Trinity Street

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The monument to Matthew Henry on the Grosvenor Roundabout.


In 1961 it became clear that Chester Corporation would shortly be undertaking the first stages of construction associated with the Central Redevelopment Area scheme and the building of the Inner Ring Road. The area affected lay immediately north of Holy Trinity Church between Linenhall Street and Trinity Street, and occupied a space approximately 300 ft. from north to south by 120 ft. from east to west. For long used as an open car-park, the site was intended to hold a two-storey car-park placed by and serving the Inner Ring Road; both features are now a part of the Chester scene and to that extent the location plan is no longer accurate, but the church and Watergate Street remain as constant features in the changing landscape. The archaeological potential of the site was clear enough since the western defences of the Roman legionary fortress were known to run through it from south to north, with the fortress wall forming an axial feature; a physical indication of the presence of the rampart existed in the sudden change to a higher level immediately west of Trinity Street. Already, in 1949, Dr. Graham Webster had cut a section across the wall and rampart approximately in the centre of the site, at the same time locating an oven behind the rampart. This, in conjunction with an earlier section across the defences farther north, undertaken in 1945 by Professor R. Newstead and W. F. Grimes,2 had firmly established the general line of the defences on this side, with important results for the planning of the interior of the fortress.

The original street is most likely a survival of the "Via Sagularis" - The "Way of the Cloak" from Roman Chester - the cloak would have been red, hence it sounds like "sanguine". This road is sometimes called the 'intervallum road' as it lay in the space between the rampart and the buildings in the interior of the fort, the intervallum. The via sagularis thus ran around the entire perimeter of the camp within the rampart, encircling the interior buildings. It was possible to use this road to move troops rapidly around. It continues to the south as Weaver Street.

Hughes writes of it:

  • "On the right side of Watergate Street is Trinity Street in which is the oldest dissenting chapel in the city It was erected in 1700 by the followers and friends of Matthew Henry the nonconformist a learned and earnest preacher of his day and author of the celebrated Commentary on the Holy Scriptures which bears his name "

Hemingway writes:

  • "Trinity street leads up by the church, a narrow inconvenient street in which is the Stamp office, and formerly a good chapel, built and till lately used as a place of worship by the Methodist New Connexion. Higher up is Crook street, remarkable only for containing the chapel which was built for Matthew Henry, in the beginning of the last century but now used by the Unitarians."

Little other than modern brick and concrete fills the Trinity Street of 2017. much of which is over-sailed by a hotel development. The only real feature of note is that it was once the site of "The dissenters chapel" of Matthew Henry as mentioned by both Hughes and Hemingway. Surprisingly, Henry was involved in national politics in 1688.

His grandfather was John Henry (1590-1652), the son of Henry Williams of Briton Ferry, which lies between Swansea and Neath in South Wales. John Henry became a courtier under James I (1603-1625) and then Charles I (1625-1649). His son — Matthew’s father, Philip (1631-1696) — had as godparents the Earls of Pembroke and Carlisle and the Countess of Salisbury. As a child, Philip used to play at St James’s Palace with the younger Princes Charles and James, later to become Charles II and James II. It is no surprise then that Philip’s early lifestyle was also that of a courtier and that he retained his royalist allegiance. The Civil War broke out when he was 11 years old and lasted on and off for the next nine years. Philip favoured the restoration of the monarchy with the return of his friend as Charles II (1660-1685). Charles II died on 6 February 1685, and on 11 June the exiled Duke of Monmouth, Charles’ illegitimate son, landed at Lyme Regis in Dorset with a small force, in an attempt to topple the new Catholic king, James II. At this time the authorities were very suspicious of meetings and possible plots, and Philip was arrested for defying the Conventicle Act and incarcerated in Chester Castle for three weeks. Philip died on 24 June 1696.

"Trinity Lane" on the Lavaux Map of 1745.

The Chapel

Matthew Henry (1662–1714) was a Presbyterian minister, preacher and writer, who founded the Presbyterian Chapel in Trinity Street, Chester. Henry was born at Broad Oak, Iscoyd, a farmhouse on the borders of Flintshire and Shropshire, Wales, United Kingdom. His father, Philip had just been ejected under the Act of Uniformity 1662. Philip possessed some private means (the dowry of his wife Katherine), and was thus able to give his son a good education. Matthew went first to a school at Islington, at that time a village just outside London, and then to Gray's Inn to study law. He soon gave up his legal studies for theology, and in 1687 became minister of a Presbyterian congregation at Chester. He was the brother of the diarist, Sarah Savage. After 1689 the Dissenters were tolerated and Philip resumed his ministry, but between 1687 and 1689 major political events reshaped the country.

In 1686 Matthew Henry paid his first visit to Chester, preaching at the house of the "sugar baker" Henthorn in Whitefriars/Weaver Street. He made a good impression and was asked to come again. Before Henry's arrival the congregation ceased to meet in Anthony Henthorn's hall and paid for the conversion of a large adjoining stable into a permanent meeting house. In 1692 an attempt was made to burn down the meeting house. Henry's congregation moved in 1700 to a newly built chapel. It was built of brick, with three gables, two tiers of roundarched windows, and a central entrance. Inside there were two arcades of tall timber columns, with the pulpit placed between the windows on the north wall. The chapel lay between Trinity Street and Crook Street, the land on the Trinity Street side being used later as a burial ground. It was originally known as the Crook Street chapel, but by the 19th century the land between it and Crook Street had been built up, and it was generally referred to as the Trinity Street chapel. Of it has been written (see Pigot):

  • "THE PRESBYTERIAN MEETING House claims our first and most particular attention not only as it was the first dissenting place of worship in this city the parent hive from which many of the others have had their origin but also as its history is intimately connected with the rise and progress of the Dissenters in this part of the Kingdom and may serve in some degree to illustrate the changes through which they have past both in relation to opinions and numbers from the reign of Charles I down to the present time."

The building was pulled down in the 1960s to build the Forum Shopping Centre.

"Trinity Lane" on the McGahey "Balloon View" of Chester from 1853. The Henry Chapel can be seen on the right hand edge of the image.

Henry is believe to have lived at No 1 Whitefriars during his tenure at Chester. Much of his writing was done in a summer house in Bollands Court, which was still standing well into the twentieth century, but has now gone. He moved again in 1712 to Mare Street, Hackney. Two years later (22 June 1714), he died suddenly of apoplexy at the Queen's Aid House, High Street) in Nantwich, while on a journey from Chester to London. Hughes notes that he is buried in what is now the Guildhall in Watergate Street:

  • "A brass plate on the south side of the altar commemorates the burial of Matthew Henry June 22nd 1714. He who had during life been a rigid nonconformist "at the last sad scene of all" conformed to the faith of his forefathers and lies interred in the chancel of that parish in which he had so long ministered as a dissenter."

There is no evidence as to a "deathbed conversion" as implied by Hughes. Hemingway gives a little more information about the monuments in the church:

  • "In this church are also the remains of Matthew Henry the celebrated Presbyterian divine on whose tablet to his memory is this inscription: Matthew Henry pictatis et ministerii officiis strenue perfunctus perlabores SS literis scrutandiset explicandis impenso confectum carpus huic dormitorio commisit 22 die Junii 1714 Anno aetat 52."

The memorial inscription to Henry is presumably covered by the wooden panelling.

Henry and Politics - 1688

At this time there was great political polarization between the Torys and the Whigs. The Whigs' origin lay in constitutional monarchism and opposition to absolute monarchy. The Whigs played a central role in the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and were the standing enemies of the Stuart kings and pretenders, who were Roman Catholic. The first Tories emerged in 1678, when they opposed the Whig-supported Exclusion Bill which set out to disinherit the heir presumptive James, Duke of York, who eventually became James II.

The Trinity Lane entrance to the Dissenters Chapel.

In September 1682 the visit to Chester of James Scott, the Duke of Monmouth was accompanied by searches for arms, surveillance of those deemed disaffected, a few arrests, and frequent reports to London. Local antagonisms were intensified by the visit (planned by Mayor George Mainwaring, Colonel Roger Whitley, and other leading Whigs). Bonfires were lit, Monmouth was greeted rapturously and riotously by the populace, the mob shouted "Let Monmouth reign, let Monmouth reign" and he acted as godfather at the christening of the mayor's daughter.

A new charter was procured under Charles II for Chester in 1683 through the Tory Sir Thomas Grosvenor (see: Grosvenors). It largely confirmed the city's constitution, also empowering the mayor to appoint a deputy, but with a clause, normal at the time, allowing the Crown to remove civic office-holders. The charter disfranchised eight men, including Recorder Williams and Whig Aldermen Street, Mainwaring, and Roger Whitley, and made Thomas Grosvenor mayor.

In August 1688 the government of James II removed the entire Tory Assembly including Tories Grosvenor and William Stanley, earl of Derby, and obliged the city to petition for a new charter, which named the corporation and principal officers, reserved the Crown's right to dismiss individuals, dispensed all members from the prescribed oaths, and restricted the parliamentary franchise to the corporation. Of the 24 aldermen named in addition to the mayor and recorder only 11 had already served as aldermen and four as sheriffs. The attempt to conciliate Whigs and nonconformist protestants was fruitless: the nominated corporation apparently never met

In October 1688 the charters of 1683 and 1688 were annulled by a paniced James II and the city resumed its earlier privileges. Members removed in the purge of 1683 and restored in 1688 included Whigs Mainwaring, Roger Whitley, and Peter Edwards.

November 1688 brought the "Glorious Revolution" when William of Orange, landed (5th November 1688) an invasion army from the Netherlands. Chester was the scene of the only spontaneous resistance to the Revolution. On the news of the landing of William of Orange, the Roman Catholic Lord Molyneux with two Irish regiments seized Chester Castle, but on 18 December 1688 the Earl of Derby entered the city, which had declared for the Prince, and Molyneux’s forces were disarmed and disbanded.

Matthew Henry's house (with the jettied upper floor) in Whitefriars.

In the 1690s the city's political alignment was in the balance. Chester needed influential connections to obtain a scheme for the River Dee navigation, relief from heavy taxation, and a relaxation of the regulations hindering the import of cattle and hides. Economic and political issues were therefore linked as Whig and Tory groups, led respectively by Roger Whitley and Thomas Grosvenor, vied for control of parliamentary representation. There were also differences about the rights of dissenters and the method of choosing officers and members of the Assembly, though by this time the parliamentary franchise undisputedly rested with the freemen. In 1690 Grosvenor and Levinge were returned, and Whitley and Mainwaring complained that the mayor had wrongly created 125 new freemen during the election.

As reported by Pigot, Henry wrote of these events as follows:

  • "The charter of the city had been surrendered about 1684 and a new charter granted by which a power was reserved to the crown to put out Magistrates and put in at pleasure. This precarious charter was joyfully accepted by those that were for surrendering the old one that Alderman Mainwaring and some other Aldermen of the same honest principles might be turned out and none but those of their own kidney taken in. By this charter Sir Thomas Grosvenor was the first Mayor Alderman Wilson the second Alderman Oulton the third and Alderman Starkey the fourth. In the latter end of his time about 1688 one Mr Trinder came to Chester for the new modelling of the Corporation according to the power reserved to the Crown by the new charter. He applied himself to me told me the King thought the government of the city needed reformation and if I would say who should be put out and who put in their places it should he done. I told him I begged his pardon that was none of my business nor would I in the least intermeddle in anything of that nature. However he got instructions from others the new charter was cancelled and another sent of the same import only altering the persons and by it all the dissenters of note in the city were brought into the government; the seniors to be Aldermen and the juniors to be Common Councilmen and Sir Thomas Stanley Mayor. This charter was brought down and the persons called together to have notice of it and to have the time fixed for their being sworn but they like true Englishmen unanimously refused it and desired that the ancient charter might be restored though they knew that none of them would come into power by that but that many that were their bitter enemies would be restored by it. This I take to be a memorable instance both of the modesty of the dissenters and a proof how far they are from an affectation of power the top of their ambition being to live quiet and peaceable lives in the exercise of their religion according to their consciences as also of their inviolable fidelity to the rights and liberties of their country."
The Northgate Development plan has Trinity Street displaced to the east.

In other words Matthew Henry (still based in the converted barn at Weaver Street) refused to get involved in the complicated politics of Chester at the time. It is impossible to guess what would havw happened if Henry had supported the new assembly in 1688. It is possible that the monopoly of the guilds over trade in Chester through the Assembly would have broken earlier than it otherwise was, by the Municipal Corporations Act of 1835.

The Trinder mentioned is possibly the assistant to either Sir Thomas Powys the Attorney General or Sir William Williams the Solicitor-General, and also an ex-MP for Chester (from 1676). Charles Trinder, a known Catholic, was the eldest son of another Charles Trinder, a gentleman of Holwell, Oxfordshire. He was listed as a reputed Papist of Lyons Inn in 1679. Besides his estate at Holwell, he also owned property at Bourton-on-the-Water. Trinder, a sergeant-at-law, was appointed Recorder of Gloucester after William Gregory had been deprived of office, with the thirteen Councilmen, in December 1687. Trinder served as Recorder until his own resignation in 1690. Notably, he took part in the trial of the Seven Bishops. The Seven Bishops of the Church of England were those imprisoned and tried for seditious libel related to their opposition to the second Declaration of Indulgence, issued by James II in 1688. In a major embarrassment to the Crown, they were found not guilty. Given that it was probably suspected that this was possibly part of a "popish plot" and that the future William III was preparing for an invasion: Henry was possibly wise to stay out of this and the assembly may well have seen the prospect of a difficult future for themselves if they actually met.

The "Market Quarter" in late Victorian times. Showing many back-to-back "slum courts", and the original Stone Street - to be recreated as part of the Northgate Development.

The Monument

In 1858 a public meeting was held, chaired by the Mayor of Chester, to invite subscriptions to a memorial fund in the name of Matthew Henry. This was intended to provide a statue near Chester Castle, to produce a cheap edition of Henry's commentary on the Bible, and to create a scholarship in his name at Oxford University. However, there was a problem because after Henry's death, in about 1750, the Trinity Street Chapel had become Unitarian (a bit of a contradiction for a congregation on Trinity Street), and it was decided, for reasons which remain obscure, that the Unitarians should be excluded from taking part in the fund raising. As a consequence, subscriptions came in very slowly, and it was decided that, rather than a statue, the memorial should consist of an obelisk. The obelisk was to be erected in the churchyard of St Bridget's Church, the site being provided free of charge by the rector. The architect was Thomas Harrison, and the sculptor of the bronze portrait medallion was Matthew Noble; both gave their services free. The mason was A. McDonald of Aberdeen, and the total cost came to £267 (equivalent to £23,000 in 2016). The obelisk was unveiled on 22 August 1860. St Bridget's Church was demolished in 1892, but the obelisk remained in the churchyard until the building of Chester's inner ring road in the 1960s. It was then moved to the roundabout outside Chester Castle, where it still stands today: an often ignored link to a turbulent period in Chester's history.

The Future

Today (2018) Trinity Street exists largely as an underpass beneath a hotel. As part of the proposed "Northgate Development" parts of Trinity Street are set to dissappear.

The extension of a parking level across Trinity Street could threaten significant archaeology – much of the western end of the main fabrica or workshops of the Roman fortress, plus the adjacent intervallum road. Much of this workshop lay within the footprint of the present Forum complex; samples of it were excavated in the 1960s but most was destroyed without record. How well the Roman building survives under Trinity Street has not been established. Earlier surfaces of Trinity Street itself (possibly going back to the Saxon period would also be destroyed, if they survive. Chester Archaeological Society has stated:

  • For Trinity Street and the northern half of Crook Street the scheme would substitute a wholly new street mid-way between the two, linking directly with the surviving southern ends of neither. Although it may inherit the name of one of the historical streets this is misleading: the street would be on a new line, and it needs to be emphasised that it would have absolutely no historical authenticity or significance

Sources and links