The name PRESTON means “priest’s house or priest’s farm”.
This may refer to a priest from Norton Priory being housed on the edge of the priory estates. Despite it’s prominent position on a hilltop no evidence has been found in Preston-on-the-Hill of Neolithic, Bronze Age or Iron Age man having a settlement or even a fortification there. The Roman road from their settlement at Wilderspool near Warrington to the city of Chester (Deva ) ran through the village, more or less along the lines of what is now the A56.
PRESTON is not mentioned directly in the Domesday Book of AD1086 but it was part of the lands held by William fitz Nigel, Baron of Halton who was one of the most powerful men in the country in Norman times. This part of the manor of Dutton was recorded as having just 2 farms in AD1086.
The first recorded reference to the name Preston is in the Chartulary of the Abbey of St. Werburgh, Chester between 1157 and 1194. During the reign of King John from 1167 - 1216 the township of Preston was purchased by Hugh Dutton of Dutton from Henry de Nuers and his wife Julien. The township rendered eight shillings yearly at the feast of St. Martin (November 11th).
In the early 17th Century the manor passed by marriage to the second Lord Gerard of Gerards Bromley. This family became Earls of Macclesfield. In 1705 Lord Gerard conveyed the manor to trustees to be sold for the payment of debts. The manor of Preston-on-the-Hill passed to the Fleetwood family by whom it was conveyed to the Grevilles who sold it to Thomas Brock of Chester and then he bequeathed it to Thomas Yates his nephew. He held the manor at the time that George Ormerod wrote his History of the Count Palatine and City of Chester in 1817. He is named as the main landowner in the 1843 Tithe Apportionment. The manor then passed by marriage to Richard Barker. Later in the 19th century the manor was purchased by the Greenall family and added to the Walton estate.
A number of old houses were renovated or demolished and re-built at the end of 19th century. In 1941 Lord Daresbury sold the estate mainly to his tenants. Historical references to the area are to the Township of Preston-on-the-Hill, as Preston Brook did not develop until the Bridgewater Canal opened in 1776. Preston-on-the-Hill became a civil parish in the 1870’s but it was not until 1936 that the civil parish was named Preston Brook.
At the time of the Hearth Tax in 1664 the population was 130, and it probably remained at about that level until the opening of the canal. By the time of the first headcount of population in 1801 the number was 333, rising to 594 in 1851 but dropping back to 454 in 1901 as the canal became less active. The 1951 census showed 401 but recent housing development had pushed this figure to 716 in the 2001 census.
The villages of Preston Brook and Preston-on-the-Hill are in the parish of All Saints Daresbury. The first reference to a religious house in the villages is of a Meeting House for the Methodists in 1764. This was a house almost directly opposite the present chapel. This house was soon found to be too small and so a move was made across the road to a house on the sight of the present chapel. It was at this house that John Wesley preached on two occasions, on 7th April 1781 and 12th May 1783. The first part of the 19th Century saw a religious revival and the need for larger premises. In 1818 a Wesleyan Methodist chapel was built in Aston Lane.
The Society of Primitive Methodists was formed in 1812, and supporters of this group stayed at the Meeting House in Preston-on-the-Hill. The Aston Lane chapel was subject to compulsory purchase at the time of the development of Runcorn New Town. The chapel was demolished at that time. The present chapel was opened formerly on 4th. January 1883. It was considerably altered in 1975.
Perhaps the best known church in the area was the converted canal boat built in about 1840 by Lord Francis Egerton. For some years this boat went up and down the canal to be used by boatmen and their families. By1860 it had been lifted out of the water and placed by the side of the Runcorn arm of the canal near it’s junction with the Bridgewater Canal. The Rev. Charles Dodgson, the vicar of Daresbury, and the father of Lewis Carroll held services there for the boat people. It became known as the Watermen’s Church. St. Faith’s, a mission church from All Saints Daresbury was built in 1887, with funds from the Greenall family. It went out of use in the late 1990’s and was subsequently sold for development into a house.
Morris & Co.’s Directory of 1874 records a National School for children of both sexes in Preston-on the-Hill, supported by the Bridgewater Navigation Co. A Board School was built in 1877 for 30 children. In 1892 the average attendance was 27, with Miss Stormont as mistress. Board schools came into being following the Education Act of 1870, and were able to raise funds from the local rates.
The single most influential thing to happen in the history of our villages was the opening of the Bridgewater Canal in 1776. The canal was linked with the Trent & Mersey Canal in 1772 at a point just 11 yards inside the north end of the Preston Brook tunnel. This spot is marked today by a milepost on the path over the tunnel, which was used to walk the horses that pulled the boats the three-quarters of a mile to the other end near Dutton Locks. In January 1776 the final mile of the canal through the Norton Priory estate was cut and the canal opened for through traffic. Many trans-shipment warehouses were soon being built and Preston Brook really came into being as a very busy transport centre.
Few of these original buildings are left but examples still standing are the Stafford Warehouse on the main canal, which has now been converted into apartments, and Stitt’s Warehouse on the Runcorn arm which is now a commercial building. The business activities in Preston Brook were encouraged by the opening in 1837 of the railway with a passenger station and a goods yard to allow materials to be transhipped to and from the canal. It was not until the third quarter of the 19th Century that canal traffic declined as the railway network spread throughout the country. The passenger station was closed on 1st March 1948, and the Goods Depot on 1st. September 1958.
For almost one hundred years all boats were horse drawn and were “legged” through the tunnel, however in 1865 steam tugs were introduced, but the tunnel had no air vents, resulting in a number of boatmen being overcome by fumes and dying. Very soon ventilation shafts were sunk. A section of the Preston Brook tunnel collapsed much more recently in November 1981, and the tunnel was closed for repair until April 1984. It may be of interest to look at more recent developments in the village and consider what went before them. The M56 motorway was officially opened on 23rd. September 1971. It’s building had resulted in the compulsory purchase of a significant quantity of farmland.
This time saw the growth of the Runcorn New Town Development resulting in the compulsory purchase of houses and a Methodist Chapel in Aston Lane. Occupiers were offered the opportunity of having a house on a new development on the other side of the A56 on Aston Green. The Guinness factory was built in 1971, and Bass opened the largest brewery in Europe on the site in 1973. Gyproc also opened at this time. Bass suffered a fire on 20th May 1973, but continued production until the end of 1991, when their New Town Development grant expired. After their departure and the demolition of the buildings, the land was redeveloped as Whitehouse Vale.
Preston Brook Village Hall was opened on 27th. November 1976. Of the residential developments in the Parish, the Waterfront houses were completed at the end of 1999, having been built on the site of the house of the manager of the warehouse known as The New Stafford Warehouse. The building became a restaurant under the name Neptunes Landing and then a nightclub called The Old No.1. It was converted into apartments as part of the Waterfront development. The Granary apartments at the corner of Hilltop Road is a new building, but the site has been the home of a milk distribution depot and for it’s last few years a scaffolding yard. The apartments were completed in 2002.
At the entrance to the Bridgewater Park development, next to the fine chestnut tree stood the Red Lion, a Georgian inn with stabling attached for 40 horses for use by the Warrington to Chester stagecoach that stopped there. The inn had a fire on 16th. February 1999 and again whilst boarded up on 17th May 1999. The building was considered unsafe and demolished immediately. This meant that the remaining area of the Bass brewery site could be accessed; the land was developed for housing, becoming Bridgewater Park. The development included the provision of a shop and the Spar shop containing the Post Office was opened on 14th. September 2000. It replaced a smaller shop and Post Office in the house called “Byways” on the corner of the A56 (Chester Road) and Aston Lane.
The Runcorn Poor Law Workhouse stood on a site at the corner of Barkers Hollow Road and Northwich Road (A533) now occupied by three bungalows. The original workhouse was built between 1855 and 1857 for 280 inmates. The workhouse infirmary was enlarged in 1881-82, with further extensions in 1895 and a nurses’ home in 1906. The Redacre Close/Rembury Place development is on the site of the Dutton Isolation Hospital. After serving as an isolation hospital, it became a recovery hospital for Chester and latterly was used for geriatric care. It closed in early 1993.
Sumner’s Farm and its outbuildings on Windmill Lane, Preston-on the Hill are being converted to residential use at the time of writing in 2005.