In certain sequestered parts the forest has not wholly lost its ancient character. On the east Cheshire includes the western face of the broad belt of high land which embraces the Peak district of Derbyshire; these hills rise sharply to the east of Congleton, Macclesfield and Hyde, reaching a height of about 1800 ft. within Cheshire. Distributed over the county, but principally in the eastern half, are many small lakes or meres, such as Combermere, Tatton, Rostherne, Tabley, Doddington, Marbury and Mere, and it was a common practice among the gentry of the county to build their mansions on the banks of these waters. The meres form one of the most picturesque features of the county.
Geology.—With the exception of a small area of Carboniferous rocks on the eastern border, and a small patch of Lower Lias near Audlem, the whole country is occupied by Triassic strata. The great central plain is covered by red and mottled Keuper Marls. From these marls salt is obtained; there are many beds of rock-salt, mostly thin; two are much thicker than the others, being from 75 ft. to over 100 ft. thick. Thin beds and veins of gypsum are common in the marls. The striking features of the Peckforton Hills are due to the repeated faulting of the Lower Keuper Sandstone, which lies upon beds of Bunter Sandstone. Besides forming this well-marked ridge, the Lower Keuper Sandstones or “Waterstones” form several ridges north-west of Macclesfield and appear along most of the northern borders of the county and in the neighbourhood of New Brighton and Birkenhead. The Lower Keuper Sandstone is quarried near the last-named place, also at Storeton, Delamere and Manley. This is a good building stone and an important water-bearing stratum; it is often ripple-marked, and bears the footprints of the Cheirotherium. At Alderley Edge ores of copper, lead and cobalt are found. West of the Peckforton ridge, Bunter Sandstones and pebble beds extend to the border. They also form low foothills between Cheadle and Macclesfield. They fringe the northern boundary and appear on the south-eastern boundary as a narrow strip of hilly ground near Woore. The oldest rock exposed in the county is the small faulted anticline of Carboniferous limestone at Astbury, followed in regular succession eastward by the shale, and thin limestones and sandstones of the Pendleside series. These rocks extend from Congleton Edge to near Macclesfield, where the outcrop bends sharply eastward and runs up the Goyt valley. Some hard quartzites in the Pendleside series, known locally as “Crowstones,” have contributed to the formation of the high Bosley Min and neighbouring hills. East of Bosley Min, on either side of the Goyt valley, are the Millstone Grits and Shales, forming the elevated moorland tracts. Cloud Hill, a striking feature near Congleton, is capped by the “Third Grit,” one of the Millstone Grit series. From Macclesfield northward through Stockport is a narrow tongue of Lower and Middle Coal-Measures—an extension of the Lancashire coalfield. Coal is mined at Neston in the Wirral peninsula from beneath the Trias; it is a connecting link between the Lancashire and Flintshire coalfields. Glacial drift is thickly spread over all the lower ground; laminated red clays, stiff clay with northern erratics and lenticular sand masses with occasional gravels, are the common types. At Crewe the drift is over 400 ft. thick. Patches of Drift sand, with marine shells, occur on the high ground east of Macclesfield at an elevation of 1250 ft.
Agriculture and Industries.—The climate is temperate and rather damp; the soil is varied and irregular, but a large proportion is a thin-skinned clay. More than four-fifths of the total area is under cultivation. The crop of wheat is comparatively insignificant; but a large quantity of oats is grown, and a great proportion of the cultivated land is in permanent pasture. The vicinity of such populous centres as Liverpool and Manchester, as well as the several large towns within the county, makes cattle and dairy-farming profitable. Cheese of excellent quality is produced, the name of the county being given to a particular brand (see Dairy). Potatoes are by far the most important green crop. Fruit-growing is carried on in some parts, especially the cultivation of stone fruit and, among these, damsons; while the strawberry beds near Farndon and Holt are celebrated. In the first half of the 19th century the condition of agriculture in Cheshire was notoriously backward; and in 1865–1866 the county suffered with especial severity from a visitation of cattle plague. The total loss of stock amounted to more than 66,000 head, and it was necessary to obtain from the Treasury a loan of £270,000 on the security of the county rate, for purposes of relief and compensation. The cheese-making industry naturally received a severe blow, yet to agriculture at large an ultimate good resulted as the possibility and even the necessity of new methods were borne in upon the farmers.
The industries of the county are various and important. The manufacture of cotton goods extends from its seat in Lancashire into Cheshire, at the town of Stockport and elsewhere in the north-east. Macclesfield and Congleton are centres of silk manufacture. At Crewe are situated the great workshops of the London & North-Western railway company, the institution of which actually brought the town into being. Another instance of the modern creation of a town by an individual industrial corporation is seen in Port Sunlight on the Mersey, where the soap-works of Messrs Lever are situated. On the Mersey there are shipbuilding yards, and machinery and iron works. Other important manufactures are those of tools, chemicals, clothing and hats, and there are printing, bleaching and dye works, and metal foundries. Much sandstone is quarried, but the mineral wealth of the county lies in coal and salt. The second is a specially important product. Some rock-salt is obtained at Northwich and Winsford, but most of the salt is extracted from brine both here and at Lawton, Wheelock and Middlewich. At Northwich and other places in the locality curious accidents frequently occur owing to the sinking of the soil after the brine is pumped out; walls crack and collapse, and houses are seen leaning far out of the perpendicular. A little copper and lead are found.
Communications.—The county is well served with railways. The main line of the London & North-Western railway, passing north from Crewe to Warrington in Lancashire, serves no large town, but from Crewe branches diverge fanwise to Manchester, Chester, North Wales and Shrewsbury. The Great Western railway, with a line coming northward from Wrexham, obtains access through Cheshire to Liverpool and Manchester. These two companies jointly work the Birkenhead railway from Chester to Birkenhead. The heart of the county is traversed by the Cheshire Lines, serving the salt district, and reaching Chester from Manchester by way of Delamere Forest. In the east the Midland and Great Central systems enter the county, and the North Staffordshire line serves Macclesfield. The Manchester, South Junction & Altrincham and the Wirral railways are small systems serving the localities indicated by their names. The river Weaver is locked as far up as Winsford, and the transport of salt is thus expedited. The profits of the navigation, which was originally undertaken in 1720 by a few Cheshire squires, belong to the county, and are paid annually to the relief of the county rates. In the salt district through which the Weaver passes subsidence of the land has resulted in the formation of lakes of considerable extent, which act as reservoirs to supply the navigation. There are further means of inland navigation by the Grand Trunk, Shropshire Union and other canals, and many small steamers are in use. The Manchester Ship Canal passes through a section of north Cheshire, being entered from the estuary of the Mersey by locks near Eastham, and following its southern shore up to Runcorn, after which it takes a more direct course than the river.
Population and Administration.—The ancient county, which is a county palatine, has an area of 657,783 acres, with a population in 1891 of 730,058 and in 1901 of 815,099. Cheshire has been described as a suburb of Liverpool, Manchester and the Potteries of Staffordshire, and many of those whose business lies in these centres have colonized such districts as Bowdon, Alderley, Sale and Marple near Manchester, the Wirral, and Alsager on the Staffordshire border, until these localities have come to resemble the richer suburban districts of London. On the short seacoast of the Wirral are found the popular resorts of New Brighton and Hoylake. This movement and importance of its industries have given the county a vast increase of population in modern times. In 1871 the population was 561,201; from 1801 until that year it had increased 191%. The area of the administrative county is 654,825 acres. The county contains 7 hundreds. The municipal boroughs are Birkenhead (pop. 110,915), Chester (38,309), Congleton (10,707), Crewe (42,074), Dukinfield (18,929), Hyde (32,766), Macclesfield (34,624), Stalybridge (27,673), Stockport (92,832). Chester, the county town, is a city, county of a city, and county borough, and Birkenhead and Stockport are county