The Mystery Tour
As an alternative to the Millennium festival trail this is a hike round sites of mysteries and supposed hauntings. Chester is reputed to be the Uk's most haunted city - so here is the tour of its ghost-infested streets and some sites of other grim goings-on. The complete route is approximately 3 miles (5200m) long and can take anything about 2-5 hours, depending on detours and pubs (it also takes in most of the main shopping streets). The tour route begins and ends at Chester Town Hall and Tourist Information Center, but as it is a circular route one can start anywhere along it: or, as the route is a "figure of eight" around the High Cross do only half of it at a time.
If doing this walk at night it is best not to do it alone as some of the locations visited are quite isolated and, unfortunately, there is occasional street-crime in Chester.
The route is not suitable for wheelchairs and push-chairs as there are lots of steps and one remarkably steep street.
This is not a comprehensive listing of the sightings of "ghosts" in Chester as some of the "haunts" are outside of the City center, for example at Newton Hollows, the Leadworks and the George and Dragon and to visit all of these locations would be a significant trek.
There is a separate page on Chester's spooky Overleigh Cemetery.
The Mystery Tour Map
The Mystery Tour
The Civic Trust did a marvelous job with the Millennium festival trail, but we could not resist the urge to go one better and add some more stops along the way and a few, optional "side adventures". If there is a link in the title then you can follow it to find a Chesterwiki reference with more information, such as the page on the Town Hall, etc.
Start at the Tourist Information Office by the Town Hall in Northgate Street
If the Town Hall is open to the public then the inside is worth seeing, especially for the stained glass depictions of the Earls of Chester, some paintings, the original Magistrates Court and a few little things like the portrait of Owen Jones. You could spend half an hour in here at least looking at all the details. In the now disused Magistrates court a flight of steps can be seen which leads down from the "dock" to the cells beneath - the origin of the phrase "sent down" meaning convicted. There is still a Police Station under the Town Hall, but parts of it have become the Tourist Information Office, whose staff have sometimes reported an "evil presence". These parts of the Police Station included the offices of the Chief Inspector, second in command of the Division, the Detective Inspectors Office and the office of the Superintendent in charge of the Division. Close to these offices were the cells in which the "Moors Murderers", Ian Brady and Myra Hindley, were, according to local myth, held during their trial at Chester Castle. The trial was held over 14 days beginning on 19 April 1966, in front of Justice Fenton Atkinson. However, all the evidence points to the murderers having being driven from Risley Remand Center each day.
One often-mentioned feature of the Town Hall is that the clock tower only has a clock on three of the four sides, and that the clock face facing Wales is missing because the inhabitants of Chester "would not give the welsh the time of day". However, the Cloth Hall in Ypres (built in 1260, destroyed in WW1 and rebuilt in 1934), upon which the Town Hall is based, also only has a clock face on three sides of the tower. The actual clock is recent (having only been installed in 1980), as plans for the inital purchase of a clock (originally intended for Woolwich Arsenal) were cut for cost reasons and the discovery that the clock would require an hour of winding each day!
The place to start. The Town Hall is often open to the public - free of charge.
Cells beneath the disused magistrates court once housed the Moors Murderers
Across from the Town Hall is the larger of the two Abbey Gateways. This one was the site of an execution in 1651. During the Civil War, the Royalist Sir Timothy Fetherstonhaugh liberally contributed money to the royal cause, raised troops at his own expense, and served in the field. At the Battle of Wigan Lane, Lancashire, 26 August 1651, he was taken prisoner, and imprisoned at Chester Castle (from where he wrote a farewell letter to his wife). After trial by court-martial at Chester for "corresponding with Charles Stuart or his Party" he was beheaded outside the Abbey Gate, 22 October 1651, despite his plea that he had quarter for life given him. Prior to his execution, on the 13th October 1651, Fetherstonhaugh is said to have had a last dinner with James Stanley, 7th Earl of Derby, who had been tried at Chester for his part in the Bolton Massacre and recently failed in his escape attempt. The following day, Stanley was taken to Bolton where his execution took place outside the "Man and Scythe" Inn (owned at the time by the Earl of Derby's family).
Walk up the Northgate Street past the Coach House
There is an amusing tale of the "Coach and Horses" from the 1990's. During one of the mystery play seasons, the boy playing a rather major part in one of the plays nipped in for a pint during the intermission and (still dressed in white robes) was promptly accosted by the police for under-age drinking. He uttered the startling reply "You can't nick me - I'm Jesus". After a further exchange of words (and the intervention of a few other customers who had taken the same opportunity for a drink in the intermission), he was released and was able to return to the stage for the second half of the play. An even stranger tale dates fom 1988 - when a sad and gloomy looking old man entered and booked a room for the night. He then went out saying he wanted a walk before retiring. He never returned. Enquiries with the police later revealed that the man who supposedly signed the register, and gave his home address, had in fact died some eight years earlier. Regular drinkers at the pub have seen ashtrays move themselves across table tops and strange blue light flash from the walls. Perhaps they are too regular drinkers.
A little way further up the street, the cellar of the Pied Bull which nowadays houses a micro-brewery, is said to be haunted by the ghost of a cellarman from 1609 and two of the quirky guest rooms are said to be haunted by a pair of "strapping chambermaids" from 19th Century. The Chester coroners reports from 1609 confirm that:
- "John Davies .. casually fell down a flight of stairs leading to the cellar belonging to the Pied Bull, and with a knife in his hand .. and died"
As for the chambermaids, there is no record of their sudden death as is supposed to lead to hauntings, so maybe they are just the "strapping chambermaids" that were already immortalised by George Borrow in his book "Wild Wales".
John and the chambermaids are not the only ghosts to be found in The Pied Bull:
- "A stableman fell asleep in the stables attached to the pub and burnt to death in the fire caused by his lit pipe and he still makes his presence felt in the ground floor rooms," explains Mary Ann Cameron, the author of "Chester: A City of Ghosts".
The Pied Bull claims to be the the oldest continuously licensed premises in Chester. In 1533 it was known as Bull Mansion, and a coach and four started to run from here to Birkenhead in 1784. The inn is mentioned in the Admiralty Records of 1804 as the inn where an armed and drunken Reverend Lucius Carey was attempting to gain access, when he was detained by the ex-Beadle. Carey got his revenge by having his detainer press-ganged - and we know nothing of the unfortunate Beadle's fate. On the King Street wall of the Pied Bull is what looks like a sculpture based on the "Chester Imp" at the Cathedral. This is a part of the now defunct "Chester Imp Trail" and, not, as some seem to think, a "Fire Insurance Mark".
Across King Street is the Red Lion. This pub moved here in 1795, but there may have been an earlier pub on the site (the pub claims to have been there since 1600). While it has been described as "notable by its black and white style of the Tudor period" the building is unlisted and the pillared arcade at the front probably dates to the 18th Century at the earliest (it clearly has the arcade in McGahey's 1855 "Balloon View"). It has its own story of a haunted cellar, a tale "emphatically retold by a previous landlady".
Numbers 63-65, formerly the "Bell" This is the best example, other than in The Rows, of a medieval town house (1494) in Chester. The resident ghost is that of a woman whose lover died in the Civil War. Witnesses report the beautiful maiden Henrietta waiting at the first floor window for her lover and Civil War fighter to return from battle. He was slain at Rowton Heath in 1645 and stricken with grief she staggered into the cellar and committed suicide. In another version of the story, the lover was run down by a stage-coach.
"Chez Jules" used to be the Fire Station. Firemen are sometimes superstitious and both the appliance room and the control room were said to be haunted by the bewhiskered "Fireman Jack" dressed in an old-fashioned Fireman's uniform complete with brass helmet:
- One night the Fireman manning the control room looked through the control room door's observation panel and said he saw Jack sitting on the old turntable ladder and smiling at him. He was so frightened that he immediately threw the bells on and turned out the watch. When the rest of the watch reached him they said he was white as a sheet.
"Fireman Jack" was said to have haunted the old Fire Station.
Pass through the gateway to reach Abbey Square
Hemingway describes Abbey Square as follows:
- On passing through the arched gate way we enter into Abbey square. On the right hand is a dead wall inclosing the episcopal palace a good stone building but as destitute of magnificence as it is of elegance. This edifice was wholly rebuilt by Bishop Keene out of his private property at an expence of £2200 soon after his promotion to the see in 1752. The east side of the square contains only two good houses one at each extremity the interval being occupied by smaller dwellings. The north and west sides are filled up with elegant buildings occupied by some of our first quality. The two end houses adjoining the gate stand on the site of an old edifice called the prison house On pulling down the latter about five years ago a narrow cell was discovered on the first floor from which all light was excluded in which it is said that martyr to popish cruelty, George Marsh, was immured previous to his execution at Boughton.
George Marsh definitely does not seem to have had a pleasant time while in Chester, but it seems that he was imprisoned at the Northgate rather than here (which was even more cruel). However, the cellars of the 1771 town house at 3 Abbey Square lead down to an even lower cellar under the pavement of Abbey Square itself (which has coursed sandstone walls beneath a probably C18 segmental barrel vault of brick), and is reputedly an ecclesiastic court cell.
This elegant square was built in the mid 18th Century on the site of the Abbey Bakehouse and Brewery. The column in the central garden is said to have come from the old Exchange building in 1756 (it probably wasn't).
On the opposite side of the square take cobbled Abbey Street down to Kaleyard gate and get up onto the walls. Follow the walls along to the Phoenix Tower
..not the same "Nora Batty"
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. 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 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.
Continue along the North Wall to the Northgate
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. Over the years there have been several deaths at or near this spot. Hemingway writes of one lucky escape from before 1831:
- "Before I leave this gate I shall mention a circumstance that occurred near the spot luring the time the footway was repairing which may be considered extraordinary. A young gentleman who was mounting the wall at the east end in order to save the trouble of going round lost his balance and fell over. He alighted on the canal towing path below which in depth is little less than twenty yards and then rolled into the canal from whence he was speedily extricated having neither sustained a broken limb or a serious fracture. It appears his fall had been broken by striking against a projecting portion of the wall about midway in his descent which alone can account for the little injury he received."
Not everyone was so lucky. Noting in his chronicle of the year 1826, Hemingway writes:
- "The body of a young man named Thomas Reeves was discovered in that part of the canal nearly opposite the Phoenix Tower and not more than a yard from the shore on the towing path side. The circumstance of a severe wound on the head the tattered appearance of some parts of his apparel and above all the finding his hat upon the walls at the distance of about eighty yards from the place opposite to which he was found naturally suggested a suspicion that after a struggle with some murderous villains he had been thrown over the parapet wall."
And for 1816 Hemingway records:
- "The body of Samuel Williams collector of the Northgate tolls found in the canal under the old house of correction. It was supposed he had been murdered"
The cutting in which the canal runs reaches its deepest beneath the Northgate. The new Northgate was built in place of the former medieval gatehouse in 1810 by County architect Thomas Harrison for the City Council. There appears to have been a bridge of some sort here since the middle-ages - the City Treasurer's accounts for 1569 contain an entry which reads: "for making the north-gate bridge new, great joists, thick planks £4/3s/2p". The present bridge dates from around c1790 and its construction may have been supervised by Thomas Telford. 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 supposedly 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, but the one at Chester was actually across the canal at the "House of Industry".
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.
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"
The original Roman corbelling can be seen running along 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). Local legend states there is a slapping noise on the Northgate in high winds, an echo from the body of Aaron Gee, the last man to be hung there: in 1801, for sheep stealing. The warders of the Northgate often complained that every time they hung somebody the body would slap against the window.
Arrive at St John's Hospital and the Northgate
A little beyond the 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.
Walk downhill along the Walls to Morgan's Mount
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. Hemingway writes:
- 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.
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. Apparitions of Cavalier soldiers reputedly appear at this tower.
Continue to the Watertower
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. 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".
To get to the Gloverstone descend to this gate..
The Watertower is once home to a grim exhibition called "Sick To Death" (now relocated to the city center). It:
- blends blood and guts with scintilating science, family fun and amazing archaeology. Set within a complex of 700 year old medieval towers, it tells the story of Chester through the health, diseases, injuries and cures experienced by inhabitants of Chester over hundreds of years
The Watertower is said to be haunted by an unfortunate watchman, who, as a result of dereliction of his duty, is doomed to remain on eternal patrol on the spur wall.
Visit the Gloverstone
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 walls 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"
Continue to the Infirmary
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".
As befits the "most haunted city" - when the Royal Infirmary was still standing, the ghost of "Soldier Mackenzie" was well known. He was reputed to be a Scottish soldier admitted with serious wounds during the 1914-18 war. He died of his wounds, and is said to have been buried in a hospital shroud instead of his uniform. As a consequence, he is believed to be carrying out an eternal search for his missing uniform, complete with kilt.
There was also an apparition of ‘man in a brown suit’ visiting his sick mother and reportedly seen by several nurses in 1976; the woman later told nurses her son was killed in the Second World War.
On past the Queen's School
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. 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!).
Needless to say, the executions at the "drop" have spawned supernatural effects - mostly seen/felt around the school "Music Room".
Arrive at the Watergate
Every building on the north side of Lower Watergate Street is listed, and comprise a terrace known as the "Watergate Flags", of which construction started around 1779 (with involvement of Joseph Turner). At that time remains of the Roman baths were found, and Broster, writing for publication shortly afterwards, in 1781, explains how the Roman remains were destroyed by the builders. Number 102 experiences bumps, rattlings and cold draughts. It has been said that nobody will live there and it can only be used as offices.
Walk up Watergate Street to Stanley Palace
Stanley Palace was built in 1591 on the site of the former Black (Dominican) Friary. It was built as the town house for Sir Peter Warburton, a local lawyer and Member of Parliament. When he died in 1621 the house was inherited by his daughter. She married Sir Thomas Stanley who gave his name to the house. After the Civil Wars James Stanley (The 7th Earl) was held under arrest at the house, prior to being transported to Bolton for execution. The historical building had three bays, but in 1928 the 17th Earl of Derby passed the house over to Chester City Council on a 999-year lease: the Council commenced work to restore and extend the building, adding the fourth bay on the site of the demolished building which had previously defined the "narrow entry". Looking at old engravings of the building we see it only comprises three bays. This is because the fourth bay, that nearest Watergate Street, was only added in 1935.
Stanley Palace has been the site of intense "paranormal investigation".
William Stanley is sometimes said to have written (between 1589 and 1613) the plays attributed to William Shakespeare. His brother Ferdinando, also known as Lord Strange and who was to become the fifth Earl of Derby, formed his own group of players known as Lord Strange's Men. Lord Strange's Men was one of the leading companies of the time, by 1592, probably including a little-known actor named "William Shakspur" from Stratford-on-Avon. Eventually, Lord Strange's Men became The Chamberlain's Men and finally The King's Men.
William Stanley called himself "Will", as did the author of the Shakespeare Sonnets — not "William", "Francis", "Edward" or anything else. He grew up in an environment saturated with and famous for drama, both in his Lancashire/Cheshire homeland and in his family, again much more than any other candidate. He was deeply involved in the drama of the time — with players, in play-writing, with his own company, and with at least one children's company. He was of the right age — four years older than the actor from Stratford-on-Avon and longer-lived — so no pre-dating or post-dating of the plays (almost all of which are reasonably dated to within a few years) is required to fit him. His path crossed "Shakspur's" at just the right time to agree on an author/front-man relationship that would benefit both, perhaps when William Stanley's works were already circulating as "by W. S.". And, finally, someone, writing in a handwriting indistinguishable from William Stanley's (and very distinguishable from any other candidate), was writing lines in the one surviving manuscript of a play that are generally agreed to be in Shakespeare's handwriting.
The tunnels "to both the Watergate & the Castle" are a recurring theme in Chester. In Roman Chester there was a main sewage and waste-water disposal system via rock-cut culverts set below the main streets and no doubt connected to both communal and private latrines, such as those for the centurions at Abbey Green. Ranulph Higden, a monk at the abbey of St Werburgh in Chester (later the Cathedral) wrote a description of Chester in the mid fourteenth century. He described underground passages, huge stones inscribed with the names of ancient men, and vaulted dining rooms:
- There be waies heere under the ground vaulted marvelously with stone worke, chambers having arched roofes over had, huge stones engraven with the names of ancient men. Heere also are sometimes digged up peeces of money coined by Julius Caesar and other famous persons, and stamped with their inscriptions
Gerald of Wales refers to:
- "Urbs Legionum base authentica, ac per Romanos muris coctilibus circumdata, ubi multa aclhuc pristine nobilitatis apparent vestigia ; palatia scilicet immensa, turris gigantea, thermae insignes, templerum reliquiae, et loca theatralia, egregiis muris partim extan tibus pene clausa, et tarn intra quam extra murorum ambitum, sedificia subterranea, aquarum ductus, hypogffiique meatus." (A genuine city of the Legions, surrounded by walls of brick (or tiles), in which many remains of its pristine grandeur are still apparent, namely, immense palaces, a gigantic tower, beautiful baths, remains of temples, and sites of theatres, almost entirely enclosed by excellent walls, in part remaining; also, both within and outside the circumference of the walls, subterranean constructions, water-courses, vaults with passages.)
Another website about Chester records:
- "WATERGATE STREET, BISHOP LLOYD'S PALACE, c. 1880. This two gabled building, not looking much like a palace here, was built early in the 17th century, supposedly for Bishop George Lloyd, formerly Bishop of Sodor and Man, and Bishop of Chester from 1604, whose date of death, 1615, is on one of the panels, as are various biblical subjects. Inside is a 'secret' doorway, said at one time to lead by an underground passage to the Cathedral. (If all the secret passages which were said to lead to the Cathedral actually existed, the town would have a veritable catacombe under its streets. I remember as a schoolboy being told with great authority that a house in St. John's Street had such a passage and another was said to lead from the old brewery in Lower Bridge Street. In neither place could I find trace of them)."
Being labelled as the most haunted house in Chester, there have been numerous reports of various phenomena happening over many years:
- The Lady Elizabeth, Sir Peter Warburton's daughter died in her Black Friars home in 1627. On two occasions her presence has supposedly been observed. A visitor to Stanley Palace reported seeing a lady dressed in a manner related to the 17th century and though it was a volunteer, to welcome visitors to the building. The Lady then disappeared through a doorway, which on later inspection the visitor found this doorway to be an interior panelled wall. A paranormal group, who recently investigated the building, stated that they became aware of a lady, who although welcoming to them, demanded formal etiquette and respect and was clearly the Lady of the House.
- James the 7th Earl of Derby (executed in Bolton by Cromwell's followers) was said to have been betrayed by his trusted manservant, a sympathizer of Oliver Cromwell. A lady attending a social function at Stanley Palace is said to have seen a man dressed in a fashion to that worn by servants in the 17th century, pass her in the foyer and enter the Queen Anne room. James has the wonderful title "Lord Strange".
- Over the years footsteps have been heard in the Gallery and a report in a local newspaper tells of two ladies who not only heard the footsteps, but have been told a number of people have also been aware of the Gallery footsteps and other unexplained noises.
- By 1831 the house had deteriorated and had been divided into three shabby cottages. Paranormal investigators were aware of a giggling atmosphere and children. A girl with waist-length dark hair,wearing a pinafore dress, was frightened by an old man with a walking stick, who swore at children and gave chase waving his stick; perhaps he was a resident of the neighboring cottage, who disliked the children's chatter and giggles.
- During WW2 Stanley Palace was a place of recreation for the armed forces that were stationed in Chester. Upstairs by the staircase entrance to the Gallery, one paranormal group a noticed figure of a gentleman, dressed in the uniform of a second world war army officer was in command of the entertainment. At the far end of the Gallery a grey haired lady was playing the piano and seamed to have a preference for Johannes Brahms.
- Three "child ghosts" were supposedly caught on film in 2014.
Visit Bishop Lloyd's House
Bishop Lloyd's House (or Bishop Lloyd's Palace) is at 41 Watergate Street, and 51/53 Watergate Row, Chester, Cheshire, England. It is designated by English Heritage as a Grade I listed building. The architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner considered it to be "perhaps the best" house in Chester. The buildings were extensively restored in the 1890s by T M Lockwood and again in the 1970's by the then Chester City Council. Lockwood replaced the eastern street entrance with a staircase and entry is now gained through the western tenement only. At row level, the brackets supporting the storey above are carved with bearded giants, beasts and an owl; there are also lighter brackets shaped as figures. Much of this bracketwork was moved around by Lockwood, who also replaced the 18thC sash windows with the mullioned and leaded windows seen today. Lockwood appears to have done the work in at least two stages, as surviving photographs show that the mullion windows were installed before the changes to the row staircase. The house is maintained by the Chester Civic Trust and it is open for visitors on some weekdays.
Just next to Bishop Lloyd's House is a covered entrance-way which leads to the street to the rear. Just at the end of this alleyway, to the right and over the wall is the base of a Roman pillar down in the bottom of a "hole".
Visit the old Leche House
A peculiar structure is located high in the rear wall of the hall, at a casual glance it looks like a decorative feature. It is only on close examination that it's true nature is revealed. Simpson describes it as follows:
- In the south wall is a framed opening oval in shape measuring thirteen and a half inches by eleven inches, which appears to have been a squint. This, some forty years ago, was covered with a Spanish or egg-shaped shield of oak grilled with paly concave divisions, and scroll border. About thirty years ago it was shown to Mr. Frank Williams, of this City, by thè late Mr. Crawford, antique dealer, of Watergate Street Row, who had procured the same from Leche House. All trace of it is now gone.
"Crawford" appears to be the same G. H. Crawford who had the antique shop at St Michael's Rectory (43 Upper Bridge Street). Clearly someone thought to replace the object as a "squint" (if that is what it is) is present in the north wall today. If this is a faithful replica of an actual "spyhole" from the Renaisance, then it would be apparent to anyone who was actually looking for a spyhole that it was such. "Squints" are normally found in Churches, but have been known from various manor houses where they typically look into the banqueting hall. Perhaps the intention here would be to "eavesdrop" on conversations and gain an advantage in business transactions for the Leches. Less widely recorded is the supposed priest-hole in Leche House (in the fireplace, but it may just be a cupboard), and there is said to be others in Lyon House (which is just behiind Leche House in Weaver Street) and Stanley Palace.
The face of an "old-fashioned sailor" is said to be sometimes seen looking out of the first floor window.
Pass Number 13
Number 13 is a house dated 1771, rebuilt on the site of an earlier structure. The undercroft uses the probably medieval walls of numbers 11 and 15 and has an inserted, segmented, barrel brick vault. During alterations in 1986 a blocked stone stair was found against the western wall leading up to row level.
A poltergeist is reputed to move brushes, cards, kettles and glass vases.
Pass God's Providence House
Number 9 is famous for the inscription on the Row fascia reading "God's Providence is mine Inheritance", said to be in thanks for deliverance from the plague of 1647-8. While the Civil War siege of Chester had been lifted with the surrender of the City on the 3rd Feb 1646, the effects of famine and other privations were such that in 1647 the plague broke out. From June 22nd until April 20th 1648 over two-thousand died of disease, over a third of the population, and at times all business was suspended.
- "The Plague takes them very strangely, strikes them black of one side, then they run mad, some drowne themselves, others would kill themselves, they dye within a few hours, some run up and downe the streets in their shirts to the great horror of those in the Citty" (Kennet, Loyal Chester)
This was a serious visitation of the pestilence and led to the following being recorded in the Journal of the House of Commons:
- "WHEREAS the City of Chester, and the Town of Warrington in the County of Lancaster, are grievously visited with the Plague of Pestilence; and that there are many very poor Persons in the said Places; which, if they be not relieved in an extraordinary Way, are like to perish for Want: It is therefore Ordered, by the Commons, assembled in Parliament, That, upon Wednesday the Thirtieth of this Instant June, being a Day of Humiliation, a publick Collection be made in all Churches, Places, and Chapels, within the Cities of London and Westminster, the Lines of Communication, and weekly Bills of Mortality: And that the one Moiety of the said Money that shall be collected be paid, by the Collectors thereof, unto Mr. Henry Ashurst and Mr. James Wainwright, Citizens of London, or their Agents, at the Sign of the Talbot in Cateaton Street, near Guildhall, London: Who are hereby required forthwith to send Two Parts of all such Monies as they shall receive unto the Mayor, Aldermen, and Sheriffs, of the City of Chester; and the other Third Part unto the Constable of the said Town of Warrington,.. "
It is worth noting that the house bearing the inscription was built in 1652 (the earlier building having been destroyed in the Civil War), by which time the plague was over, and so the inscription, if it does have anything to do with the plague, actually relates to the earlier (presumably seriously damaged) house on the same site.
Visit the Churchyard of St Peter
The "Victoria" has been a pub since 1269, or so it claims, and some of its roof beams are "almost a thousand years old". The cellar is "positioned over the crypt of St Peter's Church" and "the courtyard is a flagged-over graveyard" - so it is hardly surprising that "a ghost is said to stalk the cellar at night". St Peter's Churchyard is accessed via a narrow alleyway leading from the Row level to behind the Victoria.
Head Down Eastgate Street to "The Boot"
The Boot is, at and above Row level, a more or less intact timber-framed building dated 1623, with a rebuilt facade from the 19thC. The over-row parlour (which provides a seating area) is clad almost completely in 17thC wainscot and is still a stunning place for a tipple. The pub has occupied the building since at least 1750, although the Row level "shop" has also been a barbers so that the pub was accessed by walking down a corridor. One curio behind the bar of this well loved pub is a stone shot which was found in one of the oak beams during a 1986 restoration. This could be from the Civil War, or it may be a home-made poachers bullet.
Purported to have been Chester's most notorious brothel, during the 1700’s to the early 1900’s, and a gentleman’s gaming club from the early 1920’s, "Das Boot" is supposedly haunted with occasional unexplained female moans and laughter, supposedly being of supernatural origin.
"Thornton's" Chocolate shop (previously the "House of Bewlay" tobacconist) is said to be one of the most haunted locations within Chester, with ghost stories dating back to the 1960's including:
- a jovial man wearing an apron who smiles politely at customers before disappearing in plain sight;
- a lady named Sarah: due to be wed and "stood-up" at the altar by her unscrupulous fiancé, Wilhelm. She supposedly was a charming young lady who lived on the premises and hung herself within what is now the upstairs of the shop (according to some versions in her wedding dress), and has since been blamed for pushing people on the stairs (especially those who deny her existence), and destroying chocolate displays (the Valentines Day display in 1991). She is even said to have pelted a burglar with chocolates, driving him to flee in fear and leave sticky fingerprints everywhere. In 1965 the ghost became so troublesome that the Bishop of Chester was asked to perform an exorcism - evidently with little success.
Other versions have one of the shop's managers once experienced a "possession" when staff spotted her coming down the stairs singing an unknown song and holding her hands out as if lifting a long and heavy dress in order to descend the stairs.
Continue along to the Eastgate Clock
Do not miss the gravestone hidden in the wall.
The building with the arms has a memorial to Owen Jones;
Watertower on site from where water was supplied to Roman Chester;
The "new" gate which was erected 1768-9 at the expense of Richard, then Lord Grosvenor and (supposedly) designed by Joseph Turner. The Eastgate clock (designed by John Douglas) commemorates the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria (1897) and was unveiled on the 24th May 1899.
Walk under the arch and turn into St John Street
Yes, turn into St John Street and not Frodsham Street - where the Public Toilets (designed by the noted Chester architect John Douglas) are said to be haunted by the blood-dripping ghost of a suicide.
The Marlborough Arms is 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. The primary spook is said to be that of a landlord who slit his own throat in the cellars in 1886 - although a search through the newspapers of the time reveals no mention of such a suicide.
See Wolfgate and pass through Newgate and walk down Park Street to the Nine Houses
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.
There are various versions of this tale. However the assembly book of the city, 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.
The apparently mediaeval house 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 the shillings of his reign were inscribed with this legend. He was dead within a few years, in 1553.
The Wolfgate has an amusing legend;
Listen to the audio recordings in the two chambers on the Newgate;
Note the statue of a lion;
Note the house with "Fountain of Life" inscription;
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.
Go through the gate in the walls and through the Roman Gardens, then turn right to reach the Amphitheatre
then cross to the Amphitheatre
The remains were discovered in June 1929 by amateur archaeologist W J "Walrus" Williams (1875-1971), while examining a pit dug (in the cellar of an Ursuline Convent) for the installation of a heating system. Excavation began in 1939 but was halted at the outbreak of WW2, and did not resume until 1957. The Victorian Dee house, which covered part of the site, was demolished in June 1958 and excavation commenced in 1960. The Amphitheatre was eventually opened to the public in August 1972. A Roman legionnaire appears between the amphitheatre and Newgate. Having fallen in love with a local Celtic girl he often left his post to see her. The girl's parents took advantage of this and one night when he was with their daughter killed the sentries whom he had left on guard, grabbing as much loot as they could. On his return, the mob murdered him. The remains of corner tower of Roman Chester can be seen just by the Newgate.
Cross to the other side of the Amphitheatre, and head towards St Johns Church
Dee House, once a Convent, later a telephone exchange, sits on the unexcavated part of the Amphitheatre, and is said that the upper floors are said to haunted by the ghost of a malevolent old woman.
If St Johns is open (generally after 10:00) then the inside is well worth a visit - it is often called "Chester's hidden gem" and even if you are not a "church" person the atmosphere is very historic and a lot of effort has gone into signage explaining what everything is. Obviously, time your trip to avoid services. They also do the cheapest cup of tea in Chester.
St Johns has spectacular ruins at both ends;
The West Tower fell down on Good Friday in 1881;
New life springs from the famous "Coffin in the Wall"
Tradition ascribes the foundation of St. John's to Æthelred, king of Mercia (674–704), in 689. The associated legend is that Æthelred selected the site after a dream in which he was told to build a church where he saw a white hart. A stained glass window in the porch of the church shows the king with a white hart (there is a similar legend about David I of Scotland and "Holyrood Abbey"). It seems that Æthelred was a devout king, "more famed for his pious disposition than his skill in war". In 704, Æthelred abdicated to become a monk and abbot at Bardney, leaving the kingship to his nephew Cenred. There is much more on this period in the article Dark Ages. One cannot help but note the regularity with which the story of the hunting of an animal being associated with the establishment of a church which is in turn associated with a holy spring or well turns up along the River Dee. At Llangar - 'Llan Garw Gwyn' it is a (male) white deer. Upstream at Llandderfel a stag appears to have been hunted by Derfel, and downstream we have St Johns at Chester (where the well may have been "Jacobs Well"). For the ancient Celts, the white hart was a harbinger of doom, a living symbol that some taboo has been transgressed or a moral law broken - to come across a white hart was to realise that some terrible evil or judgment was imminent. The white hart's reputation improved in Arthurian legends, where its appearance was a sign to Arthur and his knights that it was time to embark on a quest - it was considered the one animal that could never be caught so it came to symbolise humanity's never-ending pursuit of knowledge and the unattainable. It was not long before Christianity managed to appropriate the white hart for its own purposes: the white stag came to symbolise Christ and his presence on earth. It has been suggested that horned animals were associated with the totems of the Cornovii and may be cognate with the Gaulish Cernunnos or the unnamed horned god of the Brigantes. White deer are relatively rare - in fact, genetic analysis shows that the fallow deer introduced by the Romans went extinct in Britain following the collapse of the Roman Empire (after 400AD): it was not until the 11th century that fallow deer were reintroduced.
In 906, the Abbey of St John the Baptist was founded by a later Æthelred, Earl of Mercia. In 1075, Peter de Leia, bishop of Lichfield removed his episcopal see to Chester: the old St John's just would not do as the home of an important bishop, and so had to be rebuilt. In 1085 De Leia died and his successor Robert de Limesey translated his see from Chester to Coventry. The full article on St Johns charts its remarkable history and refusal to simply fade away.
In one of the arches of the ruined choir an ancient oak coffin can be seen set into the masonry. Within the coffin is inscribed "Duft to Duft". Signs in the churchyard state that the coffin and inscription dates back to the 11th Century, was found during the 19th Century by grave digger Benjamin Carter and that the rector at the time (Richardson) ordered the coffin to be set high into the wall. However, others say that the coffin is actually 15th Century and was found in the Nantwich area, having been brought to Chester as a curiosity - and that Richardson brought the coffin from a boat in the canal in 1813. One 'G.T.", writing in the Cheshire Sheaf in November 1878, gives it's story as follows:
- "The perambulating Chester Guides, a race not yet quite extinct, have from time to time made up many a foolish story about this solid oak coffin for the delectation of their Lancashire dupes, who usually pay more court to that ghastly old shell than to the beautiful architectural ruins and church that adjoin it. One story is that it was the coffin of a monk who murdered one of his brethren at St. John's, and at his own death was refused the ordinary Christian burial, whether within the church or beneath the green sod of the churchyard. Another is that a dignitary of the church was at his own request 'buried' up there in a standing position, so that, when the last trumpet should sound, he might be ready at once to answer the call. Another is that a wicked old parishioner of past days was unable to rest in his grave, and that Satan himself had helped to place him in the lofty position so that he might look down, in perpetual penance, on the fair world he had defiled by his sins. I have overheard during the last dozen years every one of these stories recounted in sober earnest by Mr. Guide to his morbid listeners. The real story of the coffin is soon told. Forty years ago, when a boy at school, I remember old John Carter, the then sexton of the Cathedral, going with me at my request into St. John's Ruins (at that time enveloped within a brick wall, and portion of the of the old Priory House), to show me the relic and then fresh-looking inscription. He assured me on the spot that his father, who was sexton of St. John's a great number of years, had in his younger days come upon the coffin while digging a grave in a long disused part of the churchyard; and had, by the Rector's (Mr. Richardson's) orders, stuck it up in the recess where it still stands, so that it might be out of the way of passers by! Thus has a very matter of fact in incident given rise in superstitious minds to no end of mystery. The date of the coffin is probably of the latter half of the 15th century and the relic has this one element of real interest in it, that it is composed of a single block of oak which has been hollowed out to receive the body".
The pavement towards the east end of the Church is made of gravestones, one of which reads:
"In memory of James Burgess late of Liverpool. Ostrich feather Manufacturer. Who died February 27th 1858 aged 68 years"
From the ruins at the far end of St Johns church head down the slope towards the River Dee and the Hermitage
Ahead is the Suspension Bridge where the coats of arms appear mixed-up;
Detail from Jacobs Well;
The Hermitage - local legend says that one hermit was....
One of the most unusual buildings in Chester is the Anchorite's Cell or 'Hermitage', a small sandstone building by the River Dee at The Groves. The present building is believed to date from the mid 14th century and was one of two 'cells' built as religious retreats for reclusive monks or hermits. Until the reformation it belonged to the collegiate Church of St Johns which stands on the sandstone ridge "Redcliffe" above the river.
The cell itself stands on a sandstone outcrop in a former quarry, which is now set out as a bowling green (which does not appear to be used). It was re-modelled in the 19th century, when gothic traceried windows were added. The porch on the north side originally came from St. Martin's Church which was demolished in 1897. During its long history, the cell has also been a grain warehouse, the meeting place of the Company of Shoemakers and, more recently in the 1970s, an architect's office. The Anchorite's Cell was refurbished as a cottage sometime in the 1970s and is presently a private dwelling.
One hermit may have been none other than Harold Godwinson, once king of England and supposed survivor of the Battle of Senlac Hill (sometimes called the "Battle of Hastings"). Harold's connection with Chester is actually quite a bit more than myth, although the story that he lived on here after his supposed defeat in 1066 takes quite some believing. In 1063 Edward the Confessor's military leader Harold son of Earl Godwin, attacked Gryffudd ap Llywelyn's palace at Rhuddlan in Flintshire using Chester as his base and made himself master of the Vale of Clwyd. Following either Gruffydd's death (apparently at the hands of his own troops) - or simply the fact that Gruffydd had fled - Harold married his widow. Harold's January 1064 marriage seemed like a shrewd political move. Aldgyth was the widow of his enemy and the daughter of the ruling house of Mercia. One of Ealdgyths brothers, Edwin was Earl of Mercia while another, Morcar, would also rise to prominence. Outlaws had just become inlaws.
According to Gerald of Wales, King Harold II fled only badly wounded from the Battle of Hastings to Chester where he survived as an anchorite (blind in one eye of course) in "The chapel of St. James", close to St Johns Church. Gerald of Wales tells the story as follows:
- Chester boasts of being the burial-place of Henry, a Roman emperor, who, after having imprisoned his carnal and spiritual father, pope Paschal, gave himself up to penitence; and, becoming a voluntary exile in this country, ended his days in solitary retirement. It is also asserted, that the remains of Harold are here deposited. He was the last of the Saxon kings in England, and as a punishment for his perjury, was defeated in the battle of Hastings, fought against the Normans. Having received many wounds, and lost his left eye by an arrow in that engagement, he is said to have escaped to these parts, where, in holy conversation, leading the life of an anchorite, and being a constant attendant at one of the churches of this city, he is believed to have terminated his days happily.
Now converted into a cosy, centrally heated, two bedroomed house, the cell has a rapid turnover of owners - local rumour suggests recent occupiers left soon after a terrifying experience one night when a heavy oak door was inexplicably ripped from its hinges in front of their eyes. A further rumour (without any substantiation at all) suggests that these unfortunate tenants were French! (not a good idea, as Harold's ghost might just have a few anti-French feelings). The local "ghost register" also states that the area is haunted by "a monk in a dark habit who occasionally accosts witnesses in 'Haunted Alley' beside St John's Church, speaking a guttural Saxon-like language."
The first modern sighting of the ghost comes from a rather trustworthy source (if the story is to be believed). In 1941 a Franciscan Friar and a man were walking the grounds of St Johns church when "a monk" is said to have appeared before them. The two men turned in a different direction only to be again confronted by the mysterious "monk" who was talking to them in a strange language. The story goes that both men were interested in languages and so, after some research, they came to the conclusion that the monk was speaking Anglo-Saxon. Another encounter with the monk is said to have happened in December 1973 when a college lecturer was making his way home around midnight. He used the cobbled alley near the church when the monk appeared before him on the footpath. The monk tried speaking to the man but the man did not understand. The monk looked very distressed and held out his hands, as if pleading with the man. The man continued around the monk, but, having a second thought, turned around only to see that the monk had disappeared. Others that have reputedly seen a spectral monk include a woman on her way to her daughter's wedding at St Johns and a schoolboy who was much shaken by the apparition.
Curiously, the foot of this route down to the River Dee used to be the site of the ancient spring and noted landmark Jacobs Well - prior to 1923 when the well was moved to Grosvenor Park. In 1332, the monks of St John's Church in Chester supposedly discovered his alleged remains, still fragrant and clad in leather hose, golden spurs, and crown. Admittedly, they were a bit short of cash at the time and a few pilgrims would have brought in some money. Supposedly, there is a 'secret passage' which links the Hermitage with St John's, so that the Hermit could attend mass without revealing himself. There is indeed some kind of passage under the path but it seems to contain telephone cables. In 1770 (according to Lysons' Magn. Brit. vol. ii) two skeletons were discovered here in coffin-shaped cavities, scooped out of the rock. Legend has it that Harold's queen, Aldgyth, became a nun in Chester and when she died, she was said to have been buried in the grounds of St. John's. Two bodies - perhaps Harold and his queen together again at last? Another version of the story states that Queen Aldgyth, gave birth to King Harold's son, (Harold Haroldson) at Chester in 1067, and it was the revolt against William, now crowned King of England, led by Aldgyth's brothers, Edwin and Morcar, which led to William's nightmare winter march from Yorkshire in the winter of 1069/70 and the brother's defeat at Stafford, the fall of the Chester and the harrowing of land about. Aldgyth fled with her infant son to Dublin, and disappeared from recorded history, however it has been suggested that Harold's sons went to Dublin with their huscarls to seek aid from King Harold's friend, King Diarmait. In the summer 1068 they were back with a force of Dublin Norse mercenaries. The connection with Chester is that there was also a sizeable Hiberno-Norse community here.
Turn right and walk along the River Dee towards the Norman Weir and the Old Dee Bridge
If you have the time, cross the river to visit the Minerva Shrine;
The buildings across the River Dee used to include the Mill Offices
The Old Dee Bridge
Originally the site of a causeway across the River Dee. The weir was built in sandstone in 1093 for Hugh of Avranches. It was designed to provide a head of water for the medieval mills on the river. The mills were demolished during the 20th century following a fire and the weir was restored to serve the Chester City Council's hydro-electric power station, which operated from 1913 to 1939. There are reports of shrieks and the smell of smoke at times.
A Viking warrior is also reputed to haunt the same area. Other ghosts along The Groves include those from three drowings: a woman in black - said to be a drowned nun, a Centurion who drowned, and the boot-boy from the Bishop's Palace who was sacked from his job and later found drowned. Finally a man said to "looks like a handyman" is reputed to appear and promptly vanish (as they do).
"Wicked Jenny" is said to wait just beneath the waters of the river, waiting for an unsuspecting man to grab and drown. "Jenny Greenteeth" is a common figure in English folklore. A river hag, similar to "Peg Powler" or a "grindylow", she would pull children or the elderly into the water and drown them. The name is also used to describe pondweed or duckweed, which can form a continuous mat over the surface of a small body of water, making it misleading and potentially treacherous, especially to unwary children. With this meaning the name is common around Liverpool and southwest Lancashire. In Cheshire and Shropshire she is called Ginny Greenteeth, Jeannie Greenteeth, Wicked Jenny, or Peg O'Nell.
Enter Bridgegate and arrive at the Bear and Billet
- Perhaps its time for a drink!
The Bear and Billet was built in 1664 as the Bridge Street town house of the Earls of Shrewsbury who held the hereditary serjeancy of the nearby Bridgegate. It was possibly, given its proximity to the Dee Mills used as a grain warehouse (in the gable are double doors and a bracket for a hoist). The building became an inn in the 18th century, although it continued to be owned by the Shrewsbury family until 1867. Its name is taken from the heraldic device of the Earls that consist of a bear tied to a billet (or stake). In the Batenham illustration it is called the "Bridgegate Tavern". The Bear and Billet is said to be haunted by friendly old lady who greets visitors and then disappears. Look out also for the poltergeist maid, who died of starvation after being locked in a room. She is reported to haunt the staircase but appears only to men.
Walking past the Bear and Billet take the first right (Shipgate Street) and walk down to the end. On the right you will see a steep street rising up the hill. Climb up the hill to reach St Mary on the Hill.
The steep street is said to be haunted by a herd of ghostly cows in search of their deceased cow-herd.
Unfortunately, St Mary on the Hill is not normally open for visitors, which is a pity, because the inside is very spectacular. In 1956 three ladies, Ellen Beach, Anne Osboston and Anne Thornton, were found guilty of being witches (supposedly by the Witchfinder General - who probably never came to Cheshire - it seems that some historians have confused the Witchfinder General with the Attorney General) and burned in the Castle Ditch. They apparently haunt St Mary's Churchyard during Halloween. In fact, these three women were executed in November 1656 at Boughton by hanging not burning. In 1898, Michael Goble, a local historian, began investigating and researching the story of the Boughton witches. He is reputed to have claimed that during the course of his research he was visited by the spirits of three demented women, who threatened to bring forth the devil should the historian not pledge to abandon his investigation immediately. Undaunted, Michael Goble continued to pursue his project, but never saw it finished. He died in 1902, whilst visiting Gallows Hill (St Giles Cemetery) at Boughton.
Cross the Chester Castle car-park. At the far end is a barred gate. That is as close as you can get to the Agricola Tower these days.
The Courts and Prison were designed by Harrison
John McCafferty - last man to try to take the Castle
Head for the gateway of Chester Castle
The Chester Military Museum includes one of the pens which were used in the signing of the Japanese surrender at the end of WW2, on September 2, 1945. A photograph of American Douglas MacArthur signing the surrender aboard USS Missouri, also shows British Lt. Gen. Percival holding the pen which is now in the museum.
The Military Museum is just here.
From the Castle gateway head up the road past the equestrian statue
About 70m north east of the equestrian statue is another monument to one of Wellington's soldiers, the grave of Thomas Gould, who is buried under the roundabout between Grosvenor Street and Grosvenor Road. This is the site of the graveyard of St Bridget (since demolished). The grave marker is shaped as a casket and inscribed:
- IN MEMORY OF THOMAS GOULD LATE OF THE 52ND REGT. OF FOOT LI. DIED IN NOVEMBER 1865 AGED 72 YEARS 46 OF WHICH WERE SPENT IN THE SERVICE OF HIS COUNTRY. HE WAS PRESENT IN THE FOLLOWING ENGAGEMENTS. VIMERA, CORUNA, CROSSING THE GOE NEAR ALMEIDA, BSACO, PUMBAL, REDINHA, CONDEIXA, FOZ D'AVOCA, SARUGAL, FUENTES DONOLE, STORMING OF CUIDAD RODRIGO AND RADASOS SALMANCA, SAN MUNOS (fallen prisoner), ST MILAN, VITTORIA, PYRENEES, STORMING OF THE FRENCH ESTABLISHMENT OF VERA (wounded), NIVELLE, PASSAGE OF THE NEVE ORTHES, TARBES, TOULOUSE AND WATERLOO. HE RECEIVED THE PENINSULA MEDAL WITH 13 CLASPS AND THE WATERLOO MEDAL. THE STONE IS PLACED OVER HIM BY A FEW FRIENDS
The 52nd Regiment of Foot played a vital part in the Battle of Waterloo (18 June 1815). At the Battle of Waterloo John Colborne led the 52nd Regiment of Foot, and, at the critical moment of the battle, when the French Imperial Guard attacked Welligton's weakened centre, Colborne made a decisive intervention. On his own initiative, Colborne brought the 52nd Regiment of Foot forward, took up a flanking position in relation to the Imperial Guard and then, after firing repeated volleys into their flank, charged at the Guard so driving them back in disorder which led to rout and defeat. Gould was there, and would have been around 22 years old. That would have made him a boy soldier (aged 15-16) at Vimera in 1808.
some depictions of the 52nd ending Waterloo
Head back past the Grosvenor Museum and down Castle Street, past the Golden Eagle and the Olde Kings Head to Gamul House
The cellars of the "Golden Eagle" are said to be haunted by a squad of around 20 Roman soldiers, plus an officer, who march out of one wall and then dissappear into another. There is another of the "Chester Imps" on the outside wall of the pub in Castle Street.
The Old Kings Head or ("Ye Olde Kynges Head") is first mentioned in 1208 in written records which refer to a stone-built house belonging to Peter the Clerk (an administrator at Chester Castle). The cellars behind the range facing Lower Bridge Street contain medieval stone walls, probably a survival from Peter the Clerk's "domus lapidus", but are much altered later. They form an irregular group of small rooms, but appear always to have been sub-divided, unlike other Chester undercrofts, which tended to one large space. The house was rebuilt from the former Row level upward and refronted probably in part 15thC, 16thC and early 17thC for Randle Holme I, first of four generations of heralds and armorial painters. The building was first licensed as a pub in 1717. The wall to Castle Street bears the sculpted head of a winking devil (one of those on the "Chester Imp Trail" and an odd sign advising against "nuisance".
As for spirits of the non-alcoholic kind, the pub has been the subject of many paranormal investigations. Hauntings include:
- A phantom child is said to roam the pub, especially bedroom No. 4. A phantom figure has been seen wandering aimlessly about. The pub was renovated in the 1930's, and under the floorboards of bedroom number 4, a sword was found. It can be seen hanging on the wall today - is there a connection between the ghost and the sword? Mysterious messages have been said to appear on a mirror in bedroom No. 4.
- On New Years Eve 1982 a lady was delivering a car to a car dealer in Chester. She booked into room number 6 for the night There are 2 ways of reaching room number 6, and old and peculiar little stairway or a longer route by the modern and wider staircase. At 2am the lady awoke with an intense feeling that something was not quite right. She heard a clock strike 2, and felt a sensation of great cold, coupled with a feeling of her hair standing on end. She turned round and saw a man dressed in black silently watching her. She was quite indignant and puzzled, and wondered how a stranger had managed to enter a locked bedroom. She challenged the man, who simply carried on gazing at her. She wasn't alarmed, but rather felt a sensation of peace and tranquility. The apparition remained for about 15 minutes then vanished. The lady was so impressed with the soothing and comforting atmosphere that she booked to stay another night. Items have also been said to mysteriously disappear in bedroom No. 6.
A landlady has professed to be being very reluctant to use the small staircase adjacent to rooms 4,5 and 6, rather using the more modern staircase.
Parts of the nearby Gamul House date from around the early 16thC, with the oldest visible parts being the wall and fireplace behind the present bar. Following the Great Fire of London in 1666 and a Chester Assembly ruling on building in 1671, the medieval frontage of Gamul House was replaced by a brick façade.
- "The church is a low miserable-looking building of red stone differing but little in its general appearance from the above facsimile of a drawing by one of the Randal Holmes' about the year 1660. In 1802 a new wooden steeple (not much better than a pigeon cote) was built covered with lead the old one was covered with slates."
The church was founded in the 11th century. Its dedication is to Saint Olave, a Norwegian king. At the time that the church was founded, the area around Lower Bridge Street was largely occupied by Scandinavians, and it is thought that this is the reason for the dedication. The present church building dates from 1611.
Walk a few steps further up to Tudor House
Probably dating from 1603, extended to rear early-mid 17thC and altered in detail 18thC and later. The facade is a combination of Tudor and Georgian architecture with the lower half of the building being more Georgian in character and with the timber framed upper half being typically Tudor. There are stories of several ghosts:
- A door-rattling spirit on the top floor.
- A grey lady who drifts spectrally about.
- A well-dressed cavallier whose head was removed by a cannon-shot in the Civil War. He is said to crawl around on the top floor as if searching for something.. ..presumably not just his hat.
Arrive at The Falcon
Number 6 Lower Bridge Street is the surviving half of a still more spectacular 13th Century town house which originally extended further down Lower Bridge Street. The timbers from the former east span of the roof, now reused in the cellar ceiling, date from c1180. The building was altered in the later Middle Ages, the 16thC, in 1626 and in the 19th and 20thC. The Falcon is supposedly haunted by a Poltergeist - the ghost of a maid-servant who was thrown out onto the street by the less than impressed family who lived there at the time. Shortly afterwards, the maid-servant died, and is said to have caused havoc on occasion ever since.
Reach the Bridge Street Rows and continue past the Three Old Arches (possibly visit St Michael's)
Number 40 is a Tudor style building of 1858 designed by James Harrison and built, in loose Gothic Revival style for Welsby's wine merchants. A projecting porch, to the north, and a shaped timber bracket, to the south, support a projecting balcony in front of the Row walk. The third storey has a stone-corbelled four-light canted oriel with four-pane sashes in shoulder-arched lights and a hipped lead roof. The fourth storey has a moulded band beneath the flush sill of a triple sash with arched heads. The Builder v.16 p.269, April 17 1858 reported on this site:
- "In excavating for new buildings opposite the Feathers Inn, several bases of Roman character have been discovered at a depth of 4 feet below the surface. They are in their original positions, forming a colonnade, placed four yards apart, resting on large blocks of stone 12 inches thick. The new building will be of brick, with white stone dressings, in the medieval style of fourteenth century, presenting a gable to the street, and having a projecting bow-window to the room over the Row. A shop in Bridge Street Row is also to have timber work characteristic of Chester in the fourteenth century. Mr. Harrison is architect to both buildings."
In the cellars is ghostly ‘George’. He has been seen by the staff of a travel agency occupying the ground floor.
St Michael's is now the Heritage center;
Number 28, formerly "Ye Old Vaults" dating from around 1789 - (see rainwater head) which closed in 2002. The concrete footbridge over Commonhall Street was built in the 1970's. A spectral old landlord, another George, is said to lament the state of his pub. An alternative version of the ghost story has the ghost being a 16thC. traveller in a top hat who hanged himself in an upstairs room.
Visit the Crypt at Number 12
Number #12 Bridge Street - "Cowper House": one of the most impressive buildings on the rows, formerly known as: Nos.2 AND 4 Cowper House BRIDGE STREET ROW (also formerly familiar to many as "Bookland"). The property was improved by Thomas Cowper a Royalist, and Mayor of Chester 1641-2, possibly after severe damage in the Civil War. A sandstone fireplace above the diagonal beams in the Row walk is inscribed TC (Thomas Cowper) 1661 to each side of a blank shield, and has a substantial projecting, moulded mantel. The property extends over 4 storeys including a medieval vaulted undercroft and Row level. A flight of 11 repaired stone steps north of the modern shopfront lead to the Row walk. On the ground floor the front undercroft, its present floor two steps below street level, is lined, however, six steps lead down through a mid 19thC Gothic Revival stone screen with archway on colonnettes and flanking windows in 13thC style, within a broad recessed arched panel, to a spectacular 6-bay quadripartite rib-vaulted rear undercroft. The undercroft was re-discovered in 1839 and is now thought to date from 1350-75, possibly even a little earlier. The undercroft has squared sandstone rubble walling, truncated-cone-shaped rib-corbels, deeply chamfered ribs and a 3-light window at the west end, formerly with trefoil heads but now heightened and with round heads. The undercroft is unique in that the ground at the rear is such that it can have a window so placed.
An apparition of a Victorian apprentice boy has been reported in an upstairs room. Apparently he fell on stone stairs at the rear of the medieval crypt. The spirit of an unhappy 12 yr old Victorian orphan girl who hanged herself supposedly haunts the old bakehouse to the rear.
Keep going until you reach the High Cross and Number 1 Bridge Street
There a quite a few other interesting buildings in Bridge Street, and, if you missed it before, don't forget the medieval wall paintings, memorial boards and palindromic font just inside the door of St Peter's church.
"Spudulike" has some Roman remains in the cellar.
Sources and Links