Lightfoot Street

The Residential Side

If you pass by quickly, the eastern side of Lightfoot Street appears to be a continuous row of terraced houses. Look closely and you will see differences in style which came about with the development of that side of the street.

Aerial view 1931 showing the continuous row of terraced houses

The first houses at the northern end were built in 1880/1 but the gap shown in the 1889 OS Map indicates where the landowner and solicitor Mr. J.P. Court applied on behalf of Mr. Fisher, Builder, of Hoole for a full licence for a public house about to be erected. This would have been 232 yards from the Ermine Hotel and was refused. Terraced houses were then built to Walker Street, where larger houses were eventually erected on each corner. Building continued southwards onto 323 sq. yds. of land which had been bought by Frederick Lipsham in 1886, but only as far as No.39. (No.40, an odd shaped dwelling was squeezed in later).

It stopped there because the boundary with Cowpastures had been reached. This was the remainder of the field sold to the Railway Company by Macclesfield School, subsequently purchased by the Marquis of Westminster in 1842 and exchanged by him for land in Handbridge which was owned by the Bluecoat Hospital. This apparently simple deal in fact contravened a condition of a legal Trust governing the land and the matter was not resolved until 1896/7!

In 1894 Chester Football Club rented Cowpastures for their ground (complete with grandstand) from the Bluecoat Hospital. Attendances of up to 2000 were recorded. Cycle racing and bank holiday fêtes also took place there.

 

Lightfoot Street OS Map 1889

William Williams, a builder from Halkyn Road, then bought the land for £3,608 and began the extension of Lightfoot Street from No.41. These newer houses crossed the end of Faulkner Street and if you look closely next time you pass you will see that the change in the facade of these dwellings is quite distinctive.

For the history of the site at the junction with Westminster Road see Westminster Road article. 

The Railway Station Side

The western side of Lightfoot Street has been railway property since the arrival of the line from Crewe which opened in 1840. By the time Chester General Railway Station was built in 1848 the Railway Company had purchased lands in Hoole from Macclesfield School and the estate of John Lightfoot which included the stream known as Flookers Brook, which was diverted and eventually piped. The Station and the many lines that enter it were actually built on the boggy flood plain of Flookers Brook, which was the original boundary of the townships of Hoole and Newton with Chester, and early OS maps show how it meandered across the Station site as far as Lower Brook Street.

The Station’s water reservoir and gas works were located here with a house for the Station’s General Manager, the first being Robert Lewis Jones appointed in 1847. The house eventually became offices and Mr. Jones appears in the 1861 Census living at Brook Lodge on Hoole Road. Cattle pens were also built and the huge LNWR goods shed dominated the area. At the junction with Westminster Road Bridge allotments were provided for the use of railway workers.

Lightfoot Street was not yet a road and it was not until Brabner & Court, Solicitors from Liverpool, acquired lands from the estate of John Lightfoot in the 1870s that the street was built but only as far as Peploe Street (now Westminster Road), the extension to Hoole Lane not being completed until the 1960s.

 

In the 20th century the Railway authorities released property not required for railway purposes. Pickfords had a warehouse here which was destroyed by fire in 1996 and in 2010 the goods shed which had become an Enterprise Centre suffered a similar fate; these huge fires had a devastating effect on the nearby residential properties.

Other land not needed for railway purposes was eventually developed for the light industrial use, garages, and workshops that we see today. On the other side of Westminster Road Bridge the Railway Social Club was built (a model steam train used to operate here) and more recently Thomas Brassey Close has been erected named of course after the builder of Chester’s General Railway Station.

“Beautiful thoroughfare”?

Because of its origins, the road was often in a bad state of repair, cab drivers refused to deliver there and the council received a lot of criticism. It could never have been envisaged that the street along which cattle were driven would eventually contain so many parked cars and require speed humps.

 

In the early 1890s there was at least one persistent complainant to the Hoole Local Board about the state of Lightfoot St but the Board agreed to “…treat the letters with contempt…”.

In 1893, however, with the prospect of the Royal Agricultural Show taking place in Hoole, the Hoole Local Board and the Joint Railway Companies had agreed plans and costs for “…putting Lightfoot St in a proper condition…”. However, as the Cheshire Observer of 2nd May 1893 reported, “This thoroughfare which we are assured is going to be made one of the most beautiful in Europe is still unfinished…”. Tensions between the Board and the Railway companies led the Observer to report also that the Hoole Local Board would be “… unable to prevent the Railway Companies from using the road by strength of arms”.

What a pity that we don’t know if any pitched battles were fought out on Lightfoot Street in the 1890s over who had right of way!

Lightfoot Street was part of the one-way traffic plan for the thousands of visitors arriving by rail for the Royal Agricultural Show in 1895 who would use the newly opened Hoole entrance to the station. Hackney carriages would bring their passengers back down Hoole Road, along Hamilton Street, Peploe Street (now Westminster Road) and so back to the station entrance via Lightfoot Street.

On 22nd June 1893, the Cheshire Observer printed an irate letter (from the resident whom the Local Board agreed, according to their minutes, to treat with contempt?). This complained that “…the working of the plan has caused universal irritation and execration…” and that “…repeated remonstrances … have been met with an autocratic consideration worthy of the Czar of Russia”.

[Article by Ralph Earlam, some parts of which were initially published in ‘Hoole Roundabout’ in March and April 2016 - http://www.hooleroundabout.com]