Boundaries of parishes have been important for generations; they dictated which church a person would be baptised, married or buried in and where they paid tithes and other taxes. The current civil parish boundaries that we are familiar with on Ordnance Survey maps often follow the same routes as former ecclesiastical ones, with the new unit of administration being defined in terms of the previous one. This can be seen even recently, with the creation of the new Unitary Authorities of Cheshire East and Cheshire West and Chester.
As a result this network of boundaries often form an ancient and lasting pattern within the landscape.
Many of these boundaries follow natural features in the landscape, such as rivers, streams, trees or brows of hills. On open land or woodland, the inhabitants would sometimes leave a series of marks on features along the route e.g the mark of a crucifix on a tree trunk, or a pollarded tree
Boundary stones were sometimes placed where a boundary crossed a road or path. The Golden Stone on Alderley Edge marks the boundary between Over Alderley and Nether Alderley and the late medieval estates of the Stanleys and the De Traffords.
Old maps can reveal small isolated areas belonging to one parish, completely surrounded by the land of another. These have become known as “detached portions”.
On a Tithe Map of 1839, there are many detached areas of the parish of Baddiley shown within townships of Burland and Faddiley in Acton Parish:
These detached portions were absorbed into their surrounding parishes in the 1880’s as a result of the Divided Parishes Act of 1882. These areas can preserve memory of early rights in land, whether outlying parts of an estate, or pasture rights on waste at a distance from main area of settlement, or rights to tithes from land shared with another parish.
In Angus Winchester’s Discovering Parish Boundaries, he classifies boundaries that follow man-made features by placing them on a “scale of interdigitation”, ranging from a straight or smoothly curving line at one side to a zigzag line at the other, where boundaries frequently change direction. In general terms, except where it follows a pre-existing straight feature, for example, a roman road, a straight or almost straight boundary is a later planned one, whereas a boundary which twists and turns will do so because it is respecting features of an earlier human landscape such as field boundaries.In a Tithe Map from 1845, a straight line boundary slices through the middle of Holford Moss, dividing the parishes of Lostock Gralam to the left and Plumley to the right, marked in blue.
This may have been an area of late surviving woodland which was split between two parishes, and was cleared right up to the boundary on the Lostock Gralam side by 1845, and some used as arable. By 1875 this area seems to have gone back to woodland and the current parish boundary has now been moved to the left hand edge, shown in red.
Interlocking boundaries also feature in the Cheshire landscape.
This origin of this zigzag boundary, extant in 1910, may lie in the division of an area of late surviving woodland or waste in which rights were doubtful or disputed. It has now disappeared, the area being absorbed into Antrobus and Whitley.
The parish of Twemlow is an excellent example of a parish with a “pan-handle” shape within the outline. The boundary swings out to embrace a tongue of land projecting into neighbouring parishes.
In some cases, this “Pan-handle” shape can point to the existence of a separate estate or manor. At the far north of the parish lay Jodrell Hall, now in use as Terra Nova School which would have been distinct from the earlier Twemlow Hall estate to the south, built in the 17th century by the Booth family.
The boundary between the parishes of Malpas and Hampton is quite irregular, just west of No Man’s Heath.
Winchester refers to this kind of boundary feature as a ‘ladder of steps’, something that may have arisen through division of existing field patterns between two territories, with the line being predetermined by extant enclosures.
This artificially straight boundary shown in blue, which divides the parishes of Wardle and Cholmondeston points to a deliberate decision to ignore topographical features. This may represent a late generation of boundary making in the division of commons between communities at parliamentary enclosure. This area was divided into many small square or rectangular fields, with those in Wardle to the left, being created at a 45 degree angle to those in Cholmondeston, the right.
For the most part these small enclosures have now been enlarged, but still retain a regular form.
Roads themselves also exist as boundaries, as in the example below, which shows the demarcation of the townships of Hurleston and Acton.
With the creation of the new Unitary areas in the historic county of Cheshire, it is interesting to note that the significance of old borough boundaries may now be lost. As they too, have played their part in how the land has been used and exploited, they also should be treated as historical evidence, however recent, and recorded as such.