The Black and White Picture Place

Old Maps and Aerial Photographs of Chester

civil war defences map 1645
'Hemingway's' Map of Chester 1645

chester guided walksThis map of Chester actually appeared in Joseph Hemingway's Panorama of the City of Chester which was published in 1836- but reproducing a view of the city as it appeared at the time of the Civil War in the middle of the 17th century.

Beyond the familiar line of the city walls may be seen the extensive secondary defences which the citizens hurredly constructed of mud, timbers and whatever other materials came to hand in an attempt to defend their city from besieging Parliamentary forces. These defences soon fell, however, at which time the ancient circuit of stone walls came into their own once again, holding the enemy at bay throughout a long and bitter siege- the last time they were to fulfill their centuries-old purpose.

On the far left of the picture may be seen the battery which was established by the besiegers on high ground overlooking the River Dee at a place called Brewer's Hall Farm. It was responsible for causing major destruction in Watergate Street and the area later to be occupied by the Infirmary.

In October 1645, towards the end of the siege, the desperate citizens, labouring under heavy fire, threw up a great earthwork here to defend breaches in the rapidly-crumbling city wall. All available people, half-starved though they were, were put to the work, including many women, who helped to carry earth in baskets, even though, as a contemporary account states, "The women, like so many valiant Amazons, do out-face death and dare danger, though it lurk in every basket; seven are shot, three slaine, yet they scorn to leave their matchless undertaking, and thus they continue for ten days' space; possessing the beholders that they are immortal".

The attackers stormed into the breaches but the defences held and they were repulsed with heavy losses. The defenders lost 8 or 10 killed including their leader, Sir William Mainwaring- to whom there is a monument in the Cathedral

The Chester historian Randle Holme III wrote of the bursting of some grenados (early mortar shells) emanating from Brewer's Hall on December 10th 1645, "Two houses in the Watergate Street skip joint from joint, and create an earthquake; the main posts jostle each other, while the frightened casements fly for fear, in a word, the whole fabric is a perfect chaos, lively set forth in the metamorphosis: the grandmother, mother and three children are struck stocke dead and buried in the ruins of their humble edifice"...

You can read more of his moving account of the devastation suffered by Chester during the Civil War here.

Note also how the artist has included the great sandbank in the River Dee on the far left. Once a great commercial seaport, the silting of the river effectively destroyed the trade and opened the way for the once-insignificant fishing village of Liverpool to begin its meteoric rise to become the great seaport it remains today. Calls for the dredging of the Dee were repeatedly ignored, on the understandable grounds of technical difficulty and expense. But, desperate to save the port, the river was, around 1730, eventually turned out of its ancient course into a new canalised stretch- the change can be seen on our next map- and a new harbour complex, the so-called Old Port, was created, standing well away from the City Walls on what was once the old river bed. This was successful for a while but the silting continued and all commercial shipping ceased in the early twentieth century.

On to Batenham's Map of Chester 1816

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