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The "Pentice" was a wooden structure on the south wall of St Peter as shown here by Randle Holme (Harl Man 2073) shortly after the end of the Civil War. The Pentice was taken down in 1803. The remains of the High Cross, destroyed in the Civil War, can be seen in front of the door. The two figures either side of the clock are the "jacks".

In 1300, Edward I's charter granted the citizens of Chester the right to try pleas of the Crown before the mayor and sheriffs of the City - the first time any city in England obtained this privilege. Hemingway writes:

  • "There is a document amongst the corporation records which purports to be a return to a quo warranto under the statute of the 6th Edw I, in which the constitution of the city is thus stated:- The Maior and citizens of the citty of Chester clayme to have liberties under written, that is to say that the citty of Chester be a free citty and that the citizens may chuse to them a maior of themselves, from year to year, the Friday next after the feast of St Denyce which shall make his oath to keep the laws of our sovereign lord the prince and the liberties and laws of the citty aforesaid. And also that they may chuse to them two sheriffs of themselves the day aforesaid which in manner aforesaid the execution and commandments of the said Earl of Chester and of the maior and citizens of Chester truly shall do by their oaths and to have Gildam Mercalem in the citty aforesaid and to have free court of port mote in the city aforesaid of all quarrels growing within the citty aforesaid to be tried that is to say to have pleas of lands and tenements and of repleven growing by plaint in the port mote or writ and pleas of dower in a writ of right which in the aforesaid port mote by writ originally ought to be served. And all other pleas to be holden in the pentice of the citty aforesaid afore the sheriff."

This can be taken as evidence that the Pentice was in existence in 1300. The court, named from the structure in which it was held, a lean-to built against St Peter's church, actually appears to have been well established by 1288. Its earliest surviving records date from 1297. On petition, a case could be transferred to the Portmote (held at the Commonhall). The Pentice was particularly concerned with the regulation of the markets, and also heard all pleas during the fairs, when the Portmote was suspended. Perhaps unsurprisingly St Peter was (and is still) the "guild church". Samuel Lewis recorded the following:

  • Fourteen days before the commencement of each general fair a wooden hand as the emblem of traffic and bargain is suspended from the Pentice adjoining St Peter's church where it remains during the fair a period of twenty nine days when non freemen are allowed to trade in the city and during the continuance of the fairs a court of pie powder is held by the sheriffs.

Relations between St Peter and the Abbey were complicated. As the greatest landowner in the city, with extensive jurisdictional privileges and exemptions from toll, the abbey's relations with the citizens were never easy. The abbey's rights, especially its trading monopoly during St. Werburgh's fair, became a source of friction. For two centuries from the late 13th century few if any chose to be buried or commemorated in the abbey. Relations with the other religious houses in Chester was also often poor: the Benedictines of the Abbey were not the only religious house in the city. The Dominicans (Blackfriars) and Franciscans (Greyfriars) arrived in the early 13th century, they were soon joined by the Carmelites (Whitefriars) and each had their own friary within the Saxon walls to the west of the city. It would appear that these other religious houses were all attracted to Chester by its wealth. Much of the drama which accompanied the conflict between the High and Low church would, quite literally, be played out at the door of St Peter.

The Building

Nothing physical remains of the Pentice today. The original structure was apparently a "half-timbered" construction hugging the corner of St Peter on the corner of Northgate Street. The name is an abbreviated form of the French "Appentis"— a “pent-house” ; and from the Latin “Appenticium,” which frequently occurs in the early records, and means a shed attached to a building — as a “lean-to." In King’s Vale Royal (temp. 1656) it is stated that the Mayor:

  • "remaineth most part of the day at a place called the ‘Pendice,’ which is a brave place builded for the purpose, at the High Cross, under

St. Peter's Church, in the middest of the Citye."

It is most commonly portrayed as the illustration of Randle Holme from about 1650 which shows St Peter with its early spire, a clock with striking "jacks" (see: Clockmaker) and the fragments of the High Cross by the door. There is evidence that the structure was in existence in 1497 when it was described as "newly builded" and that it was enlarged in 1573.

In 1704 the south side of the Pentice was rebuilt, the late medieval timber-framing being replaced by a brick front with a stone balustrade and sash windows. The new structure continued to incorporate shops at street level. The northern section of the older building still survived and was used as a repository for the city's records, charters, and seal. Though no courts held formal sessions in the Pentice, it was the scene of a weekly public meeting of the mayor and J.P.s to hear complaints, make settlements, and redress grievances, and was also used for meetings of, and public entertainments given by, the magistrates.

The Pentice in 1770. It was "taken down" in 1803.

In 1781 the Pentice was reduced in size and partly reconstructed to designs by the local architect Joseph Turner. The northern or back Pentice was taken down to permit the widening of the southern end of Northgate Street, and the records kept there were transferred to a new record room at the west end of the inner Pentice adjoining the town clerk's office. In 1800 the record room was moved to the Exchange. However, the building still almost stopped-up Northgate Street. In 1803 at a Vestry Meeting of St. Peter’s Church, it was unanimously agreed that:

  • "as the Corporation was discussing the necessity of the removal of the old Pentice Court, it would be a great improvement in case the Pentice Court was taken down, to remove the old building over the Church steps, known as the "Parvise" or "Parson's Chamber". "

When the Pentice Court was taken down, this Parvise apparently remained for a time, but was afterwards removed.

The "dog leg" at the High Cross (visible in the distance, with Watergate Street behind the Cross), the corner of St Peter in the middle and Northgate Street on the right. The Pentice stood on this corner.

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