 7d 1 gallon of Jamaican rum. 12s.0d.

Nathanial Dewsbury’s Chester

6 gallons wine; £2.5s.0d. 1 gallon Raisin wine; 10d. 1 gallon Cognac 15s 0d.
2 gallons Geneva wine; £1.0s.0d. 1/2gallon gin; 5s 3d. 1 gallon old red port; £1.10s.0d
2 gallons rum; £1.0s.0d.
2lbs cherries; 18s.0d. 4lbs pears; 5s.0d 1lb plums; 4s. 50lbs clover seed; 18s 9d.

The cost of haberdashery & miscell. items;

6yards Coleraine linen; 11s 9d. 1 blue silk hat; 8s.6d. 1 pint lavender; 10d.
Epsom salts; 2d. Wine & campha; 10d. 3 pairs silk stockings; £1.2s.6d
1 beaver skin hat; £1.2s 6d. doe skin breeches £1.11s 6d for the master Mr Ince.

One of the benefits of having a Lawyer living at the Old Hall was that he always kept good accounts and particularly receipts, and we have found a wonderful source of material on life in the 18th century by reading the papers relating to the Old Hall. In this section I include the cost of food bought from;

J Bulkeley in Eastgate Street

A leg of mutton; 4s. butter; 4s. lard; 10d. cheese; 1s. potatoes; 7s. milk; 1s 2d.
gooseberries; 3d. soap; 1s. sugar; 8d. beef; 7s. bread & flour; 11s 8d. 3 cream cheeses; 2s
beer; 7d 1 gallon of Jamaican rum. 12s.0d.

Nathanial Dewsbury’s Chester

6 gallons wine; £2.5s.0d. 1 gallon Raisin wine; 10d. 1 gallon Cognac 15s 0d.
2 gallons Geneva wine; £1.0s.0d. 1/2gallon gin; 5s 3d. 1 gallon old red port; £1.10s.0d
2 gallons rum; £1.0s.0d.
2lbs cherries; 18s.0d. 4lbs pears; 5s.0d 1lb plums; 4s. 50lbs clover seed; 18s 9d.

The cost of haberdashery & miscell. items;

6yards Coleraine linen; 11s 9d. 1 blue silk hat; 8s.6d. 1 pint lavender; 10d.
Epsom salts; 2d. Wine & campha; 10d. 3 pairs silk stockings; £1.2s.6d
1 beaver skin hat; £1.2s 6d. doe skin breeches £1.11s 6d for the master Mr Ince.

Making a coat

For making a coat for Mr Ince. 6s.0d
Trimming, linings, pockets, buttons 9s.0d
For making a coat for Mrs Ince. 5s.0d
Trimmings, linings, pockets, buttons 8s.0d
Making a waistcoat. 2s.0d
Trimmings, linings, pockets, buttons 4s.0d
Total £1.14s.0d
Prominent in the papers found at The Old Hall were the lists of wages paid to the servants. The most important position was that of Housekeeper, and in 1790/1 Fanny Cook earned £3. 8s 8d for six months work.

Servant Wages

Jane Ashton an assistant housekeeper £2. 15s 0d for four months.

The Cook Mary Hixon was rather poorly paid in comparison, earning just £1.7s.6d for four months, whilst Joseph Bithel a footman earned £1.15s 0d for his four months. The key post of Coachman earned Benjamin Dean £4.4s 0d, a similar sum earned by William Rogers the Head Gardener.

Other villagers and tradesmen were paid by the day, for work done on the Old Hall estate.
John Moulton 4s 6d for 4 ½ days thatching, 1s 2d for 2 ½ days ploughing.

George Moulton 5s 3d for 4 ½ days working a team of horses, and 3s 2d for 2days mucking.

Thomas Weaver earned £20 for 6 boat loads of manure, whilst Thomas Mayers was paid £13, 12s 0d for providing 17 oak gates. He also earned 12s 0d for 4 days felling trees, 12s 9d for 4 ½ days sawing trees, and 10s 7d for 4 1/2days nailing and painting.

Richard Williams; 3days labour 5s 0d, 1s for a 100bricks, 5s 0d for a load of sand.

George Lunt 10s 0d for 3 days slating roofs and chimneys, whilst Thomas Lunt his brother was paid for 7days work for Mrs Ince 14s 0d, with additional labour at 8d a day. Also 13s 6d for ploughing for Mrs Ince, and Is 6d for a day holding the plough.

The Turnpikes

Goods going to and from the Big House and the Townsend estate, would at this time have to pass through the various turnpikes on roads leading to and from the village. There was one on Stamford Heath at the junction of the lane to Guilden Sutton, at Vicars Cross where Hare Lane joins Tarvin Road, another in Littleton Lane, and what appears to be the main gate, sited opposite Christleton Bank near the Abbots Well. There was also a gate for a short time in 1745 at Cotton, charging people for crossing the bridges at Hockenhull. Villagers were given the task of maintaining their own roads through a Highways Committee, but the turnpike roads were private roads raising money for the owners. ie. Chester - Whitchurch Turnpike Trust. A photograph given to me recently shows the gate on Whitchurch Road, and it is clearly of the “Telford” style.
When workmen presented their bills to the estate, the toll charges were added eg;
Mr Gresty.
Carrying slates with charge for turnpike; 6s0d
Carrying brick with charge for turnpike; 6s.0d
Carrying lime with charge for turnpike; 6s.0d
Carrying 2000slates @£3.10s per 1000. £7.0.0d
Carrying 7 loads of sycamore @12d per foot 10s.0d

Marling

Evidence for marling in the Parish from the Townsends/Ince land on Stamford Heath
Receipts are included for the following transactions.
John Pearson
Marling at Stamford Heath £10.5s.6d
Rob Rowe.
Putting marl in cart at Stamford Heath; £25.4s.0d
Sam Price.
Marl Pit at Stamford. £19.6s.6d
3 men pumping and loading for 8 days. £3.4s.6d

Marl was clearly an expensive and important product, and produced at the Townsend fields at Stamford Heath, and at Little Heath Pit. Teams of marlers would descend on the village for a month on end, and dig and deliver the marl, used to improve the quality of the farmland and to make bricks. It appears that sometimes the marl was liquid from the description on the bills and receipts.

The marlers were hard workers, had meagre pay, but supplemented their earnings by entertaining villagers at the Ring O Bells or the Red Lion, which would have reverberated to their ribald songs and poetry on most evenings during their stay in the village. They had a culture and folklore of their own, and it’s said that the village fully enjoyed their visits by holding their own Festival at the end of marling, with Sword & Maypole Dancing, Bear Baiting and eating pink & white candy, a special sweet made in the village. The marlers also wore colourful headresses, perhaps in the style of the present day Morris Dancers, which they wore when they danced with village girls during the celebrations.

Funerals

It seems that funerals were a great expense for the family when someone close died. There were also many rituals to be carried out and paid for, including providing suitable clothing for the mourners. The most detailed accounts I have, relate to the funeral of Robert Townsend in 1791.
In this case Robert had died in Liverpool and a team of men were sent to collect his body and later take his body to church. His body had been laid in St George’s Church in the centre of Liverpool, a fine Georgian building, near to the area where the gentry lived and carried out business.[Rodney Street]

To John Barry
for labour and attending the funeral. 2s 6d
To George Moulton
for labour and carrying him to church 2s 6d.
To John Radcliffe
£3. 3s.0d for oak coffin.
To Mr Barton
£2.12s 0d for black coffin.
To Mr Roper
£ 5. 5s 0d for lead coffin.
The family Doctor was involved;
To Dr Brandreth £5.5s 0d for attendance.

To George Wilkinson Painter.
For painting of achievements 6coats £5.11s 6d
18 silk escutcheons £4.14s.0d
8 crests £1. 0s.0d
Carrying the body.
For hearse to Liverpool and return £ 8.1s.6d
Turnpike & Labour £ 7 9s 6d
For chase to Frodsham £ 12s 0d

St George’s Church Liverpool
For tolling bell at & 6 porters 13s 6d.

From Robert Yoxhall Blacksmith.
4 shoes for bay mare 1s 4d
8 shoes for 2 coach horses (steel) 4s 4d
4 shoes for grey gelding 1s 4d
To remove coach horse shoe 2d
To a bar on a shoe of coach horse 4d
4 shoes on grey gelding 1s 4d
8 shoes on coach horses (steel) 4s 4d
4 shoes for grey gelding 1s 4d
Total 14s 6d

Bill from Messrs Faulkner / Larden
To boddying a gown 2s.0d
50pairs of gloves for funeral £7.7s.0d
3 gowns and coats for servants 12s.0d
Silk banding 1s 0d
18yds black cloth £4.14s 6d
3 ¾ yds ravens black cloth £3. 9s 4d
5 ¼ yds Rumsey shalloon 10s 6d
2 1/2yds white flannel 3s 9d
8 3/8 yds fine black cloth £7.14s11d

To Messrs Wright (Mercer)
Providing hats/scarfs for men at funeral £50.13s.0d
Making capes & lace £ 4. 7s. 0d
2 black buckles 2s 0d

The Funeral of Robert Townsend.
A list of persons attending the funeral of Robert Townsend in May 1791, taken from the list
of people needing gloves, and found in the estate papers.

Immediate family mourners.
Mr & Mrs Birkitt, Mr Hardy, Elizabeth Ince, daughter.

The best shammy gloves for the Gentlemen.
Mr William Forrester, Mr Hall, Mr George Forrester, Mr Thomas Ince, Mr Clegg
Mr Dickinson, Mr Wilkinson, Mr Cheers (Estate Manager) Mr Oldfield, Kelsall,
Mr Forrester of Willey, Mr Mostyn of Mostyn, Mr Nelson, Mr Wingfield, Mr John Adams,
Mr William Adams, Mr Bailey, Mr Barton, Mr Foreshaw, Mr Wright.

Gloves for the men of the common sort.
Jacob Adams, Thomas Brown Clerk of Christleton, Clerk of St Bridgets,
George Moulton*, John Parry*, Peter Gibson*, John Moulton*, Thomas Peers*, John Pritchard*,
Mr Townsend’s two servants.
*These men were workers on the estate, and were paid 2s.6d “ for carrying him to church”.

Gloves for the best sort of ladies.
Mrs Bailey, Mrs Forrester & two daughters, Mrs Lecardby, Mrs Adams, Mrs Foreshaw.

3 pairs of common black shammy for Mrs Townsend’s servant, cook and Mrs Forrester’s maid.

The funeral party would almost certainly have proceeded to the Glass House Inn where Mr Witter kept good ale & an eating house. In the diaries of Henry Prescott we learn a great deal about this particular place, first recorded on the John Ogilby map of Britain in 1685. It seems to have been an excellent eating place where the nobility of the city and county would gather, and meals including whitebait, lobster and Sir Loyn of beef were served. The Inn had a fine cellar of wine & beers and offered a good selection for Henry Prescott himself to sample. Employed as a finance officer for the Chester Diocese, Henry seems to have travelled extensively, and was always trying out the spirits, wines and local beers as part of his unofficial duties.
Certainly the number of times in his diaries that he writes “that he has taken one or two early morning circuits around the Roodeye to clear his head”, indictates that he took his drinking seriously. He travelled to Christleton, not only to sample the local brew, and have a small wager on horses, racing at Farndon, or perhaps gambling with his friends at the Glass House Inn, but also to visit his friend Mr Townsend at The Old Hall, often accompanied by his beautiful wife Suzanna. They would sometimes continue their journey on horse back through to Wareton, (Waverton) to see their son Jack who was the Curate there. He didn’t have a very good reputation, as he was often absent when needed, and seems to have been dismissed from his post because of these bad habits.

The Glass House

The Glass House Inn at Christleton was also a meeting place for funerals, being the first Inn outside the city boundary. There are records of distinguished persons, including the Lord Bishop and Mayor & Corporation, coming out of the city to assemble at the Glass House in order to accompany the body of a notable person being brought from a country house, and being taken for burial at the Cathedral. The whole company would be fed whilst waiting for the burial party to arrive, before walking in stately procession behind the hearse into the city.

When the celebration of the Beating of the Bounds takes place, the stone at the Glass House marking the boundary between Christleton & Great Boughton is one of the first to be visited.

Taxes

I suspect that many people living today imagine that taxes paid in the past, were relatively simple and straight forward. In fact the running costs of the village community were very complex, as the following bills for taxes paid by the Townsend Family shows. These taxes were incurred by the family, to help the general running costs of the village in 1755. In this instance, they paid towards the upkeep of the church, for having too many windows in their house, the watch tax which was an early form of police service, the poor tax to look after the poor and destitute, and working the roads tax to keep the village roads in a reasonable state of repair.

Miscellaneous Bills & Accounts. 1755
Church tax — 5s.0d
Windows tax- £1. 8s od
Watch tax -- 5s 0d
Poor tax-- £1.10s 0d
Working the roads 10s.6d

Other items paid for Robert Townsend a Lawyer by occupation in that year were;
Bill for tayloring ; £7.16s 6d
Stockings £1. 8s 6d
A new wigg £1.11s 6d
Shoes 19s 10d
Apothecarys bill £10. 0s 6d
Beer £10 9s 0d
Coal £12 13s 6d


In the AAGW collection of papers I have also found several bills for coal obtained from the Port of Chester at a weighbridge called the Chester Machine. One is dated 21st September 1793 for 33cwt.The coal probably came from the Wrexham Coalfield, and there are numerous references to The Nine Coal Exchange in Eastgate Street.

Family Accounts

There are also interesting accounts for Mrs Ince at this time. The first Mrs Ince was Elizabeth the second daughter of Robert Townsend, and later wife of Thomas Ince who built Christleton Hall to rival the house of his father in law [now Christleton Law College.] 1793.

Mrs Ince to John Palin Butcher.
16 legs of mutton- @ 7s. £5. 3s 33lb of beef- @ 3 1/2d - 11s.0d
Breast of veal- 2/6d

Mrs Ince to Moulton & Rosingreave
55 trees @ 1s 6d per tree
600 fagots [sticks for making a fire] @ 3s per hundred.

Mrs Ince to Mr Hesketh.
For 6 gallons of Red Port; £2.5s.0d
Wine £1.3.6d

There is also a fascinating letter from John Cheers the Estate Manager to Mrs Ince about making beer;
Madam. I am very much obliged to you for your friendly behaviour in being such a well wisher relating to my health. I am thank God much better today. I took oil yesterday. Thy beer will be ready tomorrow morning by eight o clock. As to the beer of Friday no such thing, I expected ..yesterday, but I have not seen him yet, or I should have seen you, as you may depend I will in the tavern house after. Wishing you health and ye family. Madam, From your very humble servant, John Cheers

Village Taverns

The tavern concerned could have been “The Bottom of the Wood” a village ale house close to the junction of Plough Lane with Village Road, now the house named Hen Davarn [The Old Tavern], near the High School entrance and adjacent to the Old Smithy. It might just possibly have been the first “The Ring O Bells”, which stood on the site of the present Parish Hall, and is known to have existed around the 1780’s. However it is more likely that it was the Glass House Inn, which is first shown on John Ogliby’s map, showing roads in Christleton in 1675.
It wasn’t The Red Lion, the present [ Ring o Bells] because this Inn didn’t open until August 1817, when Mr Venables provided

"dinner on the table at 3 o’clock” for his friends"

All the evidence from these papers shows that, although in this instance the estate produced beer for the family, it purchased almost all of its requirements from merchants, in the City of Chester. However it also used the services of men working locally from within the village community to carry out building tasks and repairs, and to provide transport. It’s also quite clear from data to be found in the National Census of 1851, that by that date, Christleton was virtually a self contained village, which could provide food, goods and services covering a whole variety of produce, crafts and trades, which serviced the needs of most village people. The village by this time had expanded rapidly, and several merchants from Manchester & Liverpool found it a good place to live, and also commute to work. The Industrial revolution had occurred, and transportation was becoming easier by both rail and water.