Picture of Thomas Pennant

Thomas Pennant

places mentioned


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At Acton the prospect mends a little. That village, with its handsome new church, stand on a small rising, and commands another great extent of flat, beyond Nantwich. This place, before the Conquest, was possessed by Morcar, the gallant brother of the gallant earl Edwin, last earl of Mercia. At that time, the hundred it lay in was called Warmundestreu, at present Nantwich. Actune, as it is stiled in Doomsday Book, was a very considerable place. There were eight hides of land taxable: there were thirty plough-lands; in the lord's demesn three: two servants, thirteen villeyns, and fifteen boors, with seven ploughlands, a mill for the use of the court (curiae), and ten acres of meadow: a wood six leagues long, and one broad: an aery of hawks: two presbyters, who had a plough-land: two aliens, having a plough-land and a half: a servant: six villeyns: seven boors, with four plough-lands.

THIS not only shews the greatness of this Saxon manor, but that it was the seat of Morcar, by the provision made for his support. The tenants had likewise the right of pleas in the hall of their lord, and one house in Wick (Nantwich), where they might make salt without interruption. In the time of the Confessor, the manor was valued at ten pounds a year; at the Conquest, at only six. It may be observed, once for all, that the troubles occasioned by that event, and the ravages committed, instantly sunk the value of the land.

THE manor of Acton, which had been antiently a portion of the Barony of Wich Malbang, passed to the Vernons, and by a co-heiress of Warren de Vernon to the Littleburies, who sold their share to John de Wetenhall. At a subsequent period it became, by marriage, the property of the Ardernes; yet about the year 1464 it was conveyed by the heirs male of the Wetenhalls to feoffees in trust, for the use of Sir John Bromley, in whose heirs it remained till about the year 1600, when it was purchased from them by Sir Roger Wilbraham, master of the requests, and conveyed by him to his younger brother Ralph, of whose descendants it was bought, in 1752, by the father of Henry Tomkinson, Esq. the present possessor.1

ABOUT twenty years ago, the steeple and roof of the church were destroyed; but the whole has since been restored, in a very handsome manner. One monument is in good preservation, notwithstanding this church was a temporary prison after the battle of Nantwich, in the civil wars of Charles I.; but the prisoners were of the party which respected these memorials of the dead.

THE most antient is one in St. Mary's chapel, in memory of Sir William Manwaring, of Over Pever, and of Badely, in this neighborhood. This knight, before his departure on an expedition to Guienne, in 1393, settled his estate, and next year made his will; by which he bequeathed his body to this church, and ordered a picture in alabaster, to cover his tomb. He also left to the same church part of Christ's cross, which the wife of his half-brother had shut up in wax, and a sufficient salary for a chaplain to say a competent number of masses, in St. Mary's chapel, for the sake of his soul, for seven years, when it might be supposed to have been redeemed from Purgatory, and

"The foul crimes done in his days of nature
Were burnt and purg'd away."

After his death, which happened in 1399, a magnificent tomb was erected beneath a Gothic arch, with a large embattled superstructure. Under the arch lies Sir William in full armour, with suppliant hands. His head is cased in a conic helm, bound with a fillet entwined with foliage. From his helmet is a guard of mail, which covers his neck, and rises to his lips; over which flow two great whiskers. His head rests on a casque, with an ass's head for a crest. Above, within the arch, is a row of half-lengths, with a book opposite to each; probably religious, chaunting his requiem. The whole is painted. On the edge of the tomb was this inscription, now much defaced by time: Hic jacet William Manwaring quondam dominus de Badeleye, qui obiit die Veneris xx° ante festum Pentecostae, anno Dni. m° ccc° nonogessimo nono.

THE tomb of Sir Thomas Wilbraham, Baronet, and his lady Elisabeth, daughter of Sir Roger Wilbraham, Knight, and one of the masters of request to James I. is very handsome. Their figures are placed on an altar-tomb, in white marble, recumbent: he in armour, long curled hair, and a turn-over, with one hand in his breast, the other by his side. Beneath him is spread a large cloak. The lady has a book in one hand; the other, like his, reclines on her breast. He died in 1660.

THIS tomb is a specimen of the first deviation from the old form: a greater ease of attitude began to prevail. The hands, which used to be erect, close, and suppliant, here vary in the attitude, and shew a dawning of the grace that reigned on the revival of sculpture. In England, monumental beauty was soon ruined by servilely copying the dress of the times; by having nightgowns and flowing perriwigs cut out of the Parian blocks; or adding the great wig to the absurdity of the Roman habit.

THE church had been long the place of sepulture of the houses of Woodhey and Badeley. The vain attention of our forefathers to posthumous honors and superstitious rites, is well exemplified in the will of William Wilbraham, of Woodhey, who died in 1536; by which

"he bequeaths his body to be buried before the image of our Lady in the chancel of the church of Acton, and bestows x. to be laid out on a tenor bell, if the parish will provide the rest; but if not, then the money to be laid out on a pax and two cruyits of silver, to serve at the high altar on good days. He further wills, that 12 white gowns be given to 12 poor men; as also, that 12 torches be made, to hold about his body the day of his burial; and that a light be over him, with viii tapers, in the middle whereof a bigger taper should spring out; also, that penny-dole should be given at his burial, to every person that would take it.

HE, moreover, requires his executors to buy a stone of marble to lie on him, in the said chancel of Acton, with pictures of himself and his wife, and their arms; also, that they put out xi£. under sure keeping, to pay xi. yearly to a well-disposed priest, to sing (during twenty years) for him and his wife, children, father, and mother, and all that God would be prayed for; and the said service to be performed in his chapel of Woodhey; which priest should likewise have iv£ more yearly for his salary, if so be his heir is not pleased to give him his board and chamber-room."2

THE monument alluded to, either never was executed, or was destroyed by the fall of the steeple.

FROM Acton, I went down a gentle descent to Nantwich, about a mile distant. Antiently this place was known only by the name of Wich ,3 an Anglo-Saxon word for district or habitation; and a very common termination of a multitude of places. Here the British Nant is added, to shew its low situation.

IMMEDIATELY before the Conquest its revenues were divided between the king and earl Edwin. After that event it was bestowed by the great proprietor of Cheshire, Hugh Lupus, on William de Malbedeng, or de Malbang, a Norman chieftain; from whom it was called Wich Malbang: Hugh erected it into a barony, in favour of Malbedeng, and honored him with a seat in his parlement.

William de Malbank, the third baron, died in the reign of Edward I. without issue male, leaving three daughters, Philippa, Aude, and Eleanor. Philippa married Thomas Lord Basset of Hedington; Aude, Warren de Vernon, baron of Shipbroke; Eleanor, who died unmarried, conveyed her share to Henry Audley and his heirs.4

By these means the barony became divided into four, reckoning the part which had been given by Hugh Malbang to the abbey of Cumbermere; and soon after, by different alliances, became split into multitudes of other shares.

WHEN entire, it was under the government of the lord, or his steward; who were vested with the usual baronial powers. This town had been governed by a bailiff; but the election of that officer being dropt, it is at present under the government of the constables. It has likewise several other officers, such as the rulers of walling, who were guardians of the salt-springs, and regulated all matters respecting that important staple of the place.5

AFTER them came the ale-tasters; whose office related to the assize of bread and drink.

THE next were the heath-keepers; who attended to the right of the beam-heath, antiently called the creach; and took care to preserve it from all incroachments, or trespassers.

THE leave-lookers superintended the markets, inspected the weights, and destroyed unwholesome meat of every kind. These corresponded a good deal with the AEdiles cereales of the Romans; as the next officers, the fire-lookers, did to the triumviri nocturni. They had the care of the chimnies, and were to guard against all accidents that might arise from fire.

THE town is large, but consists chiefly of old houses. The Weever, which divides it in unequal parts, is here a small stream, and not navigable, higher than Winsford Bridge. The inhabitants of Nantwich had, many years ago, an act for making this river navigable from that place to their town; but they never carried the power into execution. The Chester canal is now completed from that city, and finishes in a handsome broad bason, near the road between Acton and the town; but at this time, it remains an almost useless ornament to the country: nor has it, as might have been expected, given the least increase to the salt-trade, for which this antient town was once so distinguished. Unfortunately for it, the other salttowns lie more conveniently for commerce, and abound almost to excess with that useful article.

THE chief trade of the place is in shoes, which are sent to London. Here is a small manufacture of gloves; but those of bone-lace and stockings, once considerable, are now lost. In the reigns of Queen Elizabeth, and James I. the tanning business brought much wealth into the town.

THE salt made from the adjacent brine-springs formed once a very important business. In the reign of Queen Elizabeth, here were two hundred and sixteen saltworks, of six leads-walling each: in 1774, only two works, of five6 large pans of wrought iron. The duty produced from them amounts annually to near five thousand pounds: from the whole district, including the works at Lawton, and a small one at Durtwich, from eighteen to twenty thousand pounds. The tax on this useful article is very considerable, which it bears, as being of most cheap fabrick, and most universal use. It seems, for that reason, to have been one of the earliest taxes of the Romans; for Ancus Martius, near 640 years before Christ, salinarum vectigal instituit. 7 This tribute was continued on the Britons when the Romans possessed our isle.

THE latter also made salt part of the pay of their soldiers, which was called solarium; and from which is derived our word salary .

THE art of making salt was known in very early times, to the Gauls and Germans: it is not, therefore, likely that the Britons, who had, in several places, plenty of salt-springs, should be ignorant of it. The way of making it was very simple, but very dirty; for they did no more than fling the water on burning wood; the water evaporated by the heat, and left the salt adhering to the ashes, or charcoal.8

IT is very probable that the Britons used the spring of Nantwich for this purpose; numbers of pieces of half-burnt wood being frequently dug up in this neighborhood. Salinis was a place not far from hence, one of the wiches; but I am uncertain which. The Romans made use of the springs, and made salt by much the same process as we do at present. The salt produced was white. It struck the natives, who stiled this place, perhaps the first where they saw salt of this kind, Heledd-Wen, or the white brine-pits, to distinguish them from the springs which they used in so slovenly a fashion.

THE Romans were acquainted with rock-salt, but had not discovered it within the limits of Italy. There were mountains of salt in India, Spain afforded the transparent colorless rock-salt, and Cappadocia the deep yellow.9 The Romans were conversant in the methods of producing this useful article from the brine,10 which they practised in our island, and communicated their instructions to the natives. Salt was an early import into Britain, but it was only to the Cassiterides ,11 and the neighboring parts which were remote from the salt-springs.

THESE advantages are but sparingly scattered over Great Britain: Scotland and Ireland are totally destitute of them. In England there are several, but few that contain salt sufficient to be worked. Thus, there are some which rise out of the middle of the Were, in the bishoprick of Durham; others in Yorkshire, Cumberland, Lancashire, and Oxfordshire ;12 all those are neglected, either on account of their weakness, or, in some places, by reason of the dearness of fuel. These in Cheshire, and those at Droitwich, in Worcestershire, with the small works at Weston in Staffordshire, are the only places where any business is done. Droitwich, and those in Cheshire, were worked by the Romans, and had the common name of Salinae .

FROM that period to the present, they have been successively in use. The Saxons, according to their idea of liberty, divided them between the king, the great people, and the Freemen. Thus, at Nantwich was one brine-pit, which gave employ to numbers of salinae, or works. Eight of them were between the king and earl Edwin, of which the king had two shares of the profits, the earl one. Edwin had likewise a work near his manor of Aghton, out of which was made salt sufficient for the annual consumption of his houshold; but if any was sold, the king had a tax of two pence, and the earl of one penny.

IN this place were likewise numbers of works belonging to the people of the neighborhood; which had this usage: From Ascension-day to the feast of St. Martin, they might carry home what salt they pleased; but if they sold any on the spot, or any-where in the county, they were to pay a tax to the king and the earl: but after the feast of St. Martin, whosoever took the salt home, whether his own, or purchased from other works, was to pay toll, except the before-mentioned work of the earl; which enjoyed exemption, according to antient usage.

IT appears, that the king and earl farmed out their eight works; for they were obliged to give, on the Friday of the weeks in which they were worked, xvi. boilings; of which xv. made one sum of salt. This is a measure, which, according to Spelman, amounts to a horse-load, or eight bushels. The pans of other people, from Ascension-day to that of St. Martin, were not subject to this farm on the Friday; but from St. Martin's-day to Ascension they were liable to those customs, in the same manner as those of the king and the earl.

THE Welsh used to supply themselves from these pits, before the union of their country with England. Henry III. in order to distress them, during the wars he had with them, took care to put a stop to the works, and deprive them of this necessary article.

ALL these salt-works were confined between the river and a certain ditch. If any person was guilty of a crime, within these limits, he was at liberty to make atonement by a mulct of two shillings, or xxx. boilings of salt; except in the case of murder or theft, for which he was to suffer death. If crimes of that nature were committed without the precinct, the common usage of the county was to be observed.

IN the time of the Confessor, this place yielded a rent of xx. pounds, with all the pleas of the hundred; but when earl Hugh received it, it was a waste.

THE Germans had an idea of a peculiar sanctity attendant on salt-springs; that they were nearer to heaven than other places; that the prayers of mortals were nowhere sooner heard; and that, by the peculiar favor of the gods, the rivers and the woods were productive of salt, not, as in other places, by the virtue of the sea, but by the water being poured on a burning pile of wood.13

WHETHER this notion might not have been delivered from the Germans to their Saxon progeny, and whether they might not, in after-times, deliver their grateful thanks for these advantages, I will not determine: but certain it is, that on Ascension-day the old inhabitants of Nantwich piously sang a hymn of thansgiving, for the blessing of the brine. A very antient pit, called the Old Brine, was also held in great veneration, and, till within these few years, was annually, on that festival, bedecked with boughs, flowers, and garlands, and was encircled by a jovial band of young people, celebrating the day with song and dance.14

THIS festival was probably one of the reliques of Saxon paganism, which Mellitus might permit his proselytes to retain, according to the political instructions he received from Gregory the Great,15 on his mission, least, by too rigid an adherence to the purity of the Christian religion, he should deter the English from accepting his doctrine. In fact, salt was, from the earliest times, in the highest esteem, and admitted into religious ceremonies: it was considered as a mark of league and friendship. "Neither shalt thou," says the Jewish Legislator ,16 "suffer the salt of the covenant of thy God to be lacking from thy meat-offering. With all thy offerings thou shalt offer salt." Homer gives to salt the epithet of divine. Both Greeks and Romans mixed salt with their sacrificial cakes. In their lustrations they made use of salt and water, which gave rise, in after-times, to the superstition of holy water; only the Greeks made use of an olive branch instead of a brush, to sprinkle it on the objects of purification.

"Next, with pure sulphur purge the house, and bring
The purest water from the freshest spring;
This, mix'd with salt, and with green olive crown'd,
Will cleanse the late contaminated ground."
                                                                Theocritus, Idyl. 24.

Stuckius tells us, that the Muscovites thought that a prince could not shew a guest a greater-mark of affection, than by sending to him salt from his own table.17 The dread of spilling salt, is a known superstition among us and the Germans, being reckoned a presage of some future calamity, and particularly, that it foreboded domestic feuds; to avert which, it is customary to fling some salt over the shoulder into the fire, in a manner truly classical:18

Mollibit aversos penates
Farre pio, et saliente mica.

IN this town was an antient hospital dedicated to St. Nicholas, endowed with a portion of tythes, which were granted to W. Grys by Queen Elizabeth .19 The historian of this place also mentions a priory, dependent on Cumbermere, and a domus leprosorum, or lazar-house, called St. Laurence's Hospital; both which stood in the Welsh Row, the street next to Acton; but at present, even their scite is hardly known. Here was, besides, a chapel called St. Anne's, near to the bridge; but that, likewise, has been totally destroyed.

NEAR the end of the Welsh Row stands a large house, called Town's End, formerly the residence of the very worthy family of the Wilbrahams. That honest and distinguished lawyer, Randle Wilbraham, was a younger brother of the late owner, and, with unblemished reputation, raised a vast fortune by his profession. For several years before his death, he retired from business, and enjoyed the fruits of his labors in an hospitable retirement.

THE church is a very handsome pile, in the form of a cross, with an octagonal tower in the centre. The east and west windows are filled with elegant tracery. The roof of the chancel is of stone, adorned with pretty sculpture. The stalls are neat. Tradition says, that they were brought, at the dissolution, from the abbey of Vale Royal .

THE only remarkable tombs are, a mutilated one of Sir David Cradoc in armor, with three gerbes on his breast for his coat of arms; and another of John Malsterson and his wife, engraven on a large slab, and dated 1586. The following quaint epitaph records the good intentions of the husband:

"Within this fading tomb, vaulted, lies
John Maisterson, and Margaret his wife;
Whose soules do dwell above the moving skies,
In paradise with God, the Lorde of lyffe.
This John wrought means to build this Namptwich town,
When fyer hir face had fret & burnde hir downe."

AMONG some lumber in this church I found the fragments of a white smooth monument, with the following inscription:

Ex antiqua familia de CREW oriundus
Vir Pius.
Susceptum ex Alicia Manwaring.
Uxore reliquit sobelem
Ranulphum, Thomam, Lucretiam, Prudentiam.
Vixit annos 74. Obiit
An° Do 1598.

The two sons were brought up to the law. Randle became chief justice of the King's Bench, and was the founder of the respectable house of Crew, near this town: Thomas was Speaker of the House of Commons in the latter end of the reign of James I. and in the first parlement of Charles I. The father of John Crew was a wealthy tanner of this town, whom tradition still records by the name of Golden Roger, who had a small monument in the church, with the figure of himself and wife; which an aged lady born in the parish remembered standing. I shall have occasion when I reach Wrest to give a further account of his illustrious posterity.

THIS town was the only one in the county which continued firm to the parlement from the beginning to the end of the civil wars. It underwent a severe siege in January 1643, by Lord Biron; who, after the signal defeat he here experienced from the army commanded by Sir Thomas Fairfax ,20 on the 25th of that month retired with his shattered forces to Chester. The place was defended only by mud-walls and ditches, formed in a hasty manner by the inhabitants and country people; who were highly incensed at some cruel and impolitic treatment they had met with from the royalists. The garrison defended themselves with great obstinacy. The most remarkable attack was on the 18th of January, when the besiegers were repulsed with great loss. Among the slain on their side, was the famous Captain Sandford; who again employed the eloquence of his pen, but to as little purpose as he did before at Hawarden. On each occasion21 he maintains the same stile.

"To the Officers, Soldiers, and Gentlemen
in Namptwyche, these.

YOUR drum can inform you, Acton church is no more a prison, but now free for honest men to do their devotions therein; wherefore be persuaded from your incredulity, and resolve God will not forsake his anointed. Let not your zeal in a bad cause dazzle your eyes any longer; but wipe away your vain conceits, that have too long let you into blind errors. Loth I am to undertake the trouble of persuading you into obedience, because your erroneous opinions do most violently oppose reason amongst you; but, however, if you love your town, accept of quarter; and if you regard your lives, work your safeties by yielding your town to Lord Byron, for his Majesty's use. You see now my battery is fixed; from whence fire shall eternally visit you, to the terror of the old, and females, and consumption of your thatched houses. Believe me, gentlemen, I have laid by my former delays, and am now resolved to batter, burn, storm, and destroy you. Do not wonder that I write unto you, having officers in chief above me: 'tis only to advise you, because I have some friends amongst you, for whose safety I wish you to accept of my Lord Byron's conditions; he is gracious, and will charitably consider of you. Accept of this as a summons, that you forthwith surrender the town; and by that testimony of your fealty to his Majesty, you may obtain favour. My firelocks, you know, have done strange feats, both by day and night; and hourly we will not fail in our private visits of you. You have not as yet received mine alarms; wherefore expect suddenly to hear from my battery and approaches before your Welsh Row .

This 15th of January, 1643.                                 Tho. Sandford, Captain of Firelocks."


LET these resolve your jealousies concerning our religion: I vow by the faith of a Christian, I know not one Papist in our army; and, as I am a gentleman, we are no Irish, but true-born English, and real Protestants also, born and bred. Pray mistake us not, but receive us into your fair esteem. I know we intend loyalty to his Majesty, and will be no other but faithful in his service. This, Gentlemen, believe, from


January 15.                                                                                                 Tho. Sandford."

AMONG many other prisoners of distinction taken by Sir Thomas Fairfax, was Colonel George Monk, in after-times the famous instrument of the restoration of Charles II. Fairfax was so well acquainted with his merit, that he was determined that he never should have an opportunity of exerting his courage again in the royal cause. He sent him up to London, where he was committed prisoner to the Tower, and confined near four years. On his release he joined the parlement; but, through a sense of honor, declined acting against his old master; and employed his sword against the Irish rebels, in which service he was engaged till after the death of the King.

Nantwich was the residence of the widow of the great Milton, during the latter part of her life.22 She was the daughter of Mr. Minshul, of Stoke, in this neighborhood. The poet married her in the fifty-third or fifty-fourth year of his age, wanting, in the season of his infirmities, assistance from a dearer relation than that of domestics. I fear that he was disappointed; for she is said to have been a lady of most violent spirit. Yet she maintained a great respect for his memory; and could not bear to hear the least imputation of plagiarism ascribed to him. She used to say, that he stole from nobody but the muse who inspired him, and that muse was God's grace, and the Holy Spirit, which visited him nightly. She probably had heard him say as much, in the composition of his invocation to Urania, in his 7th book:

——————————— upled by THEE,
Into the heav'n of heav'ns I have presum'd,
An earthly guest, and drawn empyreal air,
THY temp'ring.

And again, with greater force,

More safe I sing with mortal voice, unchang'd
To hoarse or mute, though fall'n on evil days,
On evil days though fall'n, and evil tongues;
In darkness and with dangers compass'd round,
And solitude; yet not alone, while THOU

IN this town, in 1545, was born the good old botanist John Gerard. He was bred an apothecary; and removing to London was patronized by Lord Burghley, and during twenty years was superintendant of his lordship's fine garden. He often speaks of his own poor garden in Holborn, which probably was a very respectable one. Doctor Bulleyn says it contained 1100 plants. It is said to have been the first physic-garden we ever had. The catalogue was given in print by himself in 1596 and 1599. There were two editions of his Herbal: the first in 1597. The second published in 1633 and 1636 by the ingenious and brave Thomas Johnson, also an apothecary; but who afterwards was honored with the degree of Doctor of Physic conferred on him in 1643 by the university of Oxford. He had entered into the royal army, and was advanced to the rank of lieutenant-colonel; behaved with distinguished gallantry, and at length (in 1644) fell, greatly lamented, at the siege of Basinghouse, which was soon after relieved by the loyal Colonel Gage. Gerard died in the year 1607.

1 Lysons, Mag. Brit. art. Cheshire, p. 469.

2 Collins's Baronets, ed. 1725, vol. ii. 291.

3 See Skinner's Etymologicon: Notwithstanding the word does not appear to have any thing to do with salt, yet wich, or wych, is always applied, with us, to places where salt is found; as Droitwich, Nantwich, &c. and the houses in which it is made, are called wych houses.

4 Lysons, Mag. Brit. art. Cheshire, p. 705.

5 History of Nantwich, 1774.

6 In August 1810 only one pan was employed at Nantwich,. the monthly duty on which amounts to sixty pounds. The works near Lawton, belonging to the reverend Sir Thomas Broughton, Bt. have increased to a great degree. ED.

7 Aurelius Victor, c. v.

8 Plinii Hist. Nat. lib. xxxi. c. 7. Gallia Germanioeque. ardentibus lignis aquam salsam infundunt.

9 Pliny, lib. xxxi. c. 7. Strabo, lib. xx. 1057. But the rock-salt of our island remained undiscovered till past the middle of the last century.

10 Fit et e puteis in salinas ingestis. Plin. xxxi. 7.

11 Strabo, 265.

12 See Campbel's Politic. Survey, i. 76.

13 Taciti Annal. xiii. c. 57.

14 Hist. Nantwich, 60.

15 Bede, lib. i. c. 31.

16 Levit. ch. ii. v. 13.

17 Pane ipso princeps suam erga aliquem gratiam; Sale vero amorem ostendit. Antiq. Conviviales, 171.

18 Horace, lib, iii. ode 23.

19 Tanner, 65.

20 Rushworth II. part iii. 302.

21 Tour in Wales, vol. i. 133.

22 Life of Milton by Bishop Newton. She died in a very advanced age, in March 1726.

Thomas Pennant, The Journey from Chester to London (London: Wilkie and Robinson, 1811)

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