The Ancient Trades & Crafts of Rural Cheshire

wantingNB caution !! ... I only keep these 'notes' on my website so I don't lose them ! 

This is an initial draft of a story about the family history of my ancient ancestors in Cheshire ... there are still many errors, omissions and inaccuracies ... perhaps someone will make some welcome corrections ... ?




Fabric of SocietyOn 10 October 1670 William Gandy (1625-1683) shipped 30 tons of Cheshire Cheese on the 'Ann of Brighton' from a new fangled warehouse at Sutton Weaver to London. In this way the Agricultural Revolution in rural Cheshire helped to feed the burgeoning City of London and ignited the Industrial Revolution.

Billy Gandy was our g-g-g-g-g-g-great uncle (or was it g-g-g-g-g?) ... wotever on his farm in Frandley,  Sevenoaks near Great Budworth his Cheshire Cows & Cheshire Cheese helped to power productions of immense consequence? ... and thanks to Charles F Foster and the Arley Archives we can read all about it.

History as Writ      

The history of history as writ, the history we remembered from school, all seemed to us to be about the orchestrated chronological happenings of the King's army. What was writ invariably revolved around the top pecks ... designers called them 'the powers that be' ... they were the custodians of the know how written on the tablets ... the divine righters and the winners of the wars ... but strange when you think about it ... they were the only ones who could write ... wot about the others ... the Gandys and the Birchalls?

Top down history as writ was about the Bishops, Princes, Generals & bureaucrats ... a sort of deliberate, rational, purposeful, intentional, planning of history ... and it turned out to be fake noos.

But bottom up biological history told a real story about survival action at the coal face. A battle of ideas was engaged as empirical science started to erode the writers of intelligent designs ... the genes couldn't write but they left their story recorded in DNA not on papyrus. Biological history was different ... very different ... DNA didn't lie.

History as writ was a mere sliver of a gigantic history of a species which involved the differential survival of random variants. Like everything else cheese making was a part of this very ancient relentless process.

Agricutural SurplusInseparable Siblings Two Revolutions

The 'social history' of folk like William Gandy ensconced in their farms around Great Budworth in North Cheshire told a tale of two revolutions -

from around 1500 the maturing of the agricultural revolution

then from around 1750 the coming of age of the industrial revolution 

The Gandy enterprise was strategically placed between the waterways of the Mersey & the Weaver midway between the growing cities of Manchester & Liverpool. 

The miraculous survival of the Arley Hall Achives of the Warburton family in Cheshire and the masterly scholarship of Charles F Foster opened the door to the history of the Gandys, Cheshire Cheese, the RiverWeaver ... a fascinating story was revealed by the comparison of the social activity in the North West with the South East & London as complementary technological & organisational specialisations emerged. Synergies of specialisation & scale, once again explained by comparative advantage and path dependent evolution.

North West & the Bucklow Hundred -    

Cheshire county palatine and a post reformation plurality and absence of central command & control

re-distribution of land value from landlord to tenant, a new wealth owning and innovative middle class who had 'skin in the game', bent on technical & commercial innovative experiments

small farms 5-40 acres, enjoyed a windfall of capital but a new class of landless poor emerged wo were pushed to escape through drunkenness in the alehouses or the urban trek to the mills  

mechanisation of labour led to 'spare time' for specialised trades and the mechanisation of production led to the abandonment of cottage industry for the manufactories & the mills 

economic farm size in Cheshire was determined by the cow herd size required to produce the 'big cheese' for the prime London market as Northern rural incomes remained robust complementing the urban trek

developments brewing & cheese making in south Lancashire & north Cheshire where two thirds of families had some capital were very different from the developments in the metropolis (where Cheshire was unknown)   

following the dissolution of the monasteries the big landowners were further depleted as the Royalists lost out the Cromwell and  consolidated the new middle class who extended their innovations with capital & energy as they pushed into a diversity of other businesses  

Mersey & Weaver improvements and the Sankey canal spawned, pottery in Staffs, engineering & coal around Wigan, metals & tools around Warrington, watch & clock making around Liverpool, salt & chemicals around Northwich, cotton around the Pennine foothills and Manchester ... and cheese around Cheshire ... as manufacturing business became the principle occupation

spurred on by dissenting moral behaviour of the Quakers; integrity, honesty and equal treatment of all including the girls

leading industrialists in the North West became filthy rich and often invested in 'gentrification', copying the southern tendency for ostentatious excess rather than continued endeavour 

new men came up with new production in manufactories as the discovery & accumulation of 'know how' was unrestricted by the scarcity of land 

industrial growth!

South East & arable farms around London

accumulated capital was invested in a commercial business culture

evolution was self organising, interactive, within a system of generally accepted law of the land - property rights and security of tenure - market competition within interdependent trades & services

market opportunities were out of town, as agriculture & manufacturing left, London specialised on funding capital which demanded behavioural skills and trust ... the rest were relinquished to the provinces, initially Derby, Leicester and Nottingham  

arable farming in the south east enjoyed locational advantages of adjacent international trading port of London, and site advantages of flat fertile acreage and became grain growing on ever larger farms to secure economies of scale and provide the food for London (and vast herds of horses) but the southern rural poor without land and Wat Tyler lost out

London was the market hub with a ballooning population and with it a underclass of poverty and deprivation

feeding London required transport and soil replenishment - roads, canals, manures and fertilisers

investment banking and law practice became the principle occupations

landed gentry collected their rents and invested in the excesses of grandiose estates, agricultural productivity was left to the tenants with no skin in the game 

conservative moral behaviour of the establishment; respect for authority of the restored King, the Lords and the Bishops   

securing synergies of specialisation & scale went on 'under the radar' as bankrupt businesses seldom leave any surviving archive ... driven not by cut throat completion, coal or steam engines but rather by the process of path dependent comparative advantage and mutual benefit

industrial decay & commercial specialisation 

Industrial Revolution 1911Industrialisation was not a simple 'coal' or 'steam engine' national specific but rather an unfolding evolution of discovery & accumulation of synergies of specialisation & scale. Central & typical was the moral urgency of the Warrington Dissenters, optimistic regional competitors (independent) and cooperators (complementary). There were diverse groups (clubs) within a commercial business market culture devoid of zero sum politics or religion. Social order was preserved by the laws of the land which protected person & property in an empathetic context of 'fairness of shares' & 'resentment of cheats'.

Not only differences between North West and South East in England but also Charles Foster suggested that common threads were apparent as the cotton industry developed in other national contexts which embedded -

diverse distribution of wealth

plural institutions  

technical & commercial innovation

These commonalities surfaced as self sustaining social systems with some essential immunity from parasites & predator -

Northern Italy - 1000 to 1300 - Muslim technology into Sicily and southern Spain, after the 1st Crusade the Levant started trading with Venice, Genoa & Pisa, independent walled cities established from by armies from weak Princes and Bishops. Silk throwing by water mill, Lucca 1200 (copied in 1718 by the Lombe Brothers). Florence became the local wool centre. Accounting, money & banking accompaniment with 'cadastre' tax funding communal projects and associated bureaucracy, initially elected but inevitably the parasites & predators followed. Wealth concentrated and innovation ebbed away ... with wars and emperors.    

Germany - 1370 to 1520 - North of the Alps merchants distributed cloth but international business success cane from the Hanseatic League ports on the Baltic and North Sea coasts, especially Danzig, Lu beck and Hamburg, flourished. Seafaring and metal smelting specialisations were established as the rigidities of serfdom were broken by the Black Death. Wages rose and workers accumukated some capital. But there was no cohesion of Common Law and central authority and land owners seaised the opportunity for tyranny & oppression. The Peasants War of 1525 was inspired by evangelical preachers but the back lash was significant an snuffed out innovation.      
1000-1500 the rest of Europe enjoyed an agricultural revolution - the heavy plough drawn by horses in harness, 3 field system without fallow, more animals more manure, better animals, water mills, better shipping ... meanwhile Rome and the Caliphates remained feudal. As Italy stuttered the Portuguese rounded the Cape of Good Hope for spices and the Dutch specialisations in shipping, trade & cows established hegemony with no King and decentralised government in the towns and Lutheran & Clvinist diversity.
. As wages grew after the 1350 Black Death wealth was redistributed from low rent land to higher paid work and farmers acquired freehold land. Famine & disease a major causes of West Europe’s increase in wealth?

Manchester - 1400 to 1800 - Lords of old Cheshire manors, in the Arley area reallocated 5 to 10 common fields in the sloping lands of Sutton Weaver and Great Budworth to the tenant farmers. And much improved technology established the Levant company in 1600 and raw cotton imports to Amsterdam & London. And around Manchester on Mersey was a good spot for manufactories, linen was already established, Yorkshire wool technology close by and Pennine streams beckoned water power. Population growth confirmed the new capitalists and economic activity in the Eastern uplands ... away from resident gentry in the lowlands. Led by the merchants the middle class bulge was primed for take off after the Civil War and Glorious Revolution were over.
The superb Indian cotton cloth dying & printing technology was the spur for the mechanisation revolution. Paid for with specie these luxuries eclipsed traditional woolens. The linen & cotton fustians of East Lancashire escaped the bans & prohibitions on imported calicos (all cotton). After the Seven Years War cotton was available from the New World and spinners could not keep up with demand ... enter Hargreaves & Arkwight ... and the Warrington watch makers ... and the rest was history

Holland - 1400 to 1700 - East India Company and overseas trade, taming of autocratic monarch. 1651 Navigation Act put Hollnd & England to war. But 1688 Glorious Revolution made them allies against autocratic French. Then the Dutch faltered as urban oligarchs and magnents sucked wealth from the middle class. War had built up debt owned by the oligarchs as interest swallowed 70% of taz revenues ... the innovative spirit faded in Holland.! 

In this way the Cheshire Cheese shipped to London by William Gandy in 1670 was a part of a long evolving history of inseparable twins ... products of the agricultural revolution fed the industrial revolution ... you can't have one without t'other.   

Cheesemongers HistoryCheshire Cheese  

Cheese making went back a long way even before Cheshire existed. Cheese followed the spread of civilisation from the first settlements in Mesopotania maybe 10,000 years ago ... wherever folk settled they cultivated plants and domesticated animals, wherever there were domesticated animals there was milk ... folk laved to eat meat it made brains big but drinking milk made folk vomit? Unlike goat kids, folk were latose intolerant, their metabolism lacked the enzyme which broke down lactase and so provided nourishing proteins. But then sometime later, some folk, somewhere, noticed that whenever milk was left the bugs got at it and it turned sour ... and miraculously became quite refreshing and tasty. This new found nourishment preceded the slower development of lactose tolerance in us folk as the precocious enzyme eventually evolved and was inherited and made the drinking of the fresh milk of domesticated animals a delight.

It followed that wherever there was milk there was nourishing cheese. Cheese making was spurred on as milk didn't travel very well, it soon started to become real rancid and objectionable even toxic. Folk always had to be careful with milk ... but when turned into butter or cheese the prospects were dramatically improved.

Milk turned sour via the willful action of local bugs as lactase ended up as lactic acid. Lactic acid tended to 'curdle' the milk slowly if unpredictably but the curdling was significant. And when rennet enzymes from animal stomachs was added to the mix, coagulation of the proteins and separation of the water/whey went into overdrive and could be 'controlled'. Folk learned slowly but it was worth it. The curdling and coagulation of the milk fats and proteins helped the separation of the whey which could be squeezed out of the curd. The elimination of the H2O was necessary to stop the proliferation of the 'bad bugs' which ruined the feast as things became real rancid.

The separation of whey also firmed up the bulk before further maturing or ripening from the activities of good beasties ... the moulds, yeasts & environmental 'contaminants' which made the taste so nearly revolting that it became seriously interesting. All that remained to make proper cheese was further preservation & taste enhancement from some added salt ... the resultant cheese was ... salubrious, nutritional, tasty, appetising, scrumptious, succulent, delicious, delectable ... or just plain great.

Soft Cheese from goat's milk was around at the time of Stonehenge but it was probably the Romans who brought new cheese technology to Cheshire via their stronghold at Chester. This was the time when cheese making skills and knowledge developed to a high standard. The processes were better understood and it was known that various treatments and conditions under storage resulted in different flavours and characteristics. The Romans brought with them the varied luxuries of cheeses from Gaul with their exciting flavours & textures. The Romans recorded their instructions for processes, recipies, and affinage skills. There was a difference between rancid and ripe but nobody quite knew what it was? Everybody learned that a variety of cheeses were so nearly objetionable that they were delectable, especially with added flavour, a cheese for every palate ... work that one out? 

The Romans sussed it out ... it was the helpful micro-organisms, the rind moulds & yeasts that ripened cheese. Spurred on by the priority to feed and energise the soldiers on the long march down Watling Street they developed their light weight, long lasting, nutritious protein and calorific fat ... perhaps Hard Cheese from sheep's milk made with the new techniques which involved cutting & heating the curd which released the pockets of whey and hardened the cheese for a wholesome chew. There were also Washed Curd Cheese, soft silky cheeses produced by hot water washing the curd in the vat to modify the texture. All these esteemed goodies from Roman culture were readily assimilated into the local culture of Britannia, perhaps expensive luxuries were not on but new cheese making technology was top of the list. Later as the Romans left with their taxes, their cheese 'know how' dispersed and lingered to continue to tickle fancies.  

The Saxons arrived in 450AD with their linguistic cleansing but they failed to dislodge the bread & butter of life ... in fact they voted in favour and grew more & tastier local ales and cheeses. Folk long fancied The Ploughman's Lunch with honest Ploughman's Cheese for rewarding hard work in the fields.

During the Middle Ages, monks became the innovators and developed many of the classic varieties of cheese. The monks knew about Rind Washed Cheese, cloths and best bugs. It was the bacteria which grew into the cheese from the rind and added, from their 'roots', the individual characteristic colours, tastes & textures to the cheeses of choice. Left to their own devices the cheeses would go mouldy in the dank monastry dungeons but washed clean with a little brine on a cheese cloth they became a fertile environment for the bugs of your choice ... initially naturally, floating in the heavy atmosphere but later deliberately seeded from an earlier scrumptious batch.

The monks were famed for their evangelical fervour but in addition to their boring ritualised Christianity they brought wonderful innovative diversity ... to the ancient trades of cheese making... and brewing. Cheese making couldn't be kept under wraps and such treasured 'know how ' escaped to the granges and was gleefully assimilated.

The Hundred Years War gave a fillup to cheese making as labour became scace & valuable and land became cheap and available for ambitious smallholder tenancies. The feudal Lords had messed up. The best cow was stolen by the Lords to fund their wars and the best sheep went to the Bishops to fund their indulgencies. In 1351 the Statutes of Labour failed miserably to keep labour costs low and thus taxes on the surpluses high ... wot a rotten theory. Supply & demand was not amenable to manipulation. Then in 1358 the Black Death decimated the population, the plague, at a stroke made labour more valuable and land cheaper ... as feudal demense farming collapsed, innovation ripped.

The landowners felt the pinch, there was an opportunity for new entrepreneurs & value enhancement ... the troops had to be fed the war lasted 100 years ... and in 1381 Wat Tyler bristled with confidence as the feudal system began to crumble. Resilient cheese led the way as flexible cash, exchange markets and urban towns burgeoned ,,, the urban trekkers had to be fed. Bread & ale were staples and fed the body but butter & cheese fed the soul. Dairy maids and cheesemongers had a field day.

Suffolk led the way as the horse collar came and oxen plod faded and horsepower technology saved scarce labour and improved the tilling of the fertile Suffolk flats. Breeders made the Suffolk Punch a better horses and the prolific Suffolk Dun dairy cow displaced the sheep and led to more Suffolk Dun Cheese for nearby London markets. And on the back of quality English wool quality English cheese went international. But Suffolk didn't have it all its own way as London's growing apetite sucked in tasty French cheeses and healthy competition got its name. Cheese also came to London on the back of the Welsh cattle drovers and Caerphilly was to Wales what Cheddar was to become to England. Excited cheese mongers made hay in the London market ... but where there were stocks there were thieves and the sharp practice of middle men led to incessant regulation but perhaps the cheese trade was too ancient for a new fangled Livery Company? It never happened ... why?

After the dissolution of the monasteries cheese making expertise was not lost it was dispersedly secularised. Mouldy cheese science was still not understood in any detail but there was knowledge of best practice and the cheese legacy proved more delectably resilient than the flesh & blood legacy of transubstantiation. Although the monastic innovation of washed rind cheeses did tend to obsolescence?

In the 17th century Suffolk was undone by disease & floods as demand for the luxurious butter reduced cheese making to a skimmed milk by-product 'Flotten or Flett Cheese', which was rock hard and largely inedible Suffolk Bang. There was also the perennial problem of pestilence ... how to identify the mirobes to encourage the delectable and banish the foul ... cheese making was still a dark art.

 As the feudal Lords and the privileged Monks faded away and Suffolk stumbled, Cheshire Yeomen, like the Gandys seized their opportunities as small landowners/tenants and invested in cows and dairymaids to improve their lot. The 17th century was the heyday for the Cheshire Yeomen and Cheshire Cheese.  

Cheshire cheeseThe Cheshire Variety

Cheshire cows produced quantities of full cream milk and the dairymaids learned the secrets of cleanliness, strict routines and diligent hard work necessary for the special cheese demanded by the army, the navy and the London cheese mongers. Cleanliness kept the bad bugs in check, routines, kept the quality consistent without any understanding of microbiology and the diligent physical work required for milking, handling, mixing, cutting, pressing, turning, storing and transport. The Cheshire girls did not have bulging bicepts but all bar none of the fair & lovely dairymaids were fitbits.

When fickle cheese went wrong, as it often did, blame was the game and blame often fell on the curses of the old, scabby, knarled and toothless witches with filthy habits ... the clean living Cheshire dairymaids were unimpeachable ... and, of course, patent herbal remedies were readily promoted as antidotes for phage ,,, and curses. They made the 'New Milk' cheese with full cream which was heated, cut, pressed repeatedly, salted and turned before maturing in the 'cheese heck'. The word got around and the herd size & farm enclosure acreage increased as the Port of Chester began to thrive on cheese shipments to London ... the 60 pounder which didn't dry out.     

Folk were mesmerised by the success -

'the law locks up the man or woman
who steals the goose from off the common
but leaves the greater villain loose
who steals the common from off the goose'


Cheshire was pure luxury with more milk proteins (80% casein) and fat with added salt which could be stored and exploited as a magical food in winter when the cows were dry ... and furthermore the cost of transporting water to far away places was avoided.

So many process variables, so many distinct tastes & textures to suit all palates. Cheshire was usually pale white, rather dry, crumbly with a simple acidic flavour ... but not always ... and not always made in Cheshire.

The Cheshire success spread. Other local cheeses went national ... Stilton from The Bell Inn was the next whopper ... Ned muses that maybe Stilton was the cause of the Cheese War at the Goose Fair in Nottingham in 1766 ... but more likely it was Red Leicester? ... wotever there was a likely story about supply & demand, arbitrage and the theft of valuables ... see Markets Morals & the English Crowd ... the problem with dirigisme was always unintended consequences? The best Stiltons & Cheddars were made from raw milk magnificence ... but the Protected Domain of Origin (PDO) stipulated pasteurised milk ... with all the mircobiopolitics dead in the whey? Both these cheeses became famed English staples for consumption after sumptuous dinners and at ploughman's lunches. Cheshire provided luxury quality, Stilton sophisticated taste and Cheddar consistent mass produced quality as science infiltrated witchraft. The latest science and the latest machines and the manufactories in America, where else, and Plastic Cheddar led the way as dairymaids gave way to robots. Then came the Corn Laws 1809, the repeal 1836, the Irish famine 1845 ... intervention became inevitable, as fresh milk by rail usurped the old trade ... and prices ... farmhouse cottage cheese making collapsed as farmers struggled against unfathomable comparative advantage, 'elth 'n' safety (pasteurisation, foot & mouth lysteria, mad cow disease) WW1 driven standardisation & centralisation of food security, ploughing up pasture for arables, refrigerated meat protein alternatives, bulk Milk Marketing Boards, WW2 rationing ... subsidies & interventions as cheese makers were told how to do their job ... and then bless 'em, the disaster of the CAP and the subsidies & distortions for the French farmers and 'Wine Lakes', 'Butter Mountains' & avalanches of paper form filling ... and excess production of mediocrity at the expense of the sublime.

Maybe the big three survived and Yorkshire grit kept Wendslydale alive and special but 'modern'. For sure the MMB and the Creameries had taken over. But the Brits never did as they were told, they had a long history of rebelling against 'the powers that be' ... be they Bishops, Princes, General or Bureaucrats ... the cheese mongers knew their cheeses and entreprenuers were around .. cheese was like ale, a social delight ... there was a yearning for the real thing ... so as well as real ale and CAMRA we had real Red Leicester ... distinctive recognisable brands that folk loved - Edam, Gouda, Danish Blue, Rocquefort, Gruyére, Brie, Parmisan ... had competition - not only Cheshire, Stilton & Cheddar but also Caerphilly, Doube Gloucester, Lancashire, Lincolnshire Poacher, Lanarkshire Blue, Dunlop ... and ... and certaily not Suffolk Bang or Mousetrap Cheddar or Lymeswold.

We should remember, of course, that the ancient trades & crafts of Cheshire were no different from those emerging from human activity systems everywhere. Hard work, honesty & thrift produced surpluses from the farms which meant folk had available time to acquire all manner of skills & 'know how' in the production of goods & services which they could exchange in the markets for their daily bread ... and ale & cheese.

Different folk specialised in different 'trades' and 'traded'. The Cheshire farmers specialised in their own specific 'trades' for the markets ... cheese, shire horses and, later, potatoes ...

Cheshire cheese was different, an age old speciality, produced in Roman times, mentioned in Domesday,  and possibly the oldest English cheese. Full-bodied, sharp, and acidic-fresh, true Cheshire derives a mildly salty flavour from the salt deposits that permeate the soil of local pasturelands. Moist and white or red in colour, a semi-firm cows milk cheese, loosely-textured and crumbly. Mild when young, acquiring a sharper and more full flavoured pronounced tang when allowed to further mature. Ripened an average of two to three months ... an excellent all-purpose cheese, its flavour made it especially delicious with crusty bread and warm beer!

Camden's Brittania originally published in 1586 recorded -

 'Cheshire cheese is more agreeable and better relished than those of other parts of the kingdom'.

In 1623 the first instance of Cheshire cheese being shipped to London by road was recorded. These would have been aged cheeses, sufficiently hard to stand up to the rigours of the journey by horse and cart. Cheshire cheese was originally the generic name for cheese produced in the county, but Cheshire men spread their specialisations to their neighbours and cheeses from South Lancashire, North Wales & Shropshire were warehoused & shipped from Chester and were all known as 'Cheshire Cheese'.

The 1637 editions refers to cheese making in Cheshire -

'the grasse and fodder there is of that goodness and vertue that the cheeses bee made heere in great number of a most pleasing and delicate taste, such as all England againe affordeth not the like, no, though the best dairy women otherwise and skilfulest in cheesemaking be had from hence'.

There were many different types of Cheshire cheese but until the 18th century most of the cheeses would probably have been aged & hard.

The breakthrough for Cheshire Cheese sales in London followed floods and cattle disease in Suffolk in 1640s ... and the disasterous Suffolk Bang. Until then large amounts of Suffolk cheese went to London. After these misfortunes the Suffolk farmers switched to making butter for the lucrative London market and consequently made a poorer tasting skimmed milk cheese. After this period, Cheshire Cheese would have been sold at a premium to the now inferior Suffolk Cheese. Port records show the growth in Cheshire cheese landings from 1650. This was a full milk cheese but cheaper to make & ship than the original Suffolk competition.

The pioneering shipments to London at this time were by boats which sailed from Chester, even though the city with its gentry culture and silting estuary didn't readily encourage new traders in new products from new farmers in Sevenoaks! However by 1670 Chester had enterprising competition at Frodsham when the Warburtons built a new cheese warehouse on the Weaver.

In the 1690s trade with London slowed as sea shipment was disrupted during the long war with Louis XIV but by 1713 cheese ships were again busy down the estuary at Parkgate and at Frodsham. From 1739 the Navy was buying Cheshire cheese.

London was the major market for Cheshire cheese which had established its enviable reputation and in 1678 Samuel Pepys concurred with a recorded visit to The Cheshire Cheese Tavern at 145 Fleet Street, London. By the late 18th century 'Cheshire' was the most popular cheese on the market. In 1718 some 2,600 tons of Cheshire cheese was shipped to London by 1729 this had risen to 5,766 tons. In 1758 the Royal Navy ordered ships be stocked exclusively with Cheshire cheeses. Henry Holland estimated in 1808 that Cheshire produced 11,500 tons of cheese from 92,000 beasts on 600,000 cultivated acres with a third of that pasture ... and by 1823 production was estimated at 10,000 tons per year.

Cheese TechnologyThis was dramatic growth, how did they do it?

'Know how' ... specialisation & scale! More cows and more quality! Larger herds on larger farms! More milk and more salt made more Cheshire Cheese ...

It was an inspiring sequence of innovation & investment in process and organisation ...

A far cry from the initial 30 tons shipped by William Gandy from Frodsham in 1670.

 Each cow produced a minimum of 2 cwt of cheese year, so a 3,000 ton increase could have meant 30,000 additional cows in production!

Small farmers were selling off their land and others were accumulating more whenever and where ever leases and freeholds came onto the market, the trend was to larger units and tenant farmers. The price of acres in Cheshire rose and many farmers pocketed substantial capital sums. There was evidence from the Arley estate that the Warburtons were enclosing commons around this time and sharing them out amongst the principle freeholders to make viable 100 acre units. Cheshire farms were enlarged from an average of 25-30 acres to between 65-10 acres, which was the most efficient size for producing the large cheeses that Londoners liked.

One dairymaid could handle cheese production from a 10 cow herd. Hand milking three times a day six cows an hour, productivity was important. This kept a dairy girl fully utilised each day making standard sized round cheeses at 20lbs. But the smaller cheeses associated with smaller herds brought lower prices in the London markets. By 1750 better techniques and better quality fodder had reduced the farm acreage required per cow from 10 to 6½ so an economic farm was now pushing 100 acres. Only 2 acres were needed for grazing but supporting crops to make the farm self sufficient and particularly hay making requirements for winter feed made up the 6½ acres. Each beast could be expected to produce about 2 cwt of cheese from 250 gallons of milk in 1715-20 but about 2½ - 3 cwt of cheese each year by the end of the century. Big cheeses at, say, 40 lb a piece could bring in £80 pa in 1750?

Around 1729 new technology was introduced in Cheshire involving massive 1½ ton stone presses which enabled 60 lbs cheeses to be hardened. The separation of pockets of whey by repeated skewering was also necessary. The 60 lbs cheeses were world beaters, less prone to drying out and with delicious centres. The larger cheeses were products of the larger herds and the usual practice of making one cheese a day from the herd. The thin cheeses rapidly became shamefully second class.

Charles Foster summarised the situation, 'In 1808, the whole of Cheshire was organised for cheese production', '11,500 tons were made in the county, but at least as much was made in the surrounding counties and identified as Cheshire', 'Stilton and Cheddar cheeses also reached London in the 18th century but only in small quantities, these cheeses were so scarce that even noblemen complained they could not get one'  ... Cheshire was ahead of the game - farmers, dairymaids, warehousemen, factors, mongers, shippers & grocers had solved the transport & logistics problems and larger herds produced larger cheeses once the skewering and pressing technology had been developed ... the delectable 60lb Cheshire cheeses were the envy of the world ... Bagshaws summarised the cheese industry in 1850 ...

Things also moved at the London end. The London cheesemongers of the 18th century were wealthy & powerful,

'in 1770 they formed themselves into a club owning 16 ships employed between London, Chester & Liverpool. They have factors in Cheshire who buy up the cheese for them and lodge it in warehouses in Chester, they control quantities and they command whatever price they please. The ships went North light so they could carry freight that way and cut rates, consolidating their monopoly which was a scandal and a wicked means of oppressing the poor. In 1783 barley bread, milk and cheese was the food of the whole of the working class, a couple eating 1lb a week. The factors, as middlemen were also resented by the farmers for taking their cut, however the organisation of the trade was so concrete it enabled the rapidly growing population of London to obtain its supplies with regularity and with little fluctuation in real price' ...

By 1750 the Industrial Revolution and the growth of the northern mill towns and the Potteries opened new markets for Cheshire cheese. Sales into the Mersey basin increased, not just of cheese but also of milk and butter. The canals and then the railways opened up further opportunities and demand for cheaper, younger cheese started to develop especially among the poorer industrial workers.

The cheese trade was a well integrated system involving the whole family, their invested savings, ancient honed skills and access to an oiled distribution chain. Hard work kept the cows happy and meticulous attention to the detail of cheese production kept the farm profitable. Selling cheese to London was the highly organised way the smaller farmers in the Whitley Lordship accumulated their capital. The economics were carefully considered and costs of alternatives compared to the reality of gallons in the pail. This was not the traditional way of the Lord of the Manor, he had more leisurely ways of maintaining his capital, through rent!

But the Warburtons of Arley were positive and rented out more and more of their estate to enterprising tenants who found the cheese trade not only paid the rent but also provided handsome profits. The profits attracted new investors as absent landlords, thus reinforcing the trend to tenant farming. In this way the technology of cheese production replaced rent as a source of wealth.

Sustaining urban populations also required solutions to the problems of transport, urban poverty, food and disease. Transport and public health revolutions followed; canals, railways, potable water, sewage disposal, cotton and soap ... a wealth of innovations ... and don't forget the habit of boiling water for tea drinking which saved the country's health from water born evils!

Cheese making capitalised on the skills of husbandry accumulated over the generations, and around 1650 the Cheshire farmers like William Gandy slowly started 'factory' production of Cheshire cheese ...

Cheshire Cheese shipments from the farm 'factories' -

1623 the first recorded instance of Cheshire cheese being shipped to London by road 
1650 shipping from Chester & Parkgate
1670 on 10 October 1670 William Gandy shipped 30 tons of his prime Cheshire Cheese in the 'Ann of Brighton' from the new warehouse at Frodsham Bridge to eager customers in London
1689 - 1713 - sea shipping interrupted by war with Louis XIV, shipping on the Trent
1713 from Bank Quay
1718 2,600 tons shipped to London
1729 5,766 tons
1739 to The Royal Navy, perhaps 30,000 tons
1750 more & more diverted to industrial South Lancashire
1777 Trent & Mersey canal to the Potteries, Birmingham & London
1800 the whole of Cheshire was organised for cheese production, largely by tenant farmers renting large acreages and exploiting new technology ...
1823 10,000 tpa
1960 40,000 tpa peak

Cheshire cheese originated in the county but has gone on to be produced in four neighbouring counties, Denbighshire and Flintshire in Wales, and Shropshire and Staffordshire in England.
Cheshire cheese is thought to be one of the oldest if not the oldest cheese in Great Britain. Cheshire is still today one of the most important dairy Regions in England. During the early 18th century the cheese was so popular that the ships of the Royal Navy were stocked with Cheshire. In 1823, 10,000 tones of Cheshire cheese was made. In the late 19th century there were several varieties of Cheshire, the cheese had to be hardened in order to transport it from Cheshire to London for sale. Later, other varieties of the cheese that were younger and more crumbly were produced and sold more locally.
Authentic Cheshire cheese made today in the region is of the harder, more dense variety but is also moist and crumbly in texture and has a mild flavour. Cheshire comes in three varieties: red, white, and blue.
The red Cheshire is produced in the North Wales and is coloured with annatto, a plant extract, until it is deep orange. The annatto does not affect the flavour of the cheese.
The original version of Cheshire is the plain white (or pale yellow) version and is the most widely produced.
Blue Cheshire has blue veins as does Stilton cheese but is not as creamy as Stilton is known to be.
Some claim that Cheshire cheese is a variety of Cheddar, but Cheddar cheese is not aged as long as Cheshire and has a totally different texture.
An interesting side note of the history of Cheshire cheese is that one of the early labels on the cheese sported a grinning cat. Lewis Carol grew up in Cheshire county and it is thought that this was the inspiration for his Cheshire cat in Alice in Wonderland.

The Cheshire soil produced good, rich grass and this fed a lot of cows which gave the creamy milk which went to produce the world famous Cheshire Cheese. The rainfall was very even through out the year, with an average of 740mm so farmers could rely on getting a good crop of grass.

The cows and their the milk were carefully selected and nurtured for quality and quantity. The work started with last night's milk standing until morning before being mixed with the early day production. The milk from the herd was pasteurised, or heated and held at temperature for a short period to destroy any harmful bacteria. The milk was then acidified as bacteria from starter cultures were added to the warm milk and a small amount of the milk sugar was turned into lactic acid. The acidified the milk was the ready for the next stage where rennet enzymes (chymosin) were added and churning started which caused coagulation and separation of curds & whey. Rennet occurred naturally in a cow's stomach to help with the digestion of milk and was no doubt discovered way back as the result of some strange accidental coincidence which was noticed by some curious folk ... 

Heat was then applied to start a shrinking process which, with the steady production of lactic acid from the starter cultures, changed the curd into small rice-sized grains. At a carefully chosen point the curd grains were allowed to fall to the bottom of the cheese vat, the left-over liquid, the whey, consisting of water, milk sugar and albumen, was drained off and the curd grains allowed to mat together to form large slabs. The slabs were then cut, milled, and salt is added to provide flavour and help preservation. Finally the cheese was pressed, and subsequently packed in traditional sizes for maturing over many months.

Cheese was nutritious with a high content of fat, protein, calcium, and phosphorus ... the dairies were equipped with pails, tubs, barrels, hair sieves, screw presses, churns and vats ...

Cheese MakingThe definitive description of traditional Cheshire Cheese making was written in 1896 by James Long and John Benson ...

Charles de Gaulle once asked 'how can you govern a country in which there are 246 kinds of cheese?' ... he missed the point ... diversity is strength ...

The varieties were endless ... the country/region of origin influenced the breed of cow, the fodder and the type of milk, the pressing influenced the texture, the salting, aging time and the natural bugs and moulds determined the flavour which was sometimes adjusted with added spices & smoke ... there was intriguing scope for creativity ... and William Gandy produced excellent cheese ... ask the folk in London ...

In 1801 Britton & Brayley produced an interesting summary of the established Cheshire cheese method ... without doubt this would have been the production system used by the Gandys on their Sevenoaks farm ... 

Cheshire farms also provided improvements to transportation. Grassland farms were used to rear cart horses. Northern horses were usually used for road transport to London. Charles Foster records that in 1672 carts only carried 10-12 cwt but by 1761 it was up to one ton, following innovations carts, harness and roads ...

CheddarationCheddaration of British Cheese making followed a strange series fo happenings -

Artisans to Manufactories - Cheese Making - 1650-1950 Open University -

17th century, English were amongst the first to specialize in commercial cheese making & marketing.
19th century, English cheese makers devised a standardized production system for industrial scale manufacturing, the biological conversion of highly perishable raw milk into a food product that could be readily transported & stored. New forms of knowledge & standardisation of economic activity led to a productive opportunity which exploited inherent variability... characteristic variety as social consumption and entrepreneurial activity as production.
1 commercial specialisation (1650 to 1850s)

 Cheshire Plain, Somerset & North Wiltshire - improvements in cultivation & husbandry & transport produced surpluses for city consumption - Suffolk Bang & Cheshire sea tramsport from Chester & Liverpool (Frodsham) specialist farms further developed ... freeholders, enterprising tenants & independent investors
2 farm to factory (1850s to 1930s)

Joseph Harding formalised, standardised, reproducable, industrial Cheddar with investment in human capital & training
USA scaled up 'plastic' Cheddar (manufactured in Canada, Australia & New Zealandand). Railway fresh milk was a much better nutritional & commercial bet. By the 1920s maybe 35,000 tons of domestic cheese was about 5 percent of the milk supply. <25% of cheese consumption. 75% from farms, 18% from cheese factories and the balance from milk distributors. Regional varieties - Cheddar 52%, Cheshire 30%, Lancashire 14%, Wensleydale 2%, Caerphilly 0.8% and Stilton 0.4%.
France went for protection 'appellation d’origine contrôlée' (AOC).
Dutch exported Gouda.

3 regulation & concentration (1930s to 1950s)

 Milk Marketing Board (MMB) and the imposition of direct control over the milk supply and regulation & concentration of the standard 5 - Cheddar, Cheshire, Derby, Lancashire or Leicesterin in 'creameries'.
Farm cheeses disappeared and with the removal of incentives for product differentiation or innovation.

The evolution of British cheesemaking was admirably summarised by Nigel White in 2018. 

and then came the canals ... and the railways ...

Cheshire Shire on the CanalsCheshire Shire Horses

The canals were the motorways of the 18th Century and Cheshire was served by a formidable network of waterways - the Weaver Navigation (1721) and the Bridgewater Canal (1761) then Chester (1772), Trent & Mersey (1777), Ashton (1796), Ellesmere (1797), Peak Forest (1800), Rochdale (1804), Wardle (1829), Macclesfield (1831), Shropshire Union (1835) and later the Manchester Ship Canal ... the Cheshire ring linked many of the centres of the industrial revolution ... the wheel was a great invention but wheels needed roads and roads to Frodsham Bridge were appalling ... come to think of it ... roads to anywhere were appalling ... the canals solved a problem but the canals needed horsepower ...

Pack horses coped but working horses on the canals were a breakthrough. At a steady walking speed the Cheshire shire horse could move fifty times as much weight in a boat as it could with a cart on the old roads, may be a hundred times its own body weight. Water offered little resistance to a continuously applied force. Some say if there was no air resistance you could push an ocean liner with your little finger. So the loads on the canals moved easily and the horse's strength was linked directly to the barge with little wasted energy ... it was this efficiency that inspired the development of the canal system ... old fashioned horsepower kept the canals profitable for a century and a half ... it was suggested that there were almost as many horses in Cheshire as cows ... and when Cheshire folk did occasionally plough the fields it was to grow oats to feed the horses!

Cheshire Horse SocietyAnd what finer example of the selective breeding of new animals with new benefits, than the Cheshire shire horse? Our uncle James Murdock Young (1905-95) of Highfield House Farm, Bosley, Macclesfield, excelled as a breeder of Cheshire Shires, and James was the proud owner of Middlewich Landmark, a stallion of repute.

The shire horse had a long history, first as a war horse carrying knights in armour and then as the main source of power in agriculture. The shire became a war horse again in the 1st & 2nd world wars, pulling the heavy artillery in appalling conditions. A heavy horse was first mentioned around 1066, and from this developed the English Great Horse of the Middle Ages. During the reign of Henry VIII special attention was directed at protecting the advantage of strong war horses. Acts were passed in 1535 and 1541 forbidding the use for breeding of horses under 15 hands in height and prohibiting all exportation of the species. From the end of the 16th Century heavy horses were required to haul heavy wagons & coaches across the countryside at a time when roads were no more than deep rutted muddy tracks. Both in commerce and agriculture shire horses literally made the wheels of Britain go round. They worked in fields, in towns, on docks and quays, in mills and on the tramways as well as on the canal towpaths. There were millions of them. There was a huge demand for massive horses with great muscular strength and an even temperament ... and the breeders applied their skills to develop these important traits.

The Cheshire men had always bred from the most prolific beasts and as early as 1600 they knew all about the Durham men on Teeside who had bred the famous shorthorn ... later, folk like Robert Bakewell (1725-95), were applying methodical science to breeding the 'Border Collie' sheepdog, the 'Bakewell Black' draught horse, the 'New Leicester' fleecy succulent lamb, and the 'Dishley Longhorn' creamy cow ... all these new wonders appeared together with all sorts of outrageously productive hogs and roosters ... but Cheshire has always boasted a particular bent for the grand old shire ... and they're still at it in Cotebrook ...

Although not suitable for grain the Cheshire farms did cultivate spuds ...

Cheshire SpudsCheshire Potatoes

 Antrobus was noted for excellent Cheshire Spuds which appeared around 1729. Roger Scola wrote -

'The cultivation of potatoes was a significant feature of agriculture in Cheshire. By 1800 there had been important advances both in the extent of potato growing and the intensity. Marl was the principle fertiliser and after being induced to sprout, by being kept inside in warm conditions, the early harvesting of the crop was often followed by the planting of a second one later in the season. Potatoes are cultivated in the parish of Frodsham, with as much success, and probably to as great an extent as in any other parish in the kingdom'.

In 1795 John Aikin also put in a word for Frodsham -

'In the parish of Frodsham, potatoes are cultivated to a great extent. It is estimated that not less than 100,000 bushels of 90lb weight each have annually, for some years past, been grown in it. They meet with a ready sale in Lancashire, to which they find an easy conveyance by the river to Liverpool, and by the Duke of Bridgewater's canal to Manchester'.

In 1881 William Beamont described the ancient history Frodsham, at the mouth of the Weaver, the port was the route out of Cheshire for salt, cheese and food for Manchester and industrial urban Lancashire.

Potato production history was fascinating. This was our neck of the woods, Cliff Farm, Alvanley & the Mouldsworth Farms, idyllic rural backwaters just a few miles from the Cheshire potato centre in Frodsham, the focal settlement in the ancient northern forest of Mara between the Gowy and Weaver.

Froda's Ham was Saxon, the wise old man was followed by a church recorded in Domesday. The Saxon estates largely survied the conquest but passed inevitably from the robustly independent Earl Edwin (matched only by the Bishop of Lichfield) to the crown and the Stuarts to Rocksavages, to Barrymores to Cholmondeleys. Frodsham was big in the middle ages, there were rope walks for the fishers, salt treks of Northwich salt to the flats at the local port at the mouth of the Weaver ... candle making was around and much else ... but potatoes were king.

Early on Manley & Mouldsworth were 'common woods'... but boasted quarries with the stone used for the rebuild of Chester Castle in 1788 & probably involved in the many rebuilds of the Duke's place at Eaton Hall.

From 1765 the enclosures started and Frodsham at 1,100 acres was one of the biggest (Manley followed in the early 1800s) ... the Delamere Forest encroachments spread ... a sort of battle between the sport of kings and the common Frodsham spud.

From the middle ages marl had been used productively in Cheshire -

'He who marls sand, may buy the land,
He that marls moss, suffers no loss,
He that marls clay, throws most away'. 

In 1650 Daniel King suggested that there was then 'a kind of fat clay called Marl, both red and white, which they dig up and spread
upon their arable land ... which bringeth corn in as great abundance as that which is dunged'.

Almost every field in the county boasted a marl pit where lime rich mud was dug out and added generously to the acreage ... agricultural marl was an intimate mixture of clay, lime and sand, and was found to be a highly effective when added to the heavy Cheshire clays, improving both the texture and resilience. The excavations left their legacy which are still seen today as ubiquitous ponds ... by 1800 Cheshire had 17,000 ponds, 25% of the totality in England & Wales ... no wonder Cheshire spuds, grasses & fodders were luxuriant.

Cheshire AgricultureThe humble spud made its appearance in the 18th century as a supplement to bread corn but Cheshire was cow country and Cheshire cheese was the bread winner for the farmers.

Potatoes were unsuitable crop to grow on open field farms as they were not normally lifted till October when cattle would be grazing. It was also thought that the cultivation of potatoes exhausted the soil and, before the heavy manuing necessary was understood, there was justification for this belief.

Potato planting & digging up made the crop labour intensive ... futhermore spuds required earthing up several times during the growing season and they were a heavy and bulky crop to store.

Potato production didn't really excel until after the Napoleonic troubles, the food shortages and the urban population explosion.

Even then there was some resistance ... bread & ale were the English staple and difficult to dislodge ... and certainly not by potatoes and tea! The way down south was bread & ale, but the Cheshire folk smelt a bargain and new fangled potatoes and a drink of tea took the biscuit ... after all Cheshire was much more suited to potatoes than wheat ... great calories per acre.

Muck was the manuring norm for expanding spud production but from early 1800s crop 'restrictions' also reared their ugly heads 'potatoes only for the family' as the land owners tried to buck the market.

Land improvement 'allowances' appeared in rents as in-roads were made into the the field fallow system. Liming from the Acton Bridge wharf was used on the heavy clays but the lighter loams of Frodsham benefitted from marling. Then by 1830 ground bone dust from a factory in Northwich was promising.

Sand, salt, burning, refuse, rags, soap lyes, ashes, soot & sea mud were all tried in an attempt to lighten the heavy Cheshire clays ... and from 1840 the quantity of night soil removed from Manchester amounted to some 63,000 tpa ... but the cows themselves provided the best manure.

With good manuring practice the spuds did not exhaust the soil as feared and the Cheshire poor hungered for potato land and the 'lazy bed' method without attention to weeding and fertilising ... the landlords lost out to economics and from 1800 Frosham became famous for its spuds as they were shipped from the port to urban Lancashire & Liverpool and then with the Bridgewater Canal to Manchester.

With a calorie yield per acre @ 9.2 million, much higher than maize @7.5 million, rice @ 7.4 million, wheat @ 3 million and soybean @ 2.8 million, potatoes were a nutritional breakthrough.

Draining was also important in the damp Cheshire environment but the old butt & reean system kept the land well drained.

Ploughing techniques were also evolving, the wheel-less swing plough with 'butts & reeans', ridges & furrows, the two wheel Yankees and shares, sucks, reests, bucks, skelps, stilts, cooters ...  

In this way spuds were for the workers, cheese was for the toffs in London?

'The Untold History of the Potato' acknowledged William McNeill - How the Potatoe Changed the World's History 1999. This superb romp through world history makes you think about happenings ... not as cause and effect but how the humble spud coevolved with not only Cheshire history but much more. The bits of know how about the spud had stellar implications ... way beyond great calories per acre ...

cool & moist environments on the altiplano 

storage problems from rotting & sprouting protected crops from rats, tax & plunder

Spanish thrived on stolen silver and inflated the world but also spread the spud to western Ireland and sustained the armies up the Spanish Road from Italy to the low countries 

Sir Francis Drake not only sank the Spanish but in 1580 introduced the spud into England

by 1750 the 'fallow field' system for weed control & recuperation could be replaced by spuds with a massive land use productivity gain  

labour intensive cultivation was enabled as workers (Irish & Tom. dick & Harry) were heathily sustained with cheap nutritious food from 1 acre and a cow and surpluses for the mills of the industrial revolution

1845 one crop blight and diaspora ...

Tattie HokersEnter the Irish seasonal workers, the 'Tattie Hokers'!

The men who were weaned on the spud built the Newry Canal (navigation) in Northern Ireland in 1741 were acquiring their skills before the Sankey 1757 and Bridgewater 1761 canals and way before the 'Big Ditch', the Manchester Ship Canal in 1894. Navvies (navigators) was the general nickname for this special breed of men with their enormous contributions with the spade. Between 1745 and 1830 canals extending to almost 4,000 miles were built and then railway building took over until the turn of the century. From 1825 to the peak of railway building in 1845, some 200,000 navvies built 20,000 route miles.
Navvies worked in self organised ‘Butty Gangs’, closely knit teams of about a dozen members led by a ‘ganger' or 'gaffer'. Wages, were often paid in pubs and much was then spent in pubs, or to pay debts at the company ‘Tommy Shop’. Although were ‘Murphy Riots’ were common on his death bed Alfred McAlpine didn't wish for two minutes silence -
'just tell Paddy to keep the big mixer going ... I know from personal experience that if you pay him well, and show you care for him, he is the most faithful and hardworking creature in existence …'
Everybody knew McAlpines built the word and Paddy dug the footings ... but hod carrin' for McAlpines was second only to the 'Tattie Hokers'. The original migrant workers were the spailpeens and tattie hokers. The 1845 potato crop failure in Ireland would bring the calamitous 'Great Famine' and the emigration of more than 2 million, but the earlier crop failures at the start of the 19th century had also caused hundreds of thousands of Irish poor to flee across the sea.

Evidence was Irish farm laborers were already traveling to Britain in earlier centuries, the big invasion of Tattie Hokers was followed the establishment of the first regular passenger steamship service between Britain and Ireland in 1815 ... cheap and easy travel. Already by the 1830s there were 35,000 - 40,000 Irish Paddys working on a seasonal basis in Britain, and numbers continued to increase to more than double this figure by the 1860s. Especially in Mayo and Donegal, folk were dependent on earnings from seasonal work well into the opening decades of the twentieth century. The introduction of 'new' agricultural crops in the late nineteenth century fostered a mutual dependence, Britain needed seasonal labourers to plant and lift potatoes and ready crops for transport to the local market. In Scotland the extension of the railway resulted in the rapid growth of the potato industry after the 1860s, providing plenty of seasonal employment. The Irish had worked as reapers of corn in the Scottish lowlands during the Napoleonic war years and had become general agricultural laborers, working from seed time to crop gathering, by the last quarter of the nineteenth century. They were still working as 'Tattie Hokers' in the Scottish potato fields in the 1940s and 1950s and the Irish came to Liverpool as well as Glasgow for the tattie harvests. Probably men (and boys over a certain age) but with some women of working age (bothies welcomed all comers). Mums & kids mostly held the fort at home. Liverpool and Manchester were burgeoning at this time and needed labour. Roads, canals, railways & factories.
Irish chain migration was common as folk moved permanently to areas where family or other members of their community in Ireland were ensconced ... did Frodsham and Mouldsworth entertain Tattie Hokers?

Henry Holland wrote about 'famous' Cheshire spuds in 1808. Frodsham was renowned for potatoes and in 1952 the WI in Barrow next door recorded that the village was famous for early potatoes. For the harvest season Irishmen used to come over, starting with the earlies, and digging them all by hand; two men working together down the rows, and very quick they were. The 1939-45 war made a break, and mechanical diggers came in; and now Barrow people all go potato setting and picking; men, women and children and enjoy it. Marl pits were numerous, marl being easily found in most fields. After being worked out they filled with water and became ponds, locally known as 'pits'. Most of these were filled up as the water was not considered suitable for TT herds. They were often very pretty and provided homes for water foul. Marl was a mixture of clay and carbonate of lime, and occured pretty generally all over Cheshire. It was found a few feet below the surface in detached masses 20-30 square yards in extent. and 8-10 yards deep, resting on sand or gravel and covered with clay. It was used to spread on land as manure until it became easier to use lime. Leases from around 1300 obliged tenants to use marls and farmers say they can even now tell by the texture of the soil which fields were best marled. Marling was done by gangs of Marlers who went around from field to field.

However it appeared 'Cheshires' were nothing more than potatoes grown in Cheshire. 

The cows excelled ... horsepower was indispensible ... the potato was real nutrition and these surpluses for trading freed up time for a whole host of other crafts ... and a 'middle class bulge'.

Mouldsworth FarmsThe Greenways at Cliff Farm, Alvanley and the five Mouldsworth farms on Mouldsworth Road (Smithy Lane today) were in the middle of all this action ... six rural idylls striving for Cop26 sustainability & improved productivity from new technology? -

Cliff Farm - Greenways (1901)

Bank Farm - Wades (1901)

Stone House Farm - Wrights (1901)

Poplar Grove Farm - Gleaves (1901) - Warburtons (1911)

Mouldsworth Hall - Warings (1901) - Wades (1911)

Birch Farm - Stretchs (1901) - Stretchs (1911) in 1914 the Sherlocks from Barrow take over

General View of the Agriculture of Cheshire - Henry Holland, 1808.

 Farmers Magazine: On the Management of Manure - Skilling, 1844.

Four Centuries of Cheshire Farming Systems: 1500-1900 - George Edwin Fussell, 1954

The Agricultural History of Cheshire 1750-1850 - C S Davies 1960

How the Potato Changed the World’s History - W McNeill, 1999

The Men Who Built Britain: A History of the Irish Navvy - Ultan Cowley 2001

The Untold History of the Potato - John Reader 2009

Agricultural History Review: agricultural crisis in mid-19th Cent Cheshire - Stephen Matthews, 2010

Everybody knows about the old activities & crafts of the potters, millers, brewers, bakers, blacksmiths, spinners, weavers, fullers, shepherds, ploughmen, dairy maids, butchers, tailors, barbers, drapers, mercers, ironmongers & carpenters ... but much less is known about ...

CordwainersCordwainers   ...  Tanners ... Coopers ...

George Hindley of Antrobus called himself a 'Cordwainer'. This was an Anglicization of the French word cordonnier, introduced into our language after the Norman invasion of England in 1066. The word itself was derived from the city of Cordoba, in the south of Spain, a stronghold of the mighty Omayyad Caliphs. After the decline of Rome and the descent of the West into the Dark Ages the ancient Greek sciences were preserved and enhanced in the Muslim world, to be rediscovered in Spain following the fall of Toledo in 1085.

The Moors in Cordoba specialised in two trades, the silversmiths and the production of cordovan leather, called 'cordwain' in England. Originally made from the skin of the Mouflon sheep, found in Corsica and Sardinia, this leather was tawed with alum, tanned with sumac and finished with oils to produce leather of unequalled quality.  The method was supposedly known only to the Moors. English Crusaders brought home much plunder and loot, including the finest leather the English shoemakers had ever seen. Gradually cordovan leather became the material most in demand for the finest footwear in all of Europe. Leather was to Cordova in the same way as glass was to Venice ... specialisation brought excellence ...

Cordwainerr at workThe English term Cordwainer, meaning shoemaker, first appeared around 1100. By the late 13th century a distinction grew in England between Cordwainers, who used only alum 'tawed' cordwain, and the other shoemakers who worked with the inferior 'tanned' hides. However since this period the term cordwain has also been applied to the 'vegetable tanned' leather, but popular usage applied the term to only the highest quality leathers and shoes. It was not surprising that the title of Cordwainer was selected by the shoemakers themselves. The first English guild of shoemakers to call themselves Cordwainers was founded at Oxford in 1131. It was also the choice of the London shoemakers, who organized a guild before 1160, and also the Worshipful Company of Cordwainers likewise used this title in 1272. It seems that whenever shoemakers have organized, they have shown a clear preference for the title Cordwainer, conscious of the distinguished history and tradition it conveyed. Cordwainer George of Antrobus was no exception!

Another distinction George Hindley inherited and preserved from the earliest times was that a Cordwainer worked only with new leather, whereas a Cobbler worked with old. Cobblers have always been repairers, frequently prohibited by law from actually making shoes. Some even going as far as collecting worn out footwear, cutting it apart, and remanufacturing cheap shoes entirely form salvaged leather. Cordwainers have proudly distinguished themselves from Cobblers since at least the Middle Ages. In 16th century London the Cordwainers solved their conflicts with the Cobblers by merging them into the powerful authority of the Cordwainers Guild.

St CrispinWas 18th century Antrobus special for shoes? Maybe not, nearby Nantwich was a larger centre and famous for the Nantwich Boot, and Northampton had an established reputation. But the grass plains of Cheshire were a ready source of hides, the manufacture of leather was readily to hand and clustering in Warrington, the surrounding forests provided the oak bark and charcoal necessary for tanning and there was an abundance of water for washing the hides from the Mersey. It seems probable that the availability of local leather led to leather processing in the Warrington suburbs. Cheap labour was around for the unskilled work and it is known that Peter regularly employed vagrants at his Barnton premises later in 1891. 'Shoe Factors' were busily eager to buy and to sell in the burgeoning urban sprawl of industrial Manchester where the shoe market was at Shudehill. In 1759 shoes were selling there for five shillings. Shoemaking was still a cottage industry but there was money to be made from feet.

Around 1800 George would have abandoned 'straights' for many of his customers and offered them right and left foot pairs for snug comfort. But still hand sewn leather of the highest quality, with laces and eyelets not buckles and maybe a little glue or rubber or velvet, possibly some spats and pumps but no plastic, assorted fabrics, flip-flops or stilettos! He would work alone or the with the help of one or two 'stitch men', journeymen or apprentices, for sure Margaret his wife helped out and George junior was involved in rigorous training from an early age. He fashioned his shoes in the tradition of centuries in his home workshop, creating a shoe from the sole upwards, stabbing and stitching with his own hands. The world in which he plied his craft knew no machines. I can see him in my mind's eye, last between his knees, hands busy and a supply of tacks and springs held ready in his mouth, and all about him rich supple leather, strong waxed threads, awls, files and hammers. He would produced six or seven pairs a week, some made to order, some hawked around and some sold on to his contacts in nearby Warrington.

Tan your hideTanners ...

George Hindley was a connoisseur of good quality leather and knew all about the extensive and varied treatments the hides required before they could be fashioned into quality footwear.

Cheshire, of course, was famed for its oak forests. These extensive forests provided not only the playground for kings but also building timber second to none and furthermore they were a fine source of fuel for the salt pans ... and then there was the bark ... oak bark was rich in tannins which were essential in the early days for tanning hides ... Cheshire became an important centre for the ancient craft with a particularly thriving cluster of tanneries around Warrington ...

The problem was that without treatment animal hides are susceptible to bacterial action when wet and putrefy. If they are dried hides become stiff and unusable and useless for clothing, tents or fashioning into shoes and many other useful artefacts, wineskins for sure! Tanning is the ancient process which converts skin collagen protein into stable material which is flexible, resists bacterial attack and enhances resistance to water and heat. Undoubtedly one of the oldest crafts know to man as inedible skins from hunting and then from breeding have always been available for exploitation.

George would have also been aware that animal skins are vulnerable to heat and the fibrous structure first becomes 'rubber' like and as the temperature rises becomes amorphous as gelatine. And further heating results in degradation and residues can be used as glue. No doubt intimate family knowledge of such processes help Edward make his fortune at Acton Bridge. There was money to be made from animal waste.

Before tanning it is necessary to remove all unwanted flesh proteins, fatty glycerides and keratin hair proteins to produce a 'rawhide or 'pelt' composed largely of collagen.  -

Flaying - stripping hides from the carcass with knives

Trimming - cutting out the hooves, horns and inedible sinews and offal

Curing - salting for preservation, done quickly to prevent putrefaction of protein from bacterial infection

Soaking - cleaning of slat and dirt

Liming - alkaline pH helps the removal of keratin hair proteins and collagen fibre cross linkages

Scudding - removal of loosened flesh & fat remnants and hair with a blunt knife 

Tawing - alum (potassium aluminium sulphate) soaking in vats for days with a variety of binders and protein sources, such as flour and egg yolk followed by scudding. The process produced a white hide which is not technically tanned because the product will rot in water.

N B - the purpose of producing leather is to permanently alter the protein structure of the pelt so that it can never return to rawhide and degrade, the hide becomes durable, supple, soft and washable

Pickling - weak acid and salt solutions are used to bring the pelt to the weakly acid state required for most tanning processes. Stronger pickling solutions are used to preserve pelts so that they can be stored or transported in a stable form over periods of several months.

Bating - to make leather pliable, the rawhide requires an enzyme treatment called bating, which takes place before tanning. This treatment dissolves and washes out certain protein components. The degree of bating depends on the desired properties of the finished leather. Glove leather, for example, should be very soft and pliable and is subjected to strong bating, whereas leather for the soles of shoes is only lightly bated. An early method of treatment involved  enzyme action using urine and dog dung! Flat, relaxed, clean and ready for pickling and tanning. Tanning was always a smelly business.

Brain Tanning - an unlikely alternative was to use the animals own brain by beating in the natural emulsified oils -'Every animal has just enough brains to tan its own hide dead or alive'!

Vegetable Tanning - tanning converts the protein of the raw hide into a stable material, which will not putrefy and is suitable for a wide variety of purposes. Tanning materials form cross links in the collagen structure and stabilise it against the effects of acids, alkalis, heat, water and the action of micro-organisms. Immersion in increasingly strong tannins stabilise the protein connective tissue collagen and thus protect the leather from degradation. Various plant extracts produce brown coloured leathers which tend to be thick and firm. This type of tanning is used to produce stout sole leather, belting leather and leathers for shoe linings, bags and cases. The bark of Cheshire oak was particularly rich in tannins.

Mineral Tanning - chrome tanning became attractive at towards the end of the 19th century. It is effective on skins which will be used for softer, stretchier leathers, such as those found in purses, bags, briefcases, shoes, gloves, boots, jackets, pants, and sandals. Hides which are tanned with minerals are pickled first in an acid and salt mixture. From there, hides are soaked into a chromium-sulfate solution. This process is much faster than vegetable tanning, and is usually a 1-day project using rotary drums whereas the successive vat processing could take up to six months. Most shoe leather eventually resulted from tanning using salts of chromium

Aldehyde Tanning - tanning with aldehydes, originally from smoke, and oils produce very soft leathers and this system can be used to produce drycleanable and washable fashion leathers and also chamois leather

Splitting - A splitting machine slices thicker leather into two layers. The layer without a grain surface can be turned into suede or have an artificial grain surface applied.

Shaving - A uniform thickness is achieved by shaving the leather on the non-grain side using a machine with a helical blades mounted on a rotating cylinder.

Neutralisation - Neutralising removes residual chemicals and prepares the leather for further processing and finishing.

Fatliquoring - Fatliquoring introduces oils to lubricate the fibres and keep the leather flexible and soft. Without these oils the leather will become hard and inflexible as it dries out.

Samming - This process reduces water content to about 55% and can be achieved by a number of machines, the commonest being like a large mangle with felt covered rollers.

Setting out - The leather is stretched out and the grain side is smoothed. This process also reduces the water content to about 40%.

Final drying - Leather is normally dried to 10-20% water content. This can be achieved in a number of ways and each method has a different effect on the finished leather

Staking and dry drumming - A staking machine makes the leather softer and more flexible by massaging it to separate the fibres. To finish off the leather may be softened by the tumbling action inside a rotating drum.

Buffing and Brushing - The flesh surface is removed by mechanical abrasion to produce a suede effect or to reduce the thickness. In some cases the grain surface is buffed to produce a very fine nap, e.g. nubuck leathers. After buffing the leather is brushed to remove excess dust.

Finishing - The aims of finishing are to level the colour, cover grain defects, control the gloss and provide a protective surface with good resistance to water, chemical attack and abrasion.

Final grading - Leather will be graded before despatch to the customer. This grading may consider the colour intensity and uniformity, the feel of the leather, softness, visual appearance, thickness, design effects and natural defects such as scratches.

Drenching / Rinsing / Theshing  - to remove residues

Staking - mechanical flexing and stretching to soften

Finishing / Smoothing / Feeding - The final step in the tanning process involves finishing the skin. This is done by covering the grain surface with a chemical compound and then brushing it. Light leathers are buffed and sandpapered to cover imperfections. Leathers which are buffed for long periods of time become suede. Waxes, pigments, dyes, glazes, oils, waxes and other solutions are also added to make the leather more appealing to the buyer. High polish produces patent leather. Various dyes for colour, and oils for polish, flexibility and water resistance.

Tanning in Cheshire evolved close to the oak forests and the rivers. Copious amounts of water were needed for the vats and for effluent disposal. Rural riparian locations would be particularly attractive as local residents were a perpetual thorn. Perhaps the site by the Weaver originally hosted a tannery? For certain Warrington on the Mersey had become a centre for tanners when George practised his shoemaking skills in Antrobus. Northampton and London were the rivals. The clustering of trades has always been associated with the location of raw materials, in this case hides, oak tannins and water together with the availability of skilled manpower. The tanning skills in Warrington were undoubtedly passed down from father to son just as the cordwainer skills were passed down the Hindley lineage. These were family businesses.

But things were changing. As Cheshire oak forests were cleared for farming and urban centres exploded there were shortages of tannins and hides which led to increasing importation. The tanneries along the Mersey were ideally placed to receive deliveries from the Port of Liverpool.

But in didn't stop there. From the 1860s tanning with chrom salts cut processing times and with it working capital and rotating drums replaced vats for more efficient mass transfer. Furthermore local authorities were pressurising businesses to improve environmental pollution both river effluents and obnoxious smells by relocate away from city centre populations and investments in effluent treatment plants. The industry was exploiting new technologies which required capital investment and economies of scale. Small family businesses with little capital were under assault. Many Warrington tanneries moved to rural Howley and amalgamations helped to finance the new capital investment. By the 20th century tanning was becoming a factory operation.

barrelsCoopers ...

Edward Hindley encouraged his elder sons to train as coopers, after all everybody would always want containers for their liquids and powder ... everybody uses a bucket!

A cooper makes and repairs wooden buckets and barrels, a skill that takes many years to learn. An apprenticeship would last four to five years, although you would have a hard job becoming a coopers apprentice these days. Apprentices usually started at the age of fourteen and then worked as a cooper for the rest of there lives.
A cooper would work in a cooperage, using many different traditional tools including - dowelling stock, side-axe, bick iron, round shave, topping plane, chive, croze, bung-hole borer, hammer, driver, flagging iron, adze, diagonals, heading knife, jigger, hollowing knife, buzz, swift, downright and a inside shave ...  

The traditional cask capacities were -

Pin - 4.5 gallons
Firkin - 9 gallons
Kilderkin - 18 gallons
Barrel - 36 gallons
Hogshead - 54 gallons
Puncheon - 72 gallons
Butt - 108 gallons        

Many of the tools were short handled to enable accurate one handed use, the other hand is free to support the cask. When the cooper was making a larger cask, like the 108 gallon Butt, it would be difficult to hold the staves together by hand so in these circumstances the cooper would use a windlass. The windlass would have hemp ropes and would be operated by hand.
Both the top and the bottom of a cask is called a head. The heads are made from boards that have been dowelled together, cut out with a bow saw and then shaved smooth.
The staves are created by cleaving from a tree trunk. A cooper cleaves rather than saws the trunk in order too utilize the ribs of strength that run out from the heart of the tree to the bark. In order to make the staves liquid-proof the cooper has to keep the medullary rays unbroken.
Why use wood? Oak casks breath, allowing an exchange between the air outside and the contents. This results in some of the contents being lost but this also allows the contents to mature. In Scotland whisky has to mature for at least three years.

Coopering terms -

Stave - the boards making up the sides of the cask
Bung hole - the hole used to both fill and empty the cask
Bilge - the bulge in the middle of the cask
Chime hoop - hoops at the heads of the cask
Quarter hoop - the hoops between the Chime and Bulge hoops
Bulge hoop - the central hoops after the Quarter hoops
Rivet - used to attack the hoops to the cask
Heads - both the top and the bottom of the cask
Middle - the middle section of the Head
Cant - the section either side of the Middle
Quarter - the sections after the Cant
Chime -the extensions of the staves beyond the head
Croze - the cut where the heads are fitted
Stave joint - the joint between the staves

As well a casks coopers would also make, Piggins, Buckets, Domestic Kegs, Butter Churns, Ale Vessels and Coal Scuttles.

When Peter died in 1961 his tools and wooden staves & cants, still carefully preserved in his home workshop, were museum pieces. They were eagerly seized on and carefully preserved by the local woodwork teacher, Julian Duffield, as examples for his pupils of an ancient craft replaced some time ago by the ubiquitous 40 gallon steel drum, mass produced in remote factories. 

The blacksmiths were everywhere and much more was known and written about the blacksmiths and the Hindleys of Antrobus had a fascinating link back to this ancient trade ...

Adam Hindley b 1610 of Bedford/Astley was a blacksmith, skills his dad had acquired in the 16th century. Adam established a long line of craftsmen who plied their trade at Hindley's Smithy on the Bedford/Astley border close to Leigh.

Adam Hindley?If Jefferson Davis Chalfant (1856-1931) had been alive in 1610 he would have depicted Adam, the first Hindley smith we know of, in the Hindley Smithy in the midst of glorious, nostalgic, honest hard work ... The Blacksmith - 1907 !

The Village Blacksmith - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)
Under a spreading chestnut tree
The village smithy stands;
The smith, a mighty man is he,
With large and sinewy hands;
And the muscles of his brawny arms
Are strong as iron bands.

His hair is crisp, and black, and long,
His face is like the tan;
His brow is wet with honest sweat,
He earns whate'er he can,
And looks the whole world in the face,
For he owes not any man.

Week in, week out, from morn till night,
You can hear his bellows blow;
You can hear him swing his heavy sledge,
With measured beat and slow,
Like a sexton ringing the village bell,
When the evening sun is low.

And children coming home from school
Look in at the open door;
They love to see the flaming forge,
And hear the bellows roar,
And catch the burning sparks that fly
Like chaff from a threshing-floor.

He goes on Sunday to the church,
And sits among his boys;
He hears the parson pray and preach,
He hears his daughter's voice,
Singing in the village choir,
And it makes his heart rejoice.

It sounds to him like her mother's voice,
Singing in Paradise!
He needs must think of her once more,
How in the grave she lies;
And with his hard, rough hand he wipes
A tear out of his eyes.

Onward through life he goes;
Each morning sees some task begin,
Each evening sees it close;
Something attempted, something done,
Has earned a night's repose.

Thanks, thanks to thee, my worthy friend,
For the lesson thou hast taught!
Thus at the flaming forge of life
Our fortunes must be wrought;
Thus on its sounding anvil shaped
Each burning deed and thought.


Any additional information gratefully received contact john p birchall

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