The Wirral Hundred
The Wirral Peninsula

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Updated: 15 April 2007

Trying to describe my old Wirral home I felt at a loss for words, some regions were dilapidated old dockland sites, run down factories and overcrowded housing. Yet other regions are beautiful in their wildlife, flora and views. Even the weather is on our side! Having grown up on the Wirral and now exploring its ways, I am dismayed at just how much I actually missed! I left the Wirral in 1981, along with my wife and children, leaving for Germany and the Armed Forces. I left the Army and settled in Sutton Coldfield in 1994 and go back home whenever I can, life is short, too short, what will I miss before I'm gone? l think it may be best left to the expert on the Wirral to describe it. Kenneth Burnley, in his book Portrait of Wirral, says this:

What is the Wirral Peninsula? To many who work in Liverpool it is merely somewhere to come home to in the evening, somewhere to live, somewhere to shop. To the stranger it is “somewhere in Cheshire — or is it Merseyside now?’ To many who live in Liverpool it is somewhere to spend a sunny afternoon. To me it is standing on Caldy Hill under a clearing sky after a dull, wet day and hoping for a rare glimpse of Snaefell or the Lakeland summits across the wild waters of the Irish Sea. It is the hustle and bustle of Birkenhead Market on a Saturday afternoon, or waiting on Woodside landing stage in the damp gloom of a November morning for a ferry to Liverpool. My Wirral is Burton Marsh on a grey February morning, the Welsh peaks shrouded in mist; or the golden tints of Dibbinsdale woods on a bright October afternoon. It is the springtime greenery of silver birch on Thurstaston Hill, and carpets of daffodils dancing in the April breeze in the woods of Arrowe. Or dark winter days on the Mersey when sea, land, and sky merge to form one grey shroud. And rare days in the depths of winter when snow and ice drape the Dungeon falls and only the song of the robin pierces the silent woods. In my Wirral are breezy cliff-top walks above the wayward Dee, the romance of smugglers still in the air; and the deep cuttings of an old railway, now a country park, rich in wild flowers, birds and animals. My Wirral is to sit on the springy thrift covered turf of Hilbre Island, the only sound being the call of the curlew and oyster-catcher sounding across the lonely sands of the Dee estuary.

To me and to all those who know and love Wirral it is all of these and so much more. This, perhaps, is the attraction of the piece of land which lies between the Rivers Mersey and Dee. Within its area of a hundred or so square miles are flour mills and oil terminals; seal colonies and salt marshes; housing estates and mansions; shipyards and nature reserves; a colourful history and a wealth of wildlife.

(see footnote)

To the outsider, Wirral is generally considered to be a suburb of Liverpool. In fact, many often lump them together as one, and do not realize that 1 1/2 miles of water separate Birkenhead and the rest of Wirral from their neighbour. Until the boundaries were changed in 1974, the whole of the Wirral Peninsula was part of the county of Cheshire. Schoolchildren were often taught that the shape of the peninsula resembled the spout of a teapot, a hen’s tail, or a cow’s horn. Overnight, Wirral was put into the new county of Merseyside, along with Liverpool and a large slice of Lancashire. A sad change, some would say - a loss of identity for a part of England with its own unique character. Cheshire lost its coastline and its teapot spout when it lost Wirral. But Wirral did not go into Merseyside without a fight from some quarters. South Wirral, including the un Cheshire like towns of Ellesmere Port and Neston, remained in Cheshire. So, administratively at least, the peninsula is now divided and even has two postal divisions: Wirral, Merseyside; and South Wirral, Cheshire. (This has now, in the 21st Century, been reversed and what was once an "L" postcode is now a "CH" postcode - and a good thing too! - mk).

Seven years (1981 book published) have passed since reorganization, but still many folk cannot accept that Wirral is part of Merseyside. In name, but not in character, they say. For Merseyside has an image, and that image is not a particularly good one. For the true Wirralian, his home is “over the water” from Liverpool and the rest of Merseyside. Indeed, looking at the map, Wirral is indeed an island from the rest of the county. Yet the majority of Wirral people work in Liverpool and use its shops and cultural facilities. Many were indeed born on the Lancashire side of the Mersey, or come from families who originated in Liverpool. The homes of many Wirral folk are nearer Liverpool city than many Liverpudlians’. Perhaps the relationship is similar to that which exists between Britain and Europe; in it but not of it. In both cases that narrow channel of water is more than a physical barrier — it is also a psychological barrier.

But what of the name Wirral? Anglo-Saxon records show the peninsula as “Wirheal”, a combination of the Anglo— Saxon words wir (a myrtle tree) and heal (an angle, corner or slope). From this it would appear that bog myrtle was once plentiful in this area, although it is no longer found today. The peninsula has often been referred to as “the Hundred of Wirral”. A “hundred” was a division of a shire or county, probably instituted by King Alfred, which was itself sub-divided into tithings or towns. The origin of the word is uncertain; some say that it was a district able to provide one hundred able-bodied men of war, others that it was an area composed of one hundred families. The title persisted, and was frequently used by writers and historians, until the early years of this century. Alas, it is now simply “Wirral”, “The Wirral Peninsula”, or, incorrectly, “The Wirral”. The situation of the Wirral Peninsula, enjoying the benefits of a mild climate, easy access to the sea, and seclusion from the more traumatic events of history, has attracted men to make their home here down the ages. We know that Stone Age man lived here, from finds on Thurstaston Hill and elsewhere.

During thc Bronze Age, and until the time of the Romans, Wirral was occupied by a powerful Celtic tribe known as the Cornovii. The Celts probably gave US place—names such as Liscard, Noctorum and Landican. The Romans occupied Chester about A.D. 70, and traces of their occupation in Wirral have been found from time to time, In 1834 workmen quarrying on the bill known as the Arno, in Oxton, found a number of small coins bearing the heads of Antoninus and Victorinus. Storeton Quarry may have been used by the Romans, for its stone was used to sculpture monuments, the remains of which have been found and can be seen in Chester Museum. Coins have been found at Neston and at Hooton. The greatest evidence of the Roman occupation in Wirral is, however, the large number of articles found along the shore at Meols, indicating an extensive Roman settlement. It appears that this settlement was connected by road with Chester, some twenty miles away; the route is uncertain, but it probably left Chester by the line of the present Parkgate road as far as Mollington, and then continued past Capenhurst to Ledsham. Its course from Ledsham is less certain, but a roadlike surface has been excavated at Street Hey, near Willaston, and there is a lane near Raby which is on the line to Meols. Part of an ancient road, possibly Roman, has also been discovered in Greasby. There may have been another Roman road running from Monks’ Ferry, on the Mersey shore, by way of Bridge Street towards Bidston and the coast at Meols.

Original Railway Inn, Meols which was pulled down in 1930 for this replacement

In 1850 a bridge was discovered by workmen converting Wallasey Pool into docks; this appeared to be Roman in origin, and may have been part of this route. The bridge was of solid oak beams supported by stone piers, its ends resting on solid rock at the sides of the creek. The length of the bridge was about one hundred feet. From the depth of the silt burying the bridge (about thirty feet), it must have been buried for centuries. The Romans left about A.D. 410, and Wirral was occupied by the Britons, who lived undisturbed for about two hundred years. The Anglo-Saxons under Ethelfrith, the Anglian king of Northumbria, laid waste Chester in A.D. 613 and soon took over most of Wirral, with the exception of Wallasey. The first settlement was probably at Willaston, and from here the early settlers established a branch to the east named Eastham, one to the south named Sutton, and one at Hinderton to the west. Many Wirral villages owe their names to these people, especially those ending in “ham” or “ton”, both meaning a home or homestead.

All was peaceful in Wirral for over two hundred years, but in the latter years of the ninth century the Norsemen, the Vikings of the North, invaded our shores. We gain an insight into the character of these wild people, from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle:

They reached a waste city in Wirral, which is called Legceaster (Chester) They besieged the fort from outside for some two days and took all cattle that were without there, and slew the men they were able to intercept without the fort, and burnt all the corn, and with their horses devoured the pasture in the whole neighbourhood.

The Norsemen were apparently attracted to Wirral because of its excellent harbours and proximity to the sea, for there is little evidence of their having occupied the rest of Cheshire. They settled along the Dee side of the peninsula, and along the sea coast, giving their villages names such as West Kirby, Frankby and Irby. They also introduced their own system of local government, and met at Thingwall, an area of high ground in the northern part of the peninsula. At their annual “Thing”, or parliament, new laws were made, and other business of the area was transacted. In spite of their ways, it seems that the Norsemen soon settled down and became one people with their English cousins. The Doomsday survey of 1085-6 shows that Wirral at that time was more densely populated than most other parts of England. Even so, the survey shows only 405 heads of families in the whole of the peninsula. Forty eight manors were  surveyed, with a total value of £51. There was very little woodland: one at Mollington, a large area at Tranmere, and a small one at Prenton. This shortage of timber was soon rectified, for Wirral was afforested from Norman times until the middle of the fourteenth century. At least, plenty of tree cover was provided for the preservation of game. It is most unlikely that the whole of the peninsula was covered with trees: Randal de Meschines, fourth Earl of Chester. . . converted Wirral into a forest. It does not follow, as assumed by the few authors who have directed their attention to this Hundred, that tree planting on an extensive scale was then carried out. It is certain that a very large part of the country was wooded from the earliest times, and a Norman forest was little more than a waste or wilderness in which game could flourish undisturbed. Under an order by Edward III in 1376, Wirral was disaf forested. Today the area is short of woodland once again. Roads, housing and neglect have left just a few small areas of woodland; Dutch elm disease has taken its toll of thousands of roadside and hedgerow trees. Wirral’s proximity to Chester had a profound effect on the history of the Dee side of the peninsula during the fourteenth, fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Hundreds of years before Liverpool’s rise to fame as a great port, Chester was providing facilities for trade with Ireland, Spain, and Germany. Seagoing vessels would “lay—to” at the mouth of the Dee, awaiting favourable winds and tides. But the Dee started to silt up from Chester northwards towards the estuary. Harbouring facilities moved to Burton, Neston, Parkgate, Gayton, Dawpool, West Kirby and Hoylake. The Dee side overshadowed the Mersey side of the peninsula for over three hundred years. Adventurous plans were proposed to overcome the silting-up of the estuary. One was put forward in 1857 by Sir John Rennie, who planned to cut a ship canal, 20 feet deep, from a point between Thurstaston and Heswall, to run along the length of Wirral to Chester. This and other schemes came to nothing. Deeside was dying, and Merseyside was being born. Liverpool was growing as a port of international importance, offering good communications by road and canal to the rest of the country, and a safer, more sheltered harbour for shipping.

The growth of Liverpool signalled the start of a new era for Wirral; an era of tremendous growth and rapid change. For as Liverpool grew as a centre of trade and commerce, its merchants and businessmen looked across the Mersey to the sandy shores and green fields of Wirral, and many “crossed over” to make their homes in Birkenhead. Ferries, trains, docks and commerce soon followed. Between 1810 and 1841 the population of Birkenhead leapt from 109 to a staggering 8,ooo. As the Mersey side of the peninsula became more industrialized, many moved out of the dirt and grime to the greener parts of Wirral. Growth was naturally greatest along the rail routes, the opening of the Hoylake line in 1866 enabled city weary Liverpool businessmen to live within sight, sound and smell of the sea. This growth has continued to the present day and shows little sign of slowing down. Rural, land based communities are disappearing under the spreading tide of suburbia. Nine hundred years ago there were about 2,000 people in the whole of Wirral; its population is now approaching half a million.

Two hundred million years ago the area of land we now call Wirral was part of a flat, sandy delta between the Welsh hills on the one side and the Pennines on the other. There was no peninsula as such. Geological pressures in the earth’s crust gradually formed the layer of sandstone rock called Triassic sandstone, which was again subjected to stresses which pushed large areas upwards to form rocky outcrops. The outcrops now form two approximately parallel ridges which run down the length of the peninsula from northwest to southeast. Grange and Caldy Hills (256 feet) form the northernmost part of the western ridge, which includes Thurstaston Hill (298 feet), Heswall ( feet, the highest point in Wirral), ending at Burton (222 feet). The only significant break in this sandstone ridge is between Caldy and Thurstaston Hills. It is thought that the sea once flowed through this valley to Moreton and Bidston Marsh, making an island of this north western corner of Wirral. In fact Telford and Stephenson, the canal and roadway engineers, produced a scheme in 1825 to project a canal through the valley to Wallasey Pool on the Mersey shore. The Dee outlet would have been at Dawpool, near Thurstaston, thus linking the Mersey with the Dee. However, the silting-up of the Dee estuary, and the opposition of the Liverpool Corporation, who had a monopoly of the Mersey, prevented the scheme from being put into practice.

The sandstone ridge which runs down the eastern side of the peninsula is neither as long nor as continuous as its western counterpart. From New Brighton in the north the ridge rises to 188 feet at Wallasey; between Wallasey and the next high point of Bidston Hill (231 feet) is the valley formed by Wallasey Pool. The ridge continues south from Bidston Hill to Prenton (259 feet) and ends at Storeton Hill (229 feet). Much of this line of hills is now built over, but the Deeside hills are for the most part open, unspoilt heathland where the public are free to roam and enjoy the glorious panoramic views across Wirral and its surroundings.

During the Ice Age, great ice fields descending from the Scottish Highlands, the Lake District, and Northern Ireland pushed along the floor of the Irish Sea and were forced by ice masses from the Welsh hills to travel south eastwards across Merseyside. The moving ice fields had a dramatic effect on the landscape of the area. They reduced the area of coastal land, which originally extended much further into the Irish Sea, and deposited large amounts of boulder clay, pebbles, mud, sand and other detritus all over the area. The effect of this depositing was to fill in many of the hollows and valleys, changing the landscape from an undulating, hilly area into a relatively flat one. Since the Ice Age, the greatest natural factors in changing the landscape of Wirral have been coastal erosion and siltation. Until recent times, the flat, low lying lands of north Wirral were constantly under threat of inundation by the sea, being protected only by a belt of sand dunes. Archaeological finds, together with evidence for the existence of a forest on the coast near Meols, suggest that there was human habitation perhaps extending several miles further beyond the present coastline, where the waters of the Irish Sea now lap. On the other hand Overchurch, several miles inland, literally means “the church on the shore”, which suggests that the sea has alternately advanced and receded over the centuries. At Shotwick, ten miles upstream from the mouth of the Dee, sea water came up to the wall at the edge of the churchyard. Now the water is four miles distant, barely visible across the acres of marshland. There is evidence, too, that the Hilbre Islands, a mile off the coast in the Dee estuary, and only accessible at low tide, were once part of the mainland. Between the sandstone ridges lies an extensive area of gently undulating land, much of it agricultural, but in the northern part, suburban.

There are few rivers in Wirral. The Fender and some smaller, parallel streams such as the Arrowe Brook and Greasby Brook, drain the northern part of the plateau into the River Birket, which itself flows into the Mersey at Wallasey Pool (now part of the dock system). In the south, the Dibbin and the Clatter drain into the Mersey via Bromborough Pool.

Wirral’s weather is rarely extreme, neither is it monotonous. It can vary from day to day, from hour to hour, and even from place to place; a bright, sunny day in Hoylake often turns out to be dull and wet in Birkenhead. Although the peninsula is on the same latitude as parts of Siberia and Canada, the prevailing westerly winds, more or less constantly blowing from over the warm Gulf Stream, have a modifying influence on the climate. Mildness is a characteristic of Wirral’s weather throughout the year. The growing season for plants is also extended by maritime influences and lasts from mid-March until late November, a fact borne out by the success of the market gardening industry which flourishes along the northern coastal strip. Snow rarely falls, and when it does, lies only for a very short time. The average yearly sunshine for the north Wirral coast is around 1510 hours, which is about 200 hours more than the average for England and Wales as a whole. Wirral is also fortunate in that the mountains of North Wales to the west tend to absorb much of the rain before it reaches these parts. The prevailing westerlies keep the atmosphere relatively free from pollution; some idea of the purity of the air reaching Wirral can be gained by realizing that the wind has just travelled across two and a half thousand miles of ocean!

Whilst Wirral’s weather benefits in many ways from its proximity to the sea, not all of the maritime influences arc beneficial. The peninsula is exposed to the full force of the wild gales which sweep in from the north-west during the autumn and winter months. Wind speeds of up to 90 m.p.h. are not uncommon during these gales, and many’s the time that ships have been blown in from the Irish Sea to be broken to pieces on the Hoyle and Burbo sandbanks. Even in summer, the sea breezes tend to keep temperatures near the coast several degrees lower than those inland. But if the west wind is beneficial to Wirral, the same cannot be said of the east wind. To the east of Wirral lies the industrial heart of England, and the wind blowing from that direction brings with it the smoke and the smells of a thousand industries. On days when the east wind blows, it is often impossible to sec across to the opposite banks of the Dee or the Mersey, let alone the prospects of distant hills and mountains normally visible when the atmosphere is purer.

The variety of wildlife found in and around the Wirral Peninsula belies its proximity to a large industrial centre. A wide range of habitats. field and hedgerow, marshland and woodland, coast and estuary, heath and moorland, and of course the suburbs account for the wealth of plants, birds and animals to be seen in Wirral. The bird life of the coast is of particular interest, the Dee estuary and marshes attracting bird-watchers from far afield to study the great flocks of waders which gather here in their thousands during the autumn and winter. The coast too provides a habitat for several rare plants, one in particular being unique to Wirral. The peninsula is laced with a network of public footpaths and bridleways almost out of proportion to its area. These give access to fields and woods, cliff tops and heaths, providing the walker and nature lover with unlimited opportunities for exploration. The whole of the coastline, from Wallasey to  Burton, is accessible although much of it is manmade, concrete embankment.

Wirral has changed dramatically in the last fifty years; even in the last twenty. Villages are no longer independent communities based on the land. Even outside the built-up areas of Wallasey and Birkenhead, many villages are surrounded by housing estates, and are struggling to maintain their identity. Vast council housing developments such as those on the slopes of the Fender Valley at Ford, Noctorum and Woodchurch cover what was once rolling farmland and woodland. A motorway runs right through the heart of the peninsula. Dutch elm disease has taken its toll of thousands of trees in Wirral, as in the rest of the country; once shady byways are now open and bare. Large areas of urban Wirral are decaying. Many historically and architecturally interesting buildings have disappeared, bulldozed to fulfil planners’ dreams, or left to decay beyond repair through lack of interest. Local authority administration has become faceless and friendless and more bureaucratic since reorganization in 1974.

Not all the change has been for the worse. Many thousands of folk who once lived in dingy back-to-back housing now enjoy the open spaces and clean air of the new suburbs. Heavy industrial traffic has been taken away from narrow roads and village centres never intended for them. Community life in many areas is thriving, as people strive to maintain their identity and spirit of “belonging” in an increasingly impersonal and faceless world. Smokeless zone measures have given large areas of Wirral a cleaner atmosphere than they have had for many years. Two Country Parks, both created since 1968, now provide much-needed recreational space and  facilities. Stricter controls over development, adherence to a Green Belt policy, and the creation of Conservation Areas, are all helping to protect our heritage and improve the quality of environment.

What of the future? Being a peninsula, Wirral has very definite, natural boundaries beyond which it cannot grow. These are rigid limits to growth. The County Plan for Merseyside also specifies limits beyond which Wirral should not step, limits which would maintain and improve the quality of life for Wirral folk. But the limits will need to be jealously guarded, not only by the administrators and planners, but by all those who know and love Wirral.

This is how Ken opens his excellent book on The Wirral Peninsula. First published by Robert Hale, London, in 1981.
The book is copyright Kenneth Burnley (c) 1981.

Do you know this Church? It is supposedly in or near Wallasey? It is the burial place of the Hoyland family and a relative would like details of its location if you can help? Email me on the link at the top of the page.


The Wirral Horn

An extract from:

Sir Alexander Sylvester was the son of Ranulph Sylvester, and Ranulph was the son of

Allen Sylvester, steward to Ranulph the third, Earl of Chester, who gave him for his seat the manor of Stourton, with the bailiwick of Wirral, and the government of the forest: there, and invested him therein by the delivery of a hunting horn, with certain fees and perquisites thereto annexed, to wit, among others, that he should blow, or cause to be blown that horn, at Gloverstone, near Chester, on every Chester-fair-day, in token that the tolls or duties payable for all goods bought or sold in that place during the time of the fair, belonged to him, as a place of privilege to him and all his tenants there, exempt from the jurisdiction of the city ; which horn is now preserved at Hooton, by the Family of Stanley, the descendants of the said Jane Bamvill and Sir William Stanley, who by the said Jane had issue two sons, viz. John and Adam, and one daughter, named Sarah de Stanley, who married Roger the son of Roger de Hausket ; and Adam the younger brother appears to have died young and without issue ; for I meet with no farther notice of him ; but John the elder succeeded his father Sir William.

From The Site Info Key:

The Wirral, in 1086 A.D. offered a very different profile than it is today. It was an important Cheshire peninsula. Domesday Wirral holdings of Norman families recorded in coastal Wirral were the villages of Eastham, Wallasey, Meols, Little and Greater Caldy, Thursaston, Ness, Neston, Little Nestone, Heswall, and Gayton. Inland Wirral included Greasby, Oulton, Mere, Prenton, Thingwall, Raby, Storeton, Saugall and Upton. Absent from the Domesday Survey were Birkenhead, Leasowe, Bidston, Moreton, Hoylake, West Kirby (included in Little and greater Caldy), Parkgate, Newton, Irby, Frankby, Ellesmere, and other more recently built towns and villages. Chester, of course, was the hub of the whole county of Cheshire, in fact, the hub of the whole north west.

One of the largest landholders in Wirral at the Domesday was Robert of Rhuddlan (Roelent), he being under-tenant of the Earl Hugh Lupus (the Wolf) of Chester, who militarily held all greater Cheshire and North Wales, his seat being at Chester. Robert's chief domain was the Castle of Rhuddlan on the north Welsh coast, which was then administratively part of the whole of Cheshire under the great Earl Hugh. Robert of Rhuddlan was of the Tilleul en Auge, Calvados in Normandy. He was notable for his wars against the Welsh. Robert held in Wirral at Wallasey, Meols, Thursaston( under-tenant William), Heswall(under tenant Herbert), and Gayton(under-tenant William). In now Wales he held Bagillt (under-tenant Roger), Broughton, Bryn, Brynford, Bryngwyn, Bychton, Carn-y-chain, Crychynean, Dyserth, Hiraddog, Kelston, Leadbrook, Llewerllyd, Meliden, Mostyn, Picton, Prestatyn, Pen-y-Gors (Gros), Rhyd Orddwy, St.Asaph, Trefaith, Trelawnyd, and Whitford. He may also have held Flint, Denbigh, Holywell, and villages to the west of Rhuddlan such as Llandudno, Bangor, Caernarvon, etc, but such were the ravages of the Welsh that it is difficult to fix a precise time and geographic window of his entire holdings at the taking of the Domesday Book. In addition to his Cheshire and Welsh holdings Robert also held as far to the east as Byfield and Marston St.Lawrence in Northampton. He also gave the church of St.Peter in the market place of Chester to his home Abbey of St. Evroul in Normandy, with Earl Hugh's (Earl of Chester) permission.

All Cheshire was held in chief by three Norman magnates or church prelates; Earl Hugh, the Bishop of Chester, and the monks of St.Wereburg's Church. This dissertation is focused on Wirral. We will discuss eastern and central Cheshire, and Chester, elsewhere. Eastham was held directly by Earl Hugh, the great Earl of Chester. Caldy was held by Hugh of Mere. Little Nestone was held by Robert Cook. Neston (one of the larger holdings) was held by William FitzNigel. Greasby, Storeton and Oulton were held by Nigel de Burcy. Mere by Gilbert de Venables. Prenton by Walter de Vernon. Thingwall and Upton by William Mallbank. Raby by St.Wereburg's Church.

Cheshire and the Wirral was Duke William 's (the Conqueror) cornerstone defence of the northwestern region of his kingdom, particularly against the Welsh and Irish intruders. He had wasted part of the county in 1070 in his act of rage against his rebellious barons, and the Wirral and Cheshire land values consequently had considerably diminished. However, his rage on Lancashire, Westmoreland, Cumberland and Northumberland was far more severe and, it is reported, few buildings were left standing in those counties, so much so that the border counties of Cumberland and Northumberland were generally ignored in the Domesday Book being in a state of waste. The Dee estuary was pivotal, strategically. It offered good navigation to both intruders and defenders. Hilbre Island, at the mouth, off the coast of Wirral, probably played a much more important role than is realized, one that was continued later against Irish intruders. Although there are many traditional tales of underground tunnels from Hilbre Island to the mainland at Grange Hill in West Kirby where there is the ruins of a small monastry, nothing so far has been found.

For those interested in the personalities and origin of the Norman land holders of the Wirral:

Principally, young Hugh (19 at the Conquest, 39 at the Domesday Book survey), son of Richard d'Avranches, surnamed Lupus (the Wolf, or sometimes 'the Fat'), was the first earl of Chester, a palatine Count, a position which almost made him virtual King of Cheshire. A very powerful man of Cheshire. He was unable to use the surname d'Avranches at this time because his father was still alive, the great Norman Viscount d'Avranches who was at Hastings. He was descended from Rognald (Ronald) father of Rollo, the first Duke of Normandy who lived in 896. The close interlocking relationship with the Conqueror's family gained him a great position of trust. Hugh, succeeded by his son Richard (7 at the conquest??, 27 at the Domesday ?? (see above, physically possible but difficult to believe, despite early bethrothals), ) as Earl of Chester eventually married Matilda, daughter of King Stephen but was drowned with his wife in the Blanche Nef shipwreck in the Channel, returning to Normandy along with many other Norman magnates. After the Conquest, Hugh Lupus was one of the largest land holders in all England He eventually became hereditary viscount Averanchin or Averanches, sometimes De Abrincis, in the department of Manche in Normandy, neighours of the notable Percy family of Northumberland and the Massey family of Cheshire whose chief domain was at Dunham Massey Castle. This latter family held 9 Lordships in Cheshire. Richard de Vernon was Hugh's palatine baron of Cheshire, of Castle Vernon, and held in Cheshire, also held the Castle of Shipbrook on the Wever. Hugh Lupus was a sworn companion-in-arms to William de Percy. Hugh (or his father) gave the great domain of Whitby in Yorkshire to William Percy whence sprang the notorious Percys of Northumberland.

Hugh held at the Domesday as tenant in chief in all Cheshire at;
Adlington, Alsager, Antrobus, Capesthorne, Chelford, Chester, Clive, Coddington, Eastham, Eaton, Eddisbury, Elton, Frodsham, Gawsworth, Helsby, Hawarden, Henbury, Hollingworth, Lea Newbold, Little Budworth, Lower Withington, Manley, Marton, Micle Trafford, Middlewich, Northwich, Occleston, Ollerton, Over, Romilley, Tintwistle, Weaver, Weaverham, Werneth, and Wimboldsley and Macclesfield. And in North Wales at Bodeugan, Calcot, Cwbyr, Fulbrook, and Maen Efa, and Hawarden.

Robert Cook, was under-tenant of Hugh at Little Neston at the Domesday, an area surrounding Neston. He was probably related to Alric Le Coq, who derived his name from the office of the comptroller for the Conqueror. Rodbertus or Robert Cocus, probably his brother or son, held as under-tenant in Kent, but also held elsewhere. In the family at the time of the Conquest were sons and grandsons, each with holdings, so we can conclude the father Alric was must have been quite old at Hastings.

Hugh de la Mere, (sometimes Hugh FitzNorman) brother of Guillaume (William, who was head of the house) was from Lamare at St-Opportune in Normandy. Their castle was built on piles beside a lake, hence the surname. William married the daughter of Hugh Lupus. Hugh became Lord of Lea(Leigh). His direct line became extinct but continued through his nephew Roger.

Walter de Vernon was brother of Richard de Vernon mentioned above, hence the surname Vernon. They were from the arrondisement of Evreux in Normandy. They both held many knight's fees in Cheshire. Walter also held in Buckinghamshire. But his brother Richard was much more powerful in Cheshire at the time of the Domesday Book.

Gilbert de Venables (Venator, Veneur, Hunter,) was from Venables, Evreux in Normandy in the barony of Le Veneurs so named because they were hereditary huntsmen to the Dukes of Normandy. Gilbert was a palatine Baron to Hugh Lupus, held the barony of Kinderton in Cheshire. Many lines and surnames were descended, including the Butlers of Chester. Richard was also palatine Baron of Hugh Lupus, and became Barons of Warrington. Another brother, Raoul, was baron of Chester, held in capite, and ancestor of the Grosvenors, Dukes of Westminster, Earls of Wilton and Lords of Elbury. The Hunter family moved north into Scotland where William Venator witnessed a charter by Earl David, later King David in 1124 and this family generally assumed the surname of Hunter. Venables became a prominent Cheshire and Lancashire surname, but Hunter had already achieved a large foothold in Cheshire before the move north with the Domesday Book showing Gilbert Hunter holding Brereton, Davenport, Kinderton and Witton (Northwich suburb) and Ralph Hunter holding Stapleford in Cheshire and Soughton in Wales.

Little is known of William FitzNigel. He is not recorded as being at Hastings. He may have been the son of Nigel de Burcy who assumed the FitzNigel surname before his father's death and changed back thereafter. It would have been normal to change his surname back to Nigel de Burcy after his father's death, and the surname FitzNigel would fade away, unless it was adopted by one of his younger sons instead of their domain name. William FitzNigel's chief domain in the Domesday Book was at Knutsford (said to be King Cnute's ford), and Egbrand, a freeman, held part from him, although it was not inhabited at the time of the Domesday Survey.

William Mallbank (Millbank)was baron of Nantwich in Cheshire. He assumed this surname from his small domain at Wick Malbanc in Cheshire, which is not recorded in the Domeday Book He was of the Brecy or Brassey family of Brecy, near Caen in Normandy. He was a younger brother of eldest son, Randolph de Braceio. William Mallbank also held Wistaston near Crewe in Cheshire. William Mallbank held many lordships in Cheshire including Saughall (Massie), and this prolific family spread to many locations in different parts of England, using different locative surnames just as younger son William Mallbank had been forced to do at Nantwich. Robert, grandson of Randolph, held three knight's fees in Cheshire from his great uncle Baron William Mallbank of Nantwich The surname Malbank or variations held for many centuries. The family history can be researched in the Harleian Manuscripts in the British Museum, principally under MS 1424, fo. 1 and 96 and others. The family also acquired lands in Lancashire and Dorset and succeeding generations assumed the spellings Mallbone, Milbanks (Yorkshire), Milbanke(Baron Wentworth), and others, yet the theme of the original Coat of Arms is traceable through the family. However, tracing this name backwards from this present time, perhaps even getting back to a tiny village in Cheshire, Wick Malbanc, would be difficult to connect the Mallbank relationship, from an obscure village name in Cheshire, to the great Norman Brecey family of Brecy, near Caen whose scion was Le Seigneur de Brecey or Bracio and who was a munificent benefactor of the Abbey of Longues, a knight of the court of Caen, a knight of the Exchequer of Normandy, who was in turn, descended from Randolph d'Anisy , Viscount of Saint Sauveur, but who, of course, could not use that surname.

Nigel de Burcy(see above). Serlon de Burcy was at the Conquest. Robert FitzSerlon had grants in Cheshire from Hugh Lupus. Robert's descendants called themselves Nigel de Morden from their holdings in Wiltshire. The family was from Burci in Vire, Normandy. It is most likely Nigel de Burcy and Robert are one and the same, Nigel reverting to the Norman naming protacol of assuming the family name only after the father, Serlon, had died.

To appreciate this early Norman surname protocol the primogeniture must be understood. It is the foundation of most locative names in Britain. During the lifetime of the father it was very uncommon for any family member to also use that same surname. The chief paternal domain name could not be used except where, unusually, it was used in both Normandy and England, but even on this rare occasion it was customary to append a I, II or III to the son's surname in England to differentiate from the parent in Normandy. On the father's death the eldest son would inherit all, including the right to the surname both in England and Normandy or Brittany. The younger sons usually adopted the locative surnames of their own new domain, such as Mallbank above, even though he is described as the Baron of Nantwich, hence the backtrack relationship, between father and younger sons became tenuous, and difficult to link. On the eldest son's death, the rights went to his sons, unless childless, in which case it went to the next youngest son of the father, and he changed his surname from the locative name which he had used for part of his life. Nor were locative surnames taken lightly. These would be as important, legally, as the knight's seal, and became his domain name. They were charter proof of entitlement to his holding, his new domain. Most younger sons would never get to use the family surname. Fitz names, prefixing the font name, were believed to be a sign of bastardy, or, in those days known as 'natural' sons. However, a more plausible explanation, might be that of a younger son who did not hold a domain, and could not use his father's surname until after the father's death. Hence, Fitz became a temporary surname, which sometimes held in its own right.

Similarly, one of the largest land holders in Cheshire in the Domesday Book was Robert FitzHugh. This may have been Hugh's eldest son who used that name pending his inheritance but unlikely. He was not mentioned at the Conquest in any of the many Rolls. Or, it could be that Robert may have been the younger (very young) son of Earl Hugh, and younger brother of Richard who was himself to become Earl of Chester, a calculated move to keep the county in the family's backpocket. Robert FitzHugh held Broxton, Beeston (Castle), Bickerton, Bickley, Bunbury, Burwardsley, Butley, Cranage, Cuddington, Hampton, Malpas ( the latter very significantly), Marton, Overton (hills), Peckforton, Shocklach, Tilston, Tilstone Fearnall, Tiverton, and Tushingham. In Wales he held Bettisfield. Theoretically, Robert FitzHugh (if the younger son) might adopt any of the names of his holdings as his own domain surname, since he didn't succeed to the Avranches name. To this Richard, Hugh's successor and eldest son, went the family surname who was in turn was succeeded by Randolph, the 3rd Earl of Chester. Amongst the other holdings of Robert FitzHugh he had a choice(he could only take one, most likely Malpas, Barons of Malpas). His other domain names may have been assumed by favoured men-at-arms, freemen, or more distant relations. Continuing, the surname Malpas emerged with seats at Bickerton, Bickly, and Hampton, all Robert FitzHugh's holdings. To say that this Norman suname protocol and system was incestuous would be to put it mildly. Holdings and control were kept in a tight family circle. Keep it in the family. Of the 25 Surety Barons signing the Magna Carta in 1215, 130 years later, 22 were still interrelated by blood or marriage

The study of Wirral in Cheshire is the forerunner of many that will be included on this web site. Cheshire was chosen as an introductory simply because it is the author's home domain. For those interested in their local surnames in Cheshire, Lancashire, Wales and the north west you will notice that some well known surnames of Cheshire are already beginning in the Domesday Book to appear amongst the landholders such as Cook, Venables, Hunter, Mallbank or Millbank, Vernon, Burcy, Massey and Brassey(ie).

Caldy From Thurstaston Hill - April 15th 2007

Top of Thurstaston Hill - April 15th 2007

The Wirral Country Park - A Walk from Thurstaston towards Parkgate and return - 15th April 2007


Related Sites of Interest 

Footnote: Image of Cammell Laird. Saw a program on Discovery TV on 14 May 2005 in which demolition experts blew these 3 cranes up, a familiar skyline on the Mersey, changed forever.

My special thanks to Kenneth Burnley for his permission:

Portrait of Wirral by Kenneth Burnley. Hale Publications
Images of Wirral by Kenneth Burnley & Guy Huntington. The Silver Birch Press