I am reprinting this article I found recently in a faded newspaper from 1962 given to me some years ago, which explores the story of the Pack Horse Bridges at Hockenhull. This article was found whilst I was investigating a question I was asked a month or so ago. “Why are the bridges called Roman Bridges?” I have now found a possible answer to that question which I will write about in April. So please enjoy Frank Marriott’s account from the Daily Post. Also fascinating reading I the same newspaper is a letter on the Letters from Readers Page which talks about “The threat of the Common Market” I wonder what that is all about!!!!
About three hundred years ago, at the time John Ogilby, cartographer to Charles II sent men to survey the roads of England for his famous Britannia Road Book, the busiest road out of London was with little doubt the road to Holyhead.
Until the day when Telford opened his now famous A5 across the wilds of Wales early last century, the main route to Anglesey’s distant port traversed the easier English shires as far as Chester before turning westwards. The road approached Cheshire from Stone and Woore and after Nantwich used the celebrated Watfield Pavement to travel towards Tarporley.
Watfield pavement now lies beneath the straight stretch of road alongside the canal, and although the ancient stones might have been removed, the name remains on all but the lost modern maps. Watfield pavement apparently was the paved section of a Roman road, constantly repaired and maintained until the 18th C
One interesting feature of Watfield pavement is that from the map the road appears to line up with the first mile of the A51 road after it leaves the Watling Street at Stamford Bridge four miles eastward of Chester. This road, subsequently curved so as to include Tarvin, is shown on same maps as Holme Street. This could well be one of the Roman routes between Chester & Nantwich. On the last miles to the salt town the old track kept to the eastward of the present highway, but has long since disappeared.
At some period in distant history the route from Nantwich to Chester was changed, as in the Middle Ages we find it turned westwards at Duddon Heath, some half a mile north of the Headless Woman Inn, and continued to Christleton, a village just off the Whitchurch Road, and only two miles from Chester. Although the main road has now resumed its old line to include Tarvin, the pre sixteenth Century way between Duddon and Christleton remains a four mile stretch of silent highway still holding in its grasp, the most treasured glimpse of medieval track in Cheshire, revealing three delightful pack- horse bridges connected by two cobbled causeways, built at least 400years ago to span the Gowy, and its low-lying adjacent fields.
When Ogilby’s man came on horseback from London in the 1660’s, with a lad walking beside him pushing a “way-wiser” to record distances, and notching off each mile as it passed, he recorded this stretch as being on the road from London to Holyhead.
The three stone bridges are shown quite clearly on the interesting strip map of Ogilby’s remarkable book. Even then the road was in danger of being superseded, for the map shows cartways already in existence, one to Chester by way of Stapleford, the Egg Bridge of today, and the other through “Tervyn” to the city.
From Duddon Heath the old road can be identified by extreme narrowness and its two rows of tall and ancient trees. Beyond the cluster of cottages at Hockenhull crossways the road is at first wide, but as one walks or cycles along the last bit of roughish trackway, (the car must be left some distance away), the path narrows, and the hedgerows come closer until they all but touch.
Then, at the end of the tunnel of trees the first of the three bridges comes into view, a wonderful pack horse span built in the narrow stiles of the old days, before carts came to clutter the roads and wide enough at five feet only to take but one weary packhorse, with his sagging panniers on either side.
Cobblestones surely as old as the span itself, a mere four centuries at the very least, stretch for a distance of some forty feet to surface the approaches to the bridge on either side, as well as the arch of this ancient river crossing. This first bridge is the only one of the three to maintain a constant width of five feet throughout its entire length; the others, although retaining the five foot dimension over the span, have wider approaches.
Only less interesting than the bridges are the causeways that lift this trackway of the ages above the storm waters of the Gowy River. Masonry walls, five feet high and five feet wide and in the first case seventy foot long, take the road to the middle bridge, the masterpiece of the three. It was not a matter of good fortune for the builder of the bridges that the path at this point has to make a distinct change of direction from roughly west to south west. In consequence of this we have a rare event indeed, of a pack horse span built on a curve, and for this reason is fairly reminiscent of the famous, three way relic at Crowland, on the edge of the Lincolnshire fens.
The second of the two causeways, some three times longer than the first, runs alongside the Gowy to the last of the bridges, a curious span with an overall length, including approaches of some forty nine feet.
Who built these bridges and when? And who maintained them in their early years? The published histories of the county are strangely silent on this remarkable fragment of an ancient road. The Roads and Bridges Department of the Cheshire County Council dates the bridges as probably early 16th Century, and it must be acknowledged that this authority maintains the bridges exceptionally well. The road is described in the records as Hockenhull Platts, a very old name for bridges in the locality. It so happens that this ancient track provides by one mile a shorter route between Tarporley and Chester than the main highway through Tarvin, and in view of this perhaps it is not surprising that proposals to convert the pack horse route into a wider road have been put forward.
Note: An article copied by David Cummings from an original faded newspaper (the Liverpool Daily Post January 1962) and donated to the Christleton Local History Group. The accompanying photographs are impossible to reproduce but show the first causeway extremely well.
Christleton side of the bridge
Tarvin side of the bridge
Tarvin side causeway
Hockenhull middle bridge from north side
Christleton side bridge from the south
Historic shot of Hockenhull bridge
Tarvin side of the bridge from the south
Buttress on Tarvin side of the bridge
Christleton side of the bridge from the north
Raised causeway to the middle bridge
It is rarely I have the opportunity to add anything to David's carefully crafted history articles for the website but in this instance I cannot resist in including some additional information and material for my cartographic hero John Ogilby. I have been lucky to have owned over the years quite a number of copies of his amazing work 'Britannia', the first atlas to map the roads of England and Wales.
Plate 21 John Ogilby Road Map 1675
Plate 22 John Ogilby Road Map 1675
Plate 23 John Ogilby Road Map 1675
Plate 24 John Ogilby Road Map 1675
Frontispeice Brittania John Ogilby 1675
Titlepage Brittania John Ogilby 1675
Dedication to Charles II
Ogilby Dedication to Charles II
Your Majesy's Most Humble Servant John Ogilby