Historic Grosvenor Street
Apart from the introduction of minor/mews roads servicing developments on the Greyfriars and Blackfriars sites, the layout of the intramural streets remained largely unaltered even in the later 18th century. Major change came only in 1829 when Grosvenor Street was built to link the new Grosvenor Bridge with the city centre; cutting diagonally through the existing street plan and isolating the eastern end of Cuppin Street and Bunce Street, it entailed the destruction of St Bridget's church.
At the same time, Castle Esplanade (formerly Nuns Road), which joined the new street in front of Chester Castle, was improved into a 'fine spacious way'. A roman vase was found on the site of the bank on Grosvenor Street and a terra-cotta mask while laying sewers, most likely an actor's mask from a theatre associated with the fortress. The CW&C area report describes Grosvenor Street as follows:
- Grosvenor Street is a mix of late Georgian (Regency) and Victorian buildings, generally three-storey. Materials include brick, stone and traditional Chester timber-facing. Roofs are both traditional pitch and gable-fronted. The Falcon, on the corner with Lower Bridge Street, originally the townhouse of the Westminster family and later a public house, this is one of the oldest buildings in Chester. On the opposite side of Grosvenor Street there is a modern retail frontage (St. Martin's/Friar's Gate), this is rather plain with crude blackand-white decoration pasted on and as such it detracts somewhat from the surrounding rich historic environment. The dominant presence of the former Trustee Savings Back, at the other end of Grosvenor Street serves to mark its location gateway with appropriate presence (neo-Gothic style, sandstone, with a tower).
Buildings and Structures
The range of modern buildings ("Friars Gate") at the north end of Grosvenor Street, from Whitefriars as far down as Cuppin Street, seems like a bad choice for such a major junction. From around 1673 the site was that of the "Horse and Bags" later (before 1750) the site of the "White Horse Inn". In 1810 the White Horse Inn moved to Eastgate Street and the building became the "King's Head Hotel". It was eventually demolished in 1986 and replaced with the present office and shop development, which include a rather unsightly electricity sub-station and a surviving older building with some patently obvious mock-Tudor decoration. According to local tradition the "demolition" of the hotel was due to a mistake by the builder. The plan was apparently to leave the skin of the building largely intact and infill with a new interior. Unfortunately wires got crossed and the whole thing came down.
Hughes writes of it as follows:
- "The large and well conceived street upon the right hand is Grosvenor Street, capable, under proper management, of being made the finest street of the city. It is flanked on the right side by White Friars formerly Foster's Lane in which the Church and Monastery of that fraternity was at one time situate. At the junction of White Friars with Grosvenor Street stands that capital well conducted establishment the King's Head Inn. This is one of those quiet cosy looking houses in which the moment a traveller enters he feels himself "at home" and certainly under the presidency of Mr and Mrs Bedson he will find that - deny it who can! - domestic comforts are still to be enjoyed in an old English inn."
After Cuppin Street (which once extended to Lower Bridge Street) stands a tiny patch of grass. The footpath after this is the remnant of where Bunce Street once formed a junction with Cuppin Street.
This is described in the historic buildings listing as "Town house, now conjunction with No.14 Grosvenor Street and Nos 1, 3 and 5 Cuppin Street, part of a restaurant." Actually, the restaurant in question has closed. Between these two incarnations this was the site of the "Fox and Barrel" pub as well as various retail ventures.
Town house now office. Probably 1830s. Brown brick in Flemish bond to front; roof not visible. 2 storeys, double-fronted, symmetrical. Painted sandstone plinth; simple stone doorcase with pilasters, frieze and cornice; the windows are heavy-handed small-pane replacements in unaltered openings with stone sills and wedge lintels, 2 to lower storey and 3 to upper storey; painted stone sillband to upper storey; tall brick parapet with recessed panel above each window, moulded stone cornice and coping.
No 24: Student/luxury Flats, formerly Homesless Shelter
This was formerly "Roodee House", originally built as a friary (the upper parts are decorated with crosses) and later operated as a homeless shelter until November 2012. CWaC’s decision to transfer the service from the city centre into the residential community of Boughton proved controversial and by 2018 local residents had forced its closure. Roodee House, previously owned by Muir Housing, has been sold off and converted into luxury apartments. Just down the street, St Bridget's Hall, a small stone building at the end of Grosvenor Street and the former Chuch Hall of St Bridget's, was converted in 2001 into the "Harold Tomlins Day Centre" for rough sleepers, named after former city and county councillor the late Harold Tomlins, who took a keen interest in the plight of Chester's homeless.
Capuchin Franciscan Church of St Francis, 1863-75 (with present Friary behind), eventually to a design by Liverpool-based architect James O'Byrne (1835-1897). The original friary to the east of the church - also designed by O’Byrne - opened in 1876 and a new school (on Cuppin Street) was built to the north in 1882.
The church is in red sandstone with a banded grey and purple slate roof. Expressed externally as a hall church, with narthex porch at west end having gabled front with hip-roofed wings. Paired oak-boarded west doors on wrought-iron hinges in shoulder-arched openings with pointed-arched 5-light leaded window above. A pair of 2-light Geometrical windows in the west gable of the nave flank a statue of St Francis in a canopied niche. Within, commemorative tablets exist for the friars who built it, both of whom seem to have died at a comparatively early age:
- "DEUS MEUS ET OMNIA; of your Charity pray for the repose of the Soul of the VERY REV. FATHER PACIFICUS O.S.F.C. who rebuilt this church in 1875. He died at Bruges Belgium Nov.21 1888 aged 55 years R.I.P. and DEUS MEUS ET OMNIA; Of your Charity pray for the soul of the REV. FATHER VENATIUS O.S.F.C. who laboured for many years in the Mission and commenced this Church in 1863. He died in Gwalior, India, July 4th 1884 Aged 55 years."
According to a list published by the Catholic University of Leuven (Belgium), F. Venatius (or Venantius) van Niewenhoorn was from the Netherlands and appently born Petus Jansen. The death of F. Pacificus at Bruges (Belgium) may also suggest he came from overseas.
The Capuchin Franciscans established a mission in Chester in 1858. They did not have any easy time. Mass was first said in the Bishop’s house, later moving to a wooden building on Watergate Street which could accommodate 300. The site of the present church was acquired from the Church Commissioners in 1862 and the foundation stone laid that year. Benjamin Bucknell was appointed architect, but the church building was fraught with setbacks; the first contractor failed, in October 1863 came the first of what an insurance company would call "Acts of God": an earthquake damaged the east front resulting in its demolition, and in December that year a hurricane destroyed the almost-complete building. At around this time the original architect emigrated to Algeria, and O'Byrne was later appointed. In 1873 a fund was started for a new church to replace a temporary structure erected on the site amidst the ruins. Mass was said at the Music Hall and the friars’ private chapel on Cuppin Street during construction.
The Franciscans have another, quite surprising, connection with Chester. In 1218, Ranulf de Blondeville, Earl of Chester, (then aged 46) decided to honour the crusading vow he had taken three years previously, and journeyed eastwards as part of the Fifth Crusade. During preparations for the Crusade in 1217, it was decided that Damietta should be the focus of attack as control of Damietta meant control of the Nile, and from there the crusaders believed they would be able to conquer Egypt, attack Palestine and recapture Jerusalem. The Crusaders did rather well, and during September 1219, Sultan al-Kamil, offered the Crusaders peace on startling terms – Bethlehem, Nazareth, Jerusalem and central Palastine and Galilee would be returned, so long as the Crusaders gave up their war in Egypt. Earl Ranulph was one of the voices in support of taking the offer. However, Pelagio Galvani (the Papal legate), the Patriarch of Jerusalem and the military orders would have none of it - they wanted war, glory and plunder, not diplomacy.
The relevant point is, Ranulf would have been in Egypt at the same time as Francis of Assisi, who actually played a part in the battle. Crossing the lines between the sultan and the Crusaders in Damietta, Francis was received by el-Kamil and challenged his Muslim scholars to a test of true religion by fire - Francis proposed to enter the fire first, under the condition that if he left it unharmed, the sultan would recognize Francis' Christ as the true God, the sultan was so impressed that he allowed Francis to preach to his subjects. Although Francis did not succeed in converting the sultan, the last words of the sultan to Francis were, according to Jacques de Vitry, bishop of Acre, in his book "Historia occidentalis, De Ordine et praedicatione Fratrum Minorum (1221)" : “Pray for me that God may deign to reveal to me that law and faith which is most pleasing to him.” Negotiations broke down completely when the crusaders finally refused all offers and on November 5 they found the walls of Damietta poorly manned, so they attacked and secured the city.
The Falcon stands on the south corner with Lower Bridge Street is the surviving half of a still more spectacular 13th Century town house which originally extended further down Lower Bridge Street. The timbers from the former east span of the roof, now reused in the cellar ceiling, date from c1180. The building was altered in the later Middle Ages, the 16thC, in 1626 and in the 19th and 20thC. The face to Grosvenor Street has a higher and older east portion and a lower 2-storey west wing, probably 1626 for Sir Richard Grosvenor. Before 1961 and road-widening, the corner site was occupied by "The Olde Lamb", popularly known as the "Dive Bar" as it was situated in a basement, was another Lower Bridge Street pub, standing nextdoor to the Falcoln. It was demolished to make way for the widening of Grosvenor Street in the early 1960s. A remnant of Cuppin Street known as "Little Cuppin Street" survived between the Falcon and Olde Lamb.
Home and centre for Chester's midwives, then a nurses' home, WRVS office and now offices for an estate agent. Built 1898 by Douglas and Minshull at the expense of the 1st Duke of Westminster for the Chester Benevolent Institution which provided free midwifery services for the poor.
This Vernacular Revival style building is constructed in diapered (the usual motif for the Grosvenors), stone-dressed Ruabon red brick; with a Westmorland green slate roof. The basket arch to the front of the porch is surmounted by a carved stone panel inscribed W:1898, indicating that the building was at the expense of the first Duke of Westminster. The mullioned and transomed windows are leaded, under basket-arched heads.
11-19 Grosvenor Street
A row of shops with brick fronts and quite good stone parapet. The form of brickwork around the windows of the upper floors it similar to that of the south side of nearby Grosvenor Place. The end of the building to Bunce Street has characteristic "Grosvenor"-style diapering.
The remnant of Bunce Street enters Grosvenor Street here.
The Saddle/Chester Bells
In 2016 "Bride Hall, Star Pubs & Bars": Heineken’s pub business, invested £207,000 in a complete refurbishment of mock-Tudor "The Saddle Inn" in Grosvenor Street, although it had traded as "The Chester Bells" since 1996. The tall chimney stack to the south has characteristic "Grosvenor" diapering in the brickwork. The price to be paid for it's re-location from Bunce Street is described on the page for that street.
Well, what can you say? Chester is the only place where Roman Legionaries still have jobs (they are cheap to employ with bags of salt from Tesco). Mostly, they march groups of children equiped with shields and helmets around town shouting "sin-dex, sin-dex" (left-right, left-right) but they are a remarkably well-informed lot: one was able to converse on the history of Byzantium at length. So don't go shouting "Romani ite domum" at them. The two shops next to the Grosvenor Museum once belonged to the owners of The Saddle (when it was in Bunce Street) but as a condition of getting a licence for their new premises on Grosvenor Street the brewery was forced to hand them over to the Grosvenor Museum.
The Grosvenor Museum
The Grosvenor Museum holds Chester's biggest collection of local and international history. It covers 2,000 years of Cestrian life spread over three floors of a classic 19th century building. It is truly one of the most interesting "local" museums in England and a "must see" when visiting Chester. And best of all – it's completely free!
The building dates from 1885 and is by Lockwood at the expense of the first Duke of Westminster. The opulent "Free Renaissance" style is typically Lockwoods and construction is in stone-dressed Ruabon red brick with a steep red-tile roof. The elaborate doorcase has composite pillars, that to west inscribed "THIS STONE WAS LAID BY THE DUKE OF WESTMINSTER FEBRUARY 3RD 1885"; ornate moulded voussoirs and key; a Muse in each stone spandrel, one with a palette, the other with globe and compasses. The necked "dutch" gables above entrance bay and central window in west wing each bear a stone eagle about to take flight and are carved with peacocks flanked by the supporters of the Grosvenor arms. The oriel terminates as a tourelle with a cupola roof characteristic of Lockwood. In the entrance hall are four columns made from Shap granite, and a mosaic which features the city arms, which was made by the firm of Ludwig Oppenheimer. Ludwig Oppenheimer, was born into an Orthodox Jewish merchant banking family in Brunswick, Germany, in 1830. Sent to Manchester to improve his English, he fell in love with Susan McCulloch, the niece of the Scottish couple with whom he took lodgings and converted to Christianity. As a result he was cut off by his parents and became an apprentice mosaicist in Venice, returning to Manchester to marry Susan and to establish a mosaics business in the city in 1865.
This 1851-3 building is the most happily composed and detailed of James Harrison's designs in Chester. On a corner site, the construction is of tooled sandstone with smooth flush quoins and a grey slate roof. The north-west front to Grosvenor Street has a recessed entrance bay, east, with double carved panelled doors of oak in an arched opening with label-mould and a janitor's window of one cusped light. A well-handled corner clock-turret is faced with blank tracery and crowned with a Tudor octagonal stone belfry cupola. The clock has been the subject of some discussion as to whether it is in fact the first actual public clock to use the type of mechanism it shares with that which strikes the bell known as "Big Ben".
Chester Savings Bank was one of the first trustee banks to be established in England and Wales. It was set up in 1817, in response to local demand. The Bank’s first home was in the Exchange, in Northgate Street. By the middle of the 19th century, business had grown to the extent that the Bank needed its own self-contained offices. It moved to these purpose-built premises in Grosvenor Street, in 1853. The plans were the result of an 1847 competition which Harrison won. The Bank continued to expand over the next few decades. By the end of the century, it had attracted more than 4,000 depositors. An Act of Parliament was passed in 1904 that allowed savings banks to merge with one another. Chester Savings Bank seized this opportunity, amalgamating with Wrexham Savings Bank in 1906. At that point, Wrexham had been on the brink of collapse. The newly-formed Chester & Wrexham Savings Bank went on to absorb five others before the outbreak of the First World War. The Bank established more branches during the interwar period. Then, after the Second World War, it changed its name to the Chester, Wrexham & North Wales Savings Bank. With the passing of the TSB Act of 1976, and the resultant restructure, Chester became part of TSB of Wales & Border Counties: this paved the way for TSB to be floated on the Stock Exchange ten years later, when it became a fully-fledged plc.
The building housed TSB bank until the 1980s and was briefly known as a Viking Restaurant before being taken over by Chester restaurateur Stephen Wundke in 1992 when he re-opened it as Paparazzi, later known as Pastarazzi Ristorante. Since then it has continued to house a restaurant.
In 1858 a public meeting was held, chaired by the Mayor of Chester, to invite subscriptions to a memorial fund in the name of Matthew Henry. This was intended to provide a statue near Chester Castle, to produce a cheap edition of Henry's commentary on the Bible, and to create a scholarship in his name at Oxford University. However, there was a problem because after Henry's death, in about 1750, the Trinity Street Chapel had become Unitarian (a bit of a contradiction for a congregation on Trinity Street), and it was decided, for reasons which remain obscure, that the Unitarians should be excluded from taking part in the fund raising. As a consequence, subscriptions came in very slowly, and it was decided that, rather than a statue, the memorial should consist of an obelisk. The obelisk was to be erected in the churchyard of St Bridget's Church, the site being provided free of charge by the rector. The architect was Thomas Harrison, and the sculptor of the bronze portrait medallion was Matthew Noble; both gave their services free. The mason was A. McDonald of Aberdeen, and the total cost came to £267 (equivalent to £23,000 in 2016). The obelisk was unveiled on 22 August 1860. St Bridget's Church was demolished in 1892, but the obelisk remained in the churchyard until the building of Chester's inner ring road in the 1960s. It was then moved to the roundabout outside Chester Castle, where it still stands today: an often ignored link to a turbulent period in Chester's history.
In 1891 when St Bridget's church was pulled down, and St Mary on the Hill was constituted the district church for the district of St. Bridget with St. Martin a few graves remained marking the site of the Churchyard, including that of Thomas Gould, who is buried under the roundabout between Grosvenor Street and Grosvenor Road. 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