Princess Street extends west from Northgate Street opposite the Abbey Gates towards St Martin's Way (formerly Linenhall Street). It is first mentioned in around 1208 as "venella contra portam abbatie" later called "Personeslone" by 1249. Later it became "Parsons Lane".
In 1914 most working-class Cestrians lived in 19thcentury terraced housing with tiny back sculleries, outside lavatories, small back yards, and front doors opening on to the street. In the city centre, conditions in the courts of Princess Street, Goss Street, and Crook Street remained below that standard into the 1930s. In Princess Street (which the Town Hall stood on the corner of) there were 224 houses, of which 140 were damp and 120 verminous; 103 shared lavatories, 118 had no suitable washing accommodation, and 108 lacked a sink or internal water supply. The clearance was undertaken in several major phases, in 1939 immediately to the rear of the Town Hall and again in the 1960s over the remaining area as far west as St Martins Way.
Roman Princess Street
These various clearances allowed for excavation of the largely undisturbed Roman remains beneath. As a consequence it was possible to determine that there were two distinct phases of construction at Chester with something of a hiatus between. In 122AD construction of Hadrian's Wall started and the XXth Legion (or at least large parts of it) moved north. During the following years not only did building work at Chester almost cease, but significant areas within the Roman fortress were abandonned to the point of dereliction, stones were stripped from pavements for re-use and some area's even used as rubbish-tips. Barracks which had not yet been rebuilt in stone were either demolished, or allowed to collapse. One was abandonned half-built, another used for cremation burials. From the barracks which had not fallen into disuse during this period it is possible to estimate that only a small part of the XXth Legion remained in Chester. At this time the fortress at Chester was probably used as a storage and supply station. Following the cessation of civil warfare around 210, it seems that the 20th Legion returned to Chester and began rebuilding the (by now quite decrepit) fortress. The entire street and sewer system was repaired, with the new, much enlarged Roman sewers surviving until relatively recent times and giving rise to many of the legends about underground tunnels beneath the City. The barracks were repaired as stone or part stone structures and the Centurion's quarters gained underfloor heating. Tile manufacture at nearby Holt had ceased but gradually Welsh slate came to be used for roofing. The Principia was rebuilt from the foundations up, indicating that this important ceremonial building had fallen into serious disrepair in the previous century.
Archaeological finds have confirmed a Hiberno-Norse presence in Chester. In particular, a brooch with Borre-Jellinge ornament found at between Princess Street and Hunter Street is identical with a brooch found in Dublin, and must have derived from the same mould. See the page on Hunter Street for an image.
It has been suggested (by non-other than W. J. Williams (1875-1971) - discoverer of the Chesster Amphitheatre) that the name “Persian’s Cave” is given to Princess Street on the Braun and Hogenberg Map of Chester (circa 1581), and it has been further suggested that this could indicate the survival of a Mithraeum into the Middle Ages not far from the Infirmary Field - a Roman cemetary. However, careful inspection of the map reveals, in fact, that the wording is "Parson's Lane" and not "Persian's Cave".
Victorian Princess Street
1868 saw the opening of the Bishop Graham Memorial Ragged School on a donated site in Princess Street. It was closed in 1915 and later (in 1959) became the Chester City Mission which relocated from Crook Street, The building was demolished in August 2007 after the City Mission moved to nearby Hunter Street.
The first door on the left when entering Princess Street from Northgate Street leads to the Police Station beneath the Town Hall. The Chester City Police Force was established under the Municipal Corporations Act of 1835, which transferred the powers of the Police (Improvement) Commissioners, established originally by an Act of 1762 and extended by a later Act of 1803, to the new Watch Committee of the Council in February 1836. The city police moved to new, purpose-designed accommodation at street level in the new Town Hall in 1869. Chester City Police Force remained under the control of the Corporation until 1 April 1949, when it was amalgamated with the Cheshire Constabulary under the Police Act of 1946. However, the City Division of the Cheshire Constabulary continued to occupy the police station at the Town Hall until January 1967 when they moved to the new Cheshire Constabulary headquarters building near Chester Castle. However, with closure (and subssequent demolition) of the "new" headquarters in 2006 a part of the city division moved back to the ground floor of the Town Hall.
The market in Chester used to be situated on Northgate Street next to and behind the Town Hall (see map), where it traded for more than 100 years before moving to the where it is now on Princess Street in 1967, when the whole of the market hall area was redeveloped into the Forum. This move displeased a great many local people, who did not want the Victorian public architecture to be demolished. But demolished it was, and the old building was replaced by a modern complex of shops and council offices. A small part of the original market building, including it's foundation stones still exists in Princess Street.
The firm of Samuel Taylor Parry was unique in Chester engineering by surviving from the 18th century to 1914 and beyond. A jobbing engineering business, Parrys occupied premises in Princess Street throughout the period and also operated the foundry in Crook Street before 1855 and again between 1876 and the early 1890s. By 1896 the firm had diversified into electrical engineering, and it played an important role in the early provision of electric lighting in Chester.
Sources and Links
- A history and very detailed description of the Police Station at the Town Hall.
- Chester: excavations in the Princess Street/Hunter Street area, 1978-1982;
- More on the Town Hall;