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A Virtual Stroll Around the Walls of Chester

Curiosities from Chester's History no. 29

  • 1837 Queen Victoria (1819-1901) comes to the throne of England; the proclamation celebrated with great rejoicings. The organ used at her Majesty's coronation in Westminster Abbey was later brought to Chester and erected in St. John's Church. Birth registration introduced.
  • 1838 The Chester and Birkenhead Railway was opened on 23rd September. The first travelling post office introduced, running between Birmingham and Liverpool.
  • 1839 First Grand National horse race run at Aintree, Liverpool. First baseball game played in Cooperstown, New York. First bicycle made by Scottish inventor Kirkpatrick Macmillan. A correspondent of the Owestry Bye-Gones column of March 26, gave some instances of 'thieve's houses' in Wales. He said early in 1839 a 'blue book' was published containing a report of the commissioners for enquiring into the means of establishing a constabulary force through England and Wales.
    The commisionaires reported that around 3,000 'travellers' (ie: thieves) made provincial tours, either during stated seasons or if London was to hot for them. All over the country there were lodging houses for travellers, in every town and every village. Also known as thieving houses, they were the 'flash houses' of the rural district, receiving houses for stolen goods. The city of Chester alone was said to have 150 or 200 of these houses and Chester generally along with Cornwall was stated to be the very worst in the kingdom for ‘wreckers,’ and it was also stated that on the Cheshire coast not to far from Liverpool, "They will rob those who have escaped the perils of the sea, and come safe on shore; they will mutilate dead bodies for the sake of rings and personal ornaments".
  • 1840 Chester College was established in Parkgate Road- the first teacher traing college. Oct.1st: The Chester and Crewe Railway was opened. Queen Victoria marries Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. Penny postage- and the world's first stamps- established in Britain.
  • 1844 Hussey's restoration of Chester Cathedral. Slave population of Cuba estimated at 436,000. First public baths and wash houses opened in Liverpool. The YMCA founded in England by George Williams.
  • 1846 The North Wales Coast Railway opened. Irish famine caused by failure of potato crop.
  • 1847 Work on Chester General Railway Station commenced. Jan 22nd Destructive fire at the Dee Mills; the whole of one mill destroyed. May 24th. Accident at the Dee railway bridge; one of the girders having broken as the train passed over; Four people killed on the spot, several others were seriously injured.
  • chester guided walks1848 Chester and Holyhead Railway opened as far as Bangor. Shrewsbury-Chester Railway opened throughout. The General Station opened on 1st August. First Public Health Act in Britain. First settlers arrive in New Zealand. Gold rush in California- which becomes a US state the following year. Population of Britain: 20.8 million; Population of US: 23 million (including 3.2 million black slaves.)
  • 1850 The Maypole in Handbridge was removed. (What Washington Irving wrote of it is here). Chester's Overleigh Cemetery was opened (also here).
  • 1851 The suburb of Queen's Park was developed to a design by James Harrison and a suspension bridge, by James Dredge of Bath, was erected to connect it with the city, at a cost of £850. It was replaced with the present suspension bridge in 1923.
  • 1852 Louis Napoleon proclaims himself Emperor Napoleon III; reign of the Second Empire in France. US imports sparrows from Germany as defence against caterpillars. Wells Fargo company founded
  • 1853 Queen Victoria has chloroform administered during birth of her seventh child, thus ensuring its place as an anesthetic in Britain.
  • 1854 The Dee House Ursuline Convent School was established, "in a fine mansion called the Dee House in St. John Street". Dee House is currently a development site, controversially standing upon the uncovered half of the Roman Amphitheatre. The Bluecoat School was restored and the figure of a Bluecoat scholar placed in a niche above the door. The almshouses behind the Bluecoat were built at this time. Crimea War begins.
  • 1855 The Music Hall opened where the Theatre Royal used to be in the ancient St. Nicolas Chapel (now 'Superdrug') opposite the Cathedral. Architect James Harrison added the Gothic front. The Chester to Holyhead Railway opened throughout. A dreadful accident happened in the Sutton Tunnel of the Lancashire and Cheshire Junction Railway, on the Chester Cup day; several lives were lost and many more injured. First iron Cunard liner crosses the Atlantic (in nine and a half days).
  • 1857 The Militia Buildings, designed by Penson of Chester in a '13th century style of architecture'- were erected on the corner of Nicolas Street and Grosvenor Street (known as Castle Esplanade) to provide accomodation for the families of soldiers stationed at the Castle. (until October 2006, the site was occupied by the Cheshire Police Headquarters. A new hotel/apartments complex, know as 'HQ' is currently under construction here) Numerous Roman graves were found on the Infirmary Field, containing both cremated and buried remains, together with jewellery, vases, lamps, beakers and coins dated c. 81-96AD. A new housing development has recently risen on the site. The proposed new Westminster Bank premises in Eastgate Street was objected to by many local people because it blocked the Row at its junction with St. Werburgh's Lane.
  • 1860 The Queen's Railway Hotel, opposite the General Station was built at a cost of £20,000, only to be badly damaged by fire the following year. A former Mayor, Mr Meadows-Frost, presented the city with a striking 'dolphin' fountain, which was erected at the junction of Bridge Street and Grosvenor Road (sadly now removed).
  • 1861 St. Mary's-on-the-Hill church was restored by James Harrison. During the last decade, 424,000 people from Britain and 914,000 from Ireland emigrated to the US.
  • 1862 The Exchange in the Market Square, built in 1695, was destroyed by fire. The Queen's Hotel opposite the station was rebuilt as we see it today. 'God's Providence House' in Watergate Street was restored.
  • 1863 The Market Hall, next to the present Town Hall was opened on the wedding day of the Prince of Wales. In an act of civic vandalism, its handsome facade was needlessly demolished in the 1960s. The Earl of Chester's volunteer Fire Brigade was formed. The Football Association founded and construction of the London underground started. Abraham Lincoln issues Proclamation of Emancipation; all slaves held in rebelling territory declared free.
  • 1864 Work started on the new Town Hall, erected on the site of Dixon and Wardell's Bank, the White Lion Hotel and the Saracen's Head. The Grosvenor Hotel was built on the sites of the Royal Hotel and the Golden Talbot Hotels. (our list of other vanished Chester pubs is here).
  • 1865 A massive Roman-built Quayside Wall was discovered in front of the present City Walls, near the Roodee and opposite the end of Blackfriars, which established the location of Deva's harbour. A bronze equestrian statue in front of the Castle in honour of Field-Marshall Viscount Combermere erected. Holy Trinity Church (the Guildhall) in Watergate Street was entirely rebuilt by James Harrison at a cost of £10,000. Outbreak of cholera in the city. US Civil War ends. Lincoln assassinated. Klu Klux Klan founded
  • 1866 City Road built. Last public hanging in UK- and last in Chester.
  • 1867 A Fenian plot to seize Chester Castle was uncovered. Some 1,500 Irishmen arrived in the city with the intention of raiding the Castle and seizing the 10,000 rifles and million rounds of ammunition which were stored there- apparently guarded by only six soldiers. The Plot was foiled by the betrayal of one of the insurgents, and they returned home empty handed. The rebuilding of the seat of the Grosvenor Family, Eaton Hall was commenced. It was designed by Porden and took 12 years to complete, being described as one of the country's finest examples of pointed Gothic. Most of it has since been replaced. A detached wing, designed especially for fever cases, was added to the Infirmary- the first isolation wing of its kind in the country. Grosvenor Park was opened. Russia sells Alaska to US for $7,200,000
  • 1868 The Volunteer's Drill Hall, standing on the site of the old Albion Hotel gardens was built, and the Customs House Inn in Watergate Street was rebuilt. 185,000 letters per week were dealt with by the General Post Office. 1868-76 Radical restoration of Chester Cathedral by Sir George Gilbert Scott.
  • 1869 Edward, Prince of Wales and Earl of Chester- later Edward VII- opened the new Town Hall and knighted the Mayor, Alderman Thomas Gibbon Frost, "as a gesture to mark the occasion". Charles Kingsley, author of 'The Water Babies' (published 1873) was appointed a Canon of Chester Cathedral. St. Thomas' Church in Parkgate Road was built. The architect, Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, among much else, also designed the stupendous Liverpool Cathedral and the 'K2' red telephone box. The Cutty Sark is launched and the Suez Canal opened
  • quenn's school advert 18971873 The tomb of the monk Ranulph Higden, who died in 1364 and laid to rest in the South Choir Aisle of the Abbey (now Cathedral), was opened to reveal "the exact form of a body still wrapped in coarse woolen cloth of a reddish-brown". He was the author of a celebrated Latin history of the world from the Creation to his own time, which he called the Polychronicon. It remained the standard reference work for hundreds of years. St. Francis' Catholic Church in Grosvenor Street opened.
  • 1875 The Northgate Railway Station was opened (on the site now occupied by the Northgate Arena.) The newly-restored Cathedral was re-opened. A skating rink was opened on the Groves.
  • 1877 The Free Public Library was opened in St. John Street.
  • 1879 The Chester Tramways Company was formed, and initially ran horse-drawn trams between the General Station and the Castle, later extending to Saltney.
  • 1881 On Good Friday, the great West Tower of St. John's Church collapsed (illustrated right)
  • 1882 The Royalty Theatre opens on City Road.
  • 1883 The Queen's School for girls was opened in City Walls Road, on land donated by the Duke of Westminster- on which had formerly stood Chester's second City Gaol. A portion of the City Walls between Morgan's Mount and the Northgate "crumbled" when a row of cottages abutting them was removed. When repairs were carried out, a number of Roman tombstones were discovered built into the lower courses of the wall. These are now excellently displayed in the Grosvenor Museum. A hoard of bronze Roman coins were found wlile lowering a cellar in Northgate Street.
  • 1884 The gaol at Chester Castle was closed.
  • 1885 The Grosvenor Museum was built to a design by Thomas Lockwood, and opened the following year. St. Peter's Church was restored and a Belltower erected at St. John's. Tolls were abolished on the Old Dee Bridge. Chester becomes one parlimentary constituency.
  • 1887 Further, well-preserved Roman tombstones were discovered embedded in the North Wall near the Deanery Field. The new church of St. Mary's-Without-the-Walls, in Handbridge was consecrated by the Bishop of Chester.
  • 1889 The new Cattle Market on the Gorse Stacks- now a car park and Inner Ring Road- was opened. Parker's Buildings at the end of Foregate Street were built for retired employees of the Grosvenor Estate. Chester becomes a County Borough.
  • 1890 Liverpool Road Railway Station was opened. Of more recent times, the site was long derelict and subject to planning arguments as to whether it should be used for housing or industrial use- despite the lack of recreational land in the area. In 2000, a private health club was erected on the site.
  • 1892 At the May races this year, the Roodee was for the first time fenced in and 'gate money' of 1/- was charged. The sum of £10,000 was collected. The Duke of Westminster gave to the city the piece of land in Handbridge- from time immemorial known as 'Edgar's Field'- on condition it remained a public open space for all time.
  • 1893 Miss Brown, at her own expense, erected a monument near the place where George Marsh was executed in Boughton. It is inscribed "To the memory of George Marsh who was burned to death near this spot for truth's sake, April 24th 1555". The Manchester Ship Canal completed.
  • 1894 Pemberton's Parlour, also called the 'Goblin Tower', was found to be in a dangerous condition due to the vibrations of nearby trains, was rebuilt- but retained its original carved plaque recording the restoration of the city walls after the Civil War. The Falcon Hotel in Lower Bridge Street was restored by John Douglas.
  • 1895 The Dee Mills were destroyed by fire for the last time. They were purchased this year by the Corporation, together with the valuable river rights. After existing for over 800 years, they were finally demolished in the early years of the 20th century. The Blossoms Hotel was rebuilt. Chester's streets were lit for the first time with electric light.
  • 1897 The Eastgate Clock was erected to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria. The ancient Shipgate was re-erected in Grosvenor Park. The west side of Northgate Row was rebuilt as an 'open row'. It was originally of similar construction and antiquity as the other City Rows, when it was known as 'Shoemaker's Row'. During the construction of a cellar beneath no. 23, a line of five massive Roman column bases were found, which once formed part of the North Colonnade of the Judgement Hall of the Principia. They were preserved in situ, and may be viewed, with some difficulty, in the basement of a clothes shop.
  • 1899 27th May. The Eastgate Clock was started on the Queen's birthday. The first Duke of Westminster died. "With him", as Marion Seal put it in closing The Chester of Yester-year, "passed another century in the history of the city- a quiet, rather sleepy market town, whose inhabitants then could never, in their wildest dreams, have imagined the changes, some for better, some for worse, which the 20th century would bring"...

A final selection of Chester Curiosities from the 20th and 21st centuries is here...

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