Of the eighty three pre-Domesday village sites on the Wirral, Saughall is one of the twenty nine built on clay. The origins of all of them are obscure and it is fascinating to ponder on which were settled by the Celts, Saxons or Scandinavians, all of whom were involved in the early history of the Wirral peninsula.
Of pre-history, there is remarkably little evidence on the Wirral, probably because it was fairly remote and almost cut off from what is now Cheshire by the marshes of the Dee and the Gowy. When the Celts moved up Britain from the continent, there is evidence that they settled in some parts of the Wirral and probably passed through Saughall looking for landing places on the Dee. However, there is no firm evidence of a Celtic settlement in Saughall.
After the Romans began their conquest of Britain in AD 43, and their subsequent settlement of Chester, they built a road to their naval station at Meols which went from Northgate in Chester through Mollington along what is now known as Townfield Lane, just skirting the NE boundary of Saughall. When the Romans left Britain around AD 400, the so called Dark Ages enveloped Britain, and it is in this obscure period that many ancient Wirral villages were settled.
Around AD 670, the Anglo Saxons reached Wirral, and Saughall as a habitation probably dates from this period. The name Saughall is Anglo Saxon for ‘willow nook’ or ‘corner where willows grow’. As noted earlier, the site is on clay and thereby good for timber growing, whilst the tidal river which reached the present dip in Sea Hill Road, provided fishing and a means of defence on one side at least. From the beginning, Saughall seems to have been associated with first the Saxon monastery, then the Norman Benedictine Abbey in Chester. Although its early history is obscure, by the time of the Norman Conquest, there was obviously a small but thriving community in Saughall overlorded by the Saxon earls of Mercia.
The Domesday Book, compiled after the Conquest in 1086, has two entries for Saughall because one third of it was held by the abbey in Chester and the other two thirds by William Malbanc or Malbedeng, the first Norman baron of the area. The two entries read (in modern translation):
- The Church itself held and holds Salhare (Saughall). 1 hide paying tax. Land for 1 plough. It is there in lordship; 2 slaves. 1 villager and 1 smallholder. Value before 1066, 16s; now as much.
- William Malbanc holds Salhare (Saughall). Leofing held it; he was a freeman. 6 hides paying tax. Land for 6 ploughs. In lordship 1½; 1 slave; 7 villagers; 1 rider and 4 smallholders with 3½ ploughs. A fishery. Value before 1066, 20s; later 22s, now 45s.
The entries are interesting in that Saughall had serfs or slaves, villeins or villagers, bordars or smallholders living in the area but not in the village itself, and a rider or radman who was a rather more important person whose duties included errands and escort work for the Lord.
The second entry is also interesting because the pre-conquest owner is mentioned, Leofing or Leving, a freeman, proving a settlement at Saughall under the Mercian Earls.
St Werburgh’s Abbey in Chester held a third of Saughall before the Conquest and this was confirmed by the Earl of Chester, Hugh Lupus, as a possession of the new Benedictine foundation. The remaining two thirds were held under the Earl by the first Baron, William Malbanc, who also assigned the tithes of Saughall to the Abbey. These two thirds of the village were under Norman Earls of Chester, and later the King, until the 17th century.
In 1093, Hugh Lupus built Shotwick Castle as a defence against the Welsh. It was a pentagon in shape with 51ft sides and a 5 storey watchtower. This castle was nearer to Saughall than to Shotwick and, like the Abbey, had an important effect on the lives of the villagers.
This text is concerned not only with Great and Little Saughall, or Saughall Magna and Parva as they were once called, but also with Castle Saughall, later Shotwick Park, since it is almost indistinguishable from Saughall life even after the enclosure of the Park in 1327. This too had a great influence on the life of the village, Great Saughall, Little Saughall, Castle Shotwick, together with Rough Shotwick or Woodbank, Capenhurst and Church Shotwick (i.e. the present village of Shotwick) formed the parish of Shotwick, itself a part of the Hundred of Wirral, a Hundred being the sub-division of English shires formed about AD 950 for taxation purposes.
After Shotwick Castle was built, several Kings of England including Henry II and Henry III stayed there during their campaigns against the Welsh and the people of Saughall prepared the Castle in anticipation of royal visits.
Little Saughall, Like Great Saughall, was a royal manor within the parish of Shotwick. It was heavily wooded, and in 1260, there is a first mention of the King’s Wood in Little Saughall. This name is of course perpetuated by Kingswood Lane which ran through it, and this lane is almost certainly the ancient saltersway from Hoole Heath to Shotwick Ford. Documentary evidence exists of the various disputes concerning tree felling in the King’s Wood such as that heard in September 1288 between the Abbot of Chester and William de Hunkelow, both of whom held a third of the wood under the King. Apparently, on a November day in 1287, William found the Abbot’s men cutting down two oaks so he “overthrew the cart and took the oaks (value 12d) to his own use”. The Court decided that he had obstructed the Abbot and the damages and fine together came to £5. Later, in 1296, the Abbot was charged with cutting down 6 oaks in Saughall Wood, which he used to build his manor house in Little Sutton. Once again the Court found for him, adding that from time immemorial, the Abbots could cut down trees on all their manors in Wirral without paying fines.
Returning to Saughall Magna, we find in 1280, a most important document referred to by some historians as the Domesday of the royal manors of Shotwick. At this time, Roger le Strange was Lord of the manors and the document records a survey by jurors into the holdings and income of several manors. It is a fascinating document because actual individuals living in Saughall are named. The jurors include Thomas, son of John of Saughall, Thomas, son of Richard of the same place, Cadogan, son of Meiller of the same place, and several others. The content of the survey too is interesting – the grazing rights of the parish brought in 19s of which Saughall paid 10s, Woodbank 4s and Shotwick 1/6. The next source of income was from fishing in the Dee. This was valued at £6-13-4 of which the men of Saughall paid £2-13-4 for the general right of fishing with nets. It was carefully noted that the Lord of the manor had a right to half the catch of salmon. The document then lists the free tenants and bondsmen. Of the free tenants, Thomas, son of John of Saughall, held two bovates, that is, 30 acres, and paid no rent since he acted as summoner for the manor court and carried letters concerning the affairs of the manor.
The bondsmen included Roger, sun of Richard, who held one bovate of land in Saughall and paid 3s at Martinmass, the feasts of St John and Michaelmas, and had to do one day’s ploughing for the Lord. There were, in all, 23 holdings and they brought in £4-9-3. All paid a uniform rent of 3s per bovate and all had to do a day’s ploughing in Winter for the Lord at their own expense, and one day in Lent at the Lord’s expense. They also had to do three days work each in Autumn, including Edusa the widow, who was presumably also a tenant. Finally, there are two interesting services which the men of Saughall had to perform. “The township of Saughall at the coming of the Lord has to gather a cartload of rushes. And if the serjeant of Shotwick has not a stock of corn at the Lord’s coming, five or six men of Saughall shall thresh provender for the horses in the Lord’s grange for one day”. Thus we see that Saughall villagers were involved in the activities of the Castle.
In 1281, peace was made with the Welsh after Llewellyn’s death and subsequently the gradual decay of Shotwick Castle as a military site begins. It now became a mark of royal favour and honour to be custodian of the castle. Edward I visited the castle on the 10th and 17th of September, 1284, and he probably passed through Saughall, although by which route it is difficult to ascertain.
There is some confusion to the layout of the old roads in Saughall. In an enquiry of 1339, the old saltersway of Kingswood Lane is described as “the king’s highway near Chester to lede the hooste of our Sovereign Lord the King in tyme of warre unto Shotwyk Ford”. This lane continued along Fiddlers Lane and Lodge Lane before turning down to Shotwick. However, several historical notes describe Kingswood Lane, but also a military road which went to the castle. Some say that Kingswood Lane served both purposes, but one paper claims that there were in fact two roads, Kingswood to the ford and the present Saughall road to the castle. Saughall road does continue over the crossroads by the Vernon Institute and along the front of Shotwick House, and this is a direct line to the castle. The existence of this road as an ancient one is also substantiated by the position of the inns at the crossroads and on the same road in Little Saughall. All three are ancient establishments and it is known that the Swinging Gate existed in 1490, whilst the other two flourished in 1561 and were probably built much earlier. It is possible that the two roads were one road as far as Blacon, and after the building of the castle, Saughall Road evolved as a more direct route to the castle. The two roads were linked by the present Church Road which continued down to the fisheries on the river.
Shotwick Park has been scarcely mentioned in this text for the simple reason that up to 1327 it was still the royal manor of Castle Shotwick and not yet a park. Adjoining it was wood known as Burnellswood which Robert Burnell, Bishop of Bath and Wells, had obtained from the Milbanc barony in 1285. In 1327, Edward III, as Earl of Chester, was well acquainted with the sporting possibilities of his manors in Saughall, wrote to the justiciar of Chester ordering him to enclose “our several woods called Burnellswode together with the lands belonging to it in our manor of Shotwick”. This task involved the making of a ditch, the erection of palings to keep out wolves and a deer leap to let deer in but not out.
On completion, the park was first leased to Sir Robert Dammory, justiciar of Chester in 1311, but in 1332 it was granted to Sir Roger Swynnerton, a powerful Staffordshire man who was often in attendance on Edward II and Edward III. As part of his lease, he was allowed the estovers, housebote, heybote, herbage, pannage and other commodities – actually, estovers are firewood and pannage is swine pasture. He could also take one stag and two bucks by view of the parker in the Summer and four does in Winter.
This is the first mention of the parker in Shotwick Park, a job of dignity with valuable perquisites, and it was eagerly sought after. The first parker was Nicholas of Upton who received 2d a day during the years 1334-35. The next parker in 1335 was Richard Roer, one of the King’s archers, who received the same wages but also a grant of land in Little Saughall. He was given the parkership by the Black Prince who had been created Earl of Chester in 1333 by his father, Edward III. In 1353, the Black Prince made his first visit to his earldom of Chester and gave 12 oaks from Saughall Wood and a further 12 oaks later to the monks of Chester as part compensation for stopping their hunting rights in the royal forests. The Black Prince seems to have extorted much money from his earldom, one sum of £3000 the county paid to gain exemption from a general Eyre or visitation which would have cost more. To another levy of the Prince amounting to £1000, the Abbot of Chester had to pay £266. The people of Chester fervently hoped that this, the Prince’s first visit would be his last.
The park was granted to a succession of royal favourites, the most famous being Sir Hugh Calveley of Lea who held it from 1385 until his death in 1393. He was a very famous captain in the English army and was made Governor of the Channel Islands in 1389. In 1387, Sir Hugh provided the King’s carpenter with oaks and other timber to repair the Dee Mills as the only suitable timber for the purpose could be found in Saughall Wood and the park. At the same time, the name Roger Drury occurs with the sale of dead wood and bark in the park and Saughall Wood. When Sir Hugh died, his son, Sir John was granted the manor which he held until 1398.
It was mentioned earlier that the Benedictine monastery in Chester held certain lands in Saughall and derived income from them. As early as 1249, Abbot Thomas Capenhurst assigned 10s from the Saughall income for the poor as an observance of his anniversary. This ‘assigning’ was a common practise so that income could be given to a specific charity instead of going into the general coffer where it might be wrongly used. It was also common practise to encourage young novices for the monastery from villages where St Werburgh’s held lands, Thomas Capenhurst was probably one such novice who later became Lord Abbot of Chester.
Saughall provided a candidate for the monastery in the person of John of Saughall, or more simply John Saughall, who was a clerk at the abbey in 1414. Unfortunately, his early years at the abbey coincided with one of its violent periods for the first mention of him in 1414 concerns the charge against him and others of conspiracy to assault a weaver in Chester. In 1420, John Saughall again appears in the mayor’s court on charges of going armed with knives and divers other weapons and taking a silver cruet belonging to the monastery from the alter. On a later occasion he broke open a cabinet and stole 5/4d in silver, whilst later he broke into Abbot Erdeley’s house and took two silver vessels valued at 26/8d and 12 silver spoons valued at 28/-. It is a coincidence that Erdeley had robbed his predecessor, Abbot Sutton, in the same way and got the dubious punishment of being made Lord Abbot. Likewise, John Saughall, despite his crimes, was made Lord Abbot in 1435.
The monastery during this period seemed to contain a rowdy element who roamed the streets of Chester at night looking for trouble and this violent group probably dominated the rest in securing the election of John Saughall.
Be that as it may, on January 23rd, 1435, King Henry VI, a boy of 14 informed Pope Eugenius IV that he agreed to the election of John Saughall as Abbot of Chester. Unexpectedly, after his election, most troubles cease and he does not seem to have been involved in any further court cases. In 1437, the monastery suffered sequestration, probably due to the previous Abbot’s financial policy. In 1450, John Saughall received the royal licence to hold the keys to the abbey gateways between Eastgate and Northgate so that the public could be excluded from the caleyards. Also in 1450, Abbot Saughall suffered excommunication for not appearing in convocation after being personally cited to attend, but after later appearing and pleading exemption, he was absolved.
Abbot Saughall died on 23rd April, 1455 and was buried in his abbey church under the arch which then existed between the south choir aisle (now the chapel of St Erasmus where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved) and the Lady Chapel before Scott’s restoration walled it up. Writing in 1858, Canon Blomfield said, “The stone under which the abbot was buried still remains….and beras traces of a very rich brass which must have nearly covered the whole stone. About thirty years ago (i.e. 1828) this stone was removed and the Abbot’s coffin found below in a tolerable state. His body was enveloped in folds of cerecloth and an illegible writing on parchment lay upon his breast. His gold ring of office containing a large sapphire was on the forefinger of his right hand. This was not interred again with the rest of the contents and is now preserved among the treasures of the Chapter”. According to Canon Burne in his book ‘The Monks of Chester’, this ring was examined by an expert in 1950 who reported that the stone – a star sapphire – had been reset in an 18 carot gold ring about the year 1828. Only the stone therefore is original. Despite his early misdeeds, Abbot John of Saughall must be considered one of the village’s first worthies.
It is interesting that the Saughall family provided other priests in Cheshire, Roger Salghall being vicar of Acton St Mary’s in 1393, and Richard Salghall, rector of Dodleston in 1461. Unfortunately, there seems to be no examples of Saughall as a name. However, Saughall does seem to contain descendants of local families who took the name of their villages as their own, such as the Huxleys, the Thorntons, the Bebbingtons and the Warringtons.
Returning to the story of Shotwick Park and the manor of Great Saughall. In 1461, the two manors with the office of parker were given for life to Eleanor, the wife of Thomas, Lord Stanley. Eleanor was the daughter of the Earl of Salisbury and sister to Richard, Earl of Warwick, known as the king-maker. Her husband was the ancestor of the Lord Stanley who was made Earl of Derby in 1435.
The Stanleys were followed by several families until the 1520’s when a dispute for the parkership arose between the Egerton and the Brereton families. The Breretons won and Sir William Brereton took office in 1528. He fell from royal favour and was beheaded in 1536, one charge against him being according to Henry VIII, he was on too familiar terms with Anne Boleyn. In 1549, Richard Wibraham of Woodhey obtained the parkership, but surrendered it to Queen Mary in 1553 on condition that he was leased the manors of Shotwick and Great Saughall for 60 years.
In 1601, Queen Elizabeth appointed a commission to “view, perambulate and tread over our Park of Shotwick and the Palinge and Inclosure thereof”. At this time a George Mainwaring was living at Shotwick Lodge – he was related by marriage to the Wilbrahams. The present farmhouse is on the site of the old Lodge and traces of the former moat can still be seen, In the farmyard is an old building which is known as the chapel and is said to be built from stone and other materials from the ruined castle. However, the highlight of this farm is the magnificent tithebarn, 100 feet in length, with ancient oak beams supporting the roof. This is possibly the tithebarn for the manor. Sulley in his book, “The Hundred of Wirral”, describes it as “one of the finest erections of old British oak in the Kingdom”.
In 1625, Sir Richard Wilbraham set about acquiring the absolute ownership of the park and adjacent manors. He effected this in 1627, but it is interesting that the manor of Great Saughall was excluded and retained by the Crown. However, it was leased to Sir Richard. A survey of the Saughall manor in 1650 showed that 33 tenants held land under Sir Thomas Wilbraham, who himself leased it to the Crown.
Some history of the alehouses in Saughall. In 1561 there were three alehouses, two in Saughall Magna and one in Saughall Parva, presumably they were the present Greyhound, the now defunct Swinging Gate and the Egerton Arms. This information is contained in a document headed “The names of all persons which keps Alehouses within this Hundred of Weral, beynge the obligacl the xxviii daie of June iii Eliz.” The landlords of the three Saughall alehouses in 1561 were Richard Spencer, George Martyn and Thomas Chamberlen. There was one alehouse in Shotwick but none in Mollington or Woodbank. An 1861 survey shows three still in Saughall, one in Shotwick and one, the Yacht, in Woodbank.
There is a hunting song describing the flight and adventures of a hare which, pursued by hounds, starts from Flintshire, crosses the Dee in a collier’s vessel, then runs through Wirral to Chester and over Saltney marshes to its fate near Hawarden, part of which is as follows:
To Shotwicke parke the hare she crost
And then the hounds the game had lost.
They did noe good on Saugho ground
because the pavier had stolen the hounde;
they were angrie at him and vext in mynde
for stealinge a whelp of the best kynde.
The song comes from “Certayne verses written by a Werralyte to the tune of Up Willye, it’s tyme to ryse”, written in 1615.
William Webb in his survey of Wirral made in 1622 says, “and so we come to that gallant park called Shotwick Park where sometimes have been and yet are remaining the ruins of a fair castle that stands upon the brink of the Dee within the Park; in which also a fine lodge for the habitation of the keepers of the Prince’s Highness’ deer in that park and is in the holding of Sir Richard Wilbraham whom we have so often mentioned; from whence we come to Great Saughall, a fair lordship and chiefly belonging to his Highness; and Little Saughall, another fine township, the lands of sundry freeholders there inhabiting; and along by the precincts of them both lies a place called anciently King’s Wood where now his Highness’s tenants have made inclosure to the great encrease of corn for the benefit of the country”.
On a rather more serious note, 1641 saw the plague raging in Shotwick parish for four months. Many people died and there was great anxiety in the district, but it does seem to have been contained within the parish. This is confirmed by a letter from Chester to London which concluded, “it spreade noe further. Blessed be God”.
The 17th century also provided Saughall with its most famous worthy, Mary Davies, the horned woman of Cheshire. Her misfortunes are recorded in a pamphlet bearing the following title:
“A brief narrative of a strange and wonderful old woman, that hath a pair of horns growing upon her head, giving a true account how they have several times after their being shed, grown again. Declaring the place of her birth, her education, and conversation, with the first occasion of their growth, the time of their continuance, and where she is now to be seen, viz., at the sign of the Swan, near Charing Cross.
You that love wonders to behold,
Here you may of wonder read,
The strangest that was ever seen or told,
A woman with horns upon her head.
London: Printed by T.J., 1676, 7 pp., small 4to.”
According to J Mayer, “The pamphlet describes her as then 76 years of age, born and bred in the parish of Shotwick, and the renter of a farm of sixteen pounds per annum, under the Crown. Her husband, Henry Davies, had been deceased 35 years, after which she had practiced the business of a midwife. The first affection of her head began with a soreness and swelling, supposed to be occasioned by wearing a tight hat, which after twenty years, assumed the form of a wen, and continued for five years longer, after which time it was by a strange operation of nature changed into horns, which are in shew and substance much like a rams, solid and wrinkled, but sadly grieving the old woman, especially upon the weather. She hath cast her horns three times already; the first time was but a single horn, which grew long but slender as an oaten straw. The second was thicker than the former. The two first, Mr Huson, minister of Shotwick (to whose wife this rarity was first discovered) obtained of the old woman, his parishioner. They kept not an equal distance of time in falling off; some at three, some at four and some at four and a half’s growth. The third time grew two horns, both of which were beat off by a fall backwards; one of them an English Lord obtained and presented it to the French King; the other, which was the largest, was nine inches long and two inches broad. It is much valued for the novelty, a greater than John Tradeskin can shew, or the greatest traveller can affirm to have seen. Sir Willoughby Aston hath also another horn dropped from this woman’s head, and reserves it as a choice rarity. At this present time she hath a pair of horns upon her head of six months’ growth, and ‘tis not without reason believed that they will in a short time be larger than any of the former, for still the latter have exceeded the former in bigness”.
“Her horns are preserved in the Ashmolean and British Museums, and her portrait, which was engraved by Richardson, is given in Leigh’s Natural History of Chester, taken in the 72nd year of her age, 1668. Another portrait is preserved at Doddington Hall, and a third in the British Museum”.
Norman Ellison in his book on the Wirral adds a few more details since he tried to get information from the Ashmolean Museum. They replied that they had two engravings, but that the original portrait was in the British Museum. They added that the horns by legend were supposed to be here but in fact, are not. Accounts of Mary Davies vary slightly in all books but she does seem to have been born in 1598 or 1600 and lived in a farm where the present Vernon Institute stands. From the portrait, the horns appear to rise at a point about 1½ inches behind and above the ears, and then to curve down towards the back of the neck. The fact that she was exhibited in London shows that she caused a sensation at the time and is probably Saughall’s most famous inhabitant so far.
Returning to the main story of the Saughall and Shotwick Park manors. In 1700, the Wilbraham family sold Shotwick Park and parts of Great Saughall to Thomas Brereton who was mayor of Liverpool in 1732. He married first Miss Trelawny, then his second wife, Catherine Salusbury-Lloyd, daughter of the Lloyds who had purchased Saughall manor after the survey of 1650. By these marriages, Brereton became owner of both Saughall manor and Shotwick Park, and when he died in 1756, his son, Owen Salusbury-Lloyd took over the estates. Owen died without male issue in 1798 and the estates went to his maternal relatives, the Trelawnys. A succession of Trelawnys held the estate including Charles, who added the reputed manor of Little Saughall to his estates by an exchange with Charles Potts, and Horace Dormer Trelawny who had Shotwick House built in 1872 as the new family home.
Shotwick House was designed by John Douglas, one of Cheshire’s most famous architects. As well as Shotwick House, Douglas designed many of the Victorian ‘black and white’ buildings in Chester, St Paul’s Church, Boughton, and many other churches and houses. It is interesting that when Shotwick House was being built a large roughly glazed Norman jug was found on the site.
Horace Dormer Trelawny died without an heir as did his brothers, and the estate was left to a group of female relatives. An interesting example of male chauvinism of that period is shown on a foundation stone near the porch in Saughall church. It reads “This stone was laid by the wife of HORACE TRELAWNY 31st July, 1895”.
One of Horace’s brothers, Clarence, born in 1826, was an officer in the Austrian army, and he married for his first wife the Countess de Beauregard, who, as Miss Lizzie Howard, had been the mistress of Napoleon III. When Napoleon announced his proposed marriage to the lady who was to become Empress Eugenie, Miss Howard’s feelings manifested themselves by some extraordinary antics in Paris (I leave it to your imaginations as to their nature). Napoleon had to console her and her son with titles and an estate near Versailles. Her marriage to Captain Trelawny in 1854 was not a success and was soon dissolved. On her death in 1865, it was rumoured that she was strangled on the Emperor’s orders.
After the Trelawnys had built Shotwick House, the old manor house, which is now the vicarage, was rented to various individuals and became known as Kellock Cottage or more simple, the Cottage. One guest who stayed there was Sir Edward Elgar, one of our finest composers. Letters exist written by Elgar from the Cottage in 1902, when he writes of his decision to present the original score of “The Dream of Gerontius” to the Oratory at Edgbaston, where Newman, the author of the text had lived and studied. Elgar adds that it is very nice and restful in Saughall ‘but the weather is awful’. The Elgar Foundation says that Elgar orchestrated a great deal of his oratorio ‘The Apostles’ whilst staying at the Cottage before its first performance in 1903.
In 1906, the Shotwick Park estate including the manors or reputed manors of Great and Little Saughall, were offered for sale at the Grosvenor Hotel. Mr William Vernon, later Sir William, purchased some lots comprising a square of land reaching from Parkgate Road to the Dee Bank, and from Woodbank Lane to the main street in Great Saughall. Other parts of Great and Little Saughall were sold to other persons.
Some of the more domestic happenings of the 18th and 19th centuries include in the Shotwick registers many births and deaths from Saughall Magna and Parva. Five babies from Great Saughall were baptised there in 1699, whilst in 1700m Richard Spencer, Blacksmith of Saughall Magna and Thomas Dod, a mariner of Saughall Parva were buried there. It is interesting that several people are described as fishermen, showing that Saughall was still a fishing as well as an agricultural village. One or two of the inscriptions on memorials at Shotwick are worth noting, including that of Hugh Jones of Saughall Parva who died aged 35 in 1792 –
Dear friends why should
You mourn for me
I am but where
You soon must be.
and another –
Friends, prepare make no delay
For I in haste was called away.
And now, a few details of Saughall Mill, or the Gibbet Mill as it is more popularly known, and the murder which took place in the vicinity. On the 29th August, 1750, four Irish harvesters were travelling to Parkgate on their way back to Ireland, when, at a spot some three miles from Chester, three of them attacked the fourth and killed him. They robbed the body of money and clothes and deposited the corpse in a ditch. They delayed their journey and instead, spent some of their booty in a local inn. One story says that they spent it in the Swinging Gate in Saughall, where they murdered a woman, but another version says that they drank in the old Greyhound in Shotwick. However, they were caught and during the assize trial which ended on September 8th, one of the murderers gave evidence against his companions, so that they were found guilty and hanged at Boughton on September 22nd. On the same day, the two bodies were hung up in irons near the Two Mills on the heath. It is said that the gibbet was made on an ash tree at the junction of Parkgate Road and a path which runs to the north of the present mill. The bodies were exhibited as a warning to their countrymen who had of late committed many villainies in that part of the country.
Whether the windmill was there at that date is debateable for Burdett’s map of the county dated 1777 describes it as a new mill. However, Saughall Mill got its nickname ‘the Gibbet Mill’ from the events just described. James Ellison was the corn miller there in 1850, and apparently, the mill continued to grind corn until 1926. After falling into ruin, the mill was restored and is now a private house.
Like any other village, Saughall had its poor as the parish records show, and many are described as paupers. In 1756, Mary Penketh gave £26 with an annual yield of £1-6-0 for bread for the poor of Saughall Magna. Nathaniel Wilson gave £10 in 1762 and Ann Coxon £20 in 1782 for the same purpose. Perhaps some of the poverty arose as a result of the Dee Navigation, an enterprise first planned in the 17th century, but only executed in the 18th century. In removing the sea from Saughall, one aspect of its prosperity, namely fishing, was taken from the village. Presumably, the cutting of the new channel and land reclamation provided some temporary work for the villagers. The former banks of the Dee are clearly visible in Saughall, skirting the southern edge of Dingle Wood (Bluebell Wood), crossing Sea Hill Road, and continuing south of Little Saughall to Blacon. Between Great and Little Saughall, the former sea cliff in known as the Seven hills and makes a superb habitat for wild flowers, especially cowslips. Where the footpath from Little Saughall to Sealand crosses the bank and former sea bed, the area is named Fisherman’s Creek on old maps.
The 19th century saw some important additions to the village. In 1852, Thomas Wedge established a school, whilst the Great Western Railway was brought beyond the southern boundary of the village, providing a rather distant railway station in 1863. A local wit when asked why they had built the station so far from the village replied ‘because we wanted it near to the railway line’.
Saughall people looked to Shotwick for their parish church until the end of the 19th century. Robert Coxon, a yeoman of ’Grate Saughall’ was churchwarden in 1709 and his name is carved on the canopied churchwarden’s seat. In the chancel is a memorial to several members of the Doe family of Little Saughall, buried here between 1753 and 1806. Nearby is a memorial tablet to Edward Thornton and his wife of Great Saughall, buried here in 1868 and 1870.
However, as the village grew, Saughall needed its own parish church. Details of its history are located here.
It is interesting to look at some of the documents and directories describing Saughall in the 19th century. The 1845 tithe map gives all the local field names, including the Brick Kiln field and the Gibbet field, the later rented by Joseph Johnson. Sarah Brown rented the Ridings, John Darlington the green Field, and Edward Thornton Junior’s widow held the piece on the Green.
In the alehouse returns for 1828, William Wynne was landlord of the ‘Gate’ and James Fairbrother of the Stag’s Head (was this an earlier name for the Greyhound?), Thomas Jones was the landlord of the Red Lion at Shotwick in 1827, John Rutter had the Yacht. Bagshaw’s gazetteer of 1850 lists Robert Evans as schoolmaster, Robert Carter as grocer and baker, John Darlington as blacksmith, George Griffiths as landlord at the Gate and John Kendrick at the Greyhound. Saughall then also had wheelwrights, bricklayers, tailors and many other trades. Robert Carter is listed as postmaster in 1851 and 1860. A Robert Carter is also mentioned as a general dealer in 1871.
In Morris’ 1874 Cheshire Directory, John Kendrick is still at the greyhound, George Martyn is at the Gate, Thomas McKie at the Egerton Arms and Robert Williams at the Wheatsheaf.
In 1876, Mr Williams, the schoolmaster of Saughall made a partial excavation of Shotwick Castle site and found glazed pottery, a spur and fragments of deer horns. Unfortunately, the landowners prevented further excavation.
At the time of the Domesday Book in 1086, the total population of Great and Little Saughall and Shotwick Park was about 85, of which 40 lived in Great Saughall. The subsidy rolls of 1543 give an estimated population of 72 for Great Saughall and 50 for Little Saughall, whilst the Hearth Tax of 1663 gives 9 for Shotwick Park, 50 still for Little Saughall, but 144 for Great Saughall, the latter having doubled in just over 100 years. From 1801, the ten yearly census provides accurate population details. The 1801 figure for Great Saughall is only 147, scarcely different from the 1663 total. Could this be due to the ravages of plague and the end of Saughall’s life as a fishing village. However, Great Saughall’s population doubles from 1801 to 1811 to 304. There is then a gradual increase until 1901, when Great Saughall had 703 inhabitants and Little Saughall, 137. After 1921, the population decreases, possibly due to the fact that Shotwick House, which presumably provided many jobs, was now empty and for sale.