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And yet it is an interesting and unusual name, and though in the place itself there is so much of the New in evidence, and so little of the Old remaining, there are landmarks left which seem to link us with a possible Past, and to suggest that Alsager has something more than a mushroom growth. Take, for instance, Christ Church and the National School - neither of them very old it is true; but the Church especially so much older than the village. Realizing myself to be one of those who know so little, and feeling the reproach of it - for surely, a reproach it is! though a mild one, to live in a place and be content to know nothing about it - I followed up these links, and found much to interest me in the origin, growth and rapid development of Alsager.
And so, though there is no eventful history to relate, I venture to offer my gleanings for the information of those who may feel with me. This I do, not as a literary effort (far from it), but as a simple record of what has gone before; in the hope, also, of in small measure helping to preserve the memory of an ancient family whose name - so closely associated with our village - is now extinct; in honour, also, of those three members of it by whose good deeds Alsager has so largely benefitted for over one hundred years.
The name of this family is "Alsager"; from them our village takes its name, and a very old name it is, as I will shew further on. Yet, long ago as it is since there were "Alsagers of Alsager", Alsager as we know it now cannot be more than forty years' growth. And there are some still with us who knew and loved representatives of the family.
Alsager forty years ago must have been a rural spot indeed, a little hamlet set round with scattered farms and wild mosslands. Instead of the shady, good roads of today, there were sandy lanes - improvements themselves on the dangerous bridal paths through swampy "Moss" (morass) of only a few years before. So bad was their reputation that Miss Wilbraham - who died last year (1905) at the age of 90 (ninety) - told me that, as a child living at Rode, she was only allowed to ride to Alsager on condition that the groom led her pony along the narrow paths that intersected the place. These bridle paths have since become the excellent roads we are so justly proud of.
Forty years ago, instead of the handsome houses and well-kept gardens, numerous villas and many shops of our day, there was here and there a house newly erected, a few old cottages, and three small and very primitive shops, one inn ("The Alsager Arms"). One old house there was, occupied by Mr. J. Mayer (still an Alsager name), since transformed by Mr. Frank Rigby into his pretty residence and charming garden, and now in the possession of Mr. Huntly Goss.
Mr Gibbon's house "The Villa" was there, newly built. Mr. Huntbach's house, but in a less degree was also in existence, then the property of Mr. George Barker, members of whose family still reside there. Mr. George Barker it was who presented to Christ Church the handsome decorative iron chain-work which forms such a suitable guard to the entrance of Church and school.
"Brundrett House" had been built by Mr. J. Maddock - a name long associated with Alsager - and now in the possession of his grandson, Mr. J. F. Maddock;
"The Laurels" also, the property of Mr. J. Maddock junior; and "The Cedars", now the residence of Mr. James Maddock; constituting then as now quite a little colony of that name; "Cresswellshawe" was in its infancy, the property of Mr. Frank Wilbraham; and "Heath Fields", Mr. Ford's house, lately purchased by Mr. Palfreyman.
"Milton House" also, the residence of Mr. W. Craig, sometime member of Parliament for the Crewe Division, and still happily with us.
The oldest house of any consequence in Alsager appears to be "The Mount" built in 1822, the property of Mr. Edwards, himself one of the oldest residents here, and connected by family ties with Alsager for several generations back. He has lived to see many changes, and has much to tell of the past.
Alsager evidently dates its growth from the year 1876, when the estate was sold for building purposes by the then owners, the Rev. C. A. Tryon, Mrs. Sheringham (his sister), and others.
The "Lion and Swan Hotel", once the residence of the Alsager family, and other property belonging to the family at Congleton, was sold in 1857.
"The Mere", always a pretty feature of the place, must have been charming then, surrounded as it was with trees and fields, and clothed to the water's edge with fern and bracken. A fine old yew tree in The Avenue marks the spot where a little black and white cottage stood with garden sloping to the Mere. Older than any of these houses were a few farm homesteads, still left us.
"The Oak Farm" Linley Wood property, now in the tenancy of Mr. A. Morris; "The Town House", bought from the Alsager estate by Mr. James Barker, with its attendant quaint half-timbered cottage, and tradition of a Cavalier's head;
"Cresswellshawe" farm, Wilbraham property, where lived the late much-respected Mr. W. Barker, now succeeded by his son-in-law, Mr. Colclough;
"The Manor Farm" and old house then, now in the tenancy of Mr. Heiler;
"Crappela", with its beautifully-fashioned chimneys suggestive of more consequence in other days; a picturesque black and white house with farm attached, for several generations the property of the Lowe family, since rebuilt, and lately sold by them - these, with a few small scattered farms on the Moss, and some cottages, made up the Alsager of those days.
How rapid have been the changes! Now we have two churches, four chapels, two good schools, numerous residential houses, three railway stations, water-works, a police station, a club and reading-room, tennis courts and bowling green, no less than fourteen grocers' shops, three butchers', various confectioners', drapers', and fruit shops; I should be sorry to say how many public-houses (changes are not always improvements); and a population of about 3,000.
Even the air of the place must have changed with the times, if the popular complaint that "Alsager is so relaxing" be true, for I have heard Miss Marsh Caldwell say that in the years gone by her mother drove to Alsager daily to enjoy and be benefitted by "the beautiful air".
However conflicting opinions may be - or rather, happily, have been - regarding Christ Church, all must admit that it has done good work in its day, faithfully carrying out all those years the purpose for which it was built and endowed, namely to provide a place of worship when no other lay nearer than three miles, and to offer a peaceful resting place, near those of kin, for the dear ones gone before; dispensing to, its charity, for, by the bounty of its founders, twelve pounds ten shillings are annually distributed between certain poor and deserving widows and spinsters.
Built and endowed in the year 1789 by three sisters, Margaret, Judith and Mary Alsager, ladies of the Manor of Alsager, last of their name, and the three members of the family I referred to as our "benefactors"; built by Special Act of Parliament (which cost £500), and with the consent of the then patron, and the Rector of Barthomley, for the convenience and comfort of their tenants and others - the Parish Church of Barthomley, to which Alsager was then attached, being three miles distant, and the roads very bad between, it was found difficult to attend.
In this labour of love the ladies took the deepest interest, and apparently every possible precaution to prevent friction with the mother church. They arranged that no marriages could be celebrated in Christ Church, so that all must go to the Parish Church, and the Rector receive the fees. For the same reason, should any desire to bury their dead in the churchyard of Christ Church, a double fee must be paid, one to the Rector and Sexton of Barthomley, with churchings also, and is so continued to this day.
Christ Church has endeared itself to the hearts of many, but one feels sadly that the pious work of those good ladies has sorely missed that spirit of Peace for which they provided with such tender care. As the Church was built in the reign of George the Third, the style is almost naturally the then popular Palladin. The interior has all the plain simplicity of that form of architecture; the east window is good of its kind - more cannot be said for it. There are two handsome memorial windows, one of the memory of the Rev. Charles Alsager Tryon, the other in memory of Mrs. Broughton; also two fine lamp standards to the memory of Mrs. Spens, all three persons being representatives of the Alsager family.
The Church was originally provided with the regulation square oak pews, the wood for which was grown on the estate. These have been recently removed to make way for the more comfortable and commodious sittings, so that the Church can now seat 300 persons.
Another old-time institution was removed a few years ago; this was the Horse Block, or mounting stone, attached to the churchyard wall for the convenience of those who rode to Church on the pillion.
Five of the bells in the tower were included in the gift, but three others have been lately presented, one by the children of the late Mr. John Maddock to his memory; another by the present incumbent, the Rev. Daniel Shaw, in memory of his two sisters; and a third by the parish, making a complete peal of eight bells.
The churchyard was enlarged a few years ago, when the land was given by the then incumbent, the Rev. W. A. Sheringham, and alas! must shortly again be added to. It is always beautifully kept, and in its quiet precincts one seems to find some of that spirit of Peace which has been wanting elsewhere. Here all differences of opinion are sunk, and, united in one great Faith, our dear ones await "The glorious Resurrection Morn". One feels that those who have loved ones resting here have cause indeed for gratitude to those who have provided this peaceful spot.
One of the trees in the churchyard - a beech - is a paticularly fine one, and well merits the pretty verses composed in its honour by the late Mr. Hemming, for thirty years Verger of the Church.
To the bounty of the Misses Alsager, we also owe our schools, as well as our "Old Church" - not in their present form, for in 1848 the old School was found to be entirely inadequate for the rapidly increasing number of children, and the present school-house, since enlarged and added to, was built, the Trust money being supplemented by subscriptions. The total number of children now attending the mixed school is 227, and that of the infant school 129. Up to 1847, what are now the Parsonage coach house and laundry were the village School , and there are those amongst us who learnt their letters there; and not without tears, for one may still hear of "the tree of knowledge" in the Parsonage garden, from which birch rods were cut to enforce learning and manners.
By the Trust, twelve scholars were entitled to a free education; the remainder paid fees, and the whole school numbered only between 30 or 40 pupils. The clergyman was also the school-master, though with no salary attached. But with the coming of the Rev. C. A. Tryon as incumbent of Christ Church - himself a member of the Alsager family, and a name still to conjure with - came great changes and improvements.
Our good schools were built, from designs by Sir Gilbert Scott. Mr. Tryon it was who planted the beautiful lime tree avenue by the Church, now such a feature of Alsager; he who so skillfully planted the glebe and school lands, and the wood at the back of the Parsonage. Again it was Mr. Tryon who enlarged and made picturesque with planting the otherwise uninteresting Parsonage. All this he did at his own expense. Truly it may be said of him, as we would have it said of all, "he left things better than he found them".
In 1866 he instituted the Clothing Club, which is still prospering , and, with Mrs. Wilbraham's help, the "Dorcas" Society, also still flourishing and giving Christmas cheer to many. Far more than this he did. Amongst other things, he established the Sunday School, and presented the handsome hand-wrought banners to it, which figure so bravely still at the annual Sunday School Treat. How surprised our school children of today would be to hear that, until then, "Treats" either to Sunday or Day scholars were entirely unknown in Alsager. They were introduced by Mrs. Frank Wilbraham, who came about this time a bride to "Cresswellshawe", and for many years they continued to be given by her generosity. What a delight the first treat must have been to the children - "children" who are now middle-aged men and women? Do they remember it with gratitude, I wonder? Certain it is that their children, and now their children's children, have been benefitted in various ways by the kind care and untiring interest which has followed down the long years from bride to widow-hood.
In 1900, the Board of Education decreed that again the Schools must be enlarged. To procure the money for this, school lands were sold, and the sum realized supplemented by subscriptions. A site was bought, the present Infant School built, and all conditions fulfilled. I must add that included in this great gift of Church, Parsonage, School, and Endowments is the picturesque piece of wild common-land, known locally as "The Marl Pits", but worthy a prettier name. It may not be generally known, but this land was especially given by the Misses Alsager as "common ground to the people of Alsager for ever", so that it is public property, and should be well cared for and appreciated at its full value; until quite lately it was a scene of desolation. I never pass without thinking how prettily it could be laid out at trifling expense. The value of this gift in all amounted to £20,000, a very large sum in those days.
In the Church is an unassuming tablet to the memory of these good and generous women. And this is all there is to commemorate them in Alsager. Their good works live on, and are accepted as a matter of course, but they are - forgotten.
Strange it seems that nothing has ever been done to perpetuate their memory. Is it yet too late? Surely it is good for us to be reminded of past benefits received, for all too readily we forget. Let us at least try to remember and revere the sisters Margaret, Judith and Mary Alsager, to whom we owe so much. All honour to their memory.
As the Church was built in their lifetime, one can imagine with what loving interest they would watch the progress of the work, driving over from their home in Congleton, no doubt, frequently to see for themselves that all was perfect as they would have it be. And with what glad thankfulness they saw their work completed. There is no record of the formal opening of the Church, or of their being present at the ceremony, but one loves to think they were there, rejoicing.
A descendant of the Alsager family, and one of the lords of the Manor, The Rev. W. A. Sheringham, now Rector of Donnington, Salep, has in his possession their family seal, the Alsager Arms, with which we are so familiar - Ermine on a chief azure, three lions rampart 'or. He has also a miniature of Judith Alsager, and a relic of her childish days in a sampler worked by her in 1730, when she would be aged ten years. How near these little human touches seem to bring them!
Alsagers of Alsager Hall appear to have possessed manorial rights in Cheshire at an early period, and were settled here at least as early as the reign of Henry III, 1258. THOMAS, son of Adam, son of Gilian de Alsacher, occurs in an old deed (Edward III) - this deed is now in the British Museum. "WILLIAM, LORD OF ALSAGER", grants a licence to get turves (peat) in the liberties of Alsager (temp. Edward II), date 1324. The direct male line of this family terminated with JOHN ALSAGER ESQ. (High Sheriff of Cheshire 1763), who died in 1768, leaving five sisters and co-heiresses.
Under the wills of the two survivors of these (Judith and Mary), the manor and demesne of Alsager passed to the descendants of their great-uncle, the REV. SAMUEL ALSAGER, of Standon Staffordshire, whose only daughter and heiress, MARY ALSAGER, married Roger Wilbraham, Esq., of Dorfold, Nantwich. They had an only daughter and heiress, ANN WILBRAHAM, who married James Williams Esq., of a Flintshire family. To the four daughters of this marriage, the manor and demesne of Alsager passed by the wills of the two last surviving sisters of John Alsager Esq., above mentioned (Judith and Mary Alsager). The eldest of these ladies, ANN WILLIAMS, assumed the name of "Alsager", and died in London on December 6th, 1815, aged 75 years. Her sister CATHARINE (the only one who married) married James Sheridan Esq., barrister-at-law of the Middle Temple, who died in 1799. Mrs Sheridan died in London, January 6th, 1823, aged 73, leaving two daughters, co-heiresses, to whom the Alsager manor and property passed viz:-
(1) MARY ALSAGER SHERIDAN, who married in 1819 Lieut.-Col. Charles Tryon, 88th Connaught Rangers, Assistant Adjutant-General in the Peninsular and American Wars. Their only son, the REV. CHARLES ALSAGER TRYON, a Lord of the Manor of Alsager, was Incumbent of Christ Church, Alsager, for 29 years, and died at Scarborough, August 5th 1877, aged 56 years, leaving no issue. Their daughter, CAROLINE HARRIET TRYON, married John William Sheringham, afterwards Archdeacon and Canon Residentiary of Gloucester, and her son, the Rev. William Archibald Sheringham, a Lord of the Manor of Alsager, was Incumbent of Christ Church, Alsager, 1877 to 1885. He married, in 1880, Elizabeth Frances, eldest daughter of the Rev. Henry G. de Bunsen, eldest son of the late Baron Bunson, for some time Prussian Ambassador to the court of St. James. Issue, Mary Alsager and Charles John de Bunsen, both born at Alsager.
(2) MARGARET ALSAGER SHERIDAN, who married Lieut.-Col. Robert Carlisle Pollock, in 1827, and died in 1841, and was buried at Alsager, Leaving issue one son and two daughters.
The family possessed property in Congleton, and there are several monuments to their memory (see Ormerod's "Cheshire" Vol III) in the Chapel of Congleton Church. Arms: Ermine, on a chief azure, three lions rampart 'or.
The Congleton property was sold in 1857. That picturesque old house, now known as the Lion and Swan Hotel, was once the town house of the Alsagers. Our own Misses of Alsager lived and died at Congleton between the years 1780 - 1795.
Tradition has it that the "Alsager Hall" , alluded to by Ormerod as the home of the Alsager family in his history of Cheshire, is the site of the Alsager Hall of today, now in the occupancy of Mrs. Stephen Bailey. Certain it is that a fine old black and white house known by that name was pulled down to make way for the present modern one, and what we now know as the "Mill Pond" may well have been the "Fish Pond" in the days when no gentleman's establishment was complete without one, fish being otherwise very difficult to procure.
Ormerod also mentions a certain Raphe Alsager of Hassell, in 1551; and again an "Aucher of Aucher, in Cheshire". This latter prononciation of the name is still a common one, and a favourite on the football field, as one may hear any Saturday during the season, in the Parsonage Field. "Play up Auger" is the rallying cry.
There have been several other gifts to the Church, and no doubt as time goes on memories will grow around it to endear it to the hearts of those who worship there.
And in the same direction as Sandbach lies Brereton Hall, the original of Washington Irving's charming book, "Bracebridge Hall" and once the stately home of Sir William Brerton, who led the Parliamentarian troops in Cheshire against the Royalists, and took Chester from King Charles. It was said his family never prospered afterwards, and certainly their lands have passed into the hands of strangers, and their name is no more heard.
Then we have Congleton, seven miles away, a very old town indeed, with an air of having seen better days. Conspicuous is a fine old half-timbered house, now known as the Lion and Swan Hotel, and interesting to us as having once been the town house of the Alsager family. And just before is Astbury Church, the mother Church of Congleton, and one of the oldest, finest and most beautiful of our Cheshire Churches.
Still nearer than Astbury is beautiful Old Moreton Hall, a relic of Olde Time, and a neighbour to be proud of - for do not architects come from far and near to see and praise, and tell us it is the finest example of black and white building in the kingdom? Could anything be more picturesque, or more suggestive of romance, than this brave old house, which has stood for full 300 years. Though a farm-house now, it still remains in the family of its founders, who have owned the land since the Conquest. Mrs. Bentham-Edwards, the authoress, is said to have chosen Old Moreton for the scene of her novel "Lord Brackenbury" and in it gives an excellent description of the surrounding country, and of Mow Cop and its mysterious "Saracenes" or "Dark People" - said still to be seen there.
Further on than Congleton lies the old-world village of Gawsworth, where we may see a most interesting relic of the middle ages, the ancient home of the Fitton family; this is Gawsworth Old Hall, with its tournament ground remaining. Here dwelt Shakespere's "Dark Mistress" of his sonnets, Mary Fitton, then a Maid of Honour to Queen Elizabeth. There is a monument to her memory - a kneeling figure wearing the quaint dress of the day, in the fine old fourteenth-century Church. It is a delightful bicycle ride to Gawsworth from Alsager - the roads most excellent, as indeed are all the roads in our neighbourhood.
Another interesting spot is peaceful little Wincle, nestling amongst the hills by the banks of the river Dane, full of beauty and repose - set apart, as it were, for mental rest, from the changes and the hurry and rush of the outside world. Behind it rise the rugged Derbyshire hills and moors; before, in the far distance, are the mountains of Wales; and between lie the rolling and fertile plains of Cheshire. I know nothing prettier than the walk by the footway from Rushton (the nearest railway station) to Wincle in early spring, or when the autumn tints lend a glow of colour; nor anything more refreshing than a cup of tea in the quiet parlour of "The Ship" the little inn, all unchanged since the Young Pretender, "Bonnie Prince Charlie", made it his headquarters when he marched upon neighbouring Macclesfield with his army of wild Highlanders. An old musket left behind in the hasty departure, and a newspaper of the day, are preserved at the inn to tell the tale of their coming - and their going.
Then, to come nearer home, but to go further back in history, we have Linley Wood, with its Sentinel House on the hill, long now the home of the Marsh Caldwell family, but once a formidable Roman stronghold. You may trace clearly the Encampment in the fields around. To us it is difficult to associate anything but a spirit of gentleness and goodwill with this abode of peace, but far down the ages this has been the scene of bitter strife 'twixt the ever victorious invading Roman and the brave but conquered Saxon owners of the land. From the height upon which the house now stands, the Romans could command the country for miles around. So extensive is the view that on a clear day one may see, rising beyond Crewe, Beeston and the Peekforton Hills, and across the Cheshire Plain, Moel, Fammau, and again Beyond, Snowden in the far distance. On our left as we journey by Linley Wood to Talk-o'-th'-Hill is what appears to be a deep, wide ditch. This was the pack horse road to London from the Scottish Border, and once an old Roman road.
Linley Wood has also its literary interest, for it was the home of Mrs. Marsh, French historian and novelist, mother of the present owners. I have also heard it mentioned as the original of Mrs. Humphrey Ward's novel, "Sir George Tressiday".
There are many old houses in our neighbourhood, some of which have seen better days. There is LAWTON HALL, happily still in the possession of the Lawtons, who have held the property since before the Conquest; Charles II was safely hidden there for some time by a loyal Lawton when Cromwell's soldiers were beating the countryside for him. The little secret room in which he was concealed can still be seen, and his portrait, which he presented when he came to his own again, hangs in the hall as a memento.
RODE HALL, with its pretty park, once the property of the Rodes of Rode, now extinct, has been for many years in the possession of the Wilbraham family. The late owner, Sir Richard, was one of our Crimean heroes.
Picturesque HASLINGTON HALL, now a farm homestead, hidden away on "The Moss", in years gone by of some importance as the home of the Vernons (see Ormerod). Quaint old HASSELL HALL, also, with its never completed Church adjoining, which stikes one so strangely - a ruin, and yet not a ruin. I have heard that Nixon, the Cheshire prophet, foretold this would be, and until certain conditions were fulfilled, would remain so. And "so" it has remained for very many years. OAKHANGER HALL, now a farm-house, on "The Moss" also. Each of these houses are more or less moated, as a protection against the robber-highwaymen who infested these parts in those days. BETLEY COURT, another old house with a beautiful garden. Then away to the west lies CREWE HALL, and between we find traces again of the old pack horse road. Crossing the main road is "Slaughter Bridge", where once was fought a terrible battle between the Romans and Saxons.
Rev. Henry Babbington 1789
Rev. J. Richardson 1812
Rev. William Hadfield 1843
Rev. Charles Alsager Tryon 1847
Rev. W. A. Sheringham 1877
Rev. D. Shaw 1886
Rev. G. R. Sanders 1898
Rev. H. Dawson 1901
Rev. H. Arlald
Mr. F. H. Stonehewer
Mr. E. Sweeting 1863
Mr. F. Finnemore 1868
Mr. J. Peacock 1875
No. 1 Bell: "In loving memory of his sisters, F. and H. P. Shaw, Rev. D. Shaw, Incumbent of Christ Church, dedicated this bell, June 26th, 1902."
No. 2 Bell: "To the memory of our dear father this bell is dedicated by John Francis, Thomas Corbitt and William Brundrett Maddock, 1893."
No. 3 Bell: "W. H. Bishop and James Edwards, Churchwardens."
No. 4 Bell: "We praise Thee, O God!"
No. 5 Bell: "The Bells of Christ Church, cast by John Rudall, of Gloucester, 1790; re-cast by John Taylor, of Loughborough, 1893."
No. 6 Bell: "Peace and Good Neighbourhood, 1790."
No. 7 Bell: "John Stringer, Undertaker and Builder of this Church, 1790."
No. 8 Bell: "This Church built and endowed at the expense of Mrs. Mary, Mrs. Margaret, and Mrs. Judith Alsager, 1790."
The organ of Christ Church commemorates the first Centenary of the Church. £260 was subscribed by the congregation to defray the expense. This was in the year 1889. The Church was re-seated and re-decorated the same year, at some considerable expense. The Ringers in this year of 1906 are Messrs. G. Edwards, A. Edwards, F. Edwards, T. Edwards, G. Cartwright, T. Cartwright, W. Cartwright, W. Baxter.
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