IN the middle of the 1800s, both sides of the River Weaver had numerous salt workings. Some of these were small family affairs; others like the Birkenhead works were larger and more professional undertakings.

On the Wharton side, the LNWR provided several short branch lines into these larger works to enable the salt wagons to reach the main line.

In 1882 the branch line leading to the Liverpool Works had an additional spur laid and was extended to a new station called Over and Wharton. This enabled passengers to be carried as well as salt. The station closed to passengers in 1947 remaining open to the transport of salt until March 1991.

A few years after the station opened, a beerhouse was built at the top of Wharton Hill, and it became a full public house when Chester’s Brewery purchased it in 1891. Because the new railway station was over the road, the pub was called ‘The North Western’.

Even though throughout what is now Vale Royal, there were many pubs and beer houses there was only one other in Wharton Road. That was the Queens Head at number 3. This establishment had opened in 1857 and closed with many others in 1910 when the owners and licensees were paid off in what became a general cull of the smaller licensed premises.

The North Western retained its licence and does so to this day. The view from the pub down Winsford Hill, as Wharton Hill was known then, to the Market Place was very much different then, than it is now. A customer standing in the side door on the gable end with a pint of best Chester’s ale in his hand had a good view down into ‘Dark Town.’ He would be able to see around the front of the first house in a row of terraced houses that stood slightly back from the road and stretched down towards the Hill Street junction. Between the pub and these houses was a narrow un-named road that later became Kingsway. This road led to the Winsford football stadium, built at about the same time as the railway station and given the same name. The name was later changed as a tribute to Councillor Reg Barton when he was the Chairman.

This vista was spread out like a carpet at the foot of the North Western, a rather grubby carpet, but a carpet anyway. The road could be seen passing the Red Lion, across the town bridge and up the other side through the myriad of terraced houses and shops. In 1983 the view from the gable end down the hill could still be viewed when standing on the step, but entry by that door was impossible. It had been bricked up in an earlier facelift. The view had also changed completely since the early days. Gone were the salt works and the smog, the black supporting wall that had been later added was still there, but the Town Bridge was now part of a huge roundabout. It was also time for a change of licensee and the newly married Lewis and Kay Cottington took over. They quickly settled in and made the pub their own. The strict and no-nonsense Lewis was imposing his will but soon becoming popular and respected by the locals.

One condition of their taking over the pub was that they be allowed to change the name to bring the establishment into the present day leaving behind its dour Victorian persona. They decided that the name North Western would have to go and be replaced by its pet name. As it stood at the top of Wharton Hill, it had been known from its earliest days as The Top House. The oldest customer Harold Hine who lived nearby had been a regular for 60 years and always referred to the pub in his old Winsford dialect as The Top Ayse. So The Top House it was to be and Kay, who was also an artist, designed the new name board, it depicted the top house in a card game (now replaced). Unfortunately, their time in Winsford was cut short by illness, and they left the pub in 1985. The pub was then taken over by Barry Nancollis whose mother had worked for them; sadly Barry died tragically some ten years later.

In 1993, the pub was approximately 100 years old, and this was celebrated at a party in which beer was sold at the 1880’s price of 2d, or 2p if you had no old money. The mayor at the time, Tony Walsh, attended and unveiled a commemorative plaque in the bar. The Top House however has, unlike many pubs, remained open to serve the community and the Winsford football supporters. Then later the punters at the Barton Stadium greyhound track that was open from 1970 to the early 1990s.