The Village of Penketh

A Hamlet from the 13th. Century

Penketh and Sankey are two villages in the county of Lancashire (transferred to the county of Cheshire in 1974), in northwest England. Penketh and Sankey lie on the northern bank of the River Mersey, between the industrial towns of Widnes to the west and Warrington to the east. Further west on the coast is the city of Liverpool, the port used by many emigrants to the United States and Canada. The county of Lancashire reaches 30 miles inland from the Irish Sea coast, and stretches 75 miles north from the Mersey River. One of the main influences on the early growth of Penketh and surrounding area was the Sankey Canal, the first industrial canal built in Britain and completed in 1757. There was also an important ferry across the Mersey at Penketh, Fiddler´s Ferry.

At the end of the 18th. century Penketh was a small hamlet under Great Sankey consisting of 75 houses, where some 300 inhabitants earned their living from farming or by carrying on trades such as cobbling or carpentry in their own homes. The name Penketh is an old English word probably dating back to before Roman times, made up of the Celtic words “Pen” meaning “end or edge” and “coed” meaning “woods”. The “end of the wood” in this case is Burtonwood, once an extensive forest. One of the first mentions of the Penketh family was William de Penketh who was witness to a charter in 1240. In 1280 Gilbert and Robert Penketh became joint lords of the Manor of Penketh. The Penketh family lived in Penketh Hall from around 1216 to 1624.

The most well-known member of the Penketh family was Thomas Penketh, who died in 1487. He was a friar and Head Hermit of St. Augustine, England. William Shakespeare mentioned Thomas Penketh for his part in the conspiracy with Sir Edmund Shaw to overthrow the English throne in favour of Richard, Duke of Gloucester, who later became Richard the Third.

The Gandy family lived a more ordinary life

Isaac and family lived in Ash Cottage, Greystone Heath, in an area called Hall Nook at the top of Hall Nook Road, the road leading to Penketh Hall. Hall Nook was one of the most rural areas of Penketh in the mid-19th. century and became the playing ground for many of the local children, who used the shelter given by the trees. Surely Isaac played there too. Greystone Heath to the north was occupied by wild donkeys that spent their days grazing on the Gorse bushes. The heath covered a total of 100 acres, which was broken up in 1868 for building. Now all that reminds us of Greystone Heath is Greystone Recreation Ground and Greystone Road. Cobbler´s Square, Chapel Road and Red Lion Lane are also streets linked to the Gandy family. Shoemaking was a cottage industry at this time, people worked at home. Therefore it was an advantage for people in the same trade to live close together. Chapel Road was one such street, named after the Methodist Chapel nearby.

The photograph below shows Cobblers Square on Chapel Road, named after a cobbler named Gandy. In 1861 Edmund Gandy, cordwainer, lived there.

Cobblers’ Square Penketh.

The cottages were demolished in the late 1950’s, with one exception. The cottage on the right is still there.

Cobblers Square today
Cobblers’ Square Today. Photo Eric Hall

The current resident (2016) tells me that three cottages were knocked into one house in the mid-1900’s. The original building is from 1740 and is listed (i.e. a legally protected historic building). Today the address is Chapel Road.

The Village of Penketh

Penketh was described a few hundred years ago as running between two Inns or Public Houses: from the Red Lion Inn on Penketh Road to the Crown and Cushion Inn on the corner of Stocks Lane and Farnworth Road. The village stocks (for public punishment)  were situated outside the Wesleyan Chapel on Stocks Lane, opposite the Crown and Cushion. The Red Lion Inn played a central role in the life of Penketh. Parish Council meetings were held there and Parish records were stored for over 300 years in the Penketh Chest, which was originally kept in the Red Lion. The documents in the chest included Parish Council minutes, Constable’s accounts, Highway accounts, rates and bills and Poor relief records.

There was also a Quaker Meeting House in the village in Meeting Lane. The Penketh web site contains more information about the history of the village and is illustrated with many old photographs.

The Penketh Historian Benjamin Hobson wrote his Recollections and History of Penketh in 1907, painting a fascinating picture of Penketh village life in the late 19th. century. Benjamin Hobson was the registrar of Births, Marriages and Deaths and a member of the local Wesleyan Methodist Church. The transcript of Hobson´s history, notes and photographs are by Peter Rutherford of Penketh, who has generously allowed me to include his work here.