A Virtual Stroll Around the Walls of Chester
The Vanished Pubs of Chester Gallery
This fine watercolour by Louise Rayner depicts two of the lost pubs of Chester's Bridge Street, The Old Vaults- better known to generations of regulars as Barlow's- and The Harp & Crown, later known as The Grotto Hotel (a photograph of it is at the bottom of this page), between which runs Commonhall Street.
Barlow's (28 Bridge Street and 26 Bridge Street Row), named after one William Barlow, who was landlord in 1898, closed for good on the 15th March 2002 when owners Scottish & Newcastle found that it (to quote the Chester Chronicle) "did not fit in with their company portfolio, which is geared towards theme pubs". Frank Marnell, secretary of the Chester Licenced Victuallers Association (and landlord of the Watergate Inn), commented, "the brewery has sold out on Ye Old Vaults".
Right: a Barlow's advertisment from the long-defunct Chester Courant in January 1903
The Grotto Hotel- no. 34, across Commonhall Street and next door-but-one to Barlow's. In the 1980s the Grotto became for a while the Sir Edward's Wine Bar until being transformed into a branch of Liberty's clothes store.
It had formerly been known as The Harp & Crown, mentioned in a 1751 edition of the Cheshire Sheaf as being "next to Common-Hall Lane". In 1707, one Thomas Heath petitioned "to build a shop in the Row before the Harp and Crown Inn". It was recorded as being used as a polling station in 1809.
It was one of a number of properties in Chester to be subject to the Execution Rent. Execution Rent Tenants were bound to keep watch for the city on three nights in the year, namely on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and St. Stephen's Day (26th December) and they were bound to mount guard over and conduct felons and robbers as far as the gallows. For their services these tenants were "exempt from attendance on all inquisitions, juries and assizes, except when held before the Lord, the Prince and the Earl of Chester".
The Grotto Hotel with Barlow's on the right
The Grotto Hotel had formerly been known as The Harp & Crown which was mentioned in a 1751 Cheshire Sheaf as being "next to Common-Hall Lane". In 1707, one Thomas Heath petitioned "to build a shop in the Row before the Harp and Crown Inn". It was listed in Cowdroy's Directory in 1789 when the licencee was Mrs Doughterty.
The RoyaltyTheatre & The Grotto Hotel; excerpts from Douglas Young's diary, week commencing Monday 9th July 1945. Kindly sent to us by their daughter Hilary Young..
The husband and wife partnership of Nan Kenway & Douglas Young had made their names on radio during the war years, notably with the comedy programme Howdy Folks which ran weekly during 1940 and 1941. By 1945, as well as broadcasting, they were also touring in variety and roadshows..
They travelled by train from Euston to Chester on Sunday: “Managed to get two seats- even though the train was packed to the toilets. Taxi to the Grotto Hotel, Bridge Street. Quaint old pub. Excellent cold salmon supper, comfortable room. Tea and Breakfast served in bedroom. Should be a cheap week as was last week (our bill only 14 pounds odd).
Monday: Pleasant theatre- Royalty, Chester. Also exceptionally efficient staff and charming manager who made himself known to us- most rare. Tubby Turner & Vincent Ryan both on the bill with us. We are sole top. Hope we do well… Two good houses and quite enthusiastic audiences. Manager seems pleased. Nice intimate theatre…
Tuesday: How I love the streets of Chester with its ‘Rows'. Magnificent architecture. Cannot think why no other city has adopted the idea of shops in two tiers. Most convenient to walk about if it's raining. Lovely morning this one. Feel very happy in contrast to last week. Two good houses and excellent audiences again.
Wednesday: Took Nan and Sylvia for a trip on the Dee in a God-awful “skiff” with too-short sculls.
(Hilary comments: “Father's sport as a young man had been rowing- hence the caustic comment about the skiff on the Dee.)
Thursday: Pub closed. Lloyd Lewis, the landlord here, took me round the quaint old pubs of Chester. Gosh what a wonderful old city !! The more I see the more I love it. Two more shows but not such good audiences. Mr & Mrs Lewis came to second house then back for drinks in their taxi.
Saturday: Two shows as usual except that orchestra had two men missing- leader and trumpet - so Nan had to play Rhapsody in Blue.
(Nan Kenway was an accomplished pianist and within their otherwise comedy act included a concert item which was usually well-known highlights from the first movement of the Tchaikovsky piano concerto. Rhapsody in Blue did not require the orchestra.)
Real party here before we went to bed. Lloyd showed me his cellars. He opened a bottle of scotch down there and we sat on a crate and swigged a couple. Then he insisted on presenting me with a bottle of scotch!! What a grand bloke.
Sunday: BC** came over from Liverpool and we had a long and satisfactory chat then lunch in the Lewis's private sitting room and so off to catch the train at 3.
(BC Hilliam, otherwise known as 'Flotsam' of the partnership 'Flotsam and Jetsam'- the Flanders & Swan of that era. K&Y were to be part of a radio series 'Flotsam's Follies' that was to start on 22nd July.)
Very crowded. Stood to Crewe- had tea during a 2-hour wait- then stood to Derby- changed again and stood to Nottingham where we waited a hell of a time for a taxi..
Our bill at the Grotto on 16 pounds with Sylvia staying 2 days and people to lunch on Friday.
Thursday 19th: Wrote laughable verse of appreciation to Lloyd and Rose Lewis:
Oh, I have discovered a wonderful pub
The landlord’s a feller it’s best to avoid
He waits till his victim don’t know what he’s doin’
Now, Rose, on the other hand, she’s quite bewitchin’
And inside this pub at the close of the day
Then follows a chat, lots of stories and laughter
Yes, we have discovered a wonderful pub
A small memento- with sincere thanks for the happiest week ever- from Nan and Doug. July 1945
Here is another piece Hilary wtote about her parents: A Music Hall Diary 1945
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