- 1 Guides to the Walls
- 2 A walk around the walls of Chester
- 3 Eastgate
- 4 Eastgate to the Phoenix Tower
- 4.1 A hidden tombstone - and when exactly were the walls built?
- 4.2 How many towers - and who paid for the walls?
- 4.3 What has SS Great Eastern got to do with the walls of Chester?
- 4.4 The Belltower
- 4.5 Kaleyard Gate
- 4.6 The Saddler's Tower
- 4.7 Did Chester have a moat?
- 5 Phoenix Tower
- 6 Phoenix Tower to Northgate - why build a wall using tombstones?
- 7 Northgate
- 8 Northgate to Watertower
- 8.1 links
- 8.2 Morgan's Mount
- 8.3 Goblin Tower (Pemberton's Parlour)
- 8.4 The Boatyard and Basin
- 8.5 Bonewaldesthorne's Tower
- 9 Watertower
- 10 Watertower to Watergate
- 11 Watergate
- 12 Watergate to Grosvenor Bridge
- 12.1 Roodee
- 13 Grosvenor Bridge
- 14 Grosvenor Bridge to Chester Castle
- 15 Chester Castle
- 16 Chester Castle to Bridgegate
- 17 Bridgegate
- 18 Bridgegate back to Eastgate
- 18.1 Just when was the embankment built?
- 18.2 Recorders Steps
- 18.3 Skinner's Hall
- 18.4 Barnaby's Tower
- 18.5 Roman Gardens
- 18.6 New Gate
- 18.7 Amphitheatre
- 18.8 Wolfgate
- 18.9 The Roman Corner Tower
- 18.10 Thimbleby’s Tower
- 19 Back to the Eastgate
- 20 Sources and Links
Guides to the Walls
There is no better guide to the walls of Chester than http://www.chesterwalls.info/ - written by Chester's best informed city guide, this really is worth a look. However without a page on Chester's walls this website would not be complete, and hopefully there are a few things in here that you won't find elsewhere.
The Walls of Chester can be explored in many ways. On foot they reward both a quick circumperambulation and a repeated visit. In literature, there have been many descriptions of them. Some of the old guidebooks are available a free "e-books" and are quite amusing - if not always that accurate. The ealiest of these appears to be that of Broster and later books inclide Pigot, Seacome, Batenham, Hemingway, Hughes and Windle. Many of these guides were produced by local Bookseller's and follow an almost standard pattern: disparaging remarks about earlier guides followed by a text which largely copies from the earlier works - sometimes word for word. An example of the former is found in Hughes description of Bishop Lloyd's House. In his attack on earlier "Guide-makers" he writes of the carvings on the house:
- "Ridiculous have been some of the attempts of "Local Guide-makers" to arrive at the real meaning of this design some have gravely set it down as the "Flight into Egypt" while another and later unfortunate has sapiently pronounced it to be "Susannah and the Elders". "
Errors made in earlier works are frequently duplicated in later ones, thus, once it had been written that the Recorders Steps were built for Roger Comberbach this was repeated in later works, and eventually even engraved on a stone plaque by the steps, which dates the steps from 1700. In fact, the steps date from after Comberbach's death in 1719. Worth a look (click on the link below the image to view the book - you can even download them onto a smart-phone, tablet etc.) are:
The walls of Chester as we see them today are not the original Roman walls (although they incorporate much Roman stonework). Roman Chester was less then half the size of the area now enclosed by the walls.
Explore Queen Elizabeth I's Chester as it was in 1581 (without the plague, fear of robbery or having a building fall on you) "mouse-over" on the map below will reveal various locations. Clicking on a location will reveal more detail.
A walk around the walls of Chester
In a hurry, you can circumnavigate the roughly two mile course of Chester's walls in a little over half an hour - but you will miss a lot of interesting detail. If you are in a serious hurry, Frank Simpson's book on the "The Walls of Chester" (1910) states that:
- on April 5th 1778, the Huntsman of the Chester Harriers, for a considerable wager, rode his horse round the walls in nine minutes and a half, leaping two turnstiles in the circuit.
..nowadays, an hour-long gentle stroll will give you time to see the walls. With a few diversions and halts, two hours at the most will get you round. Unfortunately much of the walkway on the walls is not accessible to wheelchair-users, or, if it is accessible then only at a point which requires some back-tracking to get off the walkway, as in some sections steps are encountered. Here is a Wheelchair and Push-chair Access Map. It is also worth remembering that these ancient walls sometimes need repair and sections of the walls may be closed as a consequence.
Ever since The Stranger's Companion in Chester; being a familiar guide to its public buildings, institutions, and other places remarkable either for their curiosity or antiquity. - George Batenham's guide of 1827 (written not long after the Napoleonic Wars), one traditional starting point for guidebooks to the walls has been the Eastgate. So, not wanting to break with tradition, we shall start there. If you are a visitor to Chester and you can't find the Eastgate, simply ask for directions to the "Eastgate Clock".
So, as another The stranger's handbook to Chester and its environs (by Thomas Hughes (1858)) puts it:
- "A walk around the walls of Chester! Now, then, for a choice tête-à-tête with the past! Away with the commonplace nineteenth century. Away with the mammon loving world of today. The path we are now treading high above the busy haunts of men has a traditionary halo and interest peculiarly its own "
Hemingway says of the walls:
- One of the first objects of curiosity that strikes a stranger on entering Chester is the City walls which entirely surround the place and on which there is an excellent flagged walking path of about two yards in width the outer side being guarded by a stone parapet wall between four and five feet high so that it forms a beautiful promenade for two persons abreast The whole circuit is exactly one mile three quarters and one hundred and twenty one yards These walls are the only entire specimen of ancient fortification existing in Britain and although it is certain they had their origin in hostile warfare they are now and have been long wholly devoted to the purposes of health pleasure and recreation They are kept in constant repair by the corporation and the walking path being formed of flags is always clean and very soon even after torrents of rain become perfectly dry.
In this guide we are going to concentrate on a few of the many mysteries that are encountered on a walk around the walls.
In The Journey from Chester to London Thomas Pennant (1782) leaves the city by the Eastgate, and the very first illustration in his book shows the gate as it appeared in his day. This was the "new" gate which was erected 1768-9 at the expense of Richard, then Lord Grosvenor. Of course in this picture there is no clock on the bridge. After "Big Ben" (the clock not the bell) the Eastgate Clock is believed to be the most photographed clock in England. It was designed by John Douglas and commemorates the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria (1897).
The ironwork was made by Handbridge master-blacksmith James Swindley. The clock was unveiled on the 24th May 1899. J B Joyce & Co, the same company that built it, still exists after a fashion. In 1964, Norman Joyce, the last member of the Joyce family, retired and sold the company to Smith of Derby. Until 1974 a technician from Smith of Derby had to travel to Chester each week to wind it. After souvenir hunters stole the hands of the clock, the city council glazed the clock faces in 1988. Only in 1992 was an electrical mechanism fitted to replace the original wind-up mechanism. In 1996 the clock faces were restored with their original colours.
The unveiling ceremony was documented in The Chronicle, 24th May 1899. The writer of the article claimed the ceremony was "singularly dull and uninteresting". After the ceremony there was a subscription lunch at the Grosvenor Hotel for the Mayor, Councillors and other civic dignitaries. Not many people attended this and the writer also notes that half the Councillors failed to make an appearance at the ceremony.
At just about any time of the day you will find a clutch of tourists here, photographing the clock, each other and the views up and down Eastgate Street and Foregate Street. It is worth looking up Eastgate Street, which runs straight as an arrow through the middle of modern Chester, just as it did through Roman Chester. What you see is "Mock Tudor", most of which was built around 1900, it is not a well-preserved Tudor city (but see: Tudor Chester for more). The Art of Louise Rayner shows its development over the years.
All of the original four gates of the city. except the Northgate (of which Mayor and the citizens had charge from before 1500) were kept by persons who held by sergeancy under the Earls of Chester. These sergeants were entitled to certain tolls which were specified in 1321. The earliest mention of the Eastgate is in the later 12th century. It seems to have been enlarged in 1270, and a reference to it shortly afterwards as "porta Cestriae" suggests that it was the principal gate of the city. The keepers were responsible for the inspection of weights and measures, and were bound to find equipment for measuring salt. The first known serjeant was Thomas of Ipgrave, whose widow Joan was granted the custody and tolls of the gate in 1275. Joan surrendered her rights in 1278 in return for a pension. The sergeancy of the Eastgate was given, on January 2nd 1275 (in consequence of a royal mandate by Reginald de Grey, Justice of Chester), to "Henry de Bradford" and Robert his son, together with "Bruardeshalgh" (Brewer's Hall) as a compensation for their manor of Bradford, which had been ceded to Vale Royal Abbey. The property upon which Gray's Inn (in London) sits was once Portpoole Manor held by Reginald de Grey. The sergeancy of the gate passed through various hands until in 1662, when John Crewe held it, released the tolls to the city in consideration of a rent charge on the Roodee of £2 12s. 4d. He also gained an exemption from the tolls for himself and his heirs. The keeper of the gate was expected to find "a crannock and a bushel" for measuring the salt brought into the city. Thereafter the city appointed a keeper who remained responsible for inspecting the city's weights but who by 1666 had ceased to receive the profits of the gate or to pay the rent due to the Crewes. On April 1st, 1586, a lease of 21 years of the tower over the Eastgate, then called the "Harre Tower" (presumably from "Harry"), was granted to the Joiners Company at a yearly rent of 6s. 8d. In 1707 as part of the general renovations the ancient pedestrian passage on the wall walk over the Eastgate was reopened. By the 1750s the gate itself was thought narrow and inconvenient, and so it was decided to replace it with the present structure.
Who Designed it?
The Eastgate provides something of a puzzle, the first of many on this walk around the walls. The Chester Assembly minutes leave some doubt as to the architect of the present Eastgate. The Corporation demolished the old gatehouse and were to have financed the new arch. The Assembly first employed a Mr Turner of Hawarden to prepare plans and estimates; he was Joseph Turner, later resident in Chester and architect of the Watergate, the Bridgegate, ‘Pill-Box Terrace’, the fine row of Georgian houses in Nicholas Street and the Bridge of Sighs crossing the canal, formerly linking the infamous Northgate Gaol with the Bluecoat Chapel at St John's Hospital in Northgate Street (he is buried in Overleigh Cemetery). The relevant entries in the Assembly minutes are:
- 2/10/1767 The Eastgate, building and premises adjoining, belonging to the Corporation are to be surveyed by Mr. Turner of Hawarden... He is to draw a plan of the proposed new buildings and an estimate of their expense and of taking down the old Gate and building, to be laid before the next Assembly.
- 22/2/1768 Mr Hayden, surveyor at the building of Lord Grosvenor is to be desired to draw a plan of a new arch to be erected over the Eastgate for the next Assembly.
- 29/2/1768 The gateway with an arch giving passage over the walls according to Mr Hayden's plan, now subscribed by the Mayor, is to be erected...
- 22/3/1768 The Corporation is to tender fifteen guineas to Mr. Turner of Hawarden as satisfaction for his plans, estimates and expenses for rebuilding the Eastgate, but if he refused to accept the sum and commenced a suit against the Treasurers for recovery of any money for his plans, etc, the Town Clerk was to defend it at the Corporation's expense.
- 17/1/1772 It was ordered that five guineas be paid to Mr. Heyden as a compliment for his trouble in supervising the new construction of the Eastgate... elegantly completed at the sole expense of the Lord Grosvenor. (Chester City Assembly: Assembly Book: 1725-1775: 1767,68,72; Bartholomew City Guides: Harris B: Chester: Edinburgh: 1979-: 54).
How many arches?
Thomas Hughes is less than happy about the new Eastgate:
- "Handsome and commodious as is the present Eastgate on every score but that of convenience it is immeasurably inferior to its predecessor. Could we but look upon the structure as it existed only a hundred years ago with its beautiful Gothic archway flanked by two massive octagonal towers four stories in height supporting the Gate itself and the rooms above could we but resuscitate the time worn embattlements of that ancient of days we should wonder at and pity the spurious taste that decreed its fall. Oh but we may be told the present Gate was a public improvement - A plague upon such improvements say we! We should vastly have preferred and so would every lover of the antique whether citizen or stranger to have retained the old Gate in its integrity altered had need been to meet the growing wants of the times rather than have thus consigned it to the ruthless hands of the destroyer. Oh ye spirits of the valiant dead you who lost your lives defending this Gate against the cannons of Cromwell, why did ye not rise up from your graves and arrest the mad course of that age of improvement. When this Gate was being demolished the massive arches of the original Roman structure were laid bare to the view and a portion of one of them is yet to be seen on the north west side of the present Gateway."
Thomas Pennant described it as follows:
- "Here stood a lofty square tower with many apartments erected according to tradition by Edward III. This had been a Porta principalis was the grand entrance into the town and was the termination of the great Watling Street road which crossed the island from Dover y and was the great road from that port to this place. In 1769 this gate being found too narrow and inconvenient was pulled down and a magnificent arch arose in its room at the sole expence of Richard lord Grosvenour. Beyond this is a vast suburb called the Forest Street whose lower part was defended by a gate demolished as a nuisance within these few years"
John Seacome, writing in 1828 desribed the earlier gate as follows:
- It consisted of a beautifully formed Gothic arch way flanked by two massive octagonal embattled towers connected by a substantial building two storeys in height over the gateway the roof of which was raised to a level with and embattled in the same manner as the flanking towers to which it formed the center From the bearings on four shields which ornamented the front of this gate it is conjectured to have been erected during the reign of Edward III In 1270.
Thomas Pennant, as quoted by Frank Simpson writes of it as follows (emphasis added):
- " Of the four gates of the city,' says he," one of the East-gate, continued till of late years; it was of Roman architecture, and consisted of two arches, much hid by a tower , erected over it in later days . A few years ago it was pulled down, on account of its straitness and inconvenience, to give way to a magnificent gate, which rose in its place by the munificence of lord Grosvenor'. I remember the demolition of the ancient structure and on the taking down the more modem case of Norman masonry, the Roman appeared full in view. It consisted of two arches, formed of vast stones, fronting the Eastgate-street and the Forest-street; the pillars be them dividing the street exactly in two. The accurate representation of them by Mr. Wilkinson, of this city will give a stronger idea than words can convey; as also of the figure of the Roman soldier, placed between the tops of the arches, facing the Fores-street . This species of double gate was not unfrequent. The Portae, esquilina, and the Porte portesi, at Rome were of this kind. Flores, in his medals of the Roman colonies in Spain exhibits one of the coins of Merida, the ancient Emerita, particularly on those of Augustus, which shews that the colonists were proud of their gate; and perhaps not without reason, as it appears to have been the work of the best age. I must conclude, that the mode seems to have been derived from the Grecian architecture ; for at Athens stood a Dipylon or double gate now demolished - The East-gate faced the great Watling-street road, and the place where other military ways united. Through this was the greatest conflux of people which rendered the use of the double portal more requisite "
Forest Street (probably a corruption of "a'Fore East Gate Street") is now Foregate Street, and Simpson's book reproduces an old illustration of the Eastgate. The problem is, there is no central pillar to be seen at all. Thomas Pennant was born in 1726, so he would have been around forty years of age when the medieval gate was demolished. He has been admired by generations of authors because of his enthusiastic and diligent scholarship. Just why he describes a pair of arches with a central pillar is unknown. Pennant goes on to give a further description:
- "On the other hand, I have lately seen a drawing accompanied with a descriptive account, which represents. this gate consisting of four arches This production is stated to be "drawn according to the instructions and directions of Mr. Ogden, of Chester, by J. Calveley 1774; and to the drawing is appended the the following description:- The Roman gate at Chester was sixteen feet high; the breadth nine and thirty feet. This gate was composed of four arches, two in one line; the distance from each was fifteen feet. In the middled of the gate fronting the east, there was a statue, ten from the ground cut upon one large stone in alto relievo grooved or fixed into the gate by a kind of dove-tail work, and could not weigh less than half a ton This statue represented the god Mars; and as this god had several names so this may be called Propugnator vel Defensor, The god was in complete armour ; in one hand he held a shield in the other a Hasta Pura, or spear without a point, and as Chester was at that time the station of a great legion, what could be more noble and grand than to dedicate the principal gate to Marti Deo Propugnatori. Height of the statue, 4 feet 4 Inches; breadth , 2 feet 10 inches; height of the arches 14 feet"
Pennant is not the only person to describe the Eastgate as having two arches. In William Stukeley's Itinerarium Curiosum the following passage appears (emphasis added):
- "Riding under the gate where the Watling Street enters immediately two arches of Roman work .. on each side was a portal, of a lesser arch and lower for foot passengers; for part of the arch is left and people now alive remember them open quite through; though now both these, and part of the great arch, are taken up by little paltry shops: or rather the lesser ones are quite pulled down, and even the greater ones are in the up most danger of falling; for the occupants of those places cut away part of the bottom of the semicircle, to enlarge their sharp."
It is possible that Stukeley is getting confused here with "The Bars", an administrative or city-toll gate which was some way further out and at a location still known as "The Bars". In his plate 65 Stukeley represents:
- "the outside front of the Roman gate of the Watling Street, called East Gate at Chester as standing 1725. Where three arches are shown of equal height and nearly equal breath the centre one eighteen & half feet in breadth, the side ones each sixteen & half feet the entire width of the gateway being eighty feet"
Hemingway remains utterly confused by the number of arches and concludes:
- There is no living authority that I have been able to meet with , who is able to solve this apparent incongruity ; nor can it often happen that individuals are to be found capable of remembering such minute particulars as this at the distance of more than sixty years. The reader is of course at liberty to adopt or reject the hypothesis I have here offered, or receive which of the description he pleases that have been given. In the mean time, I must have leave to observe, that as the character and talents of Mr. Wilkinson (on whose authority Mr. Pennant's view rests). and those of Mr. Ogden, are of the most respectable kind and as they both appear to have taken their observations on the spot, I should feel less difficulty in admitting a slight. improbability, than in condemning either of them in a design to deceive the public. In an old MS. I have in my possession, and written in the last century, I find a. short description of this gate, which, although it throws no light upon the subject, is not unworthy of being introduced. "The East-gate," says my author, " is accounted, a beautiful structure of its kind, in the gothic way, built so strong and regular, that notwithstanding the stone is of a very perishing nature, it has continued much the same many centuries (from the conquest at last) without any considerable addition or alteration.
So how is the mystery solved? The clue appears to be in Thomas Hughes:
- "When this Gate was being demolished the massive arches of the original Roman structure were laid bare to the view and a portion of one of them is yet to be seen on the north west side of the present Gateway"
Indeed, there is part of an arch at the northern end of the gateway. It is tucked away by the stairs leading up to the walkway along the walls and forms part of the front of a very small shop selling refreshments. A shop has been recorded her since 1884. Could this be the remains of the second Roman archway of the gate? It is theoretically possible (with permission of the shop owner) to go right through the shop into a tiny alleyway on the other side of the wall. Gresty seems to agree with this, but does not quote any sources.
- Eastgate at English Heritage;
- More on Eastgate from ChesterWalls.info;
- Conservation work as done by Ramboll in 2015;
Eastgate to the Phoenix Tower
Several portions of Roman masonry are incorporated in this section, which measures about 380 m long. Exits from this section are (south to north):
- the stone steps leading down to Eastgate Street (just after the clock - you may have just climbed them)
- stone steps on the east side leading to Frodsham Street, (by he site of a former drum tower);
- modern stone steps on the west side leading to St Werburgh Street, (by the belfry).
- a ramp on the west side, parallel to the wall, and steps leading up from Abbey Street (by the Kale-yard gate) - this is the first wheelchair access to the walls that will be encountered on this walk, and also the only way on or off this section of the walls without encountering steps;
- wooden steps, leading down to the Canalside,
Heading north from the Eastgate the next puzzle is encountered after a very short walk. Just after the walls emerge from between a narrow confine, a portion of the right hand parapet (opposite the doors in the left hand wall) appears to comprise part of a tombstone. The word "died" (up-ended) and a part of a date can be made out. It is a complete mystery where this tombstone came from or to whom it actually belonged. However, while it is clear it does not belong to an inhabitant of Roman Chester, it does mean that this section of the walls was repaired after the date on the tombstone. That might seem obvious, but it is such deductions that archaeology is based on.
Looking at the wall parapet along this section it is clear that parts of the wall date from many different periods - some stones seem very badly worn, some seem almost new. This will be the case all the way around the walls, which, together with the various towers have been much modified over the years. The reason for that is that Chester was for many centuries the most important place by far in north-western England. That was largely due to its location at the crossroads of the British Isles, where routes from southern Britain led into north Wales and the Irish Sea. On many occasions its role as the point of entry into the Irish Sea region made it prominent in national affairs:
- At the outset the Romans probably selected the site for their fortress because of its potential as a port for an assault on Ireland (see: Roman Chester).
- In the 10th century the reoccupied fortress became the centre for attempts by English kings to dominate other rulers around the shores of the Irish Sea, notably in the carefully staged set-piece by which King Edgar demonstrated his overlordship by having them row him on the Dee in 973. Tribute in silver extracted from such rulers was turned into coin at Chester, whose mint was astonishingly prolific in the 10th century (see: Dark Ages)
- During the time of the Norman Earls of Chester
- The English conquest of north Wales in the 1270s and 1280s depended heavily on Chester as a base. The city's military and political importance to Edward I, which endured into the early 14th century, brought it great prosperity, notably through the victualling of armies and the supply of royal castles in north Wales (see: Chester Castle).
- In the Civil War Chester was an important Royalist stronghold.
Roman Chester and its walls
The walls of Roman Chester were built to a very high standard of large sandstone blocks without mortar, a technique known as opus caementicium and usually reserved for temple or city walls rather than those of a fortress. So the next mystery is why did Chester get this special treatment, and why is Chester significantly (20%) larger than the any other Roman legionary fortress in Britain? One theory is that Chester was intended to be the capital of the province of Britain. The presence of unusual buildings at the heart of the fortress – accounting for the area by which Deva was larger than other fortresses – has been taken as evidence that their construction was specifically ordered by the provincial governor. The governor when construction first started was Gnaeus Julius Agricola. Lead piping (now in the Grosvenor Museum) found in the unique elliptical building bears his name. This is the only evidence in Britain of a building under the provincial governors direct control. These differences suggest that Deva may have been Agricola’s administrative headquarters – in effect the capital of Britannia. The section of wall heading north from Eastgate almost follows the line of the Roman walls, but not quite. In places the east-facing Roman walls would have been a few meters further to the east. The Roman walls of Chester were once thought to have been rebuilt in stone from the middle of the second century CE. There has been much debate on this. However, it now appears that the facing of the ramparts with stone started earlier and the rebuilding of the ramparts with solid stone was well underway by the end of the first century, i.e. within a few years of the establishment of the city. This would have been a massive undertaking, as the stone walls, towers and gates comprise some 55 thousand tons of stone (about 70 thousand Roman wagon-loads). Even after the Romans had built their stone walls there were still changes: from around 260-310 work at Chester was largely abandoned while the Twentieth Legion was fighting elsewhere. During this half-century, the ditch silted up and parts of the wall collapsed due to lack of maintenance.
Hemingway gets the history of the walls completely wrong and claims that the entire walls are Roman:
- The present form of the walls is strictly Roman which goes a great way to negative the old legends of the monkish chronicles that the walls were enlarged one third in circumference by Ethelfleda the celebrated Saxon princess. The walls at present says a judicious antiquary is so entirely Roman that any addition she could make would have destroyed the peculiar figure which that wise people always preserved in their stations or castre metations wherever the nature of the ground would permit. Besides the reliques of antiquity which distinguish their residence are not confined to any one quarter they have been met with in excavations on every side of the city.
The walls of Roman Chester enclosed a smaller area than the current walls. Chester was re-established as a place of importance by the 10th century through the convergence of three circumstances:
- First, it was garrisoned again towards the end of the Dark Ages in the early 10th century during the course of Æthelflæd's military campaigns designed to secure the northern frontier of Mercia against the Vikings.
- Second, in reoccupying Chester, Æthelflæd made it a centre of government, one of the fortified towns which later in the 10th century developed into the central places of the newly established Mercian shires. Cheshire was thus Chester's shire, and indeed was often known as "Chestershire" until the 15th century.
- Third, the city became a centre of trade for the Irish Sea region, with a small Hiberno-Norse quarter between the remains of the Roman fortress and the River Dee.
Trade and government (including a few battles) have been the mainstays of Chester's significance ever since. Æthelflæd (see Dark Ages) made a simple extension of the north and east Roman walls down to the river.
The next period of change to the walls came during the English conquest of north Wales in the 1270s and 1280s which depended heavily on Chester as a base. The city's military and political importance to Edward I, which endured into the early 14th century, brought it great prosperity, notably through the victualling of armies and the supply of royal castles in north Wales. As building work in Wales could not progress through the winter, Chester became the winter billet of many castle-builders. Rather than sit about idly in the winter, some were employed on the walls of Chester as well as on other projects in the city, including Chester Castle.
Civil War walls
The walls were modified again during and after the Civil War, both in the sense that defensive works were changed/demolished on account of the use of cannon and due to rebuilding afterwards. Chester had great strategic importance during the Civil War. It could readily be garrisoned and defended, was the principal port for Ireland and the gateway to royalist north Wales, had road connections with north-western and midland counties, and was close to the western route to Scotland. During the early months of the Civil War, in 1642, people flocked into the city as a refuge from lawlessness in rural Cheshire, and the king's adherents strengthened its defences. The work, supervised by Colonel Robert Ellis, a soldier with experience of Continental warfare, was completed by the summer of 1643. Earthen mounds were raised behind the walls to strengthen them, and new drawbridges were installed at the Northgate, Eastgate, and Bridgegate. Extensive outworks were made in the form of an earthen rampart with a ditch, dug in straight lengths with salients and flanks, mounts for cannon, pitfalls, and heavy gates. Chester was besieged, but the walls were a formidable defence, although cannon made several breaches in the walls.
In 1707, Chester city Assembly spent £1,000 (£140,000 as of 2014) to repair the walls and to flag the footway running along them. With the increasing power of cannon stone walls could be little more than an ornament and by the 1700's the walls of Chester became a promenade. Over the following years the four Roman/Medieval gates were replaced, Eastgate, Bridgegate and Watergate during the 18th century and Northgate in 1808–10. After 1810, part of the southern section of the walk near the castle was demolished to accommodate the yard for the new gaol. In 1846, the northeastern corner of the walls was breached by the Chester and Holyhead Railway. Newgate was opened in 1938 to bridge a new road built to relieve traffic congestion in the city centre, and in 1966 St Martin's Gate was built across the Inner Ring Road which punched through the walls in what will hopefully be the last major breach of the walls.
A town’s walls were an important indicator of urban status and clearly demarcated the urban from the rural. They had developed initially as a way of ensuring security, but also helped urban authorities to police the city and provided a physical barrier to help enforce legal and economic restrictions. Walls were a conspicuous architectural feature, often described at length by travellers and were an important indicator of urban status. But the walls were a constant drain on civic resources, requiring huge amounts of money and effort be devoted to their upkeep. In 1520 approximately 146 towns in England and Wales were walled, but at the opening of the Civil War only some 50 walled towns were to be found in England. The sustained period of domestic peace in the later sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries clearly served to undermine their military utility to a point where their cost could not be justified. At Chester, both before and after the Civil War, the walls were variously described by different visitors as ‘so fairly built’, ‘well walled’, ‘fine and high’, ‘kept in very good repaire’, and yet a cursory examination of the civic records reveals an almost constant struggle against physical decay. The murengers, the officers charged with their upkeep, regularly describe the walls as ‘far out of repair’ or in ‘great decay’. This contrast between visitors’ impressions, generally optimistic, and civic concerns about their cost and repair, generally pessimistic, is hard to reconcile and makes it difficult to gauge any real change in the condition of the walls or the level of investment. Arguably in the period before the Civil War the walls were a relatively low priority for urban governors at a time of large-scale urban poverty, and frequent plague outbreaks.
At Chester the murengers were very diligent, they complained constantly about the state of the walls, instituted programmes of work and petitioned the corporation for additional funds. Between 1609 and 1629 the murengers were given a share of £240, raised by three assessments, to carry out 13 repairs. However, the quality of some repairs was questionable; in 1608 sections of the walls commonly known as ‘the broken walls’ were repaired only to collapse in the following year. The heightened political tension of the early 1640s led to much larger-scale investment programmes, including a series of assessments and diverting merchants’ debts for the import of prize wines to strengthen the walls and increase their defensive capability. Just as the walls were drain on civic finances, so too were the gates and complaints about their ruinous state were equally common, such as the petition from the inhabitants adjacent to Chester’s Eastgate who feared its imminent collapse in the 1630s. The Civil War siege caused far greater damage to the gates and their direct vicinity because they were the focus of a number of assaults, and consequently a programme of repairs was instituted in the 1670s to rectify siege damage: over £250 was spent on the Northgate, over £88 on the Eastgate, and the Watergate was rebuilt in 1712. The main period of redevelopment came in the late 1760s and 1770s when first the Eastgate was removed and completely rebuilt (1768), followed by the Watergate (1788-89), the Bridgegate (1781) and finally the Northgate (1808). The rebuilding of the gates was part of an attempt to remove obstructions from the streets and reduce the bottlenecks created by the 20 older, narrow, medieval gates.
Chester’s walls and gates were not maintained simply because they had become a tourist attraction and leisure facility, they fulfilled a far more important role locally. For the civic elite the walls provided an opportunity to express their control of the city’s physical fabric, while advertising the scale of their good works and munificence. The walls were peppered with plaques on sections which had been repaired commemorating, the names of the mayors, aldermen and murengers who had been responsible for the work. These plaques enabled the civic elite to advertise their generosity and civic spirit, and to make unsubstantiated, lasting public claims about their generosity. The plaques were often commented upon by visitors to the city, as was the generosity of the city’s elite, and they were carefully protected against vandalism.
Work on the walls continues even to the present day, and from time to time there is often some section closed for refurbishment or propped up by scaffolding. Getting on for 1900 years old in parts, they are doing pretty well. For example the City Wall just north of the Eastgate Bridge had been propped since 2010 until a major repair in 2014-15. After observation, the wall was found to be slowly rotating outwards. The movement was happening because the wall was partly founded on the very soft clay rampart, which formed part of the original Roman city defences, and partly on a firmer footing. To stop the rotation, part of the wall and core was taken apart and carefully rebuilt to shift the centre of gravity back to a safer line. This solution was chosen in preference to an underpinning scheme which would have destroyed some of the Roman rampart.
How many towers - and who paid for the walls?
Along the walls the Romans built 34 or 36 towers about 60m (a bowshot) apart. The stretch from Eastgate to the Phoenix Tower is 370m, so we should expect at least four towers between the gate and the corner at the Phoenix Tower. The Smith Map shows three. However the Braun and Hogenberg map shows two, and remains on the ground indicate that this was possibly the case in the middle ages. The first of these towers we come to is the semi-circular set of remains around the base of the flight of steps leading down to the car park outside the walls. This un-named drum (round) tower, of which the foundations are exposed. The tower was discovered in 1923 during levelling operations by the then City Engineer, Mr Charles Greenwood (it was excavated in 1928). PH Lawson suggested that the tower was probably built between 1285 and 1295.. It could well have been built by Edward I's castle builders.
Menders of the walls were called muringers. The monies required for the upkeep of the walls was mainly by a series of "murages" granted by the Earls of Chester or the monarch. These were duties levied on certain types of merchandise (such as Irish linen, which was imported into Chester in large quantities) passing through the city gates. One example was granted on 5th March, 1407 in the reign of Henry IV:
- Letters Patent by Henry, Prince of Wales and Earl of Chester, granting the expenditure of the Murage to be received for the next five years to be spent one half on the walls and one half on the completion of the tower on the Dee Bridge which was begun in the time of Richard II.
The grant of such support is also recorded in the Domesday book:
- Ad murum civitatis et pontem reaedificandum de unam quamque hida comitatus unum hominem venire praepositus edicebat: Cujus homo non veniebat dominius ejus xl. Solidis emendabat regi et comitem. (For the repair of the city wall and bridge, the reeve used to call out one man from each hide in the County. The lord of any man who did not come paid a fine of 40s to the king and earl.) - Omerod's transcription of Domesday.
It is curious that the county should be responsible for the walls and Old Dee Bridge and not the city, and this led to at least one legal dispute:
- "The citizens of Chester proved, 14 Edward I., (1285-6) that they were free from the duty of repairing it, but the inhabitants of the county were bound" (Morris, Tudor Period, p 230)
Writing in 1828, John Seacome, says of the murage:
- The most considerable of these was a duty of twopence on every hundred yards of Irish linen imported into Chester which was formerly the great mart for Irish linens and resorted to by the dealers from all parts of the kingdom but the trade in this as in other branches being transferred to Liverpool the murage duties have long been unproductive.
The office of murenger was abolished in 1835, when its duties were vested in the corporation's finance committee.
- English Heritage on the drum tower.
What has SS Great Eastern got to do with the walls of Chester?
SS Great Eastern was an iron sailing steam ship designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel (who almost got to work on the Grosvenor Bridge), and built by J. Scott Russell & Co. at Millwall on the River Thames, London. She was by far the largest ship ever built at the time of her 1858 launch, and had the capacity to carry 4,000 passengers from England to Australia without refuelling. Brunel knew her affectionately as the "Great Babe". He died in 1859 shortly after her ill-fated maiden voyage, during which she was damaged by an explosion. After repairs, she plied for several years as a passenger liner between Britain and North America before being converted to a cable-laying ship and laying the first lasting transatlantic telegraph cable in 1866 (see: Time). Finishing her life as a floating music hall and advertising hoarding (for the famous department store Lewis's) in Liverpool, she was broken up in 1889. Her length of 692 feet (211 m) was only surpassed in 1899 by the 705-foot (215 m) 17,274-gross-ton RMS Oceanic, ten years after the Great Eastern had been scrapped. .
The length of the ship is marked out on the city walls by William Haswell, a master mason, commissioned by a Mr Musgrave, who owned a wood- or boat-yard next to Cow Lane Bridge (and whose family is also listed as having a wood/boatyard at Crane Bank). The 692 feel is the distance from here to the Phoenix Tower, now visible ahead. That is quite a large ship, about twice as long as the Cathedral (which you can also see from this point) and over five time the height of the Cathedral tower. Musgrave's woodyard seems to have had its own short branch of the canal for loading and unloading, although all that remains of this today is a short stretch of brickwork that would have formed the abutment of the bridge carrying the tow-path over this branch.
One surviving part of the Eastern still exists in Liverpool: the flagpole at Anfield football stadium was "Wednesday", one of the six day-named top-masts from the Eastern acquired by then-residents of Anfield, Everton Football Club, who purchased it before they left in 1892.
Haswell's stonemasons yard was nearby at Kaleyards and many masons in his family worked at the Cathedral (where they have a memorial window in the cloisters, north walk, no.N4). Some carved stonework, possibly from his yard, can be seen by looking over the wall into the yard at the back of Kaleyard Cottage.
What can be seen of Chester Cathedral today is covered in Victorian ornamentation. Prior to that the building had suffered considerable decay. In 1725 Daniel Defoe visited Chester and wrote of the state of the cathedral:
- "Tis built of a red, sandy, ill-looking stone, which takes much from the beauty of it, and which yielding to the weather, seems to crumble, and suffer by time, which much defaces the building"
By the 19th century the fabric of the building had become even more badly weathered. Charles Hiatt wrote:
- "Decay may be, and often is, picturesque. At Chester, the surface rot of the very perishable red sandstone, of which the cathedral was built, was positively unsightly. The whole place previous to the restoration struck one as woe-begone and neglected ; it perpetually seemed to hover on the verge of collapse, and was yet without a trace of the romance of the average ruin. Restoration is a word of which all those who really care for ancient buildings have a wholesome dread. It is frequendy pleaded with a view to covering a multitude of sins of innovation : only too often it actually amounts to that mutilation which is the most fashionable and the worst form of architectural murder. To fill an ancient niche with a new statue, to continue a moulding of which the greater part has disappeared, to "renew " an ancient capital by means of a few sharp strokes of a chisel in the hands of a modern stonemason, are sins at once against common sense and good taste. "
Why are the bells not in the Cathedral?
George Addleshaw became dean in 1963 and did much to publicize the architecture of the cathedral also launching an appeal fund for £300,000 for its restoration. His most controversial achievement was the erection in 1973–75 of a detached belfry designed by George Pace to the south-east of the cathedral, when it became obvious in the late 1960s that continued bell-ringing would endanger the central tower ringing was therfore suspended. In 1965 the Dean asked George Pace, architect to York Minster, to prepare specifications for a new bell frame and for electrification of the clock and tolling mechanism. Due to structural difficulties and the cost of replacing the bells in the central tower it was advised that consideration should be given to building a detached bell and clock tower in the southeast corner of the churchyard. Pace, a noted church architect, also designed stalls for the nave, although most of these have been moved. In 1969 he redecorated the organ, and in 1973 was responsible for decorating the ceiling of the crossing.
In February 1969, nine of the ten bells in the central tower were removed to be recast by John Taylor & Co as a ring of twelve bells with a flat sixth. The new bells were cast in 1973 and work on the new bell-tower began in the same year. Two old bells dating from 1606 and 1626 were left in the tower. On 26 February 1975 the new bells were rung for the first time to celebrate the wedding of a member of the Grosvenor family. The official opening on 25 June 1975 was performed by the Duke of Gloucester. This was the first detached cathedral bell tower was to be erected since the building of the campanile at Chichester Cathedral in the 15th century. When first built, the appearance of the tower was controversial, being known locally as the "Chester Rocket".
A now almost unique feature of the bell-tower is that the soffits above the door and windows are made of "lead coated steel" an innovation put into production at Chester's Leadworks. This was for cladding of buildings with rust free external panels and was a fore-runner to the cheaper plastics/aluminium panels which were used more recently (to disasterous effect due to flammability). These innovative lead/steel panels were more visible on the mansard roof of "Windsor House", an office block (with shops on the ground floor) of 1974-5 by John Taylor of Edmund Kirby and Partners, at the corner of Pepper Street and Lower Bridge Street. However they have been removed during "renovation". The panels were manufactured by rolling together pre-treated steel sheet and lead sheet with sufficient force to ensure cohesion without the need for adhesive. Very few examples of the use of this material now remain.
Drain or Temple?
The Kateyard gate is a gated opening for pedestrians through the City Walls cut c. 1275 for the monks of St Werburgh's Abbey (now the Cathedral) to have direct access to their vegetable garden (the "kale-yard"), by permission of Edward I. Subsequently repaired in various periods the gate is a simple rebated stone opening with double-boarded oak door opening outward. It is of special interest as the only medieval gateway in Chester in approximately its original form to remain in use, and is closed nightly. Some years ago it was decided to leave the gate open at night. In 2013 the custom of locking the gate was reinstated and one could once again hear the curfew bell just before 21:00 hrs and see the gate being locked. It is now open permanently.
What is a "Kaleyard"?
A kale-yard is a cabbage-patch, although in Scotland it is a more general term for kitchen garden.
Where was the second gate?
- In order to secure the Cale yards from being robbed as also the monks from the insults of the town's men Henry VI granted power to the abbot and convent of St Werburgh to lock two gates which had been of old upon the walls between the East gate and Northgate and to keep the keys so that none were allowed to come within the precincts of the abbey on that side unless in time of war or for mending the walls.
He then adds:
- The Cale yard gate is still in existence and is now as in the time of our author a considerable thoroughfare by day but locked at each end during night time Of the second gate leading to the abbot's garden or of its precise situation no trace at present remains though the probability is that it stood nearer to the Northgate The abbot's garden appears formerly to hare stretched along the walls from about where the post office now stands nearly to the North gate the present site being occupied on the east by a orchard belonging to the Hop pole inn and by a mason's yard timber yard and a rope walk.
Close inspection of the walls between Eastgate and Northgate reveals no sign of the "second gate" so this mystery remained for a while unsolved. It also leads to a further mystery: the Kaleyard Gate was supposed to have been put through the City Walls in 1275 - although there is no mention of it in the Chronicle and the monks of Chester were usually very particular about recording their rights in their chronicle.
The mystery has now been solved - the two gates mentioned by Hemingway were actually on the wall walkway itself and we intended to prevent people gaining access to the Cathederal precincts from the City Walls. So one gate would have been near the Eastgate and the other near the Nothgate preventing access to the whole north-east quadrant of the walls. One such gate is shown on McGahey's "Balloon View" about half-way between the Phoenix Tower and the Northgate.
- Kaleyard Gate on Wikipedia;
- Kaleyard Gate on English Heritage;
- Chester City Walls - Kaleyard Gate on Revealing Cheshire's Past;
The Saddler's Tower
The Saddlers and Curriers company originally had their own meeting place, the Saddler’s Tower on the city walls near the east end of Abbey Street. This is believed to have been a square watch tower, shown on a map of 1745, which stood (according to some) c. 50 m. north of the Kaleyards Gate and was aligned with the medieval defences, which stood 1.5 m. inside the Roman ones, the tower was built at a point where the Roman walls had collapsed or had been "robbed-out".
The Saddlers' company occupied their tower in the mid 16th century, and was still their meeting house in the later 17th. In 1690 it was repaired and said to be 241 years old. The tower was taken down to the level of the walls in 1779–80 and demolished in 1828. It's location is said to be presently marked by buttress-like structures representing the stubs of its north and south walls.
Where exactly was it?
Many people post photographs on the Internet of the remains of the Drum Tower we passed earlier and claim this is the "Sadlers tower". Hemingways Map of 1829 shows the city at the time of the Civil War (c. 1640) and shows the Sadler's Tower very close to the Kaleyard Gate. Others claim it was 50 meters north of the Kaleyard gate. Hemingway writes of the Kaleyard Gate (postern):
- Near to the postern aforesaid we pass by on the right hand on the walls the remains of a watch tower usurlly called Sadler's tower because the company of sadlers obtained it from the city for a meeting house.
He adds as a note:
- Sadler's Tower stood exactly opposite the end of Abbey street but was taken down in the year 1779 There was an outward square projection the walls which marked the place where it stood but this also was enclosed within the wall in the year 1828).
John Seacome's Chester Guide, published shortly after 1828, tells us that, starting from the Kaleyard Gate:
- A few paces farther on was a quadrangular abutment on which formerly stood a tower called The Sadler's Tower from the Company of Sadlers holding their meetings there The tower was taken down in 1780 and the abutment being the occasion of a great nuisance to the residence of Griflith Rowlauds Esquire immediately opposite from the number of idle and disorderly characters who were in the habit of congregating there of an evening that gentleman obtained permission from the Corporation to take it down and continue the Wall at his own expense in February 1828
Pigot writes as follows:
- A little farther is a projection on which formerly stood a Tower where the Company of Saddlers used to meet this was taken down about the year 1780.
While not set in stone the location of the Sadler's Tower seems to have been quite close to the Kaleyard gate - our trusty old map at the head of this page agrees with that. Notably the historical records for July 1828 state that as a consequebce of a rainstorm a section of the City Walls near the site of Sadler's Tower collapses "with a terrible crash, the earth having been completely excavated and washed away by the descending torrents". One wonders if the collapse was in any wal connected with Griflith Rowlauds.
- Chester City Walls - Saddlers' Tower on Revealing Cheshire's past;
Did Chester have a moat?
Looking at the Braun and Hogenberg map (from 1581), we see something extending along the north wall of the city and down the east wall towards the Eastgate. Is this a road or possibly a ditch? Nowadays the canal, sitting in a rather deep cutting, follows the line of whatever this is along the north wall. There was a Roman ditch (fosse) before the wall but the depth of the cutting along the north wall seems excessive. However Simpson's "Walls of Chester" does seem to suggest that very little extra work was needed for the construction of the canal cutting:
- "The contractor for the canal when making his excavations found that he was exactly on the line of the old Roman fosse, and that, instead of excavating solid rock, he had only to clear out the accumulated earth and rubbish: by this economy he was enabled to make a considerable fortune."
The above version suggests that hardly any actual rock needed to be cut. However, maybe it is just an "urban legend".
However, there is possibly some truth in the story. In 1264 Henry III was defeated and taken prisoner by Simon de Montfort's army and reduced to being a figurehead king. Henry III and Prince Edward (Lord of Chester) were placed under house arrest. Simon de Montfort became Earl of Chester (until 1265). The Chester Chronicle records:
- William la Zouche, the justiciary, and the citizens of Chester, fearing that the city was about to be besieged by the barons or by the Welsh, at the suggestion of a certain cursed fellow named Robert Mercer, then sheriff of the city, the day before the Annunciation of Our Lady [March 24], pulled down the houses of S. Werburg that were in Bog lane, and, after totally destroying the gardens, they began to dig a ditch round the city, the justiciary himself and David Fitz-Griffin faithfully promising to the abbot that the lord Edward should restore an equivalent of land and rents to the church of S. Werburg.
Evidently the monks were not too happy about the loss of their property in "Bog Lane" (or Bag Lane), which appears to have been where the canal now lies. But it is not clear whether the Roman ditch or even the works of citizens in 1264 went as deep as the present canal cutting. The monks did not to favour William la Zouche, judging by some of the quotes about him from their Chronicle, and their record of his downfall:
- (From 1263) "On the feast of the Nativity of S. John the Baptist [June 24] William la Zouche, the justiciary, violently took possession of the abbey of S. Werburg at Chester with an armed band, and, shortly afterwards, heaped so many insults upon the rural dean and other ecclesiastical persons of Chester, that, to the eternal disgrace of the said justiciary and his partisans, the whole church [i.e., clergy] of Chester, regular as well as secular, placed itself voluntarily under an interdict for four days."
- (From 1263) "About the feast of S. Chad [March 2] William la Zouche, justiciary of Chester, having collected an army in Cheshire, David [Prince of Wales] and Hamo Lestrange, with many men of Shropshire, took the town of Stafford and the castle of Chartley, and on their return they burned the town of Stone, and forcibly entered the church and plundered all that they found there, including even the charters and evidences of the canons."
- (From 1264) "At the following Christmas, William la Zouche said good-bye to Cheshire, and was imprisoned at London for divers excesses of authority: at length [having restored] what he had extorted from the men of Chester, he returned in the fifth year [of his imprisonment] on the feast of S. Simon and S. Jude [October 28]."
This whole section of the Chronicle is very confused and seems to have been altered in parts.
If asked to pick a favorite tower on the Chester walls, the Phoenix Tower makes the short-list. This spot was was originally very near the site of a Roman corner tower, and in Roman Chester the "Deanery Field" by the tower would have been the site of Barracks. The tower was once known as the "Newton Tower", because it overlooked the hamlet of "Newtown". The north-east tower of the legionary fortress underlies the present tower.
Also known as: "King Charles' Tower", this north-east corner tower was probably built in the 13th Century origin, was altered in 1613, damaged 1644-6 during the Civil War, largely rebuilt 1658 and during the 18th Century (around 1773), and repaired thereafter (by 1838, the tower was described as being in a dilapidated condition), most recently in 2012. The tower is of red coursed sandstone with a pyramidal grey slate roof. The exterior consists of four stages stages, the lower 2, of 14 and 12 courses refaced in tooled sandstone, are beneath the level of the wall walk and have a diminishing batter, and are solid with no access to the interior. The upper stages are of eroded coursed rubble with a coved string above each stage. The third stage has a round-arched boarded door to the wall-walk, loops and an external iron-gated stone stair of 3 winders and 13 rectangular steps carried on a corbelled half-arch projecting beyond the plane of the wall. Above the doorway to the lower chamber the carved phoenix dated 1613 is the emblem of the City Guild of Painters, Glaziers, Embroiderers and Stationers who occupied the tower as a meeting place. The fourth stage has a boarded door and four 3-light casements leaded with octagonal and lozenge panes. A plaque above the door states that King Charles stood on the tower on 24th September 1645 to see his army defeated at Rowton Moor. Above the plaque is a second carved stone phoenix (there is a third carved phoenix inside). Below the plaque is the Royal coat of arms. The roof has leaded hips and an ornate weather-vane.
As for the interior, the lower chamber is octagonal with cornice and radial ribs to vaulted ceiling which has, during restoration work in 2012, been reinforced with a pseudo-geodesic steel structure of rods and spheres. It has five arrowslit-like windows to give wide cover.
The upper chamber has an exposed wooden roof structure and what may well have only been arrow slits have been replaced, during rebuilding and refacing in the 18th century.
In the late 1850s, the lower chamber was being used by a print-seller, and by 1900 the upper floor of the Tower housed a small private museum, though it underwent many vicissitudes. The city council let the tower in 1912 to Edward Davies, who showed a collection of artifacts connected with the history of Chester and was given an extended lease in 1917, despite being in arrears with the rent, because Professor Newstead commended the value to the city of his local antiquarian knowledge. Davies's collection remained on display and was given to the city in 1955, after which King Charles's Tower was refitted by the Grosvenor Museum as an historical museum of the Civil War in Chester. It is currently leased to the Cathedral. Unfortunately, it is only open on an irregular basis when tour guides from the Cathedral have some spare time. To create more space on the walkway outside the tower and to allow people to step back and view the tower more easily a new balcony was built to cantilever out from the City Wall in 2012. The balustrade was designed to match the one at Morgan’s Mount.
So what was King Charles watching?
The inscription on this tower reads:
- 'KING CHARLES STOOD ON THIS TOWER SEPT 24th 1645 AND SAW HIS ARMY DEFEATED ON ROWTON MOOR'
So, can you see Rowton Moor from here? - hardly at all. The site of the "Battle of Rowton Moor" is over 2.5 miles away, in roughly the same direction as Beeston Castle (which can be seen from the Walls on a clear day). However, that is where the battle had a major phase and where its name comes from. The phases of the battle were as follows:
- Prior to the battle, Charles had been attempting to link up with the Marquess of Montrose in Scotland following the Royalist defeat in the Battle of Naseby. Although his attempts to do so were unsuccessful, they were disruptive enough that the Parliamentarian "Committee of Both Kingdoms" ordered Sydnam Poyntz (Parliamentarian cavalry) to pursue the King with approximately 3,000 horse.
- After Charles was informed that Chester, his only remaining port, was under siege, he marched there with the intent of relieving the defenders, ordering 3,000 horse under the command of Marmaduke Langdale (Royalist cavalry) to camp outside the city while he and 600 others travelled into Chester itself on 23 September 1645. The intent was to attack the besieging Parliamentarians from both sides. However Charles mistakenly believing that Poyntz (Parliamentarian cavalry) had failed to follow them.
- In fact Sydnam Poyntz was barely 15 miles (24 km) behind the King, and moved to attack Langdale's force (Royalist cavalry) in the early hours of 24 September. At Hatton Heath Marmaduke Langdale clashed with Roundhead Colonel-General Sydnam Poyntz.
- Although Langdale drove Poyntz off, the Parliamentarians besieging Chester sent reinforcements, and Langdale was forced to retreat to Rowton Heath, closer to Chester, and wait for his own reinforcements.
- These Royalist reinforcements, under Charles Gerard and Lord Bernard Stewart, were prevented from joining Langdale, and Langdale (Royalist cavalry) was instead attacked by both Poyntz's force and the Parliamentarian reinforcement on Rowton Moor.
- After being driven off Rowton Moor and failing in an attempt to regroup at Chester itself, the Royalists retreated as dusk fell.
- On Hoole Heath these retreating soldiers met with part of Gerard's force and made an initially successful counter-attack before being forced back to the walls of Chester.
- There the retreating cavalry choked up the streets, allowing the Parliamentarian musketeers to fire into the confused mass of horsemen and leading to a rout.
It was a part of this final stage of the battle that Charles witnessed from the Phoenix Tower. At some point the King withdrew to the cathedral tower, but even this was not safe - "skylined" sgsinst the westering sun, a captain standing next to him was shot in the head by musket fire from the victorious Parliamentarians who took residence in St Johns Church tower. Charles survived, only to be beheaded on Tuesday 30 January 1649.
Randle Holme's Stone - why wait so long to get paid?
Many guidebooks state that the Painters "phoenix stone" was sculpted by Randle Holme III in 1613. However, Randle Holme III was only born on the 24 December 1627, so this presents our next mystery.
In 1613 when the tower was in "ruinous condition" the Painters and Stationers first rented the tower at two shillings a year on the condition that they also put the tower in good order and maintained it. These two companies subsequently allowed others the use of the meeting place: the Barbers, Coopers, Butchers, Weavers, Joiners and Clothworkers. In that way the Phoenix tower became the headquarters of the city guilds. Randle Holme (who claimed to have founded the Freemasons in Chester) was paid 18 shillings for the carving and 6 shillings were paid to Edward Nixon towards putting it up. These payments were made January 10th 1693 - eighty years later than the date on the stone!
The first possible explanation stems from the fact that Randle Holme was a name shared by members of four successive generations from the late years of the 16th century to the early years of the 18th century. They were all herald painters and genealogists and were members of the Stationers' Company of Chester. All four painted memorial boards and hatchments, (some can still be found in Cheshire churches). However, the only possible candidate would then be Randle Holme I (Randle II would be too young). This can probably be best explained by the fact that the tower was so badly destroyed during the Civil War siege of Chester that it had to be rebuilt almost completely in 1658 (Randle was a member of the Stationers Company and wrote up the accounts for the re-building). The stone was put up at that time, bearing the date when the first guilds occupied the tower. However that still does not explain why a further thirty five years had to pass before Randle got paid.
Another interesting puzzle is that Randle III is not associated with any other sculpture. He was steward to the Stationers' Company of Chester in 1656 and an alderman from 1659, but never held higher office. In 1664 Charles II granted him a sinecure, known as "sewer of the chamber of the extraordinary". Randal had a less reputable side - he prepared items of heraldry and took fees for them without permission from the then Norroy king of arms, Sir William Dugdale. Dugdale took Randal to court, Holme lost the case and it was decided that all the offending boards should be removed, defaced or destroyed. Dugdale travelled north on at least three occasions to carry this out himself. Later Holme made peace with Dugdale and by 1675 was making funeral certificates for him. In 1678 he was appointed deputy herald for Chester, Lancashire and North Wales. Given that Randal Holme III was selling unauthorized heraldry, could it possibly be that this early Freemason wanted to wait until after Dugdale's death (1686) before he claimed authorship of a work that he might actually have had someone else execute?
What else did Randle Holme III do?
Randal is a fascinating character. His book "The Academy of Armory", issued in 1688, has the formal title:
- "The Academy of Armory, or, a Storehouse of Armory and Blazon containing the several variety of created beings, and how born in Coats of Arms, both Foreign and Domestick: with the Instruments used in all Trades and Sciences, together with their Terms of Art: also the Etymologies, Definitions, and Historical Observations on the same, explicated and explained According to our Modern Language: very usefel for all Gentlemen, Scholars, Divines, and all such as desire any Knowledge in Arts and Sciences. By Randle Holme."
..and was the first book printed in Chester (see: Bookseller). Just what is this book about? - well it is supposed to be about heraldry but then rambles on about everything from joiners tools to expressions used by beer brewers.
- Phoenix Tower on Wikipedia.
- Phoenix Tower on English Heritage;
- Chester City Walls - Phoenix Tower / King Charles Tower on Revealing Cheshire's Past;
- Holme on brewing beer;
Phoenix Tower to Northgate - why build a wall using tombstones?
Exits from this section are (Phoenix Tower to Watertower):
- Through the arch on the left just before the Northgate to Rufus Court;
- The stairs down at Northgate - at either side of the gate;
- Stairs down at Morgan's Mount;
- The stairs at either end of St Martins gate;
- Two sets of stairs just before Bonewaldesthorne's Tower;
- Ramp off the walls at Bonewaldesthorne's Tower (the only access to this section of the wall without steps)
Following earlier discoveries of Roman architectural fragments and tombstones at Morgan’s Mount, the opportunity was taken to examine in detail a substantial section of the north wall at the Deanery Field in 1887 from which a large number of re-used early Roman tombstones were recovered. Although dating was again problematic a single coin suggest the repairs were carried out in the mid to late third century.
In 1887 and 1890–2 stretches of the north wall west of the Phoenix Tower and west of the Northgate were reconstructed, and in both locations large numbers of inscribed and sculpted Roman memorial stones were found. The first few were found in 1883, and more were found in 1887, buried inside the lower part of the City Walls near the Phoenix Tower. Between 1883 and 1892, over 150 tombstones were found in the north wall. This is still the most spectacular archaeological find made in Chester - and around 35 of the tombstones can be seen in the Grosvenor Museum. Why the tombstones were used is a mystery. However, they were well preserved inside the wall and survived unharmed for 1500 years. So, the next mystery is why were the tombstones used?
The use of tombstones, especially Roman tombstones re-used by Roman occupants seems somewhat disrespectful (remember the tombstone in the wall back near the Eastgate?), and may indicate that the wall was repaired in an emergency situation. One theory is that the walls were probably repaired between 300 and 400 CE. During this entire century there was much turmoil in Britain (see "Dark Ages)"). If rebuilding dates to early in the reign of Constantine, (who was acclaimed as emperor by the army after his father's death in 306) his position as a usurper could have been sufficiently uncertain to justify an emergency. After the death of Constantine and following the revolt of Magnentius, Paulus "Catena" was dispatched to Roman Britain in 353 by the paranoid Constantius II to exact savage reprisals against supporters of Magnentius in the army garrisons of Britain. Paulus was also probably a paranoid psychopath. If the rebuilding dates to the time of Theodosius either the aftermath of the "Barbarian Conspiracy" or further religious turmoil could also be a candidate for an emergency. The fact that there may have been a religious difference involved in the potential conflict could explain why possibly Christian inhabitants of Chester might have had little problem with the use of tombstones from the "pagan" Romans of an earlier period.
- Roman tombstones recorded in the North Wall at Deanery Field at Revealing Cheshire's Past;
Edmond Halley was here - and why does a rainbow have no end?
Several of Halley's papers relate to the rainbow or to kindred phenomena of atmospheric optics. On the evening of 6 August 1697, while he was living at Chester, he went for a walk on the city walls and, being caught in a sudden shower, took shelter in a recess. He observed the primary and secondary rainbows, formed in the normal manner with their colours in opposite orders; but he was struck by the appearance of a third rainbow which rose from about the places where the primary bow met the horizon and crossed the interspace between the bows to overlap the middle portion of the secondary. This 'Extraordinary Iris* exhibited the same order of colours as the primary bow; and where it coincided with the secondary the coloration disappeared giving an arc of white light. The phenomenon remained visible for about twenty minutes; and Halley concluded that it was produced by the light of the Sun reflected from the estuary of the river Dee. He quoted a reference to the formation of rainbows by reflected light which occurs in the Mitiores of Descartes; but he believed that this phenomenon had never previously been observed. However, it is now recognized that rainbows are produced from time to time in this manner, the centre of the bow being the point diametrically opposite to the image of the Sun formed by the reflecting surface.
- "On the Sixth Day of August last, in the Evening, between Six and Seven of the Clock, I went to take the air upon the Walls of Chester, when I was surprized by a sudden shower, which forced me to take shelter in a Niche that afforded me a seat in the Wall, near the North East Corner thereof. As I sat there, I observed an Iris, exceedingly vivid, as to its Colours, at first on the South Side only, but in a little time with an entire arch..."
So how is a rainbow formed?
Rainbows are formed by falling rain reflecting light rather like "cats eyes" do. Light is first refracted entering the surface of the raindrop, reflected off the back of the drop, and again refracted as it leaves the drop. The overall effect is that the incoming light is reflected back over a wide range of angles, with the most intense light at an angle of 42°. A rainbow does not actually exist at a particular location in the sky. Its apparent position depends on the observer's location and the position of the sun - everyone sees a different rainbow. All raindrops refract and reflect the sunlight in the same way, but only the light from some raindrops reaches the observer's eye. This light is what constitutes the rainbow for that observer. The bow is centered on the shadow of the observer's head. As the rainbow is 42° in radius, this means that if the sun is higher than 42° in the sky, a rainbow cannot be seen. The "end" of a rainbow is impossible to reach, because the rainbow is an optical effect which depends on the location of the viewer. When walking towards the end of a rainbow, it will appear to "move" further away, and can never actually be reached.
And why was Halley in Chester?
Chester Mint was used for the Great Recoinage of 1696-98. At this time, most silver coins in circulation had been reduced in size ("debased") by "clipping" - the offence (at times punishable by death) of paring the edge of each coin and collecting the silver for sale. Coin clipping is why many coins later had the rim marked with stripes (milling or reeding), text (engraving) or other ornamentation that would indicate any clipped coin. By 1695, hammered coin had been debased to a mere 50% of its original weight and it was decided that all the coins in circulation would be recalled and reminted to a standardised form, overseen by eminent and respectable men (to reassure the public who were concerned about the effect recoinage would have on their wealth). Sir Isaac Newton presided at the Royal Mint in London and Edmond Halley (of Halley's Comet fame) in Chester.
The recoinage was something of a disaster. On 4 May 1696, hammered silver coin was officially "demonetised" but by the end of June, only 12% of the new coin had been returned to circulation. Public confidence in bank "notes" collapsed and a general currency crisis followed. There was a widespread resort to barter and the government found it almost impossible to borrow or to pay the army. Financially exhausted, William III (aka William of Orange or King Billy) was forced to end his part in the War of the Grand Alliance.
The Canal and North Wall
The best preserved parts of the walls of Roman Chester are below the footpath between The Phoenix Tower and the Northgate. They are best viewed from the Northgate end. Over the years this section of the walls, with its precipitous drop to the towpath below has seen a fair-share of tragedy, with murders and accidental falls from the walls. This part of the city defenses is one of the most unassailable, with the deep ditch and overhanging cliff presenting an almost impossible barrier to assault on the city.
Until recently, this section of the City Walls was much overgrown with plant life and the roots of these plants penetrated the walls leading to a threatened collapse. In 2009/10 expensive repairs removed the growth and hopefully solved the problem. Unfortunately there has ben rather unsightly scaffolding propping the inner face of the walls since at least 2011.
The original Roman corbelling can be seen running along the outside of the walls at the level of the path. This is much worn, but originally each corbel was believed to include a carved face of a bearded man. The "tea rooms" which is the first in the small range of buildings fronting onto the walls just before Northgate is said to be haunted: the ghost, apparently, is that of a previous chef who had attacked a waiter "many years ago".
There is no quick way down to the tow-path (see Canalside) from this section of the walls. One either needs to retrace one's steps to the wooden stairs before the Phoenix Tower or continue to the staircase of locks well beyond Northgate. However if time permits a walk along the tow-path below is an interesting experience (providing it is not closed for maintenance).
Looking across the canal from the walls one can just spot a small "pocket park". This opened in 2019, after more than a decade of deliberation and delay. The site is near that once occupied by a Primitive Methodist chapel and school built in 1863. From its earliest days that building was too small, being built on the site of a former needle factory and sandwiched between the canal and George Street. In 1885 a new site was purchased in George Street, "opposite" the existing premises - in fact some way further up the street. A new chapel, designed by T. M. Lockwood in a Gothic style, of brick with stone dressings, with a squat tower and spire, opened there in 1888 and became the headquarters of the First Chester Primitive Methodist circuit; the former chapel became a temperance hall and parts of it are still in use. The new chapel on the north side of George Street was demolished in the 1960's. The gate-posts of the pocket park bear the date 1875 but it is unclear if they are associated with either church building: these posts appear on the 1898 OS map, but not on the 1873 map. Prior to these relatively modern constructions the site north of George Street was occupied by ancient quarries which supplied much of the stone for the Cathedral. These quarries, which are shown on the Lavaux Map and on the 1825 Map, were re-used to provide underground car-parking in the most recent development between George Street and Delamere Street. When the canal was being planned one route considered was through the quarries, but this was altered to a route seen today directly beneath the City Walls.
Chester's rapid economic growth and the doubling in size of its population between 1801 and 1861 naturally had a considerable effect on the provision of education. Private philanthropy remained the principal response but it was now organized on a more systematic basis, with the cathedral authorities playing a leading role. The Church of England founded the National Society for Promoting the Education of the Poor in 1811 and in the following year a National school for boys was established in Chester. In 1816 it was rehoused in a new building, on the corner of Upper Northgate Street and George Street, known as the Diocesan school. In 1908 Christ Church boys' school and the Diocesan boys' school were closed and the pupils transferred to a new council school in George Street (closed in 1948). The new council schools in Love Street and George Street were designed by H. Beswick. The Northgate Bakery (with the round window in the gable end and the long wing with almost continuous glazing) now stands on the site of the Diocesan boys' school having party re-used the original building.
- Chester City Walls - Wall between Northgate and Phoenix Tower on Revealing Cheshires Past;
- Educating Chester;
Why the extra bell at St John's Hospital ?
Best seen from just before the Northgate is St John's Hospital, variously known as the Blue Coat Hospital or Little St John's. The Corporation rebuilt the hospital complex in 1715–17 with a rear courtyard which included six one-storeyed almshouses for women. The almswomen shared £30 a year under the will of Alderman Joseph Crewe, proved 1801. Mismanagement (see Owen Jones for further examples of this) greatly reduced the value of the hospital's rents; by 1836 they were worth £600 a year (approaching £50,000 in 2015 money), of which only £85 was spent on the almspeople, the rest being carried to the corporation's general account as it had been since c. 1762. An action at law to establish what estates belonged to the hospital and to vest them in the Municipal Charities Trustees was begun in 1838 but not completed until a Chancery Scheme, evidently of 1852, ordered the almshouses to be rebuilt to house 13 paupers who received 10s. a week each. As rebuilt in 1854 by Morris and Hobson for the Trustees of Hospital of St John Baptist, the almshouses each included a sitting room, bedroom, and scullery. A Charity Commission Scheme of 1892 assigned the substantial surplus to pay pensions to other townspeople. Under a Scheme of 1976 the hospital, still supporting 13 almshouses, was absorbed by the Chester Municipal Almshouse Charity, and the almshouses remain in use, the most recent having opened in April 2006.
The building also at one time housed a school and the front of the building bears a statue of one of the Bluecoat Boys - John Coppack. Born in August 1840, John Coppack was the son of a shoemaker in Northgate Street (his mother had died by the time he enrolled at the school). He is recorded at the school from February 1853 to February 1854. John Coppack later worked as a coal merchant and, later, a Corresponding Clerk for the Shropshire Union Canal Company. He married in 1859. The first of his fourteen children was born in 1861, the same year that he became a Freeman of the City of Chester. He died in 1898, aged 57.
The Bluecoat has two bells on its roof: the "Galeka Bell", plus the bell inside the bell tower. The bell inside the bell tower was made in 1716 and has been in situ – and chiming on the hour – since 1717. The "Galeka Bell" was salvaged from a WWI hospital ship, SS Galeka. The name of the ship is derived from the Galeka (Gcaleka Xhosa), a people crowded into a narrow drought-stricken coastal strip of South Africa near East London and involved in the "Ninth Frontier War" (1877–79) when "Galekaland was turned into a desolation of burnt-out kraals and empty grain-pits". Galeka served on the South Africa route until the First World War. Later she was requisitioned for use as a British troop transport: the 2nd Bn King's Royal Rifle Corps left Southampton on the SS Galeka and arrived at Le Havre on 13th August 1914. Galeka carried troops of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps to the Gallipoli Campaign, landing the 6th and 7th Bns., Australian Imperial Force, at Anzac Cove on the morning of 25th April 1915. She was then refitted as a hospital ship with accommodation for 366 wounded passengers. When entering Le Havre on 28th October 1916, SS Galeka hit a mine laid by the German U-boat UC-26. Nineteen Royal Army Medical Corps were killed - she was not carrying any patients at the time. The Galeka was beached at Cap Le Hogue, but was a total loss (and Union-Castle's first war casualty). The Galeka had been owned by Sir Owen Phillips – a major shipowner and MP for Chester (1916-1922). At Phillips request, the bell was eventually brought to Chester and placed atop the Bluecoat building (canal-side corner) in commemoration to those who had fought in WW1.
Having started at the Eastgate and arrived at the Northgate, we are a quarter turn around the Walls in angle, but far less than that in terms of distance. The excellent guide to the Walls of Chester found at ChesterWalls.info starts at the Northgate and is well worth a look. Unsuprisingly, the road passing under the Northgate is Northgate Street and runs from here to the High Cross.
In Roman Chester the Northgate would have been a place of ill-omen. This was the "Porta Decumana", which derives from it being close to the billets of the tenth wing of the Legion. It was from this gate that soldiers convicted of serious crimes, such as desertion, were led out from the camp to be executed, likely by being stoned to death. No Roman Legion would willingly march off to war through the North gate. Supplies were supposed to come in through it and so it was also called, descriptively, the "Porta Quaestoria" (Quartermaster's gate).
Recorded from the later 12th century, the medieval gate was granted in the time of Earl John Canmore (1232–7) to Robert of Anjou, in whose family the serjeantcy remained throughout the 13th century, together with the Northgate gaol. In the early 14th century Robert's great-great-grandson granted his rights to John Blund of Chester. After 1360 the office passed by marriage to the Dutton and Derby families and in 1491–2 it was held by three co-heiresses of the Derbys. In 1498–9 the mayor and citizens laid claim to the Northgate, and by 1541 it was in the custody of the city sheriffs, with whom it remained until its demolition.
- A handsome structure forming a capacious eliptic arch of white stone of the Doric order divided from two smaller ones at the sides by two pillars it was erected in 1808 on the demolition of the old one when the city gaol which also stood here was taken down and the prisoners removed to a new building erected on the south side of the infirmary The design was furnished by Thomas Harrison Esq the county architect and the ceremony of laying the first stone was attended by Earl Grosvenor and the Mayor and Corporation the whole being executed at the sole expense of the former individual now Marquis of Westminster.
The new gate comprises an archway carrying the City Walls footpath over Northgate Street. Built of pale red sandstone ashlar this is a segmental arch with coffered soffit which spans the road and has a rectangular portal for the pavement to either side. There is an attached un-fluted Greek Doric column at each corner. A dentilled cornice carries a paneled parapet to each side of the Walls footpath. The broad central panel of the south parapet is inscribed:
- INCHOATA GUIELMO NEWELL ARM. MAI. A.D. MDCCCVIII: PERFECTA THOMA GROSVENOR ARM. MAI. A.D. MDCCCX: THOMA HARRISON ARCHITECTO (Begun under William Newell in 1808. Completed under Thomas Grosvenor in 1810. Thomas Harrison Architect - Newell and Thomas Grosvenor were both mayor's of Chester.)
The north parapet is inscribed:
- PORTAM SEPTEMTRIONALEM SUBTRACTA A ROMANIS VETUSTATE JAM DILAPSAM IMPENIS SUIS AB INTEGRO PRESTITUENDAM CURAVIT ROBERTUS COMES GROSVENOR, A.R. GEORGII TERTII LI (The north gate built by the Romans being now about to disintegrate, Robert Earl Grosvenor has had it entirely restored at his own expense in the 51st year of the reign of George III. - this is not entirely accurate as the previous gate is almost certainly medieval.)
Robert Grosvenor, 1st Marquess of Westminster, KG (22 March 1767 – 17 February 1845) was the son of Richard Grosvenor, whom he succeeded in 1802 as 2nd Earl Grosvenor. He was created Marquess of Westminster in 1831. In 1790 he was elected as MP for Chester and held the seat until 1802, when his father died and he became the 2nd Earl Grosvenor. The Chester MP seat was passed to Richard Erle-Drax Grosvenor. Grosvenor was Mayor of Chester in 1807–08. Field Marshal Thomas Grosvenor (30 May 1764 – 20 January 1851) was commissioned into the 1st Foot Guards on 1 October 1779, and, the following year, was in charge of security at the Bank of England during the Gordon Riots. Promoted to captain on 20 April 1784 and lieutenant-colonel on 25 April 1793, he took part in the Flanders Campaign including the retreat into Germany in Spring 1795. Thomas took part in the Anglo-Russian invasion of Holland in August 1799 and was promoted to brigadier-general while serving under Sir Ralph Abercromby in Holland on 18 November 1800. Promoted to major-general on 29 April 1802, Grosvenor held various brigade commands in Southern England between 1803 and 1805. Grosvenor served as a brigade commander at the Battle of Copenhagen in August 1807 for which he was rewarded with promotion to lieutenant-general on 25 April 1808. In Autumn 1809 he was deployed to Walcheren in the Netherlands where he served as deputy commander of a division led by Sir Eyre Coote during the disastrous Walcheren Campaign which ended in failure when many of the British troops died of "Walcheren Fever", thought to be a combination of malaria and typhus. Over 4,000 British troops died (only 106 in combat) and the rest withdrew on 9 December 1809. Grosvenor was promoted to full general on 12 August 1819.
The adjacent City Wall parapets, a little lower, are swept upwards to the abutments of the Northgate. The "Blue Plaque" carries the wording:-
- THE NORTHGATE / On or near this site was the / Porta Decumana of the Roman / Fortress and later the Medieval / Gate which also housed the City / Gaol. The present arch, designed / by the architect Thomas Harrison, / was built 1808-10 and presented / to the City by Robert, / Earl Grosvenor.
The top of the Northgate is the highest spot on the circuit of the walls, both in terms of being above sea/river level and the drop to the canal below. The view from here is still quite good, but in many directions distance is blocked by buildings.
The Northgate (western) Steps were propped in 2012 after showing signs of very significant movement which would have resulted in collapse. Like the section of the City Walls north of the Eastgate Bridge, the steps were partly founded on the soft clay Roman rampart defences and partly on firmer ground. In April 2016 work began to carefully dismantle the Steps so that a new foundation could be installed. Shortly afterwards, engineers found that the inner wall they had expected to see between the steps and the actual City Wall was not there. If the dismantling work had continued, there was a real risk that the City Wall itself could become unstable because there was nothing to support the wall core material behind the Steps. Beneath the foot of the steps, close to the Northgate Bridge, archaeologists found the remains of the foundations of the Roman stone gateway. Because of these unexpected findings work was suspended so engineers and archaeologists could work out how to make the wall safe without damaging the archaeological remains. The new foundation to the steps also had to be completely redesigned to protect the archaeology. Work began again in 2019 to build a new inner wall and core, followed by the steps which have been rebuilt using most of the original stones in their original positions. The work was completed in December 2020 and a chamber has been included inside the steps over the newly discovered Roman foundations. This should allow the archaeology to be put on display in the future.
- Northgate on Wikipedia;
- Northgate on English Heritage;
- Chester City Walls - Northgate on Revealing Chesters Past;
- Northgate Bridge on English Heritage;
- The Northgate is the starting point for the excellent guide to the City Walls on chesterwalls.info;
Hemingway describes the older Northgate as follows:
- This ancient gate adjoining which was a mean and ruinous gaol was an inconvenient and unseemly pile of building It consisted of a dark narrow passage under a pointed arch with a postern on the east side and the entrance to the prison Immediately under the gate way at the depth of some thirty feet from the level of the street was a horrible dungeon to which the only access of air was through pipes which communicated with the street In this frightful hole prisoners under sentence of death were confined itself a living death.
The cells included the infamous "Chamber of Little Ease" - a tiny cell was only four feet six inches high and two feet wide, wherein the unfortunate prisoner could not lie or sit, only crouch, hence the name. The tiny room was ill-ventilated with a strong wooden door. The Tower of London kept a small cell (dubbed "Little Ease") which was also so small a man could not stand up in it, nor could he lie down. There were probably other "Little Eases" all over Europe.
In addition, the "Dead Man's Dungeon", was also aptly named: it had no window, and access only by a trapdoor in the roof. It was always damp with the only ventilation being the pipes that led to the surface. On one occasion it is reported this pipe was blocked up with rags, by a band of sheep rustlers, to prevent a captured member of the group betraying his fellows. It is said that the ends of these pipes can still be seen in the base of the wall of the cottage at the side of the gate, above the canal towpath, between the Northgate Bridge and the Bridge of Sighs.
In the reign of Queen Mary, martyr George Marsh was incarcerated at Northgate before being burned at the stake for heresy at Boughton near St Giles Cemetery on 24th April 1555. His stay at Northgate following trial in the Lady Chapel of the Cathedral is recorded in chapter XVI of "Foxe's Book of Martyrs":
- So the Byshop read out hys Sentence vnto the ende and straight after sayd vnto hym: Now wil I no more pray for thee, thē I will for a dogge (Marginalia: And Marsh aūswered, that notwithstādyng, he would pray for his Lordshyp) and after this the Byshop deliuered him vnto the Shriffes of the citie (Marginalia: Then his late keeper bad him fare well good George, wt weepyng teares) which caused the officers to cary hym to a prison at the Northgate, where he was very straitly kept vntil the tyme he went to his death, duryng which tyme he had small comfort or reliefe of any worldly creature. For beyng in the dōgeon or darke prison, none that would hym good, could speake with him, or at least durst enterprise so to doe for feare of accusation: and some of the Citizens which loued hym in God for the Gospell sake (Marginalia: wherof there were but a fewe) although they were neuer acquainted with him, would sometyme in the euenyng at a hoale vppon the wall of the Citie (that went into the sayd darke prison) call to hym, and aske him how he dyd.
Some passers-by dropped coins down the hole or pipe so that Marsh could presumably buy food and other things from his guards.
Certain debtors who were confined to this prison had privileges. In records from the time of Henry VII, it is stated that any freeman of Chester, who had been imprisoned for dept could, upon swearing an oath before the Mayor and Sheriffs that he would pay as soon as her was able, and reserving for himself "only mean sustenance", had the right to be discharged from custody. Fifty years later any freeman imprisoned for dept could petition the Mayor and aldermen and declaring his inability to pay, was allowed to live in what was termed the "Free House" (or "Franchise House"), and was free to walk at large within the "liberties of the house" which extended along the walls between the Phoenix Tower and the Water Tower, and towards the Corn Market as far as Bell Yard. These persons were also allowed to attend divine service at "Little St John's" (St John's Hospital), but not otherwise to enter any dwelling.
Chester established a workhouse in 1575 when a building just outside the Northgate "near the quarry in the Gorse Stacks" was converted for this purpose. Hemingway writes of the 1787 visit of the prison reformer John Howard to Northgate Gaol as follows:
- "..city gaol and house of correction then situated at and near the Northgate .Speaking of these in his work on Lazarettos his description is - "In the city gaol the convicts and prisoners for trial were severely ironed by the neck hands waist and feet and chained to the floor and at night to their beds in the horrid dungeon. Here was the first iron glove I have seen in England which though not yet used shews the severity of the gaoler's disposition. Allowance a pennyworth of bread for felons and a pound for debtors inferior in quality to that sold in the city. Debtors and felons are allowed to beg some hours in the day. That prisoners are not supplied with necessary food is a disgrace to such an opulent city. No proper separation of men and women either here or in the county gaol. City Bridewell: - no employment, no allowance, court not secure keeper's salary only £4. He sells beer"
Just where was the "Little Ease"?
The "Little Ease", (thanks to Chester Walls Info for this information) was described by contemporary visitors as:
- "a hole hewed out in a rock; the breadth and cross from side to side was seventeen inches from the back to the great door; at the top seven inches, at the shoulders eight inches and at the breast nine inches and a half; with a device to lessen the height as they were minded to torture the person put in, by drawboards which shot over across the two sides, to a yard in height or thereabouts".
- "In the court of the said House of Correction in a hole in the side of a rock is a little prison place called the Little Ease in which stubborn youths are thrust, and a grate locked upon them, where they can neither stand, sit, kneel nor ly, but are bent in all their joyntes, & have no resting place for any part".
The records for 1575 mention the "House of Correction":
- "This year there was a collection made in the city and of some worshipful in the county for a stock to set the poor on work and a house of correction built under the city wall near unto the Northgate which house was removed out of the corn market and was first placed there by Mr Webster for the butchers of the city."
In a watercolour by Moses Griffiths (1747-1819), the "House of Correction" is placed on the northern bank of the canal. So was the "Little Ease" under the Northgate or under the dental practice which now stands near the site of the "House of Correction"?.
In 1576 the Assembly implemented the Act of that year permitting J.P.s to set up a house of correction by buying part of the Quarrel, a deep quarry outside the walls east of the Northgate, and re-erecting there the timber-framed building which had formerly housed the corn market. It included workrooms on two storeys. In its courtyard a narrow space in the face of the quarry was used in the 17th century to confine refractory youths, and during the Interregnum, Quakers, for a few hours in a tortured position where they could neither stand, sit, kneel, or lie. It was known, euphemistically, as Little Ease. The bridewell was pulled down by the city's defenders during the Civil War siege, but was replaced in 1655–7 by a new house of correction on the same site. Initially intended to provide corrective employment for the able-bodied destitute in tasks such as weaving cloth, it came, like similar establishments elsewhere, to be used as a prison for minor offenders convicted by the magistrates. In the 1770s a workshop and two 'dungeons' were added. It was closed in 1808 and sold in 1817 to Joseph Fletcher, who converted the buildings into dwellings. They have since been replaced by an electricity substation.
What is an "Execution Rent"?
Hemingway writes as follows:
- From time immemorial the keeping of this gate has been confided to the citizens upon a certain tenure of service which can be neither honourable nor agreeable to the city namely that the Sheriffs shall be bound to see the extreme sentence of the law executed upon all malefactors whether condemned by the city or county courts.
County jurisdiction in Chester has until recently been somewhat peculiar. Chester Castle, an area around the castle in Chester, was historically an extra-parochial area and today remains a civil parish, which until recently had no inhabitants. It was part of the Chester Rural District, despite being in the middle of the city, and did not form part of Chester County Borough. This meant that County Hall was actually in the administrative county of Cheshire which it administered. Because of this peculiar jurisdiction, prisoners being brought from trial at the Shire Hall in Chester Castle were handed over to the City authorities at the Gloverstone. In 1651, Chester Castle was described as follows:
- "At the first coming in is the Gate-house, which is a prison for the whole County, having divers rooms and lodgings. And hard within the Gate is a house, which was sometime the Exchequer but now the Custom House. Not far from thence in the Base Court is a deep well, and thereby stables, and other Houses of Office. On the left-hand is a chappell and hard by adjoyning thereunto, the goodly fair and large Shire-Hall newly repaired where all matters of Law touching the County Palatine are heard, and judicially determined. And at the end thereof the brave New Exchequer for the said County Palatine. All these are in the Base Court. Then there is a drawbridge into the Inner Ward, wherein are divers goodly Lodgings for the Justices, when they come, and herein the Constable himself dwelleth. The Thieves and Fellons are arraigned in the said Shire-Hall and, being condemned, are by the Constable of the Castle or his Deputy, delivered to the Sheriffs of the City, a certain distance without the Castle-Gate, at a stone called The Glover's Stone from which place the said Sheriffs convey them to the place of execution, called Boughton."
- It is stated in an inquisition taken in the year 1321 for the purpose of ascertaining the tolls payable at each of the city gates that the mayor and citizens as keepers of the gate had a right to certain tolls for which privilege they were bound to watch the said gate and the prisoners in the prison of the earl there imprisoned to keep the key of the felon's gallows to hang up all the condemned criminals to execute the sentence of pillory proclaim the ban of the earl within the city.
He also quotes:
- There were certain customary tenants of the city, sixteen in number, who by their tenure were bound to watch the city three nights in the year which are specified and also to watch and bring up felons and thieves condemned as well in the court of the justiciary in Chester in the county there as before the mayor of Chester in full crown mote as far as the gallows for their safe conduct and charge under the penalty which thereto attaches for which services the said customary tenants had certain privileges and exemptions.
The three nights upon which these tenants were expected to watch the City Walls were over the Christmas holiday, an unpopular time to be on guard duty. It was also the case that these persons were "exempt from attendance on all inquisitions, juries and assizes, except when held before the Lord, the Prince and the Earl of Chester" (which makes sense if they had to hang criminals). William Bingley's history of North Wales (1804) suggests that handing over of prisoners at the Gloverstone may date back to Henry VII, who, in 1506 granted Chester its 'Great Charter', which constituted the city a county in its own right. Bingley proposes that the inhabitants of the city would rather execute felons themselves rather than allow the county any jurisdiction within the city. Thus it was the City and not the County who mounted guard over the prisoners at the Northgate and conducted felons both to the Shire Hall for trial and, if needs be, as far as the gallows at Boughton.
Bridge of Sighs - where does it go?
A little beyond canal bridge at Northgate is a narrow stone arch which spans the chasm containing the canal. It is best seen from the bridge crossing the canal outside the Northgate or from the tow-path below. This is a flimsy-looking structure with no railings, and there is no means of accessing it at either end. The bridge cost £20 ($30) to build in 1793, and was designed by Joeseph Turner. It originally went from the Prison to a nearby chapel (in St John's Hospital) and had iron railings to prevent the prisoners from escaping. During WWII the metal railings were removed to be melted down (like many others) as a source of metal. It is described by Ronald Leigh in his memories recorded at the The Museum of Policing in Cheshire as follows:
- Prisons unfortunately always seem to be necessary in any form of communal life and Chester seems to be no exception. No doubt the Romans had one but this is no longer apparent. However the site at the one at the Northgate is still on record. It forms part of the actual Northgate and the dungeons were in the sandstone rock of its foundations. The place of execution was also in the jail itself and prisoners before their execution were taken outside the walls to the church of Little St. John, which stood on or near the present site of the Blue Coat building. It was found that whilst taking this last walk, friends of such prisoners frequently staged attempts to free them. In order to foil such attempts by these footpads thieves and felons, the authorities in 1793 built the small bridge which can still be seen, less its protecting railway between the City walls in the west side of Northgate over the moat/canal to the Blue Coat school.
- Execution at Chester;
- Cheshire Magazine on the Bridge of Sighs;
- Bridge of Sighs on Wikipedia;
- Bridge of Sighs on English Heritage;
What's the very long cottage?
Looking down from the City Walls at this point, one sees a delightful urban garden, built on several levels and with many varied features. The house to which the garden belongs is quite small, but has a long "extension" which runs along the space between the canal and the walls. The two storey part of the building was apparently once a school. However the lower, outer portion of the east wing appears to have been built as a Toll-Cottage, c1800 with possibly earlier lower walling. The long workshop wing, west, is partly stone-walled, and was once the stable for the Fire Station. The careful observer would once have noted that the chimney pots were decorated with a terra-cotta rat and a fish! But the fish has now vanished leaving just the rat behind. The fate of the fish is just another of the many mysteries encountered along the walls.
- the Toll-Cottage on English Heritage;
This is a gentle downhill stroll, except for the steps up and over St Martin's Gate. It is not wheelchair accessible in the upper part. If you need to get off the walls along this stretch there are stairs by the Northgate, by Morgans Mount, by St Martin's Gate, by the Goblin Tower and a ramp off at the far end. There are also two sets of stairs leading down from the wall just before the end of this section. Although somewhat obstructed by trees and buildings, the view to the west and north is one of the best long-range views from the City Walls.
- Chester City Walls - Wall between Morgan's Mount and Northgate on Revealing Cheshires Past;
This rectangular watch tower is believed to have been an emplacement for Civil War cannon. The present tower dates from the 1640s and is built out of red sandstone coursed rubble. The chamber has a pair of barred openings with chamfered square divider of stone, facing west and a simple opening facing north. An L-shaped stone stair with 2 flights of 5 stone steps leads to the roof which forms a viewing platform which has a stone parapet surmounted by a simple iron railing, with an L-shaped stone bench at its north-east corner. Originally called the Raised Square Platform, this item is said to have been named Morgan's Mount after Capt. William Morgan or his son Edward, supposed commanders of the Royalist garrison during the Civil War. The original "Morgan's Mount" was however not on this site but across what is now the canal somewhere between Canal Street and Garden Lane.
During the siege of Chester in the Civil War (1643-6) a gun was placed on this tower and from its commanding position kept the besieging Parliamentary forces at bay for some time. However, on October the 4th 1645 the besiegers planted four large pieces of ordinance against the walls, between the Northgate and the Water Tower and battered the walls so fiercely that they beat down a portion of the walls and compelled the Royalist garrison to retreat from the walls. However the Parliamentary forces did not succeed in entering the City as during the bombardment the garrison had entrenched Lady Barrow's Hey (the Infirmary Field - now a housing estate) and so prevented the attackers from exploiting their breach. It was during this attack that Sir William Mainwaring fell.
Pigot described the incident as follows:
- "Tbe besiegers removed their great ordnance and planted four large pieces against the walls between the Northgate and the New Tower where the besieged had some cannon planted upon Morgan's mount All Sunday the enemy played their artillery so violently that they beat down some battlements and forced the King's soldiers to retire from the walls and they likewise by a shot scattered the carriage of one of the largest cannons which in the fall had two feet of the muzzle broke off. That night the besieged repaired the damages and made entrenchments in the Lady Borough hey which they found to be very serviceable in the defence of that part of the city "
- It stands on the right and is ascended by a flight of steps underneath which is a sort of chamber apparently one of the stations for a centineL During the siege it was mounted with a battery of four guns The assault upon the city by the parliamentarians in this point appears to have been most vigorous as well as most fatal to the besiegers I have been informed by a gentleman of unquestionable veracity that in cutting the canal between the North gate and the basin a vast number of human skulls and bones were dug up as well as various implements of war.
When was it built?
The Braun and Hogenberg map (1581) seems to show a tower on the site of Morgan's Mount - roughly half-way between the Northgate and the Watertower - a good while before the Civil War. The Smith Map shows three towers along this same stretch of wall, again with one more or less in the middle. So it is possible that there was a tower here before the present structure. The wall at this point is still "Roman", and there was a Roman "corner tower" quite close by, but it is impossible to say with any certainty that there was a tower on the site of Morgan's Mount prior to the Civil War.
The mystery is compounded by some of the maps of Chester which purport to show the earthen outworks of the city walls at the time of the Civil War. One one of these, a small fort some distance outside of the walls (across the present canal) is identified as "Morgan's Mount". However the maps were not drawn during the Civil War but later for a history of the city written in Georgian times. The traditional association of this gun platform on the walls with Morgan only dates from sometime later, so it is impossible to say whether this is the original Morgan's Mount.
In 2011 inspections at Morgan’s Mount found that the inside wall of the tower had loose material beneath the paving, some of which had been washed away by water. The inner City Wall had separated from the wall core and the steps from Water Tower Street up to the tower were leaning. Observing the wall found significant movement, so the wall was propped to prevent collapse. Repair work focused on underpinning the inside wall of the tower before the steps and inner City Wall were taken apart and rebuilt. A waterproofing layer was added beneath the paving to protect the structure in the future. Also, the tower roof was strengthened and a new balustrade was added.
Who murdered Morgan?
During the Civil War of 1645, an Edward Morgan, is recorded as staying at the older hall at Wepre Park (the park is well worth a visit for the walk up to Ewloe Castle). He is believed to be the same Captain Morgan that commanded a battery of artillery during the siege of Chester. Henblas house, in the village of Llanasa, north Wales, was built during the English Civil War and is rumoured to boast its own ghostly coach and horses which clatter through the gateway to the house. The Grade I-listed seven-bedroom country mansion was built for a wealthy landowning family during the siege of Chester in 1645. Local historian Paul Parry believes:
- “The house was built for the marriage of a daughter of the Mostyn family of Talacre and one of the Morgans, from nearby Golden Grove, probably one of the fighting Morgans, who all died in the service of the Royalist cause. The figures above the front door are probably the couple and on the gable end there’s a carved kneeling figure with a scroll coming from his mouth and a Latin text. There was a belief that the Morgan who owned the house was the famous pirate Henry Morgan but that’s not the case; he was from South Wales, though that didn’t stop someone from digging up the grave of the local Morgan looking for the pirate treasure. It could be the Morgan who is commemorated on the walls of Chester with Morgan’s Mount, a gun emplacement named after either Captain William Morgan or his son, Edward."
Edward Morgan's remains were found in an unmarked grave at the edge of the marsh near Llanasa, where he was probably murdered. So who did it?
There is a clue in the Egerton papers (SP 46/174) where we discover the following:
- There was a longstanding feud in progress between the families of Egerton of Talacre [in Llanasa, Flintshire] and Morgan of Goldgreave [Golden Grove in Llanasa, Flintshire]. In August 1608 Edward Morgan junior insulted Sir John Egerton. An incident also occurred when Edward Egerton's servants went to Goldgreave to recover a bird lost during hawking. An acrimonious correspondence took place between him and Edward Morgan junior, in which Egerton invited Morgan to retract certain statements he had made concerning Sir John Egerton. Morgan refused and invited Egerton to fight him. Nearly two years later the quarrel was resumed in London, when John Egerton, junior, brother of Edward, accidentally met Edward Morgan at Prince Henry's Court in Whitehall. A further correspondence resulted in a duel being arranged for 21 April 1610. During or after the duel Morgan was wounded and Egerton killed. Egerton's family maintained he had been murdered - there were three wounds in his body which they claimed had been inflicted deliberately after the duel while Egerton was trapped in a hedge. A large number of statements were taken from Morgan and his brother William (his second), William Robinson (Egerton's second) and other witnesses, some of them contradictory or even self-contradictory. The Egerton family maintained that Morgan had friends in high places who were protecting him by delaying the trial, packing juries, labouring witnesses etc. and there is among this set of papers the statement of Jane Raye, who was accused of suborning witnesses in the case. According to Henry Taylor, in Historic Notices of the Borough and County-Town of Flint (London, 1883) p. 127 Edward Morgan died in 1611, so it is possible that the trial remained unfinished at his death.
While this is not the same Edward Morgan, there is clear evidence of a long standing feud in Llanasa between the Morgans and Egertons. The two families had been neighbours in North Wales and Morgan was engaged in a legal battle with Egerton which had lasted for years. The earlier Morgan had challenged the Egertons to meet him (presumably for a duel) ‘in any place of Christendom’, describing Sir John Egerton as ‘a filthy black knight’ and his whole family as ‘vipers’. It seems that the best suspect for the murder of Edward Morgan would be the Egertons.
Pennant’s "History of the Parishes of Whitford and Holywell" states:
- “On the east-side of Mostyn pool, in Tegin mountain, is a grave bounded on each end by a rude stone, above four feet high. It contains the remains of captain Edward Morgan, of the adjacent house of Plas Captain, and of the respectable family of the Morgans, of Gwlgray, in the adjoining parish of Llan Asaph. Some years ago a person of strange curiosity open the grave, and found a skeleton. On the head was a red cap, I think of velvet, and round his neck a silk handkerchief. By him lay his sword, and his helmet; and beneath the skeleton two bullets, which had fallen out of the body on its dissolution; all which verify the report of his having been slain in battle, or in some skirmish during the civil wars, and that he was interred, according to his wish, under the spot on which he fell. In a collection of pedigrees lent to me by Thomas Griffith, esq. of Rhual, I find this short memorial of the captain, in the pedigree of his family: ‘Capt. Edward Morgan, slain at Cheshire raise’. If he was slain in that county, I cannot suppose that his body would have been carried so far, nor can I account for this relation, or for the body being found here, unless that the above is a mistake, and that he fell in some skirmish near his own house.”
The signage on Morgan's Mount explains that Morgan (which one it does not say) was killed at Winnington Bridge. This was a battle which arose out of a series of insurrections around the country planned for the summer of 1659, "Booth's Uprising" was the only one that came to fruition. On 1st August 1659, with the encouragement of the Presbyterian clergy, Booth mustered five hundred supporters at Warrington and advanced to a rendezvous with Cheshire insurgents at Rowton Heath. The following day, sympathizers opened the city gates and Booth's rebels occupied Chester. The commander of the Chester garrison Captain Croxton withdrew into Chester Castle with his men and refused to surrender. Lacking artillery, the rebels could do nothing to threaten them. Booth issued a series of proclamations claiming that the insurgents had taken arms to defend the freedom of Parliament. Leaving forces to blockade Chester Castle, Booth set off for Manchester with around 4,000 men, intending to make his way to York which, it was supposed, would also surrender to him. Although the insurgents succeeded in seizing Chester, they were easily defeated by Major-General Lambert at Winnington Bridge near Northwich on 19 August. Booth tried to escape disguised as a woman but was discovered (while having a shave), arrested and imprisoned in the Tower of London.
Apparitions of Cavalier soldiers reputedly appear at this tower.
Whats with the ugly footbridge?
The restored section of wall between Bonewaldesthorne’s Tower and Pemberton’s Parlour dates to the late eleventh or early twelfth centuries. The defences of the former Roman settlement were extended westward by the Saxons and later improved. The walls were altered to form a raised promenade between 1701 and 1708, a walk that is about 2m wide. It is constructed from red coursed rubble sandstone. Approximately 1m north of the outer face of the wall can be seen a retaining wall of large red sandstone blocks which probably replaced the original earth bank. The south face of the wall has a 15m length with 5 courses of large stones set back a little from the face of adjoining lengths west and east, with a continuous course of rounded corbels immediately below the wall walk and thought to have been the base for the former inner timber palisade.
At this point the original walls of Roman Chester would have turned south and a further "corner tower" would have been located here. In the 1960s the Inner Ring Road, breaching the walls, was built. St Martin's Gate consists of a concrete arch, opened in 1966, to carry the wall walk over the road. The location of the corner tower has been marked out in cobbles at the base of the concrete steps leading down from the bridge.
Looking down Nicholas Street from here there is a distant view of "Pill-Box Terrace". The terrace was built in 1780. It was designed by Joseph Turner, and originally consisted of ten town houses. The terrace also became known as "Pillbox Promenade", or "Pillbox Row", because many of the houses were used as doctors' surgeries. It is the "longest and most uniform of any of the Georgian properties in Chester"
- Morgan's Mount on Wikipedia;
- Morgan's Mount at English Heritage;
- more on the Morgan/Egerton feud;
- and more on the Morgan/Egerton feud;
- Chester City Walls - Morgan's Mount (Raised Platform) on Revealing Cheshires Past;
- Chester City Walls - St Martin's Gate on Revealing Cheshires Past;
- Chester City Walls - Wall from Pemberton's Parlour to St Martin's Gate on Revealing Cheshires Past;
Goblin Tower (Pemberton's Parlour)
The Goblin Tower, called in Henry VIII's reign, Dille's Tower, was originally twice its present height, and was occupied by the Smiths' Company. Windle writes:
- In the Harleian ms. it is stated that "the Smyths for a place to sett their carriage," i.e. the movable stage on which mysteries were performed, "adjoining to the Shermen under the Walles nigh unto a towre called the "DiUes Towre," paid the Weavers the comparatively large sum of iiijs. yearly."
The tower was originally circular with a passage through it for pedestrians. Part of the tower was taken down in 1708 "on account of its ruinous condition", and the remainder arched over. At this time the front of the tower was refaced and ornamented with stone panels (by John Tilston circa 1710)) bearing the Royal and the City Arms, and between these was placed an inscribed stone which reads:
- "In the seventh year of the glorious reign of Queen Anne, divers large breaches in these Walls were rebuilt, and other decays therein, were repaired, two thousand yards of the pace were new Flagged or Paved, and the whole Improved, Regulated and Adorned, at the expence of One Thousand Pounds and upwards."
George Batenham (1827) describes it as follows:
- A few paces onward bring us to an ancient building once called Goblin Tower but now Pemberton's Parlour from what circumstance we know not part of it was taken down in 1702 and stone seats placed in it the carving in front was esteemed finely executed but has been shamefully mutilated by mischievous persons
John Seacome, in 1828 had written:
- On the front was some excellent carved work in stone and the names of the Mayor the Earl of Derby and the other corporate officers of the year in which the repairs were made, but partly from the soft and friable nature of the stone and partly owing to the mischievous spirit that actuates many of the lower orders of the city who are continually injuring the walls both the inscription and the carved work are now almost obliterated.
- This Tower now generally known by the name of Pemberton's Parlour lately dlsplayed on its front some excellent carved work in stone which however was unfortunately almost destroyed by some mischievous vagabonds in the year 1813.
As well as the depredations of the inhabitants of Chester (many of whom Seacome seems to have a very low opinion of), the structural integrity of the Tower was not helped by vibration from the nearby railway, which, in 1846, cut across the corner of the Walls nearby. This tower had again become so dilapidated by 1894 that it had to be entirely rebuilt. Above the 1710 carvings are the words "Goblin Tower, Rebuilt 1894".
By 2014 Pemberton’s Parlour was suffering from the combined effects of roof damage, weathering, vegetation growth and poor-quality historic repairs. Root growth from vegetation growing on top of the tower had penetrated deep into the roof and surrounding walls causing cracks which allowed water into the structure. Specialist stonemasons carefully took apart large sections of masonry to trace and remove the roots before repairing and waterproofing the roof. The very damaging hard cement mortar was replaced with a softer traditional lime mortar. New benches were installed inside the chamber to provide a place to stop and rest.
The fruitless search of Dr. Henry Willoughby Gardner
Towards the end of the Dark Ages Chester was home to an important mint. The coin minting process at the time was simple, "moneyers" paid huge sums to the king to obtain the rights to dies, and used these to stamp coins - they were literally licensed to make money. The coins had to be of a set weight and purity. In order to identify which moneyer had made the coins there were required to stamp their name on the coins. Penalties for short weight were severe, such as the loss of a hand. They also frequently identified the place of minting: for example as "CAST" or "CASTR". The Grosvenor Museum's holdings of ancient coins derive partly from the matchless collection of coins of the Chester mint formed during the first half of the twentieth century by Dr Henry Willoughby Gardner, and partly from local hoards. For over 70 years Willoughby Gardner, an avid collector, kept an eagle eye out for coins from the Chester mint under Æþelræd and he was able to buy a total of two for his otherwise well-stocked cabinet of ancient coins - so why so few? It was not that coin production overall stopped during the reign of Æþelræd (in 991, on the advice of Sigeric the Serious) who adopted an ill-advised policy of trying to buy off the Vikings, and his 75 mints produced nearly 40 million pennies to pay Danegeld. As Rudyard Kipling said:
- "That if once you have paid him the Danegeld - You never get rid of the Dane".
In fact, more Anglo-Saxon silver pence of this period have been found in Denmark than in England!
The mint at Chester seems to have risen to prominence quite suddenly, c. 916-18, the time of Æthelflæd's most notable victories over the Welsh and the Danes. At her death in 918 it was well established, with perhaps 16 moneyers. Under Æthelstan (924-39) at least 25 moneyers worked there, with probably as many as 20 striking at any one time, compared with 10 in London and 7 in Winchester - that made Chester the site of the most prolific mint in the country. Up to a quarter of the names of the moneyers on the coins are of Scandinavian origin - such as "Thurmond" = Thormaddr. Another of the moneyers was a "Krokr" after whom Crook Street may even be named.It is interesting that a Scandinavian could have been a moneyer, as it required considerable wealth and presumably some degree of social acceptance.
However, the coinage of Æthelstan represented the zenith of Chester's activity. Thereafter, though still relatively important, the mint lost something of its dominance. In the (somewhat troubled) reigns of Edmund (939-46) and Eadred (946-55) there were c. 17 moneyers, and in the even more troubled reign of Eadwig (955-7 in Mercia, 955-9 in Wessex) as few as 11. Under Edgar the Pacific (957-75) the mint became very active again, and there were c. 20 moneyers working there in 970, but then there was another sudden decline.
A valuable hoard of Saxon silver pennies was found near the eastern angle of the Goblin Tower in 1914. The coins represented the reigns of Edgar the Pacific, Eadweard and Æþelræd (the "Unready"). These reigns covered the years A.D. 959-1016. Several of the pieces were minted at Chester by the moneyers Boigea, Aelfstan and Leoman respectively. Given the last possible date of 1016, the coins must have been hidden during some kind of trouble after the accession of Æþelræd (king from 18 March 978 – 1013 and again from 1014 - 23 April 1016). The AS Chronicle records that Vikings ravaged Chester in 980, doing great damage:
- "the county of Chester was plundered by the pirate-army of the North".
Three of the four Anglo-Saxon coin hoards found in the city, those from Castle Esplanade, Pemberton's Parlour, and Eastgate Street, have been assigned to roughly the same period and interpreted as linked to that raid. However, the hoards now seem to come from slightly different times. These were troubled times and there was further trouble later in the reign of Æþelræd. The contemporary Peterborough Chronicle (also called the Laud Manuscript), one of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, states,
- "before the month of August came king Sweyn with his fleet to Sandwich. He went very quickly about East Anglia into the Humber's mouth, and so upward along the Trent till he came to Gainsborough. Earl Uchtred and all Northumbria quickly bowed to him, as did all the people of Lindsey, then the people of the Five Boroughs. He was given hostages from each shire. When he understood that all the people had submitted to him, he bade that his force should be provisioned and horsed; he went south with the main part of the invasion force, while some of the invasion force, as well as the hostages, were with his son Cnut. After he came over Watling Street, they went to Oxford, and the town-dwellers soon bowed to him, and gave hostages. From there they went to Winchester, and the people did the same, then eastward to London."
Edgar had reformed the English coinage by controlling the issue of dies and strictly regulating the moneyers to ensure that the coinage was of uniform type and standard. Because of their convenience as a royally authenticated means of payment, the value of coins actually became higher than the value of their silver content. By recalling, melting down and reminting coins Edgar and his successors not only maintained the quality of the currency but also made handsome profits. It is clear that Chester did not play an important part in Edgar's reform of the coinage c. 973, well before the raid in 980. The number of moneyers declined dramatically from c. 20 immediately before the reform to a mere five or so during the reform itself. Such small numbers continued throughout the reign of Edward the Martyr (975-8) and during the early issues of Æthelred (978-1016), and were associated with a huge decline in output and the end of die-cutting at Chester. Die production for the Reform issue was centered upon London and Winchester, but most major mints quickly re-emerged as die-cutting centers, Chester alone among the great northern mints continuing to receive its dies from Winchester until the 990s.
Assessment of the decline is also affected by re-datings of the Chester coin hoards. Those from Castle Esplanade and Eastgate Street were probably deposited c. 965 and c. 970 respectively, well before the renewal of Viking hostilities in the Irish Sea. Only the Pemberton's Parlour hoard is likely to have been buried in 980 at the time of the Viking raid. That raid has been overused as a reason for the decline of the Chester mint and cannot account for the catastrophic falling-off in 973, presumably part of some more general process since the other north-western mints, especially Derby, show a like pattern. One possible explanation lies in long-term economic developments. The shift away from the north-western mints towards those of eastern England in the late 10th century may have owed as much to changes in trading patterns in response to the opening up of the German silver mines in the 960s as to the disruption of traffic across the Irish Sea.
When was it built?
The Braun and Hogenberg map (1581) seems to show a tower roughly on the site of the Goblin Tower. The Smith Map shows three towers along this same stretch of wall, again with one more or less in the right place. If you are going to hide a hoard of silver you want to put it where it can be found, next to a large landmark like a tower for example. So it is possible there was a tower on this site in Saxon times. Also, if the money was hidden before the tower was constructed, why was it not found when the tower was being built? Hemingway, writes of it,
- "from hence, we go still westwards, passing... a small tower formerly called Goblin's, or Dill's, since PEMBERTON'S PARLOUR, which, being ruinous, was of late half of it taken down; the other half, being a semi-circle, still remains, and, arched-over and benched round with stone, makes a very station from whence you have a fine prospect of the Crofts and the west parts of the city"
In 1733, one Jonathan Whittell applied for and was granted, for a yearly payment of 12d, permission to use the lane "between Barn Lane (King Street) and the New Tower "to spin and make small cords and ropes". This ropewalk is shown on Hemingways map of 1829, almost a century later. Whittell also applied to erect various buildings in the vicinity to store tools, tar ropes etc, situated on a piece of land belonging to the city and "near to that part of the City walls known as the "Queen's Seat". Which Queen, we might ask - possible candidates include Æthelflæd (who was never actually queen).
The word Goblin possibly comes from the Old French gobelin (12c., as Medieval Latin Gobelinus, the name of a spirit haunting the region of Evreux, as mentioned in a chronicle of Ordericus Vitalis), or from Medieval Latin cabalus, from Greek kobalos meaning rogue or knave. Perhaps "rogues" loitered around this tower and gave it the former name.
Who was Pemberton?
The tower is said to be named after John Pemberton, mayor of Chester (1730/31), who's profession is given as "ropier" and stood in it to supervise work at his adjacent rope-walk. According to Thomas Hughes:
- "John Pemberton, ropemaker, a member of an old Chester family, about the year 1700 established a rope-walk within the Walls, between King-street and the Water Tower. It is said to have been his custom to sit under this old alcove, watching his men and boys at work in the pretty grove below. Hence arose its name, Pemberton's Parlour."
Pemberton lived at that time that "Transportation" to the "Colonies" was not uncommon. Initially this was not to Australia but to America. The National Archives contain the following entry:
- Bond from Joseph Clegg of Liverpool, merchant, to John Pemberton, esq., Mayor of Chester and Thomas Mather, esq., Recorder, in the penal sum of £100 to secure the transportation of Bridget Clegg, convicted of Felony and sentenced to death at Chester Crownmote Court on 23 Aug. last, to one of His Majesties Plantations in America for the term of 14 years, and to procure an authentic certificate from the Governor or Chief Custom House Office there of the safe landing of the said Bridget. QRTB/1 20 Sept. 1731
Joseph Clegg is probably the same who became Mayor of Liverpool 1748/9, although it is not known if Bridget was a relative. According to an Act 4 George I, c.11(1718), and an Act 6 George I, c.23(1720) Contractors were required to enter a bond for the transportation of prisoners. These bonds relate to prisoners sentenced to transportation in both the Crownmote and Quarter Sessions Courts, and under the conditions of these bonds the Contractor was responsible for the transportation of the prisoner and for obtaining a certificate of landing from the Governor or Chief Customs Officer. Clegg seems to be an interesting character, being involved with the early synagogue in Liverpool and getting into difficulties with the Liverpool corporation when he raised the issue of corruption. The Liverpool corporation appear to have accused him of libel and attempted to have him slung into jail, something very similar to what happened to an early editor of the Chester Chronicle: John Fletcher. As for the transportee others included: John Dunbabbin, one of 180 convicts transported on the Ocean, August 1817; John Boon one of 171 convicts transported on the Malabar, 18 June 1821; Samuel Davenport, one of 99 convicts transported on the Hoogley, 31 October 1827; John Daintry one of 220 convicts transported on the Henry Tanner, 27 June 1834, James Dodd one of 280 convicts transported on the Oriental Queen, 23 October 1852 and many others.
There is a local legend in Chester of Tunnels leading from the jail to the River Dee which were used "to convey prisioners to hulks for transportation". This appears to be a myth: firstly "hulks" are ships which are permanently moored and usually have lost their rigging and are incapable of sailing; second, convict ships did not sail from Chester. The only known association of convict ships with Chester is that the "Success" visited the city.
Success was formerly a merchant ship of 621 tons, 117 feet 3 inches x 26 feet 8 inches x 22 feet 5 inches depth of hold, built in Natmoo, Tenasserim, Burma, in 1840. After initially trading around the Indian subcontinent, she was sold to London owners and made three voyages with emigrants (not convicts) to Australia during the later 1840s. She was briefly a prison hulk in Australia, before being sunk. In 1890, Success was purchased by a group of entrepreneurs to be refloated and refitted as a museum ship to travel the world advertising the perceived horrors of the convict era - complete with a rather incongruous "iron maiden" and various implements of torture that were supposedly used on convicts. Although never actually a convict ship, Success was billed as one, her earlier history being amalgamated with those other ships of the same name including an ealier Success, which had been used in the original European settlement of Western Australia. She was also incorrectly promoted as the oldest ship afloat. In 1895 she made a trip to England and sometime before 1912 was towed up the Dee to visit Chester, where she became the last large ship to visit the city. Over the years the memory of her visit has been wrongly transformed into her being the last convict ship to sail from Chester. The ship then crossed to America where she continued to be a very fanciful "museum ship" and deteriorated further until she was eventually destroyed by a fire.
- Pemberton's Parlour on Wikipedia;
- Pemberton's Parlour on English Heritage;
- Chester City Walls - Pemberton's Parlour (Goblin Tower) on Revealing Chesters Past;
- Vikings in Chester;
- Video of the tower;
The Boatyard and Basin
The section of the city walls between Bonewaldesthorne’s Tower and Pemberton’s Parlour originally dates to the late eleventh or early twelfth centuries, when the defences of the former Roman / Saxon settlement were extended westward, but was altered to form a raised promenade between 1701 and 1708, a walk that is about 2m wide.
Approaching the end of this stretch of the City Wall, the Canal and Boatyard come into view to the north. From Boughton to Mollington, the Chester Canal worms its way through the centre of Chester, forming a moat for the walls between Cow Lane Bridge and the Water Tower. The Chester Canal was dubbed "England's first unsuccessful canal", after its failure to bring heavy industry to Chester.
We also cross the railway here, as described in glowing terms by the "Strangers Guide to Chester":
- We are now upon a flat iron Bridge and whew with a rush like that of a tiger from his den the giant of the nineteenth century a steam engine and train emerge from the dark tunnel which passes under the city and dash away beneath us full forty miles an hour en route to Ireland by way of Holyhead The Roman Walls that resisted so successfully the Roundhead batteries have in our own times succumbed to the engines of peace and the railway trains with their living freight now career it merrily through two neighbouring apertures in these ancient fortifications.
During the 13th and 14th century, Chester was the largest and busiest port in the north-west, trading with ports throughout the British Isles and Europe. In the 18th century, it traded in raw hide with the Americas and even sent slave ships to Africa. Grain and wine were also major imports. Until the start of the 14th Century, the ancient city walls provided adequate defence to the port (the River used to extend as far as Watergate). Silting of the River Dee had become a problem by the early 18th Century, leading to a loss of maritime trade to rival ports such as Liverpool. In response, the River Dee Company was formed and the Old Port area was developed as a new port for the City. A cut was formed which allowed easier navigation and led to the construction of Crane Wharf.
Improvements to the river Weaver after 1730 served to channel trade from central Cheshire away from Chester to the Mersey, and the Trent and Mersey Canal Act of 1766 threatened to strengthen still further the dominance of Liverpool over the Dee. By the late 18th Century the port further waned, and focus shifted to linking it with the canal network, resulting in the construction of the Dee basin and Tower Wharf.
The original plan for the Chester Canal was for a canal linking the south Cheshire town of Nantwich with the River Dee at Chester, providing a route for produce (including salt) from Nantwich to reach Chester and, beyond it, the sea via the Dee estuary. Overall, the canal is 19.5 miles long, has 17 locks and runs from the River Dee to Nantwich. It is now part of the Shropshire Union Main Line. The River Dee branch heads eastwards from the river, and passes through two locks before turning to the north. Another two locks raise its level to that of the Ellesmere Canal, and the junction was the site of a historic boatyard. Originally, the branch continued eastwards after the first two locks, and another two brought it up to the level of the Chester Canal main line. From the junction, the Ellesmere main line headed south, to another right-angled band where it joined the Chester Canal. The moorings at Tower Wharf, are visible from the City Walls.
Hunter's Map of Chester (1745) shows that the canal initially went straight to the River Dee. Stockdale's Map of Chester (1795) shows the beginnings of the basin.
At the side of the basin is a building which appears to have a roof but no walls. This is actually a covered dry-dock for narrow-boats and can accommodate two boats at once, allowing the hulls of the boats to be maintained. The dry dock at Tower Wharf (known as Graving Dock) is believed to date from 1798, potentially making it the oldest surviving example of its kind on the canal system.
Next to the Graving Dock is a "Roving Bridge". This allows the horses drawing a barge to cross from one side of the river to the other where the tow-path changes sides, as it does here. The clever design of the bridge allows this to happen without disconnecting the tow rope or tangling it. The bridge bears a memorial to L. T. C. Rolt who was a prolific English writer and the biographer of major civil engineering figures including Isambard Kingdom Brunel and Thomas Telford. He is also regarded as one of the pioneers of the leisure cruising industry on Britain's inland waterways, and as an enthusiast for both vintage cars and heritage railways. He was born in Chester to a line of Rolts "dedicated to hunting and procreation".
Telfords Warehouse was originally conceived by the famous industrial engineer Thomas Telford in the 1790’s, the Warehouse stands as a magnificent example of Georgian architecture and as a reminder of the once thriving port of Chester. The building was constructed partly over the canal to allow boats to be located and unloaded from the full height of the loading bay within the building. The grade 2 listed building was originally converted to a public house in the 1980′s by local architect James Brotherhood. In 2000, Telford’s was forced to close due to a major fire which destroyed much of the building’s internal features and took nearly a year to restore.
- Chester canal on Wikipedia.
- British History Online about the canal.
- Boatyard on English Heritage;
- Rolt's memorial;
- Chester City Walls - Wall from Bonewaldesthorne's Tower to Pemberton's Parlour on Revealing Chesters Past;
John Seacome, in 1828 wrote:
- The structure at the angle of the walls was antiently called Bonwaldesthorne's Tower at the east end of which is an archway or opening in the walls leading to the canal warehouses From this building an embattled passage or descent by steps leads to the New Tower built in 1322 by contract for 100 by one John Helpstone a mason The dimensions were 24 yards in height and 10 yards in diameter It had openings for cannon and rings in the walls to which ships were formerly moored as the river antiently flowed under this part of the walls fast falling into decay Mr John Fletcher who served the office of Mayor for the year 1825/26 obtained a grant of this tower from the corporation It is now on a promise to renovate and restore it but nothing has since been done or probably ever will be to avert the ruin with which it is threatened.
This wall tower is documented since 1249-61 but was rebuilt or altered 1322-6 after which it formed the gatehouse to the Water Tower. It is constructed of red sandstone coursed rubble, and somewhat eroded. There is a tall plinth, with 3 weathered caps to the north and one to the south, a blank storey now filled, a storey with seven stone steps up from Row walk, and battlements on the eroded string course. The entrance has chamfered jambs an arch of 2 stones and an oak boarded door. The doorway on the opposite side leads via spur to the Water Tower. The interior has a fireplace, a stair (now closed) up to the battlements and some loops. The masonry of the south-west quadrant of the tower suggests that the tower was originally a drum, but that in 1322 it was squared off, north, to the line of the spur wall to the Water Tower and rebuilt to a square plan with a canted south-west corner above wall-walk level.
Strangely the tower does not appear on the Lavaux Map of Chester (it is also seemingly absent from some earlier maps).
Who was Bonewaldesthorne?
Legend has it that Bonewaldesthorne's Tower is named after an officer in the army of Æthelflæd, daughter of Alfred the Great, who expelled an army of occupying Danes from the fortress in the early 10th century. She rebuilt and extended the walls and established Chester at the centre of a line of burghs, stretching from Rhuddlan in North Wales to Manchester, to protect the northern frontier of Mercia against the Hiberno-Norse, while campaigns on the eastern and northern frontier were conducted against the Danes. A Saxon watchtower most likely have stood here, but very little of the defences of that period remain above ground today, and the structure seen now is of medieval origin. "Bonewaldesthorne", may be a compound of the elements "beorn" (young warrior), "wald" (rule) and "thorn" (thornbush).
What was a French artist doing in Chester?
One painting by the French artist Adrien Jacques Sauzay (1841-1928) "Lady by a tower" clearly depicts Bonewaldesthorne's Tower. Sauzay was a student of Audre and Pasini. For his debut at the Paris Salon in 1863 he sent "The Pond at Bobigny, morning light", and exhibited regularly obtaining medals in 1881, 1883, and at the Exposition Universelles of 1889 and 1900. How he came to paint it is another unsolved mystery.
- Bonewaldesthorne's Tower on Wikipedia;
- Bonewaldesthorne's Tower on English Heritage;
- Chester City Walls - Bonewaldesthorne's Tower on Revealing Cheshires Past;
- Chester City Walls - Wall between Watergate and Bonwaldesthorne Tower on Revealing Cheshires Past;
Between 1323 and 1325, the Water Tower and spur wall from Bonewaldesthorne's Tower on the north-west corner of the City Walls were built at a cost of £100 to protect the harbour. The architect was John (de) Helpston who had also designed castles for King Edward II in North Wales. At the time it was known as the New Tower. The Braun and Hogenberg map (1581) clearly shows that at the time the Tower actually stood in the River Dee (at high tide), but the river now flows some distance away.
Just who the tower was intended to defend against is not entirely clear. The Despenser War (1321–22) was a baronial revolt against Edward II of England led by the Marcher Lords Roger Mortimer and Humphrey de Bohun. The rebellion was fuelled by opposition to Hugh Despenser the Younger, the royal favourite. After the rebels' summer campaign of 1321, Edward was able to take advantage of a temporary peace to rally more support and a successful winter campaign in southern Wales, culminating in royal victory at the Battle of Boroughbridge near York in March 1322. Edward's response to victory was his increasingly harsh rule until his fall from power in 1326.
Batenham described them as follows in 1816:
- At the south angle of the Walls is an old Square Tower through which was a passage to the Water Tower a noble ruin fast going to decay it is a circular building erected in 1322 for the defense of this part of the town and connected with the square tower by an embattled and strongly built pier The contemplative mind will here have ample room for reflection on viewing the ruins of this noble bulwark to imagine its insulated situation standing foremost and fearless amidst a waste of water which was the case at the time of its erection to imagine the weary sentinels keeping the drowsy watch upon the pier against the marine invaders of their quiet here the active sturdy garrison securely slept and defied the attacks of their enemies At the seige of Chester by the republican army this place was bombarded from the farm house called Brewer's Hall on the opposite side of the riuvr though unsuccessfully the only injury it sustained is still visible at the bottom where the balls struck it but seemingly so Weak as rather to pulverize the stones than remove them Since the entire cessation of domestic troubles the tower has been occupied till lately as a store house for shopkeepers to deposit their gunpowder in but they having erected a more eligible building on the left bank of the Liverpool Canal it is now quite neglected and fast falling prey to the all destroying hand of time At the foot of the tower the vestiges of an old archway are still discernible which formerly admitted the tide before the river was confined within its present limits.
The spur wall is approximately 37m long and 3.3m wide. It is built of coursed red sandstone rubble and beneath it there is a segmental archway at ground level through the spur wall. From a stone landing at Boneswaldesthorne Tower, a stair totaling 44 stone steps with an intermediate half-landing 6m long leads to the Water Tower. The parapets to the spur wall have probably the only surviving example of medieval crenelation on the walls. On the half landing the crenelations have been converted to embrasures, probably for cannon during the Civil War. The Water Tower is circular with a slightly battered solid lower stage and 2 stages containing chambers; the total height to the crown of the parapet is approx 15m or 50 feet. There are loops to the lower chamber and a square turret facing the City Wall with a garderobe at north corner. There are loops to upper storey, a band at rampart level and eroded crenelations. Inside, through part-glazed Gothick double doors five stone steps lead down to an octagonal chamber with arched alcoves to entrance and to loops and octagonal keel-moulded rib-vault springing directly from corners. A spiral stair of 23 stone steps lit by 2 loops leads to the octagonal upper chamber, which is vaulted in the same manner as the lower chamber and has partially blocked loops, and has been spectacularly restored. The interior of the Water Tower is seldom open to the public but is well worth seeing if the opportunity presents itself.
There is a chamber in the spur wall just above the archway which is lit by two slit like windows. This chamber is accessed from an arched doorway at the foot of the stairs on the spur wall. There is an inscribed stone on the north side of the spur archway, which states that the tower was restored in 1730, during the mayoralty of John Pemberton (who also restored the Goblin Tower). Many of the details show parallels with the works of Edward I in Wales, particularly Conwy where there was a similar water tower. The tower was intended to be 'in the water of Dee', but had been left high and dry within a century. By the 17th century it had long been abandoned, and in 1631 the Bakers' company offered to rent and repair it with the help of the city authorities. In 1639 it was renovated at the city's expense, and in the 1640s embrasures in the spur wall were converted into gun ports. Leased as a storehouse in 1671, the tower continued to be employed for similar purposes for much of the succeeding century, but in 1728, just prior to renovation, it was described as "useless and neglected". In 1825 the corporation decided to improve it, and in 1837 it was leased as a museum, a function it generally retained thereafter. The name Water Tower came into use in the 17th century and displaced the original name of New Tower, despite the Assembly's attempt in 1732 to insist on using the correct name.
Thomas Pennant (1770) describes the tower thus:
- At the extreme angle of the city beyond this gate is a salient tower exactly round unless where interrupted by a small squared projection at the entrance This tower is joined to the walls by a deep open gallery embattled on each side beneath is a large arch for the passage of the tide before the late enclosures which also are within my remembrance. This tower is at present called the Water tower. It jutted into the antient channel of the river where the ships lay which fastened their cables to its sides by the great iron rings infixed in the stone.
Hemingway (writing in 1836) notes as follows:
- An author who wrote about 1706 says The Tower though it still retains the name of New was built as early as the year 1322 by one Helpstone a freemason who undertook the building for 100 It is round 10 yards in diameter and in height 24 yards having at convenient distances loop holes for cannons to play on such as will be so hardy as by force to enter our haven On the outside of this tower are fixed great iron rings being of use heretofore for mooring the ships &c It is certain that long before the period in which this was written vessels had ceased to approach this Tower Old Fuller in his Worthies of the city concludes his account with the following patriotic wish And now being to take our leave of this ancient and honourable city the worst that I wish it is that the distance between Dee and the new Tower may be made up all obstructions being removed which cause or occasion the same that the rings on the New Tower now only for sight may be restored to the service for which they were first intended to fasten vessels thereunto that vessels on that river lately degenerated from ships into barks may grow up again to their former strength and stature Fuller published his book in 1662.
Within a year of its foundation in 1835 the Chester Mechanics' Institution resolved to establish a museum of working models, natural history, and antiquities. Among the many exhibits was "the skull of a soldier killed during the Civil War, the deadly impress of two flattened bullets being still visible in the skull". Benefactors gave objects for display and the city council offered a lease of Bonewaldesthorne's Tower and the Water Tower on the city walls at a nominal rent. An appeal raised £290 and the museum opened in 1838. Its hours were noon to 8 p.m. each day except Sunday. An admission fee of 6d. probably restricted entrance to well-off visitors, though a reduced rate of 3d. was later introduced for railway excursionists. A camera obscura, highly popular with visitors, was installed in 1840 and an observatory in 1848; in 1864 the Roman hypocaust and other remains recently discovered in Bridge Street were reassembled at the foot of the tower. The museum made a profit and was a source of great local pride, but sophisticated visitors were conscious of its limitations: the American writer Henry James in 1872 disapprovingly called the towers 'receptacles for the dustiest and shabbiest of tawdry back-parlor curiosities'. The museum came into the ownership of the city council along with the rest of the Mechanics' Institution's assets in 1876.
In his essay "An Observant American In England", the American writer Henry James writes of his 1872 visit of how he found the corner towers (and those running the museum they once housed) as to be::
- "..two battered and crumbling towers, decaying in their winding-sheets of ivy, make a prodigiously designed diversion. One inserted in the body of the wall and the other connected with a short crumbing ridge of masonry, they contribute to a positive jumble of local colour. These two hoary shells of masonry are therefore converted into 'Museums', receptacles for the dustiest and shabbiest tawdry back-parlour curiosities. Here preside a couple of those grotesque creatures a la Dickens, whom one finds squeezed into every cranny of English civilisation, scraping a thin subsistence, like mites in a mouldy cheese."
The Mechanic's Institute had installed a "Camera Obscura" in 1838. This is described in "Robert's Chester Guide" of 1851 as follows:
- "situated on the upper part of the tower, and is well worthy of notice. We can promise the reader great gratification and amusement from this excellent instrument which will furnish him with a most charming prospect of the diversified and lovely scenery which nature has so profusely spread around. The beautiful view of the winding Dee and the picturesque country on its banks is most delightful, and cannot fail to excite very pleasurable emotions."
Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519), familiar with the work of the Arab scholar Alhazen in Latin translation and after an extensive study of optics and human vision, published the first clear description of the camera obscura in "Codex Atlanticus" (1502):
- If the facade of a building, or a place, or a landscape is illuminated by the sun and a small hole is drilled in the wall of a room in a building facing this, which is not directly lighted by the sun, then all objects illuminated by the sun will send their images through this aperture and will appear, upside down, on the wall facing the hole. You will catch these pictures on a piece of white paper, which placed vertically in the room not far from that opening, and you will see all the above-mentioned objects on this paper in their natural shapes or colors, but they will appear smaller and upside down, on account of crossing of the rays at that aperture. If these pictures originate from a place which is illuminated by the sun, they will appear colored on the paper exactly as they are. The paper should be very thin and must be viewed from the back.
At some point the original instrument in Chester fell into disuse and the optics were lost. However, a new Camera Obscura was installed in the 1980's. This has a 150mm aperture lens with a focal length approaching 6000mm (approx f40). It was originally provided by Peter Drew of Bedford Astronomical Supplies to the Stoke-on-Trent Garden Festival in 1984, and from there was transferred to Chester. On the rare occasions when Bonewaldesthorne's tower was previously open to the public it was usually possible to see the instrument in use - images are projected downwards onto a round white table (see the photo's linked to below), and the instrument may be moved about, rather like a submarine periscope, to look in different directions. In August 2016, the tower became the home to a new museum "Sick to Death" and the Camera Obscura is now much mre accessible.
- Camera Obscura photographs from Grosvenor Construction;
What happened to Queen Anne?
At the top of the steps leading to the spur wall and to the rear of Bonewaldesthorne's Tower is a sculpted stone niche (not a bathtub as some guidebooks state) within which formerly stood a statue of Queen Anne (1702-1714) by John Tilston. Tilston was apprenticed to Thomas Davies of Chester, and became a freeman of that city in 1695. In about 1710 he rebuilt the Goblin Tower (Pemberton’s Parlour), Watergate, Chester, which had been virtually destroyed during the Civil War, and he was responsible for the two cartouches on it depicting the Royal and City coats of arms. The rebuilding work cost upwards of £1,000. He also carved the statue of Queen Anne, initially for the front of Chester Exchange. Tilston died in 1723 and was buried in the south aisle of St Johns church. His grandson, John Tilston, was also a carver and became free of the Masons’ Company of Chester in 1732. It was brought to this location from the old Exchange in Northgate Street, after that building was destroyed by fire in 1862.
Pigot described the statue as follows when it was still on the Exchange building:
- On the south front in the center of the huilding is a full sized well executed stone statue of Queen Anne in her coronation robes she is now much mutilated having lost also the glohe and sceptre which she formerly held; this mischief has been committed at the elections by the party hostile to the Corporation it being a disgraceful whim of the moh at those times to pelt it; the injury to this statue and the other sculpture was chiefly done in the election of 1784 and partly in that of 1812.
A surviving image of the statue in situ shows that it had been repaired, regaining the sceptre.
The statue "mysteriously" disappeared sometime during the 1960s, a mystery which remains to be solved.
What are the mysterious inscriptions?
A panel on the north parapet of the Water Tower spur is inscribed "INVENIT AUT EXCIT" ("Has raised or found"). For years no one knew what this was meant to mean, but it now appears that this may somehow be associated with the coat of Arms of Chancellor Samuel Peploe (1700–1781), Archdeacon of Richmond, son of Bishop Peploe (1667-1752) of Chester, as there is a carved coat of arms (also said to be from the Exchange - and complete with scorch marks from when the Exchange burned down) set into the spur wall, and this is believed to be that of the Peploe's: with three "Wirral" horns and a chevron. On the steps ascending to Bonewaldesthorne's Tower there is a carved arrowhead which is possibly a mason's mark,
- Water Tower on Wikipedia;
- Water Tower on English Heritage;
- Chester City Walls - Water Tower or New Tower on Revealing Cheshire's Past;
- Chester City Walls - Spur Wall on Revealing Cheshire's Past;
- Some information on the Water Tower Museum;
- Camera Obscura photographs from Grosvenor Construction;
- The antiquities of England and Wales (1784) mentions the Water Tower;
- upstairs in the Water Tower;
- Coat of Arms on the spur wall;
- Room above the arch in the spur wall;
- Peploe and the coat of arms;
Sick to Death
In 2016 a new visitor attraction opened at the Water Tower. Sponsored by Wellcome, this was "Sick to Death" a museum of early medicine. In 2020 it moved to the former church of St Michael in the city center displacing a historical exhibition that had itself displaced the Heritage Center.
This lump of rock has at least 900 years of history, perhaps much more, and yet most visitors to Chester will never even see it. Some say that the "Glover's Stone" can still be seen in a somewhat obscure corner of Water Tower Gardens - others have it buried beneath the Military Museum. The stone in the gardens is not as imposing as it sounds, but does show a great deal of wear on it's upper surface and does appear to be blue-grey. It may be of the general class referred to as "Bluestone" (middle Ordovician ("speckled") dolerite - about 460 million years old - twice the age of the local red sandstone). It is not of the local rock type and therefore possibly a "glacial erratic" carried here during the ice ages and dropped into the local boulder clay (this rock type occurs in North Wales), although there has been no real geological examination of the stone to determine whether it is a local erratic or must have been brought from elsewhere by man (there no clear flow of glacial ice from North Wales which could have brought the stone to Chester).
To get to see the stone, take the steps just before the corner and Bonewaldesthorne's Tower down from the wall on the inside of the wall and through the small doorway. Then walk under the arch which joins the Watertower to the main walls. The small doorway is described by Pigot, who worked at the nearby Infirmary as follows:
- "At this angle of the wal1s is a postern-gate which affords a foot way to the inclosed Sands as well as the Liverpool Canal, the Tavern, as well as the various Warehouses belonging to the Ellesmere and Chester Canal"
What about the maze?
The Maze was designed by Adrian Fisher. The theme of the maze is that of water and the pattern is based on the intersecting ripples - from the centre of the Water Tower and from the heart of the Maze - like raindrops on water. Visitors should choose one of the three coloured brick stripes that form the path. You must always keep moving forward on the same colour, avoiding sharp turns and ignoring crossing paths. At each junction square, you have a choice. Sometimes there are two or even three directions to choose from; occasionally there is only one path forward. Two or three players can compete by choosing different colours. The winner is the one who passes through the least number of junction squares. If you think you know the routes, try starting at the center and working outwards!
2018 update - the maze has gone and has been replaced by "monkey bars". Adrian Fisher is considered the world's leading maze designer, having created more than 700 mazes across 32 countries since 1979.
The next section of the City Walls follows the original bank of the River Dee and was not fortified with towers. The section of wall between Bonewaldesthorne’s Tower and the Watergate dates to the late eleventh or early twelfth centuries. The defences of the former Roman settlement were extended westward by the Saxons and later improved. The walls were altered to form a promenade between 1701 and 1708. It is constructed from red coursed rubble sandstone and mostly the pavement is at ground level on the inside of the walls. Getting on and off the walls on this section is as easy as crossing the road.
The land within the corner of the City Walls here was anciently known as Lady Barrow's Hey, "Hey" was a Saxon name for a field enclosed by a hedge. Earlier still, the area was used by the Romans as a graveyard which would have been outside of the city walls prior to their extension in post-Roman times. "Barrow" could be from the Old English pre 7th Century "bearo, bearu", meaning "grove" or "wood", it may also be a topographical name for someone who lived by a hill or burial mound. Many graves were uncovered when the hospital was being built and enlarged. Chester historian Frank Simpson recorded that, in 1858 (while preparing railway sidings to accommodate exhibitors at the Royal Agricultural Show) workmen discovered several Roman tombs, which contained such articles as terra-cotta lamps, clay vessels and coins of the period of Domitian (Roman emperor from 81 to 96).
Hemingway writes as follows of this section of the walls:
- In proceeding onward on our route the walls turn to the west having on the right the Tower Field belonging to the corporation and lately rented by the guardians of the poor by the cultivation of which by spade husbandry able bodied paupers were very properly and advantageously employed. The first object we meet with is the Infirmary a very handsome brick building healthfully situated and a most efficient establishment for the benevolent object for which it was erected It was opened on the 17th of March 1761 and since then has been the asylum and Bethesda of thousands.
Following the walls south past a housing estate we soon come to the Infirmary Building, now converted into apartments. The hospital is constructed in brown brick with stone dressings and has grey-green slate roofs. The entrance front faces City Walls Road. North and south wings stretch back to join an east wing to form a courtyard; these wings contained the wards. The entrance front has two storeys plus cellars; the wards have three storeys plus attics and basements. The entrance front is in seven bays. A porch projects from the centre of the ground floor. It has two Doric columns, and supports the middle three bays of the upper storey that form a canted projection. Above the porch is a floor band and a segmental pediment. Each bay of the upper storey contains a sash window, that in the middle bay having a round-headed arch painted with "ERECTED 1761". Above the windows is a frieze and a pedimented gable with a plaque inscribed "INFIRMARY".
Why Jenner and not Haygarth?
The eradication of smallpox stands as one of the greatest achievements of medical science. When it was finally achieved in 1977 it was based on three principles:
- find every case;
- isolate the infected individual;
- immunise all their contacts.
These proved to be sufficient to eliminate the disease because the incubation period of 10-14 days after exposure gave time to mount a defence, and because smallpox only spread by very close contact between infectious individuals, or contaminated materials, and susceptible individuals. However, the crucial features of smallpox, and the possibility of eradicating the disease, were not 20th century innovations, they can be traced directly to John Haygarth (1740 – 10 June 1827) an important 18th-century British physician who discovered new ways to prevent the spread of fever among patients and reduce the mortality rate of smallpox. Chester Infirmary hosted John Haygarth from 1767 to 1798. In 1765, Dr John Fewster published a paper in the London Medical Society entitled "Cow pox and its ability to prevent smallpox", but he did not pursue the subject further, it was not until Edward Jenner's work some 20 years later that the procedure became widely understood.
What was Truant's Hole?
The Assembly records from 1539-40 mention that the Saddlers Company had paid a rent on a place called "Truant's Hole". Our trusty old map at the head of the page appears to show this as being located about half-way between Bonewaldesthorne's Tower and the Watergate, at the foot of what is now "Bedward Row" (originally "Little Parsons" and "Dog Lane"). Just what "Truant's Hole" was remains a mystery yet to be solved. Looking over the wall at the location marked on the map there is a tunnel opening in the outer face of the wall with the remains of a door-frame, but the brickwork seems quite modern. Another "Truant's Hole" is recorded in the Corporation papers as being located on the corner of the walls below the Wishing Steps (where there is an iron pipe on the outer face of the wall). This was evidently a sewer. So has the author of the map confused the two - and marked the doorway in the wall mentioned above as "Truant's Hole" in error?
Opposite this section of the City Walls is the Queen's School for Girls, for which building work started around 1882. The building was designed by E. A. Ould and stands on land donated by the Duke of Westminster (together with £500). The address of the school was originaly "100 Watergate Flags", but it quickly outgrew its original premises. The building is constructed from red brick in Tudor Gothic style, with terracotta embelishments from Dennis Ruabon.
This upmarket private girls' school stands on the former site of the "City Gaol and House of Correction" (designed by Joseph Turner) which replaced the earlier gaol at Northgate. Hemingway writing off some changes to the gaol notes:
- "Before this useful alteration the escape of prisoners was very frequent but that evil seems now to be effectually guarded against".
Perhaps "Truant's Hole" was the place from which escapees tried to clamber down to the fields below the wall and effect their escape? - Indeed one finds the very same suggestion in Seacome (1828):
- "Before we quit this part of the walls we would direct the attention of the stranger to the spot opposite the lane at the north end of this building. A man broke away from the constables as they were conveying him to prison a few years ago and in his flight leaped over the Wall at this point without sustaining any material injury. He swam across the river and succeeded in making his escape".
Of course the problem with this explanation is that "Truant's Hole" was so named in 1539, and the gaol was only built more than two-hundred years later. So the mystery of Truant's Hole remains unsolved.
The gaol was one of the first to install a 'drop', or mechanical gallows. The gallows stood high on the front of the building where they were used for the public hangings of Chester criminals. The grisly scenes of death attracted large, ghoulish crowds. The City Gaol was erected in 1807. It ceased to be a gaol in 1871 and prisoners moved to the County Gaol at the Castle. The first execution here was on 6th May 1809 when George Glover and William Proudlove were hung for shooting at (and missing) an excise officer. The drop was used for the first time and the ropes broke, leaving the two still alive. New ropes were procured and the sentence carried out about 1 hour later. Apparently, the two condemned men remained remarkably calm during their wait for their repeat performance, and did not pretend innocence proven by "divine intervention" (the present author would have!).
Inscriptions on the Walls
The west wall of the city has a number of inscriptions which the careful observer should be able to find but which are often missed. These include markers of Parish Boundaries, distance markers and dates when portions of the walls were repaired. The distance markers are mostly nearly square tablets set into the inner face of the walls and are very difficult to read unless the lighting is at a perfect angle. There are four of these indicating distance anti-clockwise from the Eastgate. The first is just after the Phoenix Tower and records a distance of one-quarter mile. The second 3/4 mile stone is by the steps leading down to the Queen's School sports field. There is a one mile marker just before the Grosvenor Bridge and a "1 Mile 1/2" stone between the Bridgegate and the Recorder's Steps.
The Mystery of the Vanishing Girl's School
A further minor mystery concerns the The Queen's school which was established for middle-class girls in 1878 and moved to the then new building in City Walls Road in 1883. According to one author there was a girl's school on the same site beforehand: as John Broster writing in 1821 states:
- On a piece of ground next to the Infirmary, is erected a commodius building for the reception of a certain number of girls, who are maintained and educated, so as to qualify there for servants. It is supported by voluntary contributions and subscriptions. A Walk round the Walls and City of Chester. John Broster (1821)
As the city gaol closed in 1871, well after Broster's supposed date of 1821 (or earlier) for the establishment of the servant-girl school - there seems to be no time or space for any earlier school building to have existed hereabouts - a view seemingly confirmed by the 1825 Map. Could it be that Broster simply "sanitised" his guide-book and replaced a reference to the city gaol (where public executions took place and which he does not mention at all) with a fictional girl's-school? How curious that half a century later fantasy should become reality.
Electrification (see: Trams)
The electric lighting station lit the city streets, rows, shops and houses of Chester at 6d per unit in 1896. Owned by Chester Corporation, the building was designed by I. Matthews Jones. Three steam-driven generators provided direct current, saving reserve power to batteries. After consulting with the famous physicist, Lord Kelvin, the station was opened under Prof. Kennedy, and later run by the city electrical engineers F. Thursfield (until 1904) and S. E Britton (until 1946). Electricity was in heavy demand so that the station was soon enlarged and, in 1913, linked to the new hydro-electric power station by the Old Dee Bridge. By 1923 Queensferry Power Station took over electric supply with converters at this station.
The front of the building was saved by the Canal Basin Forum and the people of Chester in 1999. It was renovated by George Wimpey North West Limited.
The idea of a Trams service from the station to the town centre was promoted in 1877 by T. Lloyd, manager of the Liverpool tramways. A private limited company was formed under an Act of 1878 and laid standard-gauge tracks from the station to Saltney via City Road, Foregate Street, Eastgate Street, Bridge Street, Grosvenor Street, Grosvenor Road, and Hough Green, with a depot near the station. Lloyd was the first manager, and horse-drawn services started in 1879. The company also ran horse buses to Bache, Christleton, and Hoole. The Act permitted Chester corporation to buy the undertaking after 21 years, and the city made plans to do so after it opened an electricity generating plant in 1896. Under an Act of 1901 the corporation bought the tramway company, electrified the system, and relaid the tracks at a gauge of 3ft. 6in. Horse buses were used while the work was under way but the corporation then disposed of them. Electric tram services from the High Cross to Saltney in one direction and the Chester Station in the other began in 1903, and were extended eastwards in 1906 as far as the city boundary in Tarvin and Christleton roads. The old tramway company's manager appointed in 1885, John Gardner, served the corporation in the same capacity until 1915. By the early 1920s the tracks needed replacing and although the trams ran at a profit, carrying 2 million passengers a year at the start of the decade and 4 million by the end, they were not recouping any of the capital outlay. The council replaced the tracks between the castle and Saltney in 1921 but accepted a report of 1928 that the cost of overhauling the whole system was too great and that it ought to abandon trams in favour of motor buses. A ballot of ratepayers supported the change, and the last tram ran in 1930.
Sedan House (now home to a set of Barristers chambers) is located at 13 and 13B Stanley Place, Chester. It is designated by English Heritage as a Grade II* listed building. The house is sited on the corner of Stanley Place and City Walls Road. It takes its name from the porch on City Walls Road that was used for those being carried in a "Sedan Chair" to enter the house. This town house was built about 1780. The "Chair-men" (the Taxi-drivers of their day) entered and departed by opposite doors, their passenger embarking or alighting under cover at the house door between. This is believed to be the only survival of a sedan-chair porch in the North-West of England.
For ships and cargoes arriving at the port of Chester, the Watergate was the main entrance into the city. Early in 1240 Henry III gave his approval for the construction of a house for the Greyfriars in Chester; the site was to the north of Watergate Street, opposite the Dominican convent and conveniently placed for the collection of alms from travellers entering Chester through the Watergate. Tolls and taxes were also collected here, and trade was regulated by the city authorities. The lucrative sergeantry of the Watergate descended through the Barony of Montalt (Mold) to the Stanley family, the Earls of Derby. The duty of the sergeant-holder was, according to an inquisition held June 23 1432 to:
- "..find one man, as well in time of peace as in time of war between England and Wales, to open and close the aforesaid gate when necessary and to receive certain profits there of old accustomed, and one other man, bearing a club, called the sergeant of Watergate Street, to make attachments and distriants, and perform other old accustomed duties within the City of Chester."
The gate would most probably be closed by a double door, strengthened by a porcullis, and the old drawing of the original gate shows holes in the outer side of the gate which may have at one time operated a drawbridge.
The Stanley's built a mansion, Stanley Palace, along Watergate Street. As trade gradually declined and the port silted up, the Watergate lost its role as the main goods entrance into the city. During the eighteenth century it was rebuilt and enlarged, and a foot passage was constructed. Despite this, the gate was still too narrow for traffic, and in 1788 the medieval gateway and tollhouse were replaced by the single arch visible today. At the time of its purchase by the corporation from the Earl of Derby in 1788, it was considered so "dangerously ruinous" that it had to be immediately demolished and the present arch, designed by Joseph Turner, was erected the following year. Pigot, writing in 1815, describes the Watergate as follows:
- "The serjeant of this gate was bound to execute the Mayor's processes on the River Dee. The present beautiful arch was erected in the room of the old gate way in l788-9 the expense being defrayed out of the Murage Duties. On the west side the gateway but now illegible from the street without the aid ofa glass is the following inscription: I N THE XXIX YEAR or THE REIGN OF GEO. III IN THE MARYOLTY OF JOHN HALLWOOD AND JOHN LEIGH ESQUIRES THIS GATE WAS ERECTED - THOMAS COTGREAVE EDWARD BURROWS MURENGERS". The view from this gate way is very pleasing on the right is a regularly built street called Crane street. Little more than a century ago the sea at high water overflowed all the ground which the houses now occupy washing up $0 the Watergate. The Roodee also is represented to have been so much covered by the tide that the cross seemed to stand in the water and from this circumstance the name probably originated which has ever since been applied to the ground reclaimed from the water."
By 2015 the Watergate was in need of repair and as the bridge parapet was being dismantled it was discovered that repairs in the 1920's had resulted in hollow parts of the bridge being "repaired" with an infill of cement. The unfortunate consequence of this was that water was forced into the stonework. This has caused significant damage such that by 2017 a very major part of the stonework needed replacing. Maria Byrne of the City Council stated:
- "Our Bridges Team had no idea that this rather strange repair method would be revealed when the Grade I listed bridge was stripped back. The filling in of the cavity with cement in the 1920s has caused moisture to travel through the stonework itself, rather than the mortar – essentially ‘killing off’ the stonework. It’s a much larger repair project than we first thought but the end result will look wonderful."
In December 2017 the Watergate repairs were completed, with 85% of the stonework having been replaced.
How close did the water come?
Pigot, as quoted above suggests that the water of the Dee could come up to the Watergate shortly before 1715, but the engraving entitled "The South West Prospect of the City of Chester 1728" (see below) shows the Watertower already high and dry and the river far from the Watergate, with houses built at what is now "Crane Wharf". The Lavaux Map of Chester from 1745 shows "salt grass" between the City Walls and the river, and what is possibly an old wharf adjacent the Watergate. The first phase of work before 1710 to improve the Dee navigation entailed moving the course of the river between the Watergate and the Watertower 300 metres to the west and building a new wharf. Samuel Taylor, who held corporation leases of both the northern end of the Roodee and the "Saltgrass", built a new walled road from his existing warehouse outside the Watergate, which was now no longer on the river bank, to the new wharf. In 1708 he was given a permanent grant of the land over which the road was built but gave up everything to the south. Although flooding in 1720 destroyed the new wharf and probably Taylor's road, the renewal of navigation works in the 1730s allowed both to be restored and thus permanently closed off the Roodee on the north. Indeed thereafter the name "Saltgrass" was applied to what had formerly been the northern part of the Roodee, north of the Watergate and the wharf.
Around 250 years earlier, however the waters of the Dee are represented as coming right up to the Watergate in the Braun and Hogenberg 1581 map of Chester, but in John Speed's possibly more accurate map of 1610 there seems to be a tract of land between the gate and the Dee. As early as the inquisition of 14 Edward III, the keeper of the gate was entitled to take "of every cart entering with brushwood one branch, of every horse load of fish, five fishes", implying that there was at least space outside the Watergate to load a horse or a cart. The Smith Map of 1585 shows that there was barely room between the walls and the river north of the Watergate to land the buttresses supporting the City Walls.
Speed's map also shows the Watertower (built between 1323 and 1325) out of the water, or at least on its very edge. This raises an interesting possible use for the arch at the Watertower: when the Watertower was built the tide presumably left the arch "dry" at low water, so a portcullis would have been needed to stop people gaining access to the Watertower on foot along the base off the walls. This would also have prevented goods brought ashore at the Watergate from being carted away, or otherwise transported to avoid the dues at the Watergate (and also avoid the begging monks). Heading in the other direction, "tax evaders" would have a long haul around the city and would have to enter the city before they came to the Capelgate, where the river again flowed up against the City Walls. Taking this interpretation, the Watertower serves a "customs" function, ensuring that tolls/taxes are paid in the city.
Lavaux's (1745) "salt grass" possibly still flooded at high tides, John Seacome, (1828) writes of such floods within living memory:
- "The fertile tract of country called the Sands that meets the eye in coming from the Northgate to the right of the river was formerly a waste over which the tide flowed in the memory of persons now living and the ancient maps in King's Vale Royal shew the waters flowing under the arch of the Water Tower and washing this part of the city walls from the Watergate. By the Charter of Henry VII the governing charter the city the fishery of the river was granted to the citizens and the corporation made conservators it In the llth and 12th William III an act was passed to enable the Mayor and citizens to recover and preserve the navigation of the river and make it navigable for ships of 100 tons burden by enclosures &c in consideration of which they were allowed certain tonnage duties and the soil or sands so enclosed was vested in them and their successors for ever."
The Lavaux Map also shows the "cop" or embankment constructed around the Roodee and along the lower river, as well as the new wharf constructed on the River Dee. Hemingway and J. Fletcher, (1791) tell us that the cop around the Roodee was constructed in 1710, although it was washed down and had to be rebuilt in 1720. So Pigot is probably hearing the truth when aged people (he works at the Infirmary) tell their memories of floods up to the City Wall in about the 1740's.
Hanshall records ship-building at Chester as follows:
- "Beyond the Watergate are Crane-street, Back Crane-street, and Paradise Row, the whole of which lead to the wharfs on the river. For a number of years Chester has carried on a considerable business in shipbuilding. Within the last ten years the trade has wonderfully increased, and even now it is not unusual to see ten or a dozen vessels on the stocks at a time. In fact, there are nearly as many ships built in Chester as in Liverpool, and the former have always a decided preference from the merchants. Indeed, Chester lies particularly convenient for the trade, as by the approximation of the Dee, timber is every season floated down from the almost exhaustless woods of Wales, at a trifling expense and without the least risk. The principal shipwright in Chester is Mr. Cortney, but Mr. Troughton’s is the oldest establishment. There were lately nearly 250 hands employed in the business, two-thirds of whom were in Mr. Cortney's yard, but the trade is at present flat. Six vessels of war have been built by him, and within the last two years (1814-15) two corvettes and two sloops of war, The Cyrus, The Mersey, The Eden, and The Levant, from twenty to thirty guns each. The firm of Mulvey and Co., formerly of Frodsham, have established a yard near the Crane."
Cortney's yard (see: Shipbuilding) launched a brig in 1804, an East lndiaman of 580 tons in 1810, and in 1813 a West India-man of 800 tons, in addition to the corvettes and war sloops mentioned by Hanshall.
- Watergate on Wikipedia;
- Watergate on English Heritage;
- More on ship-building in Chester;
- Chester City Walls - Watergate on Revealing Cheshire's Past;
The next section of the tour around the City Walls is a straight walk along the pavement beside Nuns Road. In Roman times the ground on this side of the city, west of the present day Inner Ring Road, sloped sharply westwards down to the river bank and this slope was eventually cut into three terraces to produce level platforms for buildings and agriculture. The lowest of these terraces was fronted by the massive stone retaining wall which formed the Roman quayside, parts of which may still be seen on the Roodee (Chester's Racecourse). The wall is constructed from red coursed rubble sandstone and mostly the pavement is at ground level on the inside of the walls. Getting on and off the walls on this section is still as easy as crossing the road. In Anglo-Saxon times, the River Dee covered the whole of the racecourse area, with the exception of a small raised mound upon which stood a stone cross or ‘Rood’, (Roodee means literally "The Island of the Cross"), the stump of which is still visible today, close to the eastern-walled side (of which more later).
From Nuns Road, there are attractive long distance views across the Roodee towards the tree-lined river bank, crowned by the large villas of Curzon Park on the southern side of the river. In this area, adjacent to the part of the west wall, is the foundation of an ancient Roman bath house, which is pierced by the furnace arch of a hypocaust. Also found on the site were the remains of asudatory (sweating bath) and many tiles stamped with the wild boar motif of the XXth Legion, considerable amounts of coins of the reigns of Hadrian and Trajan and an altar dedicated to Aesulapius: the Roman Goddess of healing who was always honoured at legionary bath houses. During the 1770s Stanley Place and Stanley Street were developed. At the time of this sale the entire area was known as the Grey Friar's Close or, alternatively, as the Yacht Field. The friary buildings, remarkably, survived right through from the Dissolution until this final splitting up of the lands for development. The tall steeple of their church long served as a guide to mariners entering the Port of Chester, and is marked on contemporary charts as such, before falling into private hands and finally being demolished.
An engraving entitled "The South West Prospect of the City of Chester 1728" by Samuel and Nathaniel Buck shows a view of the city of Chester in that year. The somewhat inaccurate text on the engraving reads (in part):
- Chester, or WestChester, Said to be so calld from the Roman Legions: When Julius Caesar intended the redection of Ireland & Claudius Caesar design'd to surprize the / Orcades, they took up winter Quarters for them here. Likewise Galba the Emperor settled here the 20.th Legion call'd Victrix, under the command of Titus Vinius to be a barrier & check / unto the Ordovices, which growing too headstrong for him, Titus Vespasian made Julius Agricola their Lieuten.t Tis probable that this Settlement of the Roman Legion gave birth to this City. / And it is evident, from the Inscriptions of several Altars, & Coins found in, & about this City, with the names & titles of Julius Caesar, and several other Emperors, that the Legion called / Victrix was assuredly Quartere'd here. King Edgar triumphed here over the British Princes by causing Hennadius K. of Scotland, Malcolm K. of Northumberland, & Macon K. of Man / & the Isles, with all the Princes of Wales; being in N.o 8 to row him like Bargemen up the River Dee. This City is surrounded with a Wall two miles in compass, which affordeth a / delightfull walk all round: Said to be built by Edelfleda, that noble Mercian Lady; A.D. 902. The Streets are remarkable for their double rows of Shops, or Piazzas; which screen / you from the rain through most of the City.
The Buck Brothers compress Roman history somewhat. In 55 BC, Julius Caesar crossed into Britain, claiming that the Britons had aided one of his enemies the previous year possibly the Veneti of Brittany. His intelligence information was poor, and although he gained a beachhead on the coast, he could not advance further, and returned to Gaul for the winter. He returned the following year, better prepared and with a larger force, and achieved more. He advanced inland, and established a few alliances. However, poor harvests led to widespread revolt in Gaul, which forced Caesar to leave Britain for the last time. The Romans probably did not reach as far north as Chester until around a hundred years later.
The Roman historian Tacitus mentions that Gnaeus Julius Agricola, while governor of Roman Britain (AD 78 - 84), entertained an exiled (and unnamed) Irish prince, thinking to use him as a pretext for a possible conquest of Ireland. At about the same time, Juvenal specifically tells us, Roman "arms had been taken beyond the shores of Ireland". Neither Agricola nor his successors ever conquered Ireland, but in recent years archaeology has challenged the belief that the Romans never set foot on the island. Roman and Romano-British artefacts have been found primarily in Leinster, notably a fortified site on the promontory of Drumanagh, fifteen miles north of Dublin - perhaps the name of the fortified promontory itself holds clues as to its Roman origin: Drumanagh has as a possible root (D)ruman, a possible reference to Romans (however Gaelic "Droim Meánach" means "Ridge of Meanach", giving another explanation). In addition, a group of burials on Lambay Island, just off the coast near Drumanagh, contained Roman brooches and decorative metalware of a style also found in Roman Britain from the late first century (this could be invasion or trade).
There may be some connection between the un-named prince and a semi-mythical Irish king. Túathal Techtmar ("the legitimate"), was the son of Fíachu Finnolach, and himself a High King of Ireland according to medieval Irish legend and historical tradition. He is said to be the ancestor of the Uí Néill (O'Neil) and Connachta (Connor) dynasties through his grandson "Conn of the Hundred Battles". Túathal is said to have been exiled from Ireland as a child, but to have returned, defeated the then king and waged extensive war. Both Roman sites at Drumanagh and Lambay are close to where the semi-mythical Túathal is supposed to have landed. Some other archaeological discoveries inside Ireland, including Roman jewellery and coins at Tara, the midland ritual complex, and at Clogher, further support the possibility of a Roman invasion of Ireland. It has been suggested that the distribution of Roman remains in Ireland fits well with the places associated with Túathal's campaign. The traditional date of his return is AD76-80.
The Mystery of the Holy Cross of Chester
Each of our trusty map, the Braun and Hogenberg map and the John Speed map show a cross standing on the Roodee (near to the horse in B&H) - although maps do disagree about its exact location. The cross was at one time removed and lay beneath the City Walls for many years. It was re-erected in its "original" position 1855 and is now Grade II* listed. The listing records: This is a base and part shaft of a stone cross. It is traditionally believed to be Saxon, but more probably a boundary stone, C13th, of land belonging to St Mary's Priory (which is no longer standing) which stood between Chester Castle and the Roodee. Nowadays the base of a cross can still be seen, and this is associated with one (or more) local legends. Thomas Hughes describes the legend thus:
- Once upon a time you must not ask when the Christians of Hawarden a few miles down the river were in a sad strait for lack of rain. Now it so happened that in the church of that place there stood an image of the Virgin Mary called Holy Rood. To her shrine then repaired the faithful and fearful of all classes to pray for rain. Among the rest Lady Trawst the wife of the governor of Hawarden prayed so heartily and so long that the image grown desperate we suppose fell down upon the lady and killed her. Mad with rage at this answer to their prayers a jury of the inhabitants was summoned and the Holy Rood summarily convicted of wilful murder and other heinous sins. Fearful however of the consequences if they executed the offender the jury determined to lay her upon the beach at low water whence the next tide carried her away to the spot where she was found under the Walls of Chester. The citizens held a post mortem examination and seeing that she was Holy Rood decided on burying her where she was found and erected over her a simple stone cross which tradition says once bore an inscription to the following effect: The Jews their God did crucify / The Hardeners theirs did drown / Because their wants she'd not supply / And she lies under this cold stone.
Hemingway tells a slightly different version
- "In this conjecture respecting the origin of this stone cross there seems to be a good deal of probability but the reader is left to decide whether the following relation of its history be entitled to the same degree of credibility it is given by Mr Willet in his History of Hawarden Parish who says it is a correct translation from an old Saxon MS Whether true or otherwise and without another preparatory word here it is produced In the sixth year of the reign of Conan ap Ellis ap Anarawd King of Gwynith or North Wales which was about ad 946 there was in the Christian Temple at a place called Harden in the kingdom of North Wales a Rood loft in which was placed an image of the Virgin Mary with a very large cross which was in the hands of the image called Holy Rood about this time there happened a very hot and dry summer so dry that there was not grass for the cattle upon which most of the inhabitants went and prayed to the image or Holy Rood that it would cause it to rain but to no purpose Amongst the rest the Lady Trawst whose husband's name was Sytsylht a nobleman and Governor of Harden Castle went to pray to the said Holy Rood and she praying earnestly and long the image or Holy Rood fell down upon her head and killed her upon which a great uproar was raised and it was concluded and resolved upon to try the said image for the murder of the said Lady Trawst and a jury was summoned for the purpose whose names were as follow viz...."
Willet also tells us that Lady Trawst was the sister of Prince Conan ap Ellis, something which seems to be lost in later versions.
- A curious tale is associated with the Roodee, the present racecourse. In the tenth century there was a drought, and Lady Trawst, wife of the Governor of Hawarden, went to pray for rain to a statue of Our Lady. Her prayers were answered, for a terrific thunderstorm broke out, and loosened the statue, which fell on her and killed her. The statue was solemnly tried by jury and condemned to be hanged for murder. The executioners were faced with a difficulty, for a statue cannot, in the nature of things, be hanged, and burning a sacred image was a sacrilege to which no one felt inclined. It was therefore decided to drown it. It was bound to a cross and left on the banks of the Dee. The tide carried it to Chester and deposited it beneath the Walls, where it was found and carried with great respect to St. John’s Church. Such a statue did exist in St. John’s at the time of the Reformation, though it may not have been the same one. It was thrown down as a relic of popery and converted into a whipping-block for unruly scholars. Finally, it was burnt.
The Hawarden Visitors' Hand-Book (1890) by William Henry Gladstone (1840-1891) gives the story of the jury trial and the explanation of the above Chester cross. The "Sixth year of the reign of Conan" is apparently 804 AD, but it is not clear who "Conan" is. The Welsh Annals record nothing of these events for 804:
- AD 804 Arthen king of Ceredigiawn Rhydderch king of Dyved and Cadell king of Teyrnllwg now called Powys died.
But do mention a "Cynan" in 810:
- AD 810 The moon darkened on Xmas Day and the Saxons burnt Menevia and Deganwy burnt by wild fire and the prodigious mortality among the cattle through the whole island of Britain and the kingdom of Mona and the kingdom of Dyved impoverished on account of the war between Hywel Vychan and his brother Cynan in which Hywel conquered Mona.
So what to make of all this?:
- If the legend is true, then this is the first recorded case of a jury being used in a court in the UK.
- Hawarden may have been the site of a hill-fort or other fortification (Trueman's Hill), so the reference to Hawarden Castle is not necessarily an anachronism. The 1848 Topographical Dictionary of Wales by Samuel Lewis (publisher) states Hawarden is of remote antiquity and was called "Pennard Halawg," or more properly "Pen-y-Llwch", the headland above the lake. The hill forts such as the huge remains next to the medieval Hawarden Castle and Trueman's Hill motte were it records locally believed to date to the time of fortifications against incursions of the Cornavii tribe and the Romans.
- Sytsylht, his wife Lady Trawst and her (possible) brother Cynan do seem to have been real people. The law of Deodand actually provided that "Deodand" is a thing forfeited or given to God, specifically, in law, an object or instrument which becomes forfeit because it has caused a person's death.
- "Holy Rood" means true cross - i.e. one of those miraculous relics which appeared in profusion in the Dark Ages and later. Evidently whatever was thrown into the River Dee could be carried upstream for some distance. Does this suggest that it was made of wood? It is possible to assume that it was not the statue which fell on the unfortunate Lady, but merely an associated cross.
- Other local legends state that St Johns used to have a fragment of the "True Cross", which was much venerated, especially by the Welsh. According to "The Gentleman's Magazine" (May 1825 - see page 394):
- Archdeacon Rogers gives a curious account of a wooden image formerly preserved here. It appears a statue of the Virgin was set up in the Castle of Hawarden in Flintshire about six miles from Chester which owing to the negligence of the artist fell down on the head of Lady Trawst the Governor's wife and killed her. An inquest was impanelled and the Jury condemned the image to be thrown into the River Dee. Sentence was accordingly executed and the tide washed it up to Chester and left it on that fine meadow called Rood eye on the race course. It was taken down from thence with great solemnly to St John's Church where it was long an object of pious adoration but the Reformation intervened and this sacred relic of superstition which had been so much honoured was converted into a block for the Master of the Grammar School to flog his refractory scholars upon and was subsequently burnt.
Archdeacon Rogers actually lived in Chester (he died 1595) also gave a description of the Chester Mystery Plays and is normally considered a reliable source, also we have here another mention of the floggings which Ms Hole refers to.
From the late 13th century the most significant relic in Chester was the Holy Rood at St Johns, a silver-gilt crucifix supposedly containing wood from the True Cross. Its origins are uncertain. Some sources state it was brought from the East by Ranulf de Blondeville, who was on Crusade in 1219-20. On the other hand it may have been associated with the cult of King Harold (see:Hermitage), boosted in 1332 by the discovery within the church of his alleged remains, still fragrant and clad in leather hose, golden spurs, and crown. Harold's links with the cult of the Holy Rood and in particular with the miracle-working crucifix of Waltham (Essex), perhaps suggested the introduction of an analogous devotion into Chester. What is possibly happening here is that two or more legends are being mixed-up.
Maps from various periods show the River Dee silting up to form the progressively larger Roodee. Man has probably contributed to the silting up of the River Dee. At one time the Dee Mills, owned by the earls of Chester, operated 11 waterwheels. A weir was also constructed across the river at Chester, which reduced the tidal limit and the scour of the river. The Dee describes a gently winding double bend through the city, flowing first north between Heronbridge and Handbridge on the left bank (within the liberties) and Great Boughton on the right (outside), turning sharply south-west around the meadows known historically as the Earls Eye, passing in the relatively narrow gap between the walled city and Handbridge, and turning briefly north again around the Roodee. In ancient times the river flowed into the head of the open estuary at the Roodee but since the later Middle Ages it has been directed sharply south-west again for about a mile before finally turning north-west, after the 18th century into the straight canalized stretch which takes it through the reclaimed marshland of Sealand (Flints.) to the open part of the estuary below Flint.
As the Dee continued to silt up, the area of permanently dry land increased. The area became a valued recreational resource and was also used for animal pasture. The racecourse has been the venue for many popular events – in 1441, rival gaolers from Chester Castle and Northgate gathered here for a mass fight. The site was also home to the famous and bloody Goteddsday (Shrove Tuesday) football match which was banned in 1533 for being too violent. Other public events held here include the Royal Agricultural Show of 1858, the 1903 Buffalo Bill and Geronimo Wild West Show, circuses, military reviews and Lord Mayor’s Parades. The site was formerly the home of the original Chester Midsummer Watch Parade, temporarily banned by Oliver Cromwell but finally abolished in 1677.
The first recorded race was held on February 9, 1539 (now the name of the racecourse restaurant), making it the oldest racecourse still in use in the UK. At this time, the racecourse was just an open field, with the first grandstand finished in 1817 and rebuilt in 1899-1900, and was replaced in 1985 after being destroyed by a fire.
Excavations on the site of the former gas-works (see the map above) have revealed the remains of iron-shod oaken piles used by the Romans to construct a jetty. An 87kg lead ingot (or "pig") now in the Grosvenor Museum was found nearby as were were Roman pottery and coins. It has been suggested that the Romans built a jetty all the way across the Roodee (much of which may have been tidal mud flats) from the site of the so-called "quay wall" to the site of the former gasworks.
Along this section of the walls watch out for a dip in the walls as shown in the photograph at the side. Directly below this is the visible portion of what may have been the quay wall of the harbour of Roman Chester This wall probably dates from the second century and comprises up to 5 courses of ashlar sandstone above present ground level, at the base of bank to medieval City wall. Excavations have shown that the wall is truly massive, being thick, extending qute deep below the present ground level and backed with a layer of Roman concrete. It has been suggested that in Roman times the Roodee would have been mudflats at low tide and a flooded lagoon at high tide. The Romans possibly constructed a wooden, and possibly even later stone, jetty across the mud flats so that ships could moor in deeper water. However, an alternative explanation has been put forward for this wall, that the Romans themselves constructed this as a further defensive wall between the the Roman City Walls and the River Dee. Certainly, it seems unlikely that the river would have been deep enough for ships decks to have been flush with the top of this wall. Moreover, Roman gravestones found during excavations at the racecourse (see below) suggest that part of the Roodee was already dry land in Roman times.
This section of Roman "quay" is approximately 35 meters long. In the midst of the quay is a hole, which appears to open onto a platform which appears water worn. Where this hole goes and what its purpose is remains a mystery. It may be a Roman drain or possibly even a sewer. It may have been involved in the various (possibly mythical) stories of Tunnels under Chester.
- "There were besides these scripture dramas, others of a profane character which were acted occasionally on special occasions. The Shepherd's Play was acted in St John's church yard in 1515; in 1529 the play of Robert Cicell was performed at the High Cross; on the Sunday after Midsummer day 1563, the "History of Eneas and queen Dido" was played on the Rood eye, set out by one William Crofton, gentleman, and one Mr Mann, Master of Arts. In l577, the "Shepherd's Play" was performed before the Earl of Derby at the High cross, and other triumphs on the Rood eye. And in 1589, a play was performed at the High cross, called the story of "Kinge Ebranke with all his sonnes."
There is speculation as to whether Queen Dido was a mere entertainment or whether it had some deeper political significance.
As mentioned in Chamber's Book of days, Easter Monday saw the Sheriffs’ annual archery contest and breakfast feast, known as the Calves Head Feast or Sheriffs Breakfast. The contest, first held in 1511, survived attempts to suppress it in 1599-1600 20 and continued to be celebrated until at least 1642. At the Roodee on Easter Monday each sheriff picked a team to compete in an archery competition and after the contest the teams processed through the streets to the Common Hall where both teams of archers and the city elite breakfasted on bacon and calves’ head. In 1640 these ceremonies were enhanced when an annual Easter Tuesday horserace was added to the sports. Once again, the Civil War siege briefly interrupted these observances but their revival in 1665 signalled a further change in format. The archery contest was abolished and the monies used to support a new Easter Monday horse race. It is unclear whether the Tuesday races, instituted shortly before the Civil War in 1641 were revived in 1665, but they probably were, thereby creating the first element of a newly emerging post-Restoration leisure calendar centred around horse racing on Easter Monday and Tuesday. These changes (particularly the removal of the archery) met with some opposition, the contest was briefly reinstated in 1667 and a number of sheriffs were subsequently fined for holding the associated Easter Monday feast. In March 1705/6 the Easter horse races were further augmented when the St George’s day races were moved to Easter Tuesday to create two major races on Easter Tuesday, in addition to the already existing Easter Monday race. The development of the Easter races as a major focus of Chester’s eighteenth century leisure calendar did not see the end of civic ceremonial associated with Easter. The races organised and sponsored by the guilds and civic authorities were opened annually by a civic procession from the Watergate to the starting chair at the Roodee, a practice that only ended in 1797.
Aircraft: the mysterious death of Damer Leslie Allen
Damer Leslie Allen and Denys Corbett Wilson were two Irishmen who were among the first pilots in the early days of aviation. In 1912, both were flying regularly at Hendon and knew each other well. Both men flew Blériot XI monoplanes and had many shared experiences. Thus, it was not unexpected that in April 1912, the two men decided it was time to make a first successful crossing from England (or Wales) to Ireland. They both left Hendon soon after half-past three in the afternoon and Allen, following the London and Northwestern Railway line, arrived at Chester at 6:43 in the evening, landing on the Roodee. This was the first time a winged aircraft had landed in Chester. Allen was born in Limerick on January 30, 1878. He had only earned his wings on February 20, 1912, receiving Royal Aero Club Aviator’s Certficate No. 183. So he was not a particularly experienced pilot.
Just after six on the following morning Allen started from Chester and being seen passing over Holyhead at 7:50, flew out to sea. He was never seen or heard of again, and his fate remains a mystery. For some weeks after the flight, many thought that the two men had bet one another some money as to which would successfully make the trip first. That turned out not to be the case and it seems that whatever happened to D. L. Allen, it wasn’t from a rush to be first that caused his problems. Most likely, the best technology of the day, a Blériot XI monoplane, had simply failed him. On 24 June 1912, the High Court in London made an order that Allen should be presumed to have died on or after 18 April 1912. A consulting engineer by profession, Allen left an estate valued at £6,923 15s 8d. At the time of his death, Allen was being sued in the English courts for the recovery of a portrait of Lady Anne Ponsonby by Thomas Gainsborough, which he had sold at Christie's for 8,300 guineas (£8,715 - more than he was worth at the time of his death). However it is unlikely that the dispute over the painting had anything to do with his dissappearance and presumed death.
Just who made the first successful flight to Ireland is also something of a mystery. The following week, on 26 April 1912, Vivian Hewitt successfully completed a flight between Rhyl and Dublin, landing in the Phoenix Park. However in 1910 the actor Robert Loraine, flew from Holyhead in North Wales to Howth, County Dublin on September 11. He actually flew inland over Ireland searching for a place to land and when forced to turn back towards the sea, came down a few hundred feet from the shore, and walked ashore. Denys Corbett Wilson had managed to fly from Goodwick in Wales to Enniscorthy on April 17th 1912, but detractors argued this was not a crossing of the Irish Sea but simply the St George's Channel. Robert Loraine is also credited with having invented the word "joystick".
The Mystery of the Architect's Garden
Set back from the road opposite the walls and across a lawn is the pub and restaurant called "The Architect". "St Martin's Villa" was originally constructed around 1820 by Thomas Harrison as his own home. The land on which St Martin’s Villa was built was donated to the architect by the County in gratitude for his professional services’. He lived here from 1820 until his death in 1829 at the age of 85. Over the years it has been a parsonage, then police administration building. It was converted into a pub in 2012. The exterior of the older part of the building is lined stucco and brown brick with a grey slate hipped roof. There is little ornamentation to spoil the simple elegant lines. Inside, the cellars are part barrel-vaulted in brick, have flagstone floors and stone steps. The entrance lobby has a moulded plaster ceiling, and the open-string stair has 2 quarter-landings, shaped brackets, 2 slender stick balusters per step and swept rail with rose. Reputedly, the arch at the top of the stairs replicated the arch of the Grosvenor Bridge.
Garden ornament, probably birdbath. c1829. Probably designed by Thomas Harrison for himself. Sandstone; waisted - the upper face of the lower portion and the face of the upper portion carved in the manner of formalised drapery; a hemispherical bath with indication of former water supply or overflow; an incomplete sgraffito dated 1829.
In medieval times the entire area the former infirmary right up to Chester Castle was taken up by religious institutions, their gardens and vegetable plots, as is reflected by the nomenclature of the area - the Blackfriars, Whitefriars and Greyfriars all had monasteries here, as well as the Benedictine Nuns of St.Mary’s, whose convent was situated near to this location. These institutions were all relatively compact in size. After these institutions faded away, during the dissolution of the monasteries (between 1536 and 1541), the convent came into the ownership of the Brereton family, the building and site being granted to Urien Brereton in 1542. The site is thought to have been later occupied by William Brereton.
The minor mystery here is how the arches from the ruins of the Nunnery got to their present location in Grosvenor Park. First there were two arches, one to the east and one to the west - both dated from the 13thCentury. In Hanshall's Cheshire (1823), after speaking of thew western arch Hanshall writes:
- "..the corresponding arch on east side of the same now forms the entrance to the ruins of the old Chancel of St John's Church, where it was removed about 40 years ago".
That would have the arch moved about 1783. In Pigot there is an engraving from a drawing by S. Brown done in 1818 which represents this arch in its position at St Johns. John Henry Parker (1858) provides a further engraving in "The medieval architecture of Chester". It evidently (according to Frank Simpson) remained there until 1871, whence it was removed to Grosvenor Park (possibly under a scheme implemented by John Douglas. As regards the western arch Hanshall states that "it still (in 1823) remains to mark the precise situation of the Nunnery". An etching by George Cuitt from 1827 apparently shows it as standing on a lawn in front of Chester Castle gateway (another work by Thomas Harrison). However, Hemingway, writing in 1831 and referring to another engraving by the Buck Brothers says:
- "The pointed arch... was in existence some few years ago, which stood in the middle of a plot of ground called the Nun's Gardens, now an enclosed field in front of Mr. Harrison's house, but no vestige of it now remains."
- "There is no vestige of this ancient building now remaining though not many years back while this piece ground was occupied as a garden some reliques of ancient edifice were visible. My author from whom I so largely quoted who as before remarked wrote a hundred and thirty years back says that the buildings then were so altered or altogether in ruins that one scarce imagine there had been any such places."
Helsby in his edition of Ormerods Cheshire, published in 1882, adds a footnote about the arch which Ormerod says was still in place in 1816:
- "The ruins referred to in the text were demolished about 40 years since and the doorway was removed to St Johns Priory."
As Frank Simpson points out in his "Walls of Chester" (1910), this is confusing: Hanshall is saying that the eastern doorway was removed to St Johns about 1783, and Helsby is saying that an another arch was removed to St John's in about 1842, while Hemingway tells us nothing remains on the site in 1831. The mystery is compounded by a further engraving by George Cuitt, this time from 1811, which again shows St John's from the same angle as Parker (1858) and shows a much more dilapidated arch leading to the ruins. So how can Cuitt draw the arch at St Johns in 1811 and then in 1827 draw it in its original location in (or near) the Architects Garden?
One possible explanation was that both arches were moved to St John's, the first around 1783 and the second some time after 1827 but before 1831. So Cuitt's 1811 engraving of St Johns shows the east arch at St John's and it was later "improved" by incorporating some stone from the western arch to give the structure seen in Parker. What was later moved to Grosvenor Park (in 1871) was a hybrid of both of the arches.
Finally, in the later 17th century a postern was said (Harl. MS. 7568) to have been granted to the prioress of Chester to facilitate access to her croft in the Roodee. As late as 1718 burials were recorded 'nigh the Nun Gate'. There is no sign of this gate today.
- St Mary's Arch on Historic England;
- British History Online regarding the Nuns of St Marys;
- Chester Walls: on the nuns;
Callimorphus and the gold ring
This mystery concerns a Roman grave and the eventual fate of its contents. The "Transactions of the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire, 1874-75" tells up that:
- ..in June 1874 a discovery took place which was described in the Chester Courant, 24th June, 1874, and in the Archaologia Cambrensis, vol. v, 4th series, p. 260. It was of a Roman inscribed tombstone, found on the Roodee, in the course of excavations for a new intercepting sewer. It was standing nearly upright, the top being about three feet below the surface. Considering that it is of the sandstone of the neighbourhood, it is in good preservation. The inscription is— D. M. FL. CALLIMOR PHI. VIX. AN . XXXXI1. ET. SERAPIONI. VIX . ANN. III. M. VI. THESAEVS. FRATRI. ET . FILIO . F. C. A human skull and a number of bones were found beneath the stone.
The tomb is dated about AD90, quite early in the history of Roman Chester, and is now in the Grosvenor Museum. Under the tombstones were two skeletons, one (we presume that of the adult) wearing a gold ring. The inscription on the tombstone can be translated as, “To the spirits of the departed, Flavius Callimorphus, aged forty two and to Serapion, aged three years and six months. Thesaeus set this up to his brother and his brother’s son.”
All the names mentioned on the tombstone are Greek, which has led some to suggest that Callimorphus was trader, who died together with his son Serapion while on a voyage to Chester. It's possible that his brother Thesaeus accompanied them on the journey and so was able to pay for what would have been a rather expensive monument. How they died is unknown, but father and son dying together suggests a common cause, such as disease, rather than accident. Another theory is that Callimorphus was a member of an auxiliary unit attached to Legio XX at Chester.
The find was recorded at the time by George William Shrubsole, a local dispensing chemist with a large shop in the then market square. Shrubsole was the Honorary Curator of the Grosvenor Museum, was an enthusiastic geologist, botanist, and antiquary, and was one of the founders, with Charles Kingsley, of the Chester Society of Natural Science. Writing in the Journal of the Archaeology Society, George Shrubsole makes the following, precise observations:
- "The excavation commenced near the Castle, along the south face of the Little-Roodee. On passing the angle of the Walls, clay and rock were found, and when the Grosvenor Bridge embankment was reached, tunneling through rock was resorted to. Reaching the Roodee proper, an open cutting was begun, and continued across to the Watergate. Soon after passing the Grosvenor Bridge embankment the workmen came upon a large flat stone, which proved to have an inscription of the Roman age. .. The Inscribed Stone was found between the second and third buttresses of the Walls, counting from the Grosvenor Road, and 40 feet west from the Walls, and within the ring of posts which spans the Roodee, but 6 feet from the outer line. It narrowly escaped being broken up to facilitate its removal from the trench. The grave had been dug nearly east and west; the head was towards the river, the feet to the Walls. The excavation cut through only a portion of the grave. The only bones I saw were two human skulls, one of them larger than the other, and some belonging to the upper part of the body. Other bones could be seen protruding on the east side of the cutting, and were not disturbed by me. I declined the gift of them, and in the filling in of the trench they were deposited close to their former resting place."
So the grave was (and still is) actually on what is now the Roodee and seems to suggest that there was dry land outside the City Walls at the time, which might not place the River as close to the Roman Quay as was thought before, and at least indicates that there were times when the waters would not have been navigable upto the walls by ships of any significant draft.
One final mystery remains - George Shrubsole makes it clear that a gold ring found with the bones apparently did not stay in Chester for long:
- "The finding of a gold ring and a Roman coin among the filled-in rubbish composing the grave, is quite in accordance with what we should expect to find at a Roman burial. With regard to the ring, I ought to say that I never saw it. It was described to me as large, and massive in character. The man who found it left the city the next day. The Roman coin I examined - it was a second brass of Domitian in poor condition."
Presumably the "man who found it" left the City with Callimorphus valuable gold ring still in his possession. So, the ring went.. just where?
- "Having passed the site of the Nun's Gardens at the ancient Sallyport steps which lead to walk on the river side on what is called Roodeye cop and close by this point the road or approach to the new bridge raised to a level crosses walls where it is presumed a fine arch will be erected to correspond in appearance with the one at Earl Grosvenor's lodge at Overleigh both being nearly upon level and each within a near view of the other."
If you look for the "Sallyport steps" today, you will find some "modern" stairs leading down to the Roodee, but no sign of the "ancient Sallyport steps". However the 1825 Map of Chester shows their location as being just to the west of the then proposed Grosvenor Bridge.
The Grosvenor Bridge, an arch 60 feet (18 m) high and 200 feet (61 m) wide, was built between 1827-1833 in order to ease congestion on the Old Dee Bridge at Handbridge, which by the beginning of the 19th century was the only crossing across the River Dee in Chester. The bridge is located on the A483 Grosvenor Road. The medieval Old Dee Bridge was almost constantly congested and an alternative route was urgently required, however building a new bridge was thought prohibitively expensive. Things changed when Thomas Telford proposed a new road between Shrewsbury and the Irish ferries at Holyhead to facilitate trade between the two islands. The new route would have bypassed Chester, greatly reducing the potential income from the lucrative Irish trade routes.
As early as 1808 the Chester Corporation held a competition for architects to design a new bridge to replace the Old Dee Bridge, which was considered dangerous due to its single line traffic. However it was a further ten years before any further action was taken. On 2nd September 1818, the grand jury met at Chester Castle to again discuss plans for a new bridge. Coinciding with this, the Major of Chester, Henry Bowers, called a public meeting to discuss similar plans. The meeting was held in the Exchange on the 28th September 1818. A Committee was subsequently appointed a given the power and authority to oversee all aspects of the bridge building. At the committee's first meeting on the 3rd October 1818, the architect Thomas Harrison was requested to provide designs and costs for the bridge. All plans then came to a standstill until 1824. On the 17th August 1824 another public meeting was held at the Exchange, the outcome of which was an appeal to Parliament for an Act to empower the construction of a new bridge and the construction of the appropriate roads. This involved the demolition of St Bridget's Church. Commissioners were appointed and in their first public meeting, appointed a sub committee to implement the schemes. The committee finaly chose a design by Thomas Harrison. By this time Harrison was aged over 80, and in 1826 he resigned from the commission. He died, aged 85, before the bridge was completed. Harrison was buried at the new St Bridget and when that was demolished during a much later road-widening scheme his bones were lost, a rather ironic example of poetic justice.
The unfinished Grosvenor Bridge was opened by Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld on 17 October 1832, although the first traffic did not pass over it until November 1833. At the time of its construction, the bridge was the longest single-span arch bridge in the world, a title that it retained for 30 years. Its span remains the longest masonry arch in Britain.
- Grosvenor Bridge on Wikipedia;
- Grosvenor Bridge on English Heritage;
- Grosvenor Bridge on Structurae database;
The circuit of the City Walls now crosses the approach road to the Grosvenor Bridge just past the steps at the corner of the Race-Course. On the right is modern building of circular design called the "HQ". Previously the local Police HQ, one of the ugliest buildings ever erected in Chester, stood in its place. The original HQ was essentially a tower-block with an end wall facing the entrance to the County Court at Chester Castle fashioned as a cross between a horribly worm-eaten cheese and the monolith from Stanley Kubric's 2001. It certainly had a visual impact, in the same way that the "Ministry of Love" from George Orwell's 1984 would have had a visual impact. It was a building that would have done nothing good for the image of the Cheshire Police, as its lines simply extruded totalitarian rot like something out of a modern day video game. In fiction, it was sheer horror at the sight of this building that drove Richard Dutton (of The Chester Mystery Novels) to relocate his office to the Town Hall. The present building looks like a stack of CD's waiting to be written.
There is a large break in the south wall, created when the gaol was built by according to Harrison design between 1788 and 1822 (which has since been replaced by the Old County Hall building - now used by the University and housing the Medical Museum).
The Architect's Model
Although Harrison was appointed the chief architect for the Grosvenor Bridge, his designs were by no means readily accepted. Harrison at first submitted a design for an iron bridge which was rejected in favour of a stone structure. Harrison put forward an audacious design with a single stone arch spanning an incredible 200ft. Again, this was rejected. The worries of the sub-committee are evident from the Dee Bridge Commissioners Minute Book:
- ".. Your committee would have been highly gratified could they have honestly recommended to your adoption a single arch of masonry. There can be no doubt that such a bridge would have been most worthy of the genius of the venerable architect, and would have best harmonised with that noble edifice, the castle. But the immense expense attending upon every part of its execution - the foundation of its abutments - the centring and the importation of the granite, of which it must be built for the freestones of our district would not bear the pressure, compels us to abandon it .."
The bridge design was also dismissed as impractical by prominent engineers of the time including Thomas Telford. The scale model of the bridge which now stands near the castle was designed to counter arguments which claimed a bridge with such a large sandstone arch was not possible. The minor mystery here is who exactly made the model. Harrison's design was supported by the engineers James Trubshaw and John Rennie, and some sources state that Trubshaw made the limestone model of the bridge (which was then brought to Chester by mail coach and exhibited in the Grand Jury Room at the castle) to confirm its stability, others suggest that the model was made by Harrison himself. The minutes of the Institute of Civil Engineers from 1837 (Minutes of the Proceedings, Volume 1, Issue 1837, 01 January 1837 , pages 35 –36) state that Trubshaw presented a "A MODEL OF THE CENTRE EMPLOYED BY THE AUTHOR IN THE CONSTRUCTION OF THE BRIDGE OVER THE DEE AT CHESTER" to the Institute. The model currently in Chester used to be located in the Castle, and then was placed in the Watertower Gardens. In 1979 it was re-sited by the Chester Civic Trust in its present location. Of course, in engineering terms the use of a scale model to demonstrate that a structure is viable is full of difficulties and could be considered a bit of a deception.
In the event Harrison's proposal for a single arch made of sandstone was accepted, apparently after taking into consideration the scale model. However who actually had the model made remains a mystery.
The Louse Tower
A watch tower of this name faced the Roodee in 1573. The Braun and Hogenberg map (1581) shows a large tower on the walls near the castle - could this be the "Louse Tower"? The "Little Roodee" was separated from the major part of the racecourse by the construction of the embankments of the Grosvenor Bridge. Jones reports that the fun-fair was held here from 1890. During the First World War the council had the Little Roodee seeded and was still letting it for grazing sheep in the winter of 1920–1, but in 1921 it was laid out as a parking ground for charabancs and other motor vehicles, complete with public loos. "Chester in the great war" (page 63) gives the WW1 fairs as "Lord John Sanger's Royal Circus and Menagerie" (with tightrope-walking elephant!) or "Bostock and Wombwell's Menagerie". Sanger's circus provides a curious Beatles connection with Chester: Sanger's circus once featured William Kite, an all-around performer whose appearance, as announced on a poster for Pablo Fanque's Circus Royal, was the inspiration for The Beatles song "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite". The site was that used for the travelling fun-fair of Chester-born showman Pat Collins.
The man who lived "Nowhere"
On the riverside across the River Dee is a small white cottage. The name of the cottage is "Nowhere", and is displayed on the plaque bang in the middle of the wall. This building is believed to have originally been a secret tavern – when wives asked drunken husbands where they had been, they’d answer ‘nowhere’. The local newspaper reported on the 30th August 1916 that:
- "At the Chester Police Court today a man named Harry Hand, whose address is "Nowhere" .. was ordered to pay 40/s and handed over to the military authorities for being an absentee under the Military Services Act."
Whether Hand actually lived at the house or was "of no fixed abode" remains a mystery.
Local legend has it that, during a 1963 gig in Chester by The Beatles, John Lennon heard about the house and was intrigued by the name, and the song "Nowhere Man" was inspired by this cottage. There may be a basis for truth in this as the Beatles did play in Chester, but in 1962 at the Riverpark Ballroom. Another Beatles connection is that the Bear and Billet was the birthplace of John Lennon's grandmother. However, biographies of the Beatles suggest that the song's name came to Lennon when he was trying to write the song after a "night out" in Liverpool and was initially "getting nowhere".
Local folk-law holds that more recently, in 1980 the name was so sought after that there was litigation over whether the neighbors could call their house "Next to Nowhere". No evidence for the truth of this latter tale can be found and it seems unlikely that any case could be made out.
Approaching Chester Castle one obtains a fine view of the Norman motte on which stands the inner bailey of the castle. The Norman wooden tower at the summit of the motte was replaced in the 13th century with a square stone tower, now known as the Flag Tower. Later castles had round towers so that there were no corners to attack with siege engines. Indeed, the later towers at Chester were round. The wooden palisade that ran around the summit of the motte was also later replaced with stone. When this was done, the wall was built flush with the flag tower (unlike in later castles where towers projected to allow fire along the walls). The lower level of the Flag Tower remains but is not visible from outside the castle, although it is possible to see where the stonework links up. The round tower is known as the "Half-Moon" Tower, and stands next to the "Flag Tower".
Sometime between 1745 and 1776, the southern wall of the inner bailey was removed to make way for a four-gun platform that gave a broad field of fire across the river. At the same time, the upper parts of the Flag and Half-moon Towers were removed so that ordnance mounted on their roofs would have a solid firing platform.
The detached red sandstone building on the gun platform in the inner bailey is Napier House. It was originally intended as as armory but was used as barracks and offices. According to the council records it was built in 1832 to a design by a Captain Kitson. However, an 1835 map shows a building of a different shape on the site - this may be the officers' barracks and judges' lodgings which previous were to be found in the south-east range of the inner ward.
Francis Grose's The Antiquities of England and Wales (published 1772) has the following entry for Chester castle:
- This Castle, it is said, was either built or greatly repaired by Hugh Lupus, Earl of Chester, nephew to William the Conqueror; .. ..Chester Castle is built of a soft reddish stone, which does not well endure the weather, and is at present much out of repair, several large pieces of the walls having lately fallen down into the ditch. Indeed its trifling consequence as a fortress would hardly justify the expense of a thorough repair. It is, however, commanded by a governor and lieutenant governor, and is commonly garrisoned by two companies of invalids.
By this time the development of artillery had rendered the simple stone castle obsolete as regards a defensive position. There were plans to build massive earthworks around the castle as a defence against artillery, but these came to nothing. However, like many other many castles, Chester found a continuing role as a place for the storage of arms, a courthouse, a garrison point and as a prison. A datestone at the centre of the south-south-western rear curtain wall wall gives a date of 1786 for the refacing of the outer wall.
The Agricola Tower
Hugh de Kevelioc, joined the baronial Revolt of 1173-1174 against Henry II, and lost the castle when captured and imprisoned. However, he had his estates restored in 1177. His son, Ranulf de Blondeville, otherwise known as Ranulph IV de Meschines (1172-1232) made an alliance with Llywelyn the Great (effectively Prince of Wales), whose daughter Elen married de Blondeville's nephew and heir, John Canmore, in about 1222.
At around this time, the Agricola Tower was added to the castle. This is named after the Roman governor of the same name, but why is unclear. It was initially the inner gatehouse of the castle, but one end of the gate passage was later blocked up. John Henry Parker describes the castle of this period as follows:
- The Castle has been almost entirely rebuilt. The only remains of antiquity are a portion of the Norman walls of the substructure next the river, much patched, and the square tower called Julian's Tower. This was the gatehouse, built at the end of the twelfth century, during the period of the transition of styles. One side of it is built upon the Roman wall of the city, and one corner stands upon a Roman arch,—the vaulted passage through the tower remaining perfect, but walled up at both ends. Over it is a chapel, with a vault of transition Norman work, almost Early English, probably of about 1190 to 1200. The situation of the altar, with its piscina, credence, and locker, are plainly to be seen, though mutilated. There was a drawbridge from the outer entrance to the ancient wooden bridge which crossed the river at this spot, and there are remains of the causeway leading to it on the opposite side of the river.
The Tower is described at length in in Samuel Lewis's 1848 Topographical Dictionary of England:
- Of the ancient castle, built by the Conqueror, there remains only a large square tower, called "Julius Agricola's Tower," now used as a magazine for gunpowder. Though of modern appearance, having been newly fronted, it is undoubtedly of great antiquity, and interesting as the probable place of confinement of the Earl of Derby, and the place in which Richard II., and Margaret, Countess of Richmond, were imprisoned. In the second chamber James II. heard mass, on his tour through this part of the kingdom, a short time previously to the Revolution. This apartment, when opened after many years of disuse as a chapel, exhibited, from the richness of its decorations, a splendid appearance, the walls being completely covered with paintings in fresco, as vivid and beautiful as when executed; and the roof, from the fine effect produced by the ribs of the groined arches, springing elegantly from slender pillars with capitals in a chaste and curious style, was equally striking.
Henry III (King from 1216 to 1272) added the part-round and projecting "Half-moon Tower" after the death of John the Scot without issue in 1237. He spent £1,717 on Chester Castle, a huge sum at the time.
Writing in 1836, Hemingway describes the Agricola Tower as follows (noting the figures on the walls):
- ..its entrance is through a large Gothic door, probably of later workmanship. The lower room has a vaulted roof, strengthened with ordinary square couples. The upper had been a chapel, as appears by the holy water pot, and some figures, almost obsolete, painted on the walls. Its dimensions are nineteen feet four inches by sixteen feet six; the height also sixteen feet six. The roof is vaulted; but the couples, which are rounded, slender, and elegant, run down the walls, and rest on the connected capitals of five short, but beautiful round pillars, in the same style with those in the chapter-house of the cathedral, probably the work of the same architect.
Castle gate-tower with chapel to first floor. Late C12/Early C13 with additions and alterations after 1302 and refacing by Thomas Harrison of 1818 with further repairs of 1923 and 1952. Bunter sandstone ashlar with metal roof. Three storeys. South-western front: Central pointed gate arch with stepped reveals and voussoirs now glazed. Slightly projecting turrets to right, clasping buttres at left, common to the other two corners. Both have some stonework of pre-1818 date. Signs of later gabled abutment to tower. Offset above lower stage. Pointed lancet to first floor with voussoirs and iron grille. Rectangu- lar windows to right hand staircase turret. Battlemented parapet with chamfered coping. A C19 single storey provost block adjoins to the left (not included in this item). Right hand reveal: projecting staircase turret to left has one blocked light. Central second floor square window. Left reveal: blind and entirely refaced in 1818. Rear: projecting buttresses to left and right of centre. Blocked arch to recessed central wall. One rectangular ground floor window. First floor lancet to chapel and blocked window to second floor. Interior: Entrance ground floor passageway altered after fire of 1302. Sexpar- tite vault with chamfered ribs resting on chamfered attached pillars with simple chamfered abacus capitals and chamfered bases supported on raised plinth. Pointed arch to stair turret at south of south-eastern wall. First floor: (Chapel of St Mary de Castro). Three round wall pillars with moulded bases and water leaf capitals to south-eastern and north-western walls supporting two quadripartite vaults with keel-moulded ribs. Pointed altar recess to north- eastern wall. Aumbry with pointed arch to right of this. Pointed door arch to right of centre of south-eastern wall set in projecting portion of wall has keel moulded surround.
Shipgate has been the source of much confusion in the historical record. John Seacome, in 1828 wrote:
- There still remains a circular arch in the lower part of the wall at a small distance to the westward of the Bridge it is called Shipgate or "The Hole in the Wall" it seems to be of Roman workmanship
Seacome is wrong about the Roman origins. The archway originally provided an entrance to the city from the area of the docks on the banks of the River Dee and was constructed by the Norman earls in the early 12th century. The Shipgate was the landing place of the ferry across the river from Handbridge prior to the Old Dee Bridge - apparently it cost less to use the ferry than the toll on the bridge. Shipgate must have been built prior to 1121 or 1129, when it is mentioned in Ranulf de Meschines confirmation charter of St Werburgh's Abbey. The Shipgate was in the custody of the Sergeant of the Bridgegate, who was obliged to find locks and keys for the postern and a man to open and shut it.
Batenham describes it as follows:
- Near the castle is an old postern called the Hole in the Wall which is of Roman masonry and was formerly the common passage to the river before the bridge was the river at that time being fordable in this place.
The fact that Shipgate was believed to be of Roman origin led to some confusion in the Chester Archaeological and Historic Society Journal for 1887 where it appears that it was believed that the Roman road passed through its site.
The Finchett-Maddocks Mystery
In the early 19th century when the gaol yard was added, it necessitated the demolition of the section of the wall that included the Shipgate. It was taken down on April 12th 1831. Each stone was numbered and the Shipgate moved to the garden of Mr John Finchett-Maddock, the Town Clerk (1817-57), at "Abbey Chambers", 12, Abbey Square (now the address of the Cathedral). Finchett-Maddock was also MP for Chester. However, the Shipgate was not to stay put. In May 1893 Finchett-Maddock gave it to the Chester Archaeological Society and it was for a while hoped that it could be moved back to its original location. This proved impractical and the Shipgate was re-errected by the Corporation in August 1897 in the Groves, and finally, moved in 1923 to the southwestern corner of Grosvenor Park where it still stands today.
The obvious puzzle here is how Finchett-Maddock managed to live so long - already being Town Clerk in 1817 and giving the Shipgate away in 1893? The truth is he didn't - he died in 1858. OK, so it might have been his son who gave the Shipgate to the Chester Archaeological Society - no, he died in 1892, without issue. The most likely candidate for the donation was business partner Henry Moss, who took the name of Finchett-Maddock by deed poll, 13 Jan. 1893. Curiously, both the original Finchett-Maddock and Henry Moss had an interest in the Chester and Whitchurch Turnpike Trust which also followed the line of a Roman road. However their interest in the Shipgate may also have something to do with the fact that they were both Freemasons, Finchett-Maddock having founded a Cestrian lodge in 1834.
Did Edgar sail from here?
Thomas Bradshaw's description of King Edgar's trip up the Dee differs from the usual legend as it has Edgar starting his journey on the city side of the river:
- "From the Castell he went to the water of Dee, By a priue porsturne through walles of the towne, The kyng toke his barge with mycle rialte, Rowyng upwarde to the churche of saynt John, The forsyd viii kynges with hym went alone, Kynge Edgar kept the storne, as most principall, Eche prince had an ore to labour withall."
Assuming that this does not refer to the Capelgate or the Bridgegate, Bradshaw would have us believe that Chester Castle was in existence at the time and that Edgar did not start his boat-trip from Edgar's Field. Looking in "Chester A Historical and Topographical Account of the City by Edmund H. New (Illustrated by Edmund H. New Published London Methuen and Co. 1903)" we find the following:
- THERE may possibly have been a British earthwork on the hill where the castle now stands. It was, however, we may say, certainly not included within the limits of the Roman city. The later history of the spot, so far as it is known, repeats the story of many other fortresses in this island The Saxon lord may have 'wrought his burh' there, or he may not; but the Norman earl, when he took possession of the land, with pick and spade heaped up his mound, and added to it a base-court, or perhaps more than one such enclosure. His earthen keep and the walls of the courts, its baileys, he further strengthened with palisades of wattle or stockades of wood. Later on, if the fortress continued to play its part, as the years went by, stone buildings were added and a keep erected on the mound. To this may afterwards have been added outer walls, enclosing one or more baileys, containing establishments of various kinds connected with the fortress, until the complicated arrangements of one of the larger castles were arrived at. Thus the site of the buhr, at least in some cases, became that of the castle; and in the process of the later evolution the position of the original earthen mound has often become difficult, if not impossible, to find. Sometimes it is quite obvious, as at Warwick and Tamworth, at both of which places the mound is distinct to this day; but at other places, such as Kenilworth, though there is practically no doubt that there was once a mound, it is difficult, if not impossible, to say which of the heaps of earth may be the actual elevation. Now, at Chester, we know that Aethelflaed, that energetic defender of Mercia, re-founded the city, which had been void for one hundred and fifty years, and no doubt at the same time wrought there a buhr, as she did at so many other places, including - to mention only those in the neighbourhood ,Bridgnorth, Stafford, Eddisbury, Cherbury, and Runcorn. The castle was separated from the city itself by a shallow valley, front which rose the eminence on which the building was seated, an eminence which had an abrupt face looking towards the river. Mr. Cox, front whose erudite paper on Chester Castle much of what follows has been extracted, thinks that it is fairly certain that the inner or upper bailey of the castle, represented by the older parts of the existing structure, still stands upon the earthworks thrown up by Aethelflaed and approximately follows their lines, and that the great mound stood on the south-western side, 'where it is still traceable, and was more clearly visible before the present buildings were erected, its site having always been distinguished by the flag-tower; this distinction, he thinks, having probably continued to mark it as the site of the commander's post since its construction in the year 907. The fortress was almost certainly additionally fortified with a wooden stockade, and the later Norman edifice, founded, according to Ordericus, in 1069, must have been at least partly thus provided, and so have continued for a number of years. In the Public Record Office there is a letter which is in part given in the Cheshire Sheaf, and may, thinks the transcriber, be dated, from internal evidence, about the year 1260. This letter, which is in Latin. contains directions about the fortification of Chester and Disarth Castles, and ordains as follows concerning the former: ' Mandamus quod ballium circa castrum nostrum Cestriae, quod clausum fuit palo, amoto palo illo, claudi faciatis calce et petra.' Or to English a larger part of the same document 'Henry, In' the grace of God, King of England, etc. etc., to his beloved and faithful .J.de Grey, his Justiciary of Chester. We command you that cause to be removed the wooden fence of the bailey around our castle of Chester. and that you cause the said bailey to be enclosed with a stone wall. And that in like manner you re-edify the bailey around our castle of Dissard, wherever it may be necessary. And the sums you shall expend on the same, being certified by the view and testimony of lawful men, shall be allowed to you at our Exchequer.'
- Shipgate on Wikipedia (not that accurate - but that is the way with the Shipgate);
- Shipgate at English Heritage;
- Shipgate (wall replacing it) at English Heritage;
Edgar's Field is a public park in Chester's southern suburb of Handbridge. It lies immediately south of the River Dee near to the southern end of the Old Dee Bridge. Tradition has it that the field was the site of King Edgar's palace. King Edgar, the great-grandson of Alfred the Great, was King of Wessex and one of several contenders of the title of first king of all England. He was crowned in Bath in 973 although he had ascended the throne in 959. Shortly after his coronation he brought his fleet to Chester, then an important port. It is thought that he was rowed up the River Dee by eight British princes to attend a service in St Johns. In the Park, whiich was originally a Roman Quarry, is a shrine to the goddess Minerva. She is the Roman equivalent of the Greek goddess Athena. The Minerva Shrine in the Roman quarry is the only rock cut Roman shrine still in situ in Britain.
The Palace of the Earl
Both the Braun and Hogenberg map of Chester (from around 1581) and later maps shows "ruin of the house of the count of Chester" by the River Dee in Edgar's Field (also known as "Kettle's Croft" prior to 1892), close to the location of Minerva Shrine. In 973, the Anglo Saxon Chronicle records that, two years after his coronation at Bath, King Edgar of England, came to Chester where (according to Florence of Worcester - writing around 1100) he held his court in a palace, which tradition holds was in a place now known as Edgar’s field near the old Dee bridge in Handbridge:
- "On a certain day they [the "eight petty kings"] attended him [Edgar] in a boat, and when he had placed them at the oars, he himself took the helm and skilfully steered it down the river Dee, and thus, followed by the whole company of earls and nobles, in this order went from the palace to the monastery of St.John the Baptist. After having prayed there, he returned with the same pomp to the palace."
Of course there was no weir at that time, so Edgar would not face the problems that would occur in repeating the journey today.
It is curious that there should be two palaces associated with the same spot, and it seems odd that the Earl should have his palace located outside of the walls of the city. Edgar's Field was laid out as a public park (and renamed from "Kettle's Croft") by the first Duke of Westminster, Hugh Lupus Grosvenor who presented it to the City of Chester in 1892 as one of the family's many philanthropic activities.
There are also what appear to be ruins of a building in the foreground of Randle Holme's sketch, these are marked on the map as the "ruins of a chapel". Pennant writes:
- "Beyond (the shrine) this stood past all memory some ancient buildings site is marked by certain hollows for the ground probably over the vaults gave way and fell in within the remembrance of persons now alive Tradition calls the spot the site the palace of Edgar Nothing is now left from which any judgment can be formed whether it had been a Roman building as Doctor Stukeley surmises or Saxon according to the present notion or Norman according to Braun who in his ancient plan of this city styles the ruins then actually existing Ruinosa domus Comitis Ceftrients Perhaps it might have been used successively by every one who added or improved according to their respective national modes"
Some preliminary archaeological trenches were dug in Edgar's Field in December 2009 to investigate the extent of archaeology in the area. A small foundation was found that requires further recording and investigation.
Minerva Shrine - real or replica?
This is the only surviving rock-cut Roman shrine which is still in situ at its original location in the whole of western Europe. It possibly dates from around AD 79, during the time of Vespasian, when the same area was being used to quarry stone for the construction of the Roman fortress (and, years later, possibly also Chester Castle) just over the river. It may have been the shrine of quarry workers, or it may have been used by travellers about to cross the River Dee (by a ford) - Minerva was Goddess of both craftsmen and travellers. The Roman Road headed south from here to the cattle trading site at Bovium (Tilston). In medieval times the figure was thought to represent the Virgin Mary and this may have saved it from destruction by vandals or quarrying. However, almost 2000 years of Chester weather have left the stonework badly damaged and no doubt 'acid rain' has caused increasing damage in recent times.
Quite surprisingly, noted archeological writer David J. P. Mason in "Roman Chester - City of the Eagles" states (2007 ed. pg 183):
- "It can still be inspected although the original carving has been removed for protection and replaced by a replica"
Surely this is an error. There is a cast (replica) of the Minerva Shrine in the Grosvenor Museum - or perhaps is that the real one? No other source mentions the supposed replacement of the original shrine with a replica.
To solve this mystery we got in touch with the Grosvenor Museum and they confirmed that the replica is at the Grosvenor Museum and the real Minerva Shrine is still in it’s original setting in Edgar's Field.
- The Bridgegate was in the custody of the Raby family in the reign of Edward III from whom it passed by co heiresses to the Norris's of Speke in Lancashire and the Troutbecks The moiety which belonged to the Norris family was purchased by the Corporation of Sir William Norris in 1624 the other moiety was purchased from the Earl of Shrewsbury as representative of the Trouthecks in 1660 when a suite of rooms in a house near the Bridge still vested in the Shrewsbury family was reserved for the use of the Earl and his heirs whenever they should visit Chester which house now belongs to John Johnson Cotgreave Esquire.
The "suite of rooms" were at the building which is now the "Bear and Billet" pub, a little way up Lower Bridge Street. Built in 1664 to replace a building destroyed during the civil war, the Bear and Billet is one of the finest examples of a black and white half timbered building in Chester. A drawing of 1820 shows it as the Bridgegate Tavern and it is believed to have acquired its present name soon after.
Next door but one to the Bear and Billet was once the "King Edgar" pub. It has been described in "The Old Inns Of England" (1906) thus:
- Until quite recently the “King Edgar” inn was the most picturesquely tumble-down building in Chester, a perfect marvel of dilapidation that no artist could exaggerate, or any one, for that matter, care to house in. But it has now not only been made habitable, but so “restored” that only the outlines of the building, and that faded old sign, remain recognisably the “King Edgar.” It is now rather a smart little inn, displaying notices of “Accomodation for Cyclists”—spelled with one “m”—and thus, so renovated and youthful-looking, as incongruously indecent as one’s grandmother would be, were she to let her hair down and take to short frocks again.
The "original" Bridgegate was a spectacular building. Not only had it a house perched on top, but it also had a tall octagonal tower. This was in fact a water-tower. In the year 1600 the Mayor and Citizens, granted to one John Tyrer the right to raise water from the Dee at the Bridge Gate, erect a tower upon the Gate, install a cistern, engines or other instruments for raising water and to open streets and lay pipes. During the English Civil War, when Chester was besieged by Parliamentary forces in 1645, King Charles I entered the City via the old Bridgegate and stayed the night at Gamul House home of the then Mayor, Francis Gamul on Lower Bridge Street.
Pennant describes the gate thus:
- Above the gate is a lofty octagonal tower begun in 1600 by permission of the corporation by John Tyrer of this city containing the works which for a long time raised water out of the Dee to a cistern in the top whence it was conveyed in pipes to almost all parts of the city Possibly these did not answer their purpose effectually for in 1622 Tyrer had a new grant of a tower erected for a water work and a well place ten feet square near Spittle Boughton with full powers for the conveyance of the water to the cistern or conduit near the high cross This work which was first begun by the Blackfriars in the time of Edward I fell to decay In 1692 the works undertaken by Tyrer being found to be ruinous and useless John Hopkins and John Hadley by the encouragement of the corporation began new works for supplying the city with water from the river Dee for this purpose they purchased the grant made to Tyrer and also one of the corn mills for the conveniency of placing their engine The city confirmed to them all the powers formerly vested in Tyrer and particularly that of setting up a cistern opposite to the abby court as a constant receptacle for fresh water.
Unfortunately, little information survives about the actual mechanisms and machinery used to raise water to the cistern at the top of the octagonal tower. Apparently a "hydraulic engine" in the river fed two pipes leading to the tall turret above the Bridgegate, which provided a head for the long pipe running up Bridge Street to the cistern at the High Cross. Householders paid the city rent for domestic supplies. Tyrer's son, also John, was granted land at Boughton in 1621 to improve the supply to the cistern, and built a water tower outside the Bars. In 1622 the corporation leased his father's waterworks back to him. In 1632 Tyrer sold his interest to a consortium headed by Sir Randle Mainwaring, but a dispute with Francis Gamull, who controlled the Dee Mills and causeway, led to Gamull's cutting off the supply - Tyrer had leased the site of his waterworks from the Gamul family, who owned the Dee Mills and an arrangement was devised by which no premises could have water unless they purchased all their flour from the mill. The privy council decided that Gamull must allow the supply to continue, but soon afterwards it was interrupted when the causeway was damaged and the water tower destroyed during the siege of Chester. In 1653, the Chester Assembly noted:
- Owing to the decay of the water-works formerly operated by John Tyrer, deceased, water was no longer conveyed in pipes to the inhabitants' houses. It was ordered that the gentlemen who claimed the water-works under John Tyrer should, by the following 1st of May, answer whether or not they would rebuild the Water Tower and provide water as formerly. National Archives (original held at Cheshire Archives and Local Studies) (ZA/B/2/102v) 19th December 1653.
Although the tower was rebuilt, it is not certain when the Water Supply was resumed. The Assembly leased the works in 1673, but they may not have been restored to full working order, for in 1681 a reservoir elsewhere was under consideration, and in 1690–1 they were apparently not operational. The conduit from Boughton to the Cross was also no longer working. The conduit house was turned into a shop as early as 1652, and the lead was ordered to be taken up in 1671, though the building itself, or a successor built on its footings, remained standing on the corner of Bridge Street and Eastgate Street until the 1880s. In 1692 two water engineers, John Hadley of Worcester and John Hopkins of Birmingham, were given permission to repair the waterworks, and immediately began buying up shares in the Bridgegate water tower, from where they pumped water into a large cistern, built in 1694 on pillars above the shambles in Northgate Street (later the site of the Fire Station).
The 1691 Assembly Book records:
- John Hadley of the City of Worcester, engineer, stated in his petition that he desired to erect, at his own cost, a work for conveying fresh water in pipes through the streets of the City, similar to the water-work which he had recently erected at Worcester. He had purchased the interests of the proprietors of the old discontinued water-works. It was ordered that for Hadley's encouragement, and in consideration of a yearly rent of 6s: 8d, he should have a confirmation of the grant of the proprietors of the old water-works, together with a conveyance of all the right and interest of the Mayor and Citizens in the old water-works and in the privileges heretofore granted to one Tyrer. He was to have liberty to erect, and to enjoy for himself and his heirs, a convenient place in the Northgate Street, against the Abbey court, over the ground already a approved and marked out by the Treasurers, on which to fix his cistern. This building was to be erected upon pillars 9ft. high from the ground, so that the lower part might serve for a Market House. Hadley was granted liberty (so far as the House could grant it) to employ his own carpenters, plumbers and other workmen at reasonable rates on this work and on making and laying the branch pipes from the streets to the houses of the inhabitants.
In March 1693 'John Hadley of Worcester, Engineer' (the firm of John Hadley still exists) took out a Patent for various devices including a mechanism for raising and lowering a waterwheel according to the level in a river, to maximise its efficiency.
By 1698 they were in debt and sold out to a consortium of eight shareholders later known as the Waterworks Company. The new owners bought rights to some of the mill streams at the weir and the enterprise eventually became profitable, partly by leasing riverside premises for light industry and warehousing. The water tower, a tourist landmark, was pulled down along with the Bridgegate in 1782. Pennant (in 1770), before describing the octagonal tower, describes some features of the gate thus:
- On each side of the Bridge gate are two rounders over it are the three feathers the arms of the princes of Wales. Those were first assumed by the Black Prince after the battle of Cressy in 1346 our historians assert that they were the three ostrich feathers which the king of Bohemia bore that day in his coronet and that he was slain by Edward who seizing on the crest bore from that time both the feathers and the motto "Ich dien" - I serve.
Sixteen year old Black Prince Edward's slaughter of the fifty year-old King John of Bohemia perhaps loses a little of its glamor when we note that John of Bohemia had been blind for the last ten years. However, looking at the present-day gate we see a much damaged carving of the three feathers with a date of "171-". This date is prior to the demolition (1782) of the medieval gate, so it is possible that the carving is a survival from the earlier gate.
After the Dee Mills were demolished, a hydro-electric power station was built in their place. This provided electricity for Chester between 1913 and 1939, using water power to drive turbines which made the electricity.
The present arched Bridgegate was built in 1782 (designed by Joseph Turner). The gate here was originally referred to as the 'South Gate'. It has also been known as 'Welshgate' since before the construction of the Grosvenor Bridge in 1832 the Old Dee Bridge was the lowest bridged crossing point on the river to North Wales. Freemasonry seems to have been popular when the new gate was built. Hanshall, describes it thus:
- "THE BRIDGE GATE is crossed opposite which arc the Dee Mills and Water Works It appears from Documents in the possession of the Earl of Shrewsbury that Randle Earl of Chester confirmed a gift of his Countess to Poyns her servant of premises near the Castle habere sun servicio. This confirmation was witnessed by Fulco de Bricasart Benedict brother of the Earl William Pincerna Philip the Chamberlain and others and is supposed to allude to the Custody of the Bridge Gate Another deed however preserved among the same documents speaks more decidedly of the locus in quo it appears from it f that the ancestors of Richard Bagot had long held the Custody of this Gate but being unable by misfortune to discharge its duties and especially in time of war he released it at a Portmote Court to Philip the Clerk a Citizen of Chester and his heirs This was about the year 1269 or 1270 Avicia the daughter of this Philip married Roger Grymbald but the Keeping of the Gate reverted to Robert de Raby who was the next heir It passed from the Rabys to the Norris's of Speke Lane and the Troutbccks The Corporation purchased the Norris moiety in 1624 and the other moiety they purchased from the Earl of Shrewsbury the representative of the Troulbecks in 1660 the Earl reserving for and heirs a suit of rooms in a house near the Gate now the property of Sir John Cotgreave Knt. The Old Gate was defended by two strong round towers and on the west side an octagonal lotty tower was built for Tyrer's Water Works It was taken down in 1781 and the present gate erected composed of a large centre arch and two smaller ones for foot passengers. 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. "
What kind of pump did the Bridgegate waterworks use?
While we can see a series of waterwheels in Randle Holme's sketch, how the motion of these is used to lift the water is not clear. The invention of the plunger pump is attributed to Samuel Morland based on a patent of 1675. What was being used in Chester in 1600 remains a mystery. However the "Water Engine", was mentioned in Daniel Defoe’s diary record of his second visit to the city:
- "When I was formerly at this city, about the year 1690, they had no water to supply their ordinary occasions, but what was carried from the River Dee upon horses, in great leather vessels, like a pair of bakers panyers... But at my coming there this time, I found a very good water-house in the river, and the city plentifully supply'd by pipes, just as London is from the Thames; tho' some parts of Chester stands very high from the river".
In 1580 a Dutchman named Peter Morice applied to London officials for permission to construct a water-wheel and pumps under one of the arches of London Bridge for the purpose of supplying culinary water to the city. He gave a demonstration of the power of his pump by forcing a jet of water over the spire of the Church of St. Magnus (located near London Bridge). This so impressed city officials that they granted Morice a 500-year lease on one arch. The London waterworks were rebuilt by George Sorocold in the early 1690's and were powered as shown in the drawing left.
What does the "AL 5782" mean?
"AL 5782" (on the brass plate of which there is no trace today) seems to be a reference to the "Masonic Lodge of Antiquity", supposedly formed by King Æþelstān in the year 926 (or by his brother Edwin). There are a couple of interesting connections to Chester here. Edward the Elder had conquered the Danish territories in Mercia and East Anglia with the assistance of Æthelflæd and her husband, re-fortifying Chester in the process. When Edward died (at Farndon, 17 July 924) the Danish king Sihtric still ruled the Viking Kingdom of York (formerly the southern Northumbrian kingdom of Deira). In January 926, Æþelstān arranged for one of his sisters, Eadgyth of Polesworth, to marry Sihtric. The two kings agreed not to invade each other's territories or to support each other's enemies, which we are apparently asked to believe is the origin of this Masonic Lodge. The following year Sihtric died, and Æþelstān seized the chance to invade. There is a St Edith's Church in Shocklach which may be associated with her and which contains some interesting Norse carvings. In 937 at the Battle of Brunanburh (possibly at Bromborough - just north of Chester) Æþelstān's crushing defeat of the combined Norse-Celtic force facing him irrevocably confirmed England as an Anglo-Saxon kingdom. Æþelstān's possible rival Edwin drowned at sea. According to William of Malmesbury, who is not always accurate, "King Æþelstān ordered his brother Edwin to be drowned in the sea".
After Æþelstān's death, the men of York immediately chose the Viking king of Dublin, Olaf Guthfrithsson, as their king, and Anglo-Saxon control of the north, seemingly made safe by the victory of Brunanburh, collapsed. The reigns of Æþelstān's half-brothers Edmund (939–946) and Eadred (946–955) were largely devoted to regaining control. Chester was an important base in 942 when there was collusion between the Welsh and the Scandinavian kingdom of York during King Edmund's campaign against the latter. The eldest son of King Edmund and Saint Elgiva, Eadwig was chosen by the nobility to succeed his uncle Eadred as King. Edgar The Pacific seized the Northumbrian and Mercian kingdoms from his older brother, Edwy, in around 955 and became king on the death of Edwy a few years later.
What did the pre-Civil War Bridgegate look like?
The tower in Randle Holme's sketch differs from descriptions given elsewhere. It is located directly above the arch of the gate and not on one of the towers. "The South West Prospect of the City of Chester 1728" by Samuel and Nathaniel Buck shows a view of the city of Chester in that year and appears to show an octagonal tower. John Speed's 1610 map of Chester agrees with Randle Holme, and shows the tower (which seems somewhat shorter) sitting directly above the gate. Perhaps the tower is shorter because he "caught" it being constructed? Interestingly, Hemingways Map of Chester purports to show the City Walls at the time of the Civil War, but has the more modern version of the Bridgegate with the tower to one side (it was only rebuilt thus after the Civil War, apparently after 1653 and most probably by John Hopkins and John Hadley in 1692).
Before leaving the Bridgegate it's worth having a look at the copper benchmark set into one of the pillars of the bridge and facing into the road.
What is the little gate?
Looking at the Randle Holme sketch again, there is a smaller gate to the right of the Old Dee Bridge. The Braun and Hogenberg map and the Smith Map both also show this, and it appears to be a gate which opens directly onto the River Dee. There are also what appear to be ruins of a building in the foreground of Randle Holme's sketch. These are probably the ruins of chapel (little St Mary's) which once stood in Edgar's Field. Given that Randle seems fairly good on detail, just what is the gate shown in drawing?
It is most likely the Capelgate or Horses gate (capel=cheval). An early document (from 1403 in Norman French [Chester 2. 76]) refers to:
- ..a third messuage lying in Bruggestrete of the said Citee in breadth between the high strete called Bruggestrete on the one part & the highway [chymyn] which extends to the gate called Capelyate 12 on the other part & in length from the said King's highway [Roial chymyn] up to the wall of the gate of the said Bruggestrete.
This "Horse Gate" was the gate by which animals were taken down to the River Dee for water. It is mentioned in an inquisition of 1820/1 (Dues taken at City Gates. Morris 557). In 1349/50 Robert de Raby held the custody of this (" porta Equorum ") as well as of the adjoining Bridge and Ship Gates (Orm. 2 ed., ii., 547). Bridge (in his "Cheshire Proverbs," p. 85) remarks that:
- "it must be remembered that there was no large water supply in the city and that a constant stream of horses being taken to the Dee to be watered would interfere with the traffic of the . . . Bridge Gate. The animals were therefore conducted to the special gate by way of Capel Lane. The gate was at the water level a few yards to the east side of the Bridge Gate, and is shewn in three views of the south aspect of Chester, reproduced in Morris' history, i.e., Braun's map 1672-1618, Randle Holme's sketch (Harl. MS. 2073) ('229), and Edw. Wright's (juxta 512)."
The name of this gate has been put forward as evidence for Norse settlement in the area: from "Kapell" (horse, or nag).
The Dee Mills
The weir was built in sandstone in 1093 for Hugh of Avranches. It was designed to provide a head of water for mills on the River Dee. and to improve navigation above the weir. Hugh granted a tithe on the mills for the benefit of the Benedictine Abbey of St Werburgh (now Chester Cathedral), which he had founded in 1092. Throughout the centuries the weir has been used to power corn, fulling, needle-making, snuff and flint mills.
The Romans are known to have had a tile-works upriver at Holt and a Roman quay was found at Heronbridge during excavations by Chester Archaeological Society in 2001 where the natural watercourse met the ancient river cliff. This is thought to date from around AD130. It has been suggested that the River Dee was originally not navigable between Chester and Heronbridge and therefore that the Romans landed tiles at Heronbridge and brought them overland to Chester.
- "The river of Dee was drawn unto the said cittie with great charge by the said Earle or some of his predecessors before the Conquest, from the anciente course it held before, a myle or two distant from the cittie, and a passage cut out of the rock under the walls of the said cittie"
This could be a reference to work on the River Dee upstream of the present weir to improve navigation, particularly during prolonged dry spells. The weir would also help by holding back water and maintaining depth. Under the Earls of Chester (Northgate Street excepted) the custom of "Soke Rights" required all citzens (excepting the occupants of the Abbey and other religious houses) to take their corn to the Earl's mills to be ground. In addition to this monopoly, the Dee millers were known to take a quantity of grain from each sack. The millers were often accused of taking more than their legal due and for centuries after, to call someone a 'Miller of Dee' was considered a serious insult, implying dishonest trading practices. The Dee Mills passed through many hands, the most notorious being the Gamuls in the 17th century - the same Gamuls who required those supplied with water to purchase flour at their mills. The weir is known to have collapsed at least once in 1601, as recorded in a:
- Copie of a Letter from Hugh Glaseour Mayor & the Aldermen of Chester to the Lords of the Privy Councill dated 29 December 1602 advertising that a Breach above 20 yards broad & 18 foot deep had been made in the middle of the Cawsey the last yeare by the Violence of the Waters whereby the going of Dee Milnes was stopped and all whose living depended on them in a fair way to be ruined And that Mr Edmund Gamull Fermor of the Corn Milles there had out of his own purse expended above £500 in repairing the said Cawsey but that it would require above £400 more to finish the same
George Skene (9 May 1749 – 27 April 1825) a Scottish soldier and politician (and also an alcoholic and member of the anti-Tory Whig party), wished Chester in 1729 and wrote as follows:
- Septr. 20th, 1729. Rot. Walker having forgot my book of the Road with my Grand-Unkle Will's picture done by himself in litho, we stay'd this day at Chester, this being the chief port & Leverpool only an under branch, tho' more trade, the Collector of Leverpool will be worth 300 Libs. Sterl. a year, no vessel of any burthen can come up now tho' of old they did to the brige, and there is a tower call'd the water tower from thence, now the channel is so fill'd up, that they come in 8 miles down & the goods brought in carts & smallel vessels. There was a Dutch man offer'd to clean it & make it navigable for ships of any burthen only to give him the land he shou'd winn off the River, this was rejected most foolishly because said they the Dutch wou'd build on that betwixt us & the sea, what then they must be English subjocts, they have been at a vast work to straighten the channel thinking thereby to make it deeper & have off a large meadow where they keep a horse race, tho Spring tide which come up here above brige and keep'd off by a bank rais'd which makes a pretty walk & the whole banks of the River lin'd by five or six rows of oaken stakes driven in. Just above tho bridge is a dam which squints up to the other side a great way and the water coming over it makes a fall like that of London Bridge at low water, this dam makes nine corn mills go on this side and the paper mills on the other, each wheel makes two corn mills to go, but not both at once, when the hopper is empty they have a weak thin iron spring in the bottom with a pack threed fastened to tho end which goes thro' and is fastened to little boll which is hung near a stick with a pin in it, which stick & pin turns with the stone, when the corn is in, it presses the spring so as make the pack threed pull the boll to a side, when it is empty the spring comes to its place and lets the boll fall even which then is struck by the pin of the stick that turns round with the stone, and so rings, untill they put in there corn, which weight pushes down the spring and the boll out of the way of the stick, a very fine device to cause tell when the hopper's empty. This being mercate day at Chester the wheat sold at 4 1/2 shills, sterl. per measure or bushell which all summer had been nine and ten shillings. Here they are all Torys.
Eventually the enterprising Mr Edward Ommaney Wrench, owned the mills (by then including a "Snuff and Tobacco Mill") and after a serious fire in 1819, decided to move their business to a disused cotton mill in Boughton by the canal - "The Steam Mill" - where they used the newly discovered steam-engine for milling. This was not the first fire at the Mills, Fletcher records:
- 1789: This year the Dee mills were burnt down. Whether the fire happened from accident or design is not known tho many suppose the latter. On the lite of these mills the present extensive ones were erected said to be inferior to none in the kingdom. These valuable mills are the property of Edward Ommaney Wrench Esq and are now leased by Mr Whittle of this city, brewer.
They prospered in Steam Mill Street, and expanded the mills until they became one of the largest milling firms in the country. The Wrench family were the last private owners of the Dee Mills and held them until 1895. In April 1895, the Dee Mills, were purchased by Chester Corporation, only to sustain serious damage a month later in the last of a long series of fires, after which they were closed. The buildings were used for storage until they were demolished in 1910.
Chester Walls - the best gate
Just along from the Bridgegate and the nearby Drum Tower, is perhaps the best gate in Chester's walls. This is the gate leading to Edgar House a spectacular house on the City Walls, now converted into a boutique hotel and restaurant.
- More on the Dee Mills;
- Bridgegate on Wikipedia;
- Bridgegate on English Heritage;
- Chester City Walls - Tyrer's Tower on Revealing Cheshire's Past;
- Chester City Walls - Horse Gate on Revealing Cheshire's Past;
- un-named drum tower near Bridgegate on English Heritage;
- Chester City Walls - Drum Tower East of Bridgegate at Revealing Cheshire's Past;
Bridgegate back to Eastgate
After Bridgegate the City Walls look much more like walls again as they begin their climb up from the River Dee to the Eastgate. A sunk panel of yellow sandstone on the outer face of the City Walls is inscribed:
- THE EMBANKMENT OF THE RIVER FROM SOUTER'S LANE TO THIS POINT WAS FORMED AND PLANTED WITH TREES AT THE EXPENSE OF CHARLES BROWN, MAYOR OF THIS CITY 1880-1.
Brown was, with his brother, proprietor of the early department store "Browns of Chester". He was Mayor in 1880-81, 1883-85 and from 1891-3. He expected a knighthood but, perhaps, this was forfeited folling his involvement in the affairs of the 1880 election which led to the dis-enfranchisement of Chester for five years. The date stone refers to the mayorality rather than the date that the embankment was built, as the rubble from the collapse of St Johns (Good Friday, 15th April 1881) was used to form foundations in its construction. The area below the walls, along the river is known as "The Groves". In the distance the Queens Park Suspension Bridge comes into view.
Just when was the embankment built?
The plaque says 1880-1, but that is perhaps a reference to when Brown was Mayor. The Lavaux Map 1745 makes it clear there was no way along the outside of the walls between Bridgegate and "The watering place" (for horses).However a guidebook map based on McGahey's 1853 "Balloon view" shows an embankment already in place as far as the Old Dee Bridge and the Bridgegate while the tower of St Johns is still intact.
The east part of south side of City Walls as seen today dates from late 11th to early 12th century, was converted to raised promenade in 1702-8 and repaired during various periods. It is the usual coursed red sandstone rubble. This part of the City Walls forms a retaining wall with ground level on the inner side being equal to that of the wall walk, but on the outer side ground level is around 7m below the wall walk. The wall is partly built on outcropping sandstone bedrock, with some 24 courses of stone beneath the parapet. The Recorders Steps are two flights of stone steps in offset flights of 12 and 15 steps, leading from the City Walls to the Groves. The lower flight is separated from the wall by a strip of Gothic stonework.
Pigot (1815) writes of them:
- "From this part of the wall a convenient flight of steps leads to the river; they were erected by the Corporation for the convenience of the family of Mr Cumberhach then residing in a house near the river, in gratitude for his great exertions for the welfare of the city the time he filled the honorable office of Recorder. These steps are now a great public convenience leading to the river and to a delightful walk by its side called the Groves."
Hanshall (1823) says:
- “The land beneath the walls is called the GROVES, from a regular line of fine trees which formerly ornamented the river side from the bridge to Barrell Well, but most of them are now cut down, and the road itself is stopped up. The steps which lead from tile wails to the Groves are called the Recorder’s steps, and were erected at the expense of the corporation about 1700, for the convenience of Recorder Comberbach, who resided in Duke Street.” - History of Cheshire, 1817, p. 285
Seacome (1828) writes:
- "..the flight of stone steps leading from this part of the walls to the river side were erected by the Corporation for the accommodation of a former Recorder Roger Comberbach Esq."
Batenham (1827) writes:
- Proceeding a few yards in our perambulation we observe a flight of stone steps leading from the walls the river and called the Recorder's Steps from the circumstance of their having been built by the Corporation for the convenience of a late Recorder who resided in the neighbourhood.
Windle (1904) takes the story even further:
- "..the next point to notice is a set of steps leading down from the wall, to the outer side, known as the 'Recorder's Steps.' Walls — Though now public, they were once private stairs, and they were erected for his own convenience by Roger Comberbach, who was then the Recorder, and lived in the Groves outside the walls, in 1700. Subsequently the use of these steps was permitted to the owners of one or two other private houses on the Dee side. Afterwards the parishioners of St. John's claimed, and were accorded, the sole ownership of the steps as well of as the right of way."
One thing worth noting that the above guide-writers omit to explain is that until the embankment was built (1801) between the steps and the drum tower near the Bridgegate then the only way to get down to the river from the what is now the top pf the steps would be a long trudge up to the Newgate and back. Maps such as that of Lavaux show that from the Bridgegate to near the steps the River ran right up against the City Walls. Its also worth noting that the various writers cannot seem to agree just where the Recorder lived: Hanshall says Duke Street (which was then called Clayton Lane) and Windle (who is often wrong) says he lived in the Groves and that Comberbach errected them himself.
Did they get the date wrong?
The usual impression given is that these steps were erected for an aged Recorder who had served the City for years and in retirement wanted to get down to the Groves. However, there is something seriously wrong with either the plaque or the story. Roger Comberbach was born at Nantwich, and baptized there on the 20th of May, 1666. According to Randle Holme's Pedigree he was aged 22 in 1688. Having selected the law as his profession, he was admitted at the Inner Temple May 3rd, 1686, and called to the Bar May 20th, 1694. In 1688 he became clerk of the Courts of Pentice, Crownmote, and Portmote for the city of Chester, and on the 19th of September, 1700, was appointed recorder. In 1717 he was made a Bencher. Ormerod (History of Cheshire, vol. 1., p. 188) says,
- “Roger Comberbach had been previously town clerk, and was subsequently one of the judges of Caernarvon, Anglesea, and Merioneth. He died January, 1719, and was succeeded in the Recordership by his son-in-law, Thomas Mather.”
The listed building record states that the Recorders Steps were actually built 1820-22, for Chester Corporation, and the plaque set into the wall is probably dated around 1881. Clearly, someone has their dates wrong here. Recorder Comberbach was not a "former" Recorder in 1700 as he only started work in September of that year. If the steps were only built in 1820-22 (Roger Comberbach died in 1719 - so they would have been little use to him), then Hanshall (writing in 1817) should not have been able to mention them while Seacome (in 1828) seems not to have known the steps were only built a few years before. Pigot (1815) also mentions the steps some five years before they were supposedly built. The City Assembly Records tell us that in 1720, the year after the Recorder's death, the Assembly ordered the city's mason to make a new set of steps "between the bridge and Dee Lane end".
- "It was referred to Mr. Mayor and the Justices of the Peace of the City, or any five of them, the Mayor being one, to make a bargain with the City's mason, or any other mason, they thought fit, for making a pair of stairs from the City wall down to the river Dee in some convenient place between the bridge and Dee Lane end, and that the charge be paid by the Murengers and that they might have liberty to get stone for that purpose in any of the waste lands belonging to the City."
- "It was ordered that any sum not exceeding twenty pounds be lent out of the City Treasury to the present Murengers towards the charge of the new pair of stairs lately ordered to be made from the City wall to the river Dee."
ZA/B/3/257v-266 1720-1722 (original held at Cheshire Archives and Local Studies) National Archives.
The earliest map showing the steps is the Catherall & Pritchard semi-pictographic map from the 1850's. However, the Lavaux Map from 1745 shows no steps, and also shows that the River Dee flows right up against the City Walls to the west of the site of the steps.
Assuming the City Assembly Records are right, then the Recorder's Steps were only built (1720-22) after Roger Comberbach died in 1719. The 1820 date must be an error. But how the idea came about that they were built for the convenience of Roger Comberbach remains a mystery. Further corrobarative evidence that the steps were buily in 1720 and not 1820 can be found in an illustration showing them in place before 1820, and the fact that the City Coroner recorded in 1721, that on the 21st May, a tanner named Kenneth Edwards fell down the "New Stairs" and died.
In 2004, as an output of the Chester Amphitheatre Project, a small booklet was produced on the recent dig. One puzzle which the booklet mentions is the history of a mansion which stood on the banks of the River Dee near the then site of Jacobs Well and was later demolished. The mansion appears in a topgraphical drawing by Edward Wright from 1690, and must have been built (in a Dutch style) after the Civil War. The Lavaux Map of 1745 actually has the said mansion labled as belonging to "Thos Lee Esq". The records show that on the 15th of October 1738, Alice: "youngest daughter of Roger Comberbach esq Recorder of Chester" married one Thomas Lee of a Chester family whose roots go back to the time of Henry III at least - Ormerod believed that the name Legh (Lee) dated back to the saxons. It is possible, that seven years after his marriage Thomas was living in the house by the river. Thomas had a daughter (Frances) who married at St Johns in 1763 and was later buried there. A relative Charles Lee was, by some accounts, born in Chester (1731) and served in the British Army during the Seven Years War (mostly 1756 to 1763). Charles' father John was the cousin of the Thomas Lee who lived in Chester.
Charles Lee sold his commission after the Seven Years War and served for a time in the Polish army of King Stanislaus II. Lee moved to North America in 1773 and bought an estate in Virginia. When the fighting broke out in the American War of Independence in 1775, he volunteered to serve with rebel forces. Lee's ambitions to become Commander in Chief of the Continental Army were thwarted by the appointment of George Washington to that post. However he served as a general of the Continental Army during the American War of Independence.
The Comberbach family association with the area goes back before the Lavaux map of 1745. Records at Cheshire Archives and Local Studies shows that on 31st March 1699, Roger Comberbach and his business partners "lately purchased a messuage situated between St John's Churchyard and the River Dee" - the plan being that they were "now desirous to erect some buildings on a piece of waste ground between this messuage and Dee Lane end, if they might have the grant of this ground". This they duly recieved, on the 20th June 1699, with the lease as follows:
- (1) Mayor and citizens of Chester, (2) Roger Comberbach of Chester, Richard Adams of Chester, James Comberbach of Chester, merchant. Counterpart of lease for lives of 2 and 21 years after. Waste ground near St.Johns Churchyard beside the River Dee, approx 65 yards long by 30 yards, bounded on the east by a messuage and garden late in possession of Elizabeth Lem, widow and now of 2, on the west by a cottage and garden in possession of Hugh Roberts, labourer, on the south by the River Dee and on the north by another garden, late of Elizabeth Lem, now of 2.
The earlier of these two transactions may refer to the land upon which Dee House now stands as, while there is no documentary evidence for the building of Dee House, it is generally thought to have been built about 1730 for James Comberbach (1676/77 - 1737, mayor of Chester in 1727), often said to be younger brother to the Roger of the Recorder's Steps. However, the Comberbach family history is complicated, so it is not entirely clear which Comberbach built Dee House. Dee House is unlikely to have been the first house on the site: backfill deposits identified in Trenches 4 and 5 of a 2015/16 dig are thought to be associated with the cellar to a building formerly occupying the site. This cellared building was demolished in the early part of the 18th century and may well have been removed in preparation for the construction of the historic core to Dee House. The ceramic building materials and decorative plaster work recovered from the backfill would suggest that the cellared building could have been late Medieval in origin with 16th/17th century embellishments. The building may be shown on John Speed's map of Chester of c.1610.
- Recorders Steps on Wikipedia;
- Recorders Steps on English Heritage;
- Listed Building record for the Recorders steps;
- more on Charles Lee (American General) on Wikipedia;
- The Life and Memoirs of the Late Major General Lee: Second in Command to General Washington;
Leather work formed one of the largest group of occupations in medieval Chester and many Guilds were associated with the leather trade (Tanners, Skinners, Glovers, Saddlers, Cordwainers). Tanning and leather working were important enough to be among the earliest crafts to develop guilds. Although the shoemakers emerged victorious from the dispute of the 1360s, and thereafter some of their number were engaged in tanning, the tanners remained active and apparently congregated in and around Barkers Lane (later Union Street), close to the company altar in St. John's church. In 1433, the Mayor and Sheriffs of Chester were ordered to find and punish all ‘foreigners’ who used the trade of skinner and shoemaker within the liberties of Chester. Stewards of the Skinner’s Company are named in a Pentice Court roll for 1448-49 and the Company is amongst those listed in a Mayor’s book for 1475-76. In 1483, Edward, Prince of Wales, ordered that no skinner or shoemaker was to practice that trade in Chester without licence of the company on pain of a £10 fine. Glove making was for long said to have been one of Chester’s staple industries and survived the destruction of all the glovers houses under the walls of the City in the siege during the Civil War. As shown on the Lavaux Map, the Company had its own meeting house here by the City walls at the east end of Duke Street. By 1835 it had 22 members.
The cobblers, always among the largest occupational groups, had a Row in Bridge Street, but were also scattered throughout the city. The saddlers, who in the 14th century also had a Row in Bridge Street, may well have had a further base in Eastgate Street and beyond the walls, near the tanners. Never as numerous as the cobblers, they were apparently richer and occasionally held civic office. Other leather workers included a few parchment makers, also perhaps based outside the Eastgate, and Glovers, mainly in Lower Bridge Street. The status of the latter and the importance of their trade apparently increased in the late 15th century, when three became sheriff and one mayor. By then, although Bridge Street apparently remained the focus of manufacture, retailing may have been in Eastgate Street, where Glovers' Row was recorded in 1426. Skinners, who were particularly prominent in civic life in the mid 15th century, declined in numbers thereafter. They traded especially in squirrel, although rabbit, fox, and beaver were also known.
Both tanned and raw hides were sent from Ireland to Chester, together with tallow used in waterproofing, but skins were considerably more numerous. In 1525-6, for example, Chester received some 2,200 hides, over 13,000 lambskins, 10,200 sheepskins, 2,300 badger pelts, 1,100 calfskins, 640 marten and otter skins, 300 fox skins, 90 goatskins, and 50 hart skins. Alum and oil, used by Glovers and Tawyers to prepare light leathers, also came from Ireland. Prices for skins in the luxury market rose fast between 1500 and 1550, marten tripling in price and otter quadrupling, and Irish skins were sold in London after preparation in Chester. In 1536 Chester was brought into the national customs system for leather and in 1537-8 customs duties were paid on 10,681 tanned hides in five Spanish and five Chester ships. Figures for later years ranged from 700 to 1,600 hides, with Spanish merchants exporting the larger share.
The two town houses on the City Walls at the end of Duke Street used to be a single house and were built by a Skinner. Both houses have extensive cellars behind the face of the walls. The front to No.15, on the City Walls facing south, has the west window of second storey converted to a canted oriel with a boarded apron and 4 lights. In 1990, the rear room of this property still bore coats of arms on the walls of places associated with the leather trade, and the windows to the front had complex folding and sliding wooden shutters of ingenious contrivance. Curiously, the passage running through the house from the front to the back door is said to have been a public right of way.
Passing the houses one ascends the wishing steps, and the course of the walls turns away from the river.The wall walk ascends by 6 flights of 3 stone steps along its angled south-east corner, known as the Wishing Steps, west of which the wall faces the River Dee. It's easy to tell that the Wishing Steps date from 1785, as there is a somewhat weathered (or vandalised) plaque in the wall which gives the date.
While the "Wishing Steps" are named as such by earlier writers, Thomas Hughes (writing in 1856) appears to be the earliest writer to record the folk-law associated with the steps:
- "The Walls here run at a great height above the roadway until we turn quick round to the northward at a lofty flight of steps called the Wishing Steps. And why the Wishing Steps you ask? Listen and you shall hear. There's a small bit of folk lore bound up with these Steps and we never pass by them without recalling to mind our boyhood's attempts to master the difficulty. We were always told when a child and we heartily believe it as a man that whosoever shall stand at the foot of these steps and wish for any mundane blessing be it the gold of Ophir aye or even Paradise itself and (mind this!) run up to the head, down to the bottom and up again to the top of these steps without taking breath shall have his fondest wish fulfilled though it were to the half of the kingdom. The secret is that no one could possibly accomplish the feat without taking breath some half dozen times."
The original "Truant's Hole" may have been located hereabouts - or so says Simpson in a footnote to an article in the HALS journal. Apparently the "hole" was the opening of a drain or sewer through the wall, now only marked by an iron pipe on the corner of the pathway leading up to the Roman Gardens from The Groves..
This tower at south-east corner of City Walls, probably dates from the 13th century, was damaged 1644-6 during the Civil War, converted to a feature of the raised promenade of the wall walk in 1702-8 and repaired during various periods. It is built of coursed red sandstone rubble. The bastion forms a 3-sided projection from the wall, its platform level with the wall-walk. There is no evidence of any chamber beneath that level. There is mock-crenellation as the tower level and parapet were altered at the expense of Councillor Charles Brown 1879-80. The tower stands upon an outcrop of red sandstone.
The Missing Watchtower
John Seacome, in 1828 bewails the loss of a Watch-Tower:
- Within about fifty yards of the Recorder's Steps the wall forms an angle to the northward Here We ascend six flights of steps consisting of three steps each called the Wishing Steps erected in 1785 at the top of which stood an ancient Watch Tower which had formerly an apartment with a Stone seat on one side and windows commanding a view of the river and adjacent country. This room was removed in 1826 as affording a shelter for vagrants and the tower covered with a sloping flag roof on a level with the parapet of the wall thus presenting a most dangerous temptation to children to use the roof as a play ground at the imminent risque of losing their lives by falling into the orchard beneath a height not less than 20 yards although this danger might be removed by the erection of a railing at a very trifling expense.
So the Watchtower was removed in 1826. In 1816 when the Watchtower was still in place Pigot wrote:
- From the Bridge gate proceeding eastwards there is a noble view of the river Dee and the picturesque banks Boughton on the right is a fine tract of land called the Earl's Eye From this part of the wall a convenient flight of steps leads to the river they were erected by the Corporation for the convenience of the family of Mr Cumberbach then residing in a house near the river in gratitude for his great exertions for the welfare of the city the time he filled the honorable office of Recorder. These steps are now a great public convenience leading to the river and to a delightful walk by its side called the Groves Soon after passing the Recorder's steps the wall turns northward leading up a flight of eighteen well built steps erected in the year 1785 at the top of which stands an ancient Watch Tower From hence you command a delightful view of the country the insulated rock and ruined Castle of Beeston the Peckforton Hills Bolesworth Castle Broxton Hills and the beautifully wood crowned Hill called Carden Cliff.
It is almost certain that the watchtower shown in the illustration stood atop Barnaby's Tower.
Who was Barnaby?
The Watchtower on Barnaby's Tower looks very much like Morgan's Mount, so it might be thought that it was also named after a person involved in the Civil War. However there is no record of any well-known "Barnaby" being in Chester at the time.
Barnaby's towers predecessor may have stood at the southernmost extension of Æthelflæd's walls (as Bonewaldesthorne's Tower stood at the western) and its name may (possibly) be of Old Scandinavian origin, and/or a locational name from the hamlet of Barnaby near Guisborough (the "Guisborough Helmet" was found at Barnaby) in the West Riding of Yorkshire. Recorded as "Bernodebi" in the Domesday Book of 1086, and as "Bernaldeby" in the "Cartularium prioratus de Gyseburne", dated 1231, the place was so called from the Olde English pre 7th Century male given name "Beronwald", a compound of the elements "beorn", young warrior, and "wald", rule, and the Old Norse "byr", enclosure, settlement. The similarity between "Bonewald -" and "Beronwald" is interesting given that both towers possibly share being the end points of Æthelflæd's walls.
The pub below the tower has had several names, but years ago it was called Barnaby's.
The Bishop's Palace
Just opposite the former Bishops Palace there is another date stone in the wall, this time the date is 1786 and indicates when this section of wall was refurbished having been much damaged in the Civil War. A very careful examination of the Lavaux Map of 1745 shows what appears to be an apparent break in the wall (just next to the "a" in "New Gate Street") and it may be that a break in the wall hereabouts survived from the Civil War to the time of Lavaux (1745). Lauvaux is normally a very accurate surveyor, so the fact that he places a break in the walls here cannot be overlooked.
Lavaux's break in the wall is in roughly the same location of the small passage through the City Walls which exists today between Park Street and the Roman Garden.
The former palace of the bishops of Chester, later became a YMCA hostel, and as of 2020 contained a wedding venue. For many years the letters "YMCA" were displayed on the listed gateway leading to the Groves but these have inexplicably vanished. The building dates from 1751, with C19 and C20 alterations. It is thought to replace a medieval palace nearby. Separation from the River Dee was maintained by high walls, terraces and the natural slope of the ground, so the best place to see the building from is the Walls. The exterior of the building other than the front door is virtually unaltered by C20 changes of use. The interior was partly sub-divided, c1980, for office use, and was said to retain some features of interest. A good open-well open-string stair of 6 flights but, if earlier description was correct, with turned balusters replacing the Chinese Chippendale balustrade then mentioned. A stone back stair with iron stick balusters and rail; a replaced secondary stair; some original 6-panel doors. A room with panelling, now painted and probably restored, on the ground floor, with one row of panels below dado and a tall row above dado; an excellent main room, once a boardroom, on first floor with plasterwork intact including a coved ceiling with exuberant mid C18 decoration; a good deal of minor features of C18 plasterwork; some fireplaces and overmantels. Built for Bishop Peploe mid C18 according to Pevsner, but according to Harris occupied as the Bishop's Palace 1870, when the former palace in the Cathedral Precinct was replaced by the King's School, to 1921. (The Buildings of England: Pevsner N & Hubbard E: Cheshire: Harmondsworth: 1971-: 165-166).
- Barnaby's Tower on English Heritage.
- Barnaby's Tower on Wikipedia.
- Chester City Walls - Barnaby's Tower on Revealing Cheshire's Past;
Eastgate clock is now visible amongst the rooftops in the distance and the circuit of the walls is almost over. Following the wall there is still much to see. On the right, one looks down onto the "Roman Garden". This collection of pillars and other Roman remains were in fact, assembled in 1949 from bits and pieces of Roman artifacts found throughout Chester. None of the building fragments originally came from the present site. The project was initiated as Chester's contribution to the 1951 Festival of Britain. The gardens were re-modeled in 2000 to provide a path down to the River Dee - a path which is snakes back and forth like the snake in the roman symbol for medicine. In fact many of the plants here are medicinal herbs, some of which would have been known to the Romans. Most of the columns that can be seen in the Roman Gardens came from the exercise hall of the Roman bath house (thermae). They were once 6 meters tall and supported the stonework of the central section of the hall. The largest column currently in the Roman Gardens came from the assembly hall of the headquarters building (Principia). The Roman Gardens also houses a reconstructed hypocaust which was the Roman system of under floor heating. An under floor cavity was filled with hot air from a furnace to heat the rooms or baths above. Several hypocausts have been found in excavations in Chester. The hypocaust in the Roman Gardens has been reconstructed using the pillars (pilae) recovered in 1863 from one of the rooms in the main bath building (thermae) of the Roman fortress.
To get down to the Roman Gardens take the stairs down from the City Walls on the inside and pass through an ornamented gate. This gate was built in the late 19th Century, but by 2013 had been propped up for quite some time, and a new "architectural frame" was installed in the opening to support the roof without interfering with the scheduled monument or any buried archaeology. Alternatively head on to New Gate and take the stair down just before the gate, after which you can pass through the New Gate and reach the entrance of the Roman Gardens.
The less-weathered masonry in the City Walls marks the site of a breach, battered through the wall by Parliamentary cannon, when Chester was besieged during the Civil War. By September 1645, Chester's loyal stand for King Charles I was nearing an end. The suburbs had been taken. The Royalist garrison and all the citizens took refuge inside the City Walls. Parliamentary troops mounted cannon in the tower of St Johns Church, just to the east of where the Roman Gardens are now sited, and bombarded the South Eastern defences. The tower was probably much weakened by this which contributed to its later collapse. On Monday, 22nd September 1645 this stretch of the City Walls were bombarded from 12 noon until 4pm. Thirty-two shots were fired, making a breach wide enough for ten men abreast to enter. Two Royalist soldiers were killed trying to fill the hole with beds and woolpacks. That night, the Parliamentarians tried to storm the breach, but were beaten back after fierce fighting. Lord John Byron himself described the situation thus:
- "Thrice that night the enemy was upon the top of the wall, but at last quite beaten off. Seven of them were killed...who afterwards fell into the street, and were the next day buried by us. There were some of them taken alive, but much hurt, and so drunk that the scent of them was most offensive"
Hearing of the city's plight, King Charles I arrived in Chester with a force of cavalry on 23rd September. Following the defeat at Rowton Moor, Byron conducted a determined defence of the city, repulsing all attempts to take it by storm. When the Parliamentarians settled down to starve him out, Byron mounted frequent attacks and sorties against them. He finally surrendered Chester in February 1646. Byron left no children and the title passed to his brother Richard (1605-1679), who had been governor of Newark in 1643-5. Richard's descendant the sixth Lord Byron (1788-1824) was the romantic poet, "mad, bad and dangerous to know."
The site of the Roman Gardens was previously occupied by a clay tobacco-pipe factory which was in production from at least 1781 until 1917. The foundations of a brick building have been found alongside the City Wall which runs to the east of the Gardens. Chester was the centre for a flourishing clay tobacco-pipe industry. Chester's pipes were exported in great quantities. The earliest clay tobacco-pipe kiln ever found in Britain has been discovered in Chester.
There are stories of a "sally port" running under the City Walls near the Roman Gardens. This is supposed to start on the former site of the Lion Brewery. Curiously there is what appears to be a blocked-up passageway in the walls at ground level in the gardens. Whether this is an actual entrance to one of Chester's legendary Tunnels or merely has the appearance of one is not known. Even stranger, as noted above, the Lavaux Map of Chester appears to also show an opening in the walls between what is now Park Street and what is now the Roman gardens.
- Roman Gardens on ChesterWalls.info
What does "SOP-SMP" mean?
These are parish boundary markers in Park Street. As you walk past them you leave "St Oswald Parish" and enter "St Martin Parish". They are on the front of the "Nine Houses" (of which there are six). The houses are the only surviving pre-16th-century almshouses in Chester. They were built in about 1650 (as part of the restoration of Chester following the Civil War) and extensively repaired and renovated in 1968-9. They are not the "oldest council houses" in the country - the first recorded almshouse was founded in York by King Athelstan; the oldest still in existence is the Hospital of St. Cross in Winchester, dating to circa 1133.
A fountain of life
The apparently mediaeval house (in Park Street) one passes next was actually built as recently as 1881 (by W. H. Kelly - whose better work includes the 1883 Greysfield House, at Barrow) and bears the legend, "The Fear of the Lord is a Fountain of Life". This is sometimes said to be the inscription on an "ancient" (some say Roman) coin found on the site, - it is also found in Proverbs [14:27] (so unlikely to be on a Roman coin). However almost the same words: "TIMOR . DOMINE . FONS . VITAE" were struck onto a (now incredibly rare) issue of silver shillings of Edward VI in 1549, as well as on the gold half-sovereign of the same year (and some groats amd other coins). Edward VI was 9 years old when he was made King in 1547. It was feared that ambitious men close to him may grab his power and use it for their own needs. Therefore these shillings of his reign (only from 1549) were inscribed with this legend. He was dead within a few years, in 1553. the most likely explanation is therefore that the coin found was from Edward VI - and that just because something is written in latin, that does not mean that what it is written on is a Roman relic! Also in 1549 came the execution of Thomas Seymour (Jane Seymour's brother), a guardian of Edward VI whose crime was providing Edward with "pocket money" stolen from the Bristol mint while bad-mouthing his brother who held the official purse-strings. Maybe the decision to mark the coins thus and Seymour's fate are not unrelated.
- "Fountain of Life" house on English Heritage;
What's with the lion?
The car park just before New Gate stands on the site of the "Chester Lion Brewery Co Ltd", Pepper Street, which claims to have been founded 1642. It was said that underneath it was a tunnel used to sally the besiegers during the Civil War - see: Tunnels. On the roof of the lift shaft you can see the statue of a lion. The story of the lion is told as follows:
- "The figure of the lion used to be owned by the Lion Brewery, which was later taken over by Bent's Brewery. It is reported by some people that there were two lions on the old brewery, but there is some disagreement between historians over this fact. Both, or one, stood upon a tall tower on the site of the existing multi-story car park from the 1840s. When it was known that the brewery had to be demolished, Chester Civic Trust stepped in to save the lion sculpture. The chair of the group, Gertrude Jones, asked permission from the Duke of Westminster (who must have held an interest in the brewery), if she could arrange for the rescue of the lion. John Tomlinson, the secretary of the Chester Civic Trust, arranged for the Royal Engineers to get the sculpture down, because he had connections with the army. In 1971 the sculpture was sent to the stonemasonry firm of Robin Clegg to be mended and cleaned. The lion was then offered to Chester Zoo for safekeeping, but the zoo declined the offer. Next, it was offered to Chester Cathedral, because there were plans to make a garden for mothers and children on the site of the present Addleshaw tower. The Civic Trust has designed the garden and won £500 as the second prize in a national competition for urban improvement. However, the architect of the diocese was horrified at this idea, and insisted on the Addleshaw Bell Tower instead. The £500 for the garden was sent back to the competition organisers, and the Civic Trust had problems finding a place for the lion to be sited. Finally, Mr Tomlinson said that he would keep it in his garden, at 11 Curzon Park, Chester. Mr Tomlinson wanted to take the lion with him when he moved away, but the chair of the Civic Trust refused. For a short time the lion remained with the new occupants, Mr and Mrs Rankin. The chair spoke to the Duke of Westminster to ask if he wanted the lion atop his new business venture, the Pepper Street Car Park. The Duke agreed, and the Civic Trust arranged the final re-siting onto the car park lift tower. On 25 October 1971, the work was lifted to the top of the 70 ft column of the Pepper Street Car Park buildings. The multi-story car park was constructed for Grosvenor Developments by Laings, and finished shortly after the lion was placed on top of the column."
The lion is made of a material called Coade Stone or Lithodipyra (Ancient Greek (λίθος/δίς/πυρά), "stone fired twice") a stoneware ceramic that was often described as an "artificial stone" in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. It was used for moulding Neoclassical statues, architectural decorations and garden ornaments that were both of high quality and remain virtually weatherproof today. Produced by appointment to George III and the Prince Regent, it features on St George’s Chapel Windsor; The Royal Pavilion, Brighton; Carlton House, London; the Royal Naval College, Greenwich, and a large quantity was used in the refurbishment of Buckingham Palace in the 1820s.
Another of these lions, sometimes said to be from the same brewery company, still adorns the south side of Westminster Bridge in London. A more likely answer is that the other lions are from a quite different "Lion Brewery" founded in 1836 in Lambeth, London. There were originally three Coade Stone lion statues created for the Lambeth Lion Brewery by W.F. Woodington, a notable sculptor of the era. The most famous of these lions was the one that sat atop the brewery parapet. Just before the building was demolished, King George VI ordered that it be preserved, along with its surviving sibling lion which stood over one of the brewery gates. Both remain in London until this day. The one from the roof of the brewery is now known as the South Bank Lion, and can be found opposite the Houses of Parliament at the south end of Westminster Bridge. The other coade stone lion is now located at the west-gate entrance of Twickenham Stadium.
The Chester Lion Brewery is known to have existed in 1768, but possibly did not trade as "Lion". It is believed the Pepper Street brewery was reopened and renamed the Lion Brewery by Walton & Clare in 1866, which would make the London brewery the older, but only slightly as the London "Lion" appears to have been known as Goldings Brewery until 1865, and there are even some suggestions that the London Brewery did not use the trademark (320177) before 1875, although the lion has a date on it of "WFW Coade 14 May 1837".
- Lion Brewery by the Civic Trust; - dead link;
- Old Pubs of Chester: on the brewery;
- Chester Lion Brewery: Brewery History Society;
New Gate is an arch bridge carrying the walkway of the city walls over Pepper Street. The bridge was built in 1938 to relieve traffic congestion in the city, especially at Chester Cross and is constructed in red sandstone. It was designed by Sir Walter Tapper (who died before it was completed) and his son, Michael. On each side of the bridge is a tower containing mock loops (unglazed slit windows) and surmounted by hipped roofs. Flights of steps on each side lead up to the towers and to the walkway across the top of the bridge. The structure is decorated with carved shields and Tudor roses.
New Gate and Hitler
On the 30th September, 1939 the "Munich Agreement" was signed by Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Daladier and Chamberlain, this forced Czechoslovakia to give territory to Germany, and Chamberlain flew back to Britain to make his famous "Peace For Our Time" speech (often misquoted as "Peace In Our Time" which is from the Book of Common Prayer). The phrase echoed Benjamin Disraeli, who, upon returning from the Congress of Berlin in 1878, had stated, "I have returned from Germany with peace for our time". The following commentary appeared in "The Times" on the 4th October 1938:
- The rebuilt Newgate at Chester was opened by the Mayor, Alderman George Barlow, yesterday. Presenting the Mayor with a pair of gold scissors with which to cut the tape, Alderman Matthew Jones suggested that they might rename it the Munich Gateway having regard to the circumstances of its inauguration. A prayer was offered by the Dean of Chester, and afterwards there was a luncheon at the Town Hall. The gate has been erected to meet traffic demands and displaces the oldest of the city's gates. The date of erection of the original gate is not known, but a gate stood on the present site in or before 1327 and was known as Wolf's Gate, and later as Pepper Gate.
There are many theories that Adolf lived in Liverpool for a while, but so far no-one has ever suggested that he visited Chester. However there is an interesting twist here: the Sendlinger Tor ("Sending Gate") in Munich does bear a passing resemblance to the New Gate in Chester.
- Newgate on Chesterwalls.info;
- New Gate on Wikipedia;
- New Gate on English Heritage;
- lighting the Newgate;
- Simpson, F., (1933). The Newgate. Journal of the Chester Archaeological Society 30 (2). Vol 30(2), pp. 79-93.
Chester's amphitheatre lay outside the south-east corner of the legionary fortress, on a bluff overlooking the River Dee. Its main entrances faced north and south, with smaller entrances facing east and west. In between each of these entrances were two doorways giving access to a corridor running around the outside of the building and staircases leading up to the seats. A vomitorium is a passage situated below or behind a tier of seats in an amphitheatre or a stadium, through which big crowds can exit rapidly at the end of a performance with a reduced risk of crushing. They can also be pathways for actors to enter and leave stage. The Latin word vomitorium, plural vomitoria, derives from the verb vŏmo, vŏmis, vomui, vomitum, vŏmĕre, "to spew forth." In ancient Roman architecture, vomitoria were designed to provide rapid egress for large crowds at amphitheatres and stadiums, as they do in modern sports stadiums and large theatres. There is a common misconception that ancient Romans designated spaces called "vomitoria" for the purpose of actual vomiting, as part of a binge.
For many years the site was dominated by two large Georgian houses, built in the 1730s. Through the 18th Century merchant weath and church patronage ensured that the area around St Johns maintained a seclusion and elegance apart from the City. A number of substantial and fashionable residences were constucted ouside of the walls here, with views down to the River Dee or across what was to become Grosvenor Park. Three of these survive today while five have been demolished. The relative lack of building and the extensive gardens is one reason why the amphitheatre survived.
One one of the two houses on the Amphitheatre site was St John’s House, which was demolished so that the northern half of the amphitheatre could be excavated; the other is Dee House, which still stands over part of the southern half. No-one knew for certain that Chester had an amphitheatre until 1929, when a large curved wall appeared while an underground boiler room was being built onto the south side of Dee House, then used as a convent school for girls. A local schoolmaster, W. J. Williams, was the first to recognise what this meant. Controversial proposals had been put forward in 1926 by the City Corporation to straighten Newgate Street and Little St John Street between the City Walls and St Johns Church. Hostility to the scheme was increased by the discovery of the amphitheatre in 1929, when it was realised that the new road would cut directly across the centre of the monument. The City Improvement Committee delayed inviting tenders for the construction of the new road to allow the Chester Archaeological Society time to raise funds to cover the cost of diverting the road around the outside of the site, some £23,798. A special exhibition was held in 1932 at the Grosvenor Museum (which was then run by the Archaeological Society) to help raise money. The walls lining the proposed road had been built, cutting the site in two, and the New Gate through the Walls was under construction when the Ministry of Transport effectively blocked the scheme in 1933 by refusing loan sanction. This occurred as a result of extensive local and national protest at the imminent destruction of the amphitheatre; opponents of the scheme included the Prime Minister, Ramsay MacDonald. The Archaeological Society formed a Trust, which bought St John’s House, on the north-eastern corner of the monument. It seems unbelievable nowadays that the survival of a archaeological site of major importance was down to the local Archaeological Society collecting money.
Dee House was built in about 1730 as a town house for James (or John) Comberbach, a former mayor of Chester (although there is some doubt as to the actual provenance). Extensions were made in the 1740s to the south and southwest, giving the house an L-shaped plan. It continued in use as a private residence until about 1850, when it was sold to the Church of England. In 1854 it passed to the Faithful Companions of Jesus, a religious institute of the Roman Catholic Church, who used it as a convent school. They added a wing to the east, which incorporated in its ground floor a chapel designed by Edmund Kirby, who was at the time (c1860) an assistant to John Douglas in Chester.
The Mystery of Chester's Round Castle
Around 893, a fresh wave of Viking Danes crossed to England in 330 ships of two divisions and attacked. After some fighting the Danes were driven off to the north-west, and, after collecting reinforcements, the Danes made a forced march across England to occupy the ruined Roman fortress of Chester, arriving late in the year. Just what the Danes are up to makes some sense when one realises that the Wirral had strong Viking connections after 902 and there may already have been some link ten years earlier. The Victorian work Picturesque England describes the fortifications at this time of being a round sandstone castle:
- The Danes, the following and more terrible invaders, who had been allowed by Alfred the Great to settle in Northumberland, next assailed Chester, and seized the fortress, which was circular and of red stone...
This may be an assumption on the part of the author that the present works are older than they actually are (his source is unknown). However a more interesting possibility is that the "fortress" was in fact the Amphitheatre. King Alfred (or possibly one of his sons) hastened to Chester. The English did not attempt a winter blockade, but besieged the Danes for two days, while they drove away all the cattle; burned the corn thereabouts and slaughtered every Dane that dared venture outside the encampment. Early in 894 (or 895), want of food obliged the Danes to retire once more to Essex (after a few raids on Wales). Hollinshed describes the events as follows:
- "Besides this, other armies there were sent foorth, which comming out of Northumberland tooke the citie of Chester, but there they were so beset about with their enimies, that they were constreined to eate their horsses. At length, in the 24 yéere of king Alfred, they left that citie, and fetcht a compas about Northwales, and so meaning to saile round about the coast to come into Northumberland, they arriued in Essex, and in the winter following drew their ships by the Thames into the water of Luie." (probably Leigh-on-Sea)
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle tells the story as:
- Þa hie on Eastseaxe comon to hiora geweorce. 7 to hiora scipum. þa gegaderade sio laf eft of Eastenglum, 7 of Norðhymbrum micelne here onforan winter 7 befæston hira wif, 7 hira scipu, 7 hira feoh on Eastenglum, 7 foron anstreces dæges 7 nihtes, þæt hie gedydon on anre westre ceastre on Wirhealum, seo is Legaceaster gehaten; Þa ne mehte seo fird hie na hindan offaran, ær hie wæron inne on þæm geweorce; Besæton þeah þæt geweorc utan sume twegen dagas, 7 genamon ceapes eall þæt þær buton wæs, 7 þa men ofslogon þe hie foran forridan mehton butan geweorce, 7 þæt corn eall forbærndon, 7 mid hira horsum fretton on ælcre efenehðe. 7 þæt wæs ymb twelf monað þæs þe hie ær hider ofer sæ comon. (As soon as they came into Essex to their fortress, and to their ships, then gathered the remnant again in East-Anglia and from the Northumbrians a great force before winter, and having committed their wives and their ships and their booty to the East-Angles, they marched on the stretch by day and night, till they arrived at a western city in Wirral that is called Chester. There the army could not overtake them ere they arrived within the ramparts: they besieged the ramparts though, without, some two days, took all the cattle that was thereabout, slew the men whom they could overtake outside the ramparts, and all the corn they either burned or consumed with their horses every evening. That was about a twelvemonth since they first came hither over sea.)
The Chronicle of Bishop Asser refers to similar tactics and events (although this almost certainly a different conflict):
- He pursued them, killing them as they fled up to the stronghold, where he seized all that he found outside--men, horses, and cattle--slaying the men at once; and before the gates of the pagan fortress he boldly encamped with his whole army. And when he had stayed there fourteen days and the pagans had known the horrors of famine, cold, fear, and at last of despair, they sought a peace by which the king was to take from them as many named hostages as he wished while he gave none to them--a kind of peace that they had never before concluded with any one.
The story of Alfred at Chester is in many respects puzzling, for what were the Cestrians doing at the time? If it is assumed that the Vikings actually occupied the city, then they would surely have helped themselves to any provisions to be found. This would have meant starvation for the inhabitants of Chester. Even if the Vikings only occupied the "castle" (the Amphitheatre?) then the city (not to mention St Johns Church) would have been an obvious target once Alfred left. One possible suggestion is that Chester was not actually inhabited at the time and that "westre ceastre" in the ASC should be read as a "waste" (i.e. abandoned) fortification. However, this is also strange, as within five years the city is described as being besieged by the Vikings and shortly thereafter was extensively re-fortified. Another explanation for this garbled version of history is that the West Saxon chronicle deliberately plays down the role of Æthelflæd and other Mercians in the reconquest of land which had been taken by the Vikings.
- Chester Walls Info - extensive discussion of the Amphitheatre and the arguments over "the other half".;
- Chester Amphitheatre on wikipedia;
- Chester Amphitheatre on English Heritage;
The Old Newgate, or Wolf Gate (also known as the Pepper Gate and Wolfeld Gate), is a gateway through the city walls dating to the early thirteenth century. Later, it received the name of Pepper Gate, for the spice merchants working on Pepper Street. The present gate is believed to date from 1608, and is the earliest surviving post-medieval gateway in the city walls. It is constructed in sandstone, and contains a wrought iron gate with side-screens and an overthrow. Hemingway describes it as follows:
- "Before closing our circuit however it is necessary to remark that we pass over an ancient gate way called the Newgate which beneath opens a communication from Pepper street Newgate street &c to John street, St John's church and Dee lane and is sufficiently capacious to admit the passage of a loaded wagon It was anciently called Wolfeld gate or Wolf gate and obtained its name from a wolfs head the badge of Hugh Lupus being cut in stone over its entrance In 1608 the gate was entirely taken down and re built and has since sustained its present name of the New gate In describing this gate our antiquary Webb says that Wolf gate sometime had a hollow grate with a bridge for horse and roan and it butteth against Sowter's load and John Street"
No tolls were payable at this gate in 1321, though in 1754 tolls were said to have been taken from time immemorial. The gate was the property of the city corporation in the later Middle Ages, and in 1489–90 was leased to a glover. The medieval gate, which seems to have been set in a square tower, was repaired in the 1550s, but was condemned in 1603 as too narrow. At the order of the Assembly it was enlarged, but in the following year it was found to be in poor repair, and in 1608 it was taken down and entirely rebuilt. The new gate was given a new door in 1640 and further repaired in 1651.
In 1674 a house in the form of a tower was built on the north side to be 'a defence and security to the gate if occasion should require'. That might be a reference to the "Wolf Tower" or "Thimbleby's Tower", although that (see below) was already the subject of a lease since 1668.
Why is it called Wolfgate?
It first appears in the written record as the "Porta de Wlfild" c.1258. The names "Wulfeld Gate" or "Woolfield Gate" were later used until a shortened version, "Wolf Gate", became common in the 15th and 16th centuries.
It has been suggested that the gate's name may be connected with a Scandinavian personal name such as Ulf, Ulfaldi, Wulfadus, or the like and also suggested that the son of Wulfhere, King of Mercia, and brother to St. Werburgh was named Wulfhad. Hence "Wulfhad's Gate may have possibly been a monkish dedication to this Prince and martyr". Legend says that Wulfhere wished to marry his daughter, Werburgh, to Werbode, (a "perverse heathen" according to Chamber's Book of days). However, Werburga's brothers, Wulfad and Rufinus, objected to the union. Unable to defeat their opposition, Werbode poisoned the King's mind against his sons and obtained his authority to have them arrested for treason. Wulfhere too hastily accepted the fabricated evidence and the guiltless young men were condemned to death. On discovery of the plot, Werburgh decided to become a nun and "Werbode was poisoned by an evil spirit, and died raving mad". This story is unlikely to be true, St Werburgh's brother is now believed to have been Coenred (also spelled Cenred, Kenred or Cœnred) and a further problem with naming the gate after Wulfhad is that the walls in the time of St. Werburgh did not include this section.
- dclxxxix Anno Domini d.c. octogesimo ix Rex Merciorum Ethelredus, avunculus beate Werburge, ope Wilfrici episcopi Cestriensis, ut reffert Giraldus, fundavit ecclesiam collegiatam in suburbio civitatis Cestrie in honorem Sancti Johannis Baptiste. (689 In the year of our lord six hundred and eighty-nine Ethelred, king of the Mercians, the uncle of S. Werburg, with the assistance of Wilfric, bishop of Chester, as Giraldus [Cambrensis] relates, founded a collegiate church in the suburbs of Chester in honour of S. John the Baptist.)
In his "Life of St Werburgh" (1513), Bradshaw writes:
- "The year of grace six hundred fourescore and nyen As sheweth myne auctour a Bryton Giraldus Kynge Ethelred myndynge moost the blysse of Heven Edyfyed a Collage Churche notable and famous In the suburbs of Chester pleasaunt and beauteous In the honor of God and the Baptyst Saynt Johan With helpe of bysshop Wulfrice and good exortacion"
The "Wulfrice" (Wilfid) mentioned by Bradshaw appears to be an exiled Bishop from Northumbria. Æthelred had also made Wilfrid bishop of the Middle Angles, and supported him at the council of Austerfield in about 702, when Wilfrid argued his case for restoration to the see of York before an assembly of bishops led by Archbishop Berhtwald of Canterbury. Æthelred's support for Wilfrid embroiled him in dispute with both Canterbury and Northumbria, and it is not clear what his motive was, though it may be relevant that some of Wilfrid's monasteries were in Mercian territory. Wilfrid was not known for his diplomacy and commentators have said that Wilfrid "came into conflict with almost every prominent secular and ecclesiastical figure of the age". Hindley, an historian of the Anglo-Saxons, states that "Wilfrid would not win his sainthood through the Christian virtue of humility". Wilfrid was known as an advocate of Benedictine monasticism, regarding it as a tool in his efforts to "root out the poisonous weeds planted by the Scots". By 'Scots' he probably meant the Irish Celts, so his involvement in the establishment of St John's may well have been part of an attempt to wipe out the last of the influence of the "Celtic" church.
In 906 the Abbey of St John the Baptist was founded by a later Æthelred, Earl of Mercia (he was married to Æthelflæd) and at this time Chester was re-fortified and the walls extended from this point down to the River. It is possible therefore that this gate, leading as it did to St Johns could have been named after "Wulfrice" (Wilfid).
The gate took one of its other names from the street that passed through it, known from at least the 13th century as Pepper Street, and having never changed its name since that time. From 1355:
- "Pepu Street goith out of Brugge Street apon the southe syde of the churche of Saynte Michell".
Why was it kept locked?
According to one of many versions of the tale: in 1573, Ellen, the daughter of Alderman Rauff Aldersey defied her father and eloped through the gate at night to marry a draper. Her father persuaded the city to lock the gate at night for many years, leading to the local expression ‘when the daughter is stolen, shut the Peppergate’ which is the local equivalent of ‘close the stable door after the horse has bolted’. Some City Guides will tell the romantic "ghost story" associated with the gate: that in the years since 1573 the ghostly clatter of her horse's hooves have occasionally been heard around the area of the gate.
Cheshire Magazine records the story as follows:
- Chester's leading citizen was a proud father who wanted, not surprisingly, a good marriage for his daughter. To this end he chose a wealthy suitor for Ellen some years her senior. However, the young lady herself was in love with a penniless armourer called Luke. This association, her father discovered and forbad, he also kept a close eye on his daughter to prevent her meeting Luke. Ellen, however, must have been an independent young woman with a mind of her own. Somehow she managed to concoct a plot with Luke to elude her father and unwelcome fiance. One day Ellen was allowed out as usual to take her only exercise, a walk with a group of other well-bred girls, on a green area just inside the Pepper Gate. The girls, probably in league with Ellen began a ball game. As the laughing young ladies played happily, someone threw the ball particularly high and it went over the city walls. Ellen quickly volunteered to go outside the gate to retrieve it. Outside the wall Luke was waiting with two horses and the couple galloped off down Souters Lane to the Dee Bridge and into wild Wales, where pursuit and discovery were almost impossible. The others delayed in raising the alarm, so giving the pair the necessary time to escape. Alderman Aldersey was so incensed at his daughters elopement that he immediately ordered the Pepper Gate to be open only to pedestrians during the day, and closed completely at night. This caused a great deal of inconvenience to innocent people especially the tradesman with their horse-drawn vehicles. This spiteful action therefore, gives rise to a popular local saying of the period, "When the daughter is stolen, Shut the Pepper Gate". The story has a happy ending however. After their marriage the couple went abroad and Luke prospered, distinguishing himself in foreign wars. This successful career resulted in him being knighted by Queen Elizabeth. The couple returned, eventually, to Chester as Lord and Lady Lacey and, hopefully, the family were happily reconciled.
Whoever wrote the above tale down seems to have neglected to consider that prior to the building of the Groves it would have been difficult to reach the Dee Bridge along the outside of the City Walls, which appear to have come right down to the river. There are various versions of this tale. However the assembly book of the city, (supposedly) states that she:
- "was married by an unlawful minister to one Rauff Iaman, draper, without the consent and goodwill of any other kinsfolk and friends, to their great heviness and grief, and contrary to any good civile order".
..and that so angered was her influential father that he persuaded the assembly to issue the order that:
- "for divers good causes, a certain gate or passage through the walls, called Wolfe-gate or New-gate, shall forthwith be stopped and fenced substancially and that no passage to be suffered in the nyght and the same to be opened in the day".
Other versions have the young lady being the daughter of the Mayor. This curious tale is similar to one told of Luke de Taney, Justice of Chester 300 years earlier in the 1260's who was, according to that version, the fiancée of a mediaeval mayors daughter who hit a ball away in a game and sent him to look for it, then escaped through the Peppergate to elope with a waiting Welsh Knight.
Wolfgate and Napoleon
At a meeting of the Antiquarian Society in November 1913, James Hall, a member of that society displayed a copy of the Chester Chronicle from June 1814. The Chronicle described the celebrations after the abdication of Napoleon to Elba:
- "THE NEWGATE was beautifully lighted up by Mr. Fitzgerald, pipe-manufacturer. From the centre of the arch was suspended a large ship, illuminated with variegated lamps; and each side ' Peace' and 'Plenty' painted in red."
Hall noted, with some irony:
- "The word "Peace" is still, a hundred years after, just legible; although, through alteration in the stone- work, the word "Plenty" has disappeared. Strange to say, immediately below the word "Peace," is now a Notice Board calling men to join the Army or Navy, the Life-guards, Militia, Special Reservists, and so forth, as occasion requires."
- Wolfgate on English Heritage;
- Chester City Walls - Old Newgate / Wolf Gate on Revealing Cheshire's Past;
The Roman Corner Tower
The Roman Corner Tower might give the impression that these towers were located on the outside of the City Wall. In fact the Corner Towers were located on the inside of the walls of Roman Chester, and in centuries of re-building the wall has moved backwards.
The remaining base of the former south-east angle tower dates from the late first to early second century. It is purple-grey ashlar sandstone and trapezoidal in plan. Parts of a base-course are visible, then 2 weathered plinth-courses and parts of an ashlar facing course above, with the rubble core and parts of the coursed rubble inner face rising a little higher. The outer face is segmental in plan to coincide with the quadrant corner of the former fortress wall. Also present are part foundations of an adjoining chamber within the former wall-line west of the tower. The remains of the tower and adjoining fragment of the Roman wall are bonded together, hence built at the same time.
- Roman Corner Tower on English Heritage;
- Chester City Walls - Wall between Thimbleby's Tower and Old Newgate / Wolf Gate on Revealing Cheshire's Past;
A medieval watch tower, known in 1555 as Wolf Tower, it had an octagonal stone vault, built probably c. 1300, at the level of the wall walk. Rented by the Gamull family from the corporation in the earlier 17th century, it was a 'ruinous old place' until 1643, when it was put into repair during the siege. It may then have sustained damage during the Civil War, since in 1651 the Gamulls were asked to pay for repairs. In the late 17th century it was described as 'of no great use', and in the 18th century it served as a laundry (Andrew Kenrick (died 1747) acquired Thimbleby's Tower and converted it for use as a laundry and even obtained permission to make a passage through the City walls - which can still be seen today by looking over the inside of the walls - to allow easy access from his garden to the tower).
In 1668 the tower was the subject of a:
- "Lease to Richard Minshull, alderman, of Wolfe's Tower or Thimbleby's Tower, for 3 lives at 1/s p.a."
As noted above, the tower was used as a laundry by "Mary Kenrick" as noted in the Assembly minutes:
- Contents: (1) Mayor and citizens of Chester, (2) Mary Kenrick, Chester, spinster. Counterpart of lease for 3 lives, lives of Richard Harry Kenrick aged 26, George Watkin Kenrick aged 25, Charles Gethin Kenrick aged 22, sons of Richard Kenrick and nephews of 2. Tower called Wolfes Tower otherwise Thimbleby's Tower on the city wall adjoining the garden of 2 near the Newgate and now in the possession of 2 (ZCHD/11/37 2 July 1795)
The tower was repaired in 1879. Between 1702 and 1708 the whole of the city walls was converted into a raised walkway and it is likely that the tower was modified as part of this process. It was further altered in 1994–95 for Chester City Council. Hemingway describes it in very brief terms, implying that it was a ruin when he wrote:
- A short way further to the eastward are some scanty remains of another watch tower formerly known by the name of Thimbleby's Tower and near to this on the right is a new flight of steps entered by an iron gate leading to the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel for a convenient access to which from this quarter permission was granted by the corporation for its erection.
Who was Thimbleby?
Sir Richard Thimblebye (c1507-1590) of Hilbre Island or Lady Thimbleby who died in Chester in 1615. "West Kirby & Hilbre Island Shipping and Trade (1909, Harold Edgar Young), gives the following information:
- From a most interesting Chester document, recently discovered at Chester by Mr. Sanders, it appears that three hundred years ago a somewhat eccentric Lincolnshire knight a certain Sir Richard Thimblebye, after whom Thimblebye's Tower on Chester walls was named was a resident in the island as a tenant of Sir Rowland Stanley, of Hooton, though how Sir Rowland came to be landlord I am at a loss to conceive. In addition to Sir Richard there must have been several shipowners living on the island, for in the list of shipping for 1572, mentioned above, eleven of the ships are definitely stated to be 'of Hilbree,' and only one from West Kirby. And in 1544 six ships are entered at Chester as of Hilbree and one of Caldy. The document found by Mr. Sanders at Chester is the evidence given by different witnesses in a suit brought by Mr. Massie, who farmed the rectory of West Kirby, against Sir Richard Thimblebye. The evidence, which contains many curious details, goes to show that the claiming of tithes by Mr. Massie from Hilbre Island was quite a new imposition. Thus Mr. John Brassie of Tiverton, aged sixty years, states that 'about forty-four years ago, being then a child, he was one of the boys of the Chamber to Abbot Birkenshaw, then Abbot of St. Werburgh's, Chester, and by reason thereof . . . familiarly acquainted with Dom John Smith or Dom Robert Harden, monks dwelling on the Isle of Hilbree, and that he was wont to go to Hilbree and there stay for the space of a fortnight together at certain times,' at which times he had seen 'fyshe taken for the monks' use within the water running about the said island with nets, but whether with boat or not he doth not remember, and further saith that he never heard that the said monks paid any tythe of fyshe taken there to the parson of West Kirkbie, or any other, for he saith the said isle was then taken to be of no parish, but was called a cell, belonging to the monastery of Chester, and therefore free from all manner of tythe paying.' " Another witness states that he lived at Hilbre with the monks for fourteen years I presume as servant and adds " he knoweth verie well that the saide Prior and monks had a fishing boat called the Jack Rice, and used to fish there by their servants, and he had often seen much fish taken there to their use," and further states " that the monks had certain kine on the same island and yet paid no tithes of the same.
At one point a Richard Thimbleby, possibly the same, owned Woolsthorpe Manor in Lincolnshire. The Newton family had taken possession of Woolsthorpe Manor in 1623 and their heir, Isaac Newton was born premature and sickly on Christmas Day in 1642, becoming lord of the manor at birth. Isaac's father, a prosperous Lincolnshire farmer, had died two months before his son's birth. Richard also, despite coming from a staunchly Catholic family, converted to the Church of England during the reign of Queen Mary (18 February 1516 – 17 November 1558) - Mary is remembered for her restoration of Roman Catholicism after her half-brother's short-lived Protestant reign. During her five-year reign, she had over 280 religious dissenters burned at the stake (including George Marsh - burnt at Chester). Richards's father, Sir John Thimbleby, is listed as the particular ringleader of the 1536 "revolt" that Richard Cromwell (nephew to Thomas Cromwell) would "be most keen to capture".
- Thimbleby’s Tower on Wikipedia;
- Thimbleby’s Tower on English Heritage;
- Chester City Walls - Thimbleby's Tower on Revealing Cheshire's Past;
- More on the Kenrick's from Chesterwalls.info;
- Thimbleby’s record as an MP;
Back to the Eastgate
This part of the east wall of Roman Chester and of medieval city was originally built in the late C1 to early C2 and restored by the Anglo-Saxons in the late 11th to early 12th centuries, converted to a raised promenade 1702-8 and repaired in various periods. The construction is of purple-grey sandstone with Roman ashlar masonry and softer red sandstone together with medieval and later coursed rubble. Some of the Roman stones may be reused. There is a slightly projecting plinth, probably Roman, behind what was the Trustee Savings Bank (and is now a nightclub) in St John Street. A probably Roman plinth and 2 courses of ashlar exists behind the Wesley Methodist Church, with C19 rebuilding above and some refacing in brick. An L-shaped ashlar stair of 14 and 20 steps descends towards St John Street ("St John's Steps"). The inner face of the wall is partly refaced in brick in the northern portion, with blank arches and 8 circular apertures. Three eroded C19 gravestones with a frieze above inscribed "WESLEYAN CHAPEL" are attached to the wall, to the rear of the Wesley Methodist Church.
St John Street Steps date back to the early 1800s and were probably built around the same time as the Methodist Church next door. The steps were closed in summer 2008 following a risk assessment of the City Wall following the collapse mentioned below. There was a void inside the staircase and the slender outer wall had bowed outwards, which, together some movement, led engineers to conclude it was unstable. A steel frame was built inside the void and attached to parts of the stair structure and to the City Wall at the top. During the repairs, the workforce accidentally broke through the roof of a previously unknown underground crypt which has since led to the discovery of two further crypts behind the church building.
On the left hand side, are the backs of the buildings in Newgate Street and then a rather ugly modern car park, the construction of which destroyed many roman remains. A 1960s concrete footbridge runs from the wall walk to the Grosvenor shopping precinct. In Roman Chester the upper end of what was later to become "Fleshmongers Lane" and later Newgate Street is believed to have been the site of the "Tribunorum" houses assigned to the main officers (tribunes and praefectus castorum) of the legion beneath the actual commander. As what is now Eastgate Street was used for ceremonial purposes, the frontage onto it from the south would probably have been quite ornate. Legions were commanded by a legionary legate (legatus). Six tribunes were posted to a legion, their duties and responsibilities were more a political position than a military rank. Young men of Equestrian rank often served as military tribune as a stepping stone to the Senate. The second-in-command to the legate was the tribunus laticlavius or 'broad-stripe' tribune (named after the width of the stripe used to demarcate him on his tunic and toga), usually a young man of Senatorial rank. He was given this position to learn and watch the actions of the legate. They often found themselves leading their unit in the absence of a legate. In contrast to the broad-stripe tribune, the other five 'thin stripe' tribunes were lower in rank, and were called the tribuni angusticlavii. These 'officer cadets' were men of equestrian rank who had military experience, and yet had no authority: they were allowed to sit on a court martial but they held no power in battle. Most thin-stripe tribunes served the legionary legate, yet a lucky few (such as Agricola) were selected to serve on the staff of the provincial governor. Archaeological investigation of the homes of these people would have been fascinating. Unfortunately, reckless development during the 1960's destroyed any surviving structure. Dennis Petch, Curator of the Grosvenor Museum during the 1960s, is reported to have recalled bitterly that:
- "..the developer refused to give permission for any formal excavation once his work on the site had begun... with customary efficiency Laing's immediately commenced the earthworks for underground storage and delivery bays for shops to be built in the precinct above... it was soon clear that the great colonnaded hall under the arcade formed part of the same complex and was in all probability one of the earliest of the covered palaestrae of the north-western provinces of the Roman Empire. Even after the great size and high degree of preservation of the building had been clearly demonstrated, and protests against its impending destruction were made at local and national level, commercial considerations prevailed, effectively limiting our gathering of site data to piecemeal observation and recording at the pleasure of the contractor, supplemented by very little formal excavation. This was not a very satisfactory way of proceeding in the case of such an important building which had apparently begun its life in the early years of the fortress and was still in use in the third century. This debacle attracted a great deal of public attention and criticism, and the upshot was a general conviction that such vandalism should not be allowed to recur."
Steve Howe of the Virtual Stroll website has collected many stories from men who worked on the construction site of the purposeful and wanton destruction of any remains found, so as to prevent any delay to construction by archaeological investigations. In one case, a perfectly preserved mosaiic floor was found and the workers were told to wreck it with the back-hoe of a digger.
On the third of April 2008, a 30-metre section of the walkway hereabouts, behind the Chester Grosvenor hotel and the Mall shopping centre, was closed after part of the City Walls collapsed at 5.30pm. The collapse happened at the junction of two much earlier repairs where water had washed some of the core material away. This left a length of unstable wall between the repairs. The remaining wall was carefully taken apart until all the unstable material had been removed. It was then rebuilt using the original stone as far as possible, together with modern materials designed to tie the different parts of the wall together.
In January 2020 a further section of the City Walls behind the Wesley Church Centre in St John Street collapsed. Early indications appeared to show that earth had been removed from the bottom of the city walls behind 15 to 19 Newgate Street by a developer. The local paper had reported in 2019: "Cllr Don Beckett, Labour, was less convinced that the location would be suitable. He said: “I think the application site is too near to the famous walls....".
However, not to end on a sad note, at this point Hughes, bouyant as ever, remarks:
- "Stepping down from the Eastgate on its opposite side we have now completed our circuit of the Walls and our appetite being somewhat sharpened by our long walk we will turn into the "Blossoms" and discuss the merits of such "savoury meats" as mine host of that ilk is enabled to lay before us."
- Chester City Walls - Wall between Eastgate and Thimbleby's Tower on Revealing Cheshire's Past;
Our walk around the walls is complete. We have seen a lot and, undoubtedly, we have missed a lot.
Sources and Links
Some of these links may be "broken".
- The excellent guide to the Walls of Chester found at ChesterWalls.info
- Discover Chester on the City Walls;
- Chester Then and Now - Chester as it was with modern and older photos compared;
- Medieval and Post Medieval City Defences on Revealing Cheshires Past;
- Chester Walls Heritage Trail on Google Maps;
- A Tour Round The Walls from "Woodheyhall";
- Chester City Walls at "Gatehouse" (extensive list of references)
Downloadable Maps and Guides
- Walls Heritage Trail downloadable pdf;
- Walls Heritage Trail (wheel and push-chair access) downloadable pdf;
- A Tour in Wales. MDCCLXX Thomas Pennant (1770);
- The stranger's handbook to Chester and its environs Thomas Hughes (1856)
- History of the County Palatine and city of Chester Vol. 1 pp156-58, 279-82, 85 Ormerod, G., (1819), London;
- British History Online: VCH Cheshire Vol. 5 Part 2 pp213-25 Lewis, C.P. and Thacker, A.T. (eds), (2005);
- Abbeys, Castles and Ancient Halls of England and Wales Vol. 3 pp123-6 Timbs, J. and Gunn, A., (1872), London;
- Bond, C.J., 1987, 'Anglo-Saxon and Medieval Defences' in Schofield, J. and Leech, R. (eds) Urban Archaeology in Britain (CBA Research Report 61) p. 92-116 online copy
- Cullen, P.W. and Hordern, R., 1986, Castles of Cheshire (Crossbow Books) p. 5,16,17
- King, D.J.C., 1983, Castellarium Anglicanum (London: Kraus) Vol. 1 p. 70
- Harris B, 1979, Bartholomew City Guides: Chester (Edinburgh) p. 94-95
- Barley, M.W., 1975, 'Town Defences in England and Wales after 1066' in Barley (ed) The plans and topography of medieval towns in England and Wales (CBA Research Report 14) p. 57-71 plan p. 62
- Turner, H.L., 1971, Town Defences in England and Wales (London) p. 202-3
- Pevsner, Nikolaus and Edward Hubbard, 1971, Buildings of England: Cheshire (Harmondsworth)
- Harvey, Alfred, 1911, Castles and Walled Towns of England (London: Methuen and Co) p. 238-9
- Simpson, Frank, 1910, The Walls of Chester
- Salter, Mike, 2013, Medieval Walled Towns (Malvern: Folly Publications) p. 48-51
- Ward, S., 2009, Chester: a history (Chichester: Phillimore)
- Salter, Mike, 2001, The Castles and Tower Houses of Lancashire and Cheshire (Malvern: Folly Publications) p. 15-16
- LeQuesne, C. and Strickland, T.J., 1999, Excavations at Chester: the Roman and later defences, part 1. Investigations 1978-1990 (Chester: Chester City Council/Gifford and Partners)
- Pettifer, A., 1995, English Castles, A guide by counties (Woodbridge: Boydell Press) p. 14-16
- Carrington, P., 1994, English Heritage Book of Chester (London: English Heritage/Batsford)