Shipgate Street (formerly "Ship Lane") links Bridge Street and St Mary's Hill. It was certainly in existence by c. 1290. A modest thoroughfare, described merely as 'a way for a horse and a man', it was the site of the residence of the rich citizen Philip the clerk in the early 13th century and thereafter of property belonging to the Bruyn family and later to the Troutbecks, serjeants of the Bridgegate. An alternative name, Rabys Lane, derived from the family who held the serjeanty of Bridgegate in the 14th century.
The Shipgate itself was located in the City Walls just a little to the west of the Bridgegate and 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.
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), in Abbey Square. 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.
Buildings (North Side)
The development on the north side is bounded by St Mary's Hill to the west. This section contained a close knit group of five historic houses in derelict condition. Three houses were renovated, one converted into three flats and the fifth demolished to provide the site for the new house on St. Mary's Hill.
Shipgate House forms offices together as 2-4 Shipgate street. Number 2 is a late 17thC house, refronted in the mid 18thC in brick with stone dressings and an external staircase to the front door. The interior apparently retains many late 17thC features in the forms of walls and floors and an open-well oak staircase. In 1963 the house and the adjoining cottage were bought by Cheshire County Council (for £24,500) with a view to demolishing them and building an extension to County Hall. However this was successfully opposed by the then newly formed Chester Civic Trust. The house was substantially restored between 1971 and 1974.
Number 4 Shipgate street (Shipgate Villa) is a mid 18thC two-storey house. Both properties have a semi-basement. The basement is constructed in coursed sandstone, and probably dates from the 17th century. While number four has an 18th cent. front an oak truss uncovered during restoration work was dated to about 1580.
6, Shipgate st
Number 6 is a small town house, c1860. Stone-dressed Flemish bond brown brick with grey slate roof, ridge parallel with front. Cellar, 2 storeys and attic; 2 bays. Rusticated 2-course sandstone plinth, probably older than the house, with cellar vent.
8-10 Shipgate Street
Numbers 8 and 10 are two cottages, c1800, re-ordered internally and to rear in the 1970s. English garden wall bond brown brick with grey slate roof, ridge parallel with front. Cellar and 3 storeys, each cottage of one bay. 2 steps to each door, those to No.8 repaired.
12a Shipgate Street
Number 12a is a town house, now partly converted to flats. Probably later C18 but altered c1970. Flemish bond brown brick with grey slate roof hipped at south-west end. 3 storeys, double-fronted; the end faces St Mary's Hill.
Buildings (South Side)
The area on the south side was almost completely cleared for redevelopment in 1982/3 but subject to a flying freehold along the south boundary. This overlooked the river and city walls. The new development by architect Christopher Sanders consisted of 17 flats with a central courtyard and basement parking. The scale and materials fit the surroundings while there is enough variety of form to avoid dullness. The house on St. Mary's Hill is composed of small scale elements which echo the buildings further up this steep cobbled street.