Newton Hollows in Hoole is an ancient route into Chester and a superb example of a Medieval ‘hollow way’ to the north-east of Chester in Hoole (and possibly the source of Hoole’s name).
Originally a Roman road, it was later used as a main route for people, cattle and herds of sheep. This constant traffic over 1,000 years has worn the ground into the Hollows.
The route was not one of the Imperial Military Roads, which were paved, two carts wide, and used for the distribution of mail and the movement of troops.
Rather, it was a civil route for the movement of people and goods and had to be only one cart wide. It may well have originally been a trackway used by members of local British tribes, following the natural lie of the land between rivers, and avoiding the marshy ground on the flat land to the west of Helsby and Frodsham Hills and the sea.
The geographically strategic importance of the points on the River Dee and the River Mersey, occupied respectively today by Chester ( Deva Victrix) and Wilderspool (Veratinum), far pre-dates the development of the two settlements during the Roman occupation
By a strange coincidence, each of the rivers has one point on it which is both the highest navigable place for a sea-going vessel, and the lowest convenient crossing for people and animals. These two points are where the two settlements later developed. Any route between them was of equally great significance. This is the ancient route on which Newton Hollows lies.
It was concluded that Wilderspool had been a major manufacturing supply centre for the Roman garrisons of northern Britain. Equipment for horses, soldiers’ clothing, everyday pottery, glassware, had all been produced at Wilderspool, and transported to the fort at Chester, which was used as a military depot.
In the mid 12th century, it was known (according to Lucien the Monk) as The Valley of the Demons, perhaps with reference to various robbers and thieves lying in wait for travellers. Lucien wrote:
“The native of Chester remembers how three roads branch off outside Eastgate and how beautiful and pleasing are the names of the places to which they lead. The road straight in front straight in front leads to Christ’s Town (Christleton), that on the right to the Old Ford (Aldford) but if it turns to the left it comes to a place which they rightly call the Valley of Demons (Hoole) with reference to the hiding places of those who lie in wait… the wanderer… is despoiled by thieves and robbers”.
Legend has it that the hollow was haunted by a ‘Hound of Hell’ with reported sightings of a huge, black dog with “great white teeth like knives”. Despite the doubtful veracity of a huge, black slavering dog which haunted Flookersbrook and its vicinity, the church thought travellers through the Hollows needed some spiritual “protection”.
The fraternity of St. Anne’s set up a ‘cross’ at the head of St. Anne’s lakes where the modern day Ermine Public House stands. It was here that travellers stopped to pray for protection on their perilous journey, either from the supposedly spurious hound of hell or the very real bandits and thieves.
It remained the main route into Chester from the north until it was abandoned in the 18th century as a turnpike road was constructed (now Hoole Road). It almost certainly gave “Hoole” (Hole) its name.
Newton Hollows Today
It stretches, in its walkable section, from Newton Lane to the Fairfield Road footbridge over the Millennium Greenway. This section is 506 metres long and rises from 19 to 27 metres above sea level, heading out of Chester.
The lane has since been converted to a recreational path, although the steep banks associated with the hollow-way remain.
Where it meets Mannings Lane, the northern end of the lane was curtailed by the introduction of the railway in the late 19th century (c.1874), suggesting that, by that time, the lane had ceased to have any utility as a through-route.
The name first appears on the Tithe Award of 1842 as a “Newton Hollow”. Its current status is that of a Public Footpath, and Historic Monument. It was subject to a programme of regeneration initiated by Chester City Council in 2007, stressing its associations with the Roman occupation of the area from approximately 79CE to 385CE.
The Roman trading route – CE79
The Hollows in 1831 Map
Roman-themed artwork at the top of Newton Hollows depicts a lode of (lead) ore, a pillar topped with a capital, fire and war, an amphora of oil or wine, a legionary horn, a millstone and sacks of flour, a Roman leatherworkers tool and a wide-brimmed gladiatorial helmet.
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