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Old Maps & Aerial Photographs of Chester

New material added here June 2017

Braun's map of Chester 1571
Braun's Map of Chester 1571

Welcome to our growing gallery of old maps, drawings and aerial photographs of Chester as she was.

Our first map, above, appeared in G. Braun's Civitates Orbis Terrarum of 1572-1618 and is a clear indication of how Chester appeared in the middle of the 16th century. It shows a community still living largely within the ancient city walls, with suburban settlements beyond the Northgate, the Eastgate, spreading up Cow Lanee- today's Frodsham Street- and over the River Dee in Handbridge. Note the strong defensive gate on the Handbridge side of the Old Dee Bridge.

Notice how the River Dee curves round and joins the walls at the Watergate, where ships are berthed. For centuries, until the disastrous silting of the river, Chester was the largest and busiest seaport in north west England, trading with ports throughout the British Isles, Ireland and Europe. In the eighteenth century, it even sent slave ships to Africa and traded with, and sent emigrants to, the Americas.

The Watertower was built to defend the port in 1322, and the map shows it still standing surrounded by water. Today it stands high and dry, in the middle of a pretty park, the Watertower Gardens.

Following Lower Bridge Street up from the Bridgegate and river, two ancient churches stand facing each other at the junction with Pepper Street. These were St. Michael's on the right- still with us today and now the home of Chester History and Heritage- and St. Bridget's, which was founded in 797 by King Offa of Mercia and demolished and relocated when Grosvenor Street was cut diagonally across the old street plan to meet the new Grosvenor Bridge around 1830. (it can be seen among our views opf the neighbouring Old Lamb Row). For centuries, the area was actually known as "The Two Churches".
This second St. Bridget's, which was rebuilt near the Castle, was in its turn demolished in 1964 to make way for a traffic island on the new Inner Ring Road- upon which some of the gravestones from its churchyard still stand today.

Beyond the Eastgate, on the right of the map, you can see a secondary defensive gate and wall, known as
The Bars and beyond that, where the road branches, is Barrel Well Hill, at this time known as Gallows Hill in the suburb of Boughton- the town's chief place of execution- Chester's Tyburn- where was situated the gallows and the stake, for burnings...

chester guided walksInside the entire length of the west wall are the former houses, fields and gardens of the monastic communities, the Greyfriars, Whitefriars and the nuns of St. Mary, all of which, together with the Blackfriars and the great Abbey of St. Werburgh, had been dissolved thirty years earlier. St. Werburgh's was transformed into Chester Cathedral but all of the others were sold off and redeveloped for other purposes and not a trace of them remains above ground today.

Much, however, remains familiar, and a modern citizen, whisked back to the Chester of the 1500s, would probably be able to find their way about without too much difficulty- there are the Walls and Gates, the Cathedral, Castle, Old Dee Bridge, St. John's Church, the Market Square and all of the major and most of the minor streets, situated just as today.

Two great changes in the street plan have, however, occured since that time: the previously-mentioned building of the Grosvenor Bridge and Grosvenor Street in the 1830s and the Inner Ringroad of the 1960s.

Today's Cestrian would envy the fields full of grazing cattle and sheep that surrounded the little town, but fortunately the
Roodee, Deanery Field and Meadows (where the fashionably-dressed gents and their dog are standing in the foreground) remain today as open ground. After four and a half centuries, horses still run around the Roodee and cattle contunue to graze on the meadows...

The following description of Braun’s map was written by T. N. Brushfield, M.D. and published in the July 1879 edition of The Cheshire Sheaf...

“One of the most interesting, as it is perhaps the most ancient of the engraved Plans of Chester is the one that appeared in Braun's Vivitates orbis terrarutn, published at Cologne (“Coloniae Agrippinae”) in 6 vols. folio, between the years 1523 and 1618.

The Plan is No. 3 in vol. iii., and measures 14 in. by 13 in. It is headed “Cestria vulgo Chester Angliae civitas,” and bears along its upper and its left hand borders the Royal, Episcopal, and Civic Arms, together with those of the Earls of Chester. The date of this volume is 1616, that of the preceding being 1575. We may fairly assume the plan to represent the City as it was during the closing years of Elizabeth's reign, the latter part of the 16th Century- this is to some extent corroborated by the costume of certain figures depicted on the lower part of the engraving.

The Plan is a bird's eye view of the City, as it would have appeared from the south side. The river channel (lettered “Dea fl. vulgo Dee") is shown to flow close up to the Water gate ("Porta ad aquam"), on either side of which several boats and small ships are moored; it then runs parallel and close to the Wall as far as the Water Tower ("Turris noua"), which is surrounded by water, some portion of which runs through two large arches in the masonry connecting this Tower with the main Wall; near this is represented a large three-masted ship with high poop. The Bridge ("Pons") over the Dee is defended at the Handbridge end by a strong entrance gateway, to the West of which is a mill with one wheel. One with two wheels occupies the site of the present Dee Mills. In the Wall, close to the Eastern side of the Bridge gate ("Porta ad pontem”), is an archway from whioh water is issuing: may not this have been the termination o£ one of the subterranean Canals alluded to by Stukeley?

The "Rood eie” has on it a Cross elevated on a base of three or four steps, and guarded by pillars at each corner. The Walls are embattled. The four principal gateways, as well as the one at "The barrs," each consist of two castellated towers, with an archway for the road between them, those guarding the Dee Bridge having a portcullis. Between the Eastgate (“Porta ad Orientem”) and the Barrs is "Forijat platea," out of which branches “Cowe Lane," leading to green pastures occupied by cattle. On a mound at Boughton is a gallows, and beyond this the road bifurcates into the " Via ad Taruen" and the "Iter ad Wicum malbanu”.

The most interesting feature in connection with the Walls is the presence on their outer boundary of a deep ditch or fosse, which commences at the Eastgate, and extends from thence along the whole line of the North Wall to the Water Tower, the greater part of which at the present day is represented by the Canal. It is more than probable that this was the old Roman fosse, and which originally extended along the entire eastern side of the city to the Dee, thus completing the defences on the land side.

The Pepper gate ("Porta noua") and the Ship gate are shown as square towers; but there is no indication of the Kale-yard gate. In front of St. Peter's Church ("S. Petrus ad cruce alta'"), the four principal streets bear their present names; but the upper part of Bridge-street is called "Mercers Rowe." This is the only Row alluded to, and, as far as I have yet been able to ascertain, is the earliest mention of this now well-known Chester peculiarity. Princess street appears as "Persaus cane”- evidently Parsons lane, a name given to it im the time of Edward 3rd.

In the present Whitefriars some buildings are labelled “Ruinosa fratrum ecclesia,” whilst on the opposite side of "Bridge Streate" appears "Peper Streate." The Cathedral ("S. Warburg eclesia Cathedral") and St. John's ("S. Johanna") are shown: the former in a wide open space, the latter without any indication of the Priory ruins. Also the Castle ("Castrum") and St. Mary's Church ("S. Maria super mo'tem"). Within the Walls large gardens are figured in the rear of all the houses, as also in those at Hand- bridge ("Suburbia Honbridge apellata") and beyond the Northgate ("Porta Septentrionalis").

Two houses only appear on the western side, and these are situated in large grounds. On the opposite side of the river and facing the Shipgate are shown the “Ruinosa domus Comitis Cestriensis."
These include all the prinoipal noteworthy features of this interesting Plan. There is a long Latin account of the city at the back of the engraving, and a short one in the index. I may add that, as a matter of purely local interest, the first attempt at photo-lithography in Chester was made in 1864, and was a copy of the very Plan just described.”

On the Following Pages...

"Facsimile of the Ancient Map of Great Britain A.D. 1325-50" Map of Chester 1920
William Smith's map and view of Chester 1585 Just before the Ring Road: 1950s Chester map
John Speed's map of Chester 1610 A Cold War Soviet map of the Chester Railway Station area
Daniel Meisner's View of Chester in 1620 Aerial Photographs and Views:
Nathaniel Buck's 'Prospect of the City of Chester' 1728 The Newtown area 1967
Lavaux's map of Chester 1745 (plus detailed enlargements) The River Dee and City 1969
Hunter's Map of Chester 1789 The Cathedral and City 1969
Stockdale's map of Chester 1795 The River Dee and Castle: early 20th centur
Hemingway's map of Chester 1829 The building of the Inner Ring Road 1965
'Hemingway's' map of Chester
(published in 1836 but based upon a view of the city as it appeared in 1645)
The Roodee for the air 1950s
Batenham's map of Chester 1816 George Parson Norman: aerial view of Chester (watercolour, before 1914)
Wood's Map of Chester 1833 John McGahey's View of Chester From a Balloon 1855
Catherall & Pritchard's Pictorial Plan of Chester mid-19th century John McGahey's New Chester Guide 1853 (external link)
A 'Bird's Eye View of the Walls' c. 1860 A modern sketch map showing the main features of medieval Chester

Here are some enlarged sections from John McGahey's wonderfully detailed aerial view of Chester:

The Old Port
The Kaleyards
Grosvenor Bridge
St. John's Church
The Cathedral
The Northgate

A fascinating research project: Mapping Medieval Chester

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