Castle I

A Virtual Stroll Around the Walls of Chester

Chester Castle part II

Grosvenor Bridge

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chester castle 1753On the right, we see Chester Castle- in a small detail from this view of Chester- which appeared in the London Magazine in 1753. A quarter of a century later this mighty structure would be almost entirely gone, swept away to make room for the buildings that occupy the site to this day.

The rebuilding of Chester Castle took 37 years, delays being caused by financial problems, the need for two separate Acts of Parliament, and the fact that much of the building work was undertaken by a badly-housed and often undernourished population of convicts.

Architect Thomas Harrison himself was also occasionally found to be at fault- he was threatened with dismissal for failing to produce plans and drawings on time, and did not actually move from his home in Lancaster to supervise the project until 1794, three years after work had started.

He spent the rest of his life in Chester, living first in Folliot House in Northgate Street and then building himself a fine house, in close proximity to his new castle. This was St. Martin's Lodge, a simple and elegant, understated piece of Regency architecture, which remains with us today and, until recently, was utilised for administrative purposes by Cheshire Police. With their relocation in 2003 to a new HQ in Winsford and the demolition of their Chester HQ, the building became redundant and, at the time of writing, is for sale- boarded up and looking rather forlorn. Of recent times, we have heard of two potential buyers, one of whom wishes to establish a school there and the other a pub! We shall just have to wait and see..

old view of rebuilt castleHarrison became County Surveyor, his only public appointment, in 1815 at the age of 71, and he eventually died in 1829 at the ripe old age of 85, with a national reputation for a range of fine public buildings, bridges and country houses.

Architectural critic Nikolas Pevsner wrote of Harrison's remodelled Castle: "what he has achieved here is one of the most powerful monuments of the Greek Revival in the whole of England".

When Grosvenor Street had been created in 1825 to link the city with Harrison's new Grosvenor Bridge, it had been necessary to demolish an ancient church dedicated to St. Bridget and he designed a new church bearing the same dedication, which was erected close to the recently-rebuilt castle. The first stone was laid by the Bishop of Chester on October 12th 1827. Harrison himself was laid to rest in the churchyard here less than two years later, in March 1829.

When this church (you can see a picture of it on the previous page) was in turn demolished during the 1960s to make way for a traffic island on the new Inner Ring Road, his remains were transferred to Blacon Cemetery on the edge of the city. The exact location of Harrison's former vault is not certain but is thought to lie somewhere under the pavement in Grosvenor Street- and marked by a manhole cover- not much of a memorial to such a great man!

Old Soldiers
Some sorry traces of the second St. Bridget's churchyard do remain with us today, however. Should you ever pass this way, you will observe that a number of gravestones remain, shockingly neglected, still under their yews on a dusty patch of land next to the new magistrate's court building. More surprisingly, some may be seen on the traffic island itself! Numerous burials remain beneath the grass but just two stones are now visible- and only one of these is an actual gravestone. A tall obelisk is a memorial to the great nonconformist biblical commentator Matthew Henry (1662-1714) which was paid for by public subscription and erected in St. Bridget's Churchyard in 1860. Henry himself lies in an unmarked grave within Holy Trinity Church- the Guildhall- in Watergate Street.

The other, a humbler affair, unnoticed by virtually all who pass by, is the grave of a truly remarkable old soldier. Its lengthy inscription reads (excuse any mistakes- it is quite faded now):

soldier's grave on roundabout"In memory of Thomas Gould, late of the 52nd Regiment L. I. (Light Infantry). Died 1st November 1865 aged 72 years, 46 of which were spent in the service of his country. He was present at the following engagements: Vimeara, Corunna, crossing the Coa near Almeida, Eusago, Pumbal, Redinha, Condeixe, Foz d'Avoca, Sabugal, Fuentis D'ongle, storming of Ciudral, Rodrigo and Fadajos, Salamanca, San Munos (taken prisoner), St. Millan, Pyrenees, storming of the French entrenchments at Vera (wounded), Nivelle, passage of the Neve, Orthez, Tarrez, Toulouse and WATERLOO. He received the Peninsula Medal with 13 clasps and the Waterloo Medal. This stone is placed over him by a few friends."

It is easy to imagine the old warrior, having, against all odds, surviving all those terrible battles of the Napoleonic Wars, returning to Chester and growing old, enjoying his retirement and sitting in a favoured corner of his local pub (doubtlessly, as befits a military man, somewhere here in the vicinity of the Castle) regailing his friends with all manner of blood-curdling tales from his long career. They, and doubtlessly also the young and as-yet unblooded members of the garrison, would have been glad to buy him a pint or two and, when the time came, give him a good send-off and a decent burial. We wonder what he would make of his present situation!

Our photograph shows Thomas' grave on the busy traffic island with Matthew Henry's memorial and the Castle behind. A larger version of it may be seen here.

Standing before gateway to Chester Castle is a bronze equestrian statue of Stapleton Cotton, Viscount Combermere, which was erected in 1865. The second son of Robert Cotton of Combermere Abbey in Cheshire, Stapleton began his military career at 16 years of age, serving as a Second Lieutenant with the Welsh Fusiliers. He later purchased a Captaincy with the 6th Dragoon Guards and served in Flanders during the campaigns of the Duke of York. Still in his early twenties he was a comrade ofKing George III and served with the Light Dragoons at Cape Colony in 1796. Three years later he was involved with the storming of Seringapatam and following the death of his brother became heir to the Baronetcy and returned home to England.

viscount combermereCotton soon after undertook further military service, helping to suppress a rebellion in Ireland and by 1805 had achieved the rank of Major General. In 1808 he was campaigning in Portugal and was promoted once again, to the rank of Commander serving under Wellington. He was cited for his actions during the Battle of Salamanca in 1812 and was wounded shortly after the conflict. Thomas Gould probably served under him there. Within two years he was raised to the peerage and by 1817 had been appointed as Governor of Barbados. Between 1822 and 1825 he was commanding British troops in Ireland, but actually ended his military career in India. His capture of the seemingly impregnable fortress at Bhurtporea was so remarkable that he was created a Viscount and by 1834 had been appointed as a Privy Councillor. In 1855 he was promoted to the rank of Field Marshal and 10 years later, 21st February 1865, died peacefully at his home at Clifton, aged 92 years.

Returning once more to the first St. Bridget's Church, in early May 2002, while investigating a reported leak at the junction of Grosvenor and Bridge Streets, gas engineers started unearthing large quantities of human bones! An engineer at the scene conjectured, "The gas main must have been laid through the old crypt of St. Bridget's and it was completely surrounded by bones. We must have dug out at least a hundred skulls".

As the discovery became noticed by passers-by, an amazed crowd "three deep" started to assemble, at which point the gas company called in the council archaeology service to investigate. City archaeologist Keith Matthews, said that the bones were between 200 and 600 years old and he was starting a full investigation to find out how they could have been left behind when the church was demolished and its incumbents supposedly moved in 1832.
The remains had been buried under the chancel of the old church. They were described as being "in remarkably good condition"- but it turned out that the quantity of bones found had been, unsurprisingly, grossly exaggerated by the local press.

Today, the Castle houses Chester Crown Court, some of the departments of Cheshire West and Chester Council (formerly Cheshire County Council) and the fascinating Cheshire Regiment Military Museum.

With the exception of occasional patches of medieval walling, the only survivor of the great castle in which Henry Bolingbroke imprisoned Richard II in 1399 is the three-storey red sandstone tower of c.1200 curiously named Agricola's Tower- it certainly has no Roman connection- and even this was refaced by Harrison. This was one of the towers of the Inner Bailey. The site of the Outer Bailey is represented by Harrison's courtyard, the Shire Hall occupies the site of the medieval Great Hall, and the barracks wing that of the outer gatehouse.

castle car park(Curiously, there is a record that, in 1581, the city magistrates bought the old Shire Hall in the Castle "for six Cheshire cheeses", and moved it to the Market Square where it was first served as a granary, and was then appropriated by the city's butchers, and became the flesh shambles).

The Inner Bailey was to the south, beyond Harrison's armoury wing, and the so-called Agricola's Tower was sited between the inner gatehouse and the Inner and Outer Bailey walls. Its top floor houses the fine Norman / Early English Chapel of St. Mary de Castro, where have recently been discovered some very fine ceiling paintings, hidden under- and preserved by- chemical deposits from the gunpowder which was once stored here.

In the middle of April 2001, we learned that two of the buildings within the castlecomplex, Colvin and Napier Houses, had been lying unused for the past three years and had been put into the hands of an estate agent with a view to "redeveloping them for commercial use". Critics at the time pointed out the absurd situation of the Lord Chancellor- in the face of great public criticism- choosing to establish his new County Courthouse in the grossly-inappropriate setting of the McLean office block newly erected on top of a portion of Chester's Roman amphitheatre when all the time these dignified buildings, located right next door to the Crown Court and just over the road from the Magistrate's Court, were sitting empty (and remain empty thirteen years later, in 2014!)

Promoters of Chester's 'heritage industry' have long been aware that our Castle, despite its remarkable historic connections, attracts relatively few visitors. Few indeed would deny that its buildings lack the magnificence of ancient castles such as that at Conwy, fifty miles or so along the North Wales coast. Perhaps the unattractive large car parking area puts them off, or the presence of the courts and council offices leads visitors to believe that they would not be welcome here.

But then, in November 2002, the local press reported that plans were afoot to "raise the profile" of Chester Castle. Planners and councillors will apparently "seek to balance the need to conserve the historic site with the need for a 'here and now' solution that would attract visitors into the area". Further reading revealed that the essence of the plan involved the inviting of commercial developers to chester guided walkssubmit proposals for restaurants, bars, offices, even a hotel was envisioned. Just the types of businesses appearing in over-large numbers throughout the rest of the city, and consequently hardly an original or particularly exciting idea. Depending upon the quality of the businesses invited to participate in the scheme- and the levels ofrents demanded for the new commercial premises- the end result could be a vibrant and welcoming addition to our city's historic attractions- or it may be vulgar beyond belief. Only time will tell.

As for making the Castle more accessible- while visiting the Castle in October 2009 this writer was surprised to find access to Agricola's Tower and much else blocked off by a large locked gate! A sign on it informed him that these areas, formerly open to anyone who was interested, would only be accessible during 'official' visits conducted exclusively by the Chester Guild of Registered Tourist Guides. We are informed that the closure has been reluctantly imposed due to drug taking and other antisocial behaviour taking place in the Castle precinct.

The good news is that the excellent nearby Grosvenor Museum is the keyholder for the Castle and will be pleased to conduct supervised visits by appointment- 01244 402033. And English Heritage are determined that an answer will eventually be found to the problems of increasing public accessibility versus those of protecting the building and staff security.

In November 2009, 'Piloti', the eminent architecture correspondent of Private Eye magazine wrote the following damning criticism of the manner in which both the Castle and the Grosvenor Bridge have been treated of recent years:

"Chester Castle is listed at Grade I. As designed by Thomas Harrison in 1785, the Castle was rebuilt as a grand composition of county buildings. Pevsner described the result as “one of the most powerful monuments of the Greek Revival in England”. But today you will find it a supreme example of municipal neglect and philistinism.
Electric cables and pipes disfigure the once magnificent ashlar stonework, which is also being damaged by plants growing from joints and parapets. A tree rises from the roof of the entrance gate or propylaeum. This was pointed out to Chester city council four years ago. Nothing has happened since– except that the tree has grown bigger. English Heritage looks after the surviving medieval parts of the castle: why doesn’t it do something?
Nearby is the Grosvenor Bridge across the river Dee, also designed by Harrison and listed at grade I. When it opened in 1833, it was the largest single arch stone bridge in the world with a span of 200 feet. This amazing, beautiful structure is also neglected and vandalised. Chester is as wealthy as it is pleased with itself; is there any reason why its council should not try to look after buildings in the city of national importance?"

Five years after the Eye report- October 2014- nothing at all would appear to have changed, except that more chunks of masonry have reportedly fallen from Harrison's grand Propylaeum.

The Prison
From earliest times, prisoners of every rank from King to peasant were confined at Chester Castle. People were imprisoned- and frequently executed- for trifling offences, and inprisonment in those ancient dungeons must always have been a terrible experience; crowded together in filthy conditions and suffering an existence of almost-total inactivity, often in shackles fastened to the wall.

The Chester Plea Roll in 1435 recorded the terrible punishment of 'pressing', meted out to one who refused to defend himself: "Thomas Broune of Irby complained to the Justice of Chester that John Strete of Nantwich stole a horse of his, worth 12s. Strete was arrested, but refused to plead; he could speak but of his malice he would not. The jury convicted him and the sentence was pronounced: let him be sent back to prison in the King's Castle of Chester and there be kept under strict custody, lying naked upon the floor; let iron above what he can carry be placed upon his body; as long as he lives let him have a morsel of bread one day and the next a drink of water from the nearest prison gate, until he shall die there in the said prison."

By the middle of the 'civilised' 18th century- and the massive increase in prisoners of war "brought in by the cartload" following the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745, overcrowding, bad food and filthy conditions led to outbreaks of disease- notably typhus- resulting in large numbers of deaths among the inmates.

In addition, the advent of the American War of Independence made it more difficult to transport prisoners to the plantations, as had been the norm previously, leading to a further increase in the population.

In the following year, a letter recorded "There is a very contagious and mortall Distemper in the Castle of which the Gaoler and his wife are dead and Rebells and Debtors in abundance. Since the Gaoler's death the Rebells have attempted to knock the Turnkey's brains out and have cutt and mangled him desperately".

In 1783, the great prison reformer John Howard visited Chester. (His name lives on in today's Howard League for Penal Reform). On a visit overseas, he had been captured by privateers and imprisoned in terrible conditions in France. After his release, this bitter experience led him to devote his considerable energies and fortune to campaigning for an improvement in prison conditions. He persuaded the government to order gaolers to be paid properly- formerly they were forced to live on what they could extort for the inmates- and prisons to be kept clean and their occupants decently fed. He described the medieval Northgate Gaol as "insufficient, inconvenient and in want of repair" and compared it to the Black Hole of Calcutta.

castle gaolStung by Howard's criticisms, the city authorities realised something had to be done, so, as part of the rebuilding of the Castle, a new prison was commissioned and opened in 1792.

Harrison paid attention to the recommendations of the reformers, and consuted the leading prison architect of the day, William Blackburn. His design aimed to provide the inmates with dry and airy cells, and the sexes were separated for the first time. Different classes of prisoner were also segregated- debtors were housed in 'airy yards' on the upper level, said to "command a delightful view of the fine ruins of Beeston Castle".

Upon completion, Harrison's gaol was praised as "in every respect one of the best-constructed goals in the Kingdom". However, in 1817 the architect James Elmes commented "No-one viewing this edifice can possibly mistake it for anything but a gaol, the openings as small as convenient and the whole external appearance made as gloomy and melancholy as possible".

On 14th August 1878, the London Times reported and exciting event at the Castle: "A fire broke out at Chester Castle on Monday evening, beneath the new court, which has recently been erected at a cost of £10,000. As soon as the flames were observed the men stationed at the Castle turned out and manned their engine. A window in the carpenter's store-room, in which the fire was raging, was broken, and volumes of water were poured in. The scene was exciting, for on one side the county prisoners were incarcerated, and on the other, in immediate proximity to Caesar's Tower, separated only from the burning building by a guard's box, immense quantities of ammunition are stored. To prevent the fire from extending to this tower, therefore, was the chief object of the men, as an explosion would have inevitably been terribly destructive to life and property. In a short time the rmen mastered the flames though the fire continued to burn for some time afterwards. The Chester fire brigade was unable to be present in time to render assistance, in consequence of a failure of the telegraphic apparatus. The storage of so large a quantity of ammunition in the city will forthwith be the subject of discussion in the Town Council".

The Castle Gaol is seen above in a view from 1835 and it and the Castle's magnificent setting are made clear in the fascinating aerial photograph above that, dating from the early years of the twentieth century. In the foreground is the Old Dee Bridge and beyond are the Grosvenor Bridge and the Roodee. You can also see another photograph of the gaol as viewed from the river here. In addition, a fine watercolour of it by Louise Rayner is here and it may also be seen in this detail from John McGahey's remarkable 1855 View of Chester From a Balloon..

dee mills and bridge
In the area between the Castle walls and River Dee formerly ran a thoroughfare known as Skinner's Lane where many of the less glamorous trades of the town were practiced- animal skinners, renderers and tanners, among others- as well as an acid factory. By modern standards, it must have been an awful place and a major source of pollution, especially at a time when the Dee supported a thriving fishery and most people's domestic water supplies came straight from the river!

In the early 1830s, the city authorities, anxious to improve the situation, acquired this area and extended the city wall to enclose it. The long-defunct Chester Courant in July 1831 described the changes: "Most of the buildings have been taken down, as well as a great portion of the walls, for the purpose of extension. The walls will be diverted from their original course, to the river edge, about 30 feet from the Bridgegate and, having continued in a straight line along the river for 285 feet, will make an angle at that extent and join the old walls 70 feet from the present west boundary wall of the County Gaol. The bulk of the new part will be 600 feet, the boundary of the Gaol will follow the course of the city walls, which are now building along the river, at low watermark, so that they will overhang the Dee at high water..."

Thus, the wall now makes a right-angled turn to the south east and drops to the level of present-day Castle Drive.

judge leaving castleBy the end of the nineteenth century, the prison came to be seen as "inadequate and undesirable". This judgement was no doubt in part due to the fact that it occupied a prime site next to the river, considered better utilised for other purposes. Consequently, in the early years of this century, the gaol was demolished, along with the fire-damaged Old Dee Mills nearby, and for a few years after, the site was utilised as a drill ground for the local artillery. Today, only the gaoler's house and one row of cells survives. The photograph above shows the scene just before the prison, the old mills and the adjoining industrial premises were about to disappear forever.

Left: the Judge's coach leaves the Assizes at Chester Castle, guarded by the 'Javelin Men'. Another photograph of them may be seen on our Roodee pages...

As previously mentioned, the central block of the Castle had been used as the administrative HQ of Cheshire County Council since its formation in 1888. Over time, the increasing complexity of the council's functions made the need for more office space necessary, and as a result the large neo-Georgian County Hall, illustrated right, was built between 1938 and 1957 (work ceased between 1940-47, delayed by the war) and designed by the then County Architect, E. Mainwaring Parkes, occupying the site of the old prison and Skinner's Lane. It was officially opened by the Queen on July 11th 1957.
The materials with which the building was faced, Wattscliffe stone and Stamforstone grey facing bricks, were chosen in 1938, for a fee of 100 guineas, by the architect of the great Liverpool Anglican Cathedral, Sir Giles Gilbert Scott. The stone coat-of-arms above the main entrace was carved by the Liverpool sculptor H Tyson Smith.

The architectural historian and critic Nikolas Pevsner dryly commented of County Hall that it was: "not an ornament to the riverside view".

attractive railway poster from 1938 shows an artist's impression of how the area looked immediately before it was built.

county hall plansIn the Summer of 2009, an almighty row broke out when it was proposed by the leadership of the newly-formed Cheshire West and Chester Council (a new creation recently risen from the ashes of the old Chester City and Cheshire County Councils) that County Hall should be sold to the rapidly-expanding Chester University for £10 mllion and that the council should take up offices within the newly-built HQ Building overlooking the Roodee.

Right: an architect's concept drawing of County Hall 1937

There was a considerable amount of opposition to the proposals on a number of grounds; value for money- County Hall was owned outright by the people of Cheshire whereas office space within HQ would have to be leased from the private developer, Liberty Properties at an as-yet unknown rent. Our council leader, however, claimed that the new building was energy-efficient and that, once scattered council services were brought together under one roof, there would be a considerable saving of money. It was claimed by some- but denied by others- that local people would be restricted in their access to their council in the new building.

Much discussion also took place among the residents of Handbridge, just across the Old Dee Bridge from County Hall, some of whom feared that their community would be turned into a 'student ghetto' like the Garden Lane area, with the large houses there being split into multi-occupancy student flats and a rise in parking problems, noise and unruly behaviour. Others, however, observed that most of us were students once, that they are by no means the disorderly rabble that some would have you believe and that an influx of bright young people would bring great benefits to the area (weighing the issues up, we were inclined to agree with them). And certainly, it seemed infinitely better that the building should be used for edcation rather than being flogged off to a hotel chain or being split up into yet more 'luxury' apartments, our city surely having reached saturation point in both of these.

Many pointed out the irony of the fact that the Conservatives, the current political administration, came to power largely because of widespread public opposition to a plan by the previous long-standing group- a dominant alliance of Labour and Lib Dem councillors- to build and move into a vast and ugly modern office complex on the Gorse Stacks car park, a structure that soon came to be derisively nicknamed 'The Glass Slug'. Yet here were the Tories now proposing to dump the premises they once so vocally defended and move into a spanking new glass palace of their own!

HQThe 'Slug' was to have been built by the developers of the long-delayed Northgate Redevelopment Proposals in return for the use of the land behind the Town Hall where they would erect their vast complex of shops and apartments, together with a new theatre, library and market hall. Certain thwarted politicians blamed the people's unanimous rejection of the 'Slug' for the failure of the Northgate plan- leaving us today with an unsightly wasteland of rubble in the heart of our city- but most others ascribed its failure to the effect of the current economic climate upon large scale building projects such as this and consequent lack of demand for their shops and apartments. And many, including Chester's MP, Christine Russell, felt that it was "already out of date" and on many levels an unsuitable scheme for the heart of a beautiful and historic city anyway.

It was observed that the very fact that the building of HQ continued to rise when all others failed seems to indicate that the council move was a 'done deal', agreed long before it ever came to the attention of the public. Some also said that it is the vanity of high-ranking members of the administration that has led to the move. As well as its swish hotel, conference centre, restaurants and bars, HQ was built to provide apartments and office accomodation of luxurious standards, providing spectacular views over the Roodee racecourse and beyond. It promised high levels of security from intruders to its tenants- and some expressed fears that those 'intruders' may include we, the residents who were actually paying for it. Add to all this the alleged funding shortfalls that were leading to mass council redundancies (at least 1,000 to date with more to come) and cuts to all manner of local services.

Whatever the pros and cons, in September 2009 the Planning Board of CWAC granted themselves planning permission for the sale and change of use of County Hall to take place and by Novemember the council had acquired all of the office space within the HQ development. An article on the Hill Dickinson website explains all. We were amused by the brief final sentence in this piece, "The council advised itself"...

The Shipgate
shipgateAs we pass along this stretch it apppears that we seem to have somehow mislaid the city wall... In fact, as we saw earlier, the short section from just after the Bridgegate and passing in front of County Hall was removed at the time of the construction of the prison, together with the ancient Shipgate which formerly stood in this place.

This narrow entrance, or postern, was known as the 'Hole in the Wall' and its former position may be spotted in the stonework just past the Bridgegate, though most of its site has now disappeared below the level of the roadway. This raising of ground levels is a normal situation in ancient towns- generation after generation of buildings rising, being demolished and new ones taking their place, each contributing a little to the elevating ground level. Thus, the remains of the streets and buildings inhabited by the citizens of Roman Deva today often lie many feet below the present surface.

The Shipgate was at one time a busy entrance to Chester from the River Dee and, before the silting of the river destroyed the port, was the main place were ships would discharge their cargo and send it into the city via packhorses up steep St. Mary's Hill.

An entry in the city assembly books from the 13th century tells us that, "ther was a waye for horse and man that went to a gate in the waules of the said cittie, the which way was cauled Shipgate; and Anendz this gate before the Bruge was mayde ther was a fferye bott that that brought bothe hors and man o'er Dee"

This landing place for the ferry from Handbridge stood on the line of an ancient (pre?) -Roman ford which crossed the river at this point. Another, long-forgotten, postern was once situated on the other side of the Bridgegate, known as the Horsegate or Capelgate, through which horses were led to be watered. The keeper of the Bridgegate was responsible for keeping these posterns securely locked at night and for collecting tolls from those who used them. Further to the west, the castle, too, had its own postern, "made for the benefit of them who lived in the castle to go down to the river".

The Horsegate was permanently blocked up in 1745, when there were fears of the city being attacked during the Jacobite Rebellion and the Shipgate was similarly closed up and reopened several times during periods of emergency over the centuries until it was finally removed in 1828 and, after spending some years as a folly in a private garden in Abbey Square, was re-erected in 1897 in Grosvenor Park where it remains today, as you may see in this photograph.

And now we will go in search of Thomas Harrison's greatest work- one he did not live to see completed- the Grosvenor Bridge...

Curiosities from Chester's History no. 20

  • 1645 February: Parliament attacked the surburb of Handbridge, but were driven off. The entire area razed to the ground by the citizens. In May, Brereton withdrew his forces, the siege was raised and King Charles' forces relieved the city. On September 19th, Colonel Jones marched from Beeston Castle and, storming the outworks before dawn, gained Boughton and St. John's Church, the tall tower of which was utilised most effectively as an observation point and battery. (Byron had realised that the tower was likely to be used for just this purpose, and early on ordered its demolition. But, no doubt due to the people's affection for the venerable structure, his order was never carried out, and the town was now paying the price. The tower fell down of its own accord in 1881).
    Parliamentary forces also besieged the Mayor's house and seized his sword and mace, before being eventually repulsed. The King arrived from Chirk Castle on 23rd September, entering via the Bridgegate and stayed at Sir Francis Gamul's house (still standing today: the Brewery Tap pub)- in Lower Bridge Street. The decisive Battle of Rowton Heath (or Rowton Moor) took place on the 25th, when Sir Marmaduke Langdale and Major Poyntz engaged the Parliamentary forces, but were routed- 600 men were killed and 1,000 taken prisoner.
    The King, after watching the remnants of his army being harried through the suburbs from the Phoenix Tower (also known, because of this, as King Charles' Tower) and later from the tower of the Cathedral- where a stray shot killed an officer by his side- spent a final night in Chester before fleeing to Denbigh Castle over the Old Dee Bridge accompanied by Sir Francis Gamul, Captain Thropp, Mayor Cowper and 500 horsemen. These three stayed with their King for three days before returning to Chester. Before leaving, the King commanded the town to hold out for another 10 days, and then surrender if they had not been relieved before then.
    The loyalty of the citizens was such that they held out for over four months, being reduced to a diet of horseflesh, vermin and domestic pets. With the departure of the King, the besiegers made a fierce attack on the city, overran the outer defences and made a large breach in the City Wall near the Newgate (the repairs are still visible today)- before being driven off. During the first 2 weeks of October, many further unsuccessful attacks were made upon the Walls. They made a bridge of boats to cross the Dee, which the defenders unsuccessfully tried to destroy- to this day, the city walls nearest to this point bear the marks of cannon balls. The Dee Mills and Watertower were several times attacked by the besiegers and the citizens "kept in perpetual alarm" by renewed assaults, and the explosions of cannon and grenados.
    On 10th December, Brereton was joined by Colonel Booth and a body of Lancashire troops, and Chester was attacked even more fiercely. The starving residents refused nine summonses of surrender, until eventually the last shot was fired on Christmas Day 1645, and a treaty was entered into- finally surrendering on 3rd February 1646, "the terms being honourable to both sides".

    It was later estimated that the siege had cost the city around £200,000, a vast sum at the time, and the City Plate had been melted down to help fund the defence. The number of lives that were lost during the conflict and the famine that followed it will probably never be known.
    Randle Holme III, who had been Mayor in 1643, wrote a moving description of the massive destruction the Civil War had caused in Chester, which you can read here.
    We also recommend a stirring and well-researched novel by local author Norman Tucker entitled Master of the Field, which evokes the atmosphere of the times like nothing else we've come across. Published in Chester in 1949 and unfortunately no longer in print, it is well worth trying to obtain.

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