Walking from Helsby Hill, past Helsby Quarry and along Alvanley Road towards Alvanley, you will see a garden with features that look somewhat out of place in a rural garden. These features, not dissimilar to ecclesiastical stone arches, were constructed in a plot which was once the garden of the nearby semi-detached properties, Alvanley Cottages, built in 1881 for Mrs Fanny Robinson and her disabled sister.
Mrs Robinson's husband Dr John Robinson was quite a local character.
One of his many passions was ecclesiastical architecture and he would build follies and arches on his property, demolish them and then rebuild.
Following a fallout with a local vicar, the eccentric doctor constructed a mini chapel in his own garden. In it he kept a lead-lined coffin for his future use. The chapel has now been converted to a private house. He also had a fear of fire and the garden was full of shallow wells in case of such an eventuality, some of which still remain today.
Dr Robinson was bow-legged and would remove the heels of his shoes to improve his gait. Many of these heels have also been found in his former garden too.
Mrs Robinson, nee Batho, married Runcorn doctor, John Robinson, in 1870, although the absent-minded doctor nearly missed the ceremony being too engrossed in his studies. Dr Robinson had a surgery at "Belvedere" Runcorn, where he lived most of the week, only visiting his wife on Sundays. Arriving at Helsby Station, with his long white hair and beard, dressed in semi-ecclesiastical garb, a battered topcoat and carrying a dilapidated umbrella, he was sometimes mistaken for a down and out, when in fact he was a large shareholder in the Railway.
Dr Robinson cared little for material possessions. however, and frequently "forgot" to charge his poorer patients for his services. Although frequently absent -minded, Dr Robinson was a man of considerable intellect, studying Greek, Latin and History.
A health fanatic, Dr Robinson believed in the benefits of fresh air and exercise, ate plain food and took a cold bath every day. A good example to all, but he did have a strange fixation about lead. As well as the lead lined coffin housed in Helsby, he lined the floors of his house and surgery in Runcorn with sheets of the metal. It is a wonder that he managed to live to the age of 78.
To prepare for his inevitable demise the good doctor had prepared a vault and pre-inscribed headstone at the Bethesda Chapel in Runcorn. It was never used. When he died in January 1915, the hearse travelled from Runcorn to Helsby, where, at Alvanley Cottages, the coffin was transferred to a wheeled bier and the mourners walked in procession to St John's Church Alvanley. He was laid to rest near the door of the church, next to his wife, Fanny.
Runcorn Weekly News (Jan 1915) reported "All classes and creeds will meet at the graveside to pay tribute to his sterling characteristics, his intellectual independence, his fine disregard for mere material success, his scholarly vigour and his abiding humanity in the presence of poverty and suffering".
Remember the good Dr Robinson as you pass the stone arches in his former garden on Alvanley Road, Helsby.
Photograph and details relating to Dr Robinson, courtesy of Jim Lloyd, Chapel House
Sue Lorimer (Sandstone Ridge Volunteer)