22 Dec 2007 - Chester, England
Being a Cestrian, I know that Chester is steeped in history but as is often the case, you sometimes fail to appreciate what is on your own doorstep. In the knowledge that Chester is a city that can rival many a destination I have been to, I took to the streets with my camera and guide book to be a tourist in my home city.
I now know a lot more about the city I lived in for most of my formative years and it is good to see that excavations are still taking place, particularly around the Roman Amphitheatre. As Chester continues its regeneration, I am sure that a lot more will be uncovered as the old is pulled down to make way for the new.
Chester - Entrance to Abbey of St Werburgh
This 14th century vaulted gateway was the main entrance to the abbey of St Werburgh, now Chester Cathedral. In medieval times, the abbey held its annual fair just outside this gate and plays were also performed here at whitsun. The upper floor is a later addition.
Chester - Chester Cathedral
The abbey was closed in 1540 during Henry VIII's dissolution frenzy but was reconsecrated as a cathedral the following year. It has received a Victorian facelift but the 12th century cloister and surrounding buildings are essentially unaltered.
Chester - Chester Cathedral from the walls
Walking along Chester's historic walls provides good views of the cathedral. The cathedral was a Benedictine abbey built on the remains of an earlier Saxon church dedicated to St Werburgh, hence the name of the street that the cathedral is on.
Chester - Tudor buildings opposite the cathedral
Chester's beauty and reason it is a tourist destination can be seen in these attractive building opposite the cathedral.
Chester - The Bridge of Sighs
Just outside the walls on Northgate St is this bridge. The stone footbridge over the canal was built in 1793 to link the city jail with a chapel (on the right). Prisoners crossed over to the chapel to receive their last rights before execution.
Prisoners were held in dungeons below the city walls and without windows. The only air the prisoners got was by pipe.
Chester - Chester walls, Northgate St
The most famous characteristic of Chester are the city walls that surround the historic center. Originally built by the Romans around 70 AD, they were altered substantially over the years but have retained their position since around 1200.
In this photo, the darker wall is part of the original Roman wall. The canal was dug centuries later and used for transport rather than defence.
Chester - King Charles Tower
This is the North Eastern corner of Chester's Roman and Medieval defences. A Roman angle tower stood near the site of this medieval watch tower.
During the English civil war on 24th September 1645, King Charles stood on this tower and saw his Royalist army defeated at the Battle of Rowton Moor, about two miles away.
Chester - King Charles Tower and the city walls
At its height, this Roman fort named Deva or Castra Devana held over 5000 soldiers from the legion 'Legio XX Valeria Victrix' - the Brave and Victorious 20th Legion.
Near this section of the walls was the site of the legionary barrack blocks. These long narrow buildings housed a century of 80 men with separate quarters for the commanding officer or centurion. This is now the grassy area on the left.
Chester - Eastgate Clock
Further along the walls at the East gate is the famous clock, second in fame only to London's Big Ben. The clock was build for Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee in 1897.
Chester - Newgate and south eastern Roman tower
In 1938 the Newgate replaced a small medieval gate called the Wolfgate. This part of the wall is not Roman and is a medieval extension. The foundations in the photo are those of a Roman angle tower which guarded the south eastern corner of the fortress.
The tower was built between AD 74 and 96. In front was a defensive ditch 9 feet deep and 20 feet wide.
Chester - Roman Amphitheatre
Just outside the Roman fortress near the Newgate was a stone amphitheatre, the largest ever found in Britain and could hold 7000 spectators. Half has been excavated and the other half is still underground. The soldiers used it for weapon training and parades but it was also used for entertainment and evidence for gladiatorial combat has been found.
Chester - The Roman Gardens
Between the amphitheatre and the walls are the Roman Gardens with a reconstructed hypocaust. A hypocaust was the underfloor heating in Roman buildings. A furnace under the floor allowed heat and hot air to rise. The hot air was then drawn up into flus set into the wall and finally vents in the roof.
Chester - Hypocaust
This reconstruction is based upon the excavations of the main bath building in the fortress.
The baths used half a million litres of water a day. The water was supplied from fortress aqueduct which originated 2 kilometers.
Chester - Alms houses within the walls
These six houses just within the walls were built in the mid 17th century. The medieval walls can be seen opposite the houses.
Chester - Walls facing the River Dee and Wishing Steps
This side of the walls faces onto the River Dee. The steps in the photo are called the Wishing Steps and were added in 1785. Local legend claims that if you can run up and down these steps while holding your breath your wish will come true.
Chester - The Bear and Billet
This outstanding timber building was originally the town house of the Earl of Shrewsbury, sergeants of the Dee Bridge 'Bridgegate' a short distance to the left, in the mid 17th century. Dated 1664 and the oldest timber framed building in the city, this former tollgate may have replaced an earlier building destroyed during the Civil war.
Chester - Old Dee bridge, Chester is on the left
This was the only bridge across the River Dee until the 19th century and dates from 1387 when it replaced the timber bridges which were swept away in floods. A strong fortified gate on the Welsh side was demolished in 1782. Medieval Chester was a base for the conquest of North Wales and just across the river the suburb of Handbridge was known as 'Burnt Town' because of frequent Welsh attacks.
Chester - On the old Dee bridge, Chester is on the left
The great stone weir across the river was built in the 11th century and provided water power for a corn mill on the Chester side of the Dee Bridge. Salmon fishing is one of Chester's traditional industries and the river between the weir and the Dee Bridge was known as the Kings Pool. Only the Abbot of Chester and his monks could fish in it.
Chester - Image of the Roman goddess Minerva
The fortress was constructed of local sandstone, quarried from across the river. Traces can still be seen today in Handbridge. On the old quarry face was carved an image of the Roman goddess Minerva. The figure can just about be seen holding a spear and a shield with an owl above the left shoulder to symbolise wisdom - if you can see it you have a better imagination than me. It is thought that the shrine was used by travellers crossing the ford before going into the fortress. It is unique in Britain because it is the only rock cut Roman shrine still in situ in the country.
Chester - Chester Castle
Chester Castle was built by William the Conqueror in 1070 to guard the Welsh border. It was originally a timber castle built on an earth mound but was rebuilt in stone in the 12th and 13th centuries. Much of the castle has been levelled but the surviving medieval parts can still be visited.
Chester - Agricola Tower, Chester Castle
The original Norman gateway to Chester Castle, this 12th century tower houses a chapel with fine though wall paintings from around 1220, rediscovered in the 1980s.
Chester - Chester Racecourse
As you continue the walk around the city walls from Chester Castle you will be taken past the racecourse to the 'Watergate' which is where much traffic occurred when Chester was a great port. The Roman harbour wall can be seen towards the bottom right of the picture.
Chester - The Roman quay wall
Below the walls are the remains of the Roman harbour wall and were an impressive engineering achievement. In Roman times the River Dee came much closer to the fortress and the current racecourse was a tidal pool. Being an important port, a large settlement formed between the walls and the harbour. It became unused in the Middle Ages and the river silted up allowing the river bed to become grazing land and today's racecourse.
Chester - The Watertower
Leaving the racecourse and 'Watergate' behind, the next interesting monument on the walls is the Water Tower. In the 14th century, the river continued to change course so a new tower was built standing out in the river, connecting the defences. Over time, silt continued to choke the river channel and within 100 hundred years, the Water Tower was left stranded on dry land.
Chester - Morgans Mount
Morgans Mount was originally one of the medieval watch towers on the city walls. It is named after a commander of the gun battery that stood forward from here during the Civil war in 1645.
Once the defensive need for the walls had gone in the 18th century, they became a fashionable parade and many gateways were replaced and towers pulled down or modified.
Chester - From the historic rows on Eastgate St
The Rows are a series of two level galleried arcades that fan out along the central Cross. It is a handsome mix of Victorian and Tudor (some of it mock) and houses a large collection of shops (great for the missus, yawn). It is believed that as the Roman buildings slowly crumbled, medieval traders built their shops against the rubble while later arrivals built theirs on top.
Chester - Eastgate St bridge Clock looking into the city
Only two shopping days till Christmas!
Chester - The Three Old Arches, Upper Bridge Street
The Three Old Arches form the facade of a row building from the 12th century, believed to be the earliest surviving shop frontage in England. The structure behind was rebuilt in the early to mid 14th century, as an impressive stone town house with a hall which is partly intact.
BlogAndGo - 4 Jun 2008, 13:11:43
Great, glad you have found it useful and interesting. Next time I go back I intend to try and add some new photos and information. If you like all things Roman...try the other pages on the site. In a few weeks I'll be back with reports and photos from Hadrians Wall...
Thomas Chester - 5 Jun 2012, 05:34:47
I am completely impressed with all the wonderful photo's and history that you've put together. I can legitimately trace my family back to Chester but never thought that seeing and reading about it's history would move me so much! Thank you!
Mez - 2 Jun 2008, 18:22:27
I went hear on a trip to see all the historical things and it was so ace I would so go back there ow thanks for the website thing it is helping me on the project I am doing about chester thanks xxx