This website uses quite a bit of architectural terminology. Most of these terms are well-known but some may be unfamiliar, so here is a glossary, illustrated with examples taken from the principal streets of Chester, and a fairly short guided tour at the bottom of the page.
As elsewhere the history of the architecture of Chester has been influenced by many factors. These have included considerations of security and weather protection, protection from fire, convenience as opposed to an opulent display of wealth, and the construction materials available: at first stone and wood, later brick, then steel and an increasing availability of concrete and low-cost glass in large sheets. Other considerations were improvements in heating and the cost of land, construction and maintenance as well as the rate of change and nature of architectural fashion. Further local influences in Chester include the early establishment of The Rows and possibly the availability during the winter months of builders who during the summer may have been building Edward I's castles in Wales. Competition for frontage on the main streets was also a significant factor as was in some cases a desire to impress potential customers or simply "show off". Money was often mostly in private hands rather than that of the Corporation as a whole, and so (with a few notable exceptions) there was little large scale public re-development in the town center until relatively recently. The existence of wealthy patrons (such as the Grosvenors) encouraged the establishment of local architects with a distinctive style.
Joseph Turner (c. 1729–1807), the first notable architect, was both an architect and a canal engineer. Thomas Harrison (c.1744-1829) was much influenced by time spent in Italy. James Harrison (1814-66 and no relative of the former) a Gothic Revival stonemason's son, while the Penson family were local builders who began to develop the Vernacular Revival This revival further developed into a charcteristic style, derived in part from "Arts and Crafts" by John Douglas (11 April 1830 – 23 May 1911) and Thomas Meakin Lockwood (21 November 1829 – 15 July 1900). Others included many pupils of the same. Other patrons included banks, who sought to encourage investors with solid and richly decorated premises and the owners of other local businesses, including the Browns and the Dixons.
The shortage of money suffered by the Corporation in the early part of the 20th century led to the loss of some historic buildings along the rows, especially when combined with uncertainty over the construction and route of the Inner Ring Road. Architectural drawings made at the time show proposals for a "Civic Center" development of council offices and other "Civic" buildings in a highly regimented and uniform Neo-Georgian style (as well as demonstrating a lack of perspective on the likely traffic loading on Central Chester). Fortunately, this revedevelopment did not happen. However, the development of the "backlands" in the quadrant between Northgate Street and Watergate Street is still a subject of debate.
The gallery below shows something of the development of architectural fashion in Chester, and is followed by a glossary of features. There are many theories and categories in the development of architecture and within the categories a huge range of variation and sub-division. No "causal" theory of architectural change should be considered as a general fit for precise circumstances.
Norman - St Johns 12th Cent.
Abbey Gatewaey (c1300)
Cowper House Vernacular (1350-75)
Leche House Vernacular (1603-25)
Bridge House Baroque (1676)
Town Hall Gothic Revival (1865-69)
The following glossary is not exhaustive, but attempts to capture all the architectural language needed to describe buildings in Chester.
- 1 A
- 2 B
- 3 C
- 4 D
- 5 E
- 6 F
- 7 G
- 8 H
- 9 I
- 10 J
- 11 L
- 12 M
- 13 N
- 14 O
- 15 P
- 16 Q
- 17 R
- 18 S
- 19 T
- 20 U
- 21 V
- 22 W
- 23 Perambulation
- 24 Sources and Links
In architecture, an abacus (from the Greek abax, slab; or French abaque, tailloir; plural abacuses or abaci) is a flat slab forming the uppermost member or division of the capital of a column, above the bell. Its chief function is to provide a large supporting surface, tending to be wider than the capital, as an abutment to receive the weight of the arch or the architrave above.
Leaf borders and scroll motifs were used extensively in the art and architecture of ancient Greece and Rome. Foremost of these was the acanthus motif. Some say the acanthus, one of the oldest flowers in the Mediterranean area, represents long life. Throughout most of its long history the leaf ornament generally known as acanthus is in fact an imaginary leaf adapted to many uses. In Christian symbolism the thorny leaves represent pain, sin and punishment.
A decorative bracket in the form of a vertical scroll that supports a cornice or entablature over a door or window
Art Deco, sometimes referred to as Deco, is a style of visual arts, architecture and design that first appeared in France just before World War I. It took its name, short for Arts Décoratifs, from the "Exposition internationale des arts décoratifs et industriels modernes" (International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts) held in Paris in 1925. It combined modern styles with fine craftsmanship and rich materials. During its heyday, Art Deco represented luxury, glamour, exuberance, and faith in social and technological progress. A sleeker form of the style, called "Streamline Moderne", appeared in the 1930s; it featured curving forms and smooth, polished surfaces. Many of the best surviving examples of Art Deco are movie theaters built in the 1920s and 1930s. The Art Deco period coincided with the conversion of silent films to sound, and movie companies built enormous theaters in major cities to capture the huge audience that came to see movies.
Arts and Crafts
The Arts and Crafts movement was an international trend in the decorative and fine arts that developed earliest and most fully in the British Isles. Initiated in reaction against the perceived impoverishment of the decorative arts and the conditions in which they were produced, the movement flourished in Europe and North America between about 1880 and 1920. Much of it was based upon on British vernacular architecture, expressing the texture of ordinary materials, such as stone and tiles, with an asymmetrical and picturesque building composition. In Chester there was extensive us of carved wood and specially moulded brick. Elsewhere the movement influenced the design of "Garden Cities".
Ashlar is finely dressed (cut, worked) stone, either an individual stone that was worked until squared or the structure built from it. Ashlar is the finest stone masonry unit, generally rectangular cuboid, mentioned by Vitruvius as opus isodomum, or less frequently trapezoidal. Precisely cut "on all faces adjacent to those of other stones", ashlar is capable of very thin joints between blocks. Ashlar is in contrast to rubble masonry, which employs irregularly shaped stones, sometimes minimally worked or selected for similar size, or both. In classical architecture, ashlar wall surfaces were often contrasted with rustication.
In European architectural sculpture, an atlas (also known as an atlant, or atlante or atlantid; plural atlantes) is a support sculpted in the form of a generally human figure, which may take the place of a column, a pier or a pilaster. The body of many Atlantes turns into a rectangular pillar or other architectural feature around the waist level. The facial expression of these figures sometimes (but not always) is chosen to indicate the weight being held up. Closelry related to Atlantae are Hermae, which have a head but no upper body. Atlantae can be seen on the Old bank Building at 2-4 Foregate Street (1895) and Hermae on the front of the Boots store at 42 Foregate Street.
A board attached to the gables of a building to protect the exposed ends of the timber roof structure e.g. purlins and rafters, particularly the "Barge Rafter". Bargeboards were often decorated, frequently by carving them into a tracery. A good early example can be seet at 26 Eastgate Street an 1858 construction from Penson and one of the earliest of the forerunners of the Vernacular Revival in Chester. Many nearby buildings have equally elaborate barge boards. Called a vergeboard or gableboard in some parts of the world.
In some cases a reference to a guard rail fronting windows, prevented people from falling through deep sashes and provided a light and stylish miniature (or false) balcony. In Victorian Architecture this often refers to ironwork above a bay-window which serves little purpose other than ornament and was briefly fashionable around 1900. It some streets, where a developer was building houses in a sequence of which the earlier houses were sold to fund the building of later ones, balconets may be one of the architectural variations which appears at some point in the sequence and then disappears quite rapiidly. This can be a useful technique for dating the sequence.
Baroque architecture developed in the Counter-Reformation period as a revolt against the pure and simple. It is characterised by dynamic designs and complex architectural plan forms; intended to heighten feelings of motion and sensuality, and frequently based on the oval. Doorways are important and may be approached by sweeping staircases to make entrance to a building a symbolic, sensorial and often mysterious experience. The best example in Chester is Bridge House (1676) on lower Bridge Street. While altered this was originally built with a sweeping double staircase leading to a doorway on the first floor.
A sculptural technique where the sculpted elements remain attached to a solid background of the same material. The term relief is from the Latin verb relevo, to raise. Examples can be seen in the porch and internal corridors of the Town Hall.
A battlement in defensive architecture, such as that of city walls or castles, comprises a parapet (i.e., a defensive low wall between chest-height and head-height), in which gaps or indentations, which are often rectangular, occur at intervals to allow for the launch of arrows or other projectiles from within the defences. These gaps are termed "crenels" (also known as carnels, or embrasures), and a wall or building with them is called crenellated; alternative (older) terms are castellated and embattled. The act of adding crenels to a previously unbroken parapet is termed crenellation. The solid widths between the crenels are called merlons. In medieval England and Wales a "licence to crenellate" granted the holder permission to fortify their property. Such licences were granted by the king, and by the rulers of the counties palatine within their jurisdictions, e.g. by the Bishops of Durham and the Earls of Chester and after 1351 by the Dukes of Lancaster. There are few battlements on the City Walls (although there are fairly modern ones at Wolfgate) but they are used as decorative features on some buildings of a non-military character, notable examples being St Peter and the Cathedral.
The pattern in which bricks or stone are laid so that the joints are staggered providing greater strength. The long face of a brick is known as a stretcher and the short face as the header. The "Stretcher Bond" (or "Stretching Bond") is the most commonly used bond in the UK, a pattern is made only using stretchers, with the joins on each course centred above and below by half a brick. This type of bonding is not particularly strong and typically was traditionally used only for single skin walls of no great hight unless an inner layer of some other material is used. In header bond, all brichs are laid with only the headers exposed. Popular during the 18th century, the header bond pattern often employed contrasting brick colours to give a decorative effect. This bond uses so many bricks that it is usually reserved for very high-quality buildings. It can also used for radial brickwork, as the header faces can accommodate smaller radii.
The "English Bond" is a pattern formed by laying alternate courses of stretchers and headers. The joins between the stretchers are centred on the headers in the course below. This is the oldest pattern, and was commonly used until the end of the 17th century. This is one of the strongest bonds but requires more facing bricks than other bonds. "English Garden Wall" is similar to the English bond but with one course of headers for every three courses of stretcher. The headers are centred on the headers in the course below. This gives quick lateral spread of load and uses fewer facings than an English bond. "English Cross Bond" alternates courses of stretchers and headers, with the alternating stretcher course being offset by half a brick. The stretchers are centred on the joins between the stretchers below them, so that the alternating stretcher courses are aligned. Staggering stretchers enables patterns to be picked out in different texture or coloured bricks.
"Flemish Bond" is formed by laying headers and stretchers alternately in each course. The headers of each course are centred on the stretchers of the course below. This bond is strong and often used for walls which are two-bricks thick.
A horizontal load-bearing beam in a timber framed building. The use and definition of the term varies but generally a bressummer is a jetty sill set forward from the lower part of a building to support a jettied wall. These beams may bear a motto, such as at "God's Providence House" in Watergate Street.
A pediment open or broken at the apex, base or both, and the gap often filled with an urn, cartouche, or other ornament.
An oval or oblong design with a slightly convex surface, typically edged with ornamental scrollwork. It is used to hold a painted or low-relief design or may be empty.
An informal term used by some local writers to describe Chester's local variant on the Vernacular Revival. The precise intended meaning is unclear, but a less generous view seems to be well summed up by Hemingway:
- "Some good buildings have lately been erected here but still it may be said that the venerable appearance of many others present to the eye as it were a model of every thing antique in the universe where in some places new built houses arc intermixed with the old ones the appearance is motley and grotesque. To see a modern mansion just finished standing between two gothic structures the youngest probably not less than two hundred years old, gives the beholder an idea if the allusion may be allowed of the picture of an exquisite of the present day placed between the portraitures of a brace of beaux of the last century or if the hyperbole be too strong of a splendid family mansion flanked by a couple of mud-wall cowhouses"
Refers to a specific kind of railing or balustrade that was inspired by the "Chinese Chippendale" designs of cabinetmaker Thomas Chippendale. The infill between the top and bottom rails and the vertical supports is a series of interlocking diagonals, although rectilinear designs exist as well. The term may also be applied to latticework.
Close studding is a form of timber work used in timber-framed buildings in which vertical timbers (studs) are set close together, dividing the wall into narrow panels. Rather than being a structural feature, the primary aim of close studding is often to produce an impressive front. Close studding first appeared in England in the 13th century and was commonly used there from the mid-15th century until the end of the 17th century. The use of close studding possibly originated in East Anglia, where the technique was employed in the earliest surviving timber walls thought to date from the early 13th century. Compared with square framing, close studding uses a lot of timber and is time consuming to construct; it was therefore particularly employed for buildings of relatively high status. Close studding was sometimes used in association with decorative panel work or close panelling, particularly from the end of the 16th century. In such buildings, the lower storey would usually employ close studding, while the upper storeys would have small square panels with or without ornamentation. The Falcon, formerly a town house, now a public house, has close studding on its east front at the level of The Rows.
Coat of Arms
A coat of arms is a heraldic visual design on an escutcheon (i.e., shield). The coat of arms on an escutcheon forms the central element of the full heraldic achievement which in its whole consists of: shield, supporters, crest, and motto. A coat of arms is traditionally unique to an individual person, family, state, organization or corporation. In the heraldic traditions of England and Scotland, an individual, rather than a family, had a coat of arms. In those traditions coats of arms are legal property transmitted from father to son; wives and daughters could also bear arms modified to indicate their relation to the current holder of the arms. Undifferenced arms are used only by one person at any given time. Other descendants of the original bearer could bear the ancestral arms only with some difference: usually a colour change or the addition of a distinguishing charge.
Chester displays a huge mumber of coats of arms in architectural settings, including as stained glass. One very common example are the Arms of Chester believed to be the oldest civic arms in the county. The shield shows the Royal Arms of England (a red shield with three gold lions - first adopted in a fixed form circa 1200) "dimidiated" with a shield representing the Earldom of Chester (three gold garbs on blue) and is said to have been in use in 1329 (granted by Edward III), and regranted by Richard II, who erected Chester into a Principality. A very elaborate set of arms (the historic counties of wales) can be found on the frontage of the Grosvenor Club in Eastgate Street. Other arms are dotted about the principal streets, either as carvings, applied decoration or in the form of stained glass.
In architecture, a corbel is a structural piece of stone, wood or metal jutting from a wall to carry a superincumbent weight, i.e. a type of bracket. A corbel is a solid piece of material in the wall, whereas a console is a piece applied to the structure. In England, a piece of timber projecting in the same way was sometimes called a "tassel" or a "bragger". Corbels are frequently used to support guttering, which was originally made of cast iron and relatively heavy as compared with the plastics material used today.
The Corinthian order (Greek Κορινθιακός ρυθμός Latin Ordo Corinthius) is the last developed of the three principal classical orders of ancient Greek and Roman architecture. The other two are the Doric order which was the earliest, followed by the Ionic order. When classical architecture was revived during the Renaissance, two more orders were added to the canon: the Tuscan order and the Composite order. The Corinthian, with its offshoot the Composite, is the most ornate of the orders. This architectural style is characterized by slender, almost always fluted columns and elaborate capitals decorated with acanthus leaves and scrolls. Typical examples in Chester are seen at 33 Eastgate Street (the "Old Bank") designed by George Williams and built in 1859-60.
A crocket is a decoration seen in Gothic architecture, consisting of buds, curled leaves or flowers. They are frequently found on pinnacles, and very often on church buildings.
A cruck or crook frame is a curved timber, one of a pair, which support the roof of a building, historically used in England. This type of timber framing consists of long, generally naturally curved, timber members that lean inwards and form the ridge of the roof. In some examples each pair of members may be from the same timber which is split to forn them. These posts are then generally secured by a horizontal beam which then forms an "A" shape. The pair is a cruck, while each individual timber is a "blade".
A relatively small, most often dome-like, tall structure on top of a building. Often used to provide a lookout/viewpoint (also known as a "belvedere") or to admit light and air, it sometimes crowns a larger roof or dome. It may also contain a bell.
A "row" where the "stallboard" has a "cabin" built on it - i.e. you cannot see out into the street from the row walkway. If there are a series of such cabins then natural light is blocked and the row becomes "dark".
A small rectangular block - a tooth-like cube - used in a series forming a molding under Ionic and Corinthian and sometimes Doric cornices. This bracket design under many kinds of canopy goes back to the timber joists in early wooden Greek temple. The Greeks copied these wooden shapes into their stone buildings. The style was copied by later architects.
"Diaper" is any of a wide range of decorative patterns used in a variety of works of art, such as stained glass, heraldic shields, architecture, and silverwork. Its chief use is in the enlivening of plain surfaces. In architecture diaper is applied as a decorative treatment of a surface with a repeat pattern of squares (chequers), rectangles, or lozenges. In Chester, and nearby, many brick buildings constructed for the Grosvenors were decorated with a characteristic blue lozenge diapering which became a logo that the building was somehow associated with that family. Later, the style was used by other architects for buildings which had nothing to do with the Grosvenors.
Doric columns can be recognised by their often (but not always) fluted grooves, the simple capital at the top of the columns which is a curving piece of stone (echinus) with a square block (abacus) supporting the structure above. They also have no plinth at the base of the column. Above a plain architrave, the complexity comes in the frieze, where the two features originally unique to the Doric, the triglyph and guttae, are skeuomorphic memories of the beams and retaining pegs of the wooden constructions that preceded stone Doric temples. The propylaeum (pillared entrance) gateway to Chester Castle has this type of column, as does the former Independent Chapel (1777) in Queen Street.
Used to describe a shaped gable made up of curves, sometimes completed with a pediment. The Dutch gable was a notable feature of the Renaissance architecture, which spread to northern Europe from the Low Countries, arriving in Britain during the latter part of the 16th century. Later Dutch gables with flowing curves became absorbed into Baroque architecture.
Encaustic painting, also known as hot wax painting, involves using heated encaustic medium to which colored pigments have been added for creating artworks. A completely unrelated type of "encaustic painting", not involving wax at all, is found in British ceramics, after Josiah Wedgwood devised and patented the technique in 1769. This was a mixture of ceramic slip and overglaze "enamel" paints used to imitate ancient Greek vase painting. Encaustic tiles are not painted at all, but are ceramic tiles in which the pattern or figure on the surface is not a product of the glaze but of different colors of clay. They are usually of two colours but a tile may be composed of as many as six. The pattern appears inlaid into the body of the tile, so that the design remains as the tile is worn down. The use of the word "encaustic" to describe an inlaid tile of two or more colors is therefore linguistically incorrect in a technical sense. The word encaustic from Ancient Greek: ἐγκαυστικός means "burning in" from the ἐν (en), "in" and καίειν (kaiein), "to burn". The term did not come into use when describing tile until the nineteenth century. Supposedly, Victorians thought that the two colour tiles strongly resembled enamel work and so called them encaustic. Despite the error, the term has now been in common use for so long that it is an accepted name for inlaid tile work. Encaustic tile floors exist all over Europe and North America, but are most prevalent in England where the greatest numbers of inlaid tiles were made. Such tiles are often referred to as "Minton" as the technique was re-invented by Herbert Minton. Their rise to fashion was assured by their use in such prestigious buildings as the Victoria and Albert Museum, and by the 1890s they had become an essential feature in the most ordinary Victorian terraced houses, especially in the hallway.
Vernacular architecture is architecture characterised by the use of local materials and knowledge, usually without the supervision of professional architects. The English Vernacular Revival was an architect led movement whose buildings cannot really be likened to the timber-framed structures of the originals, in which the frame supported the whole weight of the house. Their modern counterparts consist of bricks or blocks of various materials, stucco, or even simple studwall framing, with a lookalike "frame" of thin boards added on the outside to mimic the earlier functional and structural weight-bearing heavy timbers. It was here that the influences of the arts and crafts movement became apparent.
In classical architecture, the top of an Order, horizontally divided into cornice, frieze, and architrave, supported by a colonnade
The outward curvature of a column shaft to counteract the optical illusion of concavity in straight-sided shaft. Often particularly clear on Doric columns.
A fanlight is simply a window above a front door, whatever its shape. It derived it's name from the fact that most were in the shape of a fan in Georgian times. In America they are more commonly known as Transoms. Fanlights were first introduced in the 1720's, but only called "fanlights" after about 1770. Before electric lighting, fanlights enabled more natural light to enter the previously dark hallways. It was perhaps the advent of Palladianism and its arched doorways that created the semicircular form. The early examples, had very thick glazing bars, but during the late mid and late Georgian periods 1760 – 1810, there was almost a competition between designers and architects, on who could come up with the most elaborate designs & with the thinnest glazing bars. The published designs of Robert Adam in the 1770s had a big influence on the development of this decorative form whilst rectangular frames became more popular in later Georgian designs. Georgian windows required a lot of glazing bars because of the way that glass was made - in small sheets only. In the 19th century a new technique was developed whereby a large sausage of glass was blown, the ends cut off, the sausage slit down one side and heated so that it unfolded into a flat sheet. This achieved larger panes. In Victorian times it became widespread and almost universal in some areas to have a house address displayed in the fanlight, usually in the form of gold leaf house numbers or sometimes with leaded glass: this tradition fell by the way in the late 1920's and 30's.
A bundle of sticks bound together, often used as a symbol of authority by the ancient Romans and others before being adopted by Mussolini's Fascist movement in Italy. The symbol is used on the 1932 Edwardian/neo-Georgian "Marks and Spencer" building in Foregate Street. Norman Jones and Leonard Rigby, the architects, designed several buildings from M&S. The building also features torch-brackets (sconces) holding blazing torches, something which became unpopular in the run-up to WW2. The addition of a "rising sun" balcony makes it triply unfortunate.
A carved or formed grotesque with a spout designed to convey water from a roof and away from the side of a building, thereby preventing rainwater from running down masonry walls and eroding the mortar between. Less popular since the invention of the drainpipe. The most prominent in Chester are on St Mary on the Hill.
Georgian and Neo-Georgian
Original Georgian architecture is essentially geometric and modular which makes it highly flexible and adaptable. It can be seen as a simpler form of Baroque Neo-classical. After about 1840, Georgian conventions were slowly abandoned as a number of revival styles, including Gothic Revival, that had originated in the Georgian period, developed and contested in Victorian architecture, and in the case of Gothic became better researched, and closer to their originals.
Neo-Georgian is the term used to describe any buildings that date from after Georgian architecture faded, c. 1840, that re-uses its "classical" approach to design, often as a pastiche. It's later style is sometimes called "department store Georgian", as the expansion of the public sector in the twentieth century saw Neo-Georgian embraced for a wide variety of buildings and sites. Following the Gothic Revival, which dominated Victorian Britain in the mid-nineteenth century, the Neo-Georgian first began to be reintroduced from about 1880. This was part of a wider revival of a number of styles including neo-Tudor and neo-Byzantine as well.
The Greek Revival was an architectural movement of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, predominantly in Northern Europe and the United States. It revived the style of ancient Greek architecture, in particular the Greek temple, with varying degrees of thoroughness and consistency. A product of Hellenism, it may be looked upon as the last phase in the development of Neoclassical architecture, which had for long mainly drawn from Roman architecture. The term was first used by Charles Robert Cockerell in a lecture he gave as Professor of Architecture to the Royal Academy of Arts, London in 1842. Wyatt's 1803 bank building on the corner of Foregate Street and St John Street is in Greek Revival style but has Tuscan columns. It is not clear which of the Wyatt's designed the building.
An architectural style that flourished in Europe during the High and Late Middle Ages. It evolved from Romanesque architecture and was succeeded by Renaissance architecture. The defining element of Gothic architecture is the pointed or ogival arch. It is the primary engineering innovation and the characteristic design component. The use of the pointed arch in turn led to the development of the pointed rib vault and flying buttresses, combined with elaborate tracery and stained glass windows. The term "Gothic architecture" originated as a pejorative description. Giorgio Vasari used the term "barbarous German style" in his Lives of the Artists to describe what is now considered the Gothic style.
Gothic Revival (also referred to as Victorian Gothic, neo-Gothic, or Gothick) is an architectural movement that began in the late 1740s in England. Its momentum grew in the early 19th century, when increasingly serious and learned admirers of neo-Gothic styles sought to revive medieval Gothic architecture, in contrast to the neoclassical styles prevalent at the time. Also, the Industrial Revolution meant that much Georgian and Neo-classical stonework was not becoming blackened by soot, and the brick "High Victorian Gothic" provided some colour which was not prone to staining. Gothic Revival draws features from the original Gothic style, including decorative patterns, finials, lancet windows, hood moulds and label stops. By the mid-19th century, it was established as the preeminent architectural style in the Western world. There are many subdivisions of Gothic of which a prominent Venetian Gothic example from Chester is the Town Hall.
A groin vault or groined vault (also sometimes known as a double barrel vault or cross vault) is produced by the intersection at right angles of two barrel vaults. The word "groin" refers to the edge between the intersecting vaults. Sometimes the arches of groin vaults are pointed instead of round. In comparison with a barrel vault, a groin vault provides good economies of material and labour. The thrust is concentrated along the groins or arrises (the four diagonal edges formed along the points where the barrel vaults intersect), so the vault need only be abutted at its four corners. A rib vault or ribbed vault is an architectural feature for covering a wide space, such as a church nave, composed of a framework of crossed or diagonal arched ribs.
Several stone vaulted structures can be seen in Chester. There is a good example in Leche House in Watergate Street, and a further example with decorated keystones in the Abbey Gateway. Vaulting is also used extensively in the Cathedral. 11 Watergate Street has what is often considered the best publicly accessible vaulted stone undercroft in Chester, with four bays of quadripartite vaulting divided by an arcade of three octagonal piers. It is well worth a visit and is presently a bar - "The Watergates Bar". At the front, the undercroft shows encroachment onto the street of some 2.5m. While the central row of three octagonal pillars are said to show 15thC. mouldings, the projecting "bell" indicates a date of 1250-1290, indicating that tne vault was rebuilt at some time in the 15thC, but using original materials.
Half-timbering is a way of constructing wood frame structures with the structural timbers exposed. This medieval method of construction is more properly called timber framing. The familiar "half-timbered" was used informally to mean timber-framed construction as far back as the Middle Ages. For economy, cylindrical logs were cut in half, so one log could be used for two (or more) posts. The shaved side was traditionally on the exterior and everyone knew it to be "half the timber". Curved timbers could be used symmetrically to form a cruck frame. Increasingly, many wooden members were added without structural necessity. These were often crisscrossed under windows, and in England, where more timberwork was traditionally exposed, they were assembled in cusped shapes or chevrons to create the striking patterns still seen. A perimeter footing of an impervious material like stone or brick was built first, then a sill beam laid on the footing. Upright beams were mortised into the sill beam and tenoned at the top into another horizontal member. Unlike modern framed buildings where the walls are installed outside and inside the frame, in half-timbered buildings, the walls are filled in between the structural timbers. Most commonly this infill was wattle-and-daub, laths and plaster, or bricks. The blackening of timbers was a natural ageing effect. They were not treated or painted when built. The Boot is a more or less intact timber-framed building dated 1623, with a rebuilt facade from the 19thC. The small, over-row parlour (which provides a seating area) is clad almost completely in 17thC wainscot, but wattle and daub is exposed in places. The beer prices in The Boot also seem to be pegged firmly in the past. In many places alterations to 16th and 17th Century buildings were carried out with little concern for historical accuracy: Victorian architects often understood little about traditional methods of frame construction and work often involved load bearing brickwork and even steel frames to achieve wider spans and jettying as well as hight which is simply impossible by the use of oak and plaster infill alone.
Cast Iron rainwater heads and hoppers had their heyday in the 19th century when a huge variety of decorative designs were produced. During the Victorian and Edwardian times they were commonly used to put a stamp on a property by displaying either a date, coat of arms, an emblem or initials in imitation of the lead hopper heads that proceeded them, as well as providing an effective way of collecting rainwater.
The Ionic capital is characterized by the use of volutes, a spiral, scroll-like ornament. The Ionic columns normally stand on a base which separates the shaft of the column from the stylobate or platform while the cap is usually enriched with egg-and-dart. Ionic columns feature on the Commercial News Room in Northgate Street. Another example is The English Presbyterian Church of Wales (1864) in City Road.
Describes where the upper storey of a timber frame building is cantilevered (projects) out over the street below. Jettying (jetty, jutty, getee (obsolete) from Old French getee, jette) is a building technique used in medieval timber-frame buildings in which an upper floor projects beyond the dimensions of the floor below. This has the advantage of increasing the available space in the building without obstructing the street, possibly minimising taxes based to ground footprint and protecting the walls and window frames of lower stories from rainfall. The Rows in Chester can be seen as an extreme example of this type of structure. A jetty depends on a cantilever system in which a horizontal beam, the jetty bressummer, supports the wall above and projects forward beyond the floor below (a technique also called oversailing). The bressummer (or breastsummer) itself rests on the ends of a row of jetty beams or joists which are supported by jetty plates. Jetty joists in their turn were slotted sideways into the horizontal, diagonal dragon beams at angle of 45° by means of mortise and tenon joints. The etymology of dragon is unclear. The term may be descended from German träger (a carrier), Danish dragere (bearing beam, joist, girder) or Dutch draagbalk (beam). Sometimes the post below the dragon beam is called a dragon post.
An ornamental projection or boss at the end of a hood-mould (the stonework strip over an arch intended to throw off water - the hood mold is also known as a label). In church architecture these are often formed as human heads, but may simply be a plain projection to the side of the window,.
A narrow two-centered arched window. Often found in a church or other religous building. Instances of this architectural element are typical of Gothic church edifices of the earliest period. Lancet windows may occur singly, or paired under a single moulding, or grouped in an odd number with the tallest window at the centre. The lancet window first appeared in the early French Gothic period (c. 1140–1200), and later in the English period of Gothic architecture (1200–1275). So common was the lancet window feature that this era is sometimes known as the "Lancet Period"
Type of window construction where lead is used to retain the pieces of glass or panes. The latticework of the lead bars on medieval and early modern windows contained the smaller pieces of glass that were of the size that could be produced at the time. "Crown glass" was an early type of window glass. In this process, glass was blown into a "crown" or hollow globe. This was then transferred from the blowpipe to a "punty" (an iron rod) and then flattened by reheating and spinning out the bowl-shaped piece of glass (bullion) into a flat disk by centrifugal force, up to 5 or 6 feet (1.5 to 1.8 metres) in diameter. The glass was then cut to the size required. The process frequently led to glass containing entrapped bubbles of air. Because of the formation from a collapsed sphere surviving glass is often "crazed" with cracks which do not penetrate through the full thickness - a good example of which can be seen at Leche House. The thinnest glass was in a band at the edge of the disk, with the glass becoming thicker and more opaque toward the center. Known as a bullseye, the thicker center area around the pontil mark was used for less expensive windows. The lead can be used to create different patterns. By the 19th century production techniques had been improved so that large panes of glass could be formed without the need for glazing bars (see: sash windows, below). Leaded lights were also used in Victorian times in neo-gothic buildings. Drawn flat glass was first produced from early in the 20th century and involved drawing molten glass through a die into a flat continuous sheet rather than a slab or cylinder. Modern "float" glass was invented in the late 1950s and involves flowing the molten material over a bath of molten tin.
This has two meanings. In one usage it is a small dormer window in a roof or spire. Another usage is a feature of a warehouse, mill or factory: a window or opening high up on an outside wall supports a hoist above doors on the floors below. Mills may only require loading to a single floor, but warehouses will require access from each floor. Each hoist accesses all of the floors beneath it, through their prominent doors. These doors, which may be converted into windows, often provide a modern indication of an old warehouse building's original purpose.
A roof with two slopes, the lower almost vertical to allow extra roof space for the attic rooms. The name is attributed to the 17th-century French architect Francois Mansart (1598-1666).
In architecture, a mascaron ornament is a face, usually human, sometimes frightening or chimeric, whose function was originally to frighten away evil spirits so that they would not enter the building. Later these became purely decorative. Examples can be seen on the upper floor keystones at 32-42 Foregate Street.
Following on from Georgian and Victorian Architecture, Modernism is characterised by the use of new materials, particularly reinforced concrete, glass and steel. Early modernism might be taken to include structures such as some railway stations and some factory buildings where functionality and economy are important, although early examples often include earlier elements especially as a frontage. In the 1950's this developed into a "Brutalist" style of minimalist construction that "showcased" the bare building materials and structural elements over decorative design. Ian Flemming even made the decision to name "Goldfinger" to name one of James Bond's adversaries after the architect Ernő Goldfinger. Perhaps the best known Modernist structure in Chester is Salmon Leap (1968/9 - also known as "the ugly pink flats"). Post-Modernism is a style or movement which emerged in the 1960s as a reaction against the austerity, formality, and lack of variety of modern architecture, but frequently uses the same materials. Post-Modernist buildings frequently make less efficient use of space than Modernist ones and do not always have form following function. One good example is the circular HQ building which replaced the "Brutalist" Police HQ.
A decorated bracket that forms a support for a cornice.
A vertical dividing post that separates the panes or lights of a window.
Neoclassical architecture is an architectural style produced by the Neoclassical movement that began in the mid-18th century in Italy and France and is a style from the late 18th and early 19th centuries that was specifically associated with the Enlightenment, empiricism, and the study of sites by early archaeologists. A return to more classical architectural forms as a reaction to the more playful Rococo (late Baroque) style can be detected in some European architecture of the earlier 18th century, most vividly represented in the Palladian architecture of Georgian Britain and Ireland. The name refers to designs of the 16th century Venetian architect Andrea Palladio.
In the early decades of the twentieth century when there was a growing nostalgia for its sense of order, the style was revived and adapted and in the United States came to be known as the Colonial Revival. The revived Georgian style that emerged in Britain during the same period is usually referred to as Neo-Georgian.
A Roman technique of building with large blocks and without the use of mortar, usually reserved for temple or city walls, and employed in Chester.
Opus quadratum is an ancient Roman construction technique, in which squared blocks of stone of the same height were set in parallel courses, most often without the use of mortar. This technique was used by the Romans from about the 6th century BC, and over time the precision and accuracy of the block cutting improved. The technique continued to be used throughout the age of the Roman Empire, even after the introduction of mortar, and was often used in addition to other techniques.
Essentially a bay window that projects out from the upper storeys of a building and supported on brackets or pillars etc, and does not reach the ground. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term oriel is derived from Anglo-Norman oriell and post-classical Latin oriolum, both meaning "gallery" or "porch", perhaps from classical Latin aulaeum ("curtain").
Pargeting (or sometimes pargetting) is a decorative or waterproofing plastering applied to building walls. Pargeting derives from the word 'parget', a Middle English term that is probably derived from the Old French pargeter or parjeter, to throw about, or porgeter, to roughcast a wall. However, the term is more usually applied only to the decoration in relief of the plastering between the studwork on the outside of half-timber houses, or sometimes covering the whole wall.
In classical architecture, a pilaster is an element used to give the appearance of a supporting column and to articulate an extent of wall, with only an ornamental function. It consists of a flat surface raised from the main wall surface, usually treated as though it were a column, with a capital at the top, plinth (base) at the bottom, and the various other column elements. In contrast to a pilaster, an engaged column or buttress can support the structure of a wall and roof above.
The history of embellishing architecture with pineapple ornamentation is largely unknown, but many have speculated the significance of the pineapple in European architecture. While some argue the pineapple is a symbol of hospitality, others have linked the fruit as a symbol of Christianity (as a single pineapple plant will give it's life for that of a single fruit - although the early harvesting of the main fruit can encourage the development of a second crop of smaller fruits). There is a good example of a Tudor-revival pineapple on the Old Rectory at the head of St Mary's Hill. The introduction of the pineapple to Europe in the 17th century made it a significant cultural icon of luxury. In the 18th century, people could rent pineapples out for the night if they were having a dinner party, using them as a centrepiece to demonstrate their wealth. The alternative was to buy one, which would have cost the equivalent of over £5,000 today. The pineapple fascinated Europeans as a fruit of colonialism but it could not be successfully cultivated in Europe for several centuries until Pieter de la Court developed a greenhouse horticulture near Leyden from about 1658. Pineapple plants were distributed from the Netherlands to English gardeners in 1719 and French ones in 1730. By the second half of the 18th century, the production of the fruit on British estates had become the subject of great rivalry between wealthy aristocrats. Tatton park had a restored "Pinery", originally from 1774, where pineapples were grown on tanner’s bark, a waste product from the tanning industry.
Plinth (wall base)
Plinths generally preceded the widespread installation of a physical damp proof course, though you will occasionally find both an original brick wall base plinth and a physical damp proof course, usually of slate. Brick plinths are generally constructed with lime mortar and so long as breathability is maintained then this thicker ‘buffer’ zone at wall base does a good job of protecting against wall base damp and rainsplash. Plinths can also be made of stone. Render plinths are occasionally added to disguise spalled brickwork.
The cornerstones of brick or stone walls. Quoins are also common in some brickwork corners that are alternately recessed and expressed. One theory for the wide adoption of this architectural feature was that brickmaking in Stuart times was at first somewhat "hit and miss" and this technique gave neat corners.
Romanesque architecture is an architectural style of medieval Europe characterized by semi-circular arches. There is no consensus for the beginning date of the Romanesque style, with proposals ranging from the 6th to the 11th century, this later date being the most commonly held. Combining features of ancient Roman and Byzantine buildings and other local traditions, Romanesque architecture is known by its massive quality, thick walls, round arches, sturdy pillars, barrel vaults, large towers and decorative arcading. The best examples of it in Chester are found at St Johns. Romanesque architecture was the first distinctive style to spread across Europe since the Roman Empire. With the decline of Rome, Roman building methods survived to an extent in Western Europe, although the round arch continued in use, the engineering skills required to vault large spaces and build large domes were lost.
A brick laid on the long narrow side with the short end (header) of the brick exposed.
A hard smooth facing brick from Ruabon in Wales. The name "Rhiwabon" comes from "Rhiw Fabon", "Rhiw" being the Welsh word for "slope" or "hillside" and "Fabon" being a mutation from St Mabon, the original church name, of earlier, Celtic origin. The discovery of vast quantities of high quality Etruria Marl clay in the Ruabon area in the 19th Century heralded the beginning of tile and terracotta production on a vast scale. The “Ruabon Brick & Terra Cotta Ltd." or "Jenks' Terracotta Works" (or "Gwaith Jinks") was situated on the west side of the Ruabon–Wrexham road (off Tatham Road) but with its original clay pit to the east of the Ruabon–Wrexham road, separated from the Monk & Newell clay pit by the Afon Goch. Founded by the Hague family of the Gardden in about 1883 and managed by Henry Jenks, it produced bricks, chimney pots, finials, cornices and encaustic tiles. It was taken over by Dennis' in the 1960s but closed in the mid-1970s. The most famous of the industrialists in Wrexham in the late 19th Century was Henry Dennis, who founded the company in 1878 that would later become Dennis Ruabon Tiles Ltd. Dennis, born in Bodmin, Cornwall, studied civil engineering and travelled to Wales to supervise construction of a tramway at a slate quarry near Llangollen. After a stint in Spain at a lead mine, he later returned to Wales after amassing a considerable personal fortune. Dennis became managing director of the Hafod Colliery and by 1878, had established the Hafod Brickworks. By 1893, a new factory which became known as the "Red Works", was constructed on the site where the present-day building still stands. There, workers produced ridge tiles, chimney pots, tiles and other products using 24 coal-fired "Beehive" kilns.The business flourished at a time when demand for the red bricks and terracotta was high. By the time of his death in 1906, Dennis had established himself as a giant of the industry, ensuring that his firm - and the name of Ruabon - had been "forever cemented in British architectural history".
A range of masonry techniques used in classical architecture giving visible surfaces a finish texture that contrasts with smooth, squared-block masonry called ashlar. The visible face of each individual block is cut back around the edges ("channel-jointed") to make its size and placing very clear and emphasise the joints. In addition the central part of the face of each block may be given a deliberately rough or patterned surface. During the 18th century, following the Palladian revival, rustication was widely used on the ground floors of large buildings, as its contrived appearance of simplicity and solidity contrasted well to the carved ornamental stonework and columns of the floors above: "Rustication became almost obligatory in all 18th- and 19th-century public buildings in Europe and the USA".
In the 16th century throughout Europe wooden sliding shutters developed into glazed horizontal sliding windows and during the following century the vertical sliding sash window began to take its place. The oldest known existing vertical sliding sash windows in Britain date from the late 17th century. It is unclear where the sliding sash originated but the word "sash" derives from the old French word "chassis" meaning a frame, which suggests that it was introduced into Britain from France. Due to the high cost and the difficulty of manufacturing and transporting large panes of glass safely, the earliest sash windows had many small panes, and due to the large section of the glazing bars were very heavy. The technique of counterbalancing was incorporated to facilitate the easy opening and closing of the sashes. Cast iron or lead weights hidden in the hollowed out frame were used to counterbalance the sashes. These were hung on cords running over brass or hardwood pulley wheels mounted in the frame. During the 18th century the classic Georgian style of two rows of three panes in each sash evolved and the thickness of the glazing bars was reduced to give an elegance typical of the era. At this time, rather than being made from hollowed out solid members the pulley stiles and linings of frame were constructed as a box to contain the sash-weights and brass or cast iron axle-pulleys were introduced. The abolition of the tax on glass in 1845 slashed the price of glass and windows with only two panes per sash became common. Victorians would display their wealth by having windows with only one large pane in each sash. Horns (joggles) were added to the top of the bottom sash and to the bottom of the top sash to increase the strength of the sashes as the size of panes increased and the number of glazing bars diminished. Changes in architectural styles around the beginning of the 20th century and the inherent draughtiness of sash windows reduced their popularity.
A typical great hall was a rectangular room between one and a half and three times as long as it was wide, and also higher than it was wide. It was entered through a screens passage at one end, and had windows on one of the long sides. The kitchen, buttery and pantry were typically on the opposite side of, or along, the screens passage.
Where there’s an old wooden beam, there’s often a rumour that it originated on an old ship - such a legend is attached to a fireplace mantle-beam at Stanley Palace. Unless a building is incredibly close to a coastline or river where wooden ships were dismantled or routinely wrecked and washed up in pieces, the chances of a building containing anything remotely connected with a historic ship are just about zero, despite many "urban legends" to the contrary. Timber was felled as close to the wood yard as possible and generally converted for use in construction within a year or two of being felled, this practise is well documented. Carpenters would also be very reluctant to use their precious tools on hardened ship oak that was likely to contain grit or other debris that could take the edge of their tools. Working with ‘green’ oak is relatively easy, especially along the grain, working oak that’s dried out can be very hard work. A carpenter working in the C17 would have to have a very good reason to select a steel-hard seasoned beam over a freshly cut one. Just because a wooden beam is bent does not mean that it was once part of a ship: few trees that were used for building materials before the mass production of pine grew straight. This does not mean that timber was not re-used, as wood was valuable, especially where it had already been cut and jointed. The timbers from the former east span of the roof of The Falcon are now reused in the cellar ceiling, and date from c1180.
In some parts of the UK, thatch was the only commonly-available roofing material until the late-1800s, when the large-scale commercial production of slate began, and the new network of canals and railways, made other materials more viable. The use of thatch began to decline towards the end of the 19th century because of the agricultural recession and the urbanisation of previously rural people. In Chester, thatch was banned at an early date (1671) on the four major streets because of the risk of the spread of serious fires within the city and the availability of tile and, to a varying extent, slate.
A spandrel is a triangular space, usually found in pairs, between the top of an arch and a rectangular frame; between the tops of two adjacent arches or one of the four spaces between a circle within a square. They are frequently filled with decorative elements.
"Squints" are normally found in Churches, but have been known from various manor houses where they typically comprise a "spyhole" looking into the banqueting hall. Perhaps the intention here would be to "eavesdrop" on conversations and gain an advantage in business transactions. Priest holes and squints are rare in Cheshire, but there is a good example at Leche House.
As a material stained glass is glass that has been coloured by adding metallic salts during its manufacture, and usually then further decorating it in various ways. The coloured glass is crafted into stained glass windows in which small pieces of glass are arranged to form patterns or pictures, held together (traditionally) by strips of lead and supported by a rigid frame. Painted details and yellow stain (notably silver nitrate) are often used to enhance the design. The term stained glass is also applied to windows in enamelled glass in which the colours have been painted onto the glass and then fused to the glass in a kiln; very often this technique is only applied to parts of a window.
Or "stallboard". By about 1350 the Row system seems to have been largely in place. The frontages along the four main streets were lined with galleries, while "stallboards" on the street side of the walkway maximised the commercial potential of each building by allowing a street level stall to be set up. These stallboards can be seen in many places and form a sloping roof of the building below allowing for the headroom needed to enter, especially where the steps down into the undercroft are internal. From the late 15th century onwards, householders enlarged their properties by extending the chamber over the Row and supporting it on posts in the street. The gap between these posts and the street side of the Row walkway was then covered, sometimes extending the stallboards. The street level shop could then also be extended, often by adding a shop front reaching as far out into the street as the stallboard above it. This encroachment, continued through the 16th and 17th centuries. In places a small shop or chamber (often called a "cabin") was even errected on the stallboard, so that the "Dark Row" thus created became a dark and even dangerous place. Encroachment was controlled by the City Assembly, and owners had to pay a fine and annual rent, because they were taking land from the city.
Projecting horizontal band in a wall, sometimes moulded. String courses are aesthetically attractive and help break up large expanses of brickwork, but seldom have a structural purpose.
Stucco or render is a construction material made of aggregates, a binder, and water. Stucco is applied wet and hardens to a very dense solid. It is used as a decorative coating for walls and ceilings, external building siding, and as a sculptural and artistic material in architecture. Stucco may be used to cover less visually appealing construction materials, such as metal, concrete, cinder block, or clay brick and adobe. In English, "stucco" generally refers to a coating for the outside of a building and "plaster" to a coating for interiors; as described below, the material itself is often little different. Other European languages, notably including Italian, do not have the same distinction; stucco means plaster in Italian and serves for both.
In architecture, a transom is a transverse horizontal structural beam or bar, or a crosspiece separating a door from a window (Fanlight) above it. This contrasts with a mullion, a vertical structural member.
"Tudor" has become a designation for half-timbered buildings, although the truth is there are cruck and frame houses with half timbering that predate 1485 by quite a bit and the style bleeds early into the Jacobean era. The low Tudor arch was a defining feature of this style rather than simply the use of half-timbering. There is a good example of a Tudor-revival arch in the Old Rectory at the head of St Mary's Hill. During this period, the arrival of the chimney stack and enclosed hearths resulted in the decline of the great hall based around an open hearth that was typical of earlier Medieval architecture. Instead, fireplaces could now be placed upstairs and it became possible to have a second story that ran the whole length of the house. Tudor chimney-pieces were made large and elaborate to draw attention to the owner's adoption of this new technology. The jetty appeared, as a way to show off the modernity of having a complete, full-length upper floor. Early chimneys were often elaborate to again indicate the wealth of the owner.
The Tuscan order (Latin Ordo Tuscanicus or Ordo Tuscanus, with the meaning of Etruscan order) is one of the two classical orders developed by the Romans. In its simplicity, the Tuscan order is seen as similar to the Doric order, and yet in its overall proportions, intercolumniation and simpler entablature, it follows the ratios of the Ionic. Many "Tuscan" columns are found along The Rows, if only because they are the easiest style to make in cast-iron.
The semi-circular or triangular recessed space forming the center of a pediment; sometimes decorated.
An undercroft is traditionally a cellar or storage room, often brick-lined and vaulted, and used for storage in buildings since medieval times. In Chester the undercrofts form the street-level shops along the rows. They may be differently numbered from the row-level properties above and may also be in different ownership.
A Venetian window (alias Serlian window) is a large tripartite window which is a key element in Palladian architecture. Although he did not invent it, it features largely in the work of the Italian architect Andrea Palladio (1508–1580) and is almost a trademark of his early career. The true Palladian window is an elaborated version. The true Venetian window consists of an arched central arched light symmetrically flanked by two shorter sidelights. Each sidelight is flanked by two columns or pilasters and topped by a small entablature. A variant on this can be seen on Wyatt's bank building on the corner of St John Street.
A wedge-shaped or tapered stone between the springer and the keystone used to construct an arch
The irregular surface on converted timber, being originally the roughened surface of the sapwood lying immediately below the bark on the tree.
Wattle and Daub
A composite building method used for making walls and buildings, in which a woven lattice of wooden strips called wattle is daubed with a sticky material usually made of some combination of wet soil, clay, sand, animal dung and straw. Wattle and daub has been used for at least 6,000 years and is still an important construction method in many parts of the world. The wattle is made by weaving thin branches (either whole, or more usually split) or slats between upright stakes. The wattle may be made as loose panels, slotted between timber framing to make infill panels, or made in place to form the whole of a wall. It is closely related to "lath and plaster" a building process used to finish mainly interior dividing walls and ceilings. It consists of narrow strips of wood (laths) which are nailed horizontally across the wall studs or ceiling joists and then coated in plaster.
A relatively short walk around the principal streets of Chester will reveal examples many of the features described in the glossary above. Advantageously, such a walk can be done on a wet day taking the benefit of The Rows to provide shelter over almost all of its course and a view of the buildings opposite. The buildings of Northgate Street, Eastgate Street, Bridge Street and Watergate Street, of which this tour only explores parts, are describled in further detail on their respective pages.
This perambulation starts at the High Cross which was the junction of the four principal streets of Roman Chester, where the Roman Principia (Headquarters Building) stood on the site of St Peter. Click on the icon left for a detailed map which also gives access to the "street view". The Cross itself is a restoration from 1975 and said to comprise some parts of the original which was broken-up in 1646. St Peter has battlements as a decorative feature and the first of many coats of arms are visible from this spot. Dutch Gables can also be seen on several buildings.
The first thing to note is that the overall street-plan of the city is much influenced by the layout of Roman Chester. The original streets formed a grid pattern which reflected the layout of a Roman military tent camp. The most important building was the "Principia"which was the administrative and religious center of the fort. The existence of this building, on the site of what is now St Peter is the reason that modern day Northgate Street and Bridge Street do not line-up. The second obvious feature are The Rows - a construction which places many of the shopfronts on two levels. These are medieval in origin and one of the very few uses of this type of construction anywhere in the world. A third thing to note is that the architectural style, particularly above the modern shop-fronts, is varied but can be clustered into a few groups: including that of Georgian Chester and the "half-timber" work which mostly dates from Victorian Chester.
Turning into Northgate Street the ashlar frontage of the Neo-classical former Commercial News Rooms (1807) by Thomas Harrison has a rusticated three bay arcade, Ionic pilasters (note the scrolled capitols) and 24-pane sash windows. The arcade is not an original feature but was cut through the building in the 1960's. Next, Shoemakers Row, with a center section (1900) by John Douglas featuring oriel windows above another arcade. This is an example of the Vernacular Revival of which Douglas is considered the local master, here seen in full bloom, with many features which progress far beyond the medieval style which gave rise to it. One thing to note here is Douglas use of carved figures. In many cases the figures used by Douglas are intended to have a specific meaning rather than being generic.
Northgate Street soon opens into the Market Square with views of the Town Hall (1869) the "Venetian Gothic" design of which is based on the Cloth Hall in Ypres (Flanders). In the distance is an excellent example of what was once an "Art Deco" Odeon cinema. Opposite, the Abbey Gateway (c 1300) has a fine stone vault and leads into Georgian Abbey Square. While Abbey Sqaure appears carefully planned it was actually built piecemeal and the seemingly identical houses along the west and east sides are each quite different. There are several views of the Cathedral much "restored" by the Victorians with the addition of the decorative stonework visible today. Returning through the Abbey Gateway, it is possible to explore further in this direction as far as Northgate or further, but this is a short tour, which now returns back down Northgate Street and onto The Rows on the left.
On the corner of Eastgate Street is a short section of "dark row" (reconstructed in the 1990's) where the stallboard has been built upon enclosing the row on both sides - the building to the outside, where it exists, is generally called a "cabin". Daylight returns at the timber-framed "Boot" (1623) one of the rivals for "the oldest pub in Chester". Opposite are visible a range of buildings in jettied and half-timbered mock-tudor, Georgian, Gothic Revival (1858), and Greek Revival (1828) styles. Number 26 ("Jones" in 2020) has mock "cruck" frames on the upper storey springing between the bressummer and the barge-boarded gable: an 1858 rebuild by Penson and one of the earliest of the Vernacular Revival buildings. Further down is an even earlier example at 36-38 again by Penson. Many of the windows are anachronistic, notably a pair with semi-Venetian arched lights set in a "Mock Tudor" frontage.
Arriving at the end of the row section steps lead down to the street through the frontage of George William's 1859 Corinthian-columned "Old Bank". On the left is another example of Douglas in the form of the east side of St Werburgh Street (1895-99) followed by a mix of good and poor mock-Tudor, some elaborate plasterwork and a left-over Georgian relic. Then, just before the Eastgate the Grosvenor Club with the arms of the historic counties of Wales and a cameo of Owen Jones. Steps can be used to ascend the Eastgate onto the City Walls. Returning to Eastgate Street and walking back towards the High Cross it is possible to examine the other side of the street.
Upper Bridge Street
Number #12 Bridge Street: one of the most impressive buildings on the rows, formerly known as: Nos.2 AND 4 Cowper House BRIDGE STREET ROW (also formerly familiar to many as "Bookland"). The property was improved by Thomas Cowper a Royalist, and Mayor of Chester 1641-2, possibly after severe damage in the Civil War. The property extends over 4 storeys including a medieval vaulted undercroft and Row level. On the ground floor the front undercroft, its present floor two steps below street level, is lined, however, six steps lead down through a mid 19thC Gothic Revival stone screen with archway on colonnettes and flanking windows in 13thC style, within a broad recessed arched panel, to a spectacular 6-bay quadripartite rib-vaulted rear undercroft. The undercroft was re-discovered in 1839 and is now thought to date from 1350-75, possibly even a little earlier.
The rest of Upper Bridge Street is a mix of Georgian and Vernacular Revival, with a few pre-Georgian features. Notable early structures include the "Three Old Arches" (marked "1274AD") which are topped with a Georgian frontage. St Micheal's Rectory was built in 1659 and shows well the relative scale of the original buildings on this street. There is some early (1858) "revival" work at 51-53 by James Harrison and almost opposite at number 40 (again 1858). John Douglas's work stands out boldly at Number 38 (1897) and compared with the building just across the narrow Pierpont Lane shows how the "revival" style had developed over the intervening years.
Number 55, with a prominent statue of Charles I (cut down to fit the niche) dates from 1889 and is the work of Thomas Edwards. One interpretation is that it is meant as an architectural "joke" or a pointed comment on "mock Tudor", another is that the original occupant, an antique and art dealer, thought that it might attract business.
Back at the cross, turn into Watergate Street which has such architectural delights as "God's Providence House", the Leche House and Bishop Lloyd's House. These three buildings each retain some original features but all have been altered over the years. The best preserved is the Leche House which, although it is in use as shop premises is well worth a look.
On the north side is the impressive "Georgian" Booth Mansion (1700 - so before George I). Booth wanted his house to be prominent from the High Cross and so the frontage is angled and encroaches into the street, for which Booth was "fined" £10 and charged an annual additional rent of £0.25. The current owners are still required to pay a token £1.00!
This shortened tour returns from the point where Watergate Street reaches the inner ring road, but Stanley Palace can be seen across the street where the continuation of Watergate Street heads down to the Watergate. From here it is possible to return to the starting point at the High Cross by simply back-tracking along Watergate Street.
Sources and Links
One of Chester’s most distinguishing features are The Rows. These are galleried walkways that run the along the four streets that meet at the High Cross. These four streets, each of which leads to one of the principal City Gates of Chester, are linked to below, together with the excellent 1999 study of them:
The best surviving undercrofts are:
- 12 Bridge Street (Cowper House);
- 28 Eastgate Street (Brown's Crypt),
- 11 Watergate Street (Watergate's Wine Bar);
- 21 Watergate Street (Leche House);
- 37 Watergate Street (St Ursula's);
And among the more interesting buildings (there are far more):
Leche House (1603-1625)
Bishop Lloyd's House (1890/1615)
Stanley Palace (1928/16thC)
The Falcon (1982/c1180)
Bear and Billet (1664)