A review of our November meeting

Almost 60 members and friends came along to the Chapel Hall on 27th November to see Ralph Mills give a very original and inspiring slide show and talk. Original, because Ralph used two projectors and two screens, side by side, to compare and contrast Hale village scenes old and new. Inspiring, because he reminded us what a wealth of interest there is, virtually on our doorstep, which would repay a visit.

Hale was a medieval market town, with its own Mayor. We saw pictures of the old market hall, demolished in the late nineteenth century. More familiar were Ralph's pictures of the lighthouse, including an interesting shot of the 'new' structure (1906) standing alongside its predecessor. Also several views of the cottage which was the birthplace in 1573 of 'Ye Childe of Hale' - the 9 ft 3 in tall John Middleton - and which featured on many an old postcard of the village.

Thatched roofs remain a characteristic feature of Hale, but once they were even more common, many having been replaced by slate after fire damage. The village had two schools, identifiable by their distinctive weather-vanes: one in the shape of a galleon (having been founded by a seafarer) the other a cock and trumpet (symbol of the Ireland-Blackburne family), the school having been nicknamed 'the Cocky' as a result. Hale also once had a primitive railway, taking Whiston coal to the Mersey shore for export; and a small fishing settlement in Dungeon Lane (the name a reminder of the caves under the quay, where Cheshire rock salt was dissolved before being refined at the adjacent salt works).

Ralph showed us pictures of former 'Paddy houses' - farm buildings which provided sleeping accommodation for itinerant potato pickers - and, by way of contrast, showed us the imposing Manor House (still there) and Hale Hall (only the stables of which now remain). Finally, he described the famous Duck Decoy: an ingenious device designed to trap unsuspecting wild birds 'for the pot', while keeping poachers at bay.

For almost 90 minutes, we were kept entertained and enthralled by Ralph's constantly-changing images. By the end, one thing was very clear - Hale is much more than just the picturesque birthplace of a very tall man!


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