Higgledy, piggledy Malpas
(... written many years ago)

Very quaint and charming is the little market town of Malpas, with its grand old embattled church perched right on top of a hill, and its two streets lined with irregular ancient houses; it would be more in keeping with the place if the bus which runs to the station a mile and a half away were a stage coach. I put up my steed at the "Red Lion," a plain brick hostelry, but interesting, for this is the inn which has more than once entertained royalty.

The King-James I it is said - came to Malpas and entered the tap-room of the 'Red Lion,' for even kings get thirsty, and there, .supping their beer, sat rector and curate, enjoying good cheer.

"The king joined them and the toasts went round. When it came to the rector's turn to stand treat he refused to pay for the curate, exclaiming: - "Higgledy piggledy Malpas shot! Let every tub stand on its own bottom."

"Nay, Nay," replied the convivial monarch, well up in Cheshire sayings, "Maxfield measure,
heap and thrutch".

But the rector was stupid, so the king paid for the curate and himself and went his way, wroth with the stingy parson. In a short time the rector found that his subordinate was no longer curate but had been appointed joint-rector. Such is the legend of the double living of Malpas, a curious state of things which continued until the growth of the parish warranted the erection of new churches. The chair in which the king sat is shown at the 'Red Lion." and when the late Empress of Austria was hunting in Cheshire, and the hounds met at Malpas, the landlord brought it out for her use.

The tower of Malpas Church is square and massive, and the whole structure looks solid and lasting;inside the carved oak roof, ornamented with angels whose wings look rather dislocated, is very fine, and the two chapels are surrounded by oak screens. Randle Brereton, of Malpas, and Shocklach lies alongside his wife, daughter of old Peter Dutton of Hatton, in the Brereton chapel; he was the father of that unfortunate Sir William who was accused of having "intrigued" with
the ill-fated Anne Boleyn.

Probably the charge was false, but the fickle monarch did not hesitate to sacrifice his faithful servant to trump up a charge against the wife he was tired of. In the Cholmondeley Chapel there are the figures of Sir Hugh Cholmondeley and his wife, and both monuments are well worth examining; they are excellent workmanship and seem to have escaped the wear of time and the malicious chipping of Roundhead soldiers and thoughtless visitors.

The fourteenth-century piscina, the great oak chest decorated with chased iron-work which stands near the door, and the old oak stalls are memorials of the lasting work of the past.

Close to the fine old church is the Higher Rectory where one of the most noted of our colonial bishops was bom. Reginald Heber, for ever famous as the author of that grand old missionary hymn 'From Greenland's Icy Mountains," was by birth a Malpas man, though he did not follow his father as rector here. The late T.W. Barlow relates a story about the bishop which he rightly says "will bear repetition".

Heber's celebrated prize poem, "Palestine," was read to Sir Walter Scott before it was recited at Oxford, and the great novelist remarked that no mention was made of the building of the temple without tools. "Upon this Heber was silent, and buried in thought for a few moments, when he dashed off these exquisite lines:-

No hammer fell, no ponderous axes rung;
Like some tall palm the mystic fabric sprung.
Majestic silence!'

Quiet as Malpas is now, what must it have been like a hundred years ago when there was not a single turnpike road in any direction which led to the town? Even in the middle of the last century the weekly market was but thinly attended; now first-rate roads lead to the church and Chester, and a better one still to the station where there is good communication by rail with these two towns.

Two old Cheshire families - the Breretons and the Drakes -owned parts of Malpas, and from here too sprang the Egertons and the Cholmondeleys, who both claim descent from Fitz-Hugh, Baron of Malpas. The baronial castle, the centre of the three defenders of the pass, has gone; so also has the home of the Breretons which stood "at the end of the South Street."

Sir Francis Drake belonged to the Devonshire branch of the same Drake family; in a quaint letter written in 1692, suggesting a marriage between Sir Francis Leicester of Tabley and Lady Mary Drake of "Sharloe," the writer says:- "I suppose you have heard of Sir Francis Drake that was in Queen Elizabeth's tyme and a Drake by character stamped on her shilling in honour of his name and family, this same Drake is descended of that seed and family," and as a private hint to Sir Francis, he adds - "I could tell you of five hundred ways and tricks they have and use to courte ladyes at London without error or mistake."

A little to the south of Malpas is the village of Bradley, where in 1625 lived and died a hero, Richard Dawson, a humbleman and a poor one, whose self-sacrifice is recorded in the Malpas parish register. Smitten with plague, for this dire calamity was devastating the district, he rose from his bed and aided by his nephew dug a deep hole near his house.

In this grave, hallowed only by heroism, he instructed his nephew to place straw; then he entered and lay down and so dep'ted out of this world." He was a strong man, the register informs us, stronger indeed than the parish clerk meant, and "heavier than his say'd nephew and another wench were able to bury."

Wych Brook, one time called the River Elfe, forms the boundary line between Cheshire and the isolated bit of Flintshire; here the third and most southerly of the border castles guarded the pass into Cheshire. Oldcastle Hill marks the site of the fortress, overlooking a deep ravine. Fullwich, Foulwich, or Dirtwich were the names given to the salt springs which ain very early times were worked for salt; this was the most convenient place for the traders of Shrewsbury and North Wales to obtain their salt.

During the Civil War Nantwich was stubborn, the Royalists gave orders that all salt must be obtained from here, but Captain Croxton sallied hither one night, and next morning trade was dislocated at Dirtwich. A rather absurd correction was made by the editor of Burghall's Providence Improved in connection with this event; he states in a note that Dirtwich is a misspelling of Droitwich. It would have been rather a dangerous outing for the Nantwich train-bands to venture into Worcestershire.