This page contains a list of biographical pages about Chester architects, in the Category "Architect". For each of these pages we try to give a biography of the architect and a listing of the buildings which they designed with links to further information, either within Chesterwiki or elsewhere.
Many of the "resident" architects of Chester had somewhat tragic lives, either (like Lockwood, Thomas Harrison and Douglas) losing a wife and children at an early age or (like Penson, James Harrison, and Edward Ould) themselves living a relatively short life.
"Richard the Engineer"
The earliest "Architect" that we know of is "Richard the Engineer", who lived in Bridge Street in the 13th and early 14th centuries. Richard the Engineer first appears as the superintendent of works on the outer bailey of Chester Castle in 1265. He is therefore unlikely to have been born after 1240. His first mention in the royal records is in 1277 when he was put in charge of 1850 men (including 970 diggers, 330 carpenters, 320 woodmen, 200 masons, 12 smiths and 10 charcoal burners) at Flint to begin work on Flint castle. Richard then vanishes from the royal records for a while. One possible reason for this could have been the great fire of Chester of 15th May 1278. It has been suggested that this fire led to the opportunity to rebuild Chester with The Rows. Richard reappears on 16th March 1281, when he joins Master James of St George at Flint and is now paid 10d a day, but may have been called back to Chester quickly as the Old Dee Bridge was swept away that year. In 1282 he is back in Wales again supporting a military expedition by first repairing Hope (Caergwrle) Castle, and then building a bridge of boats to cross the Menai Strait. In 1283 he is associated with early work on Caernarfon's castle and walls. 1284 has him procuring tools for Conwy. In 1287 he is at Carmarthen building a siege engine. This was used successfully but as Rhys ap Maredudd moved to another castle (Newcastle Emlyn) Richard's engine was hauled there by 60 oxen and used successfully again. Another revolt in 1287 under the leadership of Madog ap Llywelyn brought Richard back to military matters, preparing another bridge of boats for crossing the Menai Strait at Beaumaris. In 1303 Richard undertook a series of repairs at Chester Castle following a fire and the same year in January he was consulted over the possibility of building pontoon bridges during Edward I's war with Scotland. These were constructed in Norfolk, and sailed up to Stirling on 24th May. The abbot of Chester pledged substantial sums to Richard in 1310 and 1312–13 for work at the cathedral. Richard was elected Mayor of Chester in 1305. He also (before 1309) built a house at Belgrave, after beginning to acquire land in Eccleston in 1284. Little of the house remains other than the moat.
A little-known fact is that Sir John Vanbrugh grew up in Weaver Street Chester, where his family had been driven by either the major outbreak of the plague in London in 1665, or the Great Fire of 1666. He is remembered as an English architect and dramatist, perhaps best known as the designer of Blenheim Palace and Castle Howard. He wrote two argumentative and outspoken Restoration comedies, The Relapse (1696) and The Provoked Wife (1697), which have become enduring stage favourites but originally occasioned much controversy. He was knighted in 1714.
In relatively modern times the first major innovative Chester architect was the Neo-Classical Thomas Harrison (c1744-1829) who was responsible for Chester Castle as it looks today, for the Northgate and for the Grosvenor Bridge.
James Harrison (1814-66) and Thomas Penson (1818–64) pioneered the Vernacular Revival "Chester Look", which was taken up and reached its peak artistic expression under the prolific John Douglas (1830-1911) and his contemporary, Thomas Lockwood (1829-1900). Other architects of that and the following generation included H. W. Beswick, James Strong, W. M. Boden, and Thomas Edwards.
John Douglas was perhaps the most successful exponent of the vernacular revival in Chester. His work had a strong sense of craftsmanship and sensitivity to materials, exemplified by his best buildings in the city such as the east side of St. Werburgh Street (1895-9), Shoemakers' Row in Northgate Street (1899), and no. 38 Bridge Street. However Douglas did not confine himself to Black and White: his brick buildings in Bath Street and Grosvenor Park Road together with other buildings in the city are simply stunning.
The work of Lockwood, a local achitect much patronized by the Grosvenors, was perhaps best exemplified at the High Cross. In 1888 he was responsible for one of the best known groups of Vernacular revival buildings in Chester, no. 1 Bridge Street, on the eastern corner of Eastgate Street and Bridge Street, and in 1892 he designed those on the opposite corner, between Bridge Street and Watergate Street, a more eclectic composition with renaissance and baroque elements in stone and brick interwoven with half-timbering.
The city's existing reputation for neglecting or destroying its historic architecture was reinforced after 1918. Not only were Georgian buildings replaced, but genuine timber-framed houses were allowed to fall into disrepair. The council delayed, for example, over the restoration of Stanley Palace, purchased by the Archaeological Society but then sold to the earl of Derby, who presented it to the city in 1928. When work eventually began in 1932, it was greatly criticized as overzealous and undertaken at the behest of 'council reactionaries'. There were also allegations that Chester's "meagreness of civic pride" led it to neglect the walls, described as "squalid and depressing" and unfit to be open to the public (Ches. Observer, 5 Dec. 1925).
The taste for mock half-timbered buildings persisted in Chester well into the 1920s, even though they were going out of fashion in most other town centres. Not all Chester's buildings of that kind were of poor quality, notwithstanding the comments made in 1929 by the dean of Chester's son, Francis Bennett, who deplored the replacement of "decent, honest Georgian" by "wretched, ill-designed black and white". For example, the Manchester and District Bank (later Royal Bank of Scotland) at the corner of Foregate Street and Frodsham Street was built to a well detailed design of 1921 by Francis Jones. Nor did all new buildings in the centre conform to the black-and-white idiom. Several national chain stores built shops in their own house styles at the east end of the town centre, including the neo-Georgian Marks & Spencer, designed in 1932 by Norman Jones and Leonard Rigby of Manchester, and the cautiously Art Deco premises of Montague Burton, designed by Harry Wilson of Leeds in 1928, both in Foregate Street.
The most unashamedly modern buildings were the cinemas built on prominent sites in the main streets, particularly the Odeon, designed by Robert Bullivant and opened in 1936, which was unavoidable in the view down Northgate Street. The Regal, designed in the same year by the A.B.C.'s architects in a more subdued Art Deco style, filled the corner of Foregate Street and Love Street. Only a few new buildings, such as Chester-trained Maxwell Ayrton's St. Werburgh Row of 1935 in St. Werburgh Street, were designed in a manner consciously sympathetic with their surroundings. The largest public building planned in Chester between the wars, the neo-Georgian extension to County Hall, located on the site of Harrison's Jail, designed in 1938 by the county architect E. Mainwaring Parkes and completed after 1945, was described Peter Boughton as "a meagre affair unworthy of its historic site and riverside setting", but actually seems to have stood the test of time well.
An Ongoing Issue
Much of the building and development in Chester during the mid to late 20th Century has been criticised, even though in many cases development was forced on an impecunious administration by economic necessity, or followed the perhaps short-sighted fashions of the times (particularly in the 1960's). The Chester Characterisation study (see link below) makes comments such as:
- To the rear of the Town Hall, the buildings of the Forum Centre, built in 1973, and the Crowne Plaza Hotel are , along with the ring road, products of their time as much as any of the other major elements in the city, perhaps carefully designed in the fashion of the day, but paying little respect to the form of earlier developments.
Controversy over architecture continues to the present day.
These links only give partial views of the contents in most cases (or none at all), but these are some of the more useful resources on Chester. If you are in Chester then most can usually be obtained from the book/giftshop at the Grosvenor Museum - together with several others. The best book is undoubtedly "Building Chester" by Phil Jones.
- Creating the Chester Look - believed to be written by Phillip Jones, who is said to be the author of "Building Chester", reported to be a very informative book.
- more on the Ring Road and other developmental faux pas are discussed at Virtual Stroll;
- The Council's Chester Characterisation Study - a very interesting read on architecture and development issues in parts of the city. The link is usually broken as CWAC seem to constantly re-shuffle their website.
- Chester West & Chester Council Interactive Map showing conservation areas, listed buildings etc;
- Chester Archaeological Society page on conservation;