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Cheshire
County
Cheshire Flag.svg
Flag
Cheshire UK locator map 2010.svg
Cheshire in England
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Country England
Region North West
Established Ancient
Ceremonial county
Lord Lieutenant Thomas David Briggs
High Sheriff Mrs K H Cowell (2016-17)
Area 2,343 km2 (905 sq mi)
 • Ranked 25th of 48
Population (2005 est.) 993,200
 • Ranked 19th of 48
Density 424/km2 (1,100/sq mi)
Ethnicity 97.3% White
1.7% Asian
0.6% Black
0.4% White Other
Cheshire unitary number.png
Districts of Cheshire
All unitary
Districts
  1. Cheshire West and Chester
  2. Cheshire East
  3. Warrington
  4. Halton
Members of Parliament List of MPs
Police Cheshire Constabulary
Time zone GMT (UTC)
 • Summer (DST) BST (UTC+1)

Cheshire (/ˈɛʃər/ or /ˈɛʃɪər/; archaically the County Palatine of Chester; abbreviated Ches.) is a county in North West England, bordering Merseyside and Greater Manchester to the north, Derbyshire to the east, Staffordshire and Shropshire to the south and Wales to the west (bordering Wrexham and Flintshire). Cheshire's county town is Chester; the largest town is Warrington.

Other major towns include Congleton, Crewe, Ellesmere Port, Macclesfield, Northwich, Runcorn, Widnes, Wilmslow, and Winsford. The county covers 905 square miles (2,344 km2) and has a population of around 1 million. It is mostly rural, with a number of small towns and villages supporting the agricultural and other industries which produce Cheshire cheese, salt, chemicals and silk.

History

Toponymy

Cheshire's name was originally derived from an early name for Chester, and was first recorded as Legeceasterscir in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, meaning the shire of the city of legions. Although the name first appears in 980, it is thought that the county was created by Edward the Elder around 920. In the Domesday Book, Chester was recorded as having the name Cestrescir (Chestershire), derived from the name for Chester at the time. A series of changes that occurred as English itself changed, together with some simplifications and elision, resulted in the name Cheshire, as it occurs today.

Because of the historically close links with the land bordering Cheshire to the west, which became modern Wales, there is a history of interaction between Cheshire and North Wales. The Domesday Book records Cheshire as having two complete Hundreds (Atiscross and Exestan) that later became the principal part of Flintshire. Additionally, another large portion of the Duddestan Hundred later became known as Maelor Saesneg when it was transferred to North Wales. For this and other reasons, the Welsh name for Cheshire (Swydd Gaerlleon) is sometimes used within Wales and by Welsh speakers.

Administrative history

Wales 1234 (Marchia Wallie and Pura Wallia)
The strategic location of the Earldom of Chester; the only county palatine on the Welsh Marches.

     Pura Wallia (independent Wales)     Lands gained by Llywelyn the Great in 1234     Marchia Wallie (lands controlled by Norman Marcher barons)

After the Norman conquest of 1066 by William I, dissent and resistance continued for many years after the invasion. In 1069 local resistance in Cheshire was finally put down using draconian measures as part of the Harrying of the North. The ferocity of the campaign against the English populace was enough to end all future resistance. Examples were made of major landowners such as Earl Edwin of Mercia, their properties confiscated and redistributed amongst Norman barons. William I made Cheshire a county palatine and gave Gerbod the Fleming the new title of Earl of Chester. When Gerbod returned to Normandy in about 1070, the king used his absence to declare the earldom forfeit and gave the title to Hugh d'Avranches (nicknamed Hugh Lupus, or "wolf"). Due to Cheshire's strategic location on Welsh Marches, the Earl had complete autonomous powers to rule on behalf of the king in the county palatine.

Palatine hundreds

Cheshire domesday hundreds
Hundreds of Cheshire in Domesday Book. Areas highlighted in pink now in Flintshire.

Cheshire in the Domesday Book (1086) is recorded as a much larger county than it is today. It included two hundreds, Atiscross and Exestan, that later became part of North Wales. At the time of the Domesday Book, it also included as part of Duddestan Hundred the area of land later known as English Maelor (which used to be a detached part of Flintshire) in Wales. The area between the Mersey and Ribble (referred to in the Domesday Book as "Inter Ripam et Mersam") formed part of the returns for Cheshire. Although this has been interpreted to mean that at that time south Lancashire was part of Cheshire, more exhaustive research indicates that the boundary between Cheshire and what was to become Lancashire remained the River Mersey. With minor variations in spelling across sources, the complete list of hundreds of Cheshire at this time are: Atiscross, Bochelau, Chester, Dudestan, Exestan, Hamestan, Middlewich, Riseton, Roelau, Tunendune, Warmundestrou and Wilaveston.

Palatine feudal baronies

Feudal baronies or baronies by tenure were granted by the Earl as forms of feudal land tenure within the palatinate in a similar way to which the king granted English feudal baronies within England proper. An example is the barony of Halton. One of Hugh d'Avranche's barons has been identified as Robert Nicholls, Baron of Halton and Montebourg.

Lands devolved to Lancashire

In 1182 the land north of the Mersey became administered as part of the new county of Lancashire, thus resolving any uncertainty about the county in which the land "Inter Ripam et Mersam" was. Over the years, the ten hundreds consolidated and changed names to leave just seven—Broxton, Bucklow, Eddisbury, Macclesfield, Nantwich, Northwich and Wirral.

Acquires Welsh-March lands

In 1397 the county had lands in the march of Wales added to its territory, and was promoted to the rank of principality. This was because of the support the men of the county had given to King Richard II, in particular by his standing armed force of about 500 men called the "Cheshire Guard". As a result, the King's title was changed to "King of England and France, Lord of Ireland, and Prince of Chester". No other English county has been honoured in this way, although it lost the distinction on Richard's fall in 1399.

Lands devolved to Greater Manchester and Merseyside metropolitan counties

Through the Local Government Act 1972, which came into effect on 1 April 1974, some areas in the north became part of the metropolitan counties of Greater Manchester and Merseyside. Stockport (previously a county borough), Altrincham, Hyde, Dukinfield and Stalybridge in the north-east became part of Greater Manchester. Much of the Wirral Peninsula in the north-west, including the county boroughs of Birkenhead and Wallasey, joined Merseyside as the Metropolitan Borough of Wirral. At the same time the Tintwistle Rural District was transferred to Derbyshire. The area of south Lancashire not included within either the Merseyside or Greater Manchester counties, including Widnes and the county borough of Warrington, was added to the new non-metropolitan county of Cheshire.

Unitary Authorities created

Halton and Warrington became unitary authorities independent of Cheshire County Council on 1 April 1998, but remain part of Cheshire for ceremonial purposes and also for fire and policing.

Regional Assemblies proposed

Further information: Northern England referendum, 2004

A referendum for a further local government reform connected with an elected regional assembly was planned for 2004, but was abandoned.

Abolition of Cheshire County Council

As part of the local government restructuring in April 2009, Cheshire County Council and the Cheshire districts were abolished and replaced by two new unitary authorities, Cheshire East and Cheshire West and Chester. The existing unitary authorities of Halton and Warrington were not affected by the change.

Buildings and structures

Prehistoric burial grounds have been discovered at The Bridestones, near Congleton (Neolithic) and Robin Hood's Tump, near Alpraham (Bronze Age). The remains of Iron Age hill forts are found on sandstone ridges at several locations in Cheshire. Examples include Maiden Castle on Bickerton Hill, Helsby Hillfort and Woodhouse Hillfort at Frodsham. The Roman fortress and walls of Chester, perhaps the earliest building works in Cheshire remaining above ground, are constructed from purple-grey sandstone.

The distinctive local red sandstone has been used for many monumental and ecclesiastical buildings throughout the county: for example, the medieval Beeston Castle, Chester Cathedral and numerous parish churches. Occasional residential and industrial buildings, such as Helsby railway station (1849), are also in this sandstone.

Many surviving buildings from the 15th to 17th centuries are timbered, particularly in the southern part of the county. Notable examples include the moated manor house Little Moreton Hall, dating from around 1450, and many commercial and residential buildings in Chester, Nantwich and surrounding villages.

Early brick buildings include Peover Hall near Macclesfield (1585), Tattenhall Hall (pre-1622), and the Pied Bull Hotel in Chester (17th century). From the 18th century, orange, red or brown brick became the predominant building material used in Cheshire, although earlier buildings are often faced or dressed with stone. Examples from the Victorian period onwards often employ distinctive brick detailing, such as brick patterning and ornate chimney stacks and gables. Notable examples include Arley Hall near Northwich, Willington Hall near Chester (both by Nantwich architect George Latham) and Overleigh Lodge, Chester. From the Victorian era, brick buildings often incorporate timberwork in a mock Tudor style, and this hybrid style has been used in some modern residential developments in the county. Industrial buildings, such as the Macclesfield silk mills (for example, Waters Green New Mill), are also usually in brick.

Physical geography

Cheshire covers a boulder clay plain separating the hills of North Wales and the Peak District of Derbyshire (the area is also known as the Cheshire Gap). This was formed following the retreat of ice age glaciers which left the area dotted with kettle holes, locally referred to as meres. The bedrock of this region is almost entirely Triassic sandstone, outcrops of which have long been quarried, notably at Runcorn, providing the distinctive red stone for Liverpool Cathedral and Chester Cathedral.

The eastern half of the county is Upper Triassic Mercia Mudstone laid down with large salt deposits which were mined for hundreds of years around Winsford. Separating this area from Lower Triassic Sherwood Sandstone to the west is a prominent sandstone ridge known as the Mid Cheshire Ridge. A 55-kilometre (34 mi) footpath, the Sandstone Trail, follows this ridge from Frodsham to Whitchurch passing Delamere Forest, Beeston Castle and earlier Iron Age forts.

The highest point in Cheshire is Shining Tor on the Derbyshire/Cheshire border between Macclesfield and Buxton, at 559 metres (1,834 ft) above sea level. Before county boundary alterations in 1974, the county top was Black Hill (582 m (1,909 ft)) near Crowden in the far east of the historic county on the border with the West Riding of Yorkshire. Black Hill is now the highest point in West Yorkshire.

Beeston Castle (left) and Peckforton Castle (right) stand above the Cheshire Plain on the Mid-Cheshire Ridge.
The Cheshire Plain from the Mid-Cheshire Ridge.

Demography

Population

See also: List of Cheshire settlements by population

Based on the Census of 2001, the overall population of Cheshire is 673,781, of which 51.3% of the population were male and 48.7% were female. Of those aged between 0–14 years, 51.5% were male and 48.4% were female; and of those aged over 75 years, 62.9% were female and 37.1% were male.

The population density of Cheshire is 32 people per km², lower than the North West average of 42 people/km² and the England and Wales average of 38 people/km². Ellesmere Port and Neston has a greater urban density than the rest of the county with 92 people/km².

The population for 2021 is forecast to be 708,000.

Population change

Population totals for Cheshire
Year Population Year Population Year Population
1801 124,570 1871 277,123 1941 431,335
1811 141,672 1881 303,315 1951 471,438
1821 167,730 1891 324,494 1961 533,642
1831 191,965 1901 343,557 1971 605,918
1841 206,063 1911 364,179 1981 632,630
1851 224,739 1921 379,157 1991 656,050
1861 250,931 1931 395,717 2001 673,777
Pre-1974 statistics were gathered from local government areas that now comprise Cheshire
Source: Great Britain Historical GIS.

Ethnicity

Ethnic white groups accounted for 98% (662,794) of the population with 10,994 (2%) in ethnic groups other than white.

Of the 2% in non-white ethnic groups:

  • 3,717 (34%) belonged to mixed ethnic groups
  • 3,336 (30%) were Asian or Asian British
  • 1,076 (10%) were Black or Black British
  • 1,826 (17%) were of Chinese ethnic groups
  • 1,039 (9%) were of other ethnic groups.

Borders

The ceremonial county borders Merseyside, Greater Manchester, Derbyshire, Staffordshire and Shropshire in England along with Flintshire and Wrexham in Wales, arranged by compass directions as shown in the table. below. Cheshire also forms part of the North West England region.

Neighbouring Authorities to the Ceremonial County

Religion

Wilmslow Church
Wilmslow Church

In the 2001 Census, 81% of the population (542,413) identified themselves as Christian; 124,677 (19%) did not identify with any religion or did not answer the question; 5,665 (1%) identified themselves as belonging to other major world religions; and 1,033 belonged to other religions.

The boundary of the Church of England Diocese of Chester follows most closely the pre-1974 county boundary of Cheshire, so it includes all of Wirral, Stockport, and the Cheshire panhandle that included Tintwistle Rural District council area. In terms of Roman Catholic church administration, most of Cheshire falls into the Roman Catholic Diocese of Shrewsbury.

Culture, media and sports

Man Sanding the street in Knutsfrod for May Day 1920
A resident of Knutsford sanding the street in celebration of May Day 1920. The custom continues to this day.

Cheshire has one Football League team, Crewe Alexandra who play in League Two. Chester, phoenix club formed in 2010 after an ex-Football League club Chester City was dissolved competes in the National League along with other Cheshire side Macclesfield Town, who played in the Football League from 1997 till 2012. Northwich Victoria are also an ex-Football League team who were founder members of the Football League Division Two in 1892/1893 now represent Cheshire in the Northern Premier League along with Nantwich Town, Warrington Town and Witton Albion.

Warrington Wolves and the Widnes Vikings are the premier Rugby league teams in Cheshire and play in the Super League. There are also numerous junior clubs in the county, including Chester Gladiators. Cheshire County Cricket Club is one of the clubs that make up the Minor counties of English and Welsh cricket. Cheshire also is represented in the highest level basketball league in the UK, the BBL, by Cheshire Phoenix (formerly Cheshire Jets). Each May, Europe's largest motorcycle event, the Thundersprint, is held in Northwich.

The county has also been home to many notable sportsmen and athletes. Due to its proximity to both Manchester and Liverpool, many Premier League footballers have lived in Cheshire, including Dean Ashton, Seth Johnson, Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney. Other local athletes have included cricketer Ian Botham, marathon runner Paula Radcliffe, oarsman Matt Langridge, hurdler Shirley Strong, sailor Ben Ainslie, cyclist Sarah Storey and mountaineer George Mallory, who died in 1924 on Mount Everest. Cheshire has also produced a military hero in Norman Cyril Jones, a World War I flying ace who won the Distinguished Flying Cross.

One Direction (6927592468)
One Direction band member Harry Styles was brought up in Holmes Chapel

The county has produced several notable popular musicians, including Gary Barlow (Take That, born and raised in Frodsham), Harry Styles (singer with One Direction, raised in Holmes Chapel), John Mayall (John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers), Ian Astbury (The Cult), Tim Burgess (Charlatans), Ian Curtis (Joy Division) and Hooton Tennis Club. Matthew Healy, lead singer of The 1975, met his three bandmates at Wilmslow High School in Wilmslow. Concert pianist Stephen Hough, singer Thea Gilmore and her producer husband Nigel Stonier also reside in Cheshire.

The county has also been home to several writers, including Hall Caine (1853–1931), popular romantic novelist and playwright; Alan Garner; Victorian novelist Elizabeth Gaskell, whose novel Cranford features her home town of Knutsford; and most famously Lewis Carroll, born and raised in Daresbury, hence the Cheshire Cat (a fictional cat popularised by Carroll in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and known for its distinctive mischievous grin). Artists from the county include ceramic artist Emma Bossons and sculptor and photographer Andy Goldsworthy. Actors from Cheshire include Tim Curry; Daniel Craig, the 6th James Bond; Dame Wendy Hiller; and Lewis McGibbon, best known for his role in Millions.

Local radio stations in the county include Dee 106.3, Heart and Gold for Chester and West Cheshire, Silk FM for the east of the county, Signal 1 and The Cat 107.9 for the south, Wire FM for Warrington and Wish FM, which covers Widnes. Cheshire is one of the only counties (along with County Durham, Dorset and Rutland) that does not have its own designated BBC Radio station. The majority of the county (south and east) are covered by BBC Radio Stoke, whilst BBC Radio Merseyside tends to cover the west. The BBC directs readers to Stoke and Staffordshire when Cheshire is selected on their website. The BBC covers the west with BBC Radio Merseyside, the north and east with BBC Radio Manchester and the south with BBC Radio Stoke. There were plans to launch BBC Radio Cheshire, but those were shelved in 2007 after a lower than expected BBC licence fee settlement.

Modern county emblem

As part of a 2002 marketing campaign, the plant conservation charity Plantlife chose the cuckooflower as the county flower. Previously, a sheaf of golden wheat was the county emblem, a reference to the Earl of Chester's arms in use from the 12th century.

Settlements

The county is home to some of the most affluent areas of northern England, including Alderley Edge, Wilmslow, Prestbury, Tarporley and Knutsford, named in 2006 as the most expensive place to buy a house in the north of England. The former Cheshire town of Altrincham was in second place. The area is sometimes referred to as The Golden Triangle on account of the area in and around the aforementioned towns and villages.

The cities and towns in Cheshire are:

Ceremonial county District Centre of administration Other Towns or Cities
Cheshire Cheshire East (unitary) Sandbach Alderley Edge, Alsager, Bollington, Crewe, Congleton, Handforth, Knutsford, Macclesfield, Middlewich, Nantwich, Poynton, Wilmslow
Cheshire West and Chester (unitary) Chester Ellesmere Port, Frodsham, Malpas, Neston, Northwich, Saltney, Tarporley, Winsford
Halton (unitary) Widnes Runcorn
Warrington (unitary) Warrington Birchwood, Culcheth, Grappenhall, Lymm

Some settlements which were historically part of the county now fall under the counties of Derbyshire, Merseyside and Greater Manchester:

Derbyshire Crowden, Newtown, Tintwistle, Whaley Bridge (western part), Woodhead
Greater Manchester Altrincham, Bramhall, Bredbury, Cheadle, Cheadle Hulme, Dukinfield, Gatley, Hale, Hazel Grove, Hyde, Marple, Mossley (part), Partington, Romiley, Sale, Stalybridge, Stockport, Woodley, Wythenshawe
Merseyside Bebington, Birkenhead, Brimstage, Bromborough, Eastham, Greasby, Heswall, Hoylake, Irby, Moreton, New Ferry, Port Sunlight, Upton, Wallasey, West Kirby

Transport

Rail and road

Alderley Edge Station geograph-2165327
Alderley Edge in 1951

The main railway line through the county is the West Coast Main Line. Many trains call at Crewe (in the south of the county) and Warrington Bank Quay (in the north of the county) en route to London and Scotland, as well as Runcorn on the Liverpool branch of the WCML.

The major interchanges are:

  • Crewe (the biggest station in Cheshire) for trains to London Euston and Scotland (via the WCML), Wales, The Midlands (Birmingham, Stoke and Derby) as well as suburban services to Manchester, Chester and Liverpool.
  • Warrington stations (Central and Bank Quay) for suburban services to Manchester, Chester and Liverpool and regional express services to North Wales, London, Scotland, Yorkshire, the East Coast and the East Midlands
  • Chester for urban services (via Merseyrail) to Liverpool Central, suburban services to Manchester, Warrington, Wrexham and rural Cheshire and express services to Llandudno, Holyhead, Birmingham, the West Midlands, London and Cardiff and from December 2017, to Leeds

In the east of Cheshire, Macclesfield station is served by Virgin Trains and CrossCountry, on the Manchester-London line. Services from Manchester to the south coast frequently stop at Macclesfield.

Cheshire has 3,417 miles (5,499 km) of roads, including 214 miles (344 km) of the M6, M62, M53 and M56 motorways, with 23 interchanges and four service areas. The M6 motorway at the Thelwall Viaduct carries 140,000 vehicles every 24 hours.

Waterways

The Cheshire canal system includes several canals originally used to transport the county's industrial products (mostly chemicals). Nowadays they are mainly used for tourist traffic. The Cheshire Ring is formed from the Rochdale, Ashton, Peak Forest, Macclesfield, Trent and Mersey and Bridgewater canals.

The Manchester Ship Canal is a wide, 36-mile (58 km) stretch of water opened in 1894. It consists of the rivers Irwell and Mersey made navigable to Manchester for seagoing ships leaving the Mersey estuary. The canal passes through the north of the county via Runcorn and Warrington.

List of rivers and canals

  • Bridgewater Canal
  • Macclesfield Canal
  • Manchester Ship Canal
  • River Bollin
  • River Croco
  • River Dane
  • River Dean
  • River Dee / Afon Dyfrdwy
  • River Gowy
  • River Goyt
  • River Mersey
  • River Weaver and Weaver Navigation
  • River Wheelock
  • Shropshire Union Canal and the Llangollen branch
  • Trent and Mersey Canal

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