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A Virtual Stroll Around the Walls of Chester

A collection of reader's letters
Page Four: the most recent letters are here

22/3/02 Great site. As a Cestrian from way back, 1952-1978, and now a Canadian resident it was great to find your site. The old pictures bring back lots of memories. I used to live in Upton and spent my teenage and early 20's years in the City. I was amazed to read the section on the pubs that are no more, places like the Bear and Billet I always considered un-closable!
I've not been back for about 17 years so no doubt there's been major changes (as witnessed by the letters section).
Anyway, thanks for the beautiful and comprehensive site,
Paul Greene, Belleville, Ontario Canada.

Cheers, Paul. Thankfully, after a brief period of foolishness, the Billet is back and better than it's been in years!


11/6/02 Thank you. I studied the Virtual Stroll pages while flying across the Atlantic, and you can only imagine how much your information helped me enjoy my first visit to Chester. Walking the wall made a wonderful afternoon primarily because of the history you shared. It was a Sunday, otherwise I would have stopped at your shop to express thanks in person.
I really enjoyed knowing where to get off the wall to see the oldest visible stones in its foundation. And, since I am an engineer, I appreciated the history of the bridge (longest stone arch span at its time). Another highlight was talking with some pensioners while they moved their holiday boat through the locks. They let me help with the "work." Because I am a Christian, it was interesting to stand in the amphitheater. Really, there were MANY things in your papers that I appreciated. I can't imagine walking the wall without those tips. Thank you again!
Geoff Gould, El Dorado Hills, California USA

19/6/02 I just wanted to express a word of gratitude to you for your beautiful protrayal of my old home city of Chester.
Raised nearby in Broughton, North Wales, my home city was Chester from approx 1953 until 1973, at which time I came to America, and have yet to return to visit home.
Your web page brought back many, many happy memories and recollections of places and events I'd not given thought to for the past twenty nine years. I dearly look forward to a return visit in 2003, and long to relive the memories of the views once seen from the city walls that I walked so many times.
Additionally, I was pleasantly surprised to see the photograph of Blacon Cemetry where my dear mother's ashes were sprinkled at the rose garden back in 1972. Thank you in abundance.
Darrell F. Heaton.

25/6/02 As a former Cestrian living Down-Under, I am deeply saddened about the lost opportunity of uncovering the concealed half of the amphitheatre. The posturing and double speak of the City Council put me in mind of a documentary made by Ray Gosling some years ago which caused a furore due to it's depiction of the City fathers as a bunch of inward looking "Toy-Town" dwellers, who ended the programme by urinating against the City Walls to the tune of "Just a Song at Twylight"!
Many of the current incumbents then in opposition took comfort in the fact that those so shown were Conservatives..... perhaps Ray (surely one of the best and most innovative TV writers and presenters, we need such a voice today in the vast acreages of pre digested tat on the airwaves) could come back and do another show!

Anyone got this on tape? Ray Gosling is a genius whose TV presence is sorely missed. We'd dearly love to see this one!

It's interesting to see you mention Councillor Price quite a lot in your article about the amphitheatre. As a former member of the City Labour Party I observed the beginnings of his rise to prominence about twenty years ago. I will not make any further comment except that he followed the path I thought he would! I've not lived in Chester since 1988 and the scheme of Tony Barbet was under hot discussion at the time. Despite misgivings over the reconstructions I thought that the scheme had some considerable merits as well. One of which was the removal of Dee House which I've always thought was an eyesore even when not mouldering.(Did you know Councillor Price used to work for British Telecom by the way?)
The vista down to the Dee would have been marvellous and the wealth of knowledge and the income from the amphitheatre fully displayed would have been immense. If the council would only look at York! I went to the Jorvik Viking Centre soon after it was opened and they were taking money hand over fist. Commercial interests were not hampered but boosted by the excavations- Chester's so-called guardians make me fume! The wanton destruction caused by the inner ring road and that abortion that was placed by the Town Hall in replacement for the lovely old Market Hall is unspeakable. If Chester was in the USA it would have been declared a national treasure and loved and protected.
I don't believe you can live in the past but Chester's Councils (as opposed to the people of Chester) have steadfastly flushed their past down the tubes. I expect I am preaching to the converted here! Suffice to say I spent a delightful couple of hours last night following the route of the walls (& memory lane!) on your splendid website- to echo one of your correspondents much better than the official City Council Site.
Finally, Steve, could I ask a couple of favours? In the Cathedral is a wonderful poem written about the passage of time titled "On a Clock in Chester Cathedral". I can not remember who wrote it or most of its text. Could you remind me? Also I trained as a psychiatric nurse at the West Cheshire Hospital (becoming the "Countess of Chester" part way through). I believe from my father that the main medical and surgical services from the Infirmary and the City Hospital moved there. What happened to the main buildings of the old asylum complex? These dated from 1829 onwards and were among the first in compliance with the early 19 th Century Lunacy Legislation. Have these been discarded? Sadly many of the old patients were discarded into the "community" as a sad and disgraceful analogy of the destruction of many of the buildings of Chester.
John Ithell, New Zealand

The splendid old buildings do indeed survive. Anyone with info about them can email John at

1/7/02 I thought that I'd write back to say I have tracked down the poem (see letter above) that was puzzling me. It is called "Time's Paces" and is attributed to a 19th Century Anglican Clergyman called Henry Twells. It is enscribed on a clock case in Chester Cathedral- I don't know if there's any direct connection between Twells and the Cathedral (he was born in the Midlands and ended his life on the South Coast) but I remember the clock case most vividly:
Time's Paces
When as a child I laughed and wept, Time CREPT
When as a youth I waxed more bold, Time STROLLED.
When I became a full-grown man, Time RAN.
When older still I daily grew, Time FLEW.
Soon I shall find, in passing on, Time GONE.
O Christ! wilt Thou have saved me then?

I think it is (or was) located in the nave near the choir, a transcript of the poem was placed in front of the clock-case. Is the cobweb portrait still there? This is a painting of the Madonna and Child allegedly painted on a spider web and illuminated from behind. It is a very effective picture.
It's a number of years since I visited the Cathedral, however it's always been one of my favourite places. That is since I first went there on a school trip aged 7 from Monks Coppenhall School in Crewe. In counter to most things I say I actually like the new bell-tower. New architecture should be sensitive to its surroundings.
Later when we moved to Chester, it was like having heritage on my doorstep. It's also sad that where York has totally limited the effects of modernisation and preserved its historic centre, to the fiscal benefit of all commercial concerns in the borough. Every person who goes to the York Castle Museum, or the Roman Ruins or the Jorvik Centre will either buy lunch, alcohol or even something from a department store. This is a point I liked to point out to the half-wits that ran (and obviously still run) Chester. However we let the bulldozers wipe away so much. I'm fascinated to read the reports of mosaics being destroyed during the Grosvenor Laing development- I'd heard similar things too. I wonder what the Earl of Chester with his outspoken comments on the abberations of modern architecture thinks about what has been visited on the City from whence his title derives?
Also in passing, I read about the proposed bus route on the cycleway- words fail me!  
John Ithell  

14/7/02 Dear Steve, I really am spending a lot of time on your website! However I am enjoying every minute as you seem to have all the insights and information I would have loved to have had as a child in my many wanderings about the byways of Chester.
Further thoughts on the Cathedral,. Why did they let the opportunity slip for a thorough examintion slip away when the floor was renewed? York Minster had to have its foundations underpinned in the 60's and 70's, during that time they uncovered the Prinicipia of the Legionary Fortress and substantial medieval remains. Once they were secured they were imaginatively displayed with the huge titanium rods which hold up the Minster and the public can walk underground and see the lot- and happily pay for the privilege.
Did you note the story that during the fire there in 1983 the Fire Brigade and the Minster Authorities were terrified that the water from the fire hoses would flood the building? In the event it all drained swiftly and efficiently away through a massive and unknown Roman culvert! More of what the Romans have done for us! As a teenager about 1972 or '73 (I think) I volunteered on the archaeological excavation at the site of the old Fire Station and the Northgate Brewery. You might be aware of the fact that a "tap room" of the old Golden Falcon Inn was discovered during this dig and subsequently re-erected at Ness Gardens. I remember a considerable amount of red-slip or "Samian" ware pottery was found. If I further recall properly, some insights into the inter mural road of the Legionary Fortress and some inter rampart buildings were found, along with much later evidence of cultivation as the area was not built on for long periods throughout Saxon and Medieval times. Stirring stuff indeed but unfortunately I was put at a rather tedious area of the site on top of some 19th century cellars which were mostly back filled! The professional staff and adult volunteers took their lunch breaks in the "Liverpool Arms" which prior to the demolition of the Brewery was attached to it.
Incidentally, do you know what happens to the recipies of the ales and beers that are produced by defunct breweries like Northgate? I feel there is an untapped (no pun intended!!) potential given the large interest in cask conditioned and properly brewed beer for a revival of  some of these vanished brews. Got to be better than keg bitter and so called lager (as opposed to the real German Stuff). Is the Commercial still open behind St Peter's Church? (certainly is) And what about the Old Customs House in Watergate St?  (yep) I am heartilly saddened at the demise of Barlow's- however I'm sure that you'll soon have some more offices and maybe a mobile phone shop there so that'll be OK then!  
I recall as a child staying with my Grandparents in Dobs Hill. My Grandmother took me on a bus to do some provisions buying in Chester and (like your memories!) the place was a bustling hub of down to earth commerce-butchers, fishmongers and I recall there was a bread shop on the corner of Pepper St and Lower Bridge St, just opposite the  Falcon where you could buy fresh tin-baked Hovis. (there's a photograph of this corner on the vanished pubs of Chester page) This place has stuck in my mind in particular because it had one of those old fashioned "Turog" signs on the top. All sadly gone for the sake of the motor car.
For many years at the top end of Watergate Street there was a shop called "The Continental Food Shop" This sold the sort of stuff you get in most branches of Sainsburys these days but at the time was most exotic in that it sold things like saurkraut and Knorr packet noodles with French and German instructions on them. It was a small concern and appeared to be run by an elderly couple. I believe it lasted to the early ' 80's. I doubt that any such shop could afford the rent these days! Very very sad!
Best regards,
John Ithell, NZ

29/7/02 Steve, I re read the readers' letters and came across the article from '97 by Bob Clough-Parker. Am I right in remembering him as being from the Chester Ratepayers' Action Group (in the '70's) -and as a toss-pot?
As regards the tramps and beggars I'm surprised he didn't mention the charming spectacle that used to eventuate under the Kaleyard Gate a few years ago.This was almost daily from around lunchtime where a bunch of inebriates: a Scotsman; a Spaniard (or other mediterranean type) a rather ratty looking woman and various others would lie on the grass and drink cider, sherry, and meths until they were all as drunk as a fiddler's bitch. Then they would proceed to fight swear and pester the passers by until they were either moved on by the police or collapsed on the grass. I mention this not to crow over a load of unfortunates but to note that there was always a considerable crowd watching and either having a jolly good laugh or an enjoyable piece of vicarious moralising and tut-tutting. Thus it can be argued as a visitor attraction! I believe that two of them were eventually arrested for attempting to copulate in the Bridge Street Row! Consequently I think it all quietened down although I left Chester for good at about the same time so may be going on still.
What the likes of Mr Clough Parker don't like to admit is that Chester has as much of its share of social problems as any where else. Sweeping it under the carpet and not mentioning it (I know that you didn't though Steve!) won't make it go away. Indeed the lack of facilities and low cost housing compounds the vagrancy and poverty issue.
I'll reserve judgement on the Northgate development although I doubt that there will be much in the way of low cost accomodation.
John Ithell

4/10/02 What a great site, You kept me up till the early morning the other day reading this lot! I've lived in Chester all my life and I'm ashamed to say that I didn't realise how much (interesting) history our fair city has. Thank you... I'll no longer walk around Chester with the ignorance to what's around me that I'm accustomed to.
Ian Davies.

2/7/03 Hello to all who created this page and to those who visit it,
Today I was feeling melancholic thinking about the time I spent in Chester, so I decided to find something about it in the web and which was my surprise that I found you. My name is Lola, I am from Madrid, Spain and I had spent many summers in Chester to improve my English, every July or August I used to live with a wonderful family who hosted me in Waverton since 1986 until 1993, I really miss them and Chester too. I love it even more than my own city, I spent lovely moments there, every winter I was anxiously waiting for summer to come to go to Chester; its roman walls, its fantastic walks all along the river, its roads, its pubs (I used to love Evergreen and one by the river), its parks, its shops, its cinemas where I saw many films, the Cathedral so beautiful, its castle, The Northgate Arena swimming pool, The zoo the best in Europe, its history and architecture, its people…Chester is always busy, many visitors enjoy it during the year. I also remember that there was a boat race in the river every year with rare boats built by the people, very funny one. I loved to walk around town and look at everyone while I was waiting for the bus. To those who are going to visit it I assure you l will enjoy it. It is a very beautiful romantic, historic and shopping place.
Thanks for the site, it is a perfect work, I will look for photos I took there and as soon as I find them I will send them to you.  Love
Lola, Madrid.

4/11/03 Yesterday a prominent Chester person offered to take me on a walk round Chester's walls, which I've never done. I've hardly been to Chester except as a child (the zoo) and during the seventies (taking a friend to college and back). I thought I'd better find out something about Chester and came across your site.
What a brilliant and inspired work! Too long to read and appreciate in an hour, I know I'll have to go back to it often, but long enough to hear your feelings for Chester, its history and its present and all that goes with them.
It's beautifully written- which is a rarity these days - and very well illustrated, congratulations on both. I can't praise it highly enough.
I shall be back. And back again. And hope that I retain some of what I read so that when I am shown round I'll understand more than if I'd gone 'cold'.
Thank you again and warmest wishes for your hopes to be fulfilled and your fears come to nothing.
Mary Fisher, Leeds

6/11/03 As a United States citizen residing in Chester for one year during the late 1950's, while my father worked at the Shell Development Motor Lab on overseas assignment, I appreciate now the detailed descriptions and historical perspective provided by your web site.
My home then was 5 Earls Way, over by Curzon Park. I remember bicycling through The Dingle to and from Ms. Salisbury's class, second form at Handbridge School, wearing a blue blazer with school patch.
Upon returning to the US, I resumed wearing blue jeans and flannel shirts; and was picked on for a time, due to a cultured "English" accent, acquired unintentionally, and for using words like tram and trolley instead of bus.
The accent is long gone but memories of Chester remain.

Paul Bailey, Alameda, CA, USA (San Francisco Bay Area)

24/11/03 Hi Steve, this is just to let you know how much I enjoyed looking around your site.
I was born in 1933 my Grandfather had a Bespoke Tailors shop at 90 Lower Bridge Street. My parents were living with him at my birth. Grandpa used to do tailoring for the army at the barracks. I have a couple of pictures of Chester, do you know a site which could make use of a couple of copies? regards

Jim Woodcock, (grandpa John Samuel. Now living in Worcester)

28/12/03 In 1955 to '57 I was stationed at Sealand Airbase ( it was used by the American airforce at that time) I spent a good amount of time in Chester. What a fantastic city. I have told my children about it. Thought of it very often, And of course was thrilled with your web site.
However I have trouble picturing a MacDonalds there, how was this ever allowed? It was such a beautifull city, and this was a mistake for sure,

M H Jobe (Milt), Tenn. USA

17/1/04 Hello from Canada,
I found your Virtual Tour of Chester immensely informative and entertaining. Supplemented with pictures it is a real winner in my books!
I visited Chester with my family in 1979 and took a tour of the walls. We came home with lots of pictures and memories. Your Virtual Tour certainly brought additional images to enhance those memories.
My great great great grandfather, Richard Acton, was married to Sarah Griffies at St. John the Baptist Church in 1802 so I have more than a passing interest in Chester.
Eileen Merkley, Calgary, Alberta, Canada

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