There are many small caves to be found amongst the sandstone Hills. Some of these were enlarged by people in the past and many are the source of varied tales of hermits or kings..Mad Alan’s hole, Tommy Taylor’s cave, King James’ parlour.... what truth lies at the root of most of these tales we cannot know.
Left: Photo of King James' Parlour in the grounds of Broxton Old Hall.
Photo: Courtesy of Mr M Walker.
King James Parlour This cave is in the grounds of Broxton Old Hall. It has two chambers; one is well formed with a tiled floor and a well carved window. The other is more roughly hewn and once had a door or gate. It is said that this was where a bear was kept.
Bloody Bones Cave
In 1834 Isabella Bishop, the daughter of the Rector of Tattenhall, wrote in her diary of the "dreadful brigands of Bloody Bones Cave" on Rawhead, who terrorised the neighbourhood, plundering graves and stealing cheeses from local farms. She mentions that one of the bandits gave her a black silk dress as 'hush money' but she reported him nevertheless, and seven bandits were captured and executed.
Isabella also wrote of how the bandit 'ladies' used to sell sand in the village for cleaning purposes. - from Tattenhall: the history of a Cheshire Village. Frank Latham (1977).
Copper Mining in Bickerton
Left: Photo of a Copper Mine Chimney.
The chimney and mine buildings at Bickerton before the site was cleared and the shafts filled.
The chimney that still stands upon Gallantry Bank at Bickerton is the only remaining visible sign of the mining that went on intermittently over at least two hundred years. The chimney itself dates from 1856 and was built as a flue for the pumping engine that drained the mines. There were a number of attempts to extract copper from the area up until 1906, with four different shafts being sunk.
The busiest time for the mine was between 1696 and 1698, when eight people were employed. Miners worked in candlelight and were compelled to stay underground for up to ten hours per day in cold damp conditions.
Traditionally the skilled miners were Germans, and Johannes Brandshagen features prominently in the mine records. In September 1697 he wrote to his employer Sir Philip Egerton, asking for a pay rise.
"I have received now my things for examination of ye oare (ore), which I will doe, as soon as possibly I can come to it, in this desolate place, where nothing in ye world is to be had for any commodities , whatsoever it may be, and whilst we are strangers here, and must buy all things for ready, it is impossible to life of (live on) what your Worship has allowed us...."
- Courtesy of Cheshire Record Office.
Right: Photo of a Marl Pit.
This pond at Bulkeley was once a marl pit. Like many others, when it was no longer excavated it became a dumping ground for rubbish. The local community raised funds to clear it and convert it to a nature reserve.
The landscape, especially to the west of the sandstone ridge, is dotted with 'marl pits'. These were created in the last ice age between 10,000 and 28,000 years ago, when an ice sheet advanced from the north and north west to reach Cheshire. Marl is a mixture of lime and clay which was once spread on the land to improve the sandy soil. Henry Holland wrote in 1808,
"The usual time of marling is in the summer months; beginning in May, when the ploughing is over, and continuing until the commencement of harvest. Marl is spread immediately after being carted upon the land, but its pulverization is left almost entirely to the influence of the atmosphere. Some kinds are much more easily reducible to a powdery state than others ... the effects produced on the soil are not evident, till after repeated ploughings; but they frequently continue to manifest themselves during a period of ten or twelve years."
The practice of marling was carried out for centuries but died out with rising labour costs and the increasing use of other materials.
The Sandstone Ridge
The sandstone of the Peckforton and Bickerton Hills originated from deposits transported by wind and water from the erosion of a vast mountain system that lay across southern Britain and northern France.
Other sandy and mud sediments were laid down when the area was a gulf or lagoon.When the area became dry, the winds eroded and shifted the sand. The red colour of the local sandstone is due to the red iron coating around the sand particles, a result of the oxidising environment in which these deposits were laid down.
The loose sands were consolidated and cemented over time. Variations in sand particle shape and varying degrees of cementation have lead to differences in the quality of building stone. Some local quarries produce high quality building stone such as that used in Grosvenor Bridge in Chester, and in Peckforton Castle. Other areas produce only soft material suitable for building sand and which was once commonly used for cleaning and scouring stone floors.
In the Archaeological Society Volume 2 1864, there is a chapter on 'Cheshire Waifs and Strays'. The introduction the author states that "it is intended to publish any curious articles relating to Cheshire¡we here give a verbatim copy of a strange broadside printed at Chester early in the present century¡ bordering somewhat on the marvellous¡now may assist us in ascertaining whether any, truth lies hidden beneath this seeming fiction.
"A FULL ACCOUNT OF MR. JOHN HARRIS THE ENGLISH HERMIT
" Now residing in a cave in a Rock, known by the Name of Allen comb's Cave, near to the Town of Harthill, in the Parish of Tattenhall, in the County of Chester.
Mr. Harris is 99 Years old, born July 24 th . 1710, in the Parish of Handley, in the County of Chester. The article is very long so here are some extracts, "We often hear of some Men, from various motives, preferring a life of solitude in some gloomy Cavern or Cave in the Earth, wholly secluded from human society", "Mr. John Harris, the Hermit, is a man about 5 feet 10 inches high, of a ruddy complexion strong built, a strong voice, and walks very straight and remarkably quick: he was a man possessed of a very great fortune, he had several estates in the parishes of Handley, Broxton , and Tattenhall , which he sold after his parents decease, and took his abode in Dens and Caves in the Mountains, in which he has resided ever since, which is about the space of 66 years; occasioned by his parents refusing him marriage with one Miss Ann Egerton, in the parish of Handley , whereof he made a solemn vow never to marry as long as he lived, and have as little conversation with mankind as possible."
"The first place he made his abode in, was a Cave belonging to W.Leech, Esq, of Carden, in the County of Chester, in which place he resided for the space of 20 years and upwards; he not liking this situation removed from thence to a Cavity in a Rock, belonging to J.Tarlton, Esq., of Bolesworth-Hall¡ in which he resided for the space of 66 years. "He was discovered on the 5th. November last, by four young men, who were getting what they could plunder to burn the image of Guy Fawkes; they were so affrighted at the sight of the hermit, that they ran in to the town of Harthill, and declared that they had seen a wild hairy man, and that he had gone into the Rock's mouth, that is in Allenscombs, and that he was the frightfulest figure they ever saw."
Four gentlemen took lanthorns to investigate. They discovered a clean well dressed gentleman by a coke fire, "to prevent being discovered by smoke" reading the bible, with a Brook of clear spring water near by, "but as to his hair and Fingernails, they have not been cut since he took to a life of a Hermit, and his Toe Nails they are grown like unto Asses hoofs, neither has he shaved since he took to his life of an Hermit which makes him appear very frightful."
Mr. John Harris keeps a servant Man whose name is John Barlow, aged 69 years, he was born at Barnhill and has lived with Mr. Harris near 50 years, he is often visited by the neighbouring Gentlemen in Cheshire, likewise by J. Tarlton, Esq, Bolesworth-Hall , the owner of the Rock wherein is Mr. Harris's residence, and who has given him liberty to reside in the apartment where he now is until the Lord is pleased to call him from hence. This Cave is 10 Miles from the City of Chester , and 2 from Barnhill.