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This lump of rock has at least 900 years of history, perhaps much more, and yet most visitors to Chester will never even see it. It's story involves much of the history of Chester, especially the frictions both between between local and itinerant tradesmen, and county and city that still continue. It's true tale may be even older still.
Mention in 1120
In front of Chester Castle's outer gatehouse, there was an irregular open area known by the 13th century as Gloueriston (Gloverstone). Like the castle itself, this lay outside of the city liberties, being a part of the Hundred of Broxton. The area was crossed by a roadway leading to the castle gate, constructed over demolished houses in 1295. The eponymous stone which marked the limit of the city's jurisdiction, was a "great slab" of (according to the 1625, Exchequer Bill proceedings) "blue or grey marble", and stood in front of the gatehouse until the late 18th century. The earliest reference to the Glover's Stone comes from 1120 when Ranulf de Meschines required that:
- ..Alan Sylvester chief forester of the forest of Wirral .. blew or caused to be blown a horn at the Gloverstone in Chester on the morning of every fair day, to indicate that the tolls on all goods bought or sold in the city or within the sound of that horn belonged to the Earl or his tenants ..
Whether this tradition actually dates back to Ranulf or not is debatable, as the evidence for it comes from an inscription on the "Wirral Horn" added in the 17th Century.
- "In the year 1120,Randal de Meschines,Earl of Chester,created Alan Sylvester chief forester of the forest of Wirral and granted to him the manors of Hooton,Storeton and Puddington to hold upon condition that he performed the duties of forester and in addition that he blew or caused to be blown a horn at the Gloverstone in Chester on the morning of every fair day, to indicate that the tolls on all goods bought or sold in the city or within the sound of that horn belonged to the Earl or his tenants.Alan Sylvester was succeeded by his son,Ralph,on whose death,without issue,Hugh Cyveliac, Earlof Chester,granted the same manors with the forestership to Alexander de Storeton on his marriage with Annabella, the daughter of Alan Sylvester. Alexander de Storeton again had only female issue and the forestership passed next to Sir Thomas Bamville, who married Agnes de Storeton,daughter of Alexander. Sir Philip Bamville, the heir of Sir Thomas, also left issue,three daughters only, the eldest of whom,Jane, married Sir William de Stanley,and brought the forestership as part of her dower,the title of her son,John Stanley, having been proved in 1346 before Jordan de Macclesfield,justice in Eyre to the Earl of Chester.in this family it remained until disafforested by King Edward 111 on the complaint of the citizens of Chester who represented that they were grievous sufferers from the freebooters who lurked in the forest. the Stanleys petitioned the king for renumeration for the loss of the profits attached to the office of chief forester, and were granted an annuity of twenty marks,which however seems to have been indifferently paid. The horn,however,which was the symbol of their tenure,has remained in the possession of the Stanley family ever since."
It could have been added later or it could be a historical fact.
Origins of Name
The name of the rock is supposed to be derived from it's use by makers of gloves, however descriptions of leather preparation in glove-making do not seem to involve any process which could require such a stone. Glove-making developed where there was a ready supply of deer and/or sheepskins. Consequently, Perth, Dundee, Yeovil, Woodstock, Worcester, Limerick and Chester became famous for "gloving" during the Middle Ages. In Chester evidence of tanning pits dating back to Saxon times and in the middle ages large numbers of peaople were involved in the manufacture of leather and leather goods. The light leather trade was based around Lower Bridge Street, although "Glover's Row" (1426) was located on the south side of Eastgate Street, close to the junction with Upper Bridge Street, and was later the site of the "Crown and Glove" (the sign survives). There was undoubtedly a market in Chester well before it was first documented c. 1080, in the city centre immediately south of St Peter's church. A focal point, it was fronted in the 1120s by important buildings, including the sheriff's house and a great shop (magna sopa). In the 1090s Gruffudd ap Cynan was supposedly exhibited there in chains and released by a young Welshman visiting to buy necessities. Hemingway writes of a tradition in which during the Midsummer fair (held around 21st June - the feast of St Werbergh's translation) a pair of gloves was presented to the mayor by the Glovers, and a further tradition in which a glove was hung up and removed on the south side of St Peter's church (at the High Cross and opposite "Glovers Row") to indicate the start and end of the fair. This hanging of the glove arose from the law of Hugh of Avranches stating that any felon who attended the fair could not be arrested there, save for crimes committed at the fair.
The hand was marked "HVGO COMES CESTRIA GVILDA DE CIVIT. MERCAT. MCLIX"
- "Hugh, the first Earl of Chester, in his charter of foundation of St. Werburgh's Abbey in that city, had granted to them, who should come to Chester fair, that they should not be then apprehended for theft or any other misdemeanour, except the crime were commited during the fair. The consequence of which privilege was, that multitudes of disorderly people resorted thither."
As reported in Chamber's Book of days:
- Chester was endowed by Hugo with two yearly fairs, at Midsummer and Michaelmas, on which occasions criminals had free shelter in it for a month, as indicated by a glove hung out at St. Peter's Church,—for gloves were a manufacture at Chester. It was on these occasions that the celebrated Chester mysteries, or scriptural plays, were performed.
After the fair was over, the hand was taken down and the "Leavelookers" would ensure that all unauthorised traders were evicted from the city so that the Guilds and Freemen could get back to their normal monopoly.
What Happened To The Hand?
The following statement is made in July 1858 by Samuel Brown, herald painter of Chester:
- The old wooden glove was suspended from the outer wall of the south spout (near Northgate street) of St. Peter's Church, Chester the origin of which was, tradition says, that when fairs were first held in Chester in July and October, the glove was hung out fourteen days before each fair, to represent the hand of friendship, and to invite the neighboring towns to send their merchandise to Chester, particularly the Irish weavers of linen, great quantities of which were disposed of at these fairs. The Corporation allowed the sexton of St. Peter's 5s. per annum for taking care of and hanging out the glove, but of late years they reduced the salary to 2s., and at last to 1s. 6d., when in 1836 Peter Catheral, the sexton, received orders to discontinue the hanging out, and was told he might do what he liked with it. Then he gave it to the then clerk, Edward Sidall, gun-maker, and in 1837 Sidall gave it to a man by the name of Joseph Huxley, an upholsterer, whose father-in-law (a Sergeant Wilkinson begged it from Huxley, his son-in-law, and in 1837 Wilkinson sent it to Liverpool. Nothing has been heard of it since. The writer of this knew all the parties well July, 1858. Samuel Brown, herald painter.
A little more can be added to this. Local folk-law holds that the Mayor refused to pay for "such a foolish old custom" and that Catheral sold it or gave it to a Mr Wilkinson who sold it for two pints of ale at "The Boot Inn". According to this version, by 27th December 1836 it passed into the hands of a Joseph Butler. After that it somehow ended up in a museum at Liverpool where it was apparently destroyed in WW2 bombing raids.
Curiously, a deed of conveyance to William de Doncaster from 1345 mentions that there were "Gloverstones" also at the High Cross, on the west side of St. Peter's Church -i.e. exactly where the glove was hung.
The south side of St Peter's Church was for a considerable time (after at least the mid 13th century) the site of a separate summary court, distinct from the Portmote and meeting in the Pentice, a structure built against the south wall of the church. This seems to have served as the shrieval office. Though the Pentice court apparently dealt with much the same kind of business as the Portmoot, cases were determined by the sheriffs without a jury. The court, well established by 1288, was particularly concerned with the regulation of the markets, and also heard all pleas during the fairs, when the Portmote was suspended. Samuel Lewis recorded the following:
- Fourteen days before the commencement of each general fair a wooden hand as the emblem of traffic and bargain is suspended from the Pentice adjoining St Peter's church where it remains during the fair a period of twenty nine days when non freemen are allowed to trade in the city and during the continuance of the fairs a court of pie powder is held by the sheriffs.
The "wooden hand" was in fact a wooden glove. A "court of pie powder" was a special tribunal which had unlimited jurisdiction over personal actions arising in the market, including disputes between merchants, theft, and acts of violence. In the Middle Ages, there were hundreds of such courts, and a few survived into modern times. The term refers to the dusty feet (in French, pieds poudrés) of travellers and vagabonds. Sir William Blackstone's Commentaries on the Laws of England in 1768 described them as:
- "the lowest, and at the same time the most expeditious, court of justice known to the law of England"
The tradition of hanging up a glove in this manner is also found in other ports, particularly in Exeter, Portsmouth and Southampton. At Chester, the practice may have survived until the 1880's:
- Gilbert remarks, The displaying of a glove at fairs is an ancient and widely-extended custom. Mr Lysons says it is continued at Chester. The editor has seen a large ornamented glove over the guildhall at Exeter during the fairs. (Taken from Popular Romances of the West of England by Robert Hunt - March 1881)
Perhaps the name of the Gloverstone has nothing to do with the manufacture of gloves at all, but the "Glovers" in question are those who traded under Earl Hugh's specific permission, that is, those who were not free-men of the city. White gloves are also still presented to a judge at a maiden assize, said to come from a Saxon tradition that a judge might not wear gloves while hearing a case. In Roman courts, a glove was hung to symbolize the presence of the Emperor. Thus, handing a pair of gloves to a judge indicates that he has no case to try, and hanging up a glove in this manner also indicates the partial suspension of the law. The hanging of the glove and the admission of "vagabonds and travellers" into the city was to save later earl Ranulf of Blundeville and lead to the establishment of an even odder jurisdiction - the Minstrel Court.
A free trade zone?
Both the castle and the Gloverstone district were technically outside of the city of Chester and apparently goods could be bought and sold there all year round without paying city taxes and tolls. This pulled the teeth of the city Charter of 1208 in which 'the men of Chester and heirs' were granted the privilege of sole selling rights, except at the annual fairs. This was not popular with some of the city guilds - for example attempts were made by the Bakers' company in 1623 to suppress a bread market at Gloverstone. The diary of Roger Whitley (Whig Member of Parliament for Chester) in May 1692 records further discussions on the subject (over what seems to have been a "long lunch"):
- 10.Tuesday, about 11 a man came to me from Mr Conen who yesterday delivered me a latter from him & partners; past 11 came Denson, Bingley & 2 other Bakers about the bread market at Glovers Stone; they dined with me, went past 3; Crew & Wheateare & Littleton came at 3; went neare; Moses went with a letter to Sidall.
Even at the height of the guild system in the later 16th and earlier 17th century, however, the guilds did not find it easy to enforce their rights against unqualified competitors in Gloverstone and the cathedral precincts, or from the countryside. By the 1630s Gloverstone in particular was crowded with non-guild traders and craftsmen who claimed the right to sell their wares in the city's markets without hindrance. The argument continues to the present day, with occasional friction between the established market and travelling markets.
The circled area is believed to have been the location of the Viking settlement in Chester. Castle Street, shown dashed heading west from St Olave's, leads to the Gloverstone.
The origins of this "free-trade zone" may go back before 1208. It is perhaps worth noting that in the 10th century a Viking trading settlement grew up on the south side of Chester in the area which is now Lower Bridge Street around the (now abandoned) church of St Olave. This would have been outside the original Roman walls and is close to the Gloverstone. It is thus possible that the free trade zone dates back to Ingimund and his people who are said to have attempted an "invasion" of Chester around 905. Huts excavated in Lower Bridge Street have been interpreted as of the bow-sided type especially associated with Scandinavian sites in England, and what was perhaps the name of a gate in the city walls in that quarter, Clippe Gate, may have derived from the Old Norse personal name Klippr. When Chester Castle was constructed it was said that "half the houses in the Saxon city were destroyed". It is noteworthy that the castle is outside of the bounds of the Roman Walls, and this indicates that the "extramural" settlement at Gloverstone was actually quite large at the time of the Conquest. The "Castle Esplanade Hoard" of c965, rediscovered in 1950, had 550 coins and 148 pieces of hacksilver (cut-up metalwork) identified as "Viking Age Silver".
The dedications of the two churches in the area, St Bridget and St Olave, were also appropriate for a settled Hiberno-Norse community. St. Olave's (dedicated to Olaf Haraldsson, King of Norway) cannot have come into being before the mid 11th century, since Olave was killed only in 1030; St. Bridget's, however, could well be earlier, as she lived c. 451–525. The dedication was especially likely to have been favoured by immigrants from Ireland and was used also at West Kirby, in the Scandinavian settlement on Wirral. Moreover, since the medieval parish of St. Bridget's at Chester was in two portions, separated by parts of other parishes, it was perhaps once larger and had been eroded by later foundations. The church was probably the first to serve the Hiberno-Norse in Chester and dated from the period of their settlement in the city. St Bridget shares both her name and her feast day with those of the earlier pagan goddess Brigid whose British and continental counterpart Brigantia seems to have been the Celtic equivalent of the Roman Minerva and the Greek Athena.
Complaints about non-freemen making and retailing goods continued in the 1730s and 1740s, and the Assembly still occasionally ordered fines, which had to be sued for in the portmote court, and even closed a few illegal shops. In July 1752, Elizabeth Brereton, using the Chester Courant, advertised a house and shop to let in Gloverstone as follows:
- "Any persons who are not free of the City of Chester cannot be hindered from following their trade in the said place as it is in the county"
The city's increasingly half-hearted policy was finally undermined after it sued a grocer trading in Gloverstone in 1758. At the 10th April assembly it was ordered that:
- Affidavit's shall be prepared and that an Information in the Kings Bench shall be allowed for against Mrs. Daffy and Mrs. Elizabeth Brereton for instituting a Public Market at Gloverstone and the same shall be solicited by Mr. Thomas Brock the Town Clerk
After prolonged legal manoeuvres a ruling was given in 1766 that the city was not entitled to sue unfree traders in its own court, since the freemen jurors there had a vested interest in the case. In the late 18th century the Gloverstone enclave was known for clock and watchmakers. Gabriel Smith, a Clockmaker, who was elected mayor of Chester in 1779, had worked in his father Joseph's shop in Gloverstone in 1747. In 1803, the commission for the rebuilding of the Gaol purchased all the buildings in Gloverstone. Some were demolished but 20 Castle Street which can still be examined at the Grosvenor Museum, and the adjacent The Golden Eagle survived.
From 1463 to 1826, there was almost a complete exclusion of imported gloves in England, therefore opulent and elegant continental gloves offered rich profits to smugglers. Perhaps smuggled goods, including gloves, were sold at or close to the Glover's Stone.
John Lowe, a goldsmith of Chester, gives the following description of his shop in "Bridge Street Row", first published in The Chester Record November 24, December 1 & 22, 1860 (reprinted in the "Cheshire Sheaf", July 1884):
- Next the highly respected Mr.GEORGE LOWE, goldsmith,-who had been compelled to remove hither from the lean-to Pentice, at the North-east corner of St.Peter's church,-the Commissioners of Police having determined to remove this obstruction to the thoroughfare. Above his shop at the Cross was suspended, by immemorial custom, the "Glove" or "hand" from the battlements of the church, to invite strange merchants to bring their wares to the Fairs on the 5th July and 10th October. The "Glove" was taken in at the expiration of a fortnight, when the "Leave-Lookers" went round to see that the strangers were leaving the city; otherwise they were required to take up and pay up for their freedom, or in default to be summarily removed. The business of Mr.G.LOWE is now carried on by his son, Mr.JOHN LOWE; and many are the plain gold hoops that have been there forged for those desirous of going to Hymen's Altar!
"Leavelookers" were officers of the Corporation who ensured that "strange merchants" left as soon as possible to maintain the monopolies of the Guilds. Lowe's moved to their current premises in 1804 - and are still there. The pun involving "G.LOWE" almost reading "G.LOVE" has long faded into history.
Boundary of the County and the City
The Gloverstone was also used as a boundary marker. In 1651, the Chester Castle was described as follows:
- "At the first coming in is the Gate-house, which is a prison for the whole County, having divers rooms and lodgings. And hard within the Gate is a house, which was sometime the Exchequer but now the Custom House. Not far from thence in the Base Court is a deep well, and thereby stables, and other Houses of Office. On the left-hand is a chappell and hard by adjoyning thereunto, the goodly fair and large Shire-Hall newly repaired where all matters of Law touching the County Palatine are heard, and judicially determined. And at the end thereof the brave New Exchequer for the said County Palatine. All these are in the Base Court. Then there is a drawbridge into the Inner Ward, wherein are divers goodly Lodgings for the Justices, when they come, and herein the Constable himself dwelleth. The Thieves and Fellons are arraigned in the said Shire-Hall and, being condemned, are by the Constable of the Castle or his Deputy, delivered to the Sheriffs of the City, a certain distance without the Castle-Gate, at a stone called The Glover's Stone from which place the said Sheriffs convey them to the place of execution, called Boughton."
Another sources attests that petty criminals and "vagabonds" were handed over:
- "at glovers stoune to such officer of the Cittie of Chester, in and from hence to whipp them through the the Cittie"
This tradition was still extant in the 19th Century, when it was described by the prison reformer Howard (see: The State of the Prisons in Britain, 1775-1905). Further reference to the Glover's Stone in some kind of judicial/administrative context is found in the Diaries of Roger Whitley for October 1686. Roger Whitley was at times mayor of Chester and one of the two MPs for Chester. As the leader of the Whig faction he engaged in a long-standing battle with the faction of the Grosvenors for control of City politics. He wrote:
- 13. Wednesday, Grantham came home to Dr Angells (about the way) went to the Hall; the tryall began before 9; lasted till neare one; saw & spoke with Cholmeley, Grosvenor & severall others (onely complemnts &c.) went with Streete & Minshall to G. Mainwarings, dined there with Bellot, Mainwaring Streete, Thomas; Mainwaring & severall others; Offley came about 3; Jones (my witnesse) came thither to speake with me &c; past 4 I went to the Castle; wayted on the Judges in theire lodgings; spoke with the Governor about the summons sent me to appeare the next day at the Glovers stone about the Forest businesse; I desired him to excuse my attendance; Sir Jeffrey & he invited me to drincke a glasse of wine, in the Governors lodgings; there was Offley, Wilbraham, Bellot, Mainwaring & Minshall, &c; I called on Taylor, went to Williams (to advise about dating the verdict & nonsuite; went then to the Sunne; there was 3 Mainwarings, Kenrick, Streete, Minshall, Bellot, Wilbraham; we supt, parted at 11.
William Bingley's history of North Wales (1804) suggests that handing over of prisoners at the Gloverstone may date back to Henry VII, who, in 1506 granted Chester its 'Great Charter', which constituted the city a county in its own right. Bingley proposes that the inhabitants of the city would rather execute felons themselves rather than allow the county any jurisdiction within the city. It appears that the boundary of jurisdiction was recognised by the city as well. In 1625, the Gloverstone is mentioned in proceedings relating to a matter or inheritance (on December 1st), where John Edwards of Cheavely, in evidence, stated:
- That several messuages, gardens , and backsides, near the gate of the castle of Chester had been comonly known by the name of the Gloverstone, some of which dwelling houses are now in the houldings of Wm. Halton , Inhoulder Rob Cartwright, Glover and Rd. Spenlocke. That for the space of forty years and upwards they were reputed to be within the county of Chester, and Hundred of Broxton , and not any part of the City of Chester. That a grey stone of marble standing in the street near unto the messuage now in the occupation of Rob Cartwright was one meere and boundary of the said messuages and lands from the liberties and precincts of the City of Chester. That the Shirehall or Common Hall for pleas for the County of Chester wherein the Assizes and Sessions for the County were usually kepte, did within the tyme of his remberance stand near the castle ditch on the left hand side of the way leading from the castle lane to the castle , and upon part of the lands now the reputed inheritance of the complainants. This Hall was removed forty or fifty years ago. That the servants or deputy of the sheriffs of the County of Chester, or the Constable of the Castle, have from time to time used to deliver the prisoners that were condemned to suffer death unto the sheriffs of the city at the said stone or meere, and that there the sheriffs of the citty have receyved them and thence brought them to execution. He hath often tymes seene the sheriffes of the said citty of Chester departe with theire white staves soe soon as they have past Glovers ' Stoune , when they had occasion to goe forth of the city into the castle.
The records of that case also note that a William Crosse, of Castle Lane, glover, aged 89 years, gave evidence as above, and adds:
- I have seen the bakers trouble the country people that offer to sell bread there; cutlers and naylors , and other tradesmen not freemen, have used to sell their wares within the precincts of the Glover stone. So the same with cloth and stockings - sadlers, butchers, pedlers, taylors . For seventy years that the sheriffes of the City have stayed on that side of the meere stone which : is towards the Castle lane, and that there att the said meere stone the sheriffes have receyved the condemned . But he does not remember any maior or sheriffes putt downe his or their sword or staff of authority at the Glovers' Stone.
Hemingway (1831) mentions the stone in connection with the arrest of Richard II, in 1399:
- .. the following day he was brought to this city and lodged in a tower over the outer gateway of the castle opposite to Gloverstone which was destroyed in the late alterations from whence he was conveyed prisoner to London.
The Gloverstone played a small and indirect part in the Civil War. Taxation disputes had arisen over a voluntary gift for a projected expedition against Barbary pirates in 1618-19, and also over the corporation's attempt to make the inhabitants of Gloverstone liable to tax. More serious arguments arose about the assessments for Ship Money (Chester was aggrieved at having to pay a quarter of the county's total under the first writ of 1634, a proportion later reduced). The city authorities then exempted citizens who had contributed to its own assessment from payment for property held in Cheshire, provoking the county to complain successfully to the privy council. Chester retaliated in 1635 by assessing the sheriff of Cheshire, Sir Thomas Aston (later Royalist), on profits received in the city from his farm of duties on French wine imports. The county backed Aston, and by 1636 also supported the dean and chapter, the inhabitants of Gloverstone, and Sir William Brereton (later Parliamentarian), in their disputes with the city over liability. In 1638 the privy council ordered Aston to pay with the city and declared Gloverstone exempt. Chester's contributions were fully paid at first, though delays began in 1636, and by 1640 the privy council was upbraiding the corporation for widespread resistance. Aston and Brereton would later fight on opposite sides in the Battle of Middlewich (more of their conflict can be found on the Cholmondeley page).
After the Civil War the area around "Bunce Lane" (originally "Buntz Lane", now Bunce Street) was used as a gathering place for various meetings. In 1666 the following letter was sent out on behalf of Charles II (it being in the midst of the Second Anglo-Dutch War and just after the "Four Days Battle"):
- "Gentlemen - there being no great reason to doubt that there are preparations made by Enemies of thes Kingdom towards an Invasion, We cannot omit to give you notice thereof, you being equally concerned with us in such a danger. And further to inform you that we thought fit to secure this Country in the best manner we can: for which purpose we have apointed a meeting at Glovers Stone upon Tuesday the 17th of this Instant July..."
The administrative boundary will soon disappear. Chester Castle was until 2009 still a civil parish encompassing the area around Chester Castle. The parish is bounded by Castle Drive to the south, Grosvenor Street to the west, and Castle Street and St Mary's Hill to the east. In 1891 it had a population of 249, which had declined to 8 by 1971. According to the 2001 census it had no inhabitants at all. As the parish was part of the Chester Rural District and did not form part of Chester County Borough, County Hall was actually in the administrative county of Cheshire. The Local Government Act 1972 saw the parish become part of "Chester District", along with the rest of Chester Rural District. As of 2009 the city and the surrounding parts of the county became united under a unitary authority of City of Cheshire West and Chester.
There were other boundary stones in Chester. It may be that Boughton takes it's name ("Bochtunestan") from a similar stone and it is possible that a further stone ("Vínheíþr-stan") existed at Upton giving rise to "Wealstone Lane". The reference to "Vínheíþr" is interesting as "Vin Heath" is mentioned in Egils Saga as being the location of the Battle of Brunanburh, sometimes said to have been fought at Bromborough on the Wirral.
No map or illustration could be found which shows the exact location of the Gloverstone. Comparing old maps of the castle and the location at the present day gives some clues as to the position of the Gloverstone, which is thought to have been in its original location up to the late 18th Century.
The following facts are helpful in trying to pin down the exact positioning of the stone:
- A will from 1714 relating to 20 Castle Street makes definite mention of the house 'in the Gloverstone at Chester'. The stone was not removed until the demolition of the castle gateway in 1789. Heraldic records show that the present site of The Golden Eagle was occupied by "Green Hall" home of "Ball of Castle Street" (Humphrey Ball, Sheriff of Chester in 1469). The present building is C17 and C18 externally.
- The remains of the Castle Ditch can still be seen. The inner courtyard of the Military Museum contains a well which may have been within one of the Barbican towers of the castle gatehouse. The drawbridge would therefore have been roughly in the position of the current entry road to the west of the Museum.
- Castle Street (previously "Castle Lane") almost certainly follows it's original lines, as does St Mary's Hill.
- Moses Griffith's illustration from around 1750 does not show the stone, so the stone must be "out of frame".
- The stone had been described as a "grey stone of marble standing in the street near unto the messuage now in the occupation of Rob Cartwright"
A best guess estimate for the initial position of the stone would be at the northermost tip of the "Gloverstone" and would be where Castle Lane, Bunce Lane, St Mary's Hill and the unnamed road leading to the Chester Castle drawbridge all came together. The Laveaux map (above) shows the area as it was in 1748 and is in good agreement with the other maps. If the stone was at the point of the roughly triangular area it would not have been under the Military Museum. Curiously, this would have placed the stone directly in front of the office of the Chester Archaeological Survey.
The stone in the gardens is not as imposing as it sounds, but does show a great deal of wear on it's upper surface and does appear to be blue-grey. It may be of the general class referred to as "Bluestone" (middle Ordovician ("speckled") dolerite - about 460 million years old - twice the age of the local red sandstone). It is not of the local rock type and therefore possibly a "glacial erratic" carried here during the ice ages and dropped into the local boulder clay (this rock type occurs in North Wales), although there has been no real geological examination of the stone to determine whether it is a local erratic or must have been brought from elsewhere by man (there no clear flow of glacial ice from North Wales which could have brought the stone to Chester). However there is another "erratic" Bluestone at Acton (and even a small hamlet called Bluestone). Local ice-flow maps are not convincing that the Bluestones could be glacial deposits. Indeed the Acton Bluestone also has "supernatural" associations:
- "Half a mile north of the Church is a little hamlet called Bluestone, named from an erratic block in a field. This strange rock naturally caused wonder to those who had no knowledge of glacial action, but thought they knew a good deal about satanic objection to churches. So some one thought that the devil, watching the monks raising the pile from his rocky outlook somewhere on the Peckforton Hills, picked up a rock and hurled it at the workers. It fell short, and he was baffled, just as he was in his efforts to stop the erection of other ecclesiastical buildings." Alfred Coward, Cheshire Traditions and History, Methuen & Co, London, 1932
If it was brought by man, then when? It was probably in place by 1120 and must have held some significance at the time otherwise it would have been hauled off for some other use. One intriguing possibility is that the stone is of prehistoric origin, as from it's original location and without any intervening buildings (or trees!) there would have been (just) visible solstice sunrise/moonrise alignments with the hills at Frodsham/Helsby, the prominent crag of Beeston Castle and Maiden Castle and similar setting alignments with the horizonal hills around Minera and Burton on the Wirral. Possibly purely by chance, on the pagan Celtic festival of "Imbolc", midway between the winter solstice (Yule) and the spring equinox (and also St Bridget's feast - Candlemas) the sun would have risen above the site of St Olave's as seen from the supposed site of the Gloverstone.
Another chunk of Preseli Dolerite turned up at Barrow, just north of Chester in the form of an axe-head. This was discovered at Hollowmoor Heath by Bill Webster in 1932 and given to the antiquarian Maurice Ridgeway. It is now in the Grosvenor Museum.
The "Bluestones" of Stonehenge, believed to be another ancient observation aid, are also speckled dolerite, although they are believed to be from Preseli in southern Wales. It has been suggested (see: "Stonehenge and the Ice Age") that the Stonehenge stones were also transported by glacier (this seems unlikely as the glacier would have to have been rather selective).
A connection between Chester and Stonehenge may seem unlikely, but (just as this article was being written), it was announced that a 4,500 year-old limestone plaque had been found at the at the Poulton excavation. This bears a mysterious crisscross pattern - and there are faint hints of a similar pattern on the "back" of the stone in Watertower park. The closest previously known parallel to this was a chalk plaque found in 1969 on Salisbury Plain, just 1km from Stonehenge. The markings on the Poulton stone were made with a flint tool and flint from Salisbury Plain has previously been found on the Poulton site.
The location at the Watertower seems somewhat inappropriate, as it would have been underwater during much of the city's history. It is not even mentioned on the Water Tower Garden's web page. The only trace near the original site is a modern development, "Gloverstone Court", which can be found near to the Castle. As of the time of writing, there are no plans to return the stone to a more prominent and appropriate location (although the landlord of The Golden Eagle would like to see it returned).
There is a lot more information on the Gloverstone district, the "Chester Hand" and the stone itself available. Of the links below R Stewart-Brown's paper and that of Shrubsole are well worth a perusal.
- "Notes on the Chester Hand or Glove" a detailed paper by R Stewart-Brown (1912);
- British History Online.
- Geograph map.
- More on the Vikings in Chester.
- Steve Harding's Viking Wirral Website.
- Erratic Bluestone at Acton;
- Some further details on Gloverstone;