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Topographic Survey

Medieval History of the Site

Twenty-two religous houses are known to have existed at various times in Medieval Cheshire, with the Cistercians the most numerous; four were founded at Combermere, Stanlow, Vale Royal and Poulton. Combermere was the earliest (1133) and it was from here that monks were sent to establish a monastery at Poulton between 1146-1153. The original foundation charter has survived (the earliest in Cheshire) along with many other grants to the abbey spanning some 300 years (William Salt Collection). Poulton was initially endowed by a member of the Earl of Chester's household who languished as a prisoner of King Stephen during the civil war with Matilda. A mass of endowments followed with successive Earls of Chester being particularly supportive. However, the abbey was eventually translated to Dieulacres (Staffordshire) though why is still somewhat obscure; only one major work survives from the monastic library, the "Dieulacres Chronicle", which was primarily cobbled together in the 14th/15th centuries and is not particularly clear on this point.
Looking out from the dig over into Pulford Brook

Although short-lived the abbey at Poulton was retained as a monastic cell and grange of Dieulacres, and "Poulen Chapelle" is mentioned in a document dating to 1233. The most important Cistercian estate throughout the middle ages, Poulton continued to prosper and acquired huge swathes of land which current research has conservatively estimated at c.3000 acres, some 1900 acres of which were devoted to arable. At least three other granges were established within a three mile radius of Poulton (Doddleston, Kinnerton and Churton).

Enormously wealthy, the Cistercian influence on the landscape was immense, as much of their endowments were waste or unprofitable; consequently it had to be brought into cultivation by the monks and their lay brethren ("conversii") before it could return a profit.

Their renown as hydraulic engineers enabled them to drain bogs, establish complex field drainage systems and to create a series of still-extant fish-ponds; such expertise was often (profitably) put at the disposal of others. By 1401, Poulton was the third highest taxed estate in Cheshire, only exceeded by the urban areas of Chester and Malpas.

Sometime in the fifteenth century the monks of Dieulacres began to down-size its holdings and agreed to lease all its Poulton lands, buildings and "Grange Chapel" to a Cheshire family, the Manleys. Influential landowners in their own right the Manleys resided at Poulton Hall, formerly known as Poulton Grange (1440). A Sir Nicholas Manley left a will dated 1518 in which he decrees "... my body to be placed in the chapel of Pulton in the chancell there."

A view of the Chapel Site

By 1601 the last male Manley had died heirless and the Poulton estates passed to the family of his widow, the Grosvenors of neighbouring Eaton Hall (now the Duke of Westminster).

The chapel is further referred to in a letter from the parliamentarian leader Brereton during the Civil War siege of Chester in 1646; it is clear that a detatchment of cavalry used it as both a billet and lookout post across the Dee flood-plain. By 1672 a visiting antiquarian had noted the chapel as being "... in great decay." In 1718 an ecclesiastical report note "... nothing at all is now left of it."

Today nothing remains above ground of the ecclesiastical buildings, although the medieval fish-ponds are still very much in evidence within a landscape full of suggestive field-names; these include "Town", "Kiln", "Cloister", "Great Chapel" and "Pavement Field". There also survives the intriguing "Wigmaer Fen".

Although the abbey was probably a substantial structure, adhering to the uniform Cistercian layout, its precise location has still to be confirmed. However, a seventeenth century estate map has an elevation drawing of Poulton Hall that shows a cloister-like arrangement of buildings with a projecting west wing; this was a common feature of Cistercian monasteries which required extra space to accomodate their lay brethren. The site of the former Poulton Hall (finally demolished in 1894) lies 600 metres to the north of the chapel site. The aforementioned estate map also confirms that many of the ancient field boundaries are either unchanged or easily traceable in the twentieth century landscape.

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