The picturesque village of Malpas has pretty black and white half-timbered houses lining its streets, as well as a host of independent shops, cafes and pubs.
But there is also a hidden historical gem in the very heart of this beautiful village, which community leaders hope to make more accessible to visitors in the future.
For at the highest point of the historic village is the Castle Hill Motte – the moat where a tower would once have stood, with a hidden keep below, believed to have been built in the 11th century, as well as a number of castles on the Cheshire Ridge to protect the English borders from the Welsh.
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You can see the grass-covered motte if you wander through the graveyard of the imposing 14th-century Church of St. Oswald – with a circle of tombstones arranged atmospherically all around its perimeter.
But there’s no public access to the top of Castle Hill – the closest you can get is looking across the local private bowling green which you can’t cross.
In the past, the top of the motte was even used as an extraordinary extension to the boules club for ‘ladies boules’, while the former listed monument has long intrigued visitors to this part of the world.
The famous Manchester writer and historian Fletcher Moss visited Malpas in 1901 and wrote about the “Grassed site of the keep and castle of the Norman Baron… reserved as a place of dance and games for the villagers”.
For years the site was privately owned, but after a serendipitous investigation by local resident Chris Whitehurst, the Castle Hill Motte is now owned by the local land trust, who have big plans to make it accessible and safe for visitors. people can visit it again.
Chris is a trustee of the Malpas and District Community Land Trust, which now owns the castle site.
The trust is now working with local councils, heritage organizations and the church to fund the improvement plans needed to reopen it to the public.
Chris said: “La Motte is of significant importance to the village of Malpas, having been the site of one of several Norman castles on the Welsh border built around 1100 AD.
“Access to La Motte is via a set of steps which were installed in July 2004, for maintenance purposes only. These now require extensive repair work, and we currently have an application and plan working with Historic England.
“The Trust is also developing plans to provide new public access via a new set of steps from a public footpath in St. Oswald’s churchyard, and this initiative has the support of the local Parish Church Council, the Diocese of Chester and Cheshire West and the Closed Cemetery Department of Chester Council.
“If we are successful in installing these new steps, we plan to make the Motte available to local residents and visitors to the top-ranked Church of St. Oswald.
“We intend to place an information panel on the site which covers some of the known history of the Motte and its uses in more recent times.”
History and location of Malpas
The village of Malpas sits atop the most southerly point of the Mid-Cheshire Sandstone Ridge, near Chester, with magnificent views across Cheshire, Shropshire and Wales (with the border just five miles away) .
The name Malpas has long been thought to derive from the French words “Mal-pas” meaning bad passage, although others believe it was named after a former lord of the manor.
Local historian David Hayns has published a number of books and pamphlets about the area and says: ” The present town of Malpas straddles the line of the ancient Roman military road of Hadrian’s Wall, via Chester to Richborough in Kent.
“Malpas itself is a medieval settlement that came into being shortly after the Norman conquest of 1066.
“It is an early ‘planned town’ which grew rapidly in the 13th century, and is similar to others in the Welsh border region known as the ‘Marches’, towns such as Bishop’s Castle, Clun and Ludlow.
“In these places the local lords were permitted by their Norman overlords to build castles; to hold markets and fairs at which they could collect tolls from traders; and to divide the town into “bourgage” plots. , which they rented out to the local people. In return for these privileges, they were expected to keep the peace in the Marches and defend the area against the marauding Welsh.”
Town or village?
Malpas was once a thriving market town – but while nearby towns like Whitchurch have boomed with development in the modern age, Malpas is one of those rare places that has instead remained more fixed in time and s is actually “withdrawn” on a village scale.
Street patterns here remained largely the same for centuries – a legacy of the Norman colonies – while the area’s railway station closed in 1957.
And on the market side? Sadly, the once thriving commercial center that hosted weekly markets and cattle fairs died out in the mid-19th century. And the market square itself, where you now see the cross, has become “filled” with houses.
Historian David, who has lived in Malpas for 54 years, says: ” The only two visible signs today of the town’s former importance as a market town are the butter market at the Market House and the market cross in the center of the town.
“However, there is a monthly Farmers Market in Malpas which provides a little reminder of times past.”
About whether Malpas is called a town or a village, David says: “ The debate about whether Malpas is a town or a village has been going on for many years!
“Historically it was a chartered market town and borough, but more recently the trend has been to call it a village, especially by urban dwellers who like to feel relocated to a rural setting.
“Personally I no longer have strong feelings on the subject and if I go up to the shops I often say that I go up ‘to the village’.”
Pubs and restaurants
Although the weekly markets are long gone, there are still plenty of reasons to visit Malpas, especially for its historic pubs and quirky restaurants.
On the high street you’ll find the 300 year old pub The Lion at Malpas, which has recently undergone a major multi-million pound refurbishment and refurbished hotel rooms.
Across the road is The Crown, described as ‘excellent village pub with a great atmosphere’ on Tripadvisor.
In the heart of the village you will find the popular chip shop Malpas housed in a historic black and white half-timbered building.
Meanwhile, further up the High Street you’ll find The Old Fire Station cafe and bar based in, yes, the former fire station – popular for its full brunch offering lunchtime and evening tapas.
There are also a number of independent shops and businesses along the main street, as well as a large co-operative store which has recently opened at the end of the village.
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