A Virtual Stroll Around the Walls of Chester

The Vanished Pubs of Chester Gallery

elephant & castle innThe Elephant & Castle Inn occupied an exceedingly plain building that stood on the west side of Chester's Market Square, sandwiched between the still-thriving 300-year old Coach & Horses (rebuilt in the 19th century and recently renamed as 'The Coach House') and Mr Hewitt's coach works, later also rebuilt and renamed as The Westminster Coach & Motor Works, the ornate facade of which survives, for the moment at least, as part of Chester Library.

The inn's licencee in 1782 was George Johnson, in 1785 Absalom Ray (Cowdroy's Directory), in 1789 Mrs Johnson, in 1818-20 Bathia Rogerson (Pigot's Directory), in 1822-3 B Goody, in 1828 George Price, in 1840 John Moult, in 1846-57 Thomas Reeves, in 1857 Thomas J Richards, in 1871-3 Peter and Ellen Dale, in 1880 Thomas Pulford.

In the 1881 census the building is described as a “spirit vault” run by Dessimus Webster and his wife Ellen. In 1891-8 the licencee was Mrs Mary Anne Evans (see below), 1901 to at least 1914 Thomas Hulse. Around 1925 the licence was withdrawn it became The Town Hall Cafe and was still so in 1945.

In the 1960s, the old pub became council offices, where people paid their rent and registered and taxed their vehicles.

An inn on this site was first mentioned in 1533. It long bore the name of The Chequers but this had changed to The Elephant & Castle by the time George Johnson had it in 1782. It appeared in the polling station list in 1809.

Above left we see the Elephant & Castle Inn, somewhat obscured behind a young tree, a small detail from a general view of the square from around 1905. Its site is now occupied by a bland red brick structure (bottom of page, photographed by the author in in 2010) that forms the left-hand side of Chester Library.

elephant and castle mid 30s

This interesting view of Town Hall Square dates from before 1936, when Northgate House, just visible on the extreme right, was replaced by the Art Deco Odeon Cinema.
Three pubs may be seen in the background: on the left the Coach & Horses- now The Coach House- on the right the Shropshire Arms (both still with us today) and in the middle, to the left of the arches, is the vanished Elephant & Castle Inn.

view of northgate street 1950s

This interesting, but somewhat down-at-heel, view of the Market Square, taken sometime in the 1960s, shows the old Elephant & Castle painted white and with a long-vanished bus shelter in front of it. An oval sign hangs above its door but whether it was still serving beer at this time is unknown for the moment. The right-hand section of the old coach works was occupied by George Taylor's car showroom and garage. The exteriors of the Shropshire Arms and Coach & Horses appear much as they do today.

elephant & castle site

In June 2015 we received the following fascinating letter from reader Linda Dodd:

“While researching my family’s history I came across this information on the Elephant & Castle pub in Northgate Street. The licensee, Mary Ann Evans, was my Great Great Grandmother. She was married twice. Her first husband was a Butcher called Charles Blake Williams and her second husband was Joseph Evans. I hope you find it interesting”.

"In December 1887 Joseph Evans was granted temporary authority to sell beer at the Elephant & Castle Inn. This small pub was on the Town Hall Square next door to the Coach & Horses which is still there. The Elephant & Castle itself has now been incorporated into the library building. On Thursday 2nd February 1888 the licence for the Elephant and Castle was transferred from Kate Parker to Joseph.

Just two years after moving to the Elephant & Castle, even though he was only 43 years old, Joseph made his Will. It seems quite a rushed affair and he left everything to “my dear wife Mary Ann Evans” and he appointed her the sole Executrix. The witnesses to his signature were Alfred B. Dye and George Kerr who were both Solicitor’s Clerks. He signed the Will on 12th October 1889. Just a month later, on 10th November 1889, Joseph died.


It looks as though he perhaps drank more than he sold but it can’t have been easy living with Mary Ann and seven daughters. Joseph and Mary Ann had married in 1870. She was the widow of Charles Blake Williams and when she and Joseph married she had 4 daughters. Both Charles and Joseph had originally been Butchers and both were Freemen of the City.

Mary Ann must have stayed at the Elephant & Castle because, in July 1890, the Chester Branch of the Iron Founders’ Society had a “bit of a do”; about 30 members of the Society first went on a boat trip up the river and then proceeded to the pub where “an excellent dinner was served by the hostess Mrs Evans”. Speeches followed and “the remainder of the evening was passed in harmony”. Those Iron Founders certainly knew how to live it up.

iron founders article

The Census of Sunday 5th April 1891 saw Mary Ann still at the pub with her daughters Frances and Bertha. Mary Ann was 53 and a Licensed Victualler, Frances 28 and a Mantle Maker and Bertha was 20 and a Barmaid. There was a servant, Thomas Groome, who also lived in the pub and he was an Ostler. Mary Ann’s 10 year old nephew, Percy Humphreys was also living with them. There was also a boarder called Henry Hindley.

It seems that the Elephant & Castle wasn’t just a pub but also a slaughter house! Someone signing himself “Fever Germs” wrote to the Chester Chronicle in June 1893 complaining about the “slaughter-house situated in the centre of the city almost under the same roof as the town hall”. He called it unhealthy, a great nuisance and a disgrace. The neighbours were being kept awake at night by the bellowing of the cattle and the “atmosphere is polluted by the smell of garbage”. He added that as he was writing a young man, who lived close by, was being carried off to the fever hospital. He demanded that the Health Committee remove the slaughter-house to the country. The editor agreed that the slaughter-house should be moved and what was needed was a public abattoir which the Committee were considering. In the meantime a new concrete floor had been laid and all rubbish was removed daily.
Mary Ann was not a woman to take things lying down and her reply to “Fever Germs” was published the following week. Firstly she wrote that it would be “much more manly” to publish “Fever Germs” name and address especially as he was trying to “damage and destroy the trade of a widow”. She went on to say that the Nuisance Inspector “and others” would be able to satisfy him that the cleanliness of her premises would “bear favourable comparison with any other similar business premises in the kingdom”. The Editor’s footnote to Mary Ann’s letter was to say that he had visited the slaughter-house and “found it scrupulously clean and wholesome”. I wouldn’t like to have been in Fever Germs' shoes if Mary Ann ever found out who he was!

Mary Ann stayed at the Elephant and Castle until January 1900 when the licence was transferred from her to Thomas Hales."

Do you have any more information about this old pub?

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