Hunter Street

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The area around the future site of Hunter Street in 1825.
James Hunter: engraving by Albin R Burt.

Hunter Street runs downhill from Northgate Street to St Martin's Way. As recently as 1825 (see this 1825 Map) this was largely open ground behind the backs of buildings in Princess Street and King Street. Even later maps show significant areas not yet built-upon well into the 20th Century. The Street is named after James Hunter, originally as "Hunter's Passage".

James Hunter (1752-1826) was an engraver who lived and worked in Chester, mostly around the Chester Cathedral - in Eastgate St, Northgate St, Werburghs Church-yard. Historical directories also list him as a carver, gilder and copperplate printer. In about 1815 Hunter had rooms with the miniature painter and silhouettist Albin R Burt, at the end of what is now Hunter Street. A "1789 Survey of the Ancient & Loyal City of Chester", surveyed by noted local canal engineer Samuel Weston was engraved and published by Hunter - which seems a little strange as Weston left Chester for the south of England after 1774 and in 1788-89 was surveying the Western Thames Canal. Burt trained primarily as an engraver and his work was exhibited twice at the Royal Academy, in 1807 and 1830 – both portraits. However, engraving was far from his sole trade. The one trade label discovered boasts of his having painted over 4,000 profile miniatures. Also mentioned is a “New invented machine by which the most accurate likeness can be taken...”. His brother was secretary to Lord Nelson and his mother a friend of Emma Hamilton.

An engraving of Hunter by Burt survives. Oddly, this is dated after the death of Hunter, so may have taken some time to complete or publish.

Roman Hunter Street

Roman remains were discovered during the constuction of the original Odeon cinema - the initial dig unearthed some interesting Roman and medieval remains, which were put on show in the upper lounge and remained until the cinema closed. Little is known of this part of the Roman fortress, but further excavation was possible when the Odeon was being converted into Storyhouse. Amongst the Roman finds were fragments from a diverse range of pottery vessels dating to between the late 1st and 4th centuries AD, along with fragments from ceramic roofing tiles. Some of the tiles were stamped during manufacture with the mark of the Twentieth Legion, whilst others bore the paw prints of animals as they walked across the soft clay of the tiles before the tiles were fired. Archaeologists investigating the site in preparation for its conversion also found two Roman road surfaces – with the earlier one made of small pebbles and the later one comprising sandstone cobbles on top. A building to the north of the road may have served as the private quarters for a Roman general or other high-status individual.

The northwest quadrant of the city in the 1950's, before the ring road. The Freemasons hall is wrongly marked as a school.

Viking Hunter Street

During excavations in 1971 and 1981 a Viking style brooch was found in Hunter Street, as well as some Saxon paving dating from the 10th/11th Cent. Æthelflæd's refortification of Chester was part of a larger strategic intent. At the time the Danes had occupied much of the North Sea coast and were in a position to threaten the Mercian political center at Tamworth. Meanwhile the Hiberno-Norse had invaded parts of Wirral and much of coastal Lancashire and Cumbria. The Cheshire plain offered an easy line of approach to Tamworth assuming landings along the Dee and Mersey estuaries, so Æthelflæd and her brother built a line of "burhs" (fortified sites) at Chester, Eddisbury, Runcorn and Manchester. At Chester and Manchester this involved the use of Roman fortifications, whereas at Eddisbury an Iron-Age hill-fort was re-used. The reality of the danger was emphasized in 920 when a Norse army from Dublin landed and penetrated as far as Davenport in Cheshire.

The west side of the Market Square from Batenham, shows Cholmondley house and the building which stood on the site of the present day Shropshire Arms. The "shed" is part of the "Shambles". The half-timbered house was the home of James Hunter, an engraver and printer, after whom Hunter Street is named. The building on the far right is the Judges Lodgings, later demolished to make way for the Odeon, now "Storyhouse".

In 902, a Hiberno-Norse community settled in Wirral after its expulsion from Dublin, arriving somewhere between "Vestri-Kirkubyr" (West Kirby) and "Melr" (Meols). The exiles, led by one Hingamund, were granted land in Wirral by Æthelflæd and soon established a community with a clearly defined border, its own leader, its own language (Norse), a trading port, and at its centre a place of assembly or government (þing vollr) - the "Thing" at Thingwall. They also brought their religion with them to "Thor's Stone" (Mjollnir) at "Thorsteinn's farmstead", now Thurstaston Hill. It is also possible that the Norwegian "Labskause" may have come to this part of the country at that time and survived as "scouse" From AD 910 to 1066 a significant number of moneyers and landowners bearing Norse names appear in Chester. The proportion of moneyers with Norse names appears to have been far higher than at many mints elsewhere in England, even during the period of Scandinavian rule by King Canute (1017–35) and his sons Harald (until 1040) and Hardacanute (1042), when one would expect them to be ubiquitous.

An early Commercial Directory in the library at Storyhouse shows there was never much in Hunter Street.

By Canute’s time a strong Scandinavian community appears to have been well established in the southern part of the city. The existence of this community is reflected in some street names: Clippe Gate (near the Bridgegate) and Wolfeld’s Gate (the old name for Newgate) possibly derive from the Norse personal names of the man Klyppr and woman Úlfhildr respectively. There is also Crook Street (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).

Kirkton House

This Ruabon brick building was the family home and doctor's surgery of Dr Robin Taylor before being occupied by solicitors. It had originally been built as the house of a doctor around 1900. It was planned for demolition as part of the Northgate Development, but survived when the development was put on hold. Due to changes in the plans it may well survive well beyond the present (2018).

Freemasons Hall

Until its demolition in 2007, Hunter Street was the home to Freemasons Hall. The history of Freemasonry in Chester can be traced back several hundred years, when Lodges were originally ‘Operative’ (i.e actual Stonemasons), but few records exist. However, the Initiation of Elias Ashmole at Warrington in Cheshire in 1646 is recorded in his diary and papers of the ‘Old Chester Lodge’ around the same period are in the British Museum. Following the formation of Grand Lodge in London 1717, Cheshire was the first Province to be recognised in 1725 when three ‘Time Immemorial Lodges’ were registered and the title ‘Provincial Grand Master’ first used.

The copper-alloy "Jellinge" Irish-Norse brooch found in excavations at Hunter Street.

The Freemasons Hall, which faced on to Hunter Street, was built in 1909, and demolished in June 2007. In the "Demolition Method Statement" it was stated that "items of architectural salvage will be recovered, stored safely and passed to the client for incorporation into the new development", so the building should not be entirely lost. The Hall was home to four separate "lodges": Deva, Memory, Bridgegate and St Marys. While some sources state that these were the four "founding lodges" Memory was consecrated in 1921 and Bridgegate in 1944. Deva Lodge had been established in 1837, changed it's name to Deva in 1839 and ceased to meet arounf 1856. The new Deva Lodge was formed in 1910. Bridgegate Lodge has an interesting history, as the Bridgegate in Chester once bore a plate inscribed "AL 5782" as noted by Hanshall:

The Northgate Development plan has Goss Street extended as far as Hunter Street via a new "Market Square".
  • "On a tablet over the western postern arch is inscribed: This Gate was begun April mdcclxxxii Pat tison Ellames Esa Mayor and finished December THE SAME YEAR ThOS PaTTON Estt MaYOR Thos Cotgreave Esa Henry Hesketh Esa Joseph Turner Architect. On a Tablet on the eastern side. This Gate having been long inconvenient was taken down adm dcc lxxxi Joseph Snow Esa Mayor Thos Amery Henry Hegg Murengers Treasurers. Much form was observed in laying the foundation of this Gate. The first stone was placed in its situation by the Mayor and the Lodges of Freemasons attended on the occasion. A brass plate sunk in the stone bore this inscription: Pattistm Ellames Esq Mayor of this City Chester laid this stone in the year of the Christian era 1782 as D Provincial Grand Master of Free and Accepted Masons. A numerous procession of Brethren attended - AL 5782."


One of the original Oscar Deutsch chain of Odeon Theatres. The Odeon Chester was built in 1936 to the design of Robert Bullivant. Like the Odeon York, the building of this theatre was beset by delays due to the proposed placement within historic city walls and the discovery of Roman archeological remains. It opened on 3rd October 1936 with Ned Sparks in “Two’s Company”. Seating was proivided for 1,628; with 1,080 in the stalls and 548 in the circle.

The Odeon Theatres at Chester and York are both different from other Odeon’s being built at the time, in that they did not have the distinctive Odeon ‘Moderne’ look externally due to the ruling of the Royal Fine Arts Commission not allowing the usual cream tiled facia. The exterior was executed in a plain brick with horizontal and vertical channeling. The signage was again different to the usual Odeon signs being rather larger and in "Trajan" lettering. The interior was very much in the Moderne Streamline style with clean simple lines directing the eye to the screen.

The Odeon was closed on 14th June 2007. It was purchased by Chester City Council in 2012 and has been altered to create "Storyhouse" - an 800-seat theatre, a small 100-seat single screen cinema and the Chester City library (with lots of Internet access) housed within the building. The "Garret" on the fourth floor has interesting views over the rooftops of Chester - and on a clearish day you can even see Beeston Castle!

King Street, Hunter Street and Princess Street before redelopment started. The Masonic Hall is the church-like building at the center of the frame.

Chester City Mission Building

The Chester City Mission building (originally "The Spinney") suposedly dates from 1829 and is said to be the oldest City Mission building in England. However the building does not appear on John McGahey's view of Chester from 1855 - neither does Hunter Street - as it was at the time a field accessed by Hunter's Passage next to Cholmondley house in the market square. The City Mission relocated to Hunter Street from its premises in Princess Street in 2007, when those were demolished.

From John McGahey's "Balloon View" of Chester (1855) - Hunter Street does not yet exist and the site was posssibly used as a bowling green. The road to the right is King Street.

The mission was founded in 1845 on the model of the London City Mission by laymen from several denominations. Paid full-time missionaries and voluntary assistants held evangelistic cottage meetings, organized thrift clubs for the poor, and undertook charity work, notably in Handbridge and Boughton. In the 1850s and again briefly from 1870 four missionaries were employed, but the number was usually two and never more than three after 1872. The headquarters were at first in a barn off Upper Northgate Street, from 1853 in a room over a shop in Crook Street, and later in a mission hall built by Miss M. A. Walker next to the premises in Crook Street in 1881. In 1854 the organization opened a mission to canal boatmen, which was later hived off and operated as the Boatmen's Bethel. It came back under the wing of the mission in 1920, from 1924 most services were held in Crook Street, and after 1929 there was only one paid missionary.

In 1959, when Crook Street was being redeveloped, the mission moved to the former ragged school in Princess Street, which was given to it by the city council. Thereafter the mission still undertook charitable work but from 1989 could not afford a full-time superintendent and its premises lay under the threat of the redevelopment of Princess Street. It secured instead the part-time services of the experienced former head of the Liverpool City Mission and the promise of the present site in Hunter Street.

Beeston Castle seen from the bar on the fourth floor of Storyhouse.

Sources and Links