Chester: A Virtual Stroll Around the Walls

The Chester Amphitheatre

Letters to this site and the local press regarding the current development proposals part VII On to parts VIII and IX

17/8/00 I refer to a report in a recent edition of the Standard, which claimed that the new court house would cover only two per cent of the site. The report fails to mention that 20 per cent of the site will be covered by a car park.
The construction of the new court house and associated car park raises two questions:
Why do we need a new court house when we have perfectly good county courts in Northgate Street and crown courts and magistrates courts near the new site? I have been in the crown court and magistrates courts and they are both in excellent condition and fit for purpose. So why are we wasting money on a new court, and covering a major archaeological site for generations? The use of the land for a car park demonstrates the double standards adopted by Chester City Council. They are doing everything possible to discourage people from driving their cars into the middle of Chester by a combination of carrot and stick. The carrot is park and ride, which is a good service and the stick, is punitive car park fees, £11 for over three hours in some car parks.
So why does the new court house need all these car park spaces? The existing courts don't have them. When I served on a jury at the crown court I was told to park in a public car park. When I was a witness at the magistrates' court I was again directed to a public car park. If the new court house is opened there is no need for a car park. Court officials and members of the public could use park and ride, public car parks or ride bikes to court. A chauffeur could take the judges to court.
Chester City Council should practise what it preaches. We cannot have double standards.
Ray Hill, 21 Mount Way, Waverton, Chester

Right: a bronze 'trumpet brooch' with silver inlay c. AD100, featuring a stylised animal head, which was excavated from the seating bank of the amphitheatre in 1961- just one of thousands of artifacts that have been unearthed on the site over the years, very few of which have ever been seen by the people of Chester due to the dire shortage of exhibition space

18/8/00 A City council report in February called for Dee House to be renovated by David McLean and converted into offices and an archaeological interpretation centre. There was a reported possibility that up to £500,000 could be injected into the project by McLean which would then be granted a 200-year lease of the building.
During May Bank Holiday weekend, a 'Save Our Amphitheatre' banner was hung from the wall of the city council-owned amphitheatre. On the Tuesday, the city council arranged for the removal of the banner which had been displayed without the Chester Amphitheatre Trust seeking the council's permission.
In late June, the banner was hung from the steel structure of the partly built extension of the Mill Hotel. It was taken down on the instructions of the contractors' head office as 'inappropriate'. The hotel's co-owner, Gordon Vickers, then arranged for the banner to hang from the main building where it remained over the weekend in the run-up to the Amphitheatre Rally on Sunday, July 2.
I do not question the 'banner' decisions of the city council and the contractors. However, the city council is the servant of the community and what is sauce for the goose should be sauce for the gander.
The second floor of the external wall of Dee House facing Little St John Street displays a board which reads: 'DAVID McLEAN. New office and heritage development by David McLean Developments with Chester City Council. All enquiries tel 01352 762388.'
A notice of mainly similar wording fronts the pavement. Attached to it is a Proposed Development Notice (dated November 1, 1999) of application made by David McLean for consent to increase the site entrance and construct a new sub-station.
Given the city council's recent decision to seek permission to demolish Dee House, I assume that there is no formal and binding agreement for David McLean to undertake with Chester City Council new office and heritage development on the site. I consider, therefore, that any permission for David McLean to display their board at the Dee House site is inappropriate and should be withdrawn, and that the city council should arrange for the immediate removal of the boards.
Alan Bonner, Meadow Lane, Huntington, Chester

3/8/00 I am writing as a member of the general public who is neither a member of the City Council or a member and contributor to the Chester Amphitheatre Trust nor have I signed the petition which was available at the Waverton Carnival which supports the excavation of this historic site, namely the amphitheatre.
A key feature of this narrative in the Standard has been how the saga began and how we have reached the current report on the front page of the Standard. Twice before I have written to the paper in an attempt to explore on what grounds or reasons five years ago it was decided by vote that the amphitheatre should not be excavated and no explanation has been fonhcoming.
We now appear to be in a situation in which council leadership is asking the Amphitheatre Trust to present the city council with a detailed, costed and worked up scheme and business plan which would be considered along with other proposals for the site.
I note that in another part of the Standard's front page report that:
(1) Cllr Graham Proctor is looking forward to seeing the Amphitheatre's Trust's plans and that he would welcome plans from other interested parties. However the Conservative Group leader,
(2) Cllr Brian Bailey is reported as saying "that the Council's position and future progress towards the excavation of the amphitheatre did not depend upon any particular external group". Cllr. Bailey goes on to say that the responsibility for the amphitheatre now lies ("now lies"- what does this imply?) with the city council which has asked the officers to prepare, in pannership with other interested bodies, detailed and costed proposals, and there are further positive comments made by Cllr. Bailey.
The Standard's report goes on to quote Amphitheatre Trust spokespersons as saying "that they look forward to forming a partnership with the officers and members of the project team set up by the city council to produce detailed and costed proposals for a viable scheme for the phased excavation and display of the amphitheatre site according to the resolution of 5th July".
This is powerful stuff worthy of a report on BBC TV and, far from sending out a challenge, it demonstrates considerable co-operation and a firm effort by the Conservative and Liberal Democrat councillors to get the amphitheatre project back on track.
It does not, however, clearly identify the source of funding tor this venture.
The city council five years ago gave planning permission for offices to be built upon this site and we now find developers building a county court on a specially designed platform, protecting the remains below which are reported to be two per cent of the unexcavated amphitheatre.
Much as I would like to see the development of this site as a tourist attraction and the area and roads contoured to bring St. John's Church into greater prominence, it is probable that Chester City Council gave the amphitheatre the coup de grace five years ago and only a coup de main will bring it back into the prominence that the structure deserves.
Old Wavertonian

1/9/00 Dora Taylor of the Chester Community/Ratepayers' Party misread my recent letter, 'Dee House sign must be removed'.
My letter was specific in calling for the city council to arrange for the removal of the David McLean boards at the Dee House site. I have earlier expressed my opinion that if Dee House is not demolished, an Amphimuseum could be located in the renovated building.
Of greater importance at this point in time, however, is the manner in which The Chronicle has implemented its pledge to devote weekly space to cover amphitheatre matters and to forward the campaign for the achievement of the 'fullest possible excavation at Chester's Roman amphitheatre'. Your coverage provides more detail and reaches a wider readership than the occasional newsletter issued by the Chester Amphitheatre Trust. Newsprint and newsletter serve a complementary publicity function.
When a copy of the original 1,001 signature petition organised by the Trust on June 15 had been sent to the Lord Chancellor, further signatures were obtained. A 6,018-signature petition was handed to Chester's Lord Mayor before the city council's July 5 meeting at which the decision to develop a strategy tor the excavation of the amphitheatre- and seek permission for the demolition of Dee House- was passed by 34 votes to 21.
The Trust has pledged to work with the council in any way it can to help with the preparation of a viable scheme.
Evidence of public support is undoubtedly a prime factor in forwarding the cause of positive development at the amphitheatre site. Given the continuing success of your campaign and the rate at which signatures in support are received at your offices, you might consider it useful, from time to time, to inform your readers of the total of campaign signatures obtained to date.
The will to maintain the momentum of the campaign is clearly established with overall concern relating to the reality of Chester's heritage, the opportunity of the present and an achievable vision for the immediate future.
Alan Bonner, Meadow Lane Huntington

1/9/00 I have always believed that time travel is impossible.
However, I have visited the future of the Chester Amphitheatre. At least, I have visited the future shown in an artist's conception of the current court house development. This future can be found in London, on the Southwark site of the original Globe Theatre. Here, one can see the same sort of arc marked on the surface of the car park showing us the original extent of the (permanently?) buried structure below, an undistinguished Grade II listed Georgian house covering a large portion of a significant historical site, and a world standing outside wondering just how such a travesty could have occurred.
Time travel is not for me. It's too depressing.
John Schulze, San Antonio, Texas

4/8/00 The Chester Amphitheatre Trust has never made accusations about the work of individual council officers. But if comments by the Trust about the council's procedures have been misunderstood, then we would certainly apologise for any hurt caused.
Since April we have been actively fighting the progress of the county court building on the amphitheatre by the Lord Chancellor and during that time we received prompt and efficient support from all the officers we dealt with.
Liane Smith specifically thanked the officers for their help at the full council meeting of July 5 and we are pleased to repeat our thanks to them. In particular, the reception staff have always been very helpful and we have had tremendous support from the staff in the Town Hall for all our meetings.
Alan Williams would like to make it quite clear that he wholeheartedly apologises for his personal style, which many have found difficult to handle. He feels his style was necessary at the time but since we are moving into a new phase of the project, a fresh start is needed and a different approach. Alan is more than willing to work with the officers of the council and to make amends for any problems he has caused.
Chester Amphitheatre Trust would be pleased to be working actively with officers and councillors in forwarding the aims of the project.
Dr Liane Smith and Alan Williams, Chester Amphitheatre Trust

4/8/00 It is my understanding that a private owner of a Grade II listed building can expect to be held to account for the proper maintenance and appearance of the structure.
I assume that when the city council accepted ownership of the Grade II listed Dee House, the property was in reasonable order. The recent fire at Dee House has served to increase the city council's problems.
Your recent report (Chronicle, July 28, 'Cash fears over Dee House bill') states that the Chester City Council has a statutory responsibility to keep Dee House in good repair, that provision in the council's budget will have to be made to keep the building watertight, and that the estimated cost for this will be almost £250,000.
I would welcome answers to the following questions:
1. What steps has the city council taken to date to maintain the structural soundness of Dee House?
2. What provision has been made by the city council for proper and adequate insurance cover?
3. What amount of insurance is payable to the city council in order that the fire damage be repaired?
4. How does the city council propose to raise the sum of £250,000 to make the building watertight?
5. What responsibility will the city council take to maintain the structural soundness of Dee House?
Present interest in Dee House highlights the degree of neglect for which the city council has a responsibility.
Frances Bonner, Meadow Lane, Huntington, Chester

11/8/00 The move led by Cllr Graham Proctor, requesting Chester Amphitheatre Trust to set out a detailed plan for the excavation of the amphitheatre, is most welcome. This was the outcome of a recent meeting of the city council's leadership board. The outline of such a business plan has already been agreed at a recent meeting of the Trust's finance committee.
We recognise the importance of establishing a comprehensive, detailed and professionally presented plan. To this end we are in discussion with a commercial organisation that specialises in this work and has the expertise to help us deliver such a document.
Cllr Proctor also seeks this proposal by the end of the summer. We believe it is unrealistic to expect this to be put together in that timescale. To produce a plan of quality and depth requires the input of the city council itself and other knowledgable individuals and organisations. We could spend a lot of time and money putting together something that might be unacceptable for some reason.
We need to be sure that the basic plan is correct, which means consulting with these groups before moving forward. We received a very enthusiastic endorsement from the experts we have consulted so far. Having many years of experience of creating viable and profitable tourist attractions, they believe this project can become profitable at an early stage.
The uniqueness and popularity of Chester as a tourist attraction they see as a major catalyst. Clearly, a fundamental aspect of the credibility and viability of the scheme is adequate funding. Our plans will contain detailed information about this aspect which we are sure will stand up to scrutiny.
We believe the vast majority of the people of Chester would like to see this project succeed. The correspondence columns of this newspapers (and internet!) bear witness to the underlying groundswell of public support.
We are at an exciting but critical stage of this project. We believe that if all parties can work together, we can all create yet another magnet for this unique city. The whole spectrum of the community would benefit, from large corporate businesses, hoteliers, retailers and small businesses, to every Chester resident. Help us make it happen.
Brian Blake, Finance Committee Member, Chester Amphitheatre Trust

On a coping stone once situated on top of the 12-foot high arena wall was found the insciption SERANO LOCVS: 'Seranus' place'- doubtless inscribed there by a regular attender in order to reserve his favourite seat.

11/8/00 To be or not to be? That is the question relating to paradoxical situations arising from the amphitheatre debate.
Liane Smith, referring to Paul Maddock's largely hypothetical academic project for excavation and development of the entire amphitheatre site, states (Chronicle, August 4) that Mr Maddock's model, with extra items added, "illustrates the key features we would aim for as our ultimate vision over a period of a couple of decades".
It is pertinent to ask whether the ultimate vision relates to an expectation of achieved excavation and development of the entire amphitheatre site by the year 2020, or whether by the year 2020 the ultimate vision will have become clear and relate to changed perceptions and parameters.
Alan Williams's letter to Christine Russell MP states, "Our final option will be to question the sensibilities of the UK judiciary at European and international level. This is a solemn promise and neither Liane nor I will be swayed until the building work is stopped".
The Trust recently announced a plan to break the deadlock over the county court building- a six-point 'win-win' solution to involve the Trust, the Lord Chancellor's Office and the developer in formal offers, agreements to place a hold on the building, land swap proposals, and requests for details of associated costings. However, on June 28, the Lord Chancellor, responding to a Parliamentary question in the House of Lords, claimed that "all appropriate approvals for the court, being built on part of the unexcavated amphitheatre behind Dee House, had been obtained".
On July 5, city councillors decided to apply for consent to demolish Dee House in favour of a fuller excavation of the amphitheatre site. The council is legally obliged to maintain Dee House in a weatherproof condition (at a likely cost of £210,000 this year) until a final decision on its future demolition or renovation is taken.
Cllr John Price has condemned the council's decision as "cobbled together deal with huge conflicts". Cllr David Evans has described the financial implications as "interesting", stressing, "We have always known we had an obligation to keep Dee House in order, yet it appears we have nothing in tho budget to do this". Interesting is not an adjective I would choose!
We learn from Liane Smith and Alan Williams that the Chester Ampitheatre Trust has declared a move into a new phase of its project, with a fresh start needed and a different approach. I await further developments with interest.
Alan Bonner, Meadow Lane, Huntington

11/9/00 Having read the reports on the amphitheatre, I am left confused. Whilst it is more than likely that the demolition of Dee House, as a result of the vote in full council on July 5, will have to go to an inquiry, I cannot agree with Andy Farrall on the inevitability of English Heritage and the Secretary of State taking the view that this is a listed building at risk.
How so sure, Mr Farrall? Is it not even more plausible that these two bodies will view the reason for demolition very favourably, as did the City of Chester, albeit late, taking decisive action to display and protect the national monument that it holds in trust for the nation- the amphitheatre?
English Heritage's stringent criterion- 'net heritage gain'- can be quite logically applied here now that the full excavation of the site is on the table.
Another source of confusion is the true position of the Dee House finances. The council has a legal obligation to keep Dee House watertight and in reasonable repair- it must have done this year on year. The repair of fire damage to the roof has recently been completed and presumably was paid for from insurance. Mr Gover, the council's head of culture, stated in his report that the annual maintenance cost of the buildings is met by the charges for car parking on its forecourt. Therefore, why is the figure of £210,000 produced by the council officers? There are no new costs as far as I can see.
Could it be that this item was already consigned to the tender ministrations of David Maclean in Mr Farrall's mind?
We, the citizens of Chester, have realised, alas, that we must be vigilant on all matters relating to the amphitheatre. It is very important now and in the future that we do not allow ourselves to be frightened, bamboozled and deflected by rumours of fabulous costs involved in the long haul towards full excavation of the amphitheatre.
Wyn Holroyd, Stocks Lane, Boughton, Chester

11/9/00 To all the Jeremiahs who said that it be impossible to excavate the Chester Amphitheatre because it would be impossible to get permission to demolish Dee House, I am the conveyor of some happy news.
The Rt Hon John Prescott, proud son of Chester and Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport, Carpetlaying and the Regions, has granted consent for the demolition of Sandown Hall, a listed, Georgian mansion in Liverpool. English Heritage opposed the granting of the permission.
I do believe debates should be conducted in an honest fashion, unclouded by misleading tales of the impossible.
Cllr Eveleigh Moore Dutton, Tushingham Hall, Tushingham

22/9/00 I have taken a break from monitoring suggestions for the development of the amphitheatre site to support the campaign for the establishment of a network of officially approved leprechaun road crossings in the Republic of Ireland.
The sole present crossing is to be found in the Killarney National Park. Supporters of the campaign attribute the declining population of leprechauns to the increased road traffic arising from the EU development grants. Opponents claim that leprechaun numbers are, in fact, increasing and will continue to do so, given that the production of poteen has recently been legitimised.
On my return to Chester I find that the eminently practical approach of The Chronicle to amphitheatre matters is gaining strength. Alan Williams of the Chester Amphitheatre Trust wrote to Christine Russell MP in May, solemnly promising 'to question the sensibilities of the UK judiciary at European and international levels' and stating that neither Liane Smith nor he would be swayed until building work on the courthouse was stopped.
On August 4 we learned from Dr Smith and Alan Williams of a fresh start and a different approach. These have led to the issue of the trust's project plan Steps to Success which outlines an excavation plan that the trust hopes would gain the support of English Heritage.
The trust has recognised the need for a viable excavation plan. The suggested plan has a target estimate of up to £600,000. At the inaugural meeting of the trust on April 5 it was suggested that an initial sum of £250,000 would not be impossible to raise. Dr Smith now believes that company sponsorship could provide a large proportion of the cash now needed. Thus the financial aspect would appear secure. The trust's present emphasis on viability accords closely with your campaign to achieve the fullest possible excavation of the amphitheatre site.
Maybe we can now look forward to a new slogan- 'Amphitrust is go'!
Alan Bonner, Meadow Lane, Huntington

Now go on to the next selection of letters about the Chester amphitheatre...

Top of Page | Site Front Door | Site Index | Chester Walls Stroll Introduction | The Chester Amphitheatre | Amphitheatre Letters part I | II | III | IV | V | VI | VIII | IX
The Other Side: some alternative views | Save our Amphitheatre! (1932) | 'Round in Circles' by Flavius