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FERRIES, AND CHESHIRE.
BY WILLIAM HARRISON.*
ESHIRE differs from Lancashire in its physical features in that for the most part it presents a aratively level surface, watered by sluggish streams ating in a multitude of converging brooks and rills significant length and width. It would be tedious to w each one of these in detail to its source, and I efore purpose in this paper dealing separately only the larger rivers and then mentioning more generally crossings upon the subordinate streams.
n dealing with the river crossings of Cheshire we a matter of course give the first consideration to the twhile chief river, the one upon which stands the unty town, the
Dee, which Britons long ygone
Did call divine, that doth by Chester tend.
At Chester the Dee is confined within very narrow
*Mr. G. H. Rowbotham has again kindly furnished the illustrations of ridges with the exception of one which is by Mr. Charles Sheil, a former member of the Society.
limits, but between that point and the sea it possesses a broad estuary which twice daily becomes an expanse of shining sand, threaded by a narrow stream.
Making as our starting point the island of Hilbre, where the river flows into the open sea, we find first the passage between that island and the mainland. Of this island Leland says: "At the floode it is all environid with water as an isle, and then the trajectus is a quarter of a mile over and 4 fadome deep of water, and at ebbe a man may go over the sand." Thus it is alternately an island and a part of the mainland. Ormerod compares it in this respect and also as an object of superstitious pilgrimage with the holy isle of Lindisfarne, and quotes as equally applicable to it the lines from "Marmion":
For with the flow and ebb its style
Dry-shod, o'er sands, twice every day
Of staves and sandall'd feet the trace.
Across the main channel of the Dee, near Hilbre, a passage is said to have been formed by the miraculous interposition of St. Werburgh. Richard, second earl of Chester, while on a pilgrimage to St. Winifred's Well, near Holywell, was attacked by the Welsh, and driven into Basingwerk Abbey. The saint, in response to his appeal, parted the waters of the Dee by the formation of new sandbanks, over which his Constable, the Baron of Halton, marched troops to his relief. We may believe this or not as we choose. Archdeacon Rogers, the Cheshire antiquary, called the story "fabulose and lyinge." But are not the banks thus formed called "Constable's Sands" to this day? *
* Transactions, iv. 235; Ormerod's Cheshire, ii. 275.
A ford existed from early times opposite the point where Flint now stands, and is said to have been used by the Romans. King Edward I. built his stronghold here to protect the ford, and the name bestowed upon it, Castrum apud Fluentum, was in course of time corrupted into Flint. In a nautical work by Captain Denham, published in 1840, it is stated that the estuary was then fordable direct to Flint Castle from half ebb to half flood, and that about a mile below a ferry-boat plied between Parkgate and Bagillt at about the time of high water, generally effecting a trip to and fro. The fords in the estuary were crossed in 1403, after the battle of Shrewsbury, by Welsh rebels, who threatened Wirral.†
Shotwick Ford was a little nearer Chester. Here King Edward I. crossed on horseback at the head of his vassals and their retainers in 1277, when commencing his campaign against the Welsh. "Shotwick Ford," says the Harleian MS., which records this journey, "doethe still continue." This is no longer the case, it having been abolished, as will be mentioned presently.
Between Burton and Hawarden the sands were crossed two centuries ago by Celia Fiennes, as described in her diary. The sand, she said, was "as smooth as a die, being a few hours left of the flood. The sands here are so loose that the tide does move them from one place to another at every flood, that the same place one used to ford a month or two before is not to be passed now." It is interesting to note that the sands were used as a highway not merely across, but along the river. They "can go," she says, "near nine or ten miles over the
* Taylor, Historic Notices of Flint, 2, 15.
+ Wylie, England under Henry IV., ii. 2.
Taylor's Flint, p. 15.
§ Transactions, ix. 131.
sands, from Chester to Burton or to Flint town almost." "They convey their coals from Wales and any other things by waggon, when the tide is out, to Chester and other parts."
In those days the broad sands extended almost to the gates of Chester. But when, under the powers granted to the River Dee Company early in the eighteenth century, the present narrow and straight channel was formed, the greater part of these sands from Connah's Quay upwards were reclaimed. Across the new channel. in lieu of the pre-existing fords, which were then abolished, were established two ferries-the "Lower King's Ferry," close by what is now the village of Queensferry, and the "Upper Ferry." As to the village, we may note in passing how the present long reign has stereotyped the feminine aspect of names of this kind so firmly that, however times may change, we shall probably never hear of it as King's Ferry, although the ferry itself is so named.
The Lower Ferry was, about 1835, connected with new roads on either side so as to form an important point on the route from Liverpool to Holyhead and other places in Wales. A new iron movable bridge to supersede it is just now on the point of completion.
The Upper or Higher King's Ferry is some miles nearer Chester. Neither of these ferries is actually in Cheshire, the new channel of the Dee having been taken entirely on the Flintshire side. Immediately, however, above the Higher Ferry the river enters Cheshire, and leaves Wales behind.
At Chester, opposite the Shipgate, was the combined ford and ferry used by the Romans, and which continued in use long after the bridge sixty yards higher up had been built. According to all precedent," says the late
Mr. Thompson Watkin,* "there ought to be a large number of Roman coins, fibulæ, and other ornaments of gold, silver, and bronze in the mud at the bottom of the river each side of this ford, which were thrown in as offerings to the presiding goddess of the Dee, either for expected or accomplished help in fording the stream at low water or crossing by boat at high tide." In a list of Chester streets, temp. Edward III., quoted by Canon Morris,† we read in reference to the Shipgate, "and anends this gate before the Bruge was mayde there was a fferry bott that brought bothe hors and man over Dee." As we shall see directly, the ferry remained in use long after the bridge was built.
Chester Old Bridge, according to Grose, was more worthy of notice for its picturesque appearance than remarkable for its antiquity, "not," he adds, "but part of it is very ancient, tho' it appears to have been frequently repaired at different times and with different materials." On another page (37), on the authority of a friend's manuscript, he states that Edward the Elder finished the bridge which was begun by his sister Ethelfleda. Considerable further information is given by Canon Morris in the works already referred to, from which the following is collected. The bridge is mentioned in Domesday in the time of Edward the Confessor, when the præpositus could summon one man from each hide of the county to come to repair it. It was at first built of wood. In 1227 the bridge entirely collapsed. A similar catastrophe occurred in 1280, when an unusually high tide inundated a large extent of country, breaking down and carrying away the
* Roman Cheshire, 47.
+ Chester in the Plantaganet and Tudor Reigns, 256.
Antiquities of England and Wales, vol. i., new ed., p. 36.
§ Ibid, pp. 14, 19, 229, 230, 231, 509, 512.