CELIA'S STORY SET IN STONE
The Celia Fiennes Waymark in Back Lane, No Mans Heath, which has become known locally as 'The Monument', was unveiled on a very cold, wet and windy day in December 1998.
It was commissioned to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the 'Great Journey' undertaken by a remarkable lady who, in the reign of William and Mary, travelled throughout Great Britain, riding side saddle and with only the minimum of company.
Part of her route in 1698 brought her down the Old Coach Road to join the medieval road from Chester, which later became the A41, on her way to stay the night in Whitchurch.
During all of her travellings, this was the only time in which she encountered highwaymen! Two rather shady characters followed her down the road from Tarporley, through Beeston, Bulkeley and Hampton Post and then into No Mans Heath itself.
Fortunately it was market day in Whitchurch and, as Celia approached the town, the highwaymen backed off, deterred by the increasing crowd of market-goers. Look closely at the monument and you will see carvings of Celia herself, her horse, the highwaymen and the market people.
The reason we know so much about Celia is that she kept detailed diaries of her journeys. These diaries still survive in the possession of Lord and Lady Saye & Sele, who live at Broughton Castle near Banbury and are members of the present day Fiennes family.
The family also includes such well known personalities as Sir Ranulph Twistleton Wykeham Fiennes, the explorer, and the film stars Ralph and Joseph Fiennes.
The unveiling of the Celia Fiennes Monument was undertaken by Martin Fiennes, son of Lord and Lady Saye & Sele, who travelled up from London especially for the occasion.
Those of you who were present will remember that the ceremony took place in the presence of the Lord Mayor of Chester and local rider Ros Hughes, dressed in period costume and riding side-saddle, to represent Celia. Her entry into Back Lane, and the ceremony, were both announced in great style by Julie Mitchell, one of the Chester Town Criers.
So how did the waymark come to be erected in No Mans Heath? At the time I was working as Community Development Officer for the former Chester City Council.
Ian Makins, then one of the Council's Landscape Planning officers, knowing of my interest in local history, asked for some ideas for developing the piece of amenity land on the corner of Back Lane and the former A41.
The land was surplus to the development of housing in Cholmondeley Rise and the developers had entered into an agreement with the Council to finance its development and maintenance for public use.
Realising that the year was the 300th anniversary of Celia's ride through No Mans Heath I suggested that some sort of memorial to the event might be developed. After obtaining the blessing of Bickley Parish Council for the project, it was agreed to commission Chester sculptor Jeff Aldridge to design and carry out the work.
The design was based on information which we supplied to Jeff, plus the results of further research which he carried out himself. We decided to call the monument a 'waymark' to commemorate the fact that, not so far away, Celia would have passed the original Hampton Post.
This was a tall brightly-painted pole in a field close by the Hampton Post crossroads, erected as a waymark to guide travellers in the days before roads had hard surfaces and consequently they tended to stray away from the 'official' route, to avoid ruts and large puddles.
The monument is unique in that, so far as I can ascertain, it is the only permanent memorial in the whole country to the memory of Celia Fiennes.
It formed a very pleasant postcript to the unveiling ceremony when with Jill, my wife, I was invited down to Broughton Castle to inspect the original Celia Fiennes diaries.
A page from the diaries, with Celia's signature, is shown here. It gave us a great thrill to read in Celia's own handwriting her account of the journey to Whitchurch, in which she wrote: '.... here I may think I may say was the only tyme I had reason to suspect I was engaged with some Highway men; 2 fellows all of a suddain from the wood fell into the road, they look'd trussed up with great coates and as it were bundles about them which I believe was pistolls.....'. Keep your eyes open if you walk along Back Lane on a dark night!