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Hale Village

 

AS A centre of human habitation Hale probably dates from before the Norman Conquest. The name Hale is thought to derive from an Anglo-Saxon word (halh) meaning a corner or angle of land, which perfectly describes Hale's position on a promontory on the north bank of the river Mersey.

 

Those who painstakingly cleared the thickly wooded land were rewarded with a rich arable soil for agriculture. At this time settlements were being developed on both sides of the estuarial Mersey, but Hale had a natural attraction. It was the first upstream point where the river Mersey could be forded on foot—at least at low tide.

 

While wooded areas around Hale were gradually being cleared for agriculture and controlled timber management a large area of forestland to the north was retained for the king's hunting enjoyment. It was called Halewood, or Hale's Wood, but even the tenant of Hale wasn't entitled to infringe on the king's hunting privileges, which he guarded jealously.

 

Hale is officially known by the Post Office as Hale Village. But it's not a village at all. It's a township. And its chief citizen is not a chairman, or a mayor, but a full-blown Lord Mayor. This is not pretentiousness. Hale got its charter before Liverpool, even if only just. King John granted Hale its charter in 1203. Liverpool had to wait another four years, until 1207.

 

We have a Liverpool postcode, but Hale isn't in Liverpool, nor even in Merseyside. Lancashire has been its home for virtually all its life, but now it's in Cheshire.

 

Hale's ancient charter gives it the rare right to elect Freemen. These, in turn, elect the township's Lord Mayor and other officers from among their own number. Freemen are, of course, quite distinct from the parish council, which is an elected body. The Freemen are traditionally drawn from the local community, but recently have included distinguished men from further afield who have served the wider community.

 

From the time of its charter to the end of the nineteenth century Hale village remained a

rural hamlet inhabited mostly by workers employed in the local agriculture. Liverpool was

growing apace, thanks to its deep-water facilities at the mouth of the Mersey, but Hale

remained a backwater, bypassed even by the railway age. Even the fording point of the

Mersey fell into disuse, as bridges provided a more convenient river crossing. But even

Hale couldn't avoid the revolutionary social developments of the twentieth century. A spate

of ribbon development in the inter-war years was followed in the 1960s by an explosion of

three housing estates to meet post-war demand. The village population mushroomed

overnight to an unprecedented five thousand or so.

 

The village's character changed. A new and larger school and a range of shops were built.

The growth was artificial, though, and for most of the new inhabitants Hale was nothing

more than an attractive rural dormitory. A halt was called to any further building

development and the village now enjoys the rare privilege of being "washed over" within a

green belt. This has virtually put a halt to planning permission for building development

within the village boundaries. Superficially this is in the interest of the environment.

In practice, though, the policy's inflexibility is resulting in empty plots being left to become

overgrown eyesores.

 

The garden centre in the middle of the village is an example. The supermarket at Ivy Farm -

Court is another. Both have proved unviable in the face of competition from Asda at nearby

Halebank. The building and greenhouses of the garden centre are falling into disrepair and

the land around them becoming overgrown. The supermarket has been closed and boarded

up for more than a decade. (Recently a pharmacy took over one-third of the floor-space,

showing a possible future solution for the rest of the premises).

 

It's a dilemma that the villagers should have been able to solve for themselves, but which

may now be solved for them. Halton Council is going ahead with a new unitary development

plan, against the wishes of the majority of Hale residents, which will change the village's

protected status and its very nature.

 

Hale is already encircled on three sides by huge swathes of concrete and brick. Speke municipal housing estate, the hugely expanding Liverpool John Lennon Airport, both only a couple of miles to the east, new expansions of Speke industrial estate and the broad concrete sweep of the Ford road (sorry, the Jaguar road now). They all lurk on Hale's horizon like auguries of thunder to come.

 

In the inter-war years ribbon development saw some quite excellent houses built along Church Road, on the way to the Lighthouse, and a series of superior detached thatched houses on Hale Road, the main entrance to the village from Liverpool. These latter have become almost as big a tourist attraction as the thatched cottages in the village that are hundreds of years old.

 

A couple of decades ago one of these grand houses caught fire. Sparks from its thatched roof ignited a couple of other thatches, not immediately next door, but some way down the line. These secondary fires were quickly extinguished, but the fire brigade was kept busy running up and down the road to check on all the neighbours.

 

The primary conflagration was eventually brought under control, but the house needed to be virtually rebuilt. When it was it had lost its thatched roof and with it most of its character.

 

 

 

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