Hoole Bridge

Also known under the names of Brook Street, Flookersbrook, Hoole Road & Hoole Railway Bridge

If you stand at the bottom of the steps of Hoole Bridge in the entrance to the Railway Station Car Park and look north east you will see the trees of Flookersbrook that line Hoole Road. Step forward a few paces and you will be standing on the site of the ancient bridge which crossed the stream called Flookersbrook at this point.

When the Railway Station was built in 1848 the stream was diverted and culverted to run closer and parallel to what are now Lightfoot Street and West Street, but because it was the boundary between Chester and Hoole and Newton its original bed is shown on the 1898 and 1911 O.S. Maps. The railway lines and the Station were actually built in the flood plain of Flookersbrook and there are early records of the Station being affected by flood water.

Turn around and you are looking up the original part of Brook Street; stage coaches heading for Manchester came down Frodsham Street (derivation of name obvious) and Brook Street, over Flookersbrook Bridge where you are standing and along the turnpiked Hoole Road towards Warrington. Maps of the route refer to John Oliver at Hoole Hall and Robert Brittain at Hoole Bank House.

Flookersbrook Bridge could date back to Roman times, as the Roman Road into Chester from Wilderspool and Frodsham, through Bridge Trafford, Hoole Bank and Newton Hollows would have crossed Flookersbrook at this point. Prior to the Civil War of 1645 earthworks known as Flookersbrook Flankers were built to protect the Bridge and Flookersbrook Hall.

In 1840 the railways arrived; a line from Birkenhead terminated on the north side of the Bridge, one from Crewe on the south side, both near the premises of Joseph Newall, whose wheelwright workshops were specified in the Act of Parliament which allowed the railways’ construction. Each line had its own station and offices on either side of Brook Street. Plans for other lines, from Shrewsbury, Holyhead, Warrington and Mold were being put forward by the Railway Companies and by 1847 proposals for a General Railway Station at Chester were approved, with a bridge that had to span seven railway track widths. Thomas Brassey was awarded the tender to build the Station and Goods Yards; the tender for the Bridge was won by E.L. Betts, railways contractors.

In January 1890 a new steel bridge replaced the old one but the original basic structure remains today and although renewal works have been carried out since, the crossing is as it was 170 years ago; then though the west end of it terminated in a circus of streets (no roundabout!), clockwise Lower Brook Street, Francis Street, Egerton Street, Brook Street, and leading to St. Anne’s Street finally the wonderfully named Black Diamond Street, from whose offices and yards the coal brought there to the sidings from the Welsh collieries was sold. All of this changed when Hoole Way was built.

The area below the bridge was to be used for railway purposes, joiners’ and plumbers’ workshops, and even the arches were used for paint and carriage spares stores and a mess room. Messrs. Pooleys who supplied weighing apparatus, so important to the goods business, also had their premises here. Across the road was the Station Master’s House – this was originally Brook Cottage, which is where Thomas Brassey lived when he built the Station; it is now the offices of Avis Car Hire.

 

There were a number of public houses here and a brewery owned by the Drury family, who built the off-licence Drury House at the end of Westminster Road. On the other side under the shadow of the Bridge was the stonemasons Henry Clegg est. 1878 –  they constructed Hoole’s War Memorial. Fitted into the narrow triangle of land at the end was the Railway Cocoa House built in 1880 by John Roberts from a design by John Douglas, Cheshire’s noted Architect, for a total of £909. Cocoa Houses were built in various parts of the city as temperance alternatives to the pub in an attempt to combat drunkenness and the misery it brought.

Over the years there have been a number of attempts to improve the narrow, dangerous roadway the Bridge carries. In the 1870s the Hoole Local Board complained about its state and how the railway’s vehicles queuing at its weighbridge impeded the flow of traffic. In 1902 a conference at Chester Town Hall called for it to be widened, “on cattle market days it was impossible for pedestrians”. A scheme was proposed for a carriageway at least 30 feet wide plus 10 feet wide pavements; this was ruled out and in 1905 an amended scheme costing £15,500 was agreed, the costs to be shared between Chester, the County Council, Hoole Urban District and Newton Parish Councils; this would see the construction of a footbridge alongside the existing structure. 112 years later, we are still waiting.

Railway plan with permission of Cheshire Record Office

[Article by Ralph Earlam, initially published in ‘Hoole Roundabout’ in February 2017 - http://www.hooleroundabout.com]