Joseph Turner (c. 1729–1807) was an architect and canal engineer of Welsh origin who worked in the 18th century. Most of his major works were in North Wales and in Chester. Almost all of them were in Georgian style. Turner also designed memorials in Chester Cathedral, and appears to have been a member of the Chester Assembly. A major focus of his activity is that part of Chester around the Watergate. It is possible that Turner the Chester architect and Turner the Chester canal engineer are two separate but contemporaneous people.
Knowing exactly what Turner designed is complicated by the fact that he comes of from a family of architects of whom several (including his father) were named Joeseph. Thus, while in 1756 a Mr Turner, Architect, was known to have come from Whitchurch to Chester to survey the Exchange, this may or may not be the same Joseph Turner. The Exchange, which had already been strengthened by the addition of 'several strong pillars', was showing signs of collapse. It was secured by enclosing the ground floor to house the row of shops, on which work continued until 1759.
The Eastgate, constructed in 1768-9 provides something of a puzzle, as the Chester Assembly minutes leave some doubt as to the actual architect. The Corporation demolished the old gatehouse and were to have financed the new arch. The Assembly first employed a "Mr Turner of Hawarden" to prepare plans and estimates. The relevant entries in the Assembly minutes are:
- 2/10/1767 The Eastgate, building and premises adjoining, belonging to the Corporation are to be surveyed by Mr. Turner of Hawarden... He is to draw a plan of the proposed new buildings and an estimate of their expense and of taking down the old Gate and building, to be laid before the next Assembly.
- 22/2/1768 Mr Hayden, surveyor at the building of Lord Grosvenor is to be desired to draw a plan of a new arch to be erected over the Eastgate for the next Assembly.
- 29/2/1768 The gateway with an arch giving passage over the walls according to Mr Hayden's plan, now subscribed by the Mayor, is to be erected...
- 22/3/1768 The Corporation is to tender fifteen guineas to Mr. Turner of Hawarden as satisfaction for his plans, estimates and expenses for rebuilding the Eastgate, but if he refused to accept the sum and commenced a suit against the Treasurers for recovery of any money for his plans, etc, the Town Clerk was to defend it at the Corporation's expense.
- 17/1/1772 It was ordered that five guineas be paid to Mr. Heyden as a compliment for his trouble in supervising the new construction of the Eastgate... elegantly completed at the sole expense of the Lord Grosvenor. (Chester City Assembly: Assembly Book: 1725-1775: 1767,68,72).
The existence of a "Chester mason" living in Hawarden is independently confirmed in the records of the Yorke's of Erddig from the early 1770's, but confusingly other writers identify this Turner as hailing from Whitchurch. In any event, in 1774 Turner was recorded to have been formally admitted as a Freeman of Chester.
Around 1779 he designed a part of "Watergate flags". The development was criticised by Broster for the wanton destruction of remains of Roman Chester which were uncovered during building work. At this time the area around Stanley place and the Watergate was being heavilly develloped and it is possible that Turner was involved with much of that development. At this time, possibly from 1780, he was living around Paradise Row, just outside of the old Watergate and both court and other records from that time show that he was involved with property and land purchase in that area (ZA/B/5/f.8v [p.16] 31 May 1787, ). Indeed, by 1780 he had designed Numbers #10–28 Nicholas Street known as "Pill Box Terrace" due to it being a popular location for medical doctors. During the 1780’s, Turner was also employed to design a terrace of houses in the Blackfriars area, possibly including Soughton House (2 Nicholas Street Mews) - .
- On a tablet over the western postern arch is inscribed: "This Gate was begun April mdcclxxxii .. Joseph Turner Architect".
In 1782, during the mayorality of Thomas Patton, a Joseph Turner was co-sherrif (together with Samuel Bromfield). It is not known for certain that this was the same Turner, but it seems likely. The same is true of his election as an Alderman on the 21 October 1794 (ZA/B/5/f.39v, [p.78]) - most mentions of Alderman Turner relate to the area around the Watergate which might be considered his "patch".
His next major work was the new Watergate. At the time of its purchase by the corporation from the Earl of Derby in 1788, The Watergate was considered so "dangerously ruinous" that it had to be immediately demolished and the present arch, designed by Joseph Turner, was erected the following year. The Assembly minutes record the contract on 23 May 1788 (ZA/B/5/f.11, [p.21]), and payment on 29 March 1790.
Pigot, writing in 1815, describes the Watergate as follows:
- "The serjeant of this gate was bound to execute the Mayor's processes on the river Dee. The present beautiful arch was erected in the room of the old gate way in l788-9 the expense being defrayed out of the Murage Duties. On the west side the gateway but now illegible from the street without the aid ofa glass is the following inscription: IN THE XXIX YEAR of THE REIGN OF GEO. III IN THE MARYOLTY OF JOHN HALLWOOD AND JOHN LEIGH ESQUIRES THIS GATE WAS ERECTED - THOMAS COTGREAVE EDWARD BURROWS MURENGERS". The view from this gate way is very pleasing on the right is a regularly built street called Crane street. Little more than a century ago the sea at high water overflowed all the ground which the houses now occupy washing up to the Watergate. The Roodee also is represented to have been so much covered by the tide that the cross seemed to stand in the water and from this circumstance the name probably originated which has ever since been applied to the ground reclaimed from the water."
In 1791 Joseph Turner, now identified in various sources as either "a Chester architect" or a "Whitchurch Engineer" (Canal Ports, John Porteous), put forward a scheme for the course of the Ellesmere/Whitchurch Canal routed to the east of the Dee, with Whitchurch being served by a heavily-locked branch about 10 miles long, up the Wych Valley from a junction near Threapwood.
In 1793 Turner was to be paid "£20 on erecting a stone arch over the canal from the Northgate garden to the Blue Coat Hospital" (ZA/B/5/f.36v, [p.72] 30 July 1793). This became known as the Bridge of Sighs. He by now appears to have some role in local government as he is involved in the consideration of a "Petition from John Bramwell for a lease of land, to compensate for land recovered from him by River Company" (ZA/B/5/f.43, [p.85] 13 February 1795). Similarly on the 23rd July 1795 the assembly minutes record:
- "On behalf of proprietors of Chester Canal, presentation by Mr. Turner of plan of premises between Northgate Garden and Water Tower. Committee of inquiry to be appointed when proprietors have marked in what land they require for the canal."
"Joseph Turner Architect" was named as a shareholder in the 1796 Act which enabled the purchase of the mortgage of the Chester Canal for £8000 from William Egerton (heir of Samuel Egerton). (it was valued at £15,0176 19s and 7d). Turner was engineer for the Chester Canal until 1797, when he was succeeded by John Fletcher. While the Corporation was strongly in favour of the intended canal to Nantwich and beyond, it was a heavy investor through the Owen Jones charity in the company's shares, thus risking the funds of the charity rather than its own.
Around this time Turner may have moved into Nicholas street, for the Assembly records a:
- Petition from Mr. Alderman Joseph Turner, to extend a flag footway in Nicholas Street along his garden into Smith's Walk, and committee of inquiry into corporation revenues to accept or reject petition.
1805 (ZA/B/5/ff.114-114v,[pp.227-228] 21 October 1805) sees him in a dispute over a horse:
- Money paid by Mr. Joseph Turner, for his mare to be ley'd on the Roodee, as his mare was injured by another animal, to be returned.
Circa 1807 he was architect for the then "new" City Jail (see the 1825 Map), which was constructed on his "patch" just to the west of the Watergate. The jail was subsequently demolished and replaced by the Queens School building (designed by Ould) when the even newer jail was built, at Chester Castle, to a design of Harrison.
His somewhat neglected grave is a massive circular memorial in Overleigh Cemetery.
Works in Chester
- 1770 - The Eastgate (possibly), and possibly also the adjoining building;
- 1779 - "Watergate flags"
- 1780 - Numbers #10–28 Nicholas Street ("Pill Box Terrace");
- 1781 - The Bridgegate;
- 1785 - St Bridget's, then in Bridge Street, was refaced in stone;
- 1788/9 - The Watergate;
- 1793 - The Bridge of Sighs;
- 1807 - The City Gaol (since demolished and replaced by the Queens School (designed by Ould);