The Mystery of the Gate in the Hedgerow

Do you remember this gate?

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I blogged about it in 2014.  A locked gate in the hedgerow; leading to what?  This gate, and its matching cousin on the other side of Brimstage Lane, has remained a puzzle lurking at the back of my brain.  One day I’d understand why it was there.  I just needed to find some time for a bit of research first.

Fast forward to mid February 2019.  A lovely sunny Spring-like day and I took the afternoon off work to go for a bike ride and bag a couple of Wirral flush bracket benchmarks – SJ 3129 8198 and SJ 3216 7502 if you’re interested. Clatterbridge roundabout is scary on a bike at the best of times and particularly intimidating during the Friday afternoon rush, so I hopped off my bike to push it on the footpath and – blow me! – if there wasn’t another one of those gates in the hedge!

You can see it here on this Google Streetview from 2009 You can just about make it out through the undergrowth on the 2016 Streetview if you know where to look. I’ll go back and get my own photo at some time.

This one wasn’t locked and there appeared to be some sort of utility inspection hatches beyond the hedge. However, with the light fading and my backside aching after my first long bike ride for a couple of years I didn’t investigate any further and continued my journey home.

Over the next few days I looked at old OS maps on the National Library of Scotland’s website but the answer to the question didn’t jump out at me.  I then remembered a website I’ve had hours of fun with in the past……

The “Where did my evening go?” bit

The Cheshire Tithe Maps webpage is a ginormous time sink and I love it!  Focussing on the area between Brimstage Lane and Clatterbridge roundabout, I looked at the historical maps for any hint that there used to be some sort of path, track, road etc that could have connected those gates. Bits of path sort of matched what I was looking for, but something wasn’t making sense. The gates were new. By “new”, I mean they were made out of metal and it would have been a peculiar ancient thoroughfare that had completely faded from modern view but was significant enough to warrant metal gates. I was puzzled and my head hurt.

But….. hang on….. what’s this? The 1970s aerial photos seemed to show something running in a straight line between Brimstage Lane and Mount Road near the roundabout and hospital. Some sort of ground disturbance which, if my estimation was correct, ran in a perfectly straight line between the two gates. Yay! I’m on to something.

Here’s a segment of aerial photo showing the M53 motorway under construction [top left corner to bottom right] and one of the Leverhulme estate causeways [running NNW / SSE] which still exists. The white scar running from the middle of the left edge of the photo down to the bottom right crosses Brimstage Lane just south of Keepers Cottage and appears to be in the right place to meet the gate at Clatterbridge roundabout.

Brimstage Lane aerial photo 1970s

1971-3 Aerial Survey of Cheshire. Copyright Cheshire County Council 2009

Scissors and sticky tape

The tithe maps website only shows a small chunk of map or aerial photo at a time.  If I zoomed in, I could see detail but lost the context.  If I zoomed out, I could see the bigger picture but could no longer identify exactly what I was looking at.  To see the whole picture I was going to have to print out segments of the aerial photo and stick them all together. So that’s what I did …….

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Piecing together the evidence. Computer, various paper maps, scissors and sticky tape.

I could now see that the ground had been disturbed all the way from Thingwall to just outside Ellesmere Port.  Running in straight lengths across the fields and along the railway for part of the way.  When I say Thingwall, I mean the Crosshill covered reservoir.  Apparently it has a Trig Pillar and Flush Bracket but I’d not been able to get into the site to bag it a week or so earlier.

The lightbulb moment

Now, if you’re like me, you may have just read the word “reservoir” in connection with a long, straight ground disturbance and not put two and two together.  However, if you’re more like my work colleague, Chris, you’d have thought “Erm, could it be a water pipe?”. Ding! It was as if a light had been turned on.  Of course, it’ll be a water pipe!  I double checked what was at the Ellesmere Port end of the “thing”.  Ha! Sutton Green Water Treatment Works!

Grateful for Chris’ logical thinking (but kicking myself for not spotting the obvious myself) I was now pretty confident that my gates were something to do with a water pipeline that ran between two covered reservoirs but I needed evidence.

On the wettest Sunday so far this year I went and checked a couple of places where the “pipeline” intersected roads.  I found another gate. This one is on Station Road, SJ 293 841.

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And next to this gate was this little beauty…..

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I’m assuming (yes, ok, hoping) that WW stands for Wirral Water. The Wirral Water Board became part of North West Water in 1973.  North West Water later became part of United Utilities.

I also walked up the causeway, on Leverhulme estate land, shown on the aerial photo above.  I found no gate, but there is a concrete stile in the right place.

The pieces of the jigsaw were now coming together nicely but I still needed some documentary evidence to confirm my deductions.  Pipelines don’t just appear; they are planned, budgeted for and laid.  There must be a record of the work.

The surprisingly not boring bit

I searched the internet for “Wirral Water Board minutes” and found, via the National Archives, that 10 years worth of minutes – 1963 to 1973 – were held in the Wirral Council Archives.  I gave them a call and arranged a visit.

The archives staff were very helpful and, after a short anxious delay when it appeared the minutes may have been transferred to the reference library, I was soon sitting with a pile of blue bound minute books.

The minutes are indexed … in a fashion, so – starting with the July 70 to June 71 minutes – I looked for any reference to Crosshill reservoir.  Bingo! Minute 21 dated 15 Jul 1970 described how easements had been paid for the laying of a 36″ main from Sutton Hall to Crosshill.  I switched to the previous year’s minutes and found minute 194 on 18 Feb 1970 decribed the impending completion of the new 36” main between Sutton Hall and Crosshill.  This was exactly what I wanted to find.  At the time that the aerial photographs were taken, Wirral Water Board were laying a 36 inch water main between Crosshill, Thingwall and Sutton Hall (Sutton Green being the nearest named place on most maps).

Conclusion and workings out

This is enough detective work for now.  I’m happy that the gates were probably linked to the laying of the water main in the late Sixties / early Seventies.

I’ll eventually tie up the loose ends.  For example, I would like to know:

  • Why was the water main required?  Did one reservoir keep the other topped up?  Is it common for reservoirs to be linked?

  • Why were the gates required?  They are only personnel sized, so you couldn’t drive a digger or pipe-laying machine through them.  Was regular inspection required after the main was laid?

  • Will the rest of the WWB minutes yield any answers?  There are only ten slim volumes so I’ll go back at some point and read them all.

  • What does CP mean on the utility marker on Station Road?  Cathodic Protection?

And, most importantly …..

  • Can I bag the Trig Pillar / Flush Bracket which is within both reservoir sites?!  Both sites are secured (especially Sutton Hall water treatment works) but maybe a polite letter to United Utilities may do the job?

 

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10 Responses to The Mystery of the Gate in the Hedgerow

  1. John Jocys says:

    I’d agree with your water pipeline conclusion. There’s a similar set of gates following the Thirlmere to Manchester pipeline.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Theo says:

    I remember your post clearly, Judith Holmes 🙂 I suppose we’ll see you soon on BBC television with a documentary called ‘Mysterious Gateways In Britain’ ?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Judith says:

      Theo, good to hear from you. You did some long distance local history research for me and I knew you’d be interested in the development of the story. Yes, I should definitely have my own TV show!

      Like

  3. Is Thingwall the highest place on what looks like a waterless peninsula? (Certainly not enough natural supply to support the population and industry). A reservoir there would provide a natural “head” (pressure) to the supply.

    Access along the pipeline is required to check for leaks. Normally this is just through regular field gates, but I guess if it’s a newish important pipeline…… (To check for leaks they listen for a trickling sound – or worse – in the ground).

    Like

    • Judith says:

      Hi John. I’ve not looked at relative heights yet. Fairly recent reports on the internet suggest that the Sutton Hall water treatment works serve the whole of the Wirral but, as you say, there’d need to be a reliable raw water supply. Ooh, more questions to add to my list!

      Like

  4. JJ got there first, but as soon as I saw that picture, ‘waterworks gate’ floated into my mind (there’s lots of empty space in there. It takes me back to 2013:
    http://phreerunner.blogspot.com/search/label/Thirlmere%20Way
    Your research is commendable though, it would have been a shame to interfere with that!
    Sorry to miss the 2 Crosses. Sounds like you had a good walk.
    M

    Like

    • Judith says:

      Hi Martin. Oh, yes, the research was fun. The mini-project has prompted more thoughts about everyday features which have a forgotten history. Maybe more of my walks will be to the library and the archives?

      Like

  5. AlanR says:

    Very interesting reading. It’s raised my game.

    Liked by 1 person

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