Sir John Chesshyre
|Born||11 November 1662|
|Died||15 May 1738|
|Parent(s)||Thomas and Catherine |
Sir John Chesshyre was born at Hallwood, Halton, Runcorn, Cheshire, the son of Thomas and Catherine Chesshyre. Thomas Chesshyre was Bailiff of the Lordship of Halton and Whitley. The family had been Royalists in the Civil War and they had sustained severe financial penalties when the Parliamentarians were ruling the country. 
John Chesshyre was admitted to Gray's Inn in 1682 and called to the bar there in 1689. In 1705 he accepted the degree of serjeant-at-law. He became one of the crown counsel as queen's sergeant in 1711 and was knighted in 1713. In 1727 he was declared the king's first serjeant. His profession made him a wealthy man; in the six years from 1719 he earned an average of over £3,000 a year, making him one of the highest earning counsels practising in Westminster Hall. In 1725 he reduced his practice, confining it to the Court of Common Pleas, thus reducing his annual income to an average of £1,300.
For most of his professional life he lived in London, either in his house in Isleworth, which was then in Middlesex, or in his other home in Essex Street, off the Strand, or in his chambers in the Inner Temple. His death in 1738 was sudden and the Gentleman's Magazine stated that he "was worth £100,000 all acquired by the Law". He had expressed a wish to be buried in Runcorn parish church but he wanted "no lying in state nor pompous train of coaches into Cheshire nor any unnecessary attendance". Nevertheless, his funeral procession took five days to travel from Isleworth to Runcorn and his funeral expenses amounted to over £350. There is a monument to his memory in Runcorn parish church but this is now out of sight behind the organ.
Sir John's first wife died in London in 1705 and was buried in Runcorn. In 1706 he married Ann Lawley who outlived him to die in 1756. His brother, Robert Chesshyre, was vicar of Runcorn and he died in 1739.
Sir John is best remembered locally for founding a library at Halton and for leaving an endowment in his will for its further maintenance. The library had been completed in 1733 and was furnished with 400 books which were mainly ecclesiastical histories and works of law. The library had been intended for the incumbent of Halton and "for any divine or divines of the Church of England or other gentlemen or persons of letters". This made it in effect the first, or one of the first, free libraries in England. Sir John also built the vicarage in Halton in 1739 and endowed the curacy there.
As time passed, the endowment proved insufficient for the maintenance of the building and its contents. By the middle of the 19th century it had "no function and no money". By the middle of the 20th century it was in a state of advanced dilapidation. The adjacent land owned by the church was acquired by the North-West Water Authority. A new parish hall was built with money received as compensation from the Water Authority and a passageway was made to link the hall with the library which now serves as a meeting room. The library is recorded in the National Heritage List for England as a designated Grade II* listed building, and its gates are listed at Grade II.
- Starkey, H. F (1990), Old Runcorn, Halton Borough Council, pp. 77–81
- Lemmings, David (2004), "Chesshyre, Sir John (1662-1738)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, retrieved 7 March 2007 ((subscription or UK public library membership required))
- Historic England, "Gatepiers and surrounding wall to Parish Library, Halton (1115560)", National Heritage List for England, retrieved 12 August 2012
- Historic England, "The Parish Library, Halton (1130459)", National Heritage List for England, retrieved 12 August 2012