St John Street

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St John Street from the Lavaux Map of 1745. It can be seen how the line of the City Walls from Eastgate southwards backs away from the true line of the Roman Walls such that the Roman Corner Tower (see below) ends up outside the walls.

Early History

St John Street signage. No mention of the Amphitheatre as it had not been discovered at the date of the sign.

In Roman Chester, St John Street would have been roughly the route from the Eastgate to the Amphitheatre. Roughly because it is known that the line of the Roman and modern walls differ somewhat along this section. During excavations on the site of the Library in 1988/9, the stump of the fortress wall was found to be several metres in advance of the current line of the walls. The remains of the facing blocks of the Roman wall were very badly damaged, indicating that there had been a catastrophic collapse of the wall rather than a gradual erosion. There is some evidence that this was not the first time this section of the wall had collapsed as the wall seems to have been substantially rebuilt in the early fourth century. The current line of the City Walls behind St John Street probably follows that of Æthelflæd's reconstruction in the early 10th century during the course of Æthelflæd's military campaigns designed to secure the northern frontier of Mercia against the Vikings. It was also not to be the last time that this section of the walls needed repair: 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.

Hemingway (1831) records under "the names of all the streets and lanes within the city of Chester and suburbs of the same as they were named in the days of King Edw the 3rd and afore by the Recorder thereof in writing in a table and copied herein by the commandment of the worshipful Richard Dutton mayor of the said city":

  • "ST JOHN'S STREET is Saint John's lane that goeth out of this street towards the church and college and from it at the Cornhill of the mansion place of the petite Chanon there is a lane after the wall of the church yard and it is named Vicar's lane and it putteth upon Barker's lane and Love lane and at the end of this street there goeth a way down to the water of Dee and this said way is named the Souter's loode."

Edward III ruled from 13 November 1312 – 21 June 1377 and a "Chanon" is a canon, i.e. a member of the clergy serving in a cathedral or collegiate church. It is possible at this time, as suggested by Hanshall (1816) that the street may have been known as "Ironmongers Row" from the number of smiths hereabouts.

St John Street from McGahey's "View of Chester from a Balloon (1855). The building set back from the street is the Wesley day school and the tall building the right of it is the Mechanics Institution (later the Library) both since demolished.

St John's Lane, as it was, is shown as fully built-up on the Braun and Hogenberg map of Chester which dates from 1581. However, all of the early buildings may have been demolished in the Civil War - while Cromwell's troops prepared to besiege Chester in the early 1640s the royalist defenders destroyed almost every building where attackers could shelter from view outside the City Walls. Everything medieval outside the walls except the Old Dee Bridge, St Johns church and the Hermitage was destroyed. As Randle Holme stated:

  • "Thus of the moste anchante and famous cittie of Chester in times past but now beholde and mark the ruines of it in these present times within these few years namely within these three years 1643 1644 1645 the particular demolitions of it now moste grievous to the spectators and more woefull to the inhabitants thereof .. 3 Item in the Foregate street Cow lane St John's lane with some other houses in the same street all burned to the ground"

Hemingway also describes the street as being rather run-down by the early 19thC but then "improved":

  • John street a clean neat and commodious street in which there are many residences and amongst others those of the Hon Edwd Massy, Mrs Sloughter, Mr James Dixon and Mrs Freeman. On the west side of this street there is also a very handsome chapel with a circular front occupied by the Wesleyan Methodists and built in the year 1811. The hand of improvement is particularly observable in this street which till about fifteen years ago was dark narrow and incommodious. At the bottom of the street are the grounds and mansion of Sir John Salusbury on the right a road leading to Newgate and Pepper streets and on the left Little St John street in which is the elegant residence of George Brooke Esq.

James Dixon, husband of Mary Anne (the benefactress of the Dixon’s Almshouses at Christleton), was the youngest of the three sons of Thomas Dixon (1755-1811), a Chester timber merchant who lived at Littleton Hall, Littleton. James followed his father into the timber trade, owned property in Christleton and Chester and was also involved in shipbuilding in the city. His timberyard may be the one shown to the east of St John Street in the McGahey "Balloon View". Other past residents of St John Street have included Boden the builder and Lunt, foundry owner and developer for Chester in the early 19th Century.

Hemingway is one of the first writers on Chester to describe St John Street in any detail indicating that it did improve considerably after around 1810. However the impressive mansion at No 6 dates from the mid 18th century indicating that some "improvement" may have started before this. The City Walls alongside St John Street was converted into a raised promenade between 1702 and 1708.

Notable Buildings

For the Lloyds Bank building, Blossoms Hotel and the old "National Provincial Bank of England" on the corner of St John Street, see Foregate Street.

Marlborough Arms

A Victorian Vernacular Revival pub with a mostly original shop front. The keen-eyed will note the spelling of "Marlbororough" - the odd pub name spelling is due to a signwriter's error that stuck. One story goes that the signwriter stopped work on a hot day for a few pints and forgot where he was up to, another version is that the signwriter saw one of the several ghosts said to haunt the building and being "spooked" made his error. A yet futher version is that the error was made by the man labelling the pub's first house ale: he meant to write "Marlborough Ale" and he was somehow distracted (one version involves a ghost again). Early photographs of the pub show the correct spelling on the sign.

St John Street from one of McGahey's sketches for his "View of Chester from a Balloon (1855). Both buildings are here shown in their original form. The Chapel has a rounded front and the Institute an external stair.

The Post Office

Until the mid 19th century almost all provincial post offices were run from the postmasters' own premises. In 1787 and 1830 several generations of the Palin family kept the Chester office at a house in a yard off the north side of Foregate Street just outside the walls, later called Old Post Office Yard. In 1792 the Chester postmaster's salary was among the top six in England, commensurate with Birmingham, Liverpool, and Manchester, but by 1840 it ranked only 22nd. In 1833 the office's revenues came mainly from the provincial post (70 per cent) rather than the services to London (25 per cent), Dublin (3 per cent), or the local penny post (2 per cent).

William Palin built a new office in 1842 on the east side of St. John Street behind the Blossoms Hotel, evidently to cope with the greatly increased business occasioned by the introduction of the national penny post in 1840. The Post Office opened a new head office for the town in 1876 on the other side of St. John Street, where it remains today.

Hughes described the old Post Office as follows:

  • "At the rear of the Blossoms in St John Street is the Post Office a neat stuccoed building erected in 1842 at the sole expense of William Palin Esq the present post master. Prior to this the business of the Post Office was conducted in a dark and dreary building situate up a court still known as the Old Post Office Yard. It was to Rowland Hill and his wonder working penny stamp that the citizens owed this satisfactory change from darkness unto light."

No 9

This small town-house was built around 1760 and is possibly the oldest surviving building on St John Street, although the larger town house futher down the street may be a little older.

The Library building in St John Street prior to demolition. Lockwood's restoration had removed the external stair and added decoration.

The Library

This building has now gone, but it had an interesting history while it lasted.

Subscribers to an intended circulating library obtained permission to use a room in the Exchange in 1773, but it is not certain that the venture was ever launched. The first public library to be set up in Chester was the City Library at 16 Whitefriars in 1773, owned by 120 proprietors. It had very few novels having mainly erudite tomes on history, geography, law and philosophy. The City Library moved to rooms over the Commercial News Room in St Peter's churchyard in 1815. To use the City Library there was an entrance fee of 10/6d and then an annual subscription of one guinea (the average wage at the time for a general labourer was £44).

The first General Public Library to be set up in Chester was situated first in the entrance to Bolland’s Court (off Whitefriars), in the defunct Philosophical Society's room and then it moved to a room in Fletcher’s buildings, Bridge Street (later used as the offices for the Chester Chronicle).

Map showing the layout of St John Street prior to the "rotation" of the Methodist chapel in 1906. The open area opposite the Chapel was probably still a timber-yard at the time.

The Council considered building a library and museum in Northgate Street on land adjacent to the Abbey Gateway, next to the proposed new King’s School. However, at the suggestion of E. G. Salisbury, a former M.P. for Chester, it decided to buy a St John's Street building (on the site of the club "Cruise") from the Mechanics' Institute which had run into difficulties. £1,300 secured the building, books and other contents and the Mechanics' Institution was taken over by the city council in 1875 and converted into a free library under the Free Libraries Act of 1855. Its opening was delayed by conveyancing problems and the need for repairs.

The Chester Free Public Library opened its doors on 1st January 1877, twenty seven years after the Act which permitted the establishment of a free service. 36,000 books were issued in 1878, but the following year the Chronicle was already commenting on the ‘dingy and uncommodious rooms of the library building…and the unfitness of the building for the purposes of a library.” However it would be another 100 years before anything was done about it. The periodicals reading room and the lending library which opened in 1877, was largely restocked with novels, travel, history, and biography. A reference room on the top floor was opened in 1883. For the 1887 Jubilee T. M. Lockwood designed a new reading room in the garden behind the library and remodelled the front in a classical style with pilasters. The cost of the enlargement was met by William Brown, of Chester's leading department store, who chaired the council's library committee from 1880 to 1900. Brown had also been Mayor of Chester (1841), and President of the Mechanics Institution (1842 & 1843). A separate reading room for ladies was opened in 1890. In 1896 there was a short-lived and radical experiment to allow readers behind the librarian's counter to select their own books.

The library also stored books owned by local societies and professional associations, and let rooms to debating and learned societies for lectures and meetings. When the School of Science and Art was established in the Grosvenor Museum the library bought books required by students, chiefly on architecture, building, civil and electrical engineering, and chemistry. It also acted as a depository for course books needed for the Oxford University Extension scheme, launched in Chester in 1887.

After the closure of the adjoining school in 1904, the Library gained a single storey extension on what had been the school yard. This was an impressive building with an octagonal central hallway lit by a glass coupola. This was demolished when the library closed.

In 1974 there was a Local Government re-organisation and Cheshire County Council gained control of the Library. From 1982 building work began on the new Chester library and in 1984 the new library opened in Northgate Street. The Library building in St John Street was demolished and replaced by a branch of the TSB bank (it still says TSB on the back of it) which later moved to the upper end of St John Street as Lloyds-TSB and later to Eastgate Street. The former bank building is now a nightclub.

The Mechanics' Institute

The Mechanics’ Institution movement was one of the most remarkable movements in British educational history. During the period when they existed educational provision for the children of the working classes was practically non-existent. In 1833 only about 800,000 children were receiving some form of instruction and the majority of this was very elementary reading and writing. A further barrier to mass education was that non-conformists could not enter or take degrees at the English universities that existed at the time i.e. Cambridge and Oxford. Even at Oxbridge science was a very minor subject. The Mechanics' Institute movement attempted to provide technical education that was otherwise unavailable. France, Germany and Prussia had already established technical universities in the early 1800s whilst little happened in England until the turn of the 20th century and then only to a limited extent. During the 1830's movements such as the Chartists and the Co-operative movement emerged - in 1839 the state of the country was so unsettled and there was much talk of possible riots by the Chartists - and possibly even an attack on Chester Castle. The Castle was next to Chester Gaol, where many Chartists were held.

After 1848 the educational opportunities for workers rapidly declined even further and the majority of the Institutes became increasingly libraries, reading clubs, providing occasional popular lectures and locations for literary pursuits frequented by the middle and upper classes.

The Chester Mechanics Institution was proposed around 1810 by the Chester book-seller and publisher John Broster to establish a library, reading room for masters, journeymen, apprentices and workers. Hughes (1858) says of it:

William Wardell. He was Mayor of Chester in 1840 (the portrait hangs in the Town Hall) and a partner in Dixon and Wardell's Bank. He is one of the few Mayors not portrayed in robes and the portrait has the interesting symbolism of his finger being stuck in a book.
  • Moving rapidly down this street leaving behind us the Post Office and the entrance to the Blossoms Assembly Room we pause before a house on our right hand approached by a flight of steps and having a lofty stuccoed front This is the Mechanics Institution and is consecrated to the instruction and healthy amusement of that important class of society whose name it bears In addition to a Library comprising several thousand volumes this Institution enjoys the advantages of a News Room liberally supplied with the leading daily and weekly papers together with sundry classes for the special behoof and instruction of the members During the summer months also members have the right of free admission to the Water Tower Museum which we described at some length in our Walk round the Walls What a marvellous fact it is that with these benefits within their reach so few mechanics comparatively avail themselves of this their own Institution.
Dog perched on church in St John Street.

The Chester Mechanics' Institution was initially set up in 1835 in Goss Street. The books and fixtures of the General library were bought with money "advanced" by William Wardell. Wardell was Mayor of Chester in 1840 and a partner in Dixon and Wardell's Bank. He also favoured reform of the voting franchise and supported the "Chester Ragged School". He was also well connected to the literati, exchanging letters with Sara Coleridge in 1835. Sara was the daughter of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Other donations brought the stock to 1,500 volumes, mostly nonfiction, by the end of 1835. Evening classes were held for architectural, mechanical, and landscape drawing, music, foreign languages, elementary arithmetic, and literacy. Unfortuntely, by this time Chester had been larely bypassed by the Industrial Revolution and it was not to be the working classes who benefited from the Mechanics Institution.

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 Watertower on the city walls at a nominal rent.

In 1845 the Institution moved to rented premises in St. John Street, which it bought in 1856, and in the following year it bought the stock of the City library. From the late 1850s its educational activities began to fade; members preferred to read for amusement, and the library therefore bought more popular books. Membership was never more than a few hundred, and the annual subscription of 10s. restricted it to the skilled working and lower middle classes - a point which Hughes seems to overlook. The Institution was dogged by financial difficulties and survived only through philanthropic donations. In 1867 the management passed to trustees when the Institution became financially unsustainable.

The museum in the Watertower continued to exist but seems to have been a very strange afair. 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."

Welsh Presbyterian Church

Built in 1866 to a 13th-century French Gothic styled design by William James Audsley (1833-1907) and George Ashdown Audsley (1838-1925) then of Liverpool. Both were born in Scotland. In 1860 the brothers opened offices in Upper Stanhope Street, Liverpool, and set up a partnership under the name W&G Audsley. They both became important figures in Liverpool society, joining the Liverpool Scottish Volunteer Rifles and playing an active role in the Liverpool Art Club. This was their earliest church design.

The Audsleys moved to New York City in 1892 (William had moved there in 1885). The brothers then worked on the Bowling Green office building on Broadway, credited as being an example of New York's earliest skyscrapers, built between 1895 and 1898, and at one time the offices of the White Star Line. Although G. Audsley achieved considerable reputation as an architect specializing in church design, he was also known as a publisher of books on ornament, extending the relatively new process of chromolithography in order to produce magnificently illustrated volumes. He also designed church organs.

The narthex of the Welsh Presbyterian Church has octagonal corner piers, two intermediate columns of polished red granite, three pointed arches to the front with a central false gable, an arch to each side; two boarded doors on ornate wrought-iron hinges, quatrefoil parapet, two corbel heads and what Pevsner describes as "dragon" gargoyles (they actually seem to include a barking dog and an eagle); a lancet to each side of narthex; stepped buttresses at corners. The is a large rose window with colonnette spokes in a recessed panel with colonnette on each jamb; a lancet near gable apex and a cruciform finial.

A rather dodgy panorama (taken in 2016) of the east side of St John Street. The buildings do not lean quite so much. The Welsh Presbyterian Church by the Audley's (with perched dog) is in the middle.

Wesleyan Chapel

Hughes (1858) says:

  • Beyond this lie the Schools and minister's house of the Wesleyan Methodists divided only by a path to the Walls from the Wesleyan Chapel itself. The principles of Wesleyanism found their way into Chester as early as 1750 the first congregation being held at a house in Love Lane. Fifteen years afterwards the Octagon Chapel in Foregate Street was erected for them and continued to be their place of worship until the completion of the present edifice in 1811.

If Hughes is to be believed then the "Schools and minister's house" must have occupied the imposing town house at number 6, which still exists. This mid 18thC. building was altered somewhat c1975 (at the back), but is in dark red-brown Flemish bond brick with painted stone dressings on the plinth and Corinthian corner pilasters fluted to the front, which is over five bays. The "path to the walls" is still there and an exploration of it will reveal some of the original stonework - just by an L-shaped ashlar stair of 14 and 20 steps leading up to the walls are three eroded 19thC gravestones with a frieze above inscribed "WESLEYAN CHAPEL". The non-conformists built a day school next to the manse in 1839 (since demolished). Curiously Seacome (1828) has the school located behind the chapel and against the walls:

  • "A short way further to the eastward after passing the remains of an old tower abutting from the Walls called Thimbleby's Tower we arrive at a flight of steps leading to the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel in St John's street This by far the handsomest and largest place of worship belonging to the Dissenters in Chester was erected in 1811 Adjoining the wall in the area behind the chapel is a large and commodious School house capable of containing from 200 to 300 children but it is only used as a Sunday School in connexion with the chapel"

It would appear that the original school could not have been located as Seacome suggests as there would simply not have been space available. However the town-house has clearly been extended back towards the walls and the school could initially have been behind that. McGahey (1855) shows a presumably newer building with a walled yard on St John Street itself and that building is shaded as a school on early OS maps, as well as being shown in photographs after 1878. The new school was open from 1839 to 1909.

A rather dodgy panorama (taken in 2016) of the west side of St John Street. The alleyway between the rather imposing town house and the brick church leads to "St John's Steps" up to the wall. When the church was first built, one entrance was at the rear so the interior faced the right way.

The exterior of the present chapel largely dates from 1906 by P. H. and W. T. Lockwood. The earlier building on the same site was by Thomas Harrison and William Cole. The face to St John Street, 1906, is symmetrical in indeterminate style with projecting 2-storey corner pavilions, formerly with entrances, now display windows, in front of the gabled main front with large 9-light round-arched window with quasi-panel tracery. A plaque above the window is inscribed "erected 1811 : restored 1906". Originally the chapel was correctly oriented, entered from the west, facing the City Walls, and with an apsidal east end to St John Street. This apse was curved and the bricks used had to be specially made. Thomas Harrison prepared only a plan, fee 20 pounds. This was an insufficient basis for builders' estimates. William Cole II, whose son was to be Harrison's pupil, completed the working drawings and prepared specifications, fee 85 pounds. Cole evidently also acted as a contractor for masonry, carpentry and joinery, approximately half the cost of the building (£6865.19s.10d).

Another view of the Library showing the Wesleyan Methodist school set back from the street.
The lower part of St John Street before the modernisation of number 10. The people in the foreground are Archaeologists digging-up the Amphitheatre.

The 1906 extensions and alterations included reorienting the church. The apse was demolished, the new entrance front to St John Street built and the chancel added, or reordered from the previous porch, to replace the original entrance.

10 St John Street

10 St John Street is a recently modernised building with an interesting mezzanine front. Older photographs show the building when it was in industrial use with a pair of large doors facing the street. This was once the main warehouse of Dickson's seeds business and later became the printworks of S. G. Mason. The Dickson family, established in Chester by 1820, was pre-eminent in the seed trade, F. & A. Dickson operating at Upton nurseries and James Dickson & Sons at Newton. The two enterprises merged in the 1880s, when the grounds under cultivation extended to over 400 acres. It was one of the largest businesses of its type in the country. By the late 19th century the firm supplied all types of bedding plants and trees, together with farm and garden seeds, garden tools, and agricultural implements, and undertook commissions to design gardens for country houses.

12 St John Street: formerly The Telephone Exchange

12 St John Stree is a symetrical building whose roof indicates a past industrial use - in fact it was once a telephone exchange, and is now a bar. The date stone on the gable indicates that the building was constructed in 1904. The building is a clear example of Edwardian architecture, with rustication at ground level and heavy stone surrounds to the windows. There was a telephone exchange in Newgate Street Chester by 1882, probably opened that year, operated by the Liverpool and Manchester Exchange Telephonic Co. as a subsidiary of the United Telephone Co. and under Post Office licence. Line No 1 went from the exchange to the Town Hall and was offered free of charge for the first three months.

This is remarkably early as the first experimental telephone had only been constructed in 1875/6, but the UK Post Office rented its first telephones in 1878. In 1881 the Lancashire and Cheshire Telephonic Exchange Companies floated with a capital of £250,000, but there was to be no "telephone bubble" as in December 1880, a court judgement was issued that stated that a telephone was a telegraph and a telephone conversation was a telegram. As the Post Office held the monopoly in Britain on telegram services, all private telephone companies were required to obtain a 31 year license from the Postmaster General in order to carry on operating. The Post Office would then take 10% of the companies' income. From this point onwards, the Post Office had an effective monopoly over the telephone. The Postmaster General decided to restrict private company systems to the areas in which they were already operating, so that the Post Office could expand telephone availability into other areas of the country.

The south end of St John Street, with the Wolfgate and the City Walls to the left and neo-Georgean ex-telephone exchange to the right.

The U.T.C. merged with its subsidiaries as the National Telephone Co. in 1891. Its Chester exchange and regional head office were in Godstall Chambers, St. Werburgh Street. In 1898 there were 168 subscribers, mostly businesses. The exchange was transferred to a new building next to the old post office in St. John Street in 1908 in anticipation of the Post Office's acquisition of the national telephone system, which took effect in 1912 (at a national cost of £12,515,264). It moved again in 1950 to a neo-Georgian building on the north side of Little St. John Street built for the purpose in 1939, and in 1979 across the road to Dee House, the former Ursuline convent south of the uncovered part of the Roman amphitheatre. That exchange eventually closed in turn, and in 1990 British Telecom announced their intention of selling the decaying building by auction. For many years a debate has raged about whether Dee House should be demolished and the rest of the Amphitheatre uncovered or whether Dee House should be repaired leaving something for future archaeologists to dig up and explore (possibly with techniques not known today). In 2016 it was decided to restore the building as a hotel, but this fell through as soon as the developer inspected the building and determined just how unsafe it was.

Wolf/Thimbelby's Tower

A map showing the old telephone exchange and the location of both the Roman and present City Walls.

Behind the former telephone exchange building, against the City Walls is 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.

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, and in centuries of re-building the wall has moved backwards.

Wolfgate in 2014, with base of the Roman Corner Tower on the right.

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.



The City Walls from Thimbleby's Tower, looking back towards the Eastgate along the back of St John Street. This part of the Walls was converted into a raised promenade between 1702 and 1708.

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 was already the subject of a lease since 1668.


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