William Alfred Gibson. (1881-1975)

'Kingsley' by William Gibson, 1955. Unpublished family manuscript.


caution !! ... this is an initial draft of a story for the family ... there are many errors of fact, omissions and inaccuracies for which I apologise ...

I only keep these notes on my server so I don't lose them !!



Kingsley MillW & T Gibson Ltd at Kingsley Mill is a family business with origins going back 200 years. In the early 19th century, before modern steam and electric power, Kingsley Mill relied on the mill pool head to turn a giant water wheel which rotated the mill stones. In those days farmers brought their corn for processing into flour in horse drawn carts but now there is no flour and the mill pool is no longer used to drive the stones. The Mill today is a modern working mill producing a range of animal feeds both for the agricultural industry and leisure use.

Kingsley Mill has moved with the times, there has been a constant battle to modernise by risking new investment in new products and customers ... but links to days gone by remain, the mill pool is still the home of ducks, geese and all sorts of wildlife.

There has been a mill on the site at Kingsley since Saxon times. The Saxons had a thirst for power and it seems not a stream in the land was left unharnessed. Within 10 miles of Kingsley 28 mills could be counted - Acton, Arley, Milton, Cuddington (3), Peck's Mill, Randall's, Barrow, Tarvin, Duddon, Oulton, Willington, Cote Brook, Little Budworth, Marbury, Grimsditch, Cogshall, Frodsham (2), Cattenhall, Crowton (2), Bradley, Bradford, Northwich, Peover & Lostock Gralam ...

Gibson's Kingsley MillThe original Kingsley Mill was little different from all the others in terms of the gearing, mill stones, flour dressing machines and grain drying but water power for Kingsley was difficult, there were four small streams but not one of them could power a wheel. These early Saxon engineers were clever. They chose an unlikely site on marshy ground with no high banks between which they could build a dam, but they diverted the two main streams into a pool and by doing so raised the water level some 29 feet above the natural level. They found a way to free the water when it had done its work and insured the pool did not silt up. They built on the site of a spring to conserve its power and flow ... they performed a miracle ...

Then, and in later Norman times, the mill was controlled by the Lord of the Manor, a system which lasted until the late 1600s. In those days the farmers had no alternative but to send their wheat to the Lord's mill for the production of flour for bread and chaff for meal. The miller paid in kind, it was a stitch up ... but everybody gravitated to the mill ... the mill was the social centre of village activity and stories abound ...

The original water mill was complemented by the Kingsley wind mill which was erected in the 1700s.

In 1768 two men were sent to prison for breaking into the mill. Convicted by Justices Bruen & Stapleford at 'The Chamber in the Forest', which was the local courthouse at Eddisbury.

A young apprentice named Burrows, who served his time at the mill, emigrated to Australia and founded the largest combine of flour manufacturers in the country, The Oceana Flour Milling Co Ltd.

In 1824 The Chester Courant advertised the sale of Mr Parker's 'Guest Slack' properties in Kingsley.

Painting by Thomas GibsonThe Gibsons worked the mill from the early 1800s taking over occupancy from the Parker family. William Gibson purchased the mill from Edward Langsdale later in the century. Langsdale, a Liverpool timber merchant, had purchased Kingsley Hall from the Giffords in 1816. Langsdale and a string of similar newcomers were responsible for the further splitting up of the Kingsley estate into the many separate titles, giving opportunity, diversity & competition for many independent Kingsleyites.

William Gibson was a local farmer at Kingsley Hall, Catten Hall & Peel Hall and the first and last monopolist in the village, he owned - the Water Mill, the Wind Mill, Crowton Mill and a corn warehouse at Frodsham Bridge. He was a lay preacher and with all this influence one wonders whether his conscience troubled him?!

Kingley Wind MillThe wind mill was purchased from the Burtons by William but his son John sold the mill to an ironmonger named Braun from Garston, then a chap called Chadwick from Runcorn followed and he closed the mill and it was converted into Crofton Lodge, a residential property. Chadwick had ideas to make the mill into some sort of look-out tower and folly but during the conversion, undertaken by Messrs Davies & Co of Frodsham the structure came crashing down, with much noise and consternation, but luckily it was during a lunch break, and there was no loss of life!

During the Gibson ownership John's brother Samuel was lashed to the sails and sent for a ride two or three times round ... boys will be boys and the Gibson pair were no different ... wot fun!

The lake supplying the water mill was know as Wigans Lake and it was drained by landowners James Hall & George Whitely. They had been sold enclosures but not the lake. What an encroachment on the freedom and independence of Kingsley men, and yet another example of the erosion of property rights in the absence of eternal vigilance ...

The Gibsons went to considerable trouble at one time to divert the streams flowing down to the Weaver through Crowton into the Kingsley pool to augment the power for the mill. Eventually much later around 19?? the mill was converted to electricity by Lilly's, a firm from Gloucester.

Following the opening of the Weaver Navigation, the rise of Liverpool and the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1840 the flour milling trade improved cost effectiveness and began relocating to the ports. The Kingsley Mill responded and by switching to the compounding of animal feeds.

William Gibson (1801-61) died at Kingsley aged 63? in 1861. The 'Intack', the 'Windmill Farm' and the 'Water Mill Farm' were sold in 1862. In 1869 Windmill Farm was up for sale again.

Thomas followed his dad into milling but his sons Edwin and Alfred went into the railways. Edwin, the eldest son, was tragically killed falling onto a railway truck. His younger brother Alfred was originally an engine driver from Mossley Hill, but planned his future with a new wife in Canada. With Edwin gone, Alfred was called back to run the mill. But he had almost lost contact with the family and no one recognised him when he arrived at Acton Bridge Station. Significantly Alfred wasn’t a miller, and after Thomas retired the business deteriorated & the clapped out operation was eventually sold to a local chap up the road.

It looked as though the Gibson connection with Kingsley Mill had ended but young Billy Gibson had other plans. His granddad Thomas had run a successful business and Billy had been dispatched to Rigbys to learn the trade. Billy knew his oats because the Rigbys had a fine history of successful milling in Cheshire -

Bewsey HallThomas Rigby (1830-) was born in Warrington at Bewsey Hall, the imposing and ancient seat of the Boteler family. The Boteler family were Lords of the Manor of Warrington from the time of William the Conqueror until Elizabethan times. The name Bewsey is derived from 'beau see', Norman French for 'beautiful place'. In 1526, Sir Thomas Boteler, later to be the High Sheriff of Lancashire in 1535, founded his famous school. I remember, the Boteler Grammar School for Boys, in the 1950s ... they played a mean game of cricket.
The 1841 census finds mum Ellen Rigby (neé Wright) (1807-) with her kids Thomas (1830-), Mary (1831-), Jane (1833-) & Ann (1835-) at Brick Street, Warrington, living with the children's grandparents Thomas Wright (1775-) & Ellen Welsby (1777-) who were married in 1804. 
Ellen Wright (1807-) had married William Rigby (-) in 1829 in Warrington. Thomas was the son of William Rigby.
In 1851 young Mary was still living alone with grandma but now at Church Street, Warrington.
Young Thomas, now 21, was a Journeyman Miller, learning his trade at Bridge House, Church Minshall, Nantwich.
The mill owners were Joseph Wright (1616-) from Grappenhall & his wife Eleanor (1823-).
((5/12/2016 Val clarified - Joseph Wright of Church Minshull was the son of Thomas Wright's younger brother James and William Rigby's older sister Mary (William Rigby was Thomas Rigby senior's dad). I believe that Thomas Wright was married to Ellen Welsby (not Rigby). Thomas Wright's mother was also a Rigby but I am yet to discover how she was related to the other Rigbys.
Apparently one of Thomas Rigby's grandchildren was Cecil Arthur Lewis, co founder of the BBC?))
By 1861 Thomas Rigby (1830) was married to Mary (1827) from Davenham, Northwich, and was farming 90 acres employing 3 men at Fenny Wood, Little Budworth. They had three children Ellen (1853-), William B (1855-) & Thomas A (1861-).
At the 1871 census Thomas was at Mill House, Darnall with the family plus four additions Mary (1862-), Joseph (1864-), Jane Ann (1865-) & Alice (1871-). They were prolific, seven children!
By 1881 Thomas had established his mill at Sutton Weaver, employing 14 men & 2 boys. Thomas A, Mary, Jane Ann & Alice were with Thomas at Sutton but wife Mary had died by this time.
In 1891 Thomas was still milling & farming but now living at The Cedars, Warrington Road, Sutton, with Mary, Jane & Alice.
In 1881 Thomas's son William Brereton (1855-) continued with the mill at Darnall employing 5 men and 2 boys. He was married to Teresa Maria Waller (1853-), a local girl from Winsford, with their new born son Thomas Marshall (1881-). Brother Joseph (1864-) was also at Darnall helping with the mill.
in 1891 William & Theresa were still at Mill House with the address now Stanthorne, with Thomas M and his new brother William Brereton Stewart (1883-).
By 1901 Thomas A (1861-) had taken over the mill and was living in Hoole, Chester with his family, wife Margaret A (1861-) and son Brereton (1890-)
By 1911 Thomas Arthur (1861-) & Margaret Ann (1861-) were at Upton Hayes, Chester, still milling and now with sons Brereton (1890-) & Oswald (1893-) in the business. The family now involved a new prospect 6 year old son Thomas (1905-) ...

Rigby's Four Mill Frodsham BridgeThomas Rigby & Son Ltd, 5 Fenwick Street, Liverpool 2 were the big millers and had established flour mills in Liverpool and at Frodsham Bridge. Thomas Rigby & Son's Flour Mill at Frodsham Bridge received grain at the Frodsham wharf via barges. There was a grain elevator capable of lifting 60 tons per hour from the hold of a barge to the top floor of the mill. The Flour was distributed to bakeries by teams of horses, as seen here, and later by Foden Steam wagons.

Rigbys also milled flour in the waterloo grain  warehouses in Liverpool, and quite cheaply, as the boats came straight to the mill from the open sea, and the ground wheat was dispatched, in railway trucks directly from the door. The advantage moved from small rural mills to the giants at the ports. During this period T A Rigby was running a tight ship keeping up to date with the latest patent technology, appealing his onerous tax bill and exhibiting their latest products in London, with effective advertising and exciting promotions!

Thomas Rigby & Sons were eventually taken over by Rank Hovis McDougal in ??.

Billy Gibson must have been sickened when his dad sold the business but his ambition was unbounded and with a colleague from Rigbys; Robert Cooper from Frodsham Bridge Mill, the pair bought back the mill as a partnership, Gibson & Co. Robert came up from Frodsham every Tuesday to do the books and keep an eye on his money while Billy got on with the job. When Robert died, his widow demanded that her share of the partnership went to her grandson. William was furious at the prospect of losing control of the mill and he immediately paid her off and thus retained the business as sole proprietor, Gibsons.

The old flour dressing machines were finally discarded around 1900 so ending the consumption of local flour for the nourishment of Kingsley folk.

Animal feeds were now the focus of the mill and supplies of maize meal and cotton cake come up the Weaver in barges from Liverpool to nearby Pickerings Wharf where the Gibsons had a storage shed. A depot at Frodsham Station also provided a useful outlet for the mill produce. 

The mill continued to specialise and create niche markets and a personal service. This was the only way to survive as comparative advantage now lay with the new industries of ICI, Shell, Levers and BICC ...

KingsleyKingsley was always different but not special ... always coping with change & disease ... urbanisation, inflation, infant mortality, contaminated water,  environmental degradation, illegitimacy, delinquency,  corporal punishment, shrinking congregations, family breakup, drunkenness, gambling, taxation, newcomers, industry & the welfare state ... all of which in their different ways threatened the Kingsley we had known, of charm & beauty & rural quiet ... obliterating the Kingsley culture of independence, hard work, thrift & honesty ...

Prehistoric History was found in names, roads, tumuli, cross roads, ley stones, manors, castles, ponds & folklore ... and before before there were families, family strife, family cooperation and family inter-marriage. Some families settled in Kingsley. Kingsley was older than Cheshire, and much older than England. Kingsley was 3,000 years of culture ... and history was formative ... kingdoms were based on cooperating families ... bottom up ...

The Romans came for dominion, slaves, minerals & agricultural surpluses. For sure they destroyed the Cornovii civilisation but the farms still produced the surpluses and the roads they paved were the existing 'old straight roads' like the one from Eddisbury, to Blakemere, Norley, Dodesley, straight through Kingsley, then Atley, Bradley and on across the Weaver to Halton Castle. The Romans left and King Arthur tried to lighten the Dark Ages but ...

The Saxons slowly filled the vacuum and assimilated the locals. They first built Kingsley Mill and a string of others ... and it was King Alfred who produced some semblance of national order and it was at this time the Dunning Estate or Kingsley Fee was established at Kingsley Hall. This was a large & important estate which included Norley, Crowton, Kingswood, Newton & Manley ...

The Normans brought a new age, and the feudal system. Surprisingly Saxon Dunning retained his estate in Kingsley. Why? But normality soon returned and Ranulph, a nephew of Hugh Lupus took over and the forests were enlarged to accommodate the sport of kings - The Chief Forester of Delamere was based at Kingsley Hall. Later with no male heirs, the estate was subdivided amongst four daughters who married into the Gerard, Lancelyn, Thornton and Done families ... the Kingsley Estate was privatised. And the Gerards, who bought out the Lancelyns in 1303, were an ancient Anglo Saxon family ...

The Weaver Valley Kingsley Hall, Catten Hall, Crewood Hall, Norley Hall and Crowton Hall. The break up of the large estate led to ownership diversity & competition. A culture of independence thrived. Kingsley men were not 'yes men' but free, dissenters and awkward, Parliamentarians to a man!

Church & Chapel. Kingsley, Norley then Crowton Anglican churches were built from 1850. But way back in 1677 William Gandy from Frandley had established a friends meeting house at Newton. This established 'free religion' around Kingsley long before it dared in other villages. The Baptists were in Chapel Lane before 1738. The ground had been prepared before John Wesley's Methodism arrived on the Hurst in the 1750s. The present chapel was built in 1871. Methodism fractured with the Primitives at Dodsley and the United at Blake Lees around 1848. The Methodist Union inevitably came from economic pressure but the Kingsley men suspected that such an 'act of union' put their feet on the road to Rome.

William Gibson was a Methodist lay preacher and was enthusiastic about the Friends at Frandley at one time but in the end couldn't give up the spirit and song of the local Chapel at Blake Lees.

Education in 1850 in Kingsley cost the tax payer nothing, kids were educated by family, friends, the free churches and charities. In 1958 it cost ratepayers £10,000. Are students now any better at searching for knowledge?

The Kingsley Free School, or 'Gerrards School', was set up in 1786 by an endowment from Samuel Plumb, Thomas Gerard was the first Headmaster. There were scholarships for the poor and 'guaranteed' independence but the trustees were almost inevitably infiltrated and usurped by the educational success of the 'established' church and finally crowded out by tax funded state education. Why should anyone have to pay for their education twice? ... the search for knowledge has little to do with a national curricula ...

The Parish Council ended up as custodians of the Trust Deeds and the intentions of the benefactors, but they were in a parlous state as the Charity Commissioners became an instrument of the State's rampant 'corporatism'. The protection of Samuel Plumb's legacy from the law of the land was non-existent. The 1846 National Schools squeezed out Gerrards ... but the new schools became unpopular in Kingsley as the churches got hold of the curricula. 1932 brought Council Schools ... but the more that was done for folk the more they wanted and the more they were dissatisfied, and soon they were baying for they moon as they accepted the over abundance of spoon feeding ... 'if it's free put me down for two please' ... when the issue was the education of children, it was important to get it right ... indoctrination was not on ...

The hijacking of education, first by the superstitious church then by the arrogant state, was an unwarranted interference with the seminal lifeblood of independent science and robust learning ... learning which was distorted, at best, and destroyed, at worst ...

The one time Billy's daughter Mary remembers meeting Edward Hindley, he was sitting in the kitchen at the mill talking about local education with her dad. Billy was a governor of the new Council School in Kingsley which opened in October 1932, and Edward was putting in a good word for Frank Capper, a candidate from Barnton for the position of headmaster. Frank got the job!

Work in Kingsley was  dominated by agricultural and agricultural surpluses mattered. The labourer was worthy of his hire, the King himself was served by the field. But wages seemed to be linked to the cost of living, which itself seemed to be determined by the wages? The King and the Trades Unions wrestled with an interesting conundrum and an even more interesting solution?

Long ago for ever, farming dominated Kingsley, once there were 17 farms but now there are only 3 as comparative advantage has ebbed away ... with tractors, binders, milkers, mowers, threshers, drillers and all manner of other machines unable to halt the decline ... and the ludicrous Alfred Burkill walking in front of the traction engines waving his red flag, as the law of the land had a go at improving safety but only managed to speed the decline ... all this brought only sadness to Kingsley folk who never understood comparative advantage ... in the end not even the potato saved the farms, although the Pink Eyed Radicals, Epicures, Up to Dates, May Queens, Regents, Millers, Snowdrops & Kerrs Pinks offered temporary hope ... 

Later Widness, Runcorn & Northwich offered employment in chemicals and at Helsby there was a cable works and at Manley a quarry. Folk walked from Kingsley, the wages were better.

Timber from Delamere forest was trucked to wharfs at Pickerings, Plumbs, Hefferson Grange and Acton Bridge. And there was a railway station in Acton. There was an abundance of cattle dealing and sometimes abuse, but the tradesmen met at Butcher's Brow to try to fix prices or were they trying to maintain their reputations? Cattle went to markets and the slaughter house on the hoof, and The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was ever present as was The Public Health Authority ... the cow and folk have always had an uneasy relationship ...

Then there were blacksmiths, wheelwrights, brickmakers, cloggers and roads ... looked after by the Parish until the County took over in 1888.

Democracy was supposed to be government of the people, for the people, by the people. Self-determination, working together, protecting dissenting minorities ... it was never supposed to be 51% dictating to 49%, never an elective dictatorship -

'My conviction is that government is, nine times out of ten, warped, twisted, and turned to suit the party in power, and, whilst it may preach justice, it does not do it'.

Of course, Billy had a copy of the Whig 'bible' ... 'On Liberty' by John Stuart Mill, 1859.

Billy was interested in these problems of organisation, his daughter Mary remembers a big trip to Criccieth one Boxing Day to hear Lloyd George speak ... but what about Kingsley Mill? ...  Billy wanted to do something to help ... not arguing but doing ...

In 1935 Billy Gibson was tempted to stand for parliament for the Eddisbury Division, as an Independent against the incumbent Liberal National MP, R J Russell a dentist from Birkenhead. He decided against it because he felt 'democracy' was a sham, he knew he would be more use to the local community on the County Council, a body on which he served for 41 years. He was also asked to stand for The Fylde Division in Lancashire as a Liberal but he was adamant, the big government juggernaut was not for him.

NB in 1976 the 2nd Viscount Hailsham mused about, 'an elective remote dictatorship', later he wrote a detailed exposition in 'The Dilemma of Democracy' ... Billy was in august company, but he was writing about the problem 20 years before the big guns!

Nicknames & Sport. Boggie Woodward v. Bacca Millington, the pugilists, Cock Fighting, The Red Bull v. The Rechabites, Tors, Hop Scotch, Jacks, Football ... participative sport in Kingsley was cheap & easy and the playing fields of Eton had competition ... so why do we need tax funded 'Youth Leaders'?

Charities & Enclosures. It was too easy to be charitable with other people's money ... and 'the tragedy of the commons' made legacies unmanageable as charity became crowded out by the welfare state and tax ...

The question was ... were the productivity gains from 'the magic of property' and the enclosure of Kingsley in 1777 an illegal confiscation of ownership rights or the establishment of new titles on wastes, commons and unproductive land which were subsequently transformed?

The future was unknowable and the welfare state was bankrupt ... there was work to be done ...

W A Gibson JP OBE in 1955. Alderman in 1970. Died 1975.


Billy Gibson, the grand old man of Kingsley, was a sharp shooter, passionate about local affairs and suspicious of big government. He would have been saddened to see the further erosion of local democracy which has taken place over the past 60 years but heartened to know that in 2010 with Liberals in Government, the debate is still raging with renewed vigour. Billy struck chords. He made a lasting contribution with his businesses, his council work, his writings and his farming heritage.

But farming was never to recover from the progress of the industrial revolution as comparative advantage ebbed away. Billy's friend and co author Sir Alan Waterworth has written a sensitive history of Crewood Hall. The rise and the fall of a magnificent Cheshire farm makes an instructive study for economists ...

When William Alfred Gibson died in 1975 his will indicates the business at Kingsley Mill went to his son Thomas ... the probate value of his estate was £17,195.45 ... some £225,000 in today's money ... but this pales into insignificance when compared to his contribution during his life ...


'The Old Straight Track' by Alfred Watkins, 1925.

'Kingsley - the Story of a Cheshire Village' by W A Gibson & A W Waterworth, 1975.

'Times Past - Kingsley, Acton Bridge, Crowton, Norley Revisited' by Tom Wright & R M Bevan, 2009.


back to Edward Hindley


Any corrections and additional information gratefully received contact john p birchall