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.
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 language name for Cheshire (Swydd Gaerlleon) is sometimes used.
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"). Because of Cheshire's strategic location on the Welsh Marches, the Earl had complete autonomous powers to rule on behalf of the king in the county palatine. The earldom was sufficiently independent from the kingdom of England that the 13th-century Magna Carta did not apply to the shire of Chester, so the earl wrote up his own Chester Charter at the petition of his barons.
Hundreds of Cheshire in Domesday Book. Areas highlighted in pink became part of Flintshire in Wales.
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
There were 8 feudal baronies in Chester, the barons of Kinderton, Halton, Malbank, Mold, Shipbrook, Dunham-Massey, and the honour of Chester itself. 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
Map of Cheshire in 1577.
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
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.
The highest point (county top) of the historic county of Cheshire is Black Hill (582 m (1,909 ft)) near Crowden in the Cheshire Panhandle, a long eastern projection of the county along the northern side of Longdendale, and on the border with the West Riding of Yorkshire (Black Hill is now the highest point in the ceremonial county of West Yorkshire).
Within the current ceremonial county and the unitary authority of Cheshire East the highest point is Shining Tor on the Derbyshire/Cheshire border between Macclesfield and Buxton, at 559 metres (1,834 ft) above sea level. After Shining Tor, the next highest point in Cheshire is Shutlingsloe, at 506 metres (1,660 ft) above sea level. Shutlingshoe lies just to the south of Macclesfield Forest and is sometimes humorously referred to as the "Matterhorn of Cheshire" thanks to its distinctive steep profile.
Cheshire contains portions of two green belt areas surrounding the large conurbations of Merseyside and Greater Manchester (North Cheshire Green Belt, part of the North West Green Belt) and Stoke-on-Trent (South Cheshire Green Belt, part of the Stoke-on-Trent Green Belt), these were first drawn up from the 1950s. Contained primarily within Cheshire East and Chester West & Chester, with small portions along the borders of the Halton and Warrington districts, towns and cities such as Chester, Macclesfield, Alsager, Congleton, Northwich, Ellesmere Port, Knutsford, Warrington, Poynton, Disley, Neston, Wilmslow, Runcorn, and Widnes are either surrounded wholly, partially enveloped by, or on the fringes of the belts. The North Cheshire Green Belt is contiguous with the Peak District Park boundary inside Cheshire.
Based on the Census of 2001, the overall population of Cheshire East and Cheshire West and Chester 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. This increased to 699,735 at the 2011 Census. The population for 2021 is forecast to be 708,000.
In 2001, the population density of Cheshire East and Cheshire West and Chester was 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 had a greater urban density than the rest of the county with 92 people/km2.
Population totals for Cheshire East and Cheshire West and Chester
Pre-1974 statistics were gathered from local government areas that now comprise Cheshire Source:
In 2001, ethnic white groups accounted for 98% (662,794) of the population, and 10,994 (2%) in ethnic groups other than white.
Winsford is a major administrative hub for Cheshire with the Police and Fire & Rescue Headquarters based in the town as well as a majority of Cheshire West and Chester Council. It was also home to the former Vale Royal Borough Council and Cheshire County Council.
On 25 July 2007, the Secretary of State Hazel Blears announced she was 'minded' to split Cheshire into two new unitary authorities, Cheshire West and Chester, and Cheshire East. She confirmed she had not changed her mind on 19 December 2007 and therefore the proposal to split two-tier Cheshire into two would proceed. Cheshire County Council leader Paul Findlow, who attempted High Court legal action against the proposal, claimed that splitting Cheshire would only disrupt excellent services while increasing living costs for all. A widespread sentiment that this decision was taken by the European Union long ago has often been portrayed via angered letters from Cheshire residents to local papers. On 31 January 2008 The Standard, Cheshire and district's newspaper, announced that the legal action had been dropped. Members against the proposal were advised that they may be unable to persuade the court that the decision of Hazel Blears was "manifestly absurd".
The Cheshire West and Chester unitary authority covers the area formerly occupied by the City of Chester and the boroughs of Ellesmere Port and Neston and Vale Royal; Cheshire East now covers the area formerly occupied by the boroughs of Congleton, Crewe and Nantwich, and Macclesfield. The changes were implemented on 1 April 2009.
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.
Cheshire has a diverse economy with significant sectors including agriculture, automotive, bio-technology, chemical, financial services, food and drink, ICT, and tourism. The county is famous for the production of Cheshire cheese, salt and silk. The county has seen a number of inventions and firsts in its history.
A mainly rural county, Cheshire has a high concentration of villages. Agriculture is generally based on the dairy trade, and cattle are the predominant livestock. Land use given to agriculture has fluctuated somewhat, and in 2005 totalled 1558 km2 over 4,609 holdings. Based on holdings by EC farm type in 2005, 8.51 km2 was allocated to dairy farming, with another 11.78 km2 allocated to cattle and sheep.
The chemical industry in Cheshire was founded in Roman times, with the mining of salt in Middlewich and Northwich. Salt is still mined in the area by British Salt. The salt mining has led to a continued chemical industry around Northwich, with Brunner Mond based in the town. Other chemical companies, including Ineos (formerly ICI), have plants at Runcorn. The Essar Refinery (formerly ShellStanlow Refinery) is at Ellesmere Port. The oil refinery has operated since 1924 and has a capacity of 12 million tonnes per year.
Tourism in Cheshire from within the UK and overseas continues to perform strongly. Over 8 million nights of accommodation (both UK and overseas) and over 2.8 million visits to Cheshire were recorded during 2003.
At the start of 2003, there were 22,020 VAT-registered enterprises in Cheshire, an increase of 7% since 1998, many in the business services (31.9%) and wholesale/retail (21.7%) sectors. Between 2002 and 2003 the number of businesses grew in four sectors: public administration and other services (6.0%), hotels and restaurants (5.1%), construction (1.7%), and business services (1.0%). The county saw the largest proportional reduction between 2001 and 2002 in employment in the energy and water sector and there was also a significant reduction in the manufacturing sector. The largest growth during this period was in the other services and distribution, hotels and retail sectors.
Cheshire is considered to be an affluent county. However, towns such as Crewe and Winsford have significant deprivation. The county's proximity to the cities of Manchester and Liverpool means counter urbanisation is common. Cheshire West has a fairly large proportion of residents who work in Liverpool and Manchester, while the town of Northwich and area of Cheshire East falls more within Manchester's sphere of influence.
Local radio stations in the county include Dee 106.3, Capital and Smooth Radio 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, while 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.
The Royal Cheshire Show, an annual agricultural show, has taken place for the last 175 years and includes exhibitions, games and competitions.
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.
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.
Parts of Cheshire away from the affluent areas, such as those around Blacon, Crewe, Ellesmere Port and Winsford, are among the top 5% most deprived areas in Northern England; the price of an average four-bedroom detached house in Knutsford is around £470,000 compared to £220,000 in Winsford and Ellesmere Port.
Bus transport in Cheshire is provided by various operators. The major bus operator in the Cheshire area is Arriva North West. Other operators in Cheshire include Stagecoach Chester & Wirral, Halton Transport and Network Warrington.
There are also several operators based outside of Cheshire, who either run services wholly within the area or services which start from outside the area. Companies include Arriva Buses Wales, BakerBus, High Peak, First Greater Manchester, D&G bus and Stagecoach Manchester.
Some services are run under contract to Cheshire West and Chester, Cheshire East, Borough of Halton and Warrington Councils.
The main railway line through the county is the West Coast Main Line. Trains on the main London to Scotland line call at Crewe (in the south of the county) and Warrington Bank Quay (in the north of the county). Trains stop at Crewe and Runcorn on the Liverpool branch of the WCML; Crewe and Macclesfield are each hourly stops on the two Manchester branches.
Warrington stations (Central and Bank Quay) for suburban services to Manchester Piccadilly, Chester and Liverpool Lime Street and regional express services to North Wales, London, Scotland, Yorkshire, the East Coast and the East Midlands
Cheshire has 3,417 miles (5,499 km) of roads, including 214 miles (344 km) of the M6, M62, M53 and M56 motorways; there are 23 interchanges and four service areas. The M6 motorway at the Thelwall Viaduct carries 140,000 vehicles every 24 hours.
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.
Certainly there were links between Cheshire and south Lancashire before 1000, when Wulfric Spot held lands in both territories. Wulfric's estates remained grouped together after his death when they were left to his brother Aelfhelm, and indeed there still seems to have been some kind of connexion in 1086, when south Lancashire was surveyed together with Cheshire by the Domesday commissioners. Nevertheless, the two territories do seem to have been distinguished from one another in some way and it is not certain that the shire-moot and the reeves referred to in the south Lancashire section of Domesday were the Cheshire ones.
The Domesday Survey (1086) included south Lancashire with Cheshire for convenience, but the Mersey, the name of which means 'boundary river' is known to have divided the kingdoms of Northumbria and Mercia and there is no doubt that this was the real boundary.
^Harris, B. E., and Thacker, A. T. (1987); pages 340–341.
^Sanders, I.J. English Baronies, a Study of their Origin and Descent 1086–1327, Oxford, 1960, p.138, refers to the "Lord" of Halton being the hereditary constable of the County Palatine of Chester, but omits Halton from both his lists of English feudal baronies
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