The History and Geography of Rivacre Valley
Until this century the majority of the Valley was owned by the Poole family or their female line descendants. The Poole family were an old aristocratic family resident in Poole Hall. The male line ended with the death of Sir Henry Poole in 1821 when his only son met his death as a boy of eleven at Westminster School “choking on an orange pip.” The land at this time was used for various sporting activities by the Poole family, including fishing and shooting. Poole Hall itself was built in 1540 but was demolished by Bowaters Paper Mills in the 1930’s.
The original entrance to Hooton Hall, which was situated where Vauxhalls stands today, is still standing in the form of the gatehouse – 2 buildings set either side of the road into the current golf-course and provides a grand entrance to the Church Wood part of the Country Park.
The gate house rooms are not in use today, but used to serve as sleeping and eating quarters for the staff posted there.
Today the Country Park covers an area of 160 hectares (395 acres) and is owned by Cheshire West and Chester council and managed on their behalf by Cheshire Countryside Management Service. It is protected by ‘Fields In Trust’, which was set up by King George V in 1925. The Valley is designated in the Borough local plan as green belt land open to the general public and also has Local Nature Reserve status.The reserve is based on the valley of Rivacre Brook which is a small tributary of the River Mersey. On the steep sides are Well Wood, Clayhill Wood, Hillside Wood and Copse. Church Wood extends along a public right of way across an 18 hole municipal golf course. Around the Church Wood area the land is flat with a number of small ponds interspersed throughout its length. The remainder of the valley is mainly grassland with areas managed as wildflower meadows.
The woodland area is semi-natural and consists of various mature trees including oak, sycamore, silver birch and white poplar and some Scots pine in Church Wood. The under-storey is mainly made up of rhododendron, hazel and holly with Well Wood, Hillside Wood and Clayhill Wood having an extensive carpet of bluebells in the spring.
The grassland is composed of mainly Rye grass with a ‘parkland’ appearance and other areas of old species-rich hay meadows containing wildflowers such as common-spotted orchid, ragged robin and yellow rattle.
The stream has its own associated flora present with rushes being dominant in certain areas. There is also an increasing amount of invasive Himalayan balsam growing along the banks of the stream. There are other areas of the park most notably Park Meadow and the area south of Rossmore Road, which have been planted with many non-native species of shrubs and trees.
- Archaeology and Historic artifacts
There are very few old buildings within the country park. There is a capped water shaft in well Wood and also a water tower adjacent to this. These buildings both date from this century. In fact, Well Wood took its name from the St Helen’s Well which was once situated at the far end of the wood, but this has now been built over.There was an open air swimming pool alongside the Ranger Cabin at Rivacre Road. This was built in 1934 after the land was purchased from the Naylor Trust, and was eventually closed and demolished in the early 1980’s. The site has been cleared and replanted.
- Geology and Topography
The whole of the area is underlain by Triassic rocks. The Trias everywhere rests with sharp nonconformity on the Carboniferous rocks. These form the Western edge of the great Triassic basin of Cheshire. The altitude of the land varies from 30 meters above sea level at the top of the valley sides to 18 meters above sea level on the valley bottom.
Rivacre Brook runs through the length of the country park in a south to north direction. The Brook originates from the British Nuclear Fuels plant at Capenhurst where water from the River Dee is pumped through their cooling system and into Rivacre Brook. It eventually flows into the River Mersey.There are a number of land drains which run into the Brook along the full length of its passage through the country park. The main one being through Clayhill Wood and entering the Brook at Crossways. After heavy rain the level of the Brook can rise by up to 2 feet.Rivacre Brook varies in its potential conservation value according to the frequency of sewage releases it receives. These occur after heavy rainfall when the local sewage systems overflow into the land drains. A single intake can affect this habitat for a number of months. North West Water have plans to upgrade the sewage systems after which it will hopefully no longer be a problem.There are a number of ponds in Church Wood and on the golf course, a recently constructed man-made pond adjacent to the ranger cabin and a capped water shaft in Well Wood.
- Land Use History
The shape of all the woodlands within the Country Park has changed very little over the past 160 years. From a map by A. Bryant in 1831 the shape of the woodland is very similar to the present day and it is nearly identical to the map of the area from 1909, except for small areas which have since been developed.
Areas of the woodland are probably ancient woodland, being once part of the Royal Forest of Wirral. Ancient woodlands are those that have been in existence since before 1600 and are likely to be closely linked to the original forest cover. These woodlands are characterised by the presence of certain ‘indicator’ species. These are plants which have great difficulty colonising sites once they have been cleared. Indicator species which occur in the woodlands at Rivacre are wood anemone, wood sorrel, moschatel, wild daffodil and bluebell.
Parts of the grassland are remnants of old unimproved hay meadows and as such are very valuable. These areas contain the relatively rare Dyer’s greenweed and hay-rattle.
The recorded history shows that the area now covered by the country park has always been either woodland or fields used for grazing by local farmers.
If you have any bits of history to add to our growing knowledge then please let us know