The Role of Women in Christleton
During the Great War
1914 - 18
Researched and Written by
The boundary map of 20th Century Christleton shows the five townships of Christleton, Cotton Abbotts, Cotton Edmunds, Rowton and Littleton, which form the parish. The families living and working within this boundary during the years of World War 1 are the subject of this section.
Little had changed in this Christleton since John Marius Wilson’s Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales 1870 -1872 described it as
a township and parish in Great Boughton district, Cheshire. The township lies on the Ellesmere Canal and on the Chester and Crewe Railway, 2 miles East South East of Chester, and has a post office under Chester, and fairs on 8 March and 8 September. Population 698. Houses 151. The parish includes also the townships of Littleton, Rowton, Cotton Edmunds and Cotton Abbotts. Population 1,000. Houses 205. The manor belongs to J.B.Wood Esq. The living is a Rectory in the diocese of Chester. Value 900 pounds
July 1911 saw the induction of a new Rector for Christleton Parish, the Reverend Godfrey M.V. Hickey. Much of the information for this project comes from the Parish Magazines he wrote monthly, following in the footsteps of his predecessor, Canon Lionel Garnett. Garnett had been Rector for forty two years and knew his parish and parishioners well. Hickey had more difficulties with which to contend, specifically those issues of the war years, 1914 to 1918, and the immediate aftermath of World War 1.
The 1911 Census shows the population of Christleton as 937 within 207 families; that of Cotton Abbotts as 11 within 1 family; in Cotton Edmunds 66 in 10; in Rowton 165 in 41 and in Littleton 276 within 66 families. Of these there were 481 females in Christleton, 7 in Cotton Abbotts, 36 in Cotton Edmunds, 94 in Rowton and 149 in Littleton. The population totals for women showed an increase in Christleton, Cotton Edmunds and Littleton since the previous 1901 Census, but numbers had declined significantly in Rowton from 205 to 165 persons for reasons unknown.
So who were these women and what did they do? The answers to these questions depended upon their role in the social structure of that time. That there was a definite class distinction in those days is irrefutable. Christleton had many houses of such size as required domestic service, much of it live-in service by young, single women and girls as young as fourteen.
Examples are again from the 1911 Census
Captain John Currie of Old Hall, a house with nineteen rooms, employed a twenty nine year-old cook, a kitchen maid aged twenty six, a parlour maid (26), and two house maids (40 and 23). At Christleton Hall, which had twenty five rooms, Mrs Harriet Pitcairn Campbell had a domestic staff of eight women: a domestic sick nurse of thirty seven; a lady’s maid of thirty two; three housemaids aged thirty seven and two nineteen year olds; a cook aged forty four; a twenty year-old kitchen maid and a scullery maid of seventeen.
The ratios were similar at other private residences in the townships, for example, at twenty-room Christleton Bank for the Logans; for the Cullimores at Faulkners Lodge; the Porritts of Christleton Grange; the Sidebottoms of Littleton Hall; the Flemings of Rowton Grange; the Macfies of Rowton Hall. The Reverend Hickey employed thirty year-old Sarah Lee as housemaid at the Rectory. Christleton Lodge, a fourteen room house, was busy with the family of Henry Heywood. This household was supported by four servants.
On the records are the names of some of these families’ single daughters as having “Private Means”. There is no record that the working women and girls in these households were local, and certainly some came over from Wales or from Shropshire to work.
Commercial residents also employed female staff. Most were single daughters or relatives of the home owners or occupiers, but again some were brought into the houses and businesses from elsewhere.
These, too, are examples from the 1911 Census
Charlotte Mayers at fifty assisted husband Thomas, builder and farmer, in his business at Pits Farm in Christleton, as did her seventeen year old daughter, Frances. Thirty nine year-old Emily Swindley worked on her brother’s farm. Forty year-old Emma Roberts farmed with her brother, John, in Plough Lane, and Alice Beech, twenty four year-old daughter of widowed Alice Beech, worked on the family farm in Brown Heath. Women in these roles became vital during the war years as men left the land to join the forces overseas.
Joseph Mosford was a butcher. His wife, fifty four year-old Annie, and twenty one year old daughter, Mary, worked in the business. They employed nineteen year-old Mary Reid as a domestic servant. William Millward was a coach builder. His wife, Annie, aged fifty one, ran the general stores in Christleton with the help of daughters, Annie Eliza aged twenty eight and Constance aged sixteen.
Helen Eliza Johnson was the forty three year-old wife of baker, Thomas, at the Old Post Office in Christleton, and assisted in the business. They employed Emily Deans as general house-servant in their seven-room house.
Sarah Morgan at fifty was Sub-Postmistress at Christleton Post Office, assisted by her twenty year-old daughter, Dorothy.
Hannah Margaret Lyon at twenty one was a telephone operator at the telephone office in Christleton. Annie Duffin, daughter of domestic coachman, Thomas, was an Elementary Schoolteacher at the age of twenty six, employed by Chester Council.
Several women ran their own businesses – firstly as laundresses, such as Mary and sister Julia Weaver from Little Heath, Christleton; Jane Jones of The Pits in Christleton;
– secondly as dress-makers, like thirty nine year old Mary Jane Mayers of Elin Cottage, Christleton, and Annie Jones aged twenty one and niece of William and Annie Price of Christleton Heath; also Florence Millwood at fourteen, working as apprentice to her twenty three year-old sister, Nellie;
– also as milliners. In 1911, eighteen year-old Violet Mosford was an apprentice.
There was a local demand for all these skills, particularly perhaps from the members of the Christleton upper classes and from the Chester dress shops nearby.
Employment for young and single women would not have taken them too far away from home in these years before the war. Then, too, it was also a family tradition to stay within the family group unless marriage intervened, and even then it would be unusual to be too distant from one’s roots and family ties.
Christleton offered a variety of skills to men to allow support of their families and to make Christleton self-sufficient. These details come from Kelly’s Directory for Cheshire 1914.
Arthur Dodd was a saddler; James Fleet was a blacksmith; Robert Lamb manufactured bricks; Ernest Butler was a corn dealer; Thomas Evans and Thomas Mayers were builders; Levi Gibbs a shoemaker and Charles Woodcock of Plough Lane repaired boots; Hugh Wildig was a plumber; Lewis Edward Jones was a carpenter; Stanley Mayers was a cycle agent;
William Partington was described as a beer retailer, as was John Atkin for The Plough Inn, and Bessie Harding was his female counterpart at The Red Lion (now Ring o’Bells) in Christleton.
Christleton Ladies just prior to the War
It is the list of farmers, however, that is by far the longest for this area:-
Alice Beech and John Carr at Brown Heath; Thomas Fellows and Thomas Witter at Birch Heath; Horatio Rowe of Birch Bank and John Roberts of Plough Lane;
Mrs Arthur Handley and Robert Newns of Stamford Heath; Frederick Winward and Mrs Agnes Dodd at Stamford Hollows.
Richard Pedley Walley farmed the Duke of Westminster’s land in Cotton Abbotts, and Thomas Fearnall, Robert Peacock at Cotton Hall, Edward Rowe at Stamford Mills and Miss Mary and Thomas Toft farmed in Cotton Edmunds for the Duke.
In Littleton were farmers John Clare Okell and Mrs Ellen Bentley.
In Rowton the land was farmed by James Beech at Claypits and Saighton Lane, and by Samuel and William Faulkner. One of the farms in the very centre of Christleton village was run by Frank Evans at the Manor House who was requisitioned to rehabilitate war horses.
Frank Evans with a war horse at Christleton
Whilst there are a few names of women farmers in these lists, there is no doubt that the role of women within each family and in support on family farms was important. There is no way of knowing from the nearest Directories and Census of the time, however, who they were and what work they actually did. Except for the lists of Private Residences in the townships, names of women were not recorded until 1918, when some women were given the right to vote in government elections.
Unlike his predecessor, Canon Lionel Garnett, who expressed in the Parish Magazines his concerns of political and international matters such as the Boer Wars of 1880-81 and 1899-1902, and unlike his successor, the Reverend Alyn Guest-Williams, who wrote in 1938 of the build-up in Europe to World War 2, Godfrey Hickey only mentioned issues concerning what became World War 1 after Britain declared war on Germany on 4th August 1914.
In September of that year he recorded the names of those men who had enlisted and were noted on the list on the church door. On the first list there were thirty six names, in October thirty and so the names were added by this method until September 1915. Unfortunately the cumulative list was lost when being copied at the school in February 1916.
In the Magazine of September 1914, Hickey wrote:
How can Christleton help and what is Christleton doing in this time of the nation’s need? Events have moved quickly.
The women of Christleton had also moved quickly
Within that first month, some sixty ladies had gathered on one afternoon to set up a working party for their Voluntary Aid Society, through which numerous articles were made from materials purchased from donations amounting to £51.8s 4d. These items were for distribution to local hospitals or the troops overseas.
As a start, two hundred and ninety items were sent in October 1914 to The Royal Infirmary for use among the wounded already in care – for example; 97 pillowcases and 24 sheets, 17 flannel and 32 twill nightshirts, 11 dressing gowns, 10 pyjama suits, 24 handkerchiefs and 4 pairs of felt shoes.
Nowhere is there a list of names of these working women, many of whom kept up their efforts throughout the War years. Support of this nature for individuals and families went on into the 1920s. Those who are identified are the distributors of many items.
Firstly, Mrs Hilda Emma Logan, wife of Lieutenant Colonel Edward Townsend Logan of The Cheshire Regiment. Their house was Christleton Bank – now Mercure Abbot’s Well Hotel.
Mrs Logan sent a first shipment of fifty two articles direct to The Cheshires in October.
The Regulars, 1st and 2nd Battalions, were now in France, having returned from Londonderry and India. She also sent other items forwarded to her from friends responding to notices which appealed for “comforts” for troops at the Front – socks, handkerchiefs and cigarettes.
Mrs Logan continued her work even after her husband was killed in battle in September 1916.
Pictured in the centre
Mrs H St J Hartford
Mrs L.A Forster
Mrs T Logan
all from Christleton
A second stalwart was Miss S. Macfie of Rowton Hall whose first dispatch to the same destination included 18 pairs of socks, 6 mufflers, 6 pairs of cuffs, 3 belts and 4 shirts. A box of socks and mufflers from the same Rowton source was acknowledged by the Naval authorities.
Miss Macfie’s distribution list for January 1915 was increased by the winter sewing parties to 92 pairs of socks, 44 belts, 37 mufflers, 19 pairs of mittens and 6 shirts.
Packers and dispatchers to the Cheshires this time included Mrs Matterson and Mrs HughFrost.
The importance of socks in particular was stressed by Captain Currie in April 1916, when he wrote to thank the ladies for their work. He told of the conditions in the trenches, wet after the melting snows and heavy Spring rains and causing foot rot:
We try to keep feet as dry as possible by sending up dry socks at night in exchange for those being worn in the trenches. It often prevents loss of a rifleman, as it saves men from becoming incapacitated and having to go to hospital
Another vital fund established at the start of the War was The Prince of Wales’ Relief Fund, which became the National Relief Fund. Local committees were set up following the letter of 6th August 1914 from the Secretary of the Local Government Board, Whitehall. The purpose of this fund was to deal with problems with money for families with the temporary loss of the breadwinner, and to relieve distress in cases arising as a consequence of war. It was financed by public donations. There was no money from Central Government.
In August that year, the local papers published an appeal from the Duke of Westminster, Lord Lieutenant of Cheshire and local landowner, together with a letter to him from the Prince of Wales, (the future King Edward VIII), asking for subscriptions. The Duke opened the local Relief Fund’s account with a donation of £15,000.
Mrs Katherine Louisa Heywood of Christleton Lodge was Christleton’s Treasurer who dealt with local donations, and worked tirelessly until the Relief Fund finally closed.
She was also heavily involved in the Voluntary Aid Society in forwarding items to local hospitals, for example, and collecting monetary donations to the Society for purchase of materials.
In February 1917, another fund invited small contributions. Parishioners were making themselves responsible for food to keep local men alive who were Prisoners of War in Germany. By Government regulations, only certain articles could be sent, and those were provided and packaged by recognised bureaux. Prisoners had to be “adopted”, and the first was Frank Foster of Cotton Edmunds. Others later included Percy Dobie, Sydney Steventon and William Astle. Mrs Hickey, the Rector’s wife, was in charge of this fund
Donations to all three funds came regularly and generously from the same ladies, undoubtedly from households that could afford to contribute. Only for the P.O.W. Fund did the names of some men appear. Did the women hold the family purse strings?
Other names appearing regularly on the donors’ lists were Mrs Ernest Butler, Mrs Walley, Mrs Lowe, Mrs Woolley, Mrs R. Lunt, Mrs R. Salmon, Mrs Morgan and Mrs Witter.
Some identified themselves only as “a soldier’s family”, “a soldier’s wife” and “a thankful mother”.
Fund-raising activities over the war years included a Garden Party at Christleton Grange in 1915; a Sale of Work stall in Chester run by Mrs Porritt and Miss Winter;
a successful Jumble sale in January 1916, its committee comprising Mrs Thornley, the Misses Morgan and Mrs V. Mosford; a Whist Drive in March 1917, and a Special Sale in November and Draw in January 1918 organised by Mrs A. Millwood.
Younger people, too, had parts to play in supporting the troops.
School children were busy from the start of the War, raising money by selling flags and collecting funds in their School Boxes. By 1918, the girls were producing considerable numbers of knitted items for the Voluntary Aid Society. The Boys’ School had a scheme for collecting eggs for Chester’s several hospitals where the numbers of wounded and convalescent soldiers rose rapidly from 1915.
The 1918 July Magazine reported delivery of 79 eggs to the Royal Infirmary, 70 to Hoole House and 287 for Hoole Bank Hospital. Moneys raised from both schools at the children’s Thank-offering Service at the church went to the St John Hospital in King’s Street, Chester.
Both schools contributed to collections of chickens, butter, jam, cakes, vegetables and fruits to help support patients and staff at all local hospitals as food shortages became critical in the later period of the War and the years following.
The Girls’ Friendly Society was an active group at this time. They, too, raised money for St John Ambulance and the Red Cross, at least once by putting on an entertainment for the village. They became prolific knitters also for the VAS.
Members attended local Ambulance Classes four nights a week in September 1914 run by Dr Grace Mackinnon, and First Aid for the Injured in November 1914 run by Dr Wright. These classes were open to both men and women.
Miss Winter reported to the Parish Magazine for March 1915 that Nursing Examination Certificates from St John Ambulance Association had been awarded to the Mrs’s Heywood, Logan, Pears, Shaw and Witter, and the Misses B. Carr, A. Jordan, S. Macfie, C. Marabel and L. Shaw.
Finally, in terms of money-raising, it should not be forgotten that weekly Offertories made by attendant congregations and money offerings through the parish’s envelope scheme also supported institutions and organisations. These were named each month in Hickey’s Parish Magazines, for example; Red Cross Funds, Royal Infirmary, St John Ambulance, St Dunstan’s Hostel for Blinded Soldiers, Church Army, Sick and Poor Fund, Mersey Mission for Sailors and, the latest on the list, Poor Clergy.
With so many men away on military duties for over the four-plus years of the Great War, women had opportunities to take on roles in society that were inconceivable before 1914. They substituted for men in existing activities and created new positions in those introduced to help Britain survive and succeed in dark and difficult times.
To return to statistics: by the start of the war there was an increase in unmarried females of 11.7% as recorded in the nearest Census of 1911. The highest proportion in occupations was the twenty to twenty-five year-olds. Whilst roughly one out of three was still in domestic service, the start of a war that took so many men to the battlefields opened new doors for the employment of women. It would be mainly the single women who were free to move to better job opportunities with higher wages.
Travel from the village would not have been a problem for young women of that era.
In those days people walked further and more often than today. Bicycles were common then on roads which had far less traffic. Trams had run in Chester since 1903, and the 1913 Boughton Line had its terminus at Tarvin Bridge, with a branch through to Christleton Road, both within easy reach of Christleton. Bus services were increasing in routes and frequency for Christleton residents.
Chester would offer a variety of jobs and, therefore, be the likeliest destination for female workers. Employment examples included Browns of Chester on Eastgate Street, now Debenhams, attractive to Christleton’s milliners and dressmakers perhaps. Also on Eastgate Street then was Bollands, a high-class confectioners and café. Marks and Spencer had a Penny Bazaar in Foregate Street. St Michael’s Arcade off Bridge Street Row had been finished in 1910 with a variety of new retail premises.
Big employers of women were Thos. Nicholls and Co. at Deeside Mills on the Handbridge side of the river, which processed snuff and tobacco; also W.T. Davies in Canal Street, which was also part of Imperial Tobacco.
Chester was the Headquarters of Western Command, the administrative centre for the Army serving Wales, North West England and the North Midland counties. In the city were army establishments for regular full-time and territorial battalions of soldiers in great number, and there were public houses on nearly every street corner. There were jobs here for women of the day.
It was probably too far to travel daily to work at the munitions factory that developed in the war years at Queensferry to produce explosives for the Government, but a whole community grew up at nearby Mancot which provided family houses for employees, a school, a hospital and hostels for single workers. This Royal Naval Guncotton Factory employed many women in its staff of seven thousand, and workers came in numbers from the Chester area.
Nearer to Christleton was the Hydraulic Engineering Company on Egerton Street, Chester, which became a controlled establishment fulfilling Government orders for presses for shell manufacture and employed four hundred and fifty in its work-force. By 1917 it was producing equipment for the Admiralty, Cammell Lairds and the Royal Woolwich Arsenal, amongst others. One hundred and seventy nine men had left for war service in 1916, and women were taken on as labourers, crane drivers and, by 1918, as machinists.
Chester Shell Factory in part of New Crane Street’s Electrical Works in Chester turned out 100,000 shells between August 1916 and November 1918. It employed some seventy men and women. In Brook Street, Hoole, was Lancely’s Engineering Works utilizing its lathes in evenings for part-time workers to make shell cases. In all munitions establishments, the female workers were paid less than the men.
In Heath Lane, Boughton, was Chester Steam Laundry, busy with local hospital work. This employed mainly women in a staff of eighty in new premises after fire had destroyed the old building in Victoria Road. It was certainly handy for Christleton women of all ages, being within walking distance.
Chester had a vital role in the support of the wounded servicemen in hospitals and convalescent homes, and some were well within reach of Christleton’s women.
Their support roles could have been as nurses, stretcher-bearers, ambulance drivers or cleaners.
The Infirmary, made “Royal” after a visit by King George V and Queen Mary on the 14th March 1914 to open the new Albert Wood Wing, was the major medical centre for the city.
At first it reserved a ward of twenty beds for the sick and wounded, but this was soon inadequate for the numbers brought home from disastrous battles in France. In 1915 there was work to modernize and provide accommodation for one hundred military patients.
Several large houses were converted to hospitals for tending wounded soldiers.
Richmond House in Boughton was loaned by the Lord Mayor on behalf of the City Council, but soon had to close as being too small. Hoole Bank House in Mannings Lane (now Hammond School) was opened in August 1915 and was staffed by nurses of the Red Cross Voluntary Aid Detachment. It had seventy beds. St John’s Hospital in King’s Building, King Street in Chester was an up-to-date nursing home with eight trained nurses. In November 1914 it housed British and Belgian patients in rooms with seven, four or five beds.
Chester Military Hospital was sited at the top of Castle Street, and the Vernon Institute in Saughall, originally intended for a convalescent home, was needed for the wounded.
For Christleton’s travelling helpers, Ellesmere Port Hospital set up for military patients in 1914 in Heathfield House on Chester Road. It was used during the war to nurse wounded soldiers transferred from Fazakerley Hospital in Liverpool, and, like Hoole Bank, was staffed by members of the Voluntary Aid Detachment.
In 1917 the War Office and Army Council requested that the Chester Union Workhouse on Hoole Lane be adapted as a much-needed hospital for the war-wounded. Hospital patients, the elderly-infirm and mental inmates were re-housed elsewhere, and over six hundred beds created for military personnel. Operating theatres, x-ray equipment and electric light were added, and, before it ended its war-time role in August 1919, the hospital had cared for nearly twenty thousand soldiers, sailors and airmen.
Further care facilities for military men were offered at Eaton Hall. Thirty beds were set up in the dining and drawing rooms on the instruction of Lady Arthur Grosvenor, the Duke of Westminster’s aunt, who was an active Red Cross nurse. In November 1914 the first twenty one arrived, from various regional regiments.
As the war continued and food shortages became acute, all these military institutions relied increasingly on gifted collections of grain, vegetables, fruit and meat from rural communities such as Christleton, assembled and often delivered by the women.
Nursing services of World War 1 included the Red Cross Voluntary Aid Detachment or VADs, as already mentioned; the long-established First Aid Nursing Yeomanry, known as FANYs, some of whom served abroad, running hospitals, driving ambulances, operating motor baths, setting up soup kitchens and troop canteens; the Women’s Sick and Wounded Convoy Corps which established field hospitals in France and Flanders in 1914; the Women’s Hospital Corps which set up military hospitals for the French Army in Paris and later in London, staffed entirely by women from Chief Surgeon to orderlies. All offered their services voluntarily and freely. Women’s units of the later years in WW1 were direct descendants of those established in 1914. The greatest numbers of uniformed nurses were trained by St John Ambulance and the Red Cross. There were no mixed detachments.
In 1915 a General Service section of VAD was introduced with a wide variety of duties for girls of most abilities – for example, cook, laundress, clerk, typist, telephonist, driver or VAD nurse. This last was often the preserve of young ladies from local middle and upper class families who could afford to give time, pay for lectures and had £1 19s 2d to buy a uniform.
There were two divisions of VAD volunteers: “mobile” available for service anywhere including theatres of war, and “immobile” in Auxiliary War Hospitals local to them. Detachments numbered twenty four women with a Commandant and Lady Superintendant, who was a trained nurse, at the head of either four sections with a leader and four women, or two sections with a leader and nine women. Each detachment had to include four proficient cooks.Every girl was expected to train and pass examinations.
Officially nursing members had to be twenty three to thirty eight years old to serve in hospitals, but in time those as young as seventeen became VADs, especially in provincial hospitals In 1914, there were nine thousand VAD members and by 1918 twenty three thousand nurses and eighteen thousand nursing orderlies – such was the response of the nation’s women.
In 1914 there were only two hundred and ninety active regulars in military nursing services, but by the end of the war numbers had climbed to ten thousand. Military nursing services included Queen Alexandra’s Royal Naval Nursing Service and the larger Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service (QAIMNS).
Here, at last, a Christleton woman on active service has been identified, through family information not official lists! Amy Dobie came from Heathfield House at Stamford Heath, from a family of Seed Merchants nationally known. One of her siblings, Percy, was a 2nd Lieutenant in the army who fought in Flanders. Amy became a Sister in the QAIMNS Reserve and worked in the General Hospital in Rouen on the River Seine. She survived the war and returned safely to Chester.
Unfortunately, there are no available records to check for other Christleton names in this subject area until they are officially released.
Whether there were any of our women in military uniform is also unknown at this point. The first uniformed group to be established was the Women’s Emergency Corps (WEC). It started with Upper Class ladies within days of the declaration of war in 1914, but soon included those from all classes. The WEC worked with other groups, such as the Soldiers and Sailors Families Association, the National Union of Women Workers and Children’s Care Committees.
One department enrolled hundreds to act as interpreters, meeting trains at stations as at Chester and ships at docks as in Liverpool to assist the first Belgian refugees and later those from France. These women were also commissioned to teach French and German to soldiers in training, holding classes in military centres throughout the country.
Hundreds of women motor-cyclists and those with their own cars who were able to do running repairs were active in WEC’s Motor Department and served as despatch riders and drivers.
By the end of 1914, there were branches all over Britain which were managed by their own committees and raising their own funds. They became the Women’s Legion.
When the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) formed in 1917, the cooking and general service sections of the WL joined it. By March 1917, the first WAACs arrived in France, and, by early 1918, six thousand of “Les Tommettes” were there on service. When this Corps was disbanded in 1921, fifty thousand had enrolled.
Also formed in 1917 was the Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRNS) with members
serving at home and abroad. Women took on the roles of household workers, drivers, storekeepers, porters, messengers, clerical staff and accountants, postwomen, telegraphists and technical workers. By the end of the war, there were five and a half thousand members, five hundred of whom were officers.
The WRNS was disbanded in 1919 – temporarily as it turned out, as with the other military groups of women.
In April 1918 the Women’s Royal Air Force came into service, with the intention of substituting for men in non-combatant roles such as drivers and clerks; however, women also had the opportunity to learn highly-skilled trades, such as aircraft riggers and mechanics as well as armourers, electricians, radio and telegraph operators. In 1920, it, too, was disbanded.
Probably the most obvious area of employment for our women was on the land.
The Christleton townships were principally farming communities, and neighbours would have helped neighbours with stock and crops, particularly over these years when man-power was lacking. There is, however, no record of this assumption. Certainly, farmers shared horses for ploughing and carting since so many had been taken for the Army, and it was probable that there was a sharing of labour, too.
The names on the 1918 Electoral Register are more or less the same as on the 1914 one, except for two things:- that the Register is of householders and their wives, who, if over thirty years of age, now had the vote; and secondly that the men were generally of an older age-group than those who had volunteered or had been conscripted in 1916. At first conscription took unmarried men between the ages of eighteen to forty, but later in the same desperate year conscripted married men. Under the National Registration Act of 1915, however, workers in agriculture were protected from war service because of being in an essential job. The young men, however, had signed up early for service overseas, leaving a shortage of labour on the farms.
At the start of the War, farmers were reluctant to employ women labourers for the heavier work, believing them to be physically incapable of doing a man’s job.
Their rural roles previously had been in making butter, keeping poultry and helping at harvest, but Government initiatives in 1915 set up organisations of women to deal with areas of need.
The role of the Women’s Forage Corps, for example, was to collect and transport fodder for military horses. In this, women took the place of RASC privates and wore khaki uniforms to work as hay balers and chaffers, sack makers and menders as well as transport drivers and clerks. It was administered by the Army Service Corps.
The Women’s Forestry Corps operated under the Board of Trade to supply wood for paper and industry on the home front. They also prepared wood for construction work within war zones.
In 1917, the Women’s Land Army was formed and took over forage and timber with the main focus on agriculture. Its remit was to organise and distribute labour, fertiliser, feed and machinery in order to increase crop production. Food was becoming increasingly scarce with the sinking by German submarines of supply ships from overseas. Before the War nearly half of Britain’s food came from abroad.
Also the previous winters had been bad and, with subsequent flooding, Britain’s crops had failed. The winter of 1917 in particular had been the coldest for many years and the River Dee was frozen over for almost three weeks.
By the Spring, Britain was less than a month away from running out of food.
Britain’s farmers were crucial to our survival and Cheshire was a key provider of dairy products.
WLA advertisements were displayed for training women who could join at rallies or apply for enrolment forms at Post Offices or the Employment Exchange. Enrolment required submitting three references and signing a binding contract for six months or a year’s service. Then a selection panel would be faced. Nationally forty five thousand young women applied, but half were rejected. Twenty three thousand enrolled and were placed on farms for training for some four to six weeks, depending on the nature of the work.
Cheshire County Council set up a short residential course in 1916 in Nantwich to train women in milking and other forms of farmwork. Training in motor-tractor ploughing was offered in November 1917, and a demonstration in both horse and tractor ploughing was held at Eaton Hall. Nineteen tractors were supplied that year to the county, and Chester’s Crosville Bus Depot assisted with spares and repairs. The Cheshire College at Holmes Chapel spent five months training women for farm work. Two particularly successful trainees became farm bailiffs. Dungarees were provided, with the promise of waterproof overalls later. Elsewhere, too, summer and winter uniforms had become a regular provision.
The Women’s Land Army had a system of awarding official armbands for three months of proficient service, and subsequent cloth badges for areas of expertise.
Passing proficiency tests in horse work, milking, stacking corn, tractor-driving or manure-spreading earned specific badges. The minimum wage was eighteen shillings a week, rising through twenty shillings to twenty two shillings by 1919. The Land Army “girls” had proved their worth.
Another rural organisation of women, Cheshire Land Girls, was at Appleton Hall, Warrington in 1918 for Board of Agriculture proficiency tests of competency in cheese-making, ploughing, working as cowmen or general labourers. There was a huge recruitment meeting in Chester in April 1918 to appeal for a further thirty thousand women land workers.
Locally in Chester, for those with a love of and experience with horses, were Remount Depots in Linenhall near the Roodee Racecourse and at the Leadworks in Boughton. Here from 1917 twelve women did all the practical work required to prepare horses for the battlefields – the cleaning, grooming, exercising and training of horses for the use of officers.
All these groups were formal organisations which responded to the nation’s call for help and support when home needs became acute. After 1918, as men began to return from the War and return to their work on the land, many women became redundant. The Women’s Land Army was disbanded in 1919. National figures published in 1918 recorded twelve thousand, six hundred and thirty seven WLA members in categories of milkers (5,734), tractor drivers (293), field workers (3,791), carters (635), ploughmen (260), thatchers (84) and shepherds (21).
The harvest of 1917 was Britain’s best ever, with production extended by the ploughing up of land that previously was parkland or pasture, and through creation of more allotments and gardens. With the intensification of labour, too, the nation had improved its production of grain from one fifth to four fifths. The harvest of roots and fruits, too, had increased, but poor we
In the Parish Magazine of March 1918, Rector Hickey wrote, “It has been refreshing to see many of our soldiers back from the Front and various camps.” In April he commented, “Men are still returning from active service and settling down to village life. By Easter we shall probably recover all the parishioners whom we can expect for the present.” As service men returned to their pre-war jobs, the role of women would have changed again. Many were relieved of their work in industry and agriculture, but doors had opened for them and life would never be entirely the same again.
In Chester their new roles had included working as railway ticket collectors, tram conductresses, postal deliverers, lamp-lighters and office workers, and people accepted that these roles could still be their entitlement in a changing future. The Employment Exchange’s principal adverts at the time were for jobs in domestic staffing, such as house-keepers and parlour maids. That may well be an interesting change to Christleton’s social structure as depicted in the 1911 Census, but unfortunately there is as yet no way of checking this until the next Census of 1921 is released.
What is available for reference, however, is Kelly’s Directory of 1923. In the five years since the War ended, it shows by omission of names where there are changes in residences and commercial businesses, and where occupying families have continued their lives and activities.
Porritt, Cullimore’ and Sidebottom Families at Faulkners Lodge
Some examples of continuing residents are:
Mrs Pitcairn Campbell at Christleton Hall,
John Cullimore at Faulkners Lodge, W.G. Townsend Currie (now Major) at The Old Hall, Arthur Heywood at Christleton Lodge and Edward Porritt at Christleton Grange.
In Rowton were Miss Day, T.R.Fleming at Rowton Grange, J.W.Macfie JP at Rowton Hall and Joseph Salmon at The Firs.
Samuel Sidebottom was still at Littleton Hall and Mrs Dobie at Heathfield House, Vicars Cross. Philip Hedley Walley still lived in Cotton Abbots. Edward Rowe and Miss Mary and Thomas Toft were still farming at Cotton Edmunds.
The core stability of the townships is evident in these recurring names
Many of the pre-War commercial businesses also remained in the hands of the same families ten years later – Mosford the butcher, Wildig the plumber, Mayers the builder, Millwood the shopkeeper, Butler the corn merchant, Fleet the blacksmith, Baker the brick-maker and Kirk the nurseryman, for example. It was principally the farmers, however, whose work maintained Christleton’s rural way of life and contributed so much to food production when the country still suffered shortages.
Many families worked their land within our five townships, and the list of names is long: Christleton’s Beech, Evans, Fellows, Newns, Roberts, Rowe, Swindley, Winward and Witter; Beech, Faulkner, Fleet and Williams in Rowton; Walley in Cotton Abbots; Peacock, Rowe and Toft in Cotton Edmunds and Aldred in Littleton.
On the list of farmers were women: Agnes Dodd and Mrs Lunt in Christleton; Mrs R.R. Salmon in Rowton; Mrs Ellen Bentley in Littleton and Miss Mary Toft in Cotton Edmunds.
At least three of these family names are still on farms today in 2015: Beech in Brown Heath, Walley in Cotton Abbots and Salmon in Rowton.
On this list from Kelly’s Directory 1923, there are no names of single daughters, working or otherwise, nor names of female house servants as will probably be found in the Census of 1921. In the families, of course, after so long a time, daughters will have married, changed names and moved on – possibly away from the parish. Transport had improved nationally, too, as had the attitudes to working away from home.
So to return to the village at the end of the War
In 1918 Rector Hickey wrote in August and September about continuing efforts to raise money for the Prisoner of War Fund from the familiar names of Mrs Heywood, Mrs Logan, Miss Macfie, but also Mr and Mrs Steventon, Miss Nicholls, Mr and Mrs Aspinall and the Churchwardens. There were still Christleton men on the POW list. Donations also continued for the Voluntary Aid Society and socks in particular were still being knitted for soldiers abroad in preparation for winter.
Locally there was an urgent need for vegetables and fruit for the Canadian wounded at Hoole Bank Hospital.
In August, for the first time since the war had started, an excursion away from the village was organised for the Day and Sunday School pupils. Mr and Mrs Ernest Butler provided boats to take the children on the canal to Beeston Castle. “The Food Controller was cajoled to permit a pre-war appetite, and ham in abundance was released from secret storage. Also there were gifts of butter and milk and buns.”
Collections were being made in November for Christmas parcels for soldiers, but there was difficulty by then in obtaining cigarettes. Chocolate was unprocurable and toffee rare.Then came the news of the German collapse, the abdication of the Kaiser and on the 11th of November the Armistice was signed.
The Christleton townships celebrated with the ringing of church bells and services of Thanksgiving. Hickey wrote in the December magazine of this response, but had to comment that, because of restraints regarding fuel for heating and lighting, the church was too cold for week-night services that month. This restriction must also have hit family homes.
The Christmas parcels were dispatched to all on foreign service, and the POW and VAS
continued to receive donations, but as 1919 entered March, the production of “comforts” for the troops ceased and the working parties of women disbanded.
There were other matters in the villages to attend to, such as the celebrations for returning troops. The POW Fund was closed and the balance of £12 was set aside for the returning men.
Likewise the balance of the VAS Fund, whose Treasurer was Miss Morgan, would be used in welcoming returning soldiers through the Parishioners’ Fund.
Plans were made for celebrations, “Welcome back to Christleton”, on Wednesday 28th May. Over one hundred men accepted the invitation. They marched to the church for the Thanksgiving Service, and had photographs taken on the Village Green. Supper was in the Boys’ School, followed by a social evening. “It was a happy experience for the honouring and the honoured.”
Then there was a prolonged debate on a War Memorial for Christleton.
The national day for Peace Celebrations was July 19th 1919.
It began with a great peal of bells by the Christleton College Youth (the bellringers) that was completed three hours later.
The children’s Sports were arranged by a committee that included the Sunday School and Day School teachers, and Tea in the Boys’ School was organised by Mrs Millwood. Mrs Currie presented the prizes.
After football and races for seniors, a buffet and dancing on Mr Cullimore’s lawn in Faulkners Lane completed the day.
“On the way home people counted the distant bonfires which crowned the country’s rejoicing at the conclusion of peace.”
Nothing else can be found at this time that records the actual names of individual women who worked in these historic years to help our local community and the nation survive in difficult times.
That the pattern of life in our particular townships changed as a result of their activities was inevitable, but how it changed, how deep the change and who those individuals were remains mostly supposition.
In the long-term we will have more answers. For women nationally, we do know that their new and wide-ranging roles, tackled with willingness, ability and success, earned many of them emancipation and the right to vote immediately in 1918.
“We owe so much to the women of this time”
Christleton Parish Magazines January 1911 – December 1921
“Chester in the Great War” by Susan Chambers, 2015
“Women in the First World War” by Neil R. Storey and Molly Housego, 2010
“Digging in on the Home Front”, article from Cheshire Life, 2014
County of Chester – Relief Committee Minutes, August 6 1914
1915 Electoral Register – Christleton in Eddisbury District
1918 Electoral Register – Christleton in Chester District
CHRISTLETON GREAT WAR STORIES
Special Commemorative Publication
is now available