UPTON-BY-CHESTER

UPTON, a common name in England, is of Saxon origin and means
'high settlement'; it contrasts with Hoole which means 'hole' or 'lowland'.
The name itself thus suggests a long history.

Sited above most of Chester, Upton rises to about 125 feet (38m) and is
built mainly on sand with thin layers of glacial clay, both of which have been
exploited for building materials. Sandstone underlies the area at no great
depth, particularly in the north. Until the 19th century clay was dug out as
calcareous 'marl' and spread on the fields as fertiliser. A few marl 'pits' can still
be discerned today as ponds (good for fishing!) and wooded hollows in local
fields, though they are disappearing fast.

Small prehistoric and Roman articles have been found, but no building
remains are known. At the time of Domesday in 1066 'Optone' was held by
Edwin, but by 1086 was in the hands of Herbert the Jerkin Maker and Hamon
de
Macey (Massey) under Earl Hugh Lupus. It is one of the few demesnes
which increased in value between 1066 and 1086. Norman monks set up a
watermill in the Bache hollow, but prehistoric flints found near the mill pond
point to a more ancient origin. In the 16th century the Brock family were
important landowners, and the village is marked on most old maps of
Cheshire, indicating its importance.

In 1839 the Tithe Map shows clusters of cottages at The Bache, Upton
Heath and Upton Lane, and records indicate a population of about 550. By
1891 (Census) the population had increased to 1313 who lived in 138
dwellings. During the 20th century the number of people living in Upton has
increased sixfold.

During the second half of the 19th century a number of large houses

 

For example Plas Newton House in 1843; Upton Lodge in 1848; Upton Lawn in the
1850s; Upton Park 1864; Oakfield in 1892 (now part of the Zoological Gardens). Most of the farms, within and beyond the village are older, and one (Upton Grange) is
moated.

 

- were built by military, landed and business families who had the means to maintain
a large staff of estate workers, gardeners and servants, and at the same time
contribute to Church and local needs. This injection of wealth laid the founda-
tion of the Upton we know today for work was provided for a range of crafts-
men who occupied small cottage dwellings in Smoke Street (now Upton
Lane), Flag Lane, Sheeps' Head Row (Heath Road), near the inns or around
The Heath were 20 existed in 1839. These trends must have been apparent to
William Massey when he sought to establish a Chapel of Ease in the early
1850s. Contributions in cash and kind to the new Church and later to the
Vicarage, from all levels of society, reinforce the idea of Upton as a well
integrated 19th century community.

The County Lunatic Asylum was built in 1827-9 by Mr. W. Quayle oi
Neston.
The architect was William Cole who featured an impressive Ionic
Porch. It accommodated 50-60 inmates in 1831 at a weekly cost of7s-6d, paid

 

 

by the parish or township in the case of paupers; higher class inmates who
could afford apartments paid by special agreement to cover their main-
tenance.

The windmill was erected in 1775 and was operated by the Dean family for
several generations. It remains as an unusual and attractive dwelling house
in Mill Lane. The present Smithy was not built until 1944, but a 400 year old
Smithy stood on Liverpool Road near Upton Lane until 1941. Like most of the
cottages it has now disappeared.

The Cockpit, located on 'Sand-Hole Croft' may at one time have been a sand
pit. Until the end of the 18th century cockfighting provided sport for people
from miles around as well as for race-goers after Chester Races. In 1839 it
became a hotel and tea garden, and later a private residence, and in 1950 was
a sunken garden with a sundial. The Chemistry pits may have had a similar
origin; but were used as a rubbish dump in the mid 19th century, eliciting loud
complaints from ratepayers at their meetings at the Egerton Arms, which also
functioned as a Turnpike coaching inn. The Frog Inn nearby was open at any
time for a traveller who had journeyed more than 3 miles (how did he prove
it?); from this inn the mail was sent at 9.45pm daily, the driver being quite
willing to accept beer in lieu of payment! The Wheatsheaf, originally a wheel-
wright's premises and later a bakehouse has served as a public house since
1864.

The railway was constructed in 1840, but the nearest station was Molling-
ton
or Chester; Upton station was built in 1938 and The Bache in 1984. People
walked much more than we do today, and made use of footpaths which were
often more easily passable than the roads, churned by farm wagons and
deeply rutted, with water filled ditches on either side. The bypass was built in
1931 along the line of the local blackberry lane.

Before the Second World War suburban growth had already started to
affect Upton, but most of the older houses remained sometimes in non-resi-
dential use and sometimes split into flats. As development accelerated after
1950 they in turn began to disappear. One of the last to be demolished was
Upton Lawn and the filled-in cellars are now topped with new houses, though
the Lodge remains. Such dwellings were built at a time when fuel and
domestic labour were plentiful and cheap, and wealth was in the hands of a
few richer families. They did not fit the economic changes of the late 20th
century and their fate was sealed by the new social patterns. Upton has con-
tinued to grow and suburban housing now extends to its boundaries, but
those who would discern its past character must seek diligently, map in hand,
on the ground and in the records.

S. M. Hebblethwaite
May, 1989