Murengers

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This article is about repair to the walls, for a guide to the walls themselves see: City Walls. Chester often claims that "the city walls are the oldest, longest and most complete in Britain", and that it "is the only city in Britain that retains the full circuit of its ancient defensive walls". The claim seems to date back to Broster's guide of 1797:

  • "The WALLS which we fhall now give fhort account of are the only entire fpecimen of antient fortification now in the Kingdom."

They are possibly not the oldest (Colchester), nor longest (York is longer) nor the most complete (try Caernafon or Conwy, neither of which is a city), so the statement is a little vague. What is true is that the walls need to be maintained. The office of Chester Murengers were active in this role from 1249 until 1835. From early times the reparation of walls was considered as the duty of the burgesses and the expense of performing the duty was a "common burden" upon the burgesses and inhabitants. The Murengers managed this process and, looking closely, have left traces on the walls in the form of various inscriptions. Repair of the walls is an ongoing issue and can sometimes lead to controversy over the money allocated as "murage". There is nothing new in such arguments as concerns over the keeping and spending of such money date back to the earliest times.

The Romans

When first established in the 70s and 80s by Legio II, the legionary fortress was defended by an earth rampart topped by a wooden palisade and provided with wooden gates and towers spaced at regular intervals. The double turfrevetted rampart appears to have been constructed in a modular fashion on a base c. 6 m. wide and to a height of c. 3 m. Its core was composed of earth dug from the defensive ditches alongside, the whole structure being set on a log corduroy base and held together by layers of branches and brushwood. The wooden towers, set at intervals of c. 50 m., were c. 4. 5 m. square and probably c. 7.5 m. high. The four main gates, undoubtedly initially also of timber, were probably double and similar to those at Colchester.

Centurial stone from the City Walls.

The stone walls of Roman Chester were built to a very high standard of large sandstone blocks without mortar, a technique ("opus quadratum") usually reserved for temple or city walls rather than those of a fortress. When the Roman walls needed repair that task fell to the legionaries, who, during their long occupation of the site also maintained the structure and rebuilt at times. A "Centurial Stone" RIB 467 found in 1748, probably in what is now Park Street translates as:

  • "From the first cohort the century of Ocratius Maximus (built this); Lucius Mu(…) P(…) (made the inscription)."

The stone is now in the Grosvenor Museum (but does not appear to be on display) and it is believed to record the completion of a section of wall by the legionaries of Legio XX under the command of the centurion Ocratius. He is therefore the earliest known person associated with the building of any section of the walls.

The stone curtain wall was not free-standing but rather a revetment of the earlier earthen rampart: i.e. earth was banked-up against the inner face of the wall, providing additional support and the stonework had a single face of masonry. The wall walk was set c.4.9 m. above the base, and was augmented by interval towers approximately twice that in height.

The Roman walls of Chester were once thought to have been rebuilt in stone by Legio XX from the middle of the second century CE. There has been much debate on this. However, it now appears that the facing of the ramparts with stone started earlier and the rebuilding of the ramparts with solid stone was well underway by the end of the first century, i.e. within a few years of the establishment of the city. This would have been a massive undertaking, as the stone walls, towers and gates comprise some 55 thousand tons of stone (about 70 thousand Roman wagon-loads). Some have speculated that Roman Chester was built larger and with more impressive walls than a typical legionary fortress because it was intended to be capital of a Roman province which included Ireland.

Bonewaldesthorne's TowerWatertowerCathedralMorgan's MountNorthgatePhoenix TowerSaddler's TowerGoblin TowerTruant's HoleAbbey GatewayMusic HallDrum TowerGravestone in WallEastgateWatergateStanley PalaceBishop Lloyd's HouseLeche HouseHigh CrossThimbleby's TowerNewgateNine HousesArchitect;s HouseBarnaby's TowerChester CastleGamul HouseSt OlaveSt Mary on the HillShipgateBridgegateOld Dee BridgeCapelgateKaleyard GateWeirA shambles! .. well no actually, its now the Town HallHouse of CorrectionCivil War TrenchesSt John's HospitalSt ThomasShoemaker's RowBroken-shin RowGreyfriarsBlackfriarsWhitefriarsSt BridgetSt MichaelRandal Holmes's HouseThe EagleThe FalconThe Bear and BilletJacobs WellCross on RoodeeOld map of Chester
This old map of Chester has been enhanced with a bit of modern technology - "mouse over" for points of interest around the walls and "click" to be taken on to whatever details ChesterWiki has on a site!

Medieval

The remains of the Roman walls may have seen conflict around the year 616 at the time of the Battle of Chester which appears to have taken place at Heronbridge, but the details are scant.

The extent to which the Roman defences were reused when Æthelflæd refortified Chester in 907 remains uncertain (see: Chester in 900). Little is known about the condition of the City Walls between the end of the Roman occupation in the late 4th century and the refounding of Chester by Æthelflæd as a "burgh" as part of the reconquest of Mercia by the Anglo-Saxons. However, Æthelflæd put the walls to good use, establishing a burgh which could provide a refuge for the populace living outside the walls and defend itself from attack. The walls were only one part of the burgh concept: to be financially self-supporting it had to have a thriving commerce and a stable community which was often accompanied by a significant religious/cultural establishment. Æthelflæd appears to have promoted the cult of Werburgh in Chester, a saint whose name can be translated as "protector of the city".

The construction of burghs had been promoted in the south of England by Æthelflæd's father, Alfred the Great as a defence against Scandinavian invaders. Apparently, it was Alfred's intention that no English farm or village would be any more than 20 miles (32 km) away from a burgh. He built a network of well maintained army roads, known as herepaths, that interconnected the burghs, allowing the population quick access to shelter in their local burgh. In many cases he re-used Roman settlements and fortifications.

Scraps of legend from the "Fragmentary Annals of Ireland" suggest that the walls resisted an assault during Æthelflæd's time. Ingimund assaulted the city gates with a ram and was repulsed after being bombarded with rocks, boiling beer, firebrands and beehives. While the details appear to have been embellished, an assault of some kind may well have taken place.

One possibility is that Æthelflæd adopted the north and east walls, extending them to the river and creating thereby an L-shaped landward defence, but there are also indications that the entire Roman enceinte was used. Substantial sections of the north wall and portions of the east and west walls were repaired in early medieval times. Nevertheless, the likely length of the Anglo-Saxon defences, c. 1,700 yd., accords better with the L-shape than with the full legionary enceinte. It has been suggested that even if the Roman walls were refurbished it remains possible that the manned defences comprised only the northern and eastern sides of the fortress, extended to the river perhaps by earth walls. However the section of the City Walls from Morgan's Mount to Bonewaldenthorn's Tower seems to have been construucted in stone from an early, possibly late Roman, date.

Approaching the Goblin Tower (Pemberton's Parlour) from the north. Remnants of the earlier walls can be seen by looking over the parapet.

Little is known about the details of walls upkeep before 1066 although the Domesday Book records:

  • "Ad murum civitatis et pontem reaedificandum de unam quamque hida comitatus unum hominem venire praepositus edicebat : Cujus homo non veniebat dominius ejus xl. Solidis emendabat regi et comitem." (Omerod's transcription of Domesday: "For the repair of the city wall and bridge, the reeve used to call out one man from each hide in the County. The lord of any man who did not come paid a fine of 40s to the king and earl.")

The "Reeve" (collector, gatherer) is the "Shire-Reeve" or Sheriff and is responsible for taxation. A "hide" is the land used to support one household. Cheshire had 546 hides according to one estimate, but the hide is a very flexible unit as it depends on actual rather than potential land-usage.

The intrusion of Chester Castle in the late 11th century would have involved the final abandonment of any remaining south and west walls of the legionary fortress and the construction of an enlarged enceinte. Shipgate, in the southern riverside wall, seems to have been built by the 1120s as it is mentioned in the confirmation charter of St. Werburgh's Abbey dating from that year. The locations of several "ancient" churches, including St Martin, Holy Trinity, St Bridget and St Michael are along the line of this vanished section of the walls and may indicate the re-use of stone from the walls or gatehouses.

As elsewhere, upkeep of the City Walls in the Middle Ages was largely financed by "murages", occasional duties on merchandise entering and leaving the city, levied by the city authorities under royal grant. This was granted by the king by letters patent for a limited term, but the works on the walls were frequently not completed within the term, so the grant was periodically renewed. The earliest grant was for Shrewsbury and is dated 26 June 1220, in the time of Henry III. Royal permission was also needed to breach the defences of Chester: in 1246, for example, Henry III allowed the Franciscans (see: Greyfriars) to penetrate the walls in 1246 to bring in building materials. The first recorded murage at Chester occurred in 1249 and was for five years, the money being collected by two officials called "murengers":

  • "Grant to the good men of Chester of murage for five years from St. Edward's Day this year. The collection is to be made by two men of the town and deposited in the abbey of Chester under three locks, and the abbot or prior or sacristan of that house is to have one key and the collectors two keys; every year the amount is to be viewed, and the collectors to render account to the justice of Chester by testimony of lawful men." (Calendar of Patent Rolls Henry III (1247-58))

The existence of the "treasure room" at the Cathedral was of some interest to Victorian antiquarians, although no identification of it was ever made.

Other towns than Chester receiving early grants included Bridgnorth, Stafford, Worcester, Oxford, Gloucester, and Bristol. In Dublin there was a major scandal over murage in 1311–12, when it emerged that none of the funds collected for murage had actually been spent on repairs to the city walls (see: Geoffrey de Morton).

Some of Chester's streets were paved by the 1240's, initially with money collected by grants of "pavage". By the end of the 13th century grants of pavage were often linked to murage grants, foreshadowing the later situation when the "highways" budget provided for both the streets and the walls.

Further murages were granted in 1290, 1297, and 1299, for three, five, and seven years respectively. In 1300 Edward I made it clear that Chester did not have to contribute to the "common burden" (which included the rather outdated Danegeld) in other parts of England:

  • "with further grant to the said citizens of the said city … and they shall be quit through the king's land and dominion of toll, passage, lastage, murage, pavage, pontage, and tallage, leve, danegeld, gaywite and all other customs in England and in the king's other lands; …"

In 1321 a murage was granted for two years, and in 1322 the citizens contracted with John of Helpston, a royal mason, for a new riverside tower, the Watertower in the northwest of the city. Murages were also granted in 1329, 1352, 1355, 1358, and 1363, with work continuing under the supervision of royal master masons and in 1339 under the temporary supervision of a royal controller of murage (all generally rewarded with 4d. a day wages and one robe yearly to be paid by the city). The reasons why royal control was stiffened may perhaps be found in an enquiry started in 1330 by a:

  • "Commission to Oliver de Ingham, justice of Chester, or his deputy, to enquire into the alleged misappropriation of great sums of money by men of Chester, collected under a grant of murage made by Edward II, and confirmed by the king."

What is obvious from this is that there were issues around the use of the murage from an early date. There was a further enquiry in 1331:

  • "touching alleged defalcations by the collectors of the murage granted by the late king and the king to the citizens of Chester."

1358 saw an exemption from murage being granted by Edward III to the nuns of St Mary in Chester. In the year 1361 William de Helpston was granted the task of supervisor by the Black Prince. In 1387 Richard II authorized the city to use the murage to rebuild the Old Dee Bridge, and perhaps because of that by 1395 the walls were claimed to be in great disrepair. Richard's murage was a tax levied on all goods coming in by sea except iron, wine, vinegar, oil and train oil (from whales etc.) at the rate of 2.5 (old) pence in the pound. Succeeding murages in 1395 and 1397 were devoted to the restoration of the walls, and no further money was diverted to the bridge until 1407. It was evident that the defences could still assume a military importance during the Ricardian rising in 1400 (see: Royal Treasure), when the rebels seized the keys to the gates, and again in 1408–9, when attempts were made to enforce the watch on the walls.

Local Action

Although in the earlier 15th century royal officials continued to supervise repairs, care of the fortifications became increasingly a local affair. A grant "Given at Chester the 5th day of March, 1407," by Prince Henry, Earl of Chester and later Henry V, confirmed previous charters and wants, giving to the:

  • "Mayor and Commonalty of our city of Chester" [the profits and emoluments of prisa et captione of Murage for five years,] "which before these times was wont to be taken and received, but one-half was to be faithfully expended upon the repair of the city walls, and the other in finishing the tower on the Dee bridge which had been commenced in the time of Richard, late King of England."
A date-stone opposite the Bishop's Palace.

Two years later the same Earl extended the licence to take Murage from five years "so long as it shall please us.". This was at the end of the Glyndŵr rebellion, possibly reflecting on how the citizen's tendency to spend money on the walls was much influenced by external factors, such that in peacetime there was little inclination to contribute.

After 1466 the murengers, who by then had a regular income from customs levied on goods entering and leaving the city, served for two years rather than one, one retiring each year. In 1506, the Year of Henry Tudor's "Great Charter" (ZCH/32), murages became a permanent custom under the administration of two annually elected officials. Lysons, who is not always the most reliable of witnesses, states that two murengers "generally the two senior aldermen, are annually appointed by the mayor and other city magistrates".

Such developments did not, however, bring much improvement in the upkeep of the walls. In 1410, 1452, and c. 1531 men were indicted for breaking structures down and carrying off stones (II Hen. IV. Walter Stokes and 22 Hen. VHI. Thomas Rider, Carter, "fregit parietem juxta novam Turrem et abinde cariavit diversos lapides ad domum at ad alia loca"). By then the full circuit included some eight or nine watch towers, the four principal gates, and at least six posterns. The whole was embattled. Outside, to the north and east, lay the town ditch, and inside, except in the abbey precinct and between Eastgate and Newgate, a roadway to provide access. In the later 16th or early 17th century the ditch was filled in. By the mid 16th century with the decline of Chester's trade the murengers' income had become inadequate. Some of the principal towers were rented and maintained as meeting places by the city's craft guilds, but the walls themselves were in poor condition.

In 1538–9 the city authorities agreed to pay a mason, Thomas Wosewall, 40s. a year and provide materials and two labourers to keep the entire circuit in repair. Wosewall had been steward of the Mason's Company in 1531. In 1549 several religious houses were suppressed and as these had been involved with the water supply to the city the Assembly decided that:

  • "the conduits should be viewed and amended at the care of the murengers, and by them looked to for future tyme."

Extensive renovations of the walls were undertaken in 1555–6, and in 1562 the contract was renewed, but the results were not satisfactory: in 1569 a portion of the wall between Watertower and the Watergate fell down, and in 1589 the entire defences were described as ruinous. Wosewall was assisted by his son, another Thomas and one version of their contract provides that they:

  • "obliged themselves duringe their lives, in all things belonging to a Mason's worke, substantially to make, repaire, maintaine, and uphold, all the walls of the city, finding all manner stuffe, as stone, lime, sand and water, and also iron and steele for sharpening their tools and instruments, and also two labourers att such tymes as they shall sett and none otherwise in consideracion of an annual fee of fourty shillings and a livery gown"

The Newgate was repaired about this time. In the City Murenger’s accounts of 1552 we find a statement of considerable sums of money expended on "setting up a new gate". Several historians have referred to this account as meaning that the Newgate was first built at that time. Simpson conjectures that if the details mentioned are carefully studied it will at once be seen that all the items mentioned, except one, are for timber, nails and hooks, or gudgeons, and that only 1s/8d. was spent for stone for mending the Newgate. It may therefore be inferred that the new gate referred to meant a new wooden gate in the old stone arch. For more on this see the paper by Simpson.

Financial control at the time was still somewhat haphazard. There were shortfalls in the Murenger's income in 1561, 1562 and 1564, but in 1555 when there was a deficiency of £10/10s with receipts of just over £17 on payments approaching £28. Nevertheless, the money was still found to provide for the usual refreshments deemed so necessary for "the drynkyng at the making of the last accompts". These included the cost of "apples" (possibly cider), over 11 gallons of wine, ale, bread, a bottle of Madiera, a gallon of mead and some ginger.

In 1590 the younger Wosewall surrendered his patent because he was unable to keep the walls in repair. The murengers were increasingly reliant on special levies: in 1589 they were granted an assessment of £100 and in 1599 the profits from one year's toll on corn. Even so, in 1600 the walls still endangered those walking on them, and a further assessment of £100 was ordered. By this time the income from tolls was much less than had been and insufficient for the repair of the walls. A "great breach" between the Watertower and Watergate required £80 in 1608 and 100 marks in 1620. Further assessments for repairs were levied in 1621, 1625, and 1629, but there appears to have been some resistance to their collection, and yields probably continued low, for the walls were still called ruinous in 1641.

As well as their military function the walls had an important commercial function as they enabled the guilds and companies of Chester to exert some control over trade within the city, and maintain a monopoly on this except during the annual fairs. The city had "Leavelookers" who ensured that "foreign" traders were ejected at the end of the fairs.

Special signage in the Roman Gardens explains how the walls were breached but fails to give the important context that Charles arrived in Chester later the same day and the day after that fought the Battle of Rowton Moor which spilled into the Battle of Hoole Heath.

Civil War

The run-up to the Civil War saw disputes over the Murage "tax". William Brereton was at times in dispute with the Mayor and Corporation for refusing to pay the Murage.

With the growing prospect of a Civil War, measures were taken to improve the city's defences. In September 1640 the corporation ordered repairs to the Eastgate, Newgate, and Bridgegate, and in 1641 it allocated all customs duties on wine imports (prisage) to the renovation of the walls.

An additional assessment of 100 marks was granted in 1642. In 1643, with the growing likelihood of a siege, new outer fortifications were built. They initially followed a line from the north wall near the Goblin Tower northwards to a point between the Parkgate and Liverpool roads, and thence east to Flookersbrook Hall; from there they ran south and then east to Boughton, terminating at the river near what is now "The Mount". The new works comprised trenches, mud walls, mounts, and pitfalls. Newgate and the New Tower were walled up, and the former ditch outside the Eastgate was perhaps re-excavated. In 1644 the line of the defences was brought back nearer the city to a "turnpike" barrier at Cow Lane (later Brook Street / Frodsham Street), abandoning the enclosure of Flookersbrook; escarpments were deepened and widened, parapets raised, and new mounts thrown up around Cow Lane. Finally, in February 1645 the fortifications assumed the form they had until the end of the siege: the outworks were brought back from the Cow Lane "turnpike" to Cow Lane Gate (the present site of Cow Lane Bridge), and the tower now known as Morgan's Mount was constructed on the northern city wall near the Goblin Tower.

The medieval defences suffered from the parliamentary bombardment during the siege of the Civil War. Two important breaches were made, a large one near the Newgate and a smaller one between the Goblin and New Towers, both in places where the fabric had already crumbled and been strengthened by earthen ramparts. The Newgate breach is associated with the Battle of Rowton Moor and it's spillage over into the Battle of Hoole Heath. The close connection between the wall breaches and the destruction of effectively the last of Charles' cavalry together with the end to his hopes to flee to Scotland, is not well represented in the signage.

Modest disbursements were made in the later 1640s and 1650s to patch up the great breach near the Newgate and further breaches on either side of the Northgate. Major work costing over £120 was done near the Watergate between 1659 and 1661, and in the 1660s and early 1670s spending on repairs continued to be fairly heavy. Yet the condition of the walls remained precarious.

Repairs to the walls at this time were in part due to a possible Jacobite revolt. In 1663 Sir Geoffrey Shakerley repaired the city's fortifications and repressed dissent. The defences were further strengthened in 1671. The Popish Plot in 1678 led to cancellation of the Midsummer show and the Christmas watch in successive years, as well as more repairs to the city walls.

Frank Simpson recorded a stone visible in 1910 "about fifty yards north-west of the Grosvenor Road" (by the first lamp-post also works). This is still there but is quite difficult to spot, and is shown in the photograph to the right. According to Simpson, upon the stone was inscribed:

The stone mentioned by Simpson.
T SIMPSON
16.M.74
I.POOLE
R.TAYLOR

This apparently had some further inscription which had become buried in the pavement and seems to record the efforts of the murengers at the date it gives. Many such monuments are only recorded through the efforts of amateur historians, for example here. We learn a fraction more about Thomas Simpson from the notes of the case brought by Ralph Eddowes of the independents in 1784, an an attempt to bring back "fair" elections (see: Charters). However this is only that Simpson had himself been a Murenger.

Although the antiquary Ralph Thoresby could describe the walls as in excellent condition in 1682, another opinion in 1686 was that they were 'far out of repair'. In 1690 the corporation granted £160 for renovations, but there were still breaches in 1694. By 1700 the murage duties were in arrears.

On 26th October 1696 Edmond Halley wrote a letter from the Chester Mint to Hans Sloane describing Chester thus:

  • "The Stone of this place, which is soft reddish gritt and very friable with shining particles intermixt, is very apt to decay with the weather, so that all old buildings are very much defaced therby, and the walls which are built therof, are so frequently out of repaire, that they have officers on purpose whom they call Murengers, who do gradually refit them, where they are most worn out; in some places the stone is in a manner mouldred away like sammel bricks in a wall, leaving the mortar standing."

Nevertheless, the walls seem already to have become a popular promenade, perambulated for example by Thoresby in 1682, and in 1707–8 the Assembly undertook major repairs with the object of restoring the entire circuit to use. Celia Fiennes visted Chester in 1698 and was unable to complete a circuit:

  • "Ye town is walled all aboute wth battlemts and a walke all round pav'd wth stone, I allmost Encompass'd ye walls."

The cost of £1,000 went towards repairing 'divers large breaches' and levelling and flagging the wall walk. Thereafter, the walls became one of the walks favoured by Henry Prescott, deputy registrar of Chester diocese, and his friends. Henry's diary suggests the extent of their strolls would be influenced by the state of their health after the previous evening spent drinking at the Fountain, the Falcon, the Pied Bull, or one or other of the many inns in the city. Henry also took to the walls while working-up to more drink and typically writes about "a turn on the walls" followed by "to the Pentice, where day is celebrated, drink here almost bottle each", later sharing "3 quarts of claret" with another bottle before bed. The next day he describes himself as "Severely indisposed and confined 'till evening prayer". Henry was an antiquarian and at times discussed his findings with Halley, who wrote:

  • "Mr. Prescot here a great lover of antiquity and who has severall curiositys by him which I am promised to peruse."

Access to the fashionable pleasure grounds in the Groves was made easier in 1720, when the corporation built Recorder's Steps, east of Bridgegate. After all the improvements, the walls, though no longer of military use, were described in 1728 as "of great delight and benefit" to the citizens. Chester was not the only walled town which underwent such a transformation, several others reconfigured their walls in the post-1660 "flowering of fashionable culture" for recreational use. Elsewhere, city walls were torn down.

Promenade

In the 18th century the walls were perambulated by such distinguished visitors as John Wesley and Samuel Johnson, though the walkway was not continuous as it was still interrupted by some of the towers over the main gates. Wesley's diary of 22nd June 1752 records:

The plaque on the Goblin Tower. The date of a later restoration can just be made out at the top of the image. William Stanley, 9th Earl of Derby, died in office as mayor on 5th November 1702. The extent to which the inscription reflects local politics at the time is not known in any detail, but diaries suggest that those listed were a very close group.
  • "We walked round the walls of the city, which are something more than a mile and three quarters in circumference. But there are many vacant spaces within the walls, many gardens, and a good deal of pasture ground; I believe Newcastle-upon-Tyne, within the walls, contains at least a third more houses than Chester."

The reconstruction begun in 1707 continued piecemeal, and seems generally to have involved, or intended, the total replacement of medieval fabric but the retention, where it existed, of anything thought to be Roman. This period of Chester's history is interesting in terms of government: in 1698 the Assembly formally abolished annual elections, restored 17 ex-councilmen, co-opted 23 others, and confirmed the existing 22 aldermen in office for life. Despite the lack of democracy this was a period of intense civic pride and considerable public works. As well as the city streets and the carriageways of the roads approaching Chester, the corporation maintained the Cop, planned in 1706 and completed in 1710, an embankment which protected the Roodee from flooding. Better measures for fire protection were taken in 1709, and street lamps were provided at the Exchange and the Pentice in 1708.

Part of the Goblin Tower was taken down in 1708 "on account of its ruinous condition", and the remainder arched over. At this time the front of the tower was refaced and ornamented with stone panels, by John Tilston circa 1710. This is the same Tilston who made the statue of Queen Anne for the Exchange. The panels bore the Royal and the City Arms, and between these was placed an inscribed stone which reads:

  • "In the seventh year of the glorious reign of Queen Anne, divers large breaches in these Walls were rebuilt, and other decays therein, were repaired, two thousand yards of the pace were new Flagged or Paved, and the whole Improved, Regulated and Adorned, at the expence of One Thousand Pounds and upwards."

The names of the various Mayors and Aldermen were then listed:

Pemberton's Plaque on the spur wall to the Watertower.
  • Thomas Hand Esq 1701; The Right Honble. William Earl of Derby, Mayor 1702 (who died in his Mayoralty} Michael Johnson 1703, Matthew Anderson 1704, Edw.Partington 1705, Edward Puleston 1706, Pulest Partington 1707, Humphrey Page 1708, James Mainwaring ESQS. MAYORS Roger Comberbach Esq.Recorder, William Wilson, Aldn. Peter Bennet, Aldn. And upon the death of the said William Wilson, Edw.Partington, Aldn. Justice of the Peace MURENGERS.

Unfortunately the inscribed stone was not to last unmolested. John Seacome, in 1828 had written:

  • On the front was some excellent carved work in stone and the names of the Mayor the Earl of Derby and the other corporate officers of the year in which the repairs were made, but partly from the soft and friable nature of the stone and partly owing to the mischievous spirit that actuates many of the lower orders of the city who are continually injuring the walls both the inscription and the carved work are now almost obliterated.

Pigot writes:

  • This Tower now generally known by the name of Pemberton's Parlour lately dlsplayed on its front some excellent carved work in stone which however was unfortunately almost destroyed by some mischievous vagabonds in the year 1813.

Pemberton was active in the restoration, there is an inscribed stone on the north (nearest the Gloverstone) side of the spur archway to the Watertower, which states that the arch was restored in 1730, during the mayoralty of John Pemberton. It reads:

  • "This arch was rep.[aired] / John Pemberton / Esq Mayor / Tho. [?-------] Esq / Tho. Holland / Jas Comberbache / Justices of the / Peace Muringers / 1730"

Pemberton also restored the Goblin Tower, which is now better known as Pemberton's Parlour. The original badly damaged inscription, perhaps restored by Pemberton, is still there. Above the panel a moulded cornice has a crenellated parapet inscribed GOBLIN TOWER: REBUILT 1894 indicating yet another repair. By 2014 Pemberton’s Parlour was suffering from the combined effects of roof damage, weathering, vegetation growth and "poor-quality historic repairs". Root growth from vegetation growing on top of the tower had penetrated deep into the roof and surrounding walls causing cracks which allowed water into the structure. Specialist stonemasons carefully took apart large sections of masonry to trace and remove the roots before repairing and waterproofing the roof. The very damaging hard cement mortar (see below) was replaced with a softer traditional lime mortar.

The South West Prospect of the City of Chester 1728 - for some reason this shows the wall from the Water Tower to the Old Dee Bridge zig-zagging about.

An engraving entitled "The South West Prospect of the City of Chester 1728" by Samuel and Nathaniel Buck shows a view of the city of Chester in that year. The somewhat inaccurate text on the engraving reads (in part):

  • Chester, or WestChester, Said to be so calld from the Roman Legions: When Julius Caesar intended the redection of Ireland & Claudius Caesar design'd to surprize the / Orcades, they took up winter Quarters for them here. Likewise Galba the Emperor settled here the 20.th Legion call'd Victrix, under the command of Titus Vinius to be a barrier & check / unto the Ordovices, which growing too headstrong for him, Titus Vespasian made Julius Agricola their Lieuten.t Tis probable that this Settlement of the Roman Legion gave birth to this City. / And it is evident, from the Inscriptions of several Altars, & Coins found in, & about this City, with the names & titles of Julius Caesar, and several other Emperors, that the Legion called / Victrix was assuredly Quartere'd here. King Edgar triumphed here over the British Princes by causing Hennadius K. of Scotland, Malcolm K. of Northumberland, & Macon K. of Man / & the Isles, with all the Princes of Wales; being in N.o 8 to row him like Bargemen up the River Dee. This City is surrounded with a Wall two miles in compass, which affordeth a / delightfull walk all round: Said to be built by Edelfleda, that noble Mercian Lady; A.D. 902. The Streets are remarkable for their double rows of Shops, or Piazzas; which screen / you from the rain through most of the City.

Thomas Pennant in his "Tour of North Wales" provides some indication of where the money to do such extensive works on the walls after 1700 came from when he state that the walls:

  • "..are kept in excellent repair, by certain imposts, called murage duties, collected at the custom-house, upon all goods and merchandize brought into the port of Chester from parts beyond the seas, belonging to persons not freemen of the city. The Irish linen adds considerably to the fund, be∣ing nearly two-thirds of the whole: the duty on this article is two pence on every hundred yards. The annual receipt of the different duties, on the average of the last seven years, is about £100.. An officer, called a murenger, is chosen out of the body of the aldermen, to inspect the repairs; generally an old member, to whom the duty affords amusement and health. This fund is now permanent: in old times, the murage was only occasional."

The linen trade had developed through Chester in the late 17thCentury. By 1700 it reached 61,400 yards of imports (about 40 miles) and by the 1780's the trade reached its maximum of some five and a half million yards (over 3,000 miles) was imported. However trade fell off equally quickly as English merchants becan to deal directly with the Irish, the Belfast-Liverpool route grew in importance over the Dublin-Chester route, cotton became cheaper and the River Dee continued to silt. By the 1830's the Linen trade was all but dead.

Hemingway (1831) provides essenially the same information:

  • "The duties of the Murengers were formerly of considerable extent and importance, and consisted in collecting the customs on imports, which were appropriateed to the repairs of the City walls. The appointment of these officers is continued annually, but this source of revenue is almost entirely dried up. So long as the direst importation of Irish lines to this port continued, an adequate sum was raised for this purpose, but that trade has long since been diverted into other channels, and with its disappearance the revenue has failed."
The date-stone at the Wishing Steps, one of many traces of the Murengers which can be spotted on a walk around the walls.

It should perhaps be noted that Hemingway's source is possibly Pennant and therefore, while the surge in the Irish linen trade does fit with the conversion of the walls to a promenade, more research on the source of funding would be useful. Fortunately the Murengers had built up a surplus and kept this separate from the other city accounts. Later work included the construction of the present unfortified parapet, the rebuilding between 1767 and 1810 of all the main medieval gates with wider arches, better for vehicles below and pedestrians above, and attempts to render the wall walks more convenient by means of features such as the Wishing Steps, built in 1785 to ease the steep ascent east of Recorder's Steps.

Further work was done in 1828–9, when a collapsed portion between Abbey Street and the Phoenix Tower was rebuilt and Grosvenor Road leading to Grosvenor Bridge was driven through the defences west of the castle. Shortly after, in 1830, part of the southern wall west of Bridgegate was moved further south to run along the new riverside embankment, a project involving the insertion of an archway to permit access to the extended enclosure of Chester Castle. In 1831 the walls were said to have been altered recently "not so much for strength as for ornament"; the walks had been levelled, the battlements lowered, and the towers refurbished.

After the Murengers

The office of murenger was abolished in 1835, when its duties were vested in the corporation's finance committee. This was part of the general reforms under the Municipal Corporations Act 1835, which was concerned with issues relating to representation, and of which the Murengers seem to have an innocent casualty.

Sources of income would soon become a problem. The tolls at Eastgate, Northgate, and Watergate, most if not all of which were in the corporation's hands by 1662, were abolished in 1836. Those at Bridgegate, acquired in the 17th century, had already been granted to the Dee Bridge Commissioners in 1824. Hemingway in his Panorama of 1836, refers to the income from Linen, and notes:

  • "The materials of which the walls are built are of a red stone, obtained from quarries in the immediate neighbourhood of the city, which is peculiarly liable to decay on exposure to the air. The murage duties arising from the annual importation of Irish linens, were formerly amply sufficient for their constant repair ; but that branch of revenue has now almost entirely ceased to exist. During its continuance, however, a sum had accumulated from this fund of upwards of two thousand pounds; and the corporation having appropriated this money to other purposes, the body, with the interest of this sum, repair the walls, which has lately been done very effectually."

1843 saw a major legal case between the Corporation of Shrewsbury and the Crown over murages. This provides an interesting review of the law. The issue at trial was whether the Corporation in Shrewsbury could take the accumulated murage funds and use them for other purposes - in this case the payment of an unrelated debt.

Further work was done on the walls and towers of Chester in the late 19th century. 1876 saw the repair of a section of wall near the Kaleyards, commemorated by a stone bearing the names of mayor William Johnson and Sheriff Charles Brown (of "Browns of Chester"). Johnson himself is remembered in stone elsewhere: while living at Broughton Hall he made donations to the local church and stone portraits of William Johnson and his wife exist, on the outside of the church, as carvings either side of one of the stained glass windows. At least 120 yd. of the north wall in Water Tower Street between the Northgate and Pemberton's Parlour were rebuilt or refaced in 1882–3, work which included a new gateway opposite Canning Street. Some sections of this wall have become a cause for concern.

In 1887 and 1890–2 other stretches of the north wall west of the Phoenix Tower and west of the Northgate were extensively reconstructed, and in both locations large numbers of inscribed and sculpted Roman memorial stones were found within the fabric of the walls. These form a major collection in the Grosvenor Museum. At the time there was a major debate as to whether the walls as they survive were Roman or dated from the time of Edward I.

Not all dates are the Murengers: near the Eastgate a tombstone has been re-used to repair the walls.

In the 1920's work on the 1789 Watergate filled in what were possibly drainage passages with cement. The impermiability of the cement meant that trapped moisture couldn not escape through it and travelled through the softer stonework instead. Initially a 2017 repair project estimated that 10% of the stonework on the bridge would need to be replaced due to delamination – where water flakes away outer layers of stonework. However, the 2017 repair discovered that due to the 1920's repair 85% of the stonework would need to be replaced because the hard cement has bonded so strongly to the stone that it could not be removed without causing damage to the stone. The current arch was constructed in 1789 replacing an earlier medieval gate which was described at the time as so "dangerously ruinous" that it had to be immediately demolished and the present arch, designed by Joseph Turner, was erected the following year. 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 of a glass is the following inscription: IN THE XXIX YEAR or 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."

The parapet of Watergate was rebuilt with internal reinforcement and a waterproofing layer was installed over the bridge to prevent water damage to the soft sandstone structure. The inclusion of such a waterproofing layer to prevent damage to the stonework and where needed the internal fill of the walls is a long-term objective of the walls maintenance scheme.

Attempts were made to strengthen the east wall north of the Kaleyards Gate in the 1930s, and both that work and the earlier reconstruction in Water Tower Street were much renewed in the 1990s. In the 1960s the Inner Ring Road, breaching the walls, was built. St Martin's Gate consists of a concrete arch, opened in 1966, to carry the wall walk over the road. During the 20th century, especially in the post-war years, use of very hard cement-based mortar for re-building or re-pointing negatively impacted the masonry. Water cannot evaporate out of the masonry through the hard cement and so it evaporates from the face of the softer and more porous sandstone instead, or freezes within the stone, causing severe erosion.

The city council remained responsible for maintenance work, until its dissolution. On the formation of Cheshire West and Chester Council in 2009, responsibility for upkeep of the walls passed to Transport and Highways "because the walkway is both a Public Right of Way and a Highway". This is vague language: a "Highway" is defined as a public right of way. There were ongoing problems at the time: the section of the walls that collapsed at the side of the Grosvenor Hotel in 2008 took two years, to be repaired due to the complex archaelogical investigation required. However from 2009 – 2012 the EU-funded Portico project completed a number of improvements to the walls at sites including Morgan’s mount, the Newgate, and also allowed for the Watertower and King Charles tower (Phoenix Tower) to be made safe again for visitors after years of dereliction.

Scheduled Monument

The law in the UK as regards development and archaeology is complex. Measures to avoid, further investigate or mitigate the adverse environmental effects of a development proposal may be secured by planning conditions that enable the development to proceed. Historic and natural environment designations often overlap e.g. 19% of scheduled monuments coincide with Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs). Several resources are available online to explore these including the Heritage Gateway and more detailed local resources.

Near the Eastgate this "dog-leg" in the path shows how the current wall down to Newgate follows a line which is several metres to the west of the line of the Roman walls.

The wide range of legislation in the UK means that the terminology describing how historic sites are protected varies according to the type of heritage asset. Monuments are "scheduled", buildings are "listed", whilst battlefields, parks and gardens are "registered", and historic wrecks are "protected". Historic urban spaces receive protection through designation as "conservation areas", and historic landscapes are designated through national park and Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) legislation. In addition, there are areas in the UK are also protected as World Heritage Sites.

A scheduled monument is a nationally important archaeological site or historic building, given protection against unauthorised change. The protection provided to scheduled monuments is given under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979. A monument can be: a building or structure, cave or excavation which is above or below the surface of the land; or on/under the sea bed within UK territorial waters (or a site that contains the remains of one), or, site comprising any vehicle, vessel, aircraft or other moveable structure (or contains the remains of one). Scheduling offers protection because it makes it illegal to undertake a great range of "works" within a designated area, without first obtaining "scheduled monument consent". "Works" are defined as anything which would demolish, damage, remove, repair, add or alter the monument (including agriculture, forestry, flooding and tipping).

Historic England, monitors the condition of scheduled monuments. They encourage owners to maintain scheduled monuments in good condition. Historic England occasionally award grants to support management agreements for monuments, and in some cases can help with major repairs. a "List of sections of Chester city walls and associated structures" can be found on Wikipedia. The Official List Entry is very sparse.

Repairs Since 2010

The 21st Century brings "new" issues for the walls and new opportunities. Issues include the age of the walls and the fact that they have been partially rebuilt and repaired over the centuries with varying degrees of care and quality. Stonemasonry is not as widespread a profession as it once was, but Chester is perhaps fortunate in that the Cathedral hosts a number of them. Opportunities include the use of new media to make information about the walls more widely available.

The 2010 "Heritage at Risk" register identified that Chester had issues with its walls using the somewhat archaic description:

  • "Extreme significant problems i.e. under plough, collapse"

In 2012 Cheshire West and Chester Council and Historic England agreed a framework for the management and repair of Chester’s City Walls, Towers, Gates and Posterns which are a Scheduled Monument protected by law under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 (as amended). The management programme includes regular inspections of the whole circuit of the Walls and monitoring of sections of the walls previously identified as being at risk.

The inspections found that a section of the Wall adjacent to the north side of the Eastgate was unstable and tilting inwards. Archaeological investigations revealed that the inner face of the Wall was resting on and sinking into the earth rampart of the Roman fortress. Major repair works took place in 2015 that included archaeological excavations through the core of the Wall. As this section of the Wall walkway had to be closed the opportunity was taken to also carry out restoration works to the Eastgate and the Eastgate Clock (Calibre Metalwork) as well as install waterproofing measures to the Wall walkway south of the Eastgate. The conservation and repair works were carried out by York-based building conservation specialist William Anelay Ltd and conservation engineers Rambol. To stop the tilting, part of the wall and core was taken apart and carefully rebuilt to shift the centre of gravity back to a safer line. This solution was chosen in preference to an underpinning scheme which would have destroyed some of the archaeology of the Roman rampart.

The collapse of the City Walls in January 2020, apparently caused by undermining during development. Several members of the local council had raised the question of whether the proposed development was located too close to the walls.

Further details of recent defects and some of their repairs are given below. Parts of this information are taken from CW&C's own web-pages which are subject to frequent change and reproduced here as a historic record. Overall, the issues with the walls are not that different from those encountered in the past: finding the money and dealing with a patchwork of earlier repairs and modifications. Chester seems to get a disproportionate level of publicity for the recent collapses of its walls although other cities have similar problems. In 2023 a 30 meter section of the walls of Kairouan in Tunisia collapsed killing three stonemasons: part of Norwich city walls fell down in 2022.

Eastgate to Newgate

As noted above, on the third of April 2008, a 30-metre section of the walkway behind the Chester Grosvenor hotel and the Mall shopping centre, was closed after part of the City Walls collapsed at 5.30pm. As is now often the case this made national news. The collapse happened at the junction of two much earlier repairs where water had washed some of the core material away. This left a length of unstable wall between the repairs. The remaining wall was carefully taken apart until all the unstable material had been removed. It was then rebuilt using the original stone as far as possible, together with modern materials designed to tie the different parts of the wall together. Nearby St John Street Steps date back to the early 1800s and were probably built around the same time as the adjacent Methodist Church. The steps were closed in summer 2008 following a risk assessment of the City Wall in the wake of the recent collapse. There was a void inside the staircase and the slender outer wall had bowed outwards, which, together some movement, led engineers to conclude it was unstable. A steel frame was built inside the void and attached to parts of the stair structure and to the City Wall at the top. During the repairs, the workforce accidentally broke through the roof of a previously unknown underground crypt which has since led to the discovery of two further crypts behind the church building.

This section of the walls has a history of problems and issues. As a result of the excavations carried out at the south-east angle of the Roman fortress in the early years of this century (Newstead 1909), it became clear that the alignments of the fortress wall and medieval City Walls running northward to the Eastgate did not coincide. Unlike the situation prevailing north of the Eastgate and also along long stretches of the North Wall, where the medieval wall either sits directly on top the fortress wall or very nearly so, south of the Eastgate the medieval wall is set back behind the line of its Roman predecessor by a distance of three to four metres.

Archaeologists surveying the section of wall in January 2020 which collapsed the next day.
The present wall is set back from the Roman wall and would have featured interval towers.

Archaeology revealed that this wall had collapsed in Roman times. The turf rampart of the original Flavian defences had, in accordance with the sequence normally encountered, been supplemented by the construction of a revetment wall built of massive facing blocks of local sandstone with a rubble backing. Judging from the evidence obtained from this particular site, this collapse event seems most likely to have occurred at some time during the opening decades of the second' century. Subsequently, maintenance of the ditch in front of the wall was allowed to lapse with the result that the ditch became progressively choked with silt and organic matter until the point was reached where this fill came up almost to ground level. This was not the only element of the defences to suffer from neglect, for the process of ditch silting was found to have been brought to an abrupt end by the outward collapse of the fortress wall itself. This was represented in the archaeological record by a jumbled mass of intact and fragmented facing blocks which not only sealed over the ditch fill but also, because of its composition, had subsided into it. Whether any significant interval passed between this catastrophic event and the refurbishment of the defences which followed is impossible to determine from the available evidence: it can only be said that both events occurred within the period AD 250-350. During that period Roman Chester was at times somewhat neglected by Legio XX, and not continuously maintained. The ultimate demise of the repaired wall along St John Street appears to have been much the same as its initial collapse with a possible second collapse either towards the end of the Roman occupation or sometime afterwards.

In January 2020 a further section of the City Walls behind the Wesley Church Centre in St John Street collapsed. Once again this was national news. Early indications appeared to show that earth had been removed from the bottom of the city walls behind 15 to 19 Newgate Street by a developer. The local paper had reported in 2019: "Cllr Don Beckett, Labour, was less convinced that the location would be suitable. He said: I think the application site is too near to the famous walls....".

The day before the collapse, archaeologists were photographed studying the section of wall. The photograph appears to show some undermining of the wall and soil marks indicating the recent use of a mechanical excavator very close to the wall. Very soon thereafter Chester Archaeological Society tweeted:

  • "Understand that section of wall had already been closed because of fears over stability. Immediate cause of collapse may have been recent heavy rain (as was the case further north by the Grosvenor Hotel)."

Newspaper reports from the time (see links) show the instant debate over the cause of the collapse with many quick to blame the contractor before any detailed investigation had been conducted.

By April 2023 the Civic Trust was handing out "Good, Bad and Ugly" awards to the walls. For this collapse their comment was: "The lack of progress with the repair and restatement of this section of the wall is very disappointing." By the start of 2024, with the 4th anniversary of the collapse approaching, there was growing public concern on social media and in the press about inaction over the breach. on 15th January 2024 a spokesperson for CWaC said:

  • "Since the collapse near to the Eastgate Clock, the council has been considering potential legal action as it is understood that there are grounds to investigate negligence by a third party which may have contributed to the collapse of the City Walls."

Shortly after the collapse the developer announced: "We will support the council where ever we can to get the wall sympathetically restored and made safe for many years to come". However, elsewhere in their January 2024 press release CW&C noted the difficulty of accessing ths collapsed section of wall due to no agreement having been reached with the land-owner.

A panorama showing the view upstream along the River Dee at "The Groves" with the Recorders Steps shored-up. The Civic Trust commented in 2023: "The support structure under The Recorder's Steps has been in place for an inexcusable number of years now."

Recorder's Steps

The east part of south side of City Walls as seen today dates from late 11th to early 12th century, was converted to raised promenade in 1702-8 and repaired during various periods. It is the usual coursed red sandstone rubble. This part of the City Walls forms a retaining wall with ground level on the inner side being equal to that of the wall walk, but on the outer side ground level is around 7m below the wall walk. The wall is partly built on outcropping sandstone bedrock, with some 24 courses of stone beneath the parapet. The Recorders Steps are two flights of stone steps in offset flights of 12 and 15 steps, leading from the City Walls to the Groves. The lower flight is separated from the wall by a strip of Gothic stonework. The listed building record reads:

  • Stone steps in 2 offset flights of 12 and 15 steps, from the City Walls to the Groves. 1820-22. For Chester Corporation. The lower flight is separated from the wall by a strip of Gothick stonework. A plaque probably 1881, set into the wall, erroneously dated, is inscribed "RECORDER'S STEPS Erected by the Corporation of this City A.D.1700 for the Convenience of ROGER COMBERBACH, Recorder."

The City Assembly Records tell us that in 1720, the year after the Recorder's death, the Assembly ordered the city's mason to make a new set of steps "between the bridge and Dee Lane end".

The Roman corner tower would have stood at the foot of the "floating" steps leading down from the bridge. The view of the Civic Trust in 2023 was: “The steps here have been propped-up for many years providing an image of neglect and lack of maintenance."
  • "It was referred to Mr. Mayor and the Justices of the Peace of the City, or any five of them, the Mayor being one, to make a bargain with the City's mason, or any other mason, they thought fit, for making a pair of stairs from the City wall down to the river Dee in some convenient place between the bridge and Dee Lane end, and that the charge be paid by the Murengers and that they might have liberty to get stone for that purpose in any of the waste lands belonging to the City."
  • "It was ordered that any sum not exceeding twenty pounds be lent out of the City Treasury to the present Murengers towards the charge of the new pair of stairs lately ordered to be made from the City wall to the river Dee." ZA/B/3/257v-266 1720-1722 (original held at Cheshire Archives and Local Studies) National Archives.

Just why the listed building record and historians disagree on the date of the steps is unclear, but ever since the first guidebooks to Chester were written there has been confusion as to when and for what reason the Recorder's Steps were built.

The steps were propped-up in late 2014. The Civic Trust commented in 2023: "The support structure under The Recorder's Steps has been in place for an inexcusable number of years now."

St Martin's Gate

St Martin’s Gate is a breach in a northern section of the city walls, made in 1966 when the route for the Ring-Road was decided upon. The Cheshire Historic Environment Record notes that "it was named because of an association of the area with the ancient parish of that name", but fails to note that the church of St Martin was demolished to facillitate the construction of the Ring-Road. This new gateway through the walls was designed by the City Engineers, A H F Jiggens and noted architect George Grenfell-Baines of the Building Design Partnership, with approval from the Royal Fine Arts Commission, as was required at the time. It was opened in 1966 by the Minister of Transport, Barbara Castle. It was known for a while as "Jiggens Bridge". It is said to have been praised for "its elegance and combination of simplicity and lightness". Ahead of the building work, a team of archaeologists undertook a 16-week investigation of the site. During construction, remains of a Roman corner tower were found, along with some Roman and Saxon pottery, as well as the foundations of some previously-unknown agricultural buildings and features associated with a Roman cemetery. The location of the corner tower has been marked out in cobbles at the base of the concrete steps leading down from the bridge. A large amount of green and yellow-glazed medieval roof tiles were also discovered, as well as later material dating from the 17th-19th centuries.

This section of the wall near Northgate has apparently been supported by scaffolding since 2009. In 2023 the Civic Trust commented: “This scaffolding has been in place behind Rufus Court for so long that they could almost be a heritage feature in its own right!"

The "floating" concrete steps have been propped with scaffolding since c2014 on one side and c2020 on the other. Information as to the precise nature of the defect has not been published, but the "floating" staircase is entirely self supporting and therefore sensitive to structural weakness. One problem with early concrete structures was that setting agents used at the time could, years later, promote failure of the "rebar" used. Even if these setting agents were not used de-icing salts as used on roads could have a similar effect. The view of the Civic Trust in 2023 was: “The steps here have been propped-up for many years providing an image of neglect and lack of maintenance."

Abbey Green

John Seacome's Chester Guide, published shortly after 1828, tells us that, starting from the Kaleyard Gate:

  • A few paces farther on was a quadrangular abutment on which formerly stood a tower called The Sadler's Tower from the Company of Sadlers holding their meetings there The tower was taken down in 1780 and the abutment being the occasion of a great nuisance to the residence of Griflith Rowlauds Esquire immediately opposite from the number of idle and disorderly characters who were in the habit of congregating there of an evening that gentleman obtained permission from the Corporation to take it down and continue the Wall at his own expense in February 1828

Pigot writes as follows:

  • A little farther is a projection on which formerly stood a Tower where the Company of Saddlers used to meet this was taken down about the year 1780.

While not set in stone the location of the Sadler's Tower seems to have been quite close to the Kaleyard gate. Notably the historical records for July 1828 state that as a consequebce of a rainstorm a section of the City Walls near the site of Sadler's Tower collapses "with a terrible crash, the earth having been completely excavated and washed away by the descending torrents". One wonders if the collapse was in any way connected with Griflith Rowlauds and another instance of an ineffective rebuild, but the storm was a major one:

  • "The Tower Field (near the Watertower) was completely under water, and the crops will be utterly destroyed. In this city all Eastgate-street was under water on Saturday, and an impetuous current, almost sufficient to float the fleet of the Yacht Club, ran through the Eastgate! On Sunday morning the weather cleared up, and the view from the Walls at the top of the Northgate was highly picturesque; while at the same time it could not fail to give rise to melancholy reflection when taken as a specimen of a general devastation committed by the floods. All the farms on the right bank of the river, from the Sluice House and its vicinity inclusive, were completely under water, and the hedge rows, and clumps of trees gave them the appearance of a vast lake, thickly studded with clusters of green islands. The Parkgate-road was rendered utterly impassable, and the meadows in that direction all the way up to the rear of the new Lunatic Asylum were completely inundated." (Chester Courant)

A set of wooden steps leading onto the City Walls from King Charles Tower Green had been propped for several years because the wood was slowly rotting away in what was a particularly sunless site. These were replaced in March 2023. The new structure is made from fibre-reinforced recycled polymer having a fibreglass sheath with the appearance of wood.

At King Charles Tower there is a chamber at walkway level which has a domed ceiling. Structural and archaeological investigations found that the tower was ‘spreading’ outwards at ceiling level, causing the floor of the chamber above to sag. A repair took from November 2011 until September 2012 and installed a stainless steel frame below the ceiling fixed into the walls to hold the walls together. This also supported the floor of the upper chamber so that propping could be removed. As well as being functional, the frame is an example of the use of modern materials in sympathy with the historic surroundings. To create more space on the walkway outside the tower and to allow people to step back and view the tower more easily a new balcony was built to cantilever inwards from the City Wall. The balustrade was designed to match the one at Morgan’s Mount.

In the corner nearest to Northgate the wall has been propped since November 2009. According to an FOI request, the scaffolding was possibly hired for 3 years at a cost of £49,995.95. It has since been purchased by CW&C. In 2023 the Civic Trust commented: “This scaffolding has been in place behind Rufus Court for so long that they could almost be a heritage feature in its own right!"

Local business often tries to capitalise on being close to the walls.

Morgan's Mount

Inspections at Morgan’s Mount found that the inside wall of the tower had loose material beneath the paving, some of which had been washed away by water. The inner City Wall had separated from the wall core and the steps from Water Tower Street up to the tower were leaning. Observing the wall found significant movement, so the wall was propped to prevent collapse. Repair work (July 2011 - June 2012) focused on underpinning the inside wall of the tower before the steps and inner City Wall were taken apart and rebuilt. A waterproofing layer was added beneath the paving to protect the structure in the future. Also, the tower roof, which was closed for safety reasons, was strengthened and a new balustrade was added.

Bridgegate

Bridgegate Bridge (1782) at the end of Lower Bridge Street was closed briefly in 2021 for safety reasons when a problem was found with the parapet. Scheduled Monument Consent was granted by Historic England to investigate the cause of the problem and to check that parts of the structure below the paving were in a safe condition. The defects found were repaired during the summer months to allow the use of specialist lime mortar.

The Bridgegate is another work by Turner. It has a tablet over the western postern which mentions the Murengers and reads: "THIS GATE WAS BEGUN APRIL MDCCLXXXII, PATTISON ELLAMES, MAYOR, AND FINISHED DECEMBER OF THE SAME YEAR, THOMAS PATTISON, MAYOR. THOMAS COTGREAVE, HENRY HESKETH ESQ., MURENGERS, JOSEPH TURNER, ARCHITECT"

Northgate

Northgate was rebuilt in 1810 by county architect Thomas Harrison.

Movement was detected in the walls at Northgate in 2010. The steps had been propped up with scaffolding since 2011 with repairs beginning in April 2016 by the Eric Wright Group. The extended repair period was complicated by the discovery of foundation stones thought to be part of the original Roman gate. Matters were not helped by much earlier building work having been sub-standard. The inner leaf of the city wall had been constructed on poor quality ancient rubble and the Northgate Steps were founded on the soft, organic Roman rampart material, which was once part of the original Roman Gate footings. This caused a significant delay in the rebuilding of the steps. The steps were re-opened in December 2020. However, the "temporary" repairs to the city walls at this location will need further work in the future.

Gates Ceremony 2018

In May 2018 attempts were made to put gates back at the Eastgate as part of a historical re-creation of supposed Roman and Civil War events. There was an aspiration to enact a "Ceremony of the Gates" and install a permanent set of iron gates at the Eastgate to play a key role in the city’s arts and cultural celebrations including the Midsummer Watch Parade and Midwinter Watch. Nothing came of these plans.

Conclusions

Archaeology shows that at least one section of Chester's walls had already collapsed twice before the end of the occupation of Roman Chester. The "Common Burden" of repair of the walls was an ongoing issue down the centuries which followed their rebuilding by the Saxons. From the medieval period this was the responsibility of the "Murengers", who collected a tax known as Murage for this purpose. After considerable damage in the Civil War the walls were reconfigured as a pedestrian walkway intended partly for recreation during the time of Queen Anne and in Georgian Chester. The Murengers retained their responsibility until 1835 when they were disbanded. Issues with the walls continue and there is an ongoing debate as to how repairs should be prioritised and funded. The historical record shows that the debates over the repair of the walls and how they should be funded are not new but have recurred in similar forms over many hundreds of years.

Exploring the History

A walk around the walls will reveal a lot of repair work of which the modern works in "fresh stone" are often the most obvious. The walls have much in common with the Ship of Theseus in that just about everything has been replaced, and in some places replaced or rebuilt more than once. Many repairs are difficult to spot, even significant ones. Apart from ostentatious inscriptions on the City Gates, early monuments to the Murengers and others who maintained the walls can be hard to spot or easily missed, but the ones with some recorded history include:

Sources and Links

Campaigner for the repair of the walls photographed with a fourth anniversary cake in January 2024.

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Some Old Guides to the City Walls

Some modern sources imply that "collapse of the walls" is a recent issue. However, most of the old guidebooks to Chester have a mention of the Murengers and the issues associated with the upkeep of the walls over the centuries.