Goss Street has Roman origins (see below) but has changed a lot over the years. Until the inner-city slum clearances of the early 20th Century, much of the property behing The Rows and inns lining Watergate Street and Northgate Street was of variable, often low, quality. Even by 1914 most working-class Cestrians lived in 19thC terraced housing with tiny back sculleries, outside lavatories, small back yards, and front doors opening on to the street. In the city centre, conditions in the courts of Princess Street, Goss Street, and Crook Street remained below that standard into the 1930s. During the period 1960-1990 there was much modern development, most of which is due to be swept away by the Northgate Development. However Goss Street will not only survive but will be extended along the back of the Town Hall all the way to Hunter Street.
Roman Goss Street
Goss Street appears to run along the line of the Roman Chester Street which ran northwards along the west side of the Headquarters Building (Principia) which has not been the subject of much excavation. The west side of Roman Goss Street was occupied by barracks. Further up the street, across Hamilton Place was (on the left) the mysterious "Elliptical Building" (of which no visible trace remains), and (on the right) a large building, the purpose of which remains unknown. Investigations at Crook Street encountered evidence of a Roman structure believed to be a barrack type block on a north-south alignment. The earliest evidence dates to 1939 when a section of opus signinum floor was discovered in advance of construction of a new warehouse (then the premises of Quellyn Roberts Bonded Warehouse).
The building just to the left of Goss Street is "Hesketh House" (22 Watergate Street) in memory of Henry Hesketh, a prominent wine merchant, was said to have to have been owned by a William Bearsley in 1765 who is described as being from “Oporto in Portugal”. Indeed, during work on the cellars of the property (the undercroft) a hoard of gold coins from Portugal was apparently found. This local legend goes on to state that the finder did not advertise his treasure trove (it is supposed to be reported to the Coroner), but kept the secret from all but his closest associates. Interestingly this particular property is sometimes said to have been the den of a gang of forgers, who practiced "coining" in the cellars. A notable curiousity is that the first wine merchant to establish a business on the site was a Major John Bennet and it is said by some that it was he who found the treasure trove. The slightly suspicious thing is that nearby at Number 68 Watergate Street was rebuilt in 1789 for Alderman Henry Bennett (later Mayor and owner of Moston Hall - now the Dale camp) and remained in the ownership of his descendants, the Heskeths, until the second half of the 19thC. Henry Bennet turns up in the records of Chirk Castle as having sold them a large quantity of port wine on several occasions. The following story is recorded of 68 Watergate Street by Hemingway:
- About the year 1695 a Mr Joshua Horton came down from London occupied a large house in Watergate street at the corner of Trinity lane (afterwards rebuilt by Alderman Henry Bennet) leased the mansion called "Cotton Hook" for three lives and supported a handsome appearance in the city for some years. One evening, a great smoke penetrating to the house of his neighbour Alderman Mainwaring, an alarm of fire was given but the doors being kept closed and a great bustle perceived therein a curiosity was excited which ended in a threat of forcing the doors. Entrance being then given, half demolished furnaces and embers were found scattered over the cellars and a large pair of bellows the blast of which had forced the heat and smoke through two walls of stone and brick into the house adjacent. The coadjutors of Horton had escaped but a press for coining was found in a cistern in a yard and a bag of dies were found in the Dee next day which had been thrown in at high water. Mr Horton under these circumstance was committed to the Northgate and on Monday April 8 1700 Joseph Jekyll Esq chief justice came to the town hall and read a commission for trying him within the city after which he was convicted of knowingly having in his custody a press for coining and received sentence accordingly. A reprieve however was granted while some doubtful points were submitted to the judges and in this interval Mr Horton slipped through the gaoler's door mounted a good horse which was waiting in the Gorse Stacks and got to London where he lived and died in obscurity. On the 14th of September following Mr Jekyll came again to the town hall to inquire into the escape of which he acquitted the gaoler but fined the city sheriffs in the sum of one hundred marks
The curious thing is that the wealthy Bennets (they were also magistrates) seem to have been associated with coiners and possible treasure finds in the same street twice, and in both cases the coiners escaped (in one case from the courts) - is there a deeper mystery here, or are the two legends just confused versions on a single set of events?
The Assay Office
Goss Street, previously Goss Lane, most probably stems from "Goose Lane". It was first recorded in 1231 as ‘Gosselane’. Modern day Goss Street branches off the north side of Watergate Street. It was the home to Chester Assay Office until 1962. The Assay Office in Chester has interesting roots. Although the power of the various trade guilds in Chester was generally reduced during the 18thC. an exception to this general decline were the Goldsmiths. Initially, the Goldsmiths had been under the control of the Goldsmiths of London which so dominated the trade that provincial goldsmiths almost became extinct: during the Civil War the Goldsmith guild in Chester had but a single member. With the restoration and the increased demand for church plate there was something of a revival and the Goldsmiths guild made the prudent move of admiting the watchmakers within its ranks in 1663. By 1687 the Goldsmiths guild now had eight members and took the step of setting up its own Assay Office to attest to the quality of gold and silver works being produced and keep a register of makers-marks. This independent assay office was closed in 1697. The official Chester Assay Office was reopened in 1701 under the Plate Assay Act of 1700, which made Chester an official assay town, incorporated the goldsmiths and silversmiths under two wardens, and re-established the office of assay master, to be elected by the company.
The Assay Office moved into premises in Goss Street in 1749, although the property may have remained as a private townhouse, in the occupancy of Dr Samuel Nevitt-Bennet a Saughall landowner) between 1812 and 1826. The property had been associated with goldsmiths before, as the Rhyl Journal of 1905 records, while discussing a paten at the Church of St Mary-without-the-walls:
- Nathaniel Bullen was admitted as a Brother of the Goldsmiths Company of Chester in 1669, and carried on business in Goss Street in that city, in a house which is by a curious coincidence part of the premises now used as the assay office. He was to some extent connected with this district, inasmuch as he married Catherine Lloyd of Rhuddlan in the year 1676, and by whom he had three sons and three daughters. He was a churchwarden of St Peter's Church, Chester, for many years, and it is a strange circumstance that that Church does not possess any plate done by him. It will be noticed that the chalice does not bear the usual hallmarks of the Chester Assay Office. This is accounted for by the fact that that Assay Office did not assay plate or adopt any distinctive mark until the year 1689, the regulation of the Goldsmiths Company only requring that plate should be made of sterling silver, and that the maker should stamp his own mark-usually his initials-on every piece of plate made by him.
Certainly after 1826 the Assay Office continued to function until 1962, when it was closed at its function transferred to Birmingham. Silver in Georgian Chester was produced by a number of makers in addition to the Richardsons. A wide variety of domestic silver is on display at the Grosvenor Museum, including a finely engraved two-handled cup, a cream boat and a wax taper box.
Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries the Lowe family dominated the story of Chester silver. Their finest piece of work is a hot water jug of 1830 by George Lowe I. Also on display is the last piece of silver hallmarked at the Chester Assay Office before its closure in 1962, and a new bowl, commissioned by the then owners of Lowe & Sons to celebrate the opening of the gallery. Lowe and Sons was founded in Chester by the first George Lowe in 1770 and has occupied the premises in Bridge Street Row since 1804. Harold Lowe, a grandson of George Lowe of Chester, was fifth officer on the Titanic and one of the heroes of its sinking in 1912. Harold Lowe grew up in Barmouth where his father ran a branch of Lowe and Sons and was a regular visitor to the Chester store, then owned by his uncle. Harold did have the opportunity to join the family business but instead chose to run away to sea. Lowe is not the only connection between Chester and the doomed ship: Walter Wynn, a surviving deckhand, was born in Chester. As a boy he attended Holy Trinity Boys' School and at age 11½ became an errand boy at Bollands and then at a tailor's in Foregate Street before working as a tram conductor. Lilian, daughter of Thomas Hughes perished in the sinking; and, the ship which accompanied the Carpathia to New York was USS Chester.
The industrial period saw the introduction of a number of industrial buildings in this area including a brewery and an iron foundry in the 19th century as well as the addition of a number of small Victorian housing courts to the rear of earlier properties. Much of this area has since been demolished, however, following a major redevelopment programme in the 1960s. Archaeological investigations at Crook Street in 1973-4 identified substantial evidence of post medieval industrial activity in the north east corner of the excavated area. The excavations were carried out by Tim Strickland for the Grosvenor Museum, however unfortunately the results have never been published and the site archive remains incomplete. Industrial activity was recorded in the northern part of the site in the area later occupied by the brewery (CHER 10066) and comprised an accumulation of soil directly over the Roman remains that continued to build up until the post medieval period. Traces of metal working waste were then encountered consisting of charcoal spreads, pits, a flue and quantities of material culture. The pottery fragments were provisionally dated to the 17th century. (CHER 10278/1). The 17th century metal working activity was sealed by the construction of a kiln structure. Although nothing remained of the kiln superstructure, the below ground features including the kiln walls, flue and central pit was recorded
Across the street from the Assay Office was Shaw's foundry. The foundry was in common ownership with two properties to the east of Goss Street on Watergate Street; number 14, now a 1970's redevelopment in textured concrete and glass, by W Campbell and Son, and 18-20 is a rebuild in replica using modern brick, except that a cabin window from the 18thC. was not included in the rebuild due to the addition of the foot-bridge over Goss Street. The property at 14 Watergate Street (since demolished) came up for sale in 1900 when it was described as:
- LOT 1. The substantially-built and extensive SHOP, WAREHOUSES, and WORKSHOPS, being No. 14, Watergate-atreet and Watergate Row (North), and comprising large Shop, 100 feet 5 inches by 22 feet 9 inches, fitted with counters, shelves, and two offices, show-room in the Row, 91 feet 5 inches by 22 feet 9 inches, with large windows and glass doors the full width and height, show-room on second floor 100 feet 5 inches by 22 feet 9 inches, and a similar sized warehouse on third floor, the whoie fitted with shelves, &c., small yard on Row level, workshop, with tinnery hearth, 37 feet by 14 feet 9 inches new workshop, lighted from roof with forge, shelves, benches, c., 42 feet by 33 feet. The purchaser of Lot 1 can have the stock, remaining fittings and fixtures at a valuation, to be agreed upon between the parties. This lot has a frontage of 24 feet 4 inches to Watergate-street, and extends back 181 feet 4 inches and comprises an area of 600 square yards or thereabouts. lhe central position and extensive and com- modious character 01 the premises offer exceptional opportunity for investment. LOT 2. stable, loft, coach-house, and harness-room, with yard thereto, situate in and fronting to Goss-street. All the premises are in the occupation of Messrs. J. G. Shaw & Sons, ironmongers, &c., and vacant possession if required can be given on completion.
In 1914 most working-class Cestrians lived in 19thcentury terraced housing with tiny back sculleries, outside lavatories, small back yards, and front doors opening on to the street. In the city centre, conditions in the courts of Princess Street, Goss Street, and Crook Street remained below that standard into the 1930s. In Princess Street (which the Town Hall stood on the corner of) there were 224 houses, of which 140 were damp and 120 verminous; 103 shared lavatories, 118 had no suitable washing accommodation, and 108 lacked a sink or internal water supply. These slums were cleared in 1939. In 1866 Cholera broke out in Chester with the first case being a single woman name Brett who lived in Goss Street (the second was a wealthy Alderman from Whitefriars and editor of a local newspaper). The sick were treated in a make-shift hospital in Grosvenor Park.
Not all the houses were slums, on Goss Street itself the following was advertised in December 1908:
- "DWELLING-HOUSE, No. 11, Goss-street (off Watergate-street), Chester, in the occupation of Mr. Dodd at 10s. per week gross. The House contains parlour, large kitchen, back kitchen, 4 bedrooms, 2 boxrooms, bath, and yard with w.c."
The Future (2018)
Despite it's tempting entrance from Watergate Street there is not much to see in Goss Street in 2018. The rest of it consists of ground level car parks, a rather lonely looking gas-lamp converted to electrical lighting, an ill-sited red pillar-box (one can only wonder who would want to post a letter) and a half empty office block called "Goldsmith's House". Thw whole area is scheduled for redevelopment as part of the "Northgate Development"
According to one version of the highly variable plans, Goss Street will not only survive the Northgate Development, but will be extended along the back of the Town Hall all the way to Hunter Street. From being the shortest street off Watergate Street to the north, it will become the longest.