At the start of the 20th Century, Greasby was an agricultural village with a fortnightly cattle market, and a population of 290. Today, Greasby is a ‘commuter suburb’ with almost 10,000 inhabitants. The dramatic transformation is a comparatively recent phenomenon and stems largely from the introduction of public motor transport after the first world war, and the decentralisation of population in the Merseyside region.
Many families, and newly-married couples, were attracted to the semi-rural atmosphere of the area. However, despite the campaigning of local protest groups, Greasby has become ‘merely another segment of the ever-spreading suburbia generated by the needs for housing of Liverpool and Birkenhead’.
At the time of the Norman Conquest, Gravesberie was held by a certain Dunning who may have been a ‘greave’ or high official of the earls of Mercia, and who also held Storeton. At one time it was thought that the place name of Gravesberie derived from the Anglo-Saxon graf or grove, and so referring to the woodland that once covered the area. A more probable derivation is from the words graef and byrig signifying a fortified house with a pit or trench.
Sometime before the Doomsday survey of 1086, the manor was given to Nigel de Burci, and the value was less than in 1066. Prior to 1093 the Greasby tithes, along with those of Storeton, were given to High Lupus, first Earl of Chester, to the Abbey of St. Werburgh in Chester. Subsequently, Robert de Rullos conferred the entire township on the abbey and the charter was confirmed by his sons, Richard and Robert, in 1284-85.
After the dissolution of St. Werburgh’s Abbey, in 1540, Greasby was granted to the Dean and Chapter of Chester Cathedral. In 1556 the estates passed to Sir Richard Cotton, privy councillor of the king’s household, and his son George. In the seventeenth-century, Greasby was held by Edward Glegg of Irby (1657).
Greasby still possesses some old buildings, and most of these are near the old village crossroads. Few retain period features. The Old Hall lies on the eastern side of Pump Lane and is almost hidden by outbuildings. Over the porch is a weathered coat of arms and the old oak entrance door still exists. The house has been much altered over the centuries, although oak beams and a large fireplace remain in an attic room. The eastern wing was probably added in the late seventeenth-century.
The Hall is said to have belonged to the monks of St. Werburgh, at least until the Dissolution. Recesses in the porch may have been used for monastic alms. A priest hole in the hollow stone wall to the right of the porch, (now blocked up), suggests that the house was used as a hiding place for Catholic recusants in the seventeenth-century.
Most people know Manor Farm as a Restaurant. The farmhouse and outbuildings date from the late seventeenth-century, and the granary bears a 1695 date stone.
School Farm, in Mill Lane, formed part of the estate of William Glegg, and was given by him to Calday Grange Grammar School in 1636.
Penny Lane, near the centre of the old village, takes its name from the old village pump which once stood near the junction with Frankby Road. It is often thought that this lane might be part of a ‘Roman’ road which extended from Chester, northward to Meols. ‘Operation Pump Lane’ in 1980-81 revealed no Romans construction although excavations by Peter France in 1964, south-west of Rigby Drive, uncovered forty large red sandstone kerbstones. However as W. Thompson Watkin pointed out in 1886…”the whole of the evidence as to a road from Meols to Chester is most unsatisfactory”.Frankby
Frankby is a village where the horse population almost outnumbers the humans. The place manages to retain the ‘rural’ atmosphere and unhurried calm which near neighbour Greasby has now lost. A report published in 1973 by the Cheshire County Council Planning Department, noted that Frankby was unique amongst Cheshire villages in that the majority of inhabitants still gained employment from the surrounding farmland. By 1983, Frankby possessed only one working farm.
Yew Tree Farm, which dated back to 1710, was a red brick with stone quoins; the attractive brick work has now been painted over. The farmhouse which is now a privately own house is of two storeys with attics. The early nineteenth-century windows show alteration, but has been described as being in good condition with a pleasant setting. The farm also contains brick and sandstone outbuildings; one barn (Elderberry Barn) now converted into a residential property.
At the time of Doomsday, Frankby was probably that portion of Calders, or Caldy, held by a Frenchmen – hence the name of Frenchman’s homestead. From the early twelfth-century, the manor was held by the Orreby family (who also held Willaston) and later it passed to the Ardernes and the Bold family of Lancashire, who held it from 1432-1612. After this time the holdings were sold to tenants, the principal of whom was Peter Day (who died in June 1641). Later transfers again were just as rapid as previously, until John Robin of West Kirby.Esq., bought the estate in 1818 and became lord of the manor. The manor gradually became divided among many freeholders. (Sulley 1889) In 1847 the manor and township of Frankby was 433 acres in extent and had 125 in habitants all engaged in agricultural pursuits. (Mortimer, 1847). ‘There are three or four large and tolerably respectable houses in the village, which otherwise presents the ordinary appearance of the hamlets of this part of the hundred. The greater of the land is very inferior. (Mortimer, 1847).
The historical interest of the village lies in the old farm buildings clustered around the ‘pocket handkerchief’ village green. The village itself ‘is surrounded by one of the best preserved open field enclosure patterns that remain in the district’.
Don’t be fooled by the impressive looking ‘Tudor’ mansion called Hill Bank. Although built on the site of an ancient tithe-barn at the summit of Frankby Hill, the building is actually ‘Bidston Court’ – a pseudo-Elizabethan edifice moved wholesale to this site from Noctorum and re-erected in 1929-31.Irby
In his book The Wirral Peninsula, published in 1955, Norman Ellison commented that ‘Irby has lost its old-world charm and has become a suburb of Birkenhead’. Irby Hall, therefore, looks somewhat incongruous. The present building is of early seventeenth-century origin and occupies the site of a manor house of the monks of St. Werburgh. Three sides of a moat are still visible.
Ormerod (1819) described the Hall as a ‘plaster and timber building’ but by 1888 the structure was ‘rapidly falling into decay’. It was then restored but the half-timbering above the ground floor was not totally replaced. The remaining three sides are of stone, and a massive chimney-stack remains on the north side.
Irby Farm, at the village crossroads, was once the residence of an old Irby family, the balls. Their tenancy of this farm can be traced back at least to the reign of Henry VI (1422-61). Various house plates on the outbuildings and main farmhouse refer to reconstruction work in the seventeenth and early eighteenth-century.Storeton
In early times Storeton may have been a place of some strategic importance, the ‘hub’ of a network of ancient roads and in sight of the surrounding land and sea coast. The best known example of such an old track is ‘Roman Road’, sometimes referred to as ‘Monks’ Stepping Stones’. and stretching from Storeton to Woodchurch. This is almost certainly mediaeval in origin, a simple packhorse track stone-ribbed so that the locals could negotiate the muddy fields.
Storeton Hill has been called ‘one of the most picturesque features of Wirral’ – a deep, solid edge of fine white stone which has resulted from the faulting of the overlying strata of new red sandstone. The extensive quarries are now filled in and actually lie in the township of Higher Bebington. They once supplied fine quality stone to local builders. Several inscribed and sculptured Roman stones, now in the Grosvenor Museum, Chester, are thought to have come from Storeton and the stone was used at Bebington parish church, Birkenhead Priory and Storeton Hall.
At the time of the Doomsday survey, Storeton formed part of the estates of Nigel de Burci, a retainer of the baron of Halton. About the year 1120 Storeton, with Puddington and the bailiwick (i.e. the area under official jurisdiction) of the forest of Wirral, was presented by the third Earl of Chester to his steward Alan Sylvester.
The only daughter of Alan Sylvester’s son, Ralph, married with Alexander, the tutor of the sixth Earl of Chester, and their daughter, Agnes, married Sir Thomas Bamville in 1315. Bamville’s son and heir, Sir Philip the elder, had no issue so the estates were divided between Bamville’s three daughters, the eldest of whom married Sir William Stanley. His great grandson was the immediate ancestor of a long and distinguished line of Stanleys.
Storeton Hall, although now incorporated, and almost lost, amidst a large working farm, was once an important private residence. It was the seat of the Sylvesters, the foresters of Wirral under the Earl of Chester, then the home of the Bamville’s, and, in 1282, the Stanleys who held it until 1848.
The mediaeval Hall dates from the mid fourteenth-century and may have ceased to be the principal seat of the Stanleys after the building of Hooton Hall (1487-89) for Sir William Stanley. It may have been abandoned as a residence after the building of the farmhouse to the north which incorporates a blocked up Jacobean window. Although the Hall was neither crenellated nor moated, the doors and walls were unusually thick and may have been designed with defence in mind.
There was originally a central hall on the west side, of which only the inside face of the eastern wall remains. This is now the outside face of farm buildings. A great entrance door remains at the south end and a central buttress suggests that there was a central hearth.
At the southern end of the hall there was once a doorway which led to the kitchen and butteries. At the north east end of the hall an arched doorway (now a storeroom entrance) led to a staircase tower. Mr E.W Cox (1897) concluded that, in the absence of corbels and sockets in the existing hall walls for the roof timbers, the hall roof ‘was of cradle form, of the early type…’. The roof of the solar and chapel was probably similar.
The great chamber and solar, or upper living room, and the chapel with a room over it, are the best preserved parts of Storeton Hall at the northern end. The great chamber was divided into modern offices and the springing (where the arch rises from its support) of the gables remains.
In the solar, to the west, there is a high pointed gable window of two lights which is now blocked up. The entrance to this room is by a small door from the chamber above the chapel although, originally, it was entered by the staircase tower at the south east corner.
Both the chamber and the solar once possessed fireplaces in the centre of the northern wall; of the latter, a moulded hood can still be traced in the wall.
The chapel is a small room to the east of the north wing. The external facings and tracery of the windows - if these existed - have been destroyed, and blocked by an external staircase of seventeenth-century date. In 1371 the Bishop of Lichfield gave authority to William Stanley to establish an oratory (i.e. a place for private worship) in Storeton.
The remains of Storeton Hall are now almost forgotten; the growth of ivy on the west side can only weaken this once formidable structure and all the historic rooms are now neglected. Brimstage
A short distance from the busy Clatterbridge exit of the mid-Wirral motorway, lie a group of straggling cottages scattered around a village green. Brimstage - in mediaeval times Branstath - was once part of Bromborough and subsequently, in 1868, united with Raby to the parish of Thornton Hough. It was the original settlement of an old Cheshire family, the Domvilles, whose eldest line is now represented by the Earl of Shrewsbury.
The first of this family occurs in the reign of Edward III (1327-77) when they also held Oxton, Raby, and part of Mobberley in East Cheshire. In 1397 the manor estates - which now included Thingwall - passed in marriage with Margery Domville, second daughter and heiress of John Domville the younger, to Sir Hugh Hulse of Raby.
The son of Sir Hugh, Thomas, inherited in addition to the Brimstage estates, part of the manor of Little Neston, the hamlet of Hargrave and land in Thornton. After the death of Thomas in August 1432 William Troutbeck acquired all the Domville lands, as a result of the monirity of Margery Hulse to whom he married his son.
The estate passed to Sir John Troutbeck of Dunham who was slain at the Battle of Blore-Heath in 1460. As late as 1877 Brimstage and Raby were subject to a Court Leet (a local manorial court dealing with petty offences) held under the Earl of Shrewsbury.
The Domvilles were a family of some standing in the Middle Ages. In 1275 the inquisition of the death of Robert de Montalt (the steward of Chester and lord of Brimstage, who died in 1162) showed that Sir Roger Domville held land in Brimstage and Oxton. He was a member of the county court and sat on many juries, in 1277, 1281, 1284 and 1289.
In 1334 John Domville, possibly the grandson of Sir Roger, was in possession of Brimstage and Oxton but let other lands to trustees, notably in Thingwall and Barnston. In January 1340 he was appointed warden of the property of Vale Royal Abbey, founded by Edward I for the Cisterian monks, south-west of Northwich.
John Domville and his family were frequently in trouble with the courts. In the trailbaston court of 1353, John Domville and Richard Hough - listed as sergeants of the peace - were accused of hiding treasure trove which he found at Gayton by one of Domville's tenants. They failed to hand it over to the Earl of Chester.
It was further claimed that Domville, Hough and Robert Poole, together with about thirty others, hunted upon many occasions with greyhounds in the forest of Wirral. They threatened the Abbot of Basingwerk's lay-brother at Calday grange and forced him to give them food and drink. The goods, corn and chattels belonging to the Abbot were destroyed by the men's violence, and his horses, greyhounds and dogs were threatened.
In February 1398 Hugh Hulse and his wife, Margery, obtained to build an oratory at Brimstage. This private chapel is traditionally thought to be the vaulted room at the base of the mediaeval tower. This interpretation arises from the supposition that because a room is vaulted it was used for religious purposes. There is no real evidence that this was the case at Brimstage and the vaulted tower storey is typical of the mediaeval tower house.
In the south-east corner of this room at Brimstage is a roughly cut corbel, said to be an early representation of the 'Cheshire Cat'. The figure looks more like a fierce Scottish Fold then a 'Cheshire', although the mason may originally have intended to represent the red lion rampant - the Domville coat of arms. On one of the ceiling bosses there are three entwined fishes, the arms of the Troutbeck family who inherited the Brimstage estates in 1432.
Sadly, the walls of this chamber have been whitewashed. These days the Hall has been converted to house craft shops and businesses in its main courtyard.
The central portion of Brimstage Hall, on a north-south axle, appears to be of sixteenth-century origin; the north part is a later addition. One authority has suggested that the Hall 'has every appearance of having been a tower house, ie.a compactly olanned dwelling of the pele-tower type'.
The tower at one time consisted of three storeys connected by a flight of stairs winding round a central pillar. The rectangular turret at the south-est corner contains garderobes (toilets) and rises to the full three storeys. At the summit there are machicolations, or holes in the floor to drop missiles through. This projecting roof, supported on massive corbels, may have been for beacon fires as part of an ancient signalling network from North Wales to Storeton Hill.
The site of the Hall was surrounded by a moat which is still fairly visible on three sides. In part of the garden, near to the tower, several bodies have been found laid out in such a way to suggest that this area may have been once used as a cemetary.
Finds made in the 1890s during the building of the house, close to the eastern entrance gate, included human bones and carved stones. E.W Cox, in his book 'Leaves From An Antiquary's', said in 1895 - "The discovery of graves, the character of the tracery (of the fragments), and the finding of a stoup suggest a separate ecclesiastical building, standing with its graveyard to the east of the hall"Raby
Raby Village - if we can call this scattering og buildings a village - is a little piece of unspoilt Wirral. About 1½ miles to the east there is 'one of the beauty spots of Wirral' known as Raby Mere. This picturesque stretch of water is now used for purely recreational purposes, although centuries ago there was an important water mill there.
Raby is the Norse term for a boundary village and this township may have formed the boundary between Saxon and Norse territory. At the time of Doomsday, Raby was divided into two parts - one held by the Abbey of St. Werburgh, the other by William, the Norman baron of Halton. The whole of the township passed into the monks' hands sometime before 1135. There was a monastic settlement at Raby and at nearby Thornton Grange.
In 1350 Robert de Raby, a descendant of the family, who succeeded the monks as lords of the manor held the custody of the Bridge Gate at Chester. The Sergeancy remained in the Raby family until the early fifteenth century, when it was divided between the families of Norreys and the Hulses. The prime function of this office was to keep watch and maintain the entrance gates to the City of Chester. By 1432 the Troutbeck family held Raby (together with Brimstage) and the lands passed ultimately to the Earl of Shrewsbury.
The main building of historic and architectural is 'The Wheatsheaf Inn' with half-timbering and low beams. The 1611 datestone is said to have been discoverd in the gable during alterations. Norman Ellison remembered the 'rather rough, bare interior with wooden benches and a deep inglenook (the bench beside a fireplace), and beer in blue-banded mugs'.
Raby Village School was built in the Gothic style at the expense of Joseph Hirst in 1869. Owned by the All Saints Church, Thornton Hough, this was the only property in Raby Village not owned by the Leverhulme Estates. The building was last used as a school in 1901 and then the children were accommodated at Thornton Hough school. The building later functioned as the village hall and in the 1990s had been converted into two cottages.Willaston
In mediaeval times the Hundred of Wirral was called after Wilaveston, or Willaston, the small village in the heart of the peninsula. In the Doomsday survey, however, there is no mention of Willaston as a seperate village although the manor of Edelaue is thought to be commemorated in the present Hadlow Road.
The settlement at Willaston goes back at least Saxon times and the discovery of stone implements in the areasuggests neolithic occupation. Further evidence of Willaston's antiquity is a stretch of apparently Roman road at Street Hey Lane. In archaelogical excavations east of Hargrave Lane kerbstones were discovered similar to those found at Aldford, on the line of the Roman road from Chester to London.
The so-called 'Wirral Stone', at the junction of Hadlow Road and the Chester High Road, resembles an old mounting block of three steps. It has variously been described as part of a Roman survey of Wirral or the very meeting place of the Hundred Court. Its former purpose is quite clear, according to the tithe plan of 1848 where the stone is clearly marked as 'The Pissing Stone'.
The manor of Willaston first appears in a deed of 1230, by which Fulco de Orreby gave the lands to his mother together with Upton and Frankby. The Orreby family originated in Lincolnshire and came to Cheshire in the twelfth-century. The manor passed to the Arderne family of Aldford, by the marriage of Fulco's niece, and was let to the Mainwarings of Warmincham.
The manor was held by the Trussels from the 1320s to the mid sixteenth-century, when it passed to John Vere, Earl of Oxford. He decided to parcel out the lands to freeholders, and this probably accounts for the large number of substantial farmsteads in the immediate district. After his death, in 1562, the extensive estates were sold off and, ultimately, were acquired by Sir Christopher Hatton, captain of the Queen's Bodyguard and member of the privvy chamber.
In 1831 38 out of 48 families in Willaston derived their livlihood from agriculture. With the coming of the railway (the branch line from Hooton to Parkgate opened in 1866) and the motor car, Willaston's rural isolation was threatened. Cheshire County Council and local residents have sought to return the rural atmosphere and preserve the historic landscape, and Willaston was the subject of a 'pilot' conservation study in 1969.
For those who want to see Wirral's architectural heritage embodied in one village, they could do no worse then go to Willaston. The village green, which formerly extended to the west, is almost completley surrounded by old buildings. This aspect has, thankfully, remained unchanged for more then one hundred years. In 1189 Philip Sulley wrote that Willaston 'presents the finest collection of ancinet and picturesque farmhouses in Wirral'
Corner House Farm stands at the south-west corner of the green and originated as a square-shaped building of two storeys. Portions of the original mullioned windows remain, as well as the large stone inglenook fireplace, and an external door to the north.
In the first floor room of the gabled stone part is a fireplace inscribed, JB AB 1637 TB EM, possibly a reference to John and Anne Bennett. Also in this room is a representatiion in plaster of St. George and the Dragon. These fittings may not be comtemporary with the house; there was evidence of later brick work encasing the fireplace, during restoration, suggesting that it could have been moved from elsewhere.
Similarly, the plaster relief may not be an original feature. Nathaniel Hawthorne, writing in 1854, mentions 'a rude marble sculpture representing St. George and Dragon found over the fireplace of a cottage near Rock Ferry' and which, he believed, originated at Birkenhead Priory.
There was sections of wattle and daub in the internal walls of the stone portion, although it is plastered over. The brick part to the north of the house, and that behind the old part, was probably added in the late seventeenth-or early eighteenth-century. The front porch is a modern addition and the south chimney had been rebuilt.
Near to this chimney, a cannonball had been found embedded in the stonework while an old wall to the south had those deep indentations found elsewhere in Wirral.
The house had remained in the Pollard family for at least one hundred years and in March 1983 opened as a restaurant. Today is it known as 'Pollard's Inn'.
The Old Red Lion was described as 'the most attractive old hostelry in Wirral'. It was probably built in the late sixteenth-century as a private dewelling. In the eighteenth-centurt it was occupied as two cottages, and in the early nineteenth-century it became the an alehouse.
The widow of the last landlord (the public house closed in 1928) occupied the building until the 1960s. In 1972 a Liverpool planner, Nigel Worth, bought the property, after an unsuccessful attempt by the old Birkenhead Brewery Company to gain planning permission for a modern 'Pub
'. Restoration work was carried out during 1974 and to repair the timber frame the whole building was systematically dismantled and then rebuilt.
The southern gabled part consists of two storeys each containing a single room. In the ground floor there is a huge stone chimney-piece. the north part is older, and sections of wattle and daub were found in the external walls during restoration. The ceiling of this part has been raised to bring to bring it into line with the central part of the building. The house plate may refer to John Bennet and his wife Marie, who married in 1608, and the date 1631 may signify the time of alterations to the gabled wing. Today the property is private residences.
The Old Hall, an imposing building, stands southeast of the village green and has an Elizabethan-style facade. The stone over the front entrance featuring the date 1558, was actually carved in the nineteenth-century after restoration work uncovered an old chimney-piece in the main room on the first floor.
Architecturally, the Hall is probably no earlier than 1600-20. We know that the Bennett family purchased a share of the Earl of Oxford's land in the late sixteenth-century, and the house remained with them until 1920.
The house if of three storeys with a central hall and a large open fireplace. I nthe south room on the ground floor there is original oak panelling while in the main room on the first floor is the chimney-piece, already mentioned, which features the Bennett coat of arms and a frieze with flower ornamentation.
Ash Tree Farm is situated on Hadlow Road. The north wing of this farmhouse is dated 1697, but the strawberry red sandstone dressing and the style of building is very similar to that of the Old Hall. The oldest part of the southern hall of the timber-framed portion facing Hadlow Road.
The original building consisted of a single room with a room above; a panel of wattle and daub in an upstairs room suggests at least a sixteenth-century origin.
The north wing has a house plate with the initials of former tenants, probably John Wilson and Elizabeth Tellett who married in 1693. The east wing is of brick in a timber frame.
Home Farm, on the north side of the green, has been described as a 'good example of a Wirral seventeenth-century farmhouse' by E.C Bryan in his 1975 book 'Willaston's Heritage'. A house plate in the west gable bears the date 1616 and at the rear of the house is a brick barn. The buildings were used as farm dwellings until 1912; part of the Home Farm was then used as a bank and part as a private residence.
The remaining buildings surrounding the village green are eighteenth-century; to the north Pear Tree Farm, to the west Laburnum Farm, and to the south Cherry Brow Farm.Thornton Hough
The village was mentioned in the Doomsday Book as Torintone. However, the present name was forned when the daughter of Roger de Thornton, a landowner during the reign of Edward II, married Richard de Hoghe.
It was the arrival to the village of Joseph Hirst, an Huddersfield textile manufacturer, that the transformation began from an inferior township to several times winner of the Cheshire best-kept village. Between 1866 and 1870, he funded, among others, the building of All Saints church, the vicarage, school and Wilshaw Terrace.
However, it was William Lever who carried on Joseph Hirst's good work and was mainly responsible for the village we see today. Having laid the foundations for his new factory at Port Sunlight in 1888, he rented Thorton Manor then purchased it in 1901 and it remained the family residence for many years. He set about transforming the village, demolishing insanitary dwellings and replacing them with architect designed, half-timbered cottages. he also built among others, cottages, a smithy, school, village club, shops, St. George's church and residences for many of his family.
The Seven Stars or Seven Stars Hotel as it was originally known dates from approximately the 1840's. It has certainly been in existence since 1849 when the licensee was Joseph Dunn, who was also the local shopkeeper. The hotel was operated for many years by the Birkenhead Brewery before passing on to Whitbread's, and then on to Carl & Paula Starkey whom run it as a free house. There was another Pub
in the village at the the turn of the 20th Century, the Rising Sun, whose victualler was Joseph Pollard.