Frodsham Street runs between Foregate Street and Cow Lane Bridge where the road towards Warrington (via Hoole and Frodsham). It becomes Brook Street as it crosses the Canal. It continues as the A56 to the village of Broughton in North Yorkshire. This was the route from Roman Chester to Wilderspool on the Mersey where the Romans had a walled industrial complex. The Roman route from Chester to Wilderspool is today obscured in part by the line of the A56, the modern descendant of the two Turnpike Road Trusts set up in 1786 from Flookersbrook to Frodsham, and from Frodsham to the Saracen’s Head on the southern side of Wilderspool.
Frodsham Street lies in the area of Roman Chester once occupied by a parade ground, just outside of the walls. Identified parade grounds, known as campi, are few across the former Roman empire. They were essential elements of Roman military training, to allow horses, and men, to be sufficiently warmed up for military exercises typically located away from the camp or base. The parade ground at the Roman fort on Hardknott Pass in Cumbria (National Heritage List for England 1009349) is scheduled as part of the fort complex. Two other scheduled Roman fort complexes - Tomen-Y-Mur (CADW ref ME078) and the settlement at Cefn-caer farm (CADW ME099), both in Gwynedd - are known to have associated parade grounds.
In Medieval times the are was occupied by the Kaleyards of the abbey, and a "jousting croft" - it is marked as such on the Lavaux Map. The mention of jousting is Cestrian history is rare, although Lucian the Monk does mention the later King John (6 April 1199 – 18/19 October 1216) being present "a very few years ago" at a joust in Chester (still as Prince John) - a fact which is not backed-up by any alternative source except the Chronicle of St Werburg which has Prince John and Philip of Worcester in Chester in 1185 (possibly accompanied by Gerald of Wales) waiting for a favourable wind for Ireland. Military exercises ceased to be performed before the close of the 16th century. The street was paved at a remarkably early date, on behalf of one William Bennet in 1552.
The Lavaux Map shows that "Cow Lane" terminated with some sort of gate or "Tollbar" and records indicate there was also a toll-cottage hereabouts. This appears to have existed until around 1773, having been taken down when the canal was created. Tolls were collected at each of the city gates, but there was a considerable outgrowth of the city along Foregate Street and this may be the reason why tolls might also have been collected at the far end of Cow Lane and at "The Bars". In the alternative these might have been simply been a measure to provide some domestic security for those living and conducting business in the out-growths of Chester beyond the City Walls. The presence of the tollbar may be the reason why the "City Tavern" was once known as the "Temple Bar" as the Temple Bar in London was the location of a barrier erected to regulate trade into the City of London.
Hemingway writing in late Georgian Chester describes it as follows:
- "The next opening presented by Foregate street is on the north side named Frodsham street; formerly called Cow lane and still more remotely Coole's lane. It is one of the principal entrances into the city from Manchester, Warrington and Frodsham; the houses are generally of the meanest description; the street narrow, filthy, and inconvenient; and but ill accords with the more distant approach at the beautiful hamlet of Flookersbrook, and the respectable appearance of Brook street. This street has excellent capabilities of being widened and improved, there being abundance of vacant ground behind, particularly on the east side, where the houses are most miserable; but as the property has a great number of owners who are generally in humble circumstances, there is no immediate prospect of any material improvement here."
As Hemingway (who was always something of a snob) relates, Frodsham Street has been known as Cow Lane and possibly Coole's Lane. It has also been known as Warrington Lane. Such was the state of the street in Victorian Chester that the city fathers decided on a new route from Chester Station along City Road.
The entire south-western section of the street was taken down around 1904 so that the road could be widened. It remained fully open to traffic until the 1990's when many of the traditional shops closed with the introduction of parking restrictions. By 2020 the street was semi-pedestrianised with traffic limited to buses and access to the car-park. As public-realm works have included the laying of block pathing this causes some confusion as the street has the appearance of a pedestrian space but still carries traffic. However the placement of street furniture such as benches at each end of the street sends a clear signal to vehicles that the street is a shared space.
There are a few buildings of particular architectural merit in Frodsham Street, but the majority of the buildings are only of minot interest and feature mock-Tudor fascia of variable quality. Some have oriels and Jettled upper floors above modern shop fromts, with most being two-storey. However the detailing often lacks depth, some of the timbering appears insubstantial, and the detail is often devoid of historical accuracy. Fortunately several of the buildings have an individual character and this helps the frontage to avoid being tedious.
In 1880 the "Hop Pole Paddock" (which extended back along the outside of the walls for some 240 feet) was bought by Chester Corporation as a location for the horse fair. Previously this fair was held further down Foregate Street and frequently blocked the street's new horse-drawn trams. In the 1890s the Corporation wished to build on the site of the paddock, but the Archeaological Society protested successfully against plans to build the new city baths on the Hop Pole Paddock. Instead, the Baths were built in Union Street. Later plans to develop the area even included a railway terminus which was eventually located at Northgate Station.
The bank on the corner with Foregate Street is by Francis Jones (1921), originally for the Manchester and Liverpool District Bank Ltd. Extended 1964 by Saxon Smith and Partners and now occupied by the Royal Bank of Scotland. Steel frame clad in sandstone and timber frame with plaster panels; Westmorland green slate roof. A well-executed late example of the Vernacular Revival. The Manchester and Liverpool District Bank was formed in 1829 and it became one of the leading provincial joint stock banks; it first established a branch in Foregate Street in 1908. Its name was shortened to District Bank in 1924. The Bank was acquired by the National Provincial Bank in 1962 but kept its identity until the latter’s merger with Westminster Bank.
The 1990 shops to the north of the bank replace a modernist two-level open-air shopping development, by Michael Lyell Associates, from 1970 known as Mercia Square. This was well-liked and a fair example of the modernist style used at the time, but suffered from structural defects and lasted less than twenty years, standing empty for some time before its demolition after only 20 years. At the end of this development is the access road to a car park and across that the corner premises (15 Frodsham Street} were designed by John Douglas and built by W Browne. It must be one of very few Grade II listed public toilets. Architectural features include stone dressings around doorways and a braced oak beam over a doorway. The corner has an octagonal timber-framed tourelle, bargeboards with carved arrises; and a hipped roof with the tourelle roof expressed as a spire with a lead cross as finial. The adjoining brick building to the north (17-21 Frodsham Street) was built for Phillipson & Golder, stationers and booksellers who moved to this site from Eastgate Street. The building is also in the manner of John Douglas. The upper storey is in a Germanic manner having a steep roof with small high-set dormers. The roof sweeps down to front eaves above 4 bays with extensive mullioned and transomed windows, some leaded, and a pair of loading-doors with a hoist-arm above which add some interesting character.
The Kateyard Gate is a gated opening for pedestrians through the City Walls cut c. 1275 for the monks of St Werburgh's Abbey (now the Cathedral) to have direct access to their vegetable garden (the "kale-yard"), by permission of Edward I. The king granted permission with the proviso that the gate be locked at night.
Subsequently repaired in various periods the gate is a simple rebated stone opening with double-boarded oak door opening outward. It is of special interest as the only medieval gateway in Chester in approximately its original form to remain in use, and has in recent years sometimes been closed nightly. Some years ago it was decided to leave the gate open at night. In 2013 the custom of locking the gate was reinstated and one could once again hear the curfew bell just before 21:00 hrs and see the gate being locked. It is now open permanently.
Hemingway writes of it:
- The Cale yard gate is still in existence and is now as in the time of our author a considerable thoroughfare by day but locked at each end during night time Of the second gate leading to the abbot's garden or of its precise situation no trace at present remains though the probability is that it stood nearer to the Northgate The abbot's garden appears formerly to hare stretched along the walls from about where the post office now stands nearly to the North gate the present site being occupied on the east by a orchard belonging to the Hop pole inn and by a mason's yard timber yard and a rope walk.
On the corner with Foregate Street stands a late modernist style building dating from the late 1950's, built on a location occupied by the "Bear's Paw" (demolished 1956) - its name probably derived from the "Bears Paw" (it is actually a Lion's Paw) said to be used in the coat of arms of the Savage family, Lords of the Manor of Frodsham from the early 17th Century. John Savage, 2nd Earl Rivers, a Catholic Royalist and past mayor of Chester, had his seat at Halton Castle and the great manor house at Clifton near Runcorn, called Rocksavage. When Earl Rivers returned to Cheshire after the Civil War with Rocksavage being ransacked and uninhabitable, and Halton Castle dismantled, Earl Rivers retired to Frodsham Castle where he was stripped of the family honours and estates. He died on 10th October 1654. A few hours after his death with his body lying within Frodsham Castle was set on fire and burned down - it was completely destroyed. The side of the building used to bear a "benchmark" used during the "First primary levelling", of England & Wales, and was levelled with a height of 76.4540 feet [23.3032 metres] above mean sea level (Liverpool datum). It was included on the Warrington to Pembroke Docks levelling line. The surveyor's description was "No. 69. Mark on corner of the Bear's Paw Inn, at junction of Frodsham-street and Foregate-street, Chester ; 3.35 ft. above surface" (p521). The adjacent leveling marks are Number 70 in the Cathedral and Number 68 which was at the old Cow Lane Bridge (but has been destroyed).
12-14 Frodsham Street
This is one of the better building in the street, a three-storey Victorian red brick building with decorative diapered brickwork at the upper level, arches at ground floor, and recessed mullion windows. Part of the building is occupied by a long established jewelers and clockmakers and there is a prominent clock on the outside of the building.
Quaker Meeting House
The Quaker movement, or the Religious Society of Friends, began in the 1600s, largely led by George Fox. The Quaker Meeting House on Frodsham street was originally set back from the street and the space in front of it was occupied by a graveyard. Meetings have been taking place on the site of the present meeting house since at least 1701. The site in Frodsham Street, formerly housed a farm building which was used by Friends as a venue for Meetings in 1701 or even earlier. The farm building was subsequently replaced by a purpose-built meeting house in 1703. From the 1800s a number of alterations and repairs took place and when death watch beetle was found in one of the principal roof timbers in 1964, Friends decided to demolish the meeting house and sell the site for re-development which would include a new meeting house. The site was purchased by a commercial developer who built a shop at ground floor and a dual purpose meeting house and warden’s flat on the first floor level in 1975. The entrance is now from Union Walk rather than Frodsham Street. By the 1990s it had become apparent that the warden’s flat was unsuitable for living accommodation and at the same time there was a demand for extra meeting space. The internal layout of the flat was reconfigured and additional meeting rooms were provided. When the present meeting house was built in the 1970s the human remains were exhumed and moved to the city cemetery.
There is some suggestion that the site, or more likely one nearby, was formetly a tennis court and may have been a place were William Penn was heard to preach by James II. King James II arrived in Chester on the 27 August 1687, and on the follwing day Bishop Thomas Cartwright recorded in his diary that:
- "from the Cathedral the king went to his devotions at the Shire Hall and Mr Penn held forth in the tennis court and I preached in the Cathedral,"
The "Shire Hall" was at Chester Castle. According to some versions James II actually heard mass in St Mary de castro, the chapel which occupied a floor of the Agricola Tower. McCauley gives a similar exposition, based on Cartwright's diary and Clarkson's "life":
- "Penn was at Chester on a pastoral tour. His popularity and authority among his brethren had greatly declined since he had become a tool of the King and the Jesuits. He was however, most graciously recieved by James, and, on the Sunday, was permitted to harangue in the tennis court, while Catwright preached in the Cathedral, and while the King heard mass at an altar which had been decked in the Shire Hall. It is said, indeed, that his Majesty deigned to look into the tennis court and to listen with decency to his friend's melodious eloquence"
It is not exactly clear where the "tennis court" was located. The Smith Map and that of Braun and Hogenberg show that the area was already quite well developed by 1581 and 1585/6, with B&H showing gardens. It is also not known whether the tennis court was indoors or outdoors. It may even have been a re-purposed "jousting croft".
The Oddfellows is a public house dated 1770 according to the a datestone inscribed "PH1770", with later modifications. The north side to Victoria Place has a panelled apron below a window of 3 round-headed fixed lights, flanked by 2 blocked doorways, all with fluted pilasters. The first floor has 2 sashes, now of 4 panes, flanking a stone-framed rectangular panel painted "ODDFELLOWS ARMS". The building was once provided with a much-noted elaborate blue lamp on a projecting bracket, but this was damaged during public works on Frodsham Street and has not been replaced (it was not included in the heritage listing).
The Oddfellows are one of the earliest and oldest fraternal/mutal societies, but their early history is obscure and largely undocumented. It seems fairly well-established that the early Oddfellows ddeveloped into a mutual aid society for people who either could not afford to joint a guild, where expenses were one way of restricting the membership, or those who had a profession for which their was no guild available. The objectives of the Oddfellows society aeems to have been tilted towards practical mutual aid rather than market regulation. There are many pubs in England with this name and many of these are decorated with the same coat of arms. Which is quartered with an hourglass, cross-keys (or less often hammers), a lamb and flag and a beehive. These symbols represent:
- Hourglass: the shortness of life and the certainty of death. Because time is short, the hourglass also emphasizes the need to assist others quickly and efficiently, and to prepare for old age. Many of these friendly societies would provide a burial fund which members could pay into to cover funeral costs;
- Crossed Keys: the keys of Saint Peter are generally seen as a symbol of papal authority and are seen on papal coats of arms. Some have suggested that the symbol as used by the Oddfellows represents the financial security of the Order, including the careful stewardship of members' funds. The keys differ from the "Catholic" symbol as they are upside down;
- Paschal Lamb: is possibly a symbol of protection based on the biblical story of the blood of a slain lamb being used to deter the Angel of Death at Passover;
- Beehive: prosperity through thrift and the collective rewards of hard work;
The chain of three links as shown above the blazon is also a common symbol of the Oddfellows. The arms as depicted in Chester has a rose in the center. The Latin phrase "sub rosa" means "under the rose" and is used in English to denote secrecy or confidentiality. Paintings of roses on the ceilings of Roman banquet rooms were also a reminder that things said under the influence of wine (sub vino) should also remain sub rosa. In the Middle Ages a rose suspended from the ceiling of a council chamber similarly pledged all present (those under the rose) to secrecy. However close inspection of the rose also shows the presence of a leek, a thistle and a shamrock. The Oddfellows of Chester also met at Bridge House (Numbers 16-24) in Lower Bridge Street from the 1870's until 1998, when the property became too expensive to retain and they moved to Saltney.
Cow Lane Bridge
The bridge crosses the Shropshire Union Canal, on which it is bridge 123E, and takes its name from the former cattle market just north of here at Gorse Stacks. The Canalside area around the canal between Cow Lane Bridge (123E) and Chemistry Lock was the focus of significant industrial activity, served by the canal, in the nineteenth century. There were timber yards, brick and tile yards, chemical works and flour mills. There is a straight length of canal with good views, especially from Cow Lane Bridge. This was the first section of the Chester Canal to be constructed (1774) and its opening was reported in the Chester Courant as something of a gala occasion:
- "Near Cow Lane Bridge was launched a large barge, called Egerton, 70 feet long, 14 feet wide and 70 tons burthen. Immediately after, she proceeded, full of people with french horns etc playing on board, under the walls of the city, along by the Phoenix Tower, thro' the rock that has been cut open at the Northgate, to the dam at the end of the canal now finished, being about 200 yards to the westwards of Northgate, where several cannon were fired. From thence she was conducted thro' six bridges and five locks now erected on the Christleton quarry; and afterwards was re-conducted to Cow Lane Bridge".
The bridge has since been reconstructed several times, most recently in 1959/60.
Sources and Links
- Lost Pubs: in Frodsham Street;