Spark Hall Close

Spark Hall Close, which is now little used past the entrance to the Park Royal Hotel, was originally known as Northwich Road until the mid 1970s when the motorway split the village in two. It was the main road to the lower part of the village leading due south from the church along the line of the Roman road, which ran from Warrington to Middlewich, known as King Street. In the sale of Old Farm below, the details mention that it:

…lies on the line of the old London Road along which Coaches and other conveyances pass and repass from London to Liverpool…

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Spark Hall Close looking south towards Stretton Fox, with New Farm on the right

Home Guard
Many of the older residents recall a hut on the corner of Stretton Road which was the base of the Home Guard during the Second World War. This was convenient as on top of the church tower was an observation point. This was continually manned as it had an excellent view being one of the highest points around.

Old Farm
The earliest records of the Cheshire Land Tax returns show that in 1780 the farm was owned and occupied by John Eaton, and then twenty years later by his son Thomas Eaton.

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Exert from Land Tax Returns for 1780 – See John Eaton at bottom of document as both proprietor and occupier

In August 1819 the farm was put up for sale by Thomas Eaton, with Thomas Wright the sitting tenant, and was sold by auction at the Cat & Lion. The 25 Cheshire Acre farm (which is around 53 statute acres) was described as having land:

… of very superior quality, and in excellent condition, and with the exception of one small Field lies within a ring fence…

Particular mention was made of the orchard, part of which remained until very recently:

The Orchard is very extensive and well-stocked with choice young fruit trees all in full bearing.

The maps below clearly show the extent of the orchards at the farm.

Old Farm
Old Farm, Stretton 1828 from the Palatine Map of Chester  – reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

The farm was bought by Nathaniel Milner. Following Thomas Wright, William Wilkinson became the tenant farmer until around 1833.

In 1834 recently married John Whitlow from Lower Whitley moved in with his wife and young family. The tithes map of 1846 shows Old Farm still owned by Nathaniel Milner, as part of Moss Hall estate, and occupied by John Whitlow.  In Bagshaw’s Directory of 1850 the Old Farm was said to be “a brick fabric, of considerable antiquity” and continued to be farmed by John Whitlow; as it was in 1861 where census returns show him farming 44 acres and employing two labourers. John Whitlow died on 30 July 1867 aged 63 and is buried in the churchyard alongside his wife who lived to the aged of 94. On 31 October 1867 all of the late John Whitlow’s farm stock and implements were put up for auction including ‘choice and well-bred dairy cows.’

In 1868 Old Farm was managed by Abraham Taylor where he remained until 1880 when he moved to Hatton and handed over the reins to his son Joseph. The 1881 census recorded Joseph Taylor, married with a young son, farming 40 acres and employing two labourers. He too followed his father to Hatton, and by 1891 Walter Smith, the unmarried son of Joseph Smith of Stretton Hall, was living there.

New Farm
This is built on the site of the Old Farm probably in the 1890s. Walter Smith lived at New Farm for some time before moving to Latchford. In March 1903 he put up all his live and dead stock for auction.  In 1911 George Blackshaw had moved from Lane End Farm, Northwich Road and was farming with wife, daughter Bessie and son Frank.

The Moss Hall estate of around 1,100 acres was sold in 1918 by the Milner family.  For more information on their history and landholdings in the area, including Moore see here. The tenant, George Blackshaw, bought the 44 acre farm for £3,800.

By 1939 George Blackshaw had passed the farm over to his son Frank, who was living at New Farm with his wife Margaret and family.

Spark Hall Farm (Stretton Fox)
Spark Hall was probably built in the 1850s and was named after the field in which it was built.  The tithe maps of 1846 show the farmland owned by Peter Leather with his family house at Ashfield in Northwich Road. There was no building on the land at that time.

Spark Hall tithes
Spark Field, location of Spark Hall (now Stretton Fox) taken from Tithes Map around 1846

Peter Leather (the elder) was first recorded as living at Spark Hall in 1861; he still also owned Ashfield. Ten years later in 1871 the family had suffered, and Peter Leather was living at Spark Hall with his young recently motherless daughter, Mary, aged 8. Just eight years afterwards in 1879 Peter too died, and the house was let out. Mary was orphaned at 16 but married six months later.

Old Farm, New Farm and Spark Hall 1881
Old Farm and Spark Hall 1881 Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland under the Creative Commons Attribution licence

By 1882 Philip Darbyshire who had been farming the land was leaving the profession and put all his farm stock, horses, implements, dairy utensils and a proportion of ‘superior and well-made household furniture’ up for auction.

The census taken on the night of 5 April 1891 records Julia Kerr, a 15 year old living alone with her companion and servants at Spark Hall. She was the daughter of Robert Kerr, a wire manufacturer originally from Scotland, who had died at Spark Hall in the previous October, seven months after his wife, Elizabeth Clara.  A couple of months before, in February, a “to let” notice was posted in the Warrington Examiner.  Elizabeth’s elder sisters and brother were living at Rose Mount in Whitley but they all died within four years of their sister. On 9 April 1891 all of Robert Kerr’s household goods were auctioned and what was left of  the family departed.

In 1892 Spark Hall was farmed by John Renshaw and his new wife Sarah Ann (née Ditchfield), but by 1901 the Renshaw family moved to The Limes in Higher Whitley, before emigrating to Alberta, Canada in 1912. In the census of 1901, the property was vacant.

Coronation Edward VII

Whilst it isn’t clear from the invitation above who was living there in 1902, it is probable that it was Peter Leather. Spark Hall was the setting for a village event to celebrate the coronation of King Edward VII.  The day took place as follows:

  • 12:30 Children assemble in schools and receive medals
  • 1:00 Service in church
  • 2:30 Sports and games for boys and girls
  • 3:45 Children’s tea
  • 5:00 Adults’ tea
  • 6:00 Sports and games for men and women

In March 1903 the household appointments and effects of  Peter Leather were put up for sale however in 1911 Spark Hall was occupied by Lucy Leather, the widow of Peter Leather, and her family. Peter Leather died in 1906 and in 1913 his widow married William Robertson. The electoral register of  1914 records William Robertson at Spark Hall. The couple later moved to Comberbach where Lucy died in 1933. 

Spark Hall 1936
Old Farm and Spark Hall 1936 Showing the village before the M56 was built. Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland under the Creative Commons Attribution licence

In 1939 Kelly’s Directory records that George Blackshaw (who was recently widowed) and his unmarried daughter Bessie were living at Spark Hall. Bessie Blackshaw remained at Spark Hall until her death in 1981. In 1995 approval was given to convert the farmhouse into a public house – The Stretton Fox. The land is now farmed from Walnut Tree Farm.

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2 thoughts on “Spark Hall Close”

  1. My maiden name is Stretton. I know we are from England. I have a painting of P E Stretton. Need to know more.

  2. My name is Donna Cookson Martin, and I am so delighted to discover this reference to Spark Hall and The Limes. I am the great-granddaughter of John Renshaw and his wife Sarah Ann Ditchfield. I believe my grandmother, Elsie Renshaw (later Cookson), was born at Spark Hall Dec 22, 1898 and moved to the Limes when she was age 2. Mr. and Mrs. Renshaw, who immigrated to Lougheed, Alberta, Canada in 1912, returned to Stretton for a visit in 1926. Unfortunately, we have not kept in touch with Renshaw or Ditchfield relatives and I would like to connect with any family who might still be in the Whitley/Stretton/Appleton area.
    — Donna Cookson Martin in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

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