Chester retains many elements of the grid-like layout of Roman Chester within the City Walls, ouside of which it had barely expanded by the the time of an 1825 Map. After 1825, the first major departure from the rectilinear street plant was Grosvenor Road, leading to the Grosvenor Bridge, later came City Road to serve Chester Station and later still the Inner Ring Road.
The compass of directional expansion of Chester was determined by trade. In Roman Chester and later, in the Medieval, came growth along Foregate Street to be the first to grab trade entering the city from the east. With the "Canal Mania" around 1770 and the difficulties of the silting of the River Dee, Chester grew to the west, then in the 1840's the railway brought growth to the north, especially in Hoole. Between the wars there was much growth in Handbridge. In post war years large estates of housing developed in Blacon and the Lache.
- 1 Chester Streets Historic Notes
- 2 The Grosvenors
- 3 The Inner Ring Road
- 4 The Effect on the City
Chester Streets Historic Notes
Many of the streets in central Chester have fascinating history associated with them. Clicking on the names of the streets under the pictures in the gallery below will reveal more:
The Grosvenors financed many buildings in Chester, including many by Douglas and Lockwood. Many of these buildings carry a decoration in the form of characteristic blue brick "diapering": sometimes of an "XXX" form and sometimes in the form of intersecting V-shaped patterns. Examples of this can be seen in Bunce Street and in many other locations.
The Inner Ring Road
By the early 1960's town planning was significantly influenced by a Government Publication on the "development of central areas". The issues of war damage did not apply to Chester as it often did elsewhere but there waa a need for the urban centres reconstruction in conjunction with the "traffic problems", car parking and shopping needs. Apart from the problem of war damage, redevelopment was also necessary in most town centres also for a variety of other reasons since buildings, especially inner-city dwellings, had become outworn and outdated, the town centre had become unable to cope with modern traffic conditions, and it was necessary to provide a new environment for changed ways of living. To these three main reasons, may be added the fact that the value of sites in central commercial areas had risen to a high level. The proposed solution in many towns and cities was a closely drawn-in Inner Ring Road, often in the form of a dual-carriageway, with car parks (often of multi-storey concrete constuction) dotted along it, and clearance of much inner city housing for external estates. Chester had a particular problem that eight major road routes converged on the City from: Warrington, Birkenhead, Heswall, Flint, Mold, Wrexham, Whitchurch and Winsford and to get through the city the only alternatives were via the narrow streets between The Rows or down narrow Pepper Street.
Chester's Inner Ring Road had it's origins in the widening of Pepper Street, the creation of the Newgate (1938) through the City Walls and the widening of Little St John Street. This road scheme almost led to the destruction of the Amphitheatre and due to the Second World War it was not until the 1960's that plans were renewed. The initial plans for the Inner Ring Road, drawn-up by City Engineer and Surveyor Charles Greenwood in 1945, called for the clearance of much of King Street to join Northgate Street within the city walls. From there, it would pass through a widened Northgate and down George Street. As part of this plan the "Blue Bell" in Northgate Street would be demolished in order to widen the road, as would have been parts of the Northgate. Indeed the Blue Bell had been acquired by the City Council in the 1930's for the purpose of road-widening. Fortunately, this plan was dropped in 1960 and a new plan adopted which had the Inner Ring Road follow its present route outside the Northgate.
In early January 1960 the Chester Civic Trust was formed in an attempt to ensure that development was sympathetic to the historical importance of Chester. In addition the "Chester Photographic Survey" was started in 1963 to record every building within the city walls that was in danger of being lost through redevelopment. By 1965 some 4000 photographs had been taken.
The Effect on the City
Chester's Inner Ring Road is often criticised as ruining much good architecture. However, the effect on reducing city-centre traffic, particularly along The Rows and at the High Cross should not be forgotten and much of what was swept away had by the 1960's become delapidated. The whole inner ring road project was completed by 1972 although to some extent the through-traffic function of the road was superseded in 1976 by the construction of Chester's southerly by-pass. The June 1991 "Extension of Chester Bypass to M53" (Junction 12) further reduced the traffic loading. The "Chester One City Plan" states:
- "The current hierarchy of streets within Chester and many of the primary routes, which are recent additions, have marginalised some of the secondary or historic routes. The inner ring road has destroyed much of the historic grain and cut side streets or lanes off. Some streets are lost and some are devoid of activity due to the disconnection of places. The opportunity to meander between and through spaces has been lost. The human desire to wander is not satisfied in many parts of Chester."
A particular criticism in the City Plan concerned the barrier effect of the Ring Road:
- "The network of underpasses that exist in Chester as a means of improving pedestrian permeability across the Inner Ring Road, particularly at the Bars gyratory and at the junction of Hoole Way and St Martin’s Way, are unattractive, poorly lit and (according to anecdotal evidence from consultation events) underutilised as a result. Given their positioning at two key gateways into the City Centre and on both main pedestrian routes between the Rail Station and the retail core, their unattractiveness causes pedestrians to seek alternative means of crossing these large junctions and this can cause safety issues as a result. In addition, conversations from local residents point to the fact that the underpasses are perceived as dangerous in terms of criminal activity and are consequently seen as ‘no-go’ areas after dark."
The problem at Gorse-Stacks has been partly solved by the provision of a surface crossing. However the Barrs still presented problems, especially for those unfamiliar with the layout - although improved signage helps, Boughton is still somewhat isolated.
A further problem arising from the Inner Ring Road is the high level of pollution arising from vehicles. This has led, in 2016, to the establishment of an air quality management area (AQMA) where levels of NOx compounds and particulates are high - often above legal limits.
Northgate to Gorse Stacks
Starting at the "Fountains Roundabout" outside of Northgate and going clockwise, the Ring Road cuts across the site of Northgate Station and separates St Anne's Street in Newtown into two parts. St Anne's Street led to St Anne's Lakes in Hoole at Flookersbrook. At Fountains Roundabout a significant amount of demolition was required. One particular victim was Egerton House in Upper Northgate Street. This large, three storey, building of around 1730 was the Chester Town-House of Sir Philip Egerton, whose family seat was at Oulton Hall in Little Budworth. It is one of the major losses due to the construction of the Inner Ring Road. The fountains themselves are only rarely seen working as they at the most elevated and exposed part of the Inner Ring Road and in anything but quite still conditions the water spray is blown onto the surrounding road. Those living in the housing demolished in Newtown were re-housed in a mix of high-rise and low-rise flats of typical "60's" build. "Henward's Lowe", a site of possible archaeological interest near the Fire Station just survived.
The construction of the Gorse Stacks roundabout led to the demolition of the south end of Brook Street and the closure of the cattle market at Gorsse-Stacks (which was not missed). Cattle had been herded to the city down Brook Street from Chester Station for years, often causing much inconvenience. Gorse Stacks became a car-park off the Inner Ring Road until 2016 when work started on moving the bus-station there. The combination of the bus-station and inner ring road means that vehicle emissions are very high in this area. On a more positive note, "Hoole Way" diverted traffic from narrow Brook Street.
Gorse Stacks to The Barrs
The Ring Road continues, now on a viaduct, over the canal and to another major roundabout at the junction of City Road and Foregate Street. The ancient bowling green off Brook Street just survived as did Lunt's Union Bridge. In the same area the Ring Road passes close by the former Milton Street ("Wiseman's Cestrian Corn") Mill, built in the 1830's, later a furniture warehouse and then the "Mill Hotel" since 1987. Internally, the building retains many of the original iron stanchions employed in its construction - it can be seen from Lunt's bridge or from Canalside. Earl's Villas and the lower ends of Seller Street and City Road were not so lucky, having been demolished. Other "survivors" at the end of City Road include Lockwood's former Liverpool Union Bank is an impressive corner building at the junction with Boughton. It is executed in yellow sandstone in a Baroque style with pedimented mullion and transom stone windows with leaded lights. The roof features belvederes capped with cupolas. On the opposite side of City Road the last building is now the English Presbyterian Church of Wales by Michael Gummow (Wrexham) of 1864, executed in a classical style with Ionic detailing in stucco. The Grosvenor Court development at the centre of the Barrs roundabout has a strong neo-Georgian character. Passing through the cattle market, Brook Street failed to provide the grand and prestigious link between the walled city and Chester Station to which the City fathers aspired. Therefore City Road was laid out in the mid-1860's to create a more formal and befitting approach to both the City and Chester's principal railway station. Nowadays, the layout of the junction of City Road and Foregate Street is dominated by the Inner Ring Road and the favoured route on foot between the city-centre and the station has returned to Brook Street.
The Barrs to Vicars Lane
At "The Barrs" the Inner Ring Road splits, with the anti-clockwise and clockwise routes following Foregate Street/Love Street and Grosvenor Park Road/Union Street (each made one-way) respectively to merge again as Vicars Lane. This area of Chester was often referred to as "Douglasville" as many buildings here were designed by the architect John Douglas to replace "slum courts" which once occupied the land hereabouts. By splitting the road in this mannner it was possible to minimise the impact on Douglas's architecture allowing his works to survive as in the former Police Station at 142 Foregate Street designed as such by John Douglas in 1883/4 for the Cheshire County Constabulary (rather than the City Police, who were based at the Town Hall). Also surviving is the impressive terrace in Grosvenor Park Road, his 1903 works in Bath Street and his 1902 offices for Prudential Assurance Ltd at 122 Foregate Street. Similarly on the corner of Love Street Douglas's building for the Chester Co-Operative Society also remains. Losses included the west side of Grosvenor Park Road and the south side of Union Street.
Vicars Lane to Newgate
Vicars Lane leads the Ring Road past the north side of Grosvenor Park and on to St Johns, Little St John Street and the Amphitheatre. Little St John Street required considerable widening. No-one knew for certain that Chester had an amphitheatre until 1929, when a large curved wall appeared while an underground boiler room was being built onto the south side of Dee House, an eighteenth-century town house used as a convent school for girls. A local schoolmaster, W. J. Williams, was the first to recognise what this meant. Williams identified a stretch of masonry exposed in June 1929 as the outer wall of the amphitheatre. The curving wall and the buttresses were the main features that suggested that this was the amphitheatre, which proved to be well preserved. In the early 1930s, parts of the western entrance, the outer wall, the arena walls and the arena itself were discovered.
Further trenches dug by P H Lawson, who assumed that its dimensions would have been similar to those of the amphitheatre at Caerleon, confirmed the identification. Lawson’s carefully judged and small-scale trenches enabled an accurate assessment of its position and extent to be made. Further work took place in 1930-31 for the Chester Archaeological Society and the University of Liverpool, directed by Professors Newstead and Droop. They examined parts of the western entrance, perimeter and arena walls and the arena itself. Much of the structural history of the stone amphitheatre was established by their work. In 1934, more trial holes were excavated in the cellar of St John’s House and at 19 Little St John Street, which revealed parts of the northern outer wall of the amphitheatre.
Controversial proposals had been put forward in 1926 by the City Corporation to straighten Newgate Street and Little St John Street between the city Walls and St Johns Church. Hostility to the scheme was increased by the discovery of the amphitheatre in 1929, when it was realised that the new road would cut directly across the centre of the monument. The City Improvement Committee delayed inviting tenders for the construction of the new road to allow the Chester Archaeological Society time to raise funds to cover the cost of diverting the road around the outside of the site, some £23,798. A special exhibition was held in 1932 at the Grosvenor Museum (which was then run by the Archaeological Society) to help raise money.
The walls lining the proposed road had been built, cutting the site in two, and a new gate through the Walls was under construction when the Ministry of Transport effectively blocked the scheme in 1933 by refusing loan sanction. This occurred as a result of extensive local and national protest at the imminent destruction of the amphitheatre; opponents of the scheme included the Prime Minister, Ramsay MacDonald. The Archaeological Society formed a Trust, which bought St John’s House, on the north-eastern corner of the monument, while the remainder of the northern half remained derelict for some years. The house was leased to Cheshire County Council from 1934 to 1957. The outbreak of war in 1939 led to the shelving of plans for the site’s imminent excavation. However, by the late 1950s, the income generated in rent from St John’s House had increased to a point that allowed it to consider the excavation of the northern part of the site, although financial help from the Ministry of Public Buildings and Works was necessary.
The archives for the 1920s and 1930s excavations have not been located and it is unlikely that the primary record of the earliest interventions survives. However, Chester Archaeology does have some of the drawings from the 1930s excavations. The archives and finds from the 1960s excavation are stored in the Grosvenor Museum.
Newgate to Grosvenor Street
The Inner Ring Road enters the City Walls at the Newgate and passes along Pepper Street to cross Bridge Street and enter Grosvenor Street. New Gate is an arch bridge carrying the walkway of the city walls over Pepper Street. The bridge was built in 1938 to relieve traffic congestion in the city, especially at Chester Cross and is constructed in red sandstone. It was designed by Sir Walter Tapper (who died before it was completed) and his son, Michael. On each side of the bridge is a tower containing mock loops (unglazed slit windows) and surmounted by hipped roofs. Flights of steps on each side lead up to the towers and to the walkway across the top of the bridge. The structure is decorated with carved shields and Tudor roses.
Pepper Street was decayed and inconveniently narrow by the 1960's, when Pepper Street was widened. The ring road required massive demolition of the north side. It did enable the city centre to be freed from traffic, but at a high price in terms of the great swathes of historic fabric which were lost, such as at Pepper Street, Nicholas Street, Linenhall Street and Cuppin Street – here the fine grain of narrow Georgian streets was replaced by a larger and more open block form.
Grosvenor Street to St Martins Gate
A futher roundabout sits outside Chester Castle at the north end of the Grosvenor Bridge. Thomas Gould, is buried under it. This is the site of the graveyard of St Bridget (since demolished). The grave marker is shaped as a casket and inscribed:
- IN MEMORY OF THOMAS GOULD LATE OF THE 52ND REGT. OF FOOT LI. DIED IN NOVEMBER 1865 AGED 72 YEARS 46 OF WHICH WERE SPENT IN THE SERVICE OF HIS COUNTRY. HE WAS PRESENT IN THE FOLLOWING ENGAGEMENTS. VIMERA, CORUNA, CROSSING THE GOE NEAR ALMEIDA, BSACO, PUMBAL, REDINHA, CONDEIXA, FOZ D'AVOCA, SARUGAL, FUENTES DONOLE, STORMING OF CUIDAD RODRIGO AND RADASOS SALMANCA, SAN MUNOS (fallen prisoner), ST MILAN, VITTORIA, PYRENEES, STORMING OF THE FRENCH ESTABLISHMENT OF VERA (wounded), NIVELLE, PASSAGE OF THE NEVE ORTHES, TARBES, TOULOUSE AND WATERLOO. HE RECEIVED THE PENINSULA MEDAL WITH 13 CLASPS AND THE WATERLOO MEDAL. THE STONE IS PLACED OVER HIM BY A FEW FRIENDS
When Grosvenor Street was cut diagonally across the City in 1825 to form the approach Harrison's new Grosvenor Bridge, the original St Bridget's was demolished and William Cole (Harrison's pupil) designed a new church bearing the same dedication, which was erected close to Harrison's recently-rebuilt Chester Castle. It was restored in 1861 under the direction of James Harrison. Thomas Harrison had been buried in the churchyard, and in the 1960s, to make way for a traffic island on the new Inner Ring Road, Harrisons remains were transferred to Blacon Cemetery, although a plan to transfer his memorial stone was rejected and the stone subsequently lost.
The Inner Ring Road continues northward along Nicholas Street on top of the line of the western wall of Roman Chester and crosses Watergate Street into St Martins Way (previously Linenhall Street) to reach and cut through, the City Walls again at St Martins Gate.
Seacome (writing in 1828) describes the church which stood hereabouts as follows:
- "Formerly called St Martin's of the Ash stands at the west end of White Friars and Cuppings Lane. It appears to have been an ancient foundation for it is mentioned in a deed in the year 1250 wherein Bernard de Trannuille releases to Philip le Clerk a rent of 12d arising from premises situate "near the church of St Martin in Chester". The old church mentioned in this deed having fallen into decay was rebuilt in 1721 as we learn from an inscription on the front of the steeple. It is a remarkably small but very neat structure pointed with stone at the angles and finishings. The interior is handsomely fitted up and is capable of accommodating about 250 sitters. The open ground in front of this church bears the name of "Martin's Ash" derived in all liklihood from the circumstance of an ash tree having formerly stood on the spot."
On 27 April 1842 the district was united with that of Chester: St Bridget to form the combined district of "St. Bridget with St. Martin", which in January 1973 itself became part of a unified district for the city of Chester. St Martin's closed in 1963 and was demolished to make way for the Inner Ring Road around 1969 - a nearby part of which is known as "St Martin's Way". Work on the Inner Ring Road involved demolishing a large tract of properties through Nicholas Street and Watergate Street. A full history of the ring-road and an excellent gallery of pictures is to be found on ChesterWalls.info.
However, controversy about this road goes back further than the 1960's. Hughes writes as follows:
- "Returning to Watergate Street we see before us Linen Hall Street called formerly Lower Lane from its being at one time the last street on this side of the city. There is nothing to interest us in this street which terminates with St Martin's in the Fields at the rear of the Gaol and General Infirmary. So late as the sixteenth century there was at the further end of this street an ancient Church quoted in old deeds as the Church of St Chad but the place thereof is now nowhere to be found."
Hemingway (writing in 1831) is even more disparaging:
- "A little higher in the street is Lower lane a miserable receptacle of vice chiefly inhabited by the lowest order of people. At the corner of this street stands his Majesty's Custom house which though a building of small dimensions and miserable appearance is quite sufficient for the limited business of the port "
Linenhall street was one of the most changed places in Chester on the completion of the Inner Ring Road as it needed to be significantly widened. Major car-parks were added beneath the ground. As of the 2010's the eastern side of it is up for redevlopment again as part of the Northgate Development. One noted loss was the Yacht Inn. This stood, until the 1960's at the lower end of upper Watergate Street, when it was demolished to make way for the inner ring road. Hughes, (apparently never one to pass a decent pub by) describes it as follows:
- "A good view of Trinity Church is obtained from the end of Nicholas Street just opposite to that ancient hostelry the Yacht Inn. The Yacht is without exception the most picturesque and curious of all our Chester inns. Time was when it was the first hotel of the city and even now grown grey with long and faithful service lacks nothing that can render it a fit home for the wayfarer whom chance or design has brought to the old city. Americans who lust after the ancient and venerable and who delight in the rare timber houses of old England will do well to select snug apartments at the Yacht for its host Mr White is the very impersonation of a true British Boniface. But the Yacht apart altogether from the qualities of mine host and his well filled cellar of Huxley's Fine has other claims upon our attention. It was at this house then in the zenith of its glory that the eccentric and witty Dean Swift (who has not read his Gulliver's Travels) stayed on one of his journeys into Ireland. The Dean being of a convivial turn invited the dignitaries of the Cathedral to a supper at the Yacht but to his great mortification not one of them appeared. Disgusted at this return to his hospitality the Dean scratched with his diamond ring on one of the windows of this house the following distich not over complimentary to the church or the city;- Rotten without and mouldering within: This place and its clergy are both near akin"
Unfortuately, when the pub was demolished in the 1960's to make way for the inner ring road, no-one thought to preserve what would now be an almost priceless piece of glass.
St Martins Gate to Northgate
From St Martins Gate the Inner Ring Road is a further viaduct crossing the canal and the railway (twice) to reach the roundabout outside of the Northgate. Church Street, which once ran downhill from Upper Northgate Street has almost completely vanished.
Sources and Links
- Chester Photographic Survey: The Streets of Chester in photographs;
- Place-Names and Street-Names at Chester;
- Chester:— The Evolution and Adaptation of its Landscape;
- Notes on Chester Street-Names Past and Present (North) Haswell (1905);
Pages in category "Street"
The following 67 pages are in this category, out of 67 total.