The Guildhall occupies the redundant church of Holy Trinity which closed in 1960. The original building, which had a north aisle, dated from the 14th century. The east end and south side were rebuilt in 1680. This church had a spire which was rebuilt in the 1770s but in 1811 was considered unsafe and taken down. The present church was built between 1865 and 1869 to a design by James Harrison. He died before it was finished, and the church was completed by Kelly and Edwards. Like some other Chester churches, St Bridget's and St Michael's, it is located at the site of one of the gates of Roman Chester and the church buildings may have originally been a re-use of the gate buildings or materials. At the end of 2011 the City Guilds did not renew their lease on the property from the City Council and the management of the "Guildhall" passed to a local company.
Early History and Advowson
The church existed by the late 1180s and its dedication suggests an origin in the late 12th century. Soon afterwards its priest was mentioned in terms which suggest that it was associated with St Peter's. Probably it was founded by the Montalt family, barons of Mold (Flints.), with whom early rectors seem to have been connected. The parish lay in the west of the city, extending from the walls of the legionary fortress to the Dee, and thus reaching beyond the medieval city walls to cover the Roodee. It also included the manor of Blacon, beyond the liberties. In 1882 and 1960 the intramural portions and the Roodee were assigned to St. Peter's, leaving Holy Trinity as the parish church for Blacon alone.
Hughes describes it as follows:
- "Passing Trinity Street we arrive at the Parish Church of the Holy and Undivided Trinity the first foundation of which is lost in remote obscurity. So early as the year 1188 we find Walter, rector of this Church, witnessing a deed relating to the Church of Rostherne in this county. Very little if any of the original Church now exists;- the west side is perhaps the most ancient portion of the structure as it at present stands. Prior to 1811 the steeple was surmounted by a handsome spire which proving on examination to be in a dilapidated state was pulled down and the present square tower substituted. The reason for this change is not very obvious; perhaps there may have been bickerings and dissensions in the vestry as to the relative cost of the two and the authorities thought it best to give up the point in order to make matters square. The advowson of the Church is vested in the Earl of Derby, having previously belonged to the Norman barony of Montalt one of the titles created by Hugh Lupus, Earl of Chester."
Hemingway provides some further information:
- "Trinity church is situated on the north side of Watergate street; it is chiefly built of the red sand stone of the city; the north wall of the north aisle is cased with brick. In the early part of the 17th century the church was ornamented with a beautiful spire a representation of which is annexed from a drawing of one of the Randal Holmes From its exposed situation however and the perishable quality of the stone it required frequent reparation and in addition to these natural causes of decay the upper part suffered much in 1769 and 1770 from severe storms it is stated to have been three times re built within eight years. Early in the year 1811 some very serious apprehensions were entertained for the safety of the spire which had probably been rendered more sensitive from the fatal accident that had a little before happened to St Nicholas's spire at Liverpool by which a great number of people lost their lives. The late Thomas Harrison Esq was therefore employed to survey it and in consequence of his report it was taken down without the least accident. The stones which formed the summit of the spire, called the Rose,. were placed by Dr Thackeray in the Infirmary garden as a pedestal for a basaltic column from the Giant's Causeway. The east end and south of the church with the pillars and arches being in a ruinous state were rebuilt from the foundation in 1679. In 1771 the church yard was enlarged from land church yard enlarged ceded by the rector to the parish for which it was to pay him and his successors four pounds a year for ever. In 1774 the church was enlarged out of the churchyard fifty feet in length from St Patrick's aisle and twenty eight feet in width from south to north at an expense exceeding £500. In 1734 it was decreed that the four bells being cracked and broken should be re cast and two new ones added to the peal: in 1736 the new bells cast by Eudhall of Gloucester were placed in the steeple. The burying place adjoining to the church having been exceedingly crowded with bodies and inadequate to the use of the parish a fresh piece of ground north of the Linen hall and east of the city gaol was purchased in 1809 and consecrated September 22nd 1810 the total expense including the chapel railing &c was about £1000. The interior of this church is kept in remarkably good order every part of it presenting an appearance of beauty and cleanliness."
The summit of the spire did not stay at the Infirmary, it is now at the Countess Of Chester hospital.
The interior fittings of the church were removed when it was made redundant, but Hughes describes them as follows:
- "The interior is worthy the inspection of the curious. Near the south west entrance is the baptismal font by the side of which lies the defaced effigy of a mail clad knight, Sir John Whitmore by name, representative in the reign of Edward III of the Whitmores of Thurstaston a Cheshire family of knightly lineage and renown. This monument was discovered in 1853 under a pew at the southwest end; the face, hands, and knees having been barbarously cut away to suit the flooring of the pew. In its perfect state the monument must have been one of the purest symmetry and beauty and was evidently the work of an eminent sculptor the Westmacott or Gibson of his day"
- "A brass plate on the south side of the altar commemorates the burial of Matthew Henry June 22nd 1714. He who had during life been a rigid nonconformist "at the last sad scene of all" conformed to the faith of his forefathers and lies interred in the chancel of that parish in which he had so long ministered as a dissenter."
While in Chester, Matthew Henry founded the Presbyterian Chapel between Trinity Street and Crook Street (just back up Watergate Street from the Guildhall). He moved again in 1712 to Mare Street, Hackney. Two years later (22 June 1714), he died suddenly of apoplexy at the Queen's Aid House (41 High Street - then the house of the nonconformist minister, Joseph Mottershead) in Nantwich while on a journey from Chester to London. There is no evidence as to a "deathbed conversion" as implied by Hughes. In 1860 an obelisk designed by Thomas Harrison with a bronze medallion by Matthew Noble was erected in Chester to commemorate him. The obelisk originally stood in the churchyard of St Bridget's Church, and was moved in the 1960s to stand on a roundabout opposite the entrance to Chester Castle.
Hemingway gives a little more information about the monuments in the church:
- "In this church are many ancient sepulchral remains. Near the small eastern door is the monument of John Whitmore, Mayor of Chester in 1372 it was of white marble with a statue in armour bearing on the shield the family arms. Richard Cliffe Esq of Huxley who died 1592. Thomas Wooton, Mayor 1433. On the north side of the door before mentioned is a memorial of Henry Gee with this inscriptio: Here lieth the body of Henry Gee once Mayor of this City of Chester and in the same year he departed the xiii day of June Anno Domini mdxxxix whose soul hopeth for mercy. Several other members of the body corporate also lie in this church: William Massey Mayor 1590, William Johnson, Alderman Rowland Barnes 1596 etc. In this church are also the remains of Matthew Henry the celebrated Presbyterian divine on whose tablet to his memory is this inscription: Matthew Henry pictatis et ministerii officiis strenue perfunctus perlabores SS literis scrutandiset explicandis impenso confectum carpus huic dormitorio commisit 22 die Junii 1714 Anno aetat 52. Parnell, Archdeacon of Clogher and a celebrated poet was likewise interred here the 24th of October 1718."
Sources and Links
- The Guildhall on Wikipedia;