Chester: a Virtual Stroll Around the Walls

Details from John McGahey's View of Chester from a Balloon 1855:

2. The Kaleyards & Canal

This detail from John McGahey's splendid aerial view of Chester in 1855 shows, at the top, the Deanery Field and the Phoenix Tower on the north east corner of the city walls, round which flows the Shropshire Union Canal. Local author and guide Thomas Hughes, writing in 1876, twenty years after this view was made, said of the Deanery Field, "a sight pleasant to the eye is that verdant mead, in olden time known as the Green of the Walls". The stretch of canal next to the City walls at the top of the picture flows where once was the fosse- the defensive moat- of the Roman fortress was first dug around 80 AD. It filled up with debris over the centuries and disappeared but was re-excavated when the canal was constructed in the middle of the 18th century.

Cow Lane Bridge crosses the canal in the centre of the picture, linking Frodsham Street (formerly Cow Lane) with Brook Street and the Roman road to the Mersey crossing at Wilderspool, near modern Warrington. This bridge, a fine painting of which may be seen here, was rebuilt in more substantial form at the end of the 1960s as part of the construction of the Inner Ring Road.

Behind this, a large area of the Kaleyards at this time was utilised as a timber yard, with a wharf on the canal where the Slow Boat Chinese restaurant and other modern commercial premises stand today. The area is named after the former vegetable gardens of the monks of the Abbey. It had once formed part of a Roman parade ground and was later called The Jousting Croft.

Out of sight in the trees to the left of the timber yard is the smallest of the gates in Chester's City Walls, the Kaleyard Gate, built here by permission of King Edward I in 1275 to allow the monks easier access to their gardens- on condition that was built small enough to prevent armed men on horseback from riding through it and that it would be kept securely locked at night and in times of war. The tradition of locking the gate at nine o'clock each night continued right through until just a few years ago. Our photograph shows the City wall just to the left of the Kaleyard Gate. The large stones jutting out are part of the original Roman wall. They still bear deep scratches- 'archer marks'- from the days when archery was practiced (compulsory in those warlike times) on the open ground here and people used the stones to sharpen their arrows. The Kaleyards is today used as a car park.

Further industrial premises, including a salt depot, were at this time located below the bridge where the Fortress & Firkin public house is today.

On the right may be seen part of the Cattle Market where, for centuries, livestock were driven in from the surrounding countryside to be sold. The area is currently rathe scruffy and used for car parking although there has been considerable debate as to its future use, ranging from multi-storey car park, council HQ to concert hall.

Other enlarged sections from John McGahey's wonderful illustration:

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

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