CHESHIRE, a maritime county, bounded on the north by the estuary of the Mersey, the county of Lancaster, and a small part of the county of York; on the east by the counties of Derby and Stafford; on the south by the county of Salop, and a detached portion of Flintshire; on the west by the counties of Denbigh and Flint, and the estuary of the Dee; and on the north-west by the Irish Sea. It extends from 52° 56' to 53° 32' (N. Lat.), and from 1° 48' to 3° 10' (W. Lon.); and includes 1052 square miles, or 673,280 statute acres. Within the limits of the county are 73,444 inhabited houses, 5844 uninhabited, and 547 in progress of erection; and the population amounts to 395,660, of whom 193,646 are males, and 202,014 are females.
The name is a contraction of Chestershire. At the time of the Roman invasion, the county formed part of the territory occupied by the Cornavii; in the first division of Britain by the Romans it was included in Britannia Superior, and in their subsequent subdivision became part of Flavia Cæsariensis. Under the Saxons it was a portion of the powerful kingdom of Mercia; and upon the division of England into three great districts by Alfred, it was comprehended in that called Mercenlege, or the "Mercian jurisdiction." Cheshire is within the diocese of Chester, and province of York; it comprises the deaneries of Chester, Frodsham, Macclesfield, Nantwich, Malpas, Middlewich, and Wirrall, containing 87 parishes. For purposes of civil jurisdiction it is divided into the hundreds of Broxton, Bucklow, Eddisbury, Macclesfield, Nantwich, Northwich, and Wirrall. It contains the city of Chester (which however forms a county of itself); the large manufacturing towns of Macclesfield and Stockport, recently created parliamentary boroughs; and the other market towns of Altrincham, Birkenhead, Congleton, Frodsham, Knutsford, Malpas, Middlewich, Nantwich, Northwich, Sandbach, and Tarporley. Under the act of the 2nd of William IV., cap. 45, the county was divided into two parts, the Northern and Southern, each sending to parliament two knights of the shire. Two citizens are returned for the city of Chester, and two burgesses each for Macclesfield and Stockport; and the village of Farndon, bordering on Denbighshire, is included within the limits of the adjacent borough of Holt, and shares in the election of one member for the district of boroughs comprising Denbigh, Ruthin, and Holt. Under the act of the 1st of William IV., cap. 70, for the more effectual administration of justice in England and Wales, the assizes were directed to be held in Cheshire and each of the counties of Wales, in the same manner as such courts had been held in the counties of England having no palatine jurisdiction; one of the two judges appointed by Her Majesty's commission to hold the assizes within the county of Chester and principality of Wales proceeding to hold such assizes in North Wales, and the other in South Wales, and both holding the assizes in and for the county of Chester, as in other English counties. The assizes, and the Epiphany and Easter quarter-sessions, are held at Chester, where stands the county gaol; and the Midsummer and Michaelmas quarter-sessions, at Knutsford, where is the house of correction.
William the Conqueror, having granted the county to his nephew, Hugh Lupus, the latter was constituted the first hereditary earl in England, that dignity having previously been an office of the executive government of the realm. By the terms of the grant, Lupus acquired jura regalia within the county, in the exercise of which he created eight parliamentary barons (one of whom was hereditary constable, and another hereditary steward), assembled parliaments, and established courts of law. His descendants continued to enjoy this sovereignty until the death of John, Earl of Chester, in 1237, without male issue; in consequence of which, Henry III. seized on the county of Chester, gave other lands in lieu to the sisters of the deceased earl, and bestowed the earldom on his son, Prince Edward. Richard II. having erected Cheshire into a principality, added to his other titles that of Princeps Cestriæ; but this act was abrogated by his successor, and it again became a county palatine, and continued, under the king's eldest sons, as earls of Chester, to be governed, as in the time of its ancient earls, by a jurisdiction separate from, and independent of, the parliament of England. The ancient privileges of the palatinate were much abridged in the 27th of Henry VIII., prior to which time the lord high chancellor of England had not appointed justices of the peace, justices of the quorum, or of gaol delivery, in the county; the authority of the earl within the palatinate being as absolute as that of the king throughout the realm, and so extensive that he had power to pardon for treason and felony, to rescind outlawries, and to appoint justices of eyre, assize, gaol delivery, and of the peace; and all original and judicial writs, and indictments, for treason and felony, with the process thereon, being made in his name. In consequence of this curtailment of its privileges, the county petitioned that it might send knights and burgesses to the parliament of the realm; in accordance with which, a statute was passed in 1542, enacting that thenceforward two knights should be returned for the county palatine, and two burgesses for the city of Chester. The authority of the judges and officers of the great session of the county palatine, which, says Lord Coke, "is the most ancient and honourable remaining in England," extended over the counties of Chester and Flint, for both which one seal was used; and the king's writ did not run in the palatinate, all writs from the superior courts being directed to the chamberlain of Chester, who issued his mandate to the sheriff. The chamberlain had, within the county palatine and the county of the city of Chester, the jurisdiction of chancellor; and the court of exchequer, at Chester, was the chancery court, whereof the chamberlain, or his deputy, was the sole judge in equity: he was also judge at the common law within the said limits. The other officers of the court were the vicechamberlain, baron, seal-keeper, filizer, examiner, six clerks or attorneys of the court, and some inferior officers. But by the recent statute above mentioned, the whole of these jurisdictions have been abolished, and the subjects of them transferred to the courts at Westminster.
The general appearance of the surface is that of an extended plain, thickly covered with wood; so that, from some points of view, the entire county wears the aspect of a vast and continued forest. The most elevated lands are on the eastern border, and in the western part from Malpas to Frodsham. There are several small lakes, called meres or pools, of which Combermere is a fine sheet of water, nearly two miles in length and half a mile in breadth, close to the site of Combermere Abbey. The soils are intermingled; the prevailing species are clay and sand, a tolerably strong and retentive clay existing in the largest proportion. The subsoil is commonly clay or marl; but in some places it is found to consist of sand, rammel, foxbench, gravel, and red rock: the rammel is a hard argillaceous substance, very unfavourable to the vegetation on the surface; as also, in a still greater degree, is the foxbench. The proportion of land in tillage is much inferior to that of many counties possessing the same degree of fertility: wheat and oats, but principally the latter, are the chief objects of culture; and in a considerable tract bordering on Lancashire, into which county it also extends, potatoes are a more common agricultural crop than in any other part of the kingdom. The ordinary artificial grasses are red and white clover, rye-grass, trefoil, rib-grass, and vetches. As the making of cheese is a principal object of husbandry, the proportion of pasture land is very considerable; it is calculated that the number of cows kept for the dairy is about 92,000, and that the quantity of cheese annually made is about 11,500 tons. There are few woods and plantations of great extent, yet the quantity of timber growing here is more than the average of the same space in the kingdom at large; it is scattered chiefly in hedge-rows and coppices. The wastes consist of the large tract of hilly land on the Derbyshire border, and several peat-mosses, such as Lindow Common, Featherbed Moss, &c., in the hundred of Macclesfield; Rud Heath; and some smaller tracts in different parts of the county. But great progress has for several years been made in their inclosure, of which the most prominent instance is that of Delamere Forest.
The minerals of the county are various and important. The principal and the most remarkable, as forming one of its staple productions, and being almost peculiar to it, is salt, the manufacture of which appears to have been carried on here from the most remote period, and to have yielded a considerable revenue to the crown, even prior to the Norman Conquest. This article was, until a late period, manufactured only from the water of the brine springs; and even so late as the beginning of the last century, the salt made in Cheshire supplied merely its own consumption and that of a few adjacent counties, English salt being then considered inferior to that imported from the continent; but the preparation, as well for home consumption as for exportation, exceedingly increased in the course of that century; and the trade is now of the first national importance, and the source of an extensive commerce. The first bed of fossil rock-salt was found in 1670, in searching for coal, at Marbury, about a mile to the north of Northwich; and this town, and its immediate neighbourhood, continued to be the only part of the county in which rock-salt was known to exist, until 1779, when extensive beds were discovered near Lawton. The first bed of salt, found at the depth of about 40 yards, is here 25 yards in thickness; the second, which is at the depth of about 76 yards, is of unknown thickness, having been dug for about 36 yards. The cavities formed in working the salt, which are generally about fifteen feet in height, are separated by massive pillars of salt, eight or ten yards square, and, when illuminated by candles fixed in the rock, have a highly brilliant and picturesque appearance. The salt from the brine is procured by evaporation and crystallization in large pans placed over fires. The next most valuable mineral is Coal, which is procured chiefly in the range of high ground extending between Macclesfield and Stockport, and connected with the Derbyshire hills. In the beds of sandstone composing Alderley-Edge are several breaks, extending across it from east to west, and filled irregularly with sandstone and masses of barytes, among which are veins of Lead and Copper ores. Similar veins have been found at Mottram St. Andrew, a little to the north-east; and copper ore is likewise procured in the Peckforton hills, forming the southern part of the range which extends across the middle of the county. Several quarries of excellent Freestone are worked in different parts of the county, among which those at Runcorn and at Manley, on the north-west side of Delamere Forest, are the most considerable. At Kerredge, on the hills near Macclesfield, is a species of Sandstone peculiarly adapted to the formation of flags and hones. Limestone is no where found but at Newbold-Astbury, where large quantities are burned with coal brought from Staffordshire. Marl exists almost in every part, and Gypsum is found in some places.
From its proximity to Manchester, the county has participated in the great extension of the cotton manufacture, and there are now few situations within its limits favourable for the purpose where mills have not been erected; which is more especially the case in the northern part of the county, where the cotton trade has rendered Stockport one of the most important towns in the kingdom: the trade is also of considerable extent at Macclesfield, Marple, and Congleton. A large quantity of muslin is made at Macclesfield, and in Stockport and its neighbourhood. There are numerous silk-mills at Congleton, Macclesfield, Stockport, and Sandbach; the weaving of ribbon forms the staple trade of Congleton, and that of silk-handkerchiefs of the more important town of Macclesfield, where also silk-ferret is made. At Knutsford is a manufacture of thread; and the manufacture of hats for exportation at Stockport, Macclesfield, and Nantwich, and that of shoes at Sandbach, are each considerable. Some woollen-cloths are made at the north-eastern extremity of the county, in the parish of Mottram; and tanning isvery extensively carried on.
The principal rivers are the Dee, the Mersey, and the Weaver; to which the minor streams of the Dane, the Bollin, the Peover, the Wheelock, and the Tame, are tributary. The Dee, a little below the city of Chester, enters an artificial channel, by which it is carried through the marshes in the north-eastern extremity of Flintshire, by Hawarden, to its expansive estuary, which is in some parts seven miles in breadth, but so full of sands that at low water the channel is almost entirely dry: this opens to the Irish Sea near Hilbree Island, where it is about five miles in breadth. Prior to the year 1449, the navigation of the Dee had become so much obstructed by sand, as to cause the stream frequently to change its channel, and occasion the ruin of the haven of Chester; to obviate which, a new quay or haven was made nearly six miles from Chester, about the middle of the following century: on its completion, all goods conveyed from and brought to the port of Chester were there shipped and landed. In 1700, an act was obtained to enable the mayor and citizens to recover and preserve the navigation of the Dee; and another act being passed in 1734, empowering some gentlemen, willing to undertake the work, to inclose a large tract of the banks of the river, called the White Sands, on the condition of making a navigable line from the sea to Chester, the present artificial channel was completed in 1740, in which year the undertakers were incorporated by the name of "The Company of Proprietors of the Undertaking for recovering and preserving the Navigation of the river Dee." In 1763, 1411 acres of land were recovered; in 1769, 664; and in 1795, 348; and this reclaimed tract has been greatly augmented by subsequent embankments.
The Mersey forms the boundary between this county and Lancashire, and below Warrington, where it meets the tide, begins to expand until it reaches Runcorn Gap, where it is suddenly rendered narrow by a projection from the Lancashire side. Beyond this point it immediately opens into a grand estuary, three miles in width, which gradually contracts until it arrives at Liverpool, where it is only three-quarters of a mile in width, but forms a fine channel, at least ten fathoms deep at low water, and very commodious for shipping. At the distance of about five miles further, measuring by the Cheshire coast, it falls into the Irish Sea, through different inlets, separated and much obstructed by sands; but the passage is rendered secure by means of various landmarks, buoys, and lighthouses, and the good system of pilotage established by the Liverpool merchants. The Weaver rises on Bulkeley Heath, in the south-western part of the county, and pursues its entire course within its limits. This river in its natural state, being navigable only at high tides, and but for six miles above Frodsham bridge, a company of Cheshire gentlemen, in 1720, entered into a subscription to procure an act of parliament for extending the navigation from Frodsham bridge to Winsford bridge; and all incumbrances brought on by this undertaking were discharged in 1778. Since that time a considerable surplus revenue, arising from tonnage, &c., has been annually paid into the county treasury in aid of the rate, as provided by the act; and the returns are now estimated at about £20,000 per annum. The total length of the Weaver navigation is nearly 24 miles; and the extensive trade upon it in salt and coal, and in flint and clay for the Staffordshire potteries, makes the tonnage greater than perhaps that of any river of its size in the kingdom.
The canals that intersect Cheshire in various directions, are, the Duke of Bridgewater's, commenced under an act passed in 1759, and completed, with its several branches, under various others; the Trent and Mersey or Grand Trunk canal, begun under an act obtained in 1766, which has been amended by numerous subsequent acts; the Ellesmere and Chester canal, commenced under an act procured in 1772, and finished under many others, with different branches; the Peak Forest canal, the first act for which was passed in 1794; and the Macclesfield canal, the act for constructing which was obtained in 1825. The Huddersfield canal also pursues its course for some distance within the northern confines of the county, on the south side of the valley of the Tame; and there is a branch canal from Stockport, communicating with the Manchester, Ashton, and Oldham canal, which at Ashton approaches close to the borders of Cheshire, and in the vicinity of that town is connected with the Peak-Forest and Huddersfield canals. Several railways, also, have been formed. The Birmingham and Liverpool railway enters the county at Blackenhall, between Checkley and Wrinehill, and proceeds in a direction north-north-west to the west of Crewe Hall, where it is joined by the Manchester and Birmingham, and the Chester and Crewe, railways; it afterwards pursues its course to the river Mersey, at Warrington. The Manchester and Birmingham railway runs by Stockport and Sandbach, to Crewe, and has a considerable branch to Macclesfield. The Chester and Crewe railway runs from the station in Chester to Crewe, a distance of 20½ miles; it is carried over the river Weaver, and several bridges, by an extensive viaduct, and at Christleton passes under the Ellesmere canal. The Chester and Birkenhead railway commences at Chester, and proceeds to Birkenhead, on the Mersey, opposite to Liverpool, a distance of 16 miles; it passes over several extensive embankments, and by a viaduct of 11 arches over the Ellesmere canal. The Sheffield, Ashton, and Manchester railway crosses the north-eastern angle of the county, which interposes between Lancashire, Yorkshire, and Derbyshire; it is of recent construction, and is a line of great importance. Cheshire also includes part of the Chester and Holyhead, Chester and Shrewsbury, and Altrincham and Manchester, lines.
Few Roman remains have been discovered, except within the walls of Chester, which city, under the name of Deva, was for more than two centuries the station of the twentieth legion, vestiges of whose occupation are even yet numerous. The site of no other station within the county has been clearly ascertained, though it is conjectured by Whitaker, on interesting local evidence, that the station of Condate was at Kinderton, and that there were likewise fortified posts at Stockport, Stretford, and Warrington. Many Roman roads traversed the territory, of which the principal were, one from Manchester to Kinderton, one from Kinderton to Wroxeter, one from Kinderton southward by the vicinity of Sandbach, one from Kinderton to the station at Chesterton, near Newcastle-under-Line; one from Kinderton to Chester; the ancient Watling-street, originally of British construction, from the south-eastern coast of the island to Chester; and a great road called by Sir R. C. Hoare the Via Devana, from Chester southward: but the existing remains of these are few, scattered, and imperfect. Prior to the Dissolution, Cheshire contained 13 Religious Houses, including one commandery of the Knights Hospitallers; there were, besides, two colleges and nine hospitals. Of some of these houses considerable remains yet exist, especially of the abbey of St. Werburgh, Chester. The principal remains of Castles are those of Chester and Beeston, though the former were much diminished in 1790, for the purpose of erecting on their site the present noble county hall, gaol, and barracks; vestiges of those of Halton, Alford, Shotwick, and Shotlach are also traceable. There are several remarkable ancient mansions, namely, Doddington, Bramhall, Saighton, Little Moreton, Dutton, Poole, Brereton, and Crewe Halls; and many of the modern seats are elegant edifices. At Buglawton is a saline and sulphureous spring, efficacious in the cure of scorbutic diseases: at Shaw Heath, near Stockport, is a strong chalybeate spring; and some of the brine springs already noticed have also chalybeate properties.