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CHESHIRE, a maritime county; bounded, on the NW, by the Irish sea; on the N, by Lancashire; on the NE, by Yorkshire; on the E, by Derbyshire; on the SE, by Staffordshire; on the S, by Salop; on the SW, by North Wales. Its outline has two projections, northwestward between the estuaries of the Mersey and the Dee, and north-eastward to Yorkshire; but is otherwise nearly oval. Its greatest length, north-eastward, is 58 miles; its greatest breadth, 36 miles; its mean breadth, about 18 miles; its circuit, about 200 miles; its area, 707,078 acres. A ridge of hills, subordinate to the Derby and Yorkshire mountains, extends along all the eastern border; another ridge, much broken, crosses the west centre northward from Malpas to Frodsham; a remarkable isolated rocky eminence, about 366 feet high, is in the line of the latter ridge, at Beeston; a chain of high ground goes through the peninsular projection between the Mersey and the Dee; and a few other eminences occur near Macclesfield and toward Salop; but the rest of the surface, comprising about four-fifths of the entire area, is remarkable for flatness, and has a mean elevation of probably not more than 150 feet above the level of the sea. The chief rivers are the Mersey, the Dee, the Weaver, the Dane, the Bollin, the Tame, the Peover, and the Weelock. Lakes, bearing the name of meres, are numerous and pretty enough to give feature to some landscapes; but are all small. Medicinal springs occur in Delamere forest, at Shore-heath near Stockport, and at Buglawton. Rocks of millstone grit occur along the eastern border, and fill the extremity of the northeastern projection; rocks of the coal measures, rich in coal, form a broad band, immediately west of the mill-stone grit; rocks of bunter sandstone occupy a great tract westward of the coal measures, and a still greater one from the vicinity of Malpas, Tattenhall, and Frodsham all westward to the sea; and rocks of the keuper marl and sandstone occupy most of the country between these two tracts, and occur to some extent near the extremity of the north-western peninsula. Lead and copper ores are found at Alderley-edge and Peckforton-hills; cobalt ore, yielding smalt of fine colour, is found at Alderley-edge; and iron ore occurs at Alderley-edge, Dukin-field, and Stockport. Red sandstone, for building, is extensively quarried at Runcorn, Manley, Great Bebington, and other places; and limestone and millstone are found at Mole-Cop mountain. Coal is worked in thirty-five collieries, with an output of 700,500 tons a-year. Salt abounds in strata and in springs, near Northwick, Nantwicb, Winsford, and Middlewich; and is produced from the strata to the amount of about 60,000 tons a-year, and from the springs to the amount of about 45,000 tons.
The soil, in some parts, is a light sandy earth; in other parts, a dark peat mould; but in most parts, a rich reddish loam, variously sandy and clayey. The subsoil, in general, is either clay or marl; and has, to a vast extent, afforded material for the improving of the soil.
About 64,000 acres are water and sea-sand; about 17,000 are bog and morass; about 28,000 are heaths, commons, and woods; and the rest of the area is variously building site, pleasure-ground, park, pasture, meadow, and arable land. The estates, in general, are large; but the farms, on the average, are under 100 acres. Leases commonly run eleven years. Husbandry has undergone much improvement; but is still in need of much more. Wheat was formerly a famous produce; but is now less cultivated than before. Potatoes have considerable attention, and average about 10 tons per acre. Cheese is a main produce; and is exported, to all parts of England and to the Continent, to the amount of about 12,000 tons a-year. Butter also is made in considerable quantity. Much attention has been paid to the breed of cows. About 65,000 sheep are kept, yielding about 1,250 packs of wool a-year. Commerce, trade, and manufacture maintain about 23 ½ per cent, of the population. The chief manufactures are muslins, calicoes, fustians, tapes, silks, thread, leather, gloves, and hose; and have their seats principally at Stockport, Macclesfield, Congleton, Sandbach, Knutsford, and Tarporley. Railways intersect the county in all parts, in all directions; the Bridge-water, the Grand Trunk, the Ellesmere, the Chester and Nantwich, and the Macclesfield and Peak Forest canals also intersect it; and highways exist to the aggregate of nearly 2,500 miles.
The county contains 91 parishes, parts of 5 other parishes, and 4 extra-parochial places; is divided into the hundreds of Broxton, Bucklow, Eddisbury, Macclesfield, Nantwich, Northwich, and Wirrall, with the boroughs of Chester, Congleton, Macclesfield, and the main part of Stockport; and forms, for parliamentary representation, two divisions, North and South, separated chiefly by the river Weaver. The registration county excludes a township to Derby, a township to Salop, two parishes and two townships to Lancashire, and fourteen townships and part of an extra-parochial tract to Denbigh; includes a parish of Stafford, two townships of Lancashire, and a parish and part of another parish of Flint; measures 692,999 acres; and is divided into the districts of Altrincham, Great Boughton, Congleton, Macclesfield, Nantwich, Northwich, Runcorn, Stockport, and Wirrall. The market-towns are Chester, Altrincham, Congleton, Frodsham, Macclesfield, Malpas, Middlewich, Knutsford, Nantwich, Northwich, Sandbach, Stockport, and Tarporley. The chief seats are Cholmondeley Castle, Eaton-Hall, Dunham-Massey, Combermere Abbey, Crewe Hall, Tabley Hall, Vale-Royal Abbey, Poynton, Alderley, Hooten, High Beach, Oulton, Norton Priory, Doddington, Over-Peover, Arley Hall, Aston Hall, Booths Hall, Adlington, Bolesworth, Brereton, Bromborough, Bramhall, Henbury, Dukinfield, Capesthorne, Hyde, Hatherton, Lyme, Marbury, Netherlegh, Mollington, Marple, Poole, Tatton, Willington, Rode, Mere, Somerford, Toft, Withenshaw, Upton, Tustingham, and Somerford-Booths. Real property in 1815, £1,114,927; in 1843, £1,889,937; in 1851, £2,062,283; in 1860, £2,673,756,—of which £5,589 were in quarries, £56,757 in mines, £15,484 in canals, and £262,970 in railways.
The county is governed by a lord lieutenant, a high sheriff, 65 deputy lieutenants, and about 290 magistrates. The assizes are held at Chester; and quarter-sessions, at Chester and Knutsford. The county jail and a city jail are at Chester; and the county house of correction is at Knutsford. The police force, in 1862, for the county at large, comprised 225 men, at a cost of £16,945; for Chester city, 36 men, at a cost of £2,140; for Birkenhead, 67 men, at a cost of £4,280; for Stockport, 25 men, at a cost of £1,217; for Macclesfield, 18 men, at a cost of £950; for Congleton, 5 men, at a cost of £354. The crimes, in that year, in the county at large, were 1,017; in Chester city, 141; in Birkenhead, 271; in Stockport, 61; in Macclesfield, 93; in Congleton, 27. The number of depredators and suspected persons at large were, in the county, 1,926; in Chester, 169; in Birkenhead, 106; in Stockport, 88; in Macclesfield, 82: in Congleton, 102. The houses of bad character, in the county at large, were 283; in Cheater, 82; in Birkenhead, 95; in Stockport, 52; in Macclesfield, 42; in Congleton, 23. Two members are sent to parliament by each of the two parliamentary divisions of the county; two by each of the boroughs of Chester, Stockport, and Macclesfield; and one by the new borough of Birkenhead. Electors, in 1860, of the Northern Division, 6,303; of the Southern Division, 6,881. The county, excepting part of the parish of Threapwood, is all in the diocese of Chester. The poor-rates of the registration county, in 1862, were £152,532. Marriages in 1860, 3,979,—of which 659 were not according to the rites of the Established church; births, 16,081,—of which 1,207 were illegitimate; deaths, 10,146,—of which 4,049 were at ages under 5 years, and 174 at ages above 85. The places of worship, within the county-proper, in 1851 were 252 of the Church of England, with 121,882 sittings; 2 of United Presbyterians, with 910 s.; 3 of English Presbyterians, with 700 s.; 66 of Independents, with 20,597 s.; 31 of Baptists, with 6,092 s.; 10 of Quakers, with 2,311s.; 14 of Unitarians, with 3,232 s.; 3 of Moravians, with 246 s.; 188 of Wesleyan Methodists, with 37,877 s.; 29 of New Connexion Methodists, with 9,005 s.; 135 of Primitive Methodists, with 14,334 s.; 50 of the Wesleyan Association, with 7,988 s.; 4 of Calvinistic Methodists, with 983 s.; 8 of Lady Huntingdon’s Connexion, with 1,278 s.; 5 of Brethren, with 616 s.; 7 of isolated congregations, with 760 s.; 9 of Latter Day Saints, with 900 s.; and 17 of Roman Catholics, with 5,882 s. The schools were 352 public day schools, with 35,898 scholars; 685 private day schools, with 19,187 s.; 545 Sunday schools, with 71,270 s.; and 78 evening schools for adults, with 1,643 s. Pop. in 1801, 192,305; in 1821, 270,098; in 1841, 395,660; in 1861, 505,428. Inhabited houses, 97,874; uninhabited, 5,420; building, 715.
The territory now forming Cheshire belonged anciently to the British Cornavii; and was included by the Romans, first in their Britannia-Superior, next in their Flavia-Csesariensis. It was overrun, in 607, by Ethelfrith; annexed to Mercia, in 828, by Egbert; made an earldom, under Leofric, by Canute; constituted a palatinate, under Hugh Lupus, by the Conqueror; annexed to the Crown, in 1265, by Henry III.; made a principality by Richard II.; constituted again a palatinate by Henry IV.; and governed thence, under the king’s eldest sons, as Earls of Chester, by a separate and independent jurisdiction. The privileges of the palatinate were greatly curtailed by Henry VIII., and ceased altogether in 1830. The county is crossed by the Via Devana and Watling-street; and has British and Saxon remains at Prestbury, ancient castles at Haulton and Beeston, old timber houses at Bromborough, Bramhall, Moreton, and Mottram, monastic remains at Birkenhead and Rock-Savage, and curious ancient churches at Prestbury and Mottram.
Source: The Imperial Gazetteer of England & Wales [Wilson, John M]. A. Fullarton & Co. N. d. c. [1870-72].