Hamilton Place

From Chesterwiki


Hamilton Street on McGahey's sketch for the "Balloon View" (1853).

Hamilton Place currently (2018) runs from the Town Hall Square to Trinity Street. The fact it is a "place" indicates that it is a rather late addition to the street-plan of Chester and indeed it first appears in the records around 1850 in McGaheys "balloon view" of Chester (as Hamilton Street). At first, it only extended from the market square to Crook Street. Confusingly Hamilton place was then called Crook Street and Crook Street knowns as Gerrards Lane. However ther is some evidence for it being much older, Crook Street is possibly derived from Old Norse: from the man’s name Krókr, meaning "hook" - as in crochet - or bent/crooked - and said to be originally bestowed on a "devious schemer".

It will be "stopped-up" as part of the "Northgate Development". 1994 excavations identified evidence of a 17th century house although it is not discussed in detail. The presence of a house in this area is surprising given that the relevant part of the street did not come into existence until the 19th century.

The area behind the Town Hall in late Victorian times consisted of many "slum courts" which were finally cleared in 1939. It is often said in guidebooks that the only surviving part of the Victorian Market Hall is a fragment of wall at the east end of Hamilton Place - this is not true, as the part of the Market Hall behind the Town Hall survives with its inscribed "foundation stones" on Princess Street.

Prehistoric

A single piece of worked flint, thought to be a scraper tool, was found during archaeological investigations at Hamilton House in 2006. However it is likely the find was residual. Residual finds usually occur as a result of soil disturbance when the cutting of one feature removes finds from a lower and therefore earlier layer and re-deposits them closer to the surface and are usually not suggestive of activity in the immediate area - making it unlikely that this was the site of Chester's original shopping location "Ug's Olde Flint Shoppe".

Roman Hamilton Place

Archaeological investigations at Hamilton Place in 1994 recorded traces of a timber framed barrack building, probably belonging to the First Cohort. Only traces of the northern end of the barrack building could be identified within the area excavated, however, suggesting several phases of construction from the late first to the early third century AD. Many of the buildings were demolished at the end of the third century and large areas were laid out with paving. There appears to have been a final phase of timber construction in the fourth century, for which tiled and flagged floors have been found.

The most "obvious" (lit. "lying in the road") remains from Roman Chester in Hamilton Place is the remains of the central room at the rear of the Headquarters - the "sacellum", or regimental shrine, which served as a focal point of the headquarters. The standards of the units were kept here. In the centre of the room was a sunken pit which acted as a "strongroom" (Aerarium) for the regimental pay chest. The money was kept here to deter thieves who would be committing "sacrilege" if they stole from the shrine. The legionary standard bearers acted as treasurers of the funds keeping track of what money was paid in and out. A Roman soldier earned a one-time "praemium" or discharge benefit upon completing his service (sixteen years for the Praetorian Guard, twenty for regular duty in the army). At the end of Augustus's reign, the pension for a Praetorian guard was 20,000 sesterces (HS), and that of a legionary 12,000. In the 1st century, a legionary's retirement benefit would have amounted to about 12 years of service pay. It is very difficult to make any comparisons with modern coinage or prices, but for most of the 1st century AD the ordinary legionary was paid the equivalent of 900 Sestertii per annum, rising to 1,200 under Domitian (81-96 AD), the equivalent of around 25 Sestertii per day. Half of this was deducted for living costs, leaving the soldier with about 12 Sestertii per week. In comparison, a private soldier in the Peninsular war (under Wellington) would earn about seven shillings (35p) a week (at the same time the average weekly laborer's wage was around 6-10 shillings - roughly equivalent to £30-50 a week in 2013 money). In 2013 the average pay for a British "squaddie" is about £20,000 per year, whereas the average income in the UK is about the same. Given that the Roman legion in Chester had something over 5000 members, the money held in the strongroom for pay and pensions at any given time may well have been worth several million in present day cash - quite a few chests of silver coins.

Evidence of a possible Saxon stone building, in the form of two parallel walls built over a rubble layer, were recorded to the west of the bath complex (south of the elliptical building) during archaeological excavations in 1994.

Archaological finds in Roman Chester show a significant cluster around Hamilton Place, simply because development has given the opportunity to dig holes in the ground.

Post Mediaeval

The 1994 archaeological investigations also encountered evidence of 19th century industrial activity consisting of a forge (Context 752) and a soil pit of a broadly contemporary date. Material recovered from these features included quantities of industrial slag and metal waste suggestive of button making. The evidence was interpreted as representing three successive smithies at Herbert's Court as a lean-to brick built structure against the side wall of No 8. It had been substantially back filled with domestic rubbish some time before excavation and work appears to have ceased here by 1908. Archaeological investigations at Hamilton Place in 1992 and 1994 also encountered evidence of a series of low status terraced houses built around a central courtyard known as Herbert's Court (see map). The Court was a typical example of low status, slum dwellings of the mid 19th century, many of which have since been destroyed in 1939 to make way for modern redevelopment. The houses were small - the ground floor of each measured 5m by 4m and appears to have consisted of a single room. Running water was communal, through a single water pump in the courtyard while sanitation was only added in the late 19th century with the provision of a small toilet block in the courtyard.

The stairs leading to the Gateway Theatre from the junction of Hamilton Street and Trinity Street in 2018. The Theatre is the large grey box to the right, with the slope of the auditorium floor visible. To the left is the underpass of Trinity Street below a hotel in bad "Mock-Tudor".

Gateway Theatre

Plans for the Gateway started in 1961, when the developers of the Forum shopping centre proposed a 200-seat lecture theatre/conference center. Chester City Council added extra funding and this developed into a 440-seat theatre, situated at the end of the shopping complex. Many famous actors have trodden the boards over the years including Dennis Waterman, Penelope Keith, Patricia Hodge and David Suchet who started his career on the stage in Chester and later became the theatre's patron.

Local authority plans for the redevelopment of this part of the city saw the theatre close in January 2007, with the intention of a new performing arts centre being provided within the new Northgate development. While development of plans continued, the Gateway was reopened by production company "Tip Top Productions", starting with the studio theatre, running as The Forum Studio Theatre, and later expanding into the main auditorium.

Modern (2018)

2018's Hamilton Place is about as dull as it gets in Chester. Apart for a few tourists at the top end, where the Roman strong-room is, the street is like something from a ghost town. The old B&M store has a few "terracotta" embelishments with a sort of theatrical theme, but one struggles to find something worth photographing. On the south side are a series of monolithic, half-empty, office buildings, but outside of commuting times, you could probably sleep in the middle of the street without fear of being run-over.

Future (2018)

Hamilton Place is due to be extensively re-developed as part of the Northgate scheme.

Sources and links:

  • Matthews K J, 1999, Familiarity and contempt. The archaeology of the modern (Article in monograph). SCH7080.
  • Chester Archaeology, 1992, An Evaluation Excavation at 12 Hamilton Place, Chester, May 1992, R2097 (Client Report). SCH4103.
  • Archaeological Services, 1995, Chester 12 Hamilton Place 1995 Assessment Report, R3127 (Client Report). SCH6195.
  • Chester City Council Archaeology Service, 1992, Chester Archaeology Service Newsletter (Newsletter). SCH6006.
  • Chester City Council Archaeology Service, 1996, The Past Uncovered (Newsletter). SCH6013.
  • Chester City Council Archaeology Service, 2001, The Past Uncovered (Newsletter). SCH6028.