The name Cuckoo's Nest might be expected to describe a peaceful, sleepy, rural retreat. In reality, Cuckoo's Nest, on the northern edge of Pulford, is a hamlet which developed from Victorian times to provide a major source of local employment as the Eaton Estate works yard and brickworks.
A Brief History of Cuckoo’s Nest
by Kate Fairhurst
The derivation of the name Cuckoo’s Nest is lost in the mists of time. Some have said that the name derives from the traditional site where the female cuckoo was known to parasite a host species such as the dunnock or sedge warbler. The male cuckoo was heard calling every year in Pulford Parish during the first two weeks of May.
Following the purchase of Pulford by the Grosvenor family in or about 1816 and the subsequent interest in improving the Estate, the Cuckoo’s Nest Yard was steadily developed and enlarged from a small brickyard and timber yard. Before that time there appears to have only been two cottages.
Considerable development took place in the years from 1860 to 1890 when major building improvement took place in Pulford. During these years the Chester architect, John Douglas provided designs for the improvement of several houses including ‘The House of the Estate Clerk, Cuckoo’s Nest’.
Certainly, according to comparison of census returns from 1851 to 1901 there were an increasing number of trade craftsmen living in Pulford, many of them probably employed at the Estate Yard.
The Eaton Estate narrow gauge railway, which opened in 1896, also provided a branch line facility to the Cuckoo’s Nest Estate Yard and transported coal and other materials to the workshops.
Between 1919, when the western portion of the Eaton Estate including Cuckoo’s Nest was sold, and World War II, brick making continued and the Eaton Estate continued to use the Estate Yard. During and after the war brick making was replaced by pressed concrete until the 1990’s. In the same period the yard was leased to John and Nancy Thompson who ran a builders’ supplies business. In the 1960’s as many as 120 people worked on the site.
In 2002 the derelict brick works and works yard were developed into the Bell Meadow Business Park and residential units.
‘The Cuckoo’s Nest’ is Grade II Listed. The original listing describes it as a “Railway terminus and repair yard complex. By John Douglas … This complex, constructed for the Westminster Estate is a rare survival of a scale of operation planned by only the most ambitious and wealthy estates in the late C19, and undertaken by an architect of national reputation. The complex was designed to service a private railway line from the Chester-Wrexham road to the Duke’s main residence at Eaton Hall.” As shown above, this last sentence is not strictly correct as the Yard pre-dates the railway.
The Eaton Light Railway
This article first appeared in Essentials Mag in June 2018
by Kate Fairhurst
In 1894 Hugh Lupus, the first Duke of Westminster had a 15 inch guage railway built to connect Eaton Hall to the Great Western Railway sidings at Balderton. The railway line, which crossed Wrexham Road just north of the hall’s main entrance also had a branch line which linked with the estate yard and brickworks at Cuckoo’s Nest. The four and a half mile line, designed by Sir Arthur Heywood was completed by May 1896 and cost some £6,000.
Three steam locomotives used the line to carry household supplies, especially the many tons of coal needed to heat Eaton Hall, and to deliver materials required at the estate yard at Cuckoo’s Nest and to transport bricks from the works there. There was also a 16 seater passenger car which transported guests and many notable people to the shooting parties and social events at Eaton Hall. Names in the visitors’ book include Edward VII, Winston Churchill, Baron Rothschild and the King of Spain. A replica of the first locomotive, Katie, named after the Duke’s first wife Katherine, can be seen in action on the cricket field on Eaton Hall’s open days.
The train operated with a staff of five: an engine driver, two brakemen who rode at the back of the train and two labourers for loading and unloading. It travelled at a speed of 10-12 miles per hour and there were strict rules to be followed. When crossing a road a brakeman went to the centre of the road and waved a red flag to warn oncoming vehicles. A red lamp was used after dusk. Communication between the driver and the brakeman was via a series of whistle blasts.
After a working life of 51 years the line was discontinued in 1947. Little evidence remains of the original railway apart from the carriage shed which is almost unchanged at Eaton Hall and the engine shed, which is the old building seen beyond the metal gate on the left when entering the Grosvenor Garden Centre.
Redevelopment 1996 - 2002
After the companies on the Cuckoo’s Nest site ceased to trade between 1992 and 1994 plans were made to redevelop the site and approval was eventually gained in 1996 after initially being overturned and requiring modification. Over the next 6 years the Bell Meadow Business Park replaced the brickworks, with only the tall chimney remaining, and the buildings in the Estate Yard were converted into Grade II listed residential units.