The Black and White Picture Place

Old Maps and Aerial Photographs of Chester

Before the Ring Road: 1950s Chester

chester guided walksDating from sometime in the 1950s, this map, which appeared in a Pitkin 'Pride of Britain' guide to Chester, shows the city as it was just a few years before all manner of radical changes and 'improvements' were imposed upon it, most notably the building of the Inner Ring Road.

Much remains familiar to the modern eye and, indeed, a gratifyingly large proportion of the ancient street pattern has survived intact to the present day. But, for those familiar with driving around modern Chester and visualising their routine journeys around the Ring Road, the map suddenly becomes bewildering, all such journeys then involving the use of the ancient and narrow streets within the walls. No wonder Chester by this time had a reputation as a terrible bottleneck for through-traffic and its streets were constantly choked by traffic jams!

Today, a large traffic island exists outside the Castle where Grosvenor Street, Castle Street and Castle Esplanade meet. The line of ancient roads, standing exactly on the line of the lost west wall of the Roman fortress, leading north from the Castle- Castle Esplanade, Nicolas Street, Linenhall Street and St. Martin's Fields were all doubled in width, resulting in the loss of hundreds of old buildings, and the resultant 'urban highway' was renamed Nicolas Street at its southern end and St. Martin's Way at its northern.

Strange to modern eyes is where St. Martin's Fields curves round to the right to become King Street. This was where the Roman north and west walls met. Now, of course, the Ring Road punches its way through the City Wall (via St. Martin's to become the St. Martin's Way flyover and King Street survives as an attractive, cobbled backwater.
An earlier relief road plan- the Greenwood Proposals of 1944- suggested that the new road should follow the ancient line, obliterating King Street, and emerge through a new, enlarged Northgate.

(Mr Greenwood also suggested, among much else, a doubling of the area of Grosvenor Park to include an outdoor swimming pool and restaurant and the construction of a dignified civic centre and concert hall behind the Town Hall. None of his excellent proposals came about and the arguments about the use of the currently-grotty area behind the Town Hall and the need for a decent concert hall continue to this day.)

Further huge traffic islands were built north of the Northgate and at the point where Brook Street meets Frodsham Street on the old map (these followed the line of the ancient Roman road from Warrington)- the wide new road joining them, and continuing on to meet Foregate Street at the point where Seller Street is marked on the far right-hand side, being called St. Oswald's Way. As a result, the fortunes of Brook Street was transformed, turning from the prestigious main route into the city from the railway station into a somewhat depressed area, home to a wealth of second-hand shops..

From here, the new road followed the line of Union Street, Vicar's Lane, around the amphitheatre at Little St. John Street, through the Walls at a new entrance called- unsurprisingly, the Newgate- then into Pepper Street and Grosvenor Street to meet the new roundabout at the Castle. These latter streets were allowed to retain their ancient names even though they were radically changed and widened.

Half a century has now gone by since the Inner Ring Road was built and it is indeed difficult to imagine trying to get around the city without it. In places, its concrete brutality still resembles somewhat of a raw scar on the ancient street pattern and buildings. With hindsight, many have felt that, on some levels, the siting of the road proved to be disastrous and that choosing a route set outside of the City Walls would have proved a far better way of preserving much more of that which makes Chester special.
Whatever the case, go here to see some photographs and read more about the construction of the Inner Ring Road...

There are numerous other features of interest on the map, include the Northgate Railway Station at the top- long gone and now the site of Chester's fine swimming and fitness centre, the Northgate Arena- the mention of "Roman amphitheatre (site of)"- possibly the excavation had yet to get underway at this time?- the 'barracks' on Castle Esplanade; these were the Militia Buildings which were built just after the Crimea War in 1854-6 and used as married quarters for the families of troops serving at the Castle. The site was later occupied by the ugly Cheshire Police headquarters. This in turn was demolished in 2006 and 'HQ', a vast new development of council offices, apartments and hotel has now risen on the site.

On to a Cold War Soviet map of Chester or to John McGahey's magnificent View of Chester From a Balloon 1855

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