THE HISTORY FILE

David Cummings

Life in Christleton in the late 17th Century

Extracts taken from the diary of Henry Prescott, Deputy Registrar of the Chester Diocese published by the Record Society of Lancashire & Cheshire

Henry Prescott

My Image

1649 - 1719

My Image


Henry Prescott LLB. b. 1649-d. 1719 was appointed Deputy Registrar of the Chester Diocese in 1686. He was married for the second time on 11th August 1687 to Susanna Puleston daughter of Sir John Puleston of Havod y Wern. She bore him eleven children but only Jack (Rector of Waverton), Harry, Ken and Margaret survived her. Henry was also a keen traveller and often writes about journeys made to the family property in Lancashire, to Buxton, Bakewell and Chatsworth in Derbyshire and to Blenheim Place and Oxford. Henry also collected Roman artefacts and coins, and was an avid reader. Wherever he went he spent a great deal of time in tasting wines and local ales, and was something of a connoisseur. However it seems to have been a weakness of his, and he always seems to be searching for a cure for his over indulgence, because he spends "many turns on the Roodeye" each morning to clear his head.

At first glance the writings in this diary appear to have very little relevance to Christleton, but in fact relate first hand knowledge, and which gives us wonderful descriptions of village life during the period 1686 to 1719. In his daily diary Henry records details of regular visits to Christleton, when he came to see either, Mr Gerard Townsend and his family at the Old Hall, or Mr John Witter the proprietor of The Old Glasshouse Inn on Whitchurch Road. He also records in great detail a dispute between the Reverend Clopton the Rector, and Mr Townsend about the building of an oratory or burial vault for the Townsend Family under the Chancel of the Church. This dispute results in the death through extreme stress of the Rev Clopton.


Charles II
James II
William & Mary
Queen Anne


His writings, gives us insight into the life of the gentry in the period following the return of the Monarchy after the Civil War in the reigns of Charles II, James II, William & Mary, and Queen Anne. We also learn of the tension building up in the country caused by the troubles in Ireland especially the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, and the coming of the Jacobite rebels from Scotland in 1715. Henry's best friend was James Butler 2nd Duke of Ormonde and brother in law of the Earl of Derby. James was a loyal follower of William of Orange and must have influenced Henry's thinking. Following the first Jacobite rising of 1715 Lord Charles Murray and a large number of men were brought to Chester Prison. Many survivors of this uprising were shipped out to the Plantations of America. Henry was a supporter of the Old Pretender and after 1715 came out in support of him. Henry is clearly an important figure in the social life of the city, and he often describes in great detail the food and drink available to him, and his favourite Inns and eating places. Among these are, The Old Glasshouse Inn in Christleton, The Ship Inn, The Yacht and Coach & Horses in Chester, and the Coffee house in Bridge Street now the Falcon Inn.

The key figure in his visits to Christleton is his friend Gerard Townsend, always known as Mr Townsend in his diary. From these we get specific details about the Old Hall.
"He keeps an elegant dwelling house and garden, furnished and kept with extraordinary and fancy" "I observe the greens and the order of his garden", " I see the roof over the stable finished, and the brick in tolerable condition, not yet ready for the kiln."
(I wonder if this is a description of bricks being made out of local clay, and being prepared for firing near Christleton Pit a short distance from the Old Hall.)

We learn that Mr Townsend is a friend of Sir Richard and Lady Grosvenor and that he keeps a fine cellar.
"He receives us gentily with 2 bottles of wine."
"We have an elegant dinner at Mr Townsend's, and then move to church for a Christening. Later Mr Townsend treats us with a tankard of good ale and toast."
"After dinner I walk to Christleton in a cheerful sweet air. Mr Townsend receives us with good ale and white wine."

We also learn about the food provided for guests at the Old Hall.
"He keeps a good table and Mrs Townsend gives us a present of pork. We had pullets, pork and
roasted surloyn of beef, and we drink a pot of coffee."
"A pretty supper, in which lobster is served."
"We had dinner of beans, bacon and pease, with cold beef and lamb which seems to please very well."
" We call at Mr Townsends and dine handsomely on codfish and roast beef."

" Upon appointment my Suzy, son and I set out in Mr Townsend's coach for Christleton. We drink a bottle of good claret and dine on oysters, pease soup, salted whiting and herrings."

Mr Townsend obviously didn't have the best of health and entries such as,
"Mr Townsend is confined by gout" indicate this.

He also lost children through illness.
"We call at Mr Townsend, who last night buried a son with small pox, and has yet two other children in that danger."
"His eldest daughter meets a severe accident falling from a horse"

Food
Food
Oysters
Wine

Henry also makes frequent visits to the Glasshouse Inn at Christleton, where his friend John Witter is the proprietor and founder of a Gentleman's Club. The following entries describe some of the activities that went on there.
"Here we call at the Glasshouse where Mr Townsend, Hulton, Middlehurst and Witter have
a Club. I sit an hour uneasily in their discourse on greyhounds."
"Mr Witter and I drink a good tankard and dine on a large mullet and veal".
" At the Glasshouse we are entertained to turnips, salt fish and pudding".
"There is a conference at the Glasshouse, about the running of horses at Farndon".
"After prayers at the Church we go to the Glasshouse. We had dinner there of spare ribs,
roast beef, stewed hoggs puddings and mince pies well done, and eaten with a keen appetite".
"I call in at the Glasshouse, where Mr Hulton and the rest of the company are enjoying a good dinner of spare ribs, roast beef, stewed hoggs puddings, and mince pies. They drink punch, and I a pint of claret".
" I visit the Glasshouse where Mr Chancellor, Townsend, Hulton, Dodd, Middlehurst & Witter
were met. We eat a meal of leg of mutton, & noble Sir Loyn of Beef well and decently done to us epicures. The ale is tolerable so the discourse. I write to my Harry now bound for Virginia."
"At the Glasshouse we had an elegant supper of pullets, oysters and a good claret". "Near 12 I go to the Glasshouse, where the full company dine. They dine on pullets, bacon and
surloyn. I on pikelet and pudding. The discourse is on the common subjects and hunting"



In the following extracts Henry tells us about visitors to Christleton, and there is a particularly fascinating entry about a Theatre Company producing Shakespearean plays.
June 1690.
The first company sets out. Both the Bishop and the citizens await the Prince of Denmark with the highest expectation. He disappoints their hope. A misfortune of the carriage hinders his journey. He spends the night at Christleton at Lady Bellots. Sir John Bellot was created Baronet in 1663, is a descendant of Hugh Bellot 1542-92, a former Bishop of Chester.

May 18th 1704.
Henry travels with a Regiment to Christleton. He travels in Lady Otways coach with Dr Thane Chancellor.

"There were 500 in the procession. Sir Roger Mostyn, Mr Egerton, Mr Shackerley and Mr Bruen were among them."

It is interesting to note that from that list Sir Roger Mostyn's family became Rectors of Christleton, a Mr Egerton built the Old Hall, Mr Shackerley lived at Gwersylt Hall, later the home of John Williams great great grandfather of AA Guest Williams, and John Bruen from a Puritan family at Stapleford.

1706.
The Bishop has died whilst visiting a country parish and Henry accompanies the hearse towards the city. They stop at The Glass house, and all the funeral parade gathers there.
"Gloves are issued to all, and hat bands to particulars. Scarfs to a very few, myself of this number. We proceed to The Bars. Here the City Corporation and clergy served with gloves are ready".

Another reference to a funeral occurs on 23rd February 1719.
"Having received a funeral ticket, I go to attend the corpse of Sir Laurence Esmund at the Glasshouse. The house full with company and the road near it with company also. Horses and Coaches crowded. Gloves are distributed and I thought I saw Mr Bassona, Mr Holland and Mr Rymer. I escape that obligation and therefore retire about 6 to my chamber and cool posset. The corpse interred without prayers, he being a papist, in St Oswolds. Torches attending from the Glasshouse".

In the following entries there are possible references to Shakespeare's plays being performed in Christleton, although the second entry seems to make that less likely. It's possible that the entry "take a walk", could mean that they walked into Chester and not just into the village.
20th September. 1714.
Henry and his son Jack (Rector of Waverton) meet the High Sheriff Thomas Wilbraham near the Glasshouse. They also meet with Thomas Brock the Lord of the Manor of Christleton and stay with him.
"They take a walk and over a pint of Dysons, and watch Shakespeare's King Lear".
24th September. 1714.
"The King comes to Chester and he goes to see Shakespeare's Anthony & Cleopatra, the following day Cymbeline, and later Spencer's Othello".


There are also several references to National Events.
November 14th. 1715.
"The rebellion of the Old Pretender James, son of James II.
We come to Warton (Waverton) about 3, drink two bottles of ale, and returning to Christleton (to our great surprise) we hear and see the great guns fire, and the bonfires raising a bright cloud over the city. We understand the rebels surrendered on mercy Sunday about noon.
The number of captives 1500".

January 22nd. 1717.
"About 11, I ride out to Christleton. The weather is fair and frosty. I ride 3 turns around a field belonging to Mr Weston. I call and drink tea with Mr Townsend. The day upon the news of His Majesty's return is turned to a state one. The castle guns firing, filling the city with noise and smoke. Some bonfires and illumination with light".


There are also very interesting entries relating to the weather and associated phenomenon.

March 11th 1716.
"A sharp but kindly day”. Accounts describe a phenomenon in the sky from 8 o'clock until 3 in the morning. “Tis called the Aurora Borealis, a light or moisture sometimes dilated, sometimes embodyed into column's sometimes broken and divided into figures ands strands".

June 9th 1718.
"The weather continues disposed to rain. Here the clouds pregnant and dark are broke with long valleys of thunder, a most memorable clap which in the midst of common thunder distinguishes itself and makes all things tremble. The clouds again are ralleyed, and fill the horizon with gloomy terror, the lighting and thunder complete the scene above the shocks of human imitation. Seas break down on these parts and turn the roads into lakes and the streets to rivers".

March 29th 1719.
"A meteor appears in the sky".

Henry also tells us about a crime that took place in Christleton in March 1690.
" A cunning nocturnal theft has been committed against the house of Mr Bavand in Christleton, with violence and senseless nature of deeds. Father, daughter and servants of the household are bound, silver vessels, silver and gold stolen. A former servant now enlisted in the army is suspected".

He also occasionally writes about his travels out of the city.
"At 10 on a blustery day, I take horse and go by Hockenhull Platts to Tarvin. Call in and stay with the schoolmaster Mr Thompson".
"My Suzy and three daughters and I go to the Wakes at Warton".(Waverton.)





November 1708.
Henry makes a visit to Gwersylt, the home of Sir Peter Shakerley, later the temporary home of Mr Townsend during the threatened rebellion of the Scots,(led by Bonnie Prince Charlie) and of John Williams the head of the family who later take the name Guest Williams.
The visitors on that occasion include Richard Middleton of Chirk Castle whose sister Anne married Robert Townsend, Mr Hanmer, Richard Mostyn Patron of St James' Christleton, Dr Thane the Chancellor of Chester Cathedral and the Bishop, Mr Shackerley and Henry Prescott.

"Entertainment is generous and elegant. Upon the occasion of tobacco, my Lord banters,
Mr Chancellor the laying down of his pipe. Mr Shackerely equipped prevails me to go hunting.
We meet a pack of beagles near the Vicarage, and the hare is found we persue the game. At
the end of the hunt, I am presented with the hare.

In another entry Henry describes the scene off the port of Hoylake on the Dee.
"About 300 ships of every size are at anchor off Hoylake, but the wind keeps the e fleet in harbour. The King is at Gayton but leaves on the 11th June. He leaves to the sound of cannon on all sides".
The build up to this occasion is told in detail, beginning with the entry of 6th June which tells of the Prince of Denmark has to spend the night in Christleton.

In another entry Henry describes the scene off the port of Hoylake on the Dee.
"About 300 ships of every size are at anchor off Hoylake, but the wind keeps the e fleet in harbour. The King is at Gayton but leaves on the 11th June. He leaves to the sound of cannon on all sides".
The build up to this occasion is told in detail, beginning with the entry of 6th June which tells of the Prince of Denmark has to spend the night in Christleton.

  •  Part of a chart by Gerard van Keulen, c.1710

    Part of a chart by Gerard van Keulen, c.1710

7th June.
"The Prince of Denmark passes through the city in a speeding carriage ungreeted. More Royal Horse Guards arrive. The King arrives in the city".

8th June.
"Spectators fly in every direction. The city is full. He arrives about 10 o clock. The citizens receive him with solemn usage and eloquent speech. He travels through streets thronged with guards and packed with sightseers, strewn here with flowers, there with gravel, arrived at last at the Cathedral Church. The unrestrained crowd enclose, carry along and almost overwhelming the King. When the service is over the King goes on to Gayton for lunch. From there he inspects the fleet at Hylake. (Hoylake)".
The Duke of Ormond James Butler a friend of Henry stays with him in the city and enjoys his hospitality.

10th June.
"The Duke of Ormond says farewell and returns to Gayton. I follow on a lame horse. The day
grows warm, the way turns to sand. Curious of seeing Hylake, a most convivial harbour
indeed, I press on. About 300 ships of every size are at anchor. The surrounding shore is
inhospitable."

11th June.
"About 10 o clock The King boards ship, the sounds of cannon thunder on all sides. I prayed for good and favourable outcome. The wind slackens at about 3 o clock. The King spends the night at anchor, having scarcely got out of the harbour".
On another occasion he graphically describes the scene aboard a slave ship at anchor on the Dee on August 2nd. He refuses to send his son on such a voyage although later in his diary says that his son is on route to Virginia.


The August 2nd 1690 entry gives more details of the slave trade.
"Captain Tarleton intends to send his ship to Guinea to carry wines and slaves".
The ship had previously set sail from Liverpool and arrived at Calabar in Guinea. It took slaves on board and the rains fell not stopping for many weeks. Then an infection began among the slaves, and spread through the whole ship. "A dismal mortality followed for many slaves, and thirteen hands of the ship, among which was a friend of Henry's Oliver Barton".

However the most important entries about Christleton in the diary, relates to the story of the dispute between the Rector Thomas Clopton and Gerard Townsend. Their relationship is extremely good in March 1709 but then deteriorates to the point where the Bishop of Chester becomes involved. The outcome is that The Bishop tells Henry Prescott that "Mr Townsend is not the person you think he is". Later we hear of the death of the Rector through stress and anxiety.

March 1709.
"We return to Mr Clopton at 12 o clock. We sit down to a lent dinner with good liquor. We pass the time cheerfully until 5 with the ladies. Thence we call at the Old Hall, a scene here of an elegant dwelling house and beautiful garden".

July 10th 1716.
I walk a good way and weather to Christleton to Mr Townsends where I drink tea. My Lord Bishop on his way to Whitchurch calls and sees the controversial chancel or oratory, finds no damage to the church or disorder. Mr Wishaw appears for Mr Clopton. Mr Chancellor attacks him with too much passion and prejudice, and my Lord having heard the circumstances, upon his complaint of Mr Townsends leaving the church, and using Mr Clopton, a grave clergyman ill, uses sharp correspcious to him, telling him those faults were proper for his examination, and not to be so revenged by ejectment at law.

"My Lord Bishop since would not meet him there as he appointed, walks in displeasure towards the parsonage. Mr Clopton after several messages were sent, meets him. They go to the house and the company follows. Mr Clopton tells the story of their late differences about the Summer House as introductory to his reclaiming his right. He deny's that Mr Townsend ever had the Bishops, the Patrons or his concent, producing Roger Mostyn's and Mr Rowlands letters.

Mr Townsend gives another version of the facts
, and deny's he pulled down one brick of the wall, or invaded another inch of ground. Because Mr Clopton had affirmed what Mr Townsend took to be an untruth, he proposed that the matter be decided by oath. This gave Mr Clopton occasion to reflect on him in his pulpit. This he did in terms so provoking and distinct and so frequently, that he (Mr Townsend) left the church before the sermon, that he might leave the subject which was directed against him.
He also refused to take communion from the Reverend Clopton. He (Mr T) asserted that he had obtained the Bishops consent and that of Sir Roger Mostyn by his letter now mislayed, and that he had Mr Clopton expresses consent to build.
He produced a late letter from Sir Roger Mostyn as not expressing giving nor denying consent. Mr Chancellor attested positively the consent of the Bishop, the Patron and Mr Clopton, saying that without them he had not past his decree for the building of the chapel.



A personal reflection was made by Mr Clopton against Mr Townsend as guilty of prophane or common swearing, which was taken off by some present who had much more frequently used his conversation than Mr Clopton.

At last Mr Townsend's omission in not receiving the sacrament was peevishly objected to by Mr Wishaw. This seemed to shock the Bishop. He parts with the sentiment that Mr Clopton has quitted himself decently, and that Mr Townsend had shewed too much obstinacy in the controvercy, and had surprised him with a demonstration of a principle or at least an opinion contrary to the charitable doctrine of the C. of E. and parting with me he said, "Mr Prescott, Mr Townsend is not the man you take him to be." I pleaded his case and hope for a speedy reconciliation to the Holy Sacrament".

July 13th 1716.
"Reconciliation and a lasting peace were celebrated by shaking hands, and drinking some of Mr Clopton's fine ale".

November 16th 1716.
"After dinner my son and I go to Christleton. He calls to see Mr Clopton now weak, and then comes to me at the Old Hall. Later we call at the Glasshouse where Mr Townsend and friends, meet at Mr Witters club".

November 22nd 1716.
"Thomas Clopton died today".

Despite the lengthy dispute and the Bishops warning about Mr Townsend's character, further diary entries reveal that Henry Prescott is still a very welcome visitor at the Old Hall, and their special relationship continues. He continues to visit the village and this entry is typical of his later writings.

December 27th 1718.
"I rise about 8, and finding the frost wholly disolved, and a delicate air and glorious sun succeeding. I walk and come to Christleton before ten o'clock and am refreshed by the air and the exercise. I walk with Mr Townsend in his pleasant garden. After we drink tea and sit an hour with him and his lady. We go to Church and prayers. After, return to dinner at which Mr Davies the organist entertains in the parlour with the spinet, and his hopeful pupils Cotton and Carter".

Henry died in 1719, but his diary lives on to give some fascinating detail of life in Christleton in the 17th C.

Note.
I have kept Henry's original spelling and grammar in his diary to keep the authenticity.
The photographs accompanying the article are from the Christleton Village Archives &
historic postcard scenes of Chester from the Valentine’s of Dundee images taken in the 1890’s.


  •  The Old Glasshouse, Christleton

    The Old Glasshouse, Christleton

  •  Map of the Glasshouse Inn ,Christleton

    Map of the Glasshouse Inn ,Christleton

  •  St.John's Church, Chester

    St.John's Church, Chester

  •  The Roodeye, Chester

    The Roodeye, Chester

  •  Port of Chester c.1700

    Port of Chester c.1700

  •  The Old Hall, Christleton

    The Old Hall, Christleton

  •  Christleton Pit

    Christleton Pit

  •  St. James', Christleton

    St. James', Christleton

  •  Cheser Cathedral

    Cheser Cathedral

  •  Cheser Cathedral Interior

    Cheser Cathedral Interior

  •  Tudor House, Chester

    Tudor House, Chester

  •  Lower Bridge Street, Chester

    Lower Bridge Street, Chester

Henry Prescott | Christleton