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Maelor Saesneg Historic Landscape

Historic Landscape Characterisation

Maelor Saesneg

Transport and Communications

Water transport

Though no longer used for transport today, the River Dee was still considered to be navigable as far inland as Bangor Is-y-coed until at least the 1830s. River transport along the River Dee had undoubtedly been important by Roman times, if not earlier, being used to transport the products of the tile works at Holt, about 10 kilometres downstream, to the legionary fortress at Chester. Little physical evidence of the history of river transport has survivied, though a dugout canoe is said to have been found in the 1860s or 1870s near Llyn Bedydd (Hanmer), perhaps dating to the later prehistoric to medieval periods. Ferries across the Dee were no doubt important from early times, the river crossing linking Erbistock with the eastern bank of the river, close to a ford near the church, passable at certain seasons, remained in use until the early 20th century.

Early roads

There are no certain Roman roads crossing Maelor Saesneg, though unconfirmed claims for the existence of a Roman road near Dymock's Mill (Willington Worthenbury) were made in the late 19th century. Greater credence might perhaps be given to the suggestion of an ancient routeway between Whitchurch (the Roman town of Mediolanum) and Bangor Is-y-coed, corresponding to the later turnpike and present A525, on the basis of late 3rd- and early 4th-century Roman coins found in the area of Eglwys Cross. The crossings of the Dee at Overton and Bangor Is-y-coed has clearly been of some strategic significance since early times, at points where higher ground approaches the river and the floodplain is consequently relatively narrow. It was probably in connection with improvements to this same route as part of Edward I's efforts to secure his conquest of Wales that the captain of his garrison at Whitchurch was granted permission in 1282 to clear trees from the pass at Redbrook (La Rede Broc), on the eastern margins of Maelor Saesneg, on the present national boundary between England and Wales, such clearances typically being a bowshot in breadth, a distance of up to about 250 metres.

Though poorly documented and later subject to improvement, the general course of the routes linking other larger nucleated settlements in the area are likely to be of either early medieval or medieval origin, such as those between Overton and Bangor Is-y-coed, Overton and Ellesmere, Overton and Hanmer, Bangor Is-y-coed and Worthenbury. Likewise, many of the minor lanes and trackways weaving their way through early field systems, linking the larger settlements with the minor townships, probably also had their origins at this period.

Early river crossings

Many of the early bridges and fording points were replaced during the course of the later 18th and 19th centuries, though some early structural evidence has survived in places. The older bridge near the church at Bangor-s-y-coed evidently has medieval origins but was largely rebuilt in the 17th-century and at one time the bridge bore a date-stone of 1658. The bridge was clearly of some significance at this period: Daniel Defoe in his Tour published in the 1720s being evidently pleasantly surprised to encounter this 'stone-bridge over the Dee, and indeed, a very fine one'. Other notable early bridges include Sarn Bridge at Tallarn Green (Willington Worthenbury), across an early fording point across the Wych Brook, on the border between England and Wales, where the existing early 19th-century stone bridge replaced an earlier construction of 1627.

Turnpike roads, milestones and new bridges

As in other parts of Britain, many improvements were made to the main roads and bridges of Maelor Saesneg during the course of the 18th century. Turnpike acts for the repair of the road from Shrewsbury through Ellesmere and Overton to Wrexham (the present A528/A539) was passed in the 1750s and a similar act for the Marchwiel through Bangor Is-y-coed to Whitchurch road (the present A525) was passed in the 1760s. Turnpike roads were established on the other principal routeways across Maelor Saesneg - the Bangor to Malpas road (B5069, the Overton, Hanmer to Whitchurch road (A539), and the Redbrook to Ellesmere road via Welshampton (A495). There are disappointingly few surviving records relating to the turnpike roads in the area, though it is evident that tolls continued to be collected at 'Overton Gate' and 'Maesgwaelod Bar' on the Ellesmere to Wrexham road into the 1870s, the former near the town and the latter presumably near Overton Bridge. House names indicating former toll gates include Toll-bar Cottage on the A539 west of Penley, and Tollgate near Pandy on the A525.

Other local roads were to remain in a poor condition until the 19th century, George Kay making the following general observations about roads in Flintshire:

The turnpike roads are kept in good repair in general but cross or parochial roads are in a wretched state. They are so very bad that in many places it is difficult and dangerous to travel on horseback in winter and to get a carriage to pass along them appears to me impracticable. They are uncommonly narrow and low, often answering the double purpose of a road and a drain.

Milestones were set up along the turnpikes, generally in the form of sandstone blocks with an arched upper surface and cast-iron plates indicating distances along the road, of which there are surviving examples of late 18th- or early 19th-century date on the Bangor Is-y-coed to Whitchurch road (A525) near Broad Oak and the London Apprentice, on the Overton-Hanmer road (A539) at Street Lydan and Penley, and on the Overton-Ellesmere road (A528) near Queensbridge and the Trotting Mare public house. Other stones appear to have disappeared since they were first mapped by the Ordnance Survey, though some had evidently already suffered damage by the early years of the 19th century when warning notices were being posted threatening legal action against those guilty of break or damaging the milestones 'on the Turnpike Roads leading from Marchwiel to Whitchurch, and from Redbrook to Welshhampton, and from Bangor to Malpas'.

Major road bridges built in the 19th century include Overton Bridge, crossing the Dee into Denbighshire, built in 1813, a two-arched bridge of red sandstone. A number of other smaller, single-arched stone road bridges were built by the turnpike trusts during the course of the earlier 19th century, including three on the border between England and Wales: Barton's Bridge, Knolton (Overton) built in 1819 and said to be the work of Thomas Telford; Sarn Bridge (Worthenbury Willington) also of 1819, but replacing an earlier bridge of 1627, and subsequently widened in 1925; Redbrook Bridge, Bronington, of early 19th-century date and again said to be the work of Thomas Telford. Later bridges include the stone-built Poulton Bridge (Overton) of 1851, and Worthenbury Bridge of 1872-73, replacing an earlier bridge destroyed by floods, with a yellow brick arch.

Notable private estate bridges included the semi-circular arched stone bridge with parapets of brick and stone west of the stable courtyard at Emral (Worthenbury Willington), probably dating to the early 1730s, whose original design included 'pepper-pot' guardrooms, regrettably now demolished.

Canal transport

Works had begun by the Ellesmere Canal Company on the construction of the canal between Ellesmere to Whitchurch in 1797, the section across Fenn's and Whixall Moss having completed by 1804 across Maelor Saesneg, close to the border with Shropshire, crossed by road bridges at Cornhill Bridge, Bettisfield Bridge and Clapping Gate Bridge, all near Bettisfield. Construction of the canal across Fenn's and Whixall mosses involved extensive drainage works and must have posed a number of engineering difficulties, perhaps involving the use of brushwood rafts to prevent sinkage as in the subsequent construction of the railway. The canal has had a distinct impact upon the landscape of the linear zone of Maelor Saesneg that it traverses including the characteristic humped brick-built road bridges at Clapping Gate Bridge, Bettisfield Bridge and Cornhill Bridge, as well as the small industrial settlement which grew up near the canal wharf and access ramp next to Bettisfield Bridge.

The primary purpose of the canal had been to promote long-distance trade, though it became used to import and export materials locally within Maelor Saesneg, as noted above, including supplying materials for the limekilns at Bettisfield and exporting peat from the works established at Fenn's Moss in the early 1850s. During the First World War the canal was also used to transport the large number of troops training on one group of rifle ranges on the western edge of the moss, known as The Batters, only being accessible to those arriving by barge.

Today, the canal is a popular recreational facility and tourist attraction.

Tramroads and narrow gauge railways

Horse-drawn tramroads were used during the 19th century by a number of local industries for hauling materials relatively short distances, one being set up at the Pandy pipe and tile works (Hanmer) to link the clay pits with the main works nearer the roadside, and several different stretches of tramroad were used in peat extraction on Fenn's Moss, to link with either the canal or railway systems. The tramroads on the mosses were subsequently replaced by narrow gauge railway and finally by tractor and trailer.

Main line railways

The south-east corner of the Maelor Saesneg landscape is crossed by the now disused railway line whose construction commenced in 1861 and began goods services in 1863, with former intermediate stations at Fenn's Bank and at Bettisfield. The line, which began as the Oswestry, Ellesmere and Whitchurch Railway, still forms a prominent landscape feature and an important access route to parts of Fenn's Moss, whose margins are colonized by silver birch and willow. In its early years the line joined the Oswestry and Newtown Railway at Oswestry and the London and North-Western Railway between Shrewsbury and Crewe at Whitchurch, one of its primary purposes being to regenerate the town of Ellesmere which had suffered from competition with other neighbouring towns already provided with railway facilities. Where the track crossed the moss it was accompanied by a pair of drainage ditches, 40 yards (36 metres) apart, to either side of the track, which was bedded on heather, peat, bundles of faggots, a thick bed of sand dug from local sand pits. In 1864 a single track extension to Oswestry was opened and the railway company combined with several others to form the Cambrian Railway Company. In 1922 the Cambrian amalgamated with the Great Western Railway, and was finally closed in 1962. Peat processing works accessible by sidings became established alongside the railway at The Old Graveyard and Fenn's Old Works (Bronington). The Fenn's Bank Brick and Tile Works (Bronington), in existence by the 1890s, was likewise conveniently being sited next to the railway line. At one stage a tramroad near the Fenn's Old Works was linked to a covered exchange siding with the railway. Troops practicing on the Fenn's Moss rifle ranges during the First World War arrived by railway by means of an extra long siding provided off the passing loop at nearby Fenn's Bank Station. Apart from the surviving course of the railway line, parts of which are now accommodated by tracks, other visible traces of the railway include the former station, engine shed and road bridge at Bettisfield (Maelor South) and bridges and bridge abutments such as those at Trench and Cloy.

Traces of the former Wrexham and Ellesmere Railway are visible in the landscape of the western side of Maelor Saesneg. The railway, running via Marchwiel, Bangor Is-y-coed, and Overton, was started in 1892 and completed in 1895. Crossing the Dee was a major feat of engineering requiring a single 58-metre span, latticed steel girder bridge just to the north Bangor Is-y-coed, one of the longest single spans in the country, resting on massive sandstone abutments, and manufactured by Pearson and Knowles of Warrington. The railway had intermediate stations serving Bangor Is-y-coed and Overton (occupying part of the former open common at Lightwood Green). Additional stops known as Trench Halt (east of Knolton) and Cae Dyah Halt or Cloy Halt were built to serve the scattered rural populations of these areas in 1914 and 1932 respectively. Passenger traffic was interrupted during the Second World War when the line was used for munitions traffic from the Royal Ordnance Factory at Marchwiel, and both passenger and freight services finally ceased in 1962, as in the case of the Oswestry to Whitchurch line, following which the viaduct over the Dee north of Bangor Is-y-coed was blown up. Much of the former track is visible as embankments or cuttings, some of which forms modern field boundaries or has been reused as a track or has become flooded. Other distinctive visible features include the humped road bridges at Lightwood Green (Overton), the stone bridge abutments at Cloy Bank (Bangor Is-y-coed) and the surviving bridge at Trench (Maelor South).

A number of local industries were to benefit from proximity to both the canal and railway networks crossing Maelor Saesneg. The Overton Brick and Tile Works, established at Lightwood Green in perhaps 1880s, was set up by perhaps 1886, by 1899 the Bryn-y-Pys estate had established a brickyard consisting of engine house, machine shed, closed during the Second World War, Overton Brick and Tile Works, Lightwood Green, sited on the line of the railway, started in late 19th century and modernized in the 1920s produced bricks, pipes, coping blocks and window sills, finally closing during Second World War.


Underground aqueducts carrying water from Lake Vyrnwy to Liverpool was constructed across Maelor Saesneg in the period between the early 1880s and early 1890s and though largely hidden from view today, air valves and a meter chamber associated with the aqueduct are shown on earlier editions of Ordnance Survey maps dating to the opening years of the 20th century just to the east of Bowen's Hall (Hanmer), to the north of Horseman's Green.

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