Queen's Park

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Overview

The form of the area is marked by the planned origins of the suburb. Streets are either long and straight or gently arcing. The most striking features in plan-form are the complete oval of Victoria Crescent and the large semi-circular form of St George's Crescent. There is the interesting arrangement of the Victorian houses backing onto the streets (St John's Rear Road and Northern Way) where vehicular access is provided, and fronting onto a pedestrian alley: Victoria Pathway. Bottoms Lane, which leads to Earls Eye Meadow is probably an older pre-existing road, which has an earlier property alongside. Within this street form buildings are generally detached or semidetached and set back from the street behind walls and hedges. They are generally two-storey, although many Edwardian and Victorian properties are two-and-a-half storeys, especially on St George's Crescent. There are also a number of bungalows on the eastern edge of Victoria Crescent.

The Edwardian properties are good examples of modest middle-class housing of their era. The Victorian properties are larger and represent the most impressive buildings in the area but the overall impression of the area is Edwardian/Inter-war The individual Victorian houses are generally 2-3 storeys with typical Victorian features such as traditionally-pitched roofs, gable fronts, bays and sash windows. Many are white rendered or have white-painted brickwork. A number of these properties are Italianate in style, with arched windows and other Italianate details. There are also some smaller middle-class Victorian houses in the St John's Road area, seemingly as part of a small planned scheme by Harrison, all of which is Grade II listed. Eastern Pathway also has a strong group of three-storey middle-class semi-detached Victorian housing with typical features of the era

A Brief History

Queen's Park was planned on a greenfield site immediately south of the River Dee, east of Handbridge and next to the Earls Eye in 1851 by Enoch Gerrard and others. Some of the impetus for the Queen's Park dvelopment came from the Fielden brothers of Todmorden, a noted Quaker family who had made good profits from cotton spinning.

It was developed in the 1850s and 1860s as a middle class residential suburb. The Duke of Westminster originally intended to have the area laid out as a model industrial suburb but Victoria Pathway remains the only part of this vision that was realised. The residential development of Queen’s Park was slow and only four villas and two semi-detached pairs had been built by 1873. By 1910 the total had still reached only 17, although a further 10 houses had been built on St. George's Crescent to the south. The experience there, and at Curzon Park, suggests that the demand for exclusive property in Chester was smaller than the amount of sites available. On the southern edge of Queen's Park some smaller semi-detached houses had appeared in the mid 19th century around Victoria Pathway. There has since been extensive inter-war and post-war infill and eastward extension to the suburb. The suburb is linked to the city by the Queen's Park Suspension Bridge.

Western Command

The large building with the Neo-Georgian (now collonaded) front facing the River Dee was once the Western Command headquarters for the Army during World War Two. From here the army controlled its forces from Hadrian’s Wall on the Scottish border, right down to Tewkesbury in Gloucestershire. It is now the Queen's Park Campus of Chester University. Western Command was established in 1905 and was originally called the Welsh & Midland Command before changing its name in 1906. In 1907 Western Command relocated to Watergate House in Watergate Street. In 1938, after a brief stay in temporary accommodation at Boughton (the old "Industrial School"), it moved to a new purpose-built neo-Georgian property, build on land bought from the corporation, variously known as Churchill House/Capital House at Queen's Park. The Command was merged into HQ UK Land Forces (HQ UKLF) in 1972 and the Queen's Park property handed over to the Royal Army Pay Corps (previously located in Hoole Hall) until the Ministry of Defence closed the site in 1997. It was briefly the offices of various banks, before standing vacant for a while (after 2010) until taken over by Chester University as its business school in 2015.

First day cover issued when the Western Command left Chester.

There are extensive disused bunkers beneath the building. Following Dunkirk the threat of invasion from Ireland was seen as very real and a system of very rapid and radical defence works were built around Chester and in North Wales. These systems of "Stop Lines" were commanded from Chester. Information regarding the bunkers is scarce and mostly derived from "urban explorers", however several local history resources suggest that in 1943 and 1944, the Western Command bunkers played host to secret meetings between Winston Churchill, General Eisenhower and General De Gaulle (after whom the bar in the "Churchill Building" is named).

Western Command hit the headlines in 1957 when the then commander (Lieutenant-General Sir Edwin Otway Herbert, General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Western Command) gave a speech at the Institute of Electrical Engineers, Chester which doubted that the Russians had actually launched "Sputnik". As reported in Hansard (HC Deb 11 December 1957 vol 579 cc1243-4):

  • Mr. G. Thomas: asked the Secretary of State for War whether the announcement by (..Herbert..) which was delivered to the Institution of Electrical Engineers at Chester on 11th November, to the effect that Russian scientific claims were not to be believed .. Whether or not the Secretary of State has done me the favour of reading this speech, is he aware that this officer did not believe there was a Sputnik and did not believe there was a dog in the Sputnik?
  • Mr. Nabarro: Was there a dog in the Sputnik?
  • Mr. Thomas: If that officer holds those strange views of the Russian experiments, what view would he take of the American experiments?
  • Mr. Hare: The latter part of the supplementary question is somewhat hypothetical. I think the reports of this speech were somewhat exaggerated. I have indeed done the hon. Member the courtesy of looking into it, and I can assure him that what Lieutenant-General Herbert implied was that we should not believe everything the Russians tell us. I think that is probably wise advice.

Sputnik I and II had in fact been launched. Both were visible at night to the unaided eye. Sputnik II did in fact carry the unfortunate dog Laika launched into space on 3 November 1957. Laika died within hours from overheating, although the true cause and time of her death were not made public until 2002.

It has been suggested that the bunkers should be opened as a tourist attraction but they are considered too unsafe for public access. Suggestions that the bunkers should be "filled in" have been strongly resisted by the local Archaological Society, who noted that the once derelict WW2 bunkers at Valetta, in Malta, have become a successful attraction.

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