The coming of the Railways and the making of modern Hoole

The impact of the railways on the small settlement of Hoole

Illustration from "Bradshaw's Guide"

In 1841, the small village of Hoole was part of a world where the parish boundary of St Peter's Church, Plemstall (or Plemondstall as it was called in the tithe records) and the city parishes of St Oswald's and St John's still shaped the identity of the community and an appreciation of what was lawful. The rigid social hierarchy was based on aristocratic landowners with shared certainties in their religious and political principles and matters of taste. Major landowners included the Earl of Shrewsbury and the Hamilton and Brittain families.

Bagshaw’s 1850 Directory described Hoole township in 1841, with its ‘gentile houses’, as “47 Houses and 294 inhabitants” with "743 acres of sandy soil”.

However, between 1841 and 1861, on the same acreage, the population rose from 294 to 1,596. By 1881 just under 3000 people were living in Hoole - an increase of 900%!

It was the growth of the railways from the 1840s onward which brought people to Hoole from all over the country.

Although Chester never became a true Railway Town (like Crewe), the railways had a direct and major impact in changing permanently the social structure of the city and the employment of its citizens. The history and development of the suburb of Hoole directly flows from the railways.

Housing

All of the new arrivals needed accommodation and, although some railway employees were able to find cheaper accommodation in New Town and the area around the canal side, the growing workforce needed to be within walking distance of the station. There was a great local demand amongst the many employees of the railways and its associated workshops for appropriate places to live. Land sold to the railway company may have had restrictive covenants preventing industrial development, but these would not have covered residential development.

Although there were already some villas and smaller houses north of Hoole Road in Flookersbrook before the arrival of the railways, the influx of so many new workers led to the development of a Victorian suburb of considerable diversity.

The nature of railways meant around-the-clock working. That demanded that houses had to be built close to the station or the engine shed. This, in turn, led to the building of some of the terraced houses in Hoole.

Development spread from a nucleus around Faulkner Street. Streets of modest terraced housing spread towards the London and North Western Railway Goods yard and across Hoole Road towards the Great Western Railway goods and engine shed. The map below clearly shows the position of the competing railway lines and the proposed site of what became the present Chester station.

Map taken from 'The Birkenhead Railway' (LMS & GW Joint) by T.B.Maud. Published by RCTS

Hoole Bridge curves instead of going in a straight line on from Hoole Way because as the 1846 map shows, the railway was built directly across the historic straight route from Brook Street onto the turnpike of Hoole Road (a toll road which began at Flookersbrook, run by a Turnpike Trust).

Jobs

The 1851 to 1881 census returns for Hoole show the arrival of railway workers from far away, including a railway inspector from Scotland living in Hoole Villas, locomotive firemen in Peploe Street (now Westminster Road), who had arrived from Penzance, and the Railway Manager, William Peabody from Northamptonshire who lived in Lightfoot Street.

Local people also found employment including George Hulse, a porter at Chester Station. George Lloyd, who had been born in Hoole, was a railway policeman.

The variety of jobs listed in the census returns shows the impact of the railways on employment. Listed jobs included railway fitter, engine driver, porter, railway clerks, shareholders and railway agents, engine cleaners as well as other connected trades such as bookbinders, tailors, and commissioning agents.

In 1899 Hoole was described as a ‘Commercial Nest’ because so many of its residents travelled to Liverpool or elsewhere each day. It was asserted that only 4 out of 75 occupiers in Hoole Road derived their living from Chester.

The railways had created a new class of people –the commuters!

[Article by Phil Cook, initially published in ‘Hoole Roundabout’ in January 2016 - http://www.hooleroundabout.com]