Chester Guided Walks

If you find our 'virtual stroll' stimulating, why not treat yourself to one of our real guided walks?
Join photographer, author and historian Steve Howe to wander Chester's world famous City Walls, the most complete in Britain, and discover the delights of the city they have guarded for 2000 years. See sights and hear stories you'll never find in any guidebook! Booking is simple- click on the picture to learn more..

The Phoenix Tower

A Virtual Stroll Around the Walls of Chester

4. The Kaleyard Gate

The Kaleyard Gate II

Updated June 2017

Akaleyard stepsfter leaving The Phoenix Tower behind us, we turn the corner and head southward along the East Wall which, from here all the way to the Newgate continues to follow the original Roman course.

Beyond the trees on our left, notice how the Shropshire Union Canal leaves the shelter of the walls and continues on its way towards the pleasant suburb of Hoole and on into rural Cheshire.

The opening of this stretch of canal was recorded in the long-defunct local newspaper, the Chester Courant, of Tuesday, 27th December 1774 as follows: "Near Cow Lane Bridge (which you should be able to see to your right from the wall) was launched a large barge, called Egerton, 70 feet long, 14 feet wide and 70 tons burthen. Immediately after, she proceeded, full of people with french horns etc playing on board, under the walls of the city, along by the Phoenix Tower, thro' the rock that has been cut open at the Northgate, to the dam at the end of the canal now finished, being about 200 yards to the westwards of Northgate, where several cannon were fired. From thence she was conducted thro' six bridges and five locks now erected on the Christleton quarry; and afterwards was re-conducted to Cow Lane Bridge".

Cow Lane Bridge was brand new when these events took place, having been constructed to span the new canal. It was rebuilt and enlarged in the 1960s with the coming of the Inner Ringroad. The restaurant and shopping development next to it- on a site formerly occupied by a timber yard and wharf- appeared at this time also.

girl walking the wallsThis remarkable aerial view- a detail from John McGahey's famous View of Chester from a Balloon- shows the old Cow Lane Bridge and its surroundings as they appeared around 1855.

Left: Walking Chester's East Wall on a crisp Autumn day in 2014

In earlier times, the spot where the bridge now stands was occupied by one of a series of outlying defensive gates, known as 'the Cow Gate', which suffered serious damage during the Siege of Chester in the Civil War. All trace seems to have been obliterated when the Chester Canal was built here in the 1770s. It was, however, still standing when Alexander de Lavaux made his map of Chester thirty years earlier, in 1745.

On our left, some wooden steps, loosely modelled on Roman originals, take us, via a curious selection of old carved stones (relics of the stomemason's yards that long existed here) set in a pleasant wooded area, down to the canal bank.

The towpath, not just hereabouts but throughout the area, after a spirited public campaign underwent a long-overdue programme of restoration and resurfacing and is very much more convenient to stroll or cycle along than the muddy morass it formerly was. Trees have been pruned and new lighting added. You should definitely, time allowing, take the short stroll from here to examine the City Walls from the bottom of their ancient defensive ditch, then pass under the Northgate to Tower Wharf- which we will be visiting towards the end of our Virtual Stroll.
stones by canal
(Some interesting photographs of Chester's canal as it appeared during the 1950s and 60s may be seen here and you can learn more about the canal a little further on, in the direcion of Hoole and Boughton here).

At this point, it is necessary to update a little of the above information for, in May 2003, those aforementioned curious- and rather attractive- old stones were removed by the council, apparently to prevent 'undesirables' from sitting on them. That we ordinary citizens also enjoyed using them for a picnic or a bit of a breather didn't seem to count for much in the decision.
More drastically, as recently as March 2015, numerous trees in the little wooded area was cut down, also largely on the premise that the area was the haunt of 'undesirables'- a spokesman from Chester Renaissance, the body responsible for the work, informed us that "terrible things went on the area" and that "something had to be done about it".

During over twenty years of passing this way on an almost daily basis, the most terrible thing we ever observed here was the odd gentleman indulging in a beer or two among the trees.

The work was carried out, they claim, after extensive consultation with, and with the blessing of, local residents, councillors, the police and council wildlife and tree officers.

"We inspire people up and down the country to visit woods, plant trees, treasure wildlife, and enjoy the overwhelming benefits that woods and trees offer to our landscape and lives. Life's better with trees!" The Woodland Trust.

woodland before removal
woods during clearance

By a couple of years later, however, the newly-landscaped park had settled in and is widely acknowledged to be a great improvement and to have become a welcome addition to Chester's green spaces. Here we see it in June 2017, beautifully photographed by Chris Jeffery..

chris jeffery: canalside park 17

In July 1828, during a violent rainstorm, some 15 yards of of this stretch of City Wall fell down into a ropewalk below and had to be rebuilt (in a different style- the repaired section remains clearly visible today). The Chester Courant reported upon the storm, "unequalled in the memory of the oldest, inhabitant of the city", as follows:

"The Tower Field
(near the Watertower) was completely under water, and the crops will be utterly destroyed. In this city all Eastgate-street was under water on Saturday, and an impetuous current, almost sufficient to float the fleet of the Yacht Club, ran through the Eastgate! On Sunday morning the weather cleared up, and the view from the Walls at the top of the Northgate was highly picturesque; while at the same time it could not fail to give rise to melancholy reflection when taken as a specimen of a general devastation committed by the floods. All the farms on the right bank of the river, from the Sluice House and its vicinity inclusive, were completely under water, and the hedge rows, and clumps of trees gave them the appearance of a vast lake, thickly studded with clusters of green islands. The Parkgate-road was rendered utterly impassable, and the meadows in that direction all the way up to the rear of the new Lunatic Asylum were completely inundated."

The rebuilding of the City Wall following this disaster seems to have removed all traces of the 13th century Sadler's Tower, the base of which survived here (as still does that of the Drum Tower, which we will encounter later) when the rest of the tower was demolished fifty years earlier.

cottage in KaleyardsHowever, John Seacome's Chester Guide, published around 1828, tells us that, "The Sadler's Tower was taken down in 1780; and the abutment, being the occasion of a great nuisance to the residence of Griffith Rowlands Esquire immediately opposite, from the number of idle and disorderly characters who were in the habit of congregating there of an evening, that gentleman obtained permission from the Corporation to take it down and continue the wall at his own expense, in February 1828".

This Griffith Rowlands was a surgeon who practised in Chester and who died in May 1828, a few months after obtaining permission to remove the venerable remains adjoining his property and before the work was completed.

Actually, the foundations of the old Sadler's Tower are said to lie beneath the gardens of the attractive brick cottage we see on the right. Built in the early 19th century, it is the sole survivor of a group of similar houses which formerly stood here and which may just be seen in the McGahey aerial view mentioned above. Originally occupied by a stonemason employed in the adjoining works next to the canal, it has since been used for a number of diverse purposes, including cafe, massage parlour- and, until recently, as a contemporary art gallery. But, at the time of writing, the premises have recently become home to a hairdressers and, sadly, much of the period charm of the house and garden is no more.

Reader Sue Johns wrote to tell us that, as a young girl, she remembered that another, smaller cottage once stood next door to this one. It was dark and dilapidated and she recalled that she was scared of it, considering it rather a 'haunted house'. Next door again to this was a stonemason's yard, the access to which was via a gateway that still exists today, albeit firmly nailed closed and leading to nothing but a modern car park. In this yard, just inside the gate, she recalled being shown a small memorial stone, upon which was inscribed "Dedicated to my dog Spot, killed by a diabolical Welchman".
Was poor Spot the stonemason's dog? What caused the 'diabolical Welchman' to do what he did? We'd love to hear from anyone who remembers the stone or who can tell us more about it..

wall repair plaqueAn anonymous work, A Walk Round the Walls and City of Chester, published around 1800, describes what its author saw from the City Wall at this spot over two centuries ago, "an extensive view commands our attention here over a fine flat country highly cultivated, interspersed with gentlemen's seats, the village steeples of Christleton and Waverton, with the whole terminated by the rising grounds at the edge of the forest of Delamere. Before us are the suburbs of Flookersbrook, a pleasing vicinity with some excellent houses; the elevated tower and buildings adjoining are the shot and white lead manufactory of Messr. Walker, Maltby & Co and form a conspicuous object in the different approaches to the City."

This "elevated tower" was a very new feature in the landscape at the time, having only been erected the year before the book was published. Better known to us as the 'Shot Tower' by the Shropshire Union Canal, it was built in 1799 to utilise a revolutionary new method of maufacturing musket balls for use in the Napoleonic Wars. It is no longer in use but remains, protected as a listed building, visible from here to this day. Sadly, all else of that once-marvellous view has since been obscured by mature trees and later buildings.

Because of the softness of Chester's sandstone- and doubtless also the destructive effects of warfare- sections of the Walls have necessarily had to be repaired and rebuilt at frequent intervals. The craftsmen responsible for this important task have for centuries been known as 'murengers'. Major work was carried out by them at the end of the 13th and early 14th centuries and again in 1555-6, when female labour was extensively utilised. In 1562, a contract for maintaining the walls was awarded, by which a mason called Thomas Wosewall and Thomas his son "obliged themselves duringe their lives, in all things belonging to a Mason's worke, substantially to make, repaire, maintaine, and uphold, all the walls of the city, finding all manner stuffe, as stone, lime, sand and water, and also iron and steele for sharpening their tools and instruments, and also two labourers att such tymes as they shall sett and none otherwise in consideracion of an annual fee of fourty shillings and a livery gown".

daste on city wallThe walls evidently decayed faster than the two masons could work, for twenty eight years later, in 1590, when the younger Wosewall surrendered the contract, it was found once again "That the walles are ruynous and gretelie decayed".

Here we see the date 1767 inscribed by the murengers into a section of the City Wall close to the Kaleyard Gate, recording the occasion when that stretch was once again repaired. The sharp-eyed will spot numerous similar inscriptions around the circuit.

By 1982, the inside face of the wall immediately north of the Kaleyard Gate, which had been leaning for many years, became increasingly in danger of collapse and radical repairs had to be undertaken, involving the excavation of the loose core material and the tying together of the two skins of stonework with stainless steel rods. As well as ensuring the stability of the ancient structure for centuries to come, it gave archaeologists a rare opportunity to investigate and record details of the foundations and internal structure of this section of the 2000 year old Roman defences. During reconstruction, all of the masonry was replaced exactly in its original position.

Romans and Archers
Large sections of Roman masonry can be seen at numerous locations along the outside of the present wall here- massive stones five or six feet long and belonging to the period of the reconstruction of the fortress under the Emperor Trajan around AD105. When this work was finished, the courses we see were situated half way up the wall; over the centuries the higher courses were lost- often removed for use elsewhere- and the lower became buried as the ground level rose. The 18th century authors of the Chester Directory, Barfoot & Wilkes, explained, "Before the present pavements were laid, all the ashes, soil, building rubbish and other adventitious matter, being suffered to remain in the streets, might occasion their present elevation". Things however might have been worse, for they added: "The very great benefit which the farmers find in laying the manure collected in the streets upon the land, has been the means of keeping great towns cleaner than they were".

The foundations of barrack blocks and other Roman structures similarly lie buried beneath the beautiful Deanery Field, to our right, which we will discuss later.

On the outer face of the great stones standing out from the base of the East Wall, you may come across a number of weathered vertical and diagonal grooves. Some of these are 'archer marks', which were worn into the soft stone by medieval bowmen sharpening their arrows before the practice sessions which were compulsory in earlier times for all males above the age of ten years old, and held on the meadows immediately outside the Walls at this point. These marks are particularly clear a little further along, etched into the massive Roman stones next to the steps opposite the Cathedral.

Left: the beautiful Kaleyards photographed by the author in Spring 2009. Note the stretch of original Roman masonry standing proud of the medieval wall. The white structure is a pigeon coop, erected here a few years ago in a non-too successful attempt to control the population of those birds that gather in this area in large numbers.

English- and Welsh- archers were the most formidable fighting men of the Middle Ages, and the men of Cheshire were particularly respected for their skills with the cloth-yard arrow and the bow of yew or elm wood, one of the deadliest weapons of the day. King Richard II's bodyguard comprised "2000 Cheshire archers" and they played a decisive part at the battles of Agincourt and Poitiers.

At a National Archaeology Day event, held in July 1998 at an exciting long-term excavation of a long-lost chapel and Cistercian abbey (and now Neolithic and Roman features!)- at Poulton near Chester, we learned from members of the Welsh medieval re-enactment group Samhain that the majority of these archers actually used bows made from shade-grown elm wood. English yew, because of the climate, tended to grow unevenly and was generally unsuitable for the purpose. That yew which was used had to be imported from Europe and was subsequently very expensive. After our conversation, we also got the unforgettable opportunity of trying out these formidable weapons for ourselves!

"The bows used by them are not made of horn or ivory or yew, but of wild elm, unpolished, rude and uncouth, but stout; not only calculated to shoot an arrow a great distance but also to inflict very severe wounds in close fight" Giraldus Cambrensis (Gerald of Wales) c. 1207

Mwy na un bwa y'w y Nghaer "More than one yew bow in Chester" (Old Welsh proverb)

As we move on, we continue to skirt the beautiful Deanery Field on our right. Local guide and author Thomas Hughes, writing in 1876, remarked that "a sight pleasant to the eye is that verdant mead, in olden time known as the Green of the Walls". Never heard today, an older name for this area was the Laudamus Field. This would appear to have been derived from Te Deum Laudamus, an ancient Christian hymn, but the reason for the field being so called is unknown.

civil war re-enactmentHere, on a summer evening, one may sometimes see a cricket match in progress, and occasional special events are held here, such as the Civil War Society's superb recreation of life in 17th century Chester, part of the city's Divided Loyalties festival in 1994 and, in the summer of 2007, the occupation of the area by a horde of Vikings!
Most recently, in 2014, the Civil War Seige of Chester and the Battle of Rowton Moor were magnificently recreated by a cast of hundreds- a few of whom are portrayed here. (We hold a large number of excellent photographs of these events, should anyone be interested).

In the 1920s, the great Professor Robert Newstead undertook a major archaelogical excavation on the Deanery Field which revealed the extensive remains of the barrack blocks- home to the Roman soldiers and Centurions of the military fortress of Deva- which formerly covered this entire area. Once recorded and photographed, they were once again covered up and remain safely beneath the green field to this day.

Professor Newstead had been appointed in 1886 and, from 1903, also of the Chester Archaeological Society, later becoming chairman. In the same year, these organisations came together to form the splendid Grosvenor Museum, a visit to which which should be considered an essential part of your time in Chester. He held the position for most of the rest of his life- even during the period 1905-24, when he was also Professor of Entomology at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine- a truly 'universal man'. For over half a century, he was a leading figure in the investigation of Chester's archaeology, transformed the description and display of the collections and gained widespread acceptance among developers and builders of the importance of allowing access to their site works to carry out 'rescue' excavations and recordings of finds. We should all be grateful to him.

Here is an excellent presentation of Prof Newstead's life and work, courtesy of the Grosvenor Museum and here is a photograph of his humble and neglected grave in Chester's beautiful Overleigh Cemetery.

Beyond the Deanery Field you can see the elegant terrace of Georgian houses in Abbey Green and the towers of the Cathedral and Town Hall, as well as- until recently at least, when they closed it down- the neon sign of the elegant Art Deco Odeon Cinema in Northgate Street- a view that to this day continues to be truly "pleasant to the eye".

Consider the Ravens
In 1996, for the first time in centuries, ravens returned to Chester, a pair nesting high up on the tower of Chester's Town Hall, where they successfully raised three young.
Traditionally, ravens became symbolic of Britain as a powerful country. Should they ever fly away, it was said, the monarch would fall and the nation crumble. The famous ravens at the Tower of London (and here), therefore, have their wings clipped to prevent them from flying away! By contrast, Chester's are the real, wild, thing!

When a raven shall build in a stone lion's mouth,
On a church top beside the grey forest:
Then shall a King of England be drove from his crown
And return no more
Robert Nixon, the Cheshire Prophet

These noble birds may be often seen flying over this stretch of wall or collecting nesting materials in the trees nearby. Witnesses have spotted them swooping upon pigeons in mid-air and returning to the nest with their prize. Although once common throughout Britain, persecution during the middle ages resulted in their dramatic decline and there are now only around 7000 breeding pairs left in the country.

Ravens are associated with battlefields, where they fed upon the flesh of the fallen.The cawing of ravens therefore became synonymous with death and destruction and they were consequently persecuted as unwelcome visitors in towns.

In preparation for their return to the Town Hall in 1997, a video camera was erected on the tower connected to a monitor in the tourist information office far below. However, the Ravens chose instead to build their nest on the tower of the Cathedral- necessitating a hurried relocation of the camera- and where two chicks were successfully raised.

Left: a Viking parliament on the Deanery Field in the Summer of 2007

The following year, 1998, the pair, evidently trying to keep the observers on their toes, constructed nests in both locations, before eventually selecting the Town Hall tower, where a batch of six eggs was laid, five of which hatched. Tragically, in early April an engineer installing a video camera reported that the entire brood had died and the parents had disappeared. A local ornithologist, Dale Miles, commented about the death of the chicks, "It is a classic case of birds abandoning the nest because of a predator, in this case workmen installing the cameras. The council have been very amateurish. They are meant to be experts".

However, in February 1999, the pair returned to the Cathedral, successfully raising three young, and at the time of writing, February 2000, they are here again and have built their nest on a gargoyle on the Cathedral's central tower. It would appear that this man-made 'sandstone cliff' has become the noble raven's permanent home.

We invite you to go on to Part II of our exploration of the Kaleyards Gate area...

Curiosities from Chester's History no. 5

  • chester guided walks1170 Archbishop Thomas Becket (1118–29th December 1170) murdered in Canterbury Cathedral by four Norman knights misinterpreting the wishes of King Henry II. Nearly a century later, in 1260, the event was considered important enough to be commemorated on a ceiling boss in the new Lady Chapel of Chester Cathedral. (Surviving images of Becket's death are extremely rare as most of them were suppressed and destroyed on the orders of Henry VIII)
  • 1174 The Leaning Tower of Pisa built. Robert II becomes fifth Abbot of St. Werburgh's (-1184)
  • 1181 Hugh of Kevelioc died and was succeeded as sixth Earl of Chester by Ranulph de Blundeville (-1232). Robert of Chester translates De Astrolabio from Arabic into Latin.
  • 1186 Robert de Hastings becomes sixth Abbot of St. Werburgh's (-1194)
  • 1189 Henry II died and Richard I ('Coeur de Lion' 1157-1199) came to the throne.
  • c.1190-93 Ranulph III, 6th Earl of Chester, granted and confirmed the citizens guild merchants in a charter. This was an exclusive oligarchy of merchants who rigidly controlled the town's internal trade- it was from this body that the later Craft Guilds evolved. St John's Hospital (Little St John's) founded by Earl Ranulph III; after four and a half centuries, it was destroyed by the citizens so as not to afford shelter to Parliamentary besiegers during the Civil War. On its site later rose the Blue Coat School outside the Northgate.
  • 1194 Geoffrey becomes seventh Abbot of St. Werburgh's (-1208)
  • 1198 Henry de Lacy, constable of Chester, collected a great body of players, fiddlers "and other loose persons" at the Midsummer Fair, and compelled Llewelyn to raise the siege of Rhuddlan Castle at which Earl Randall III was besieged, and in great straits. The following year, the Earl joined the Crusades.
  • 1199 King Richard I killed at a siege in France; John (Lackland: 1166-1216), youngest son of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, succeeds him. The Choir and Tower of St. Werburgh's Abbey were completed around this time.
  • 1207 (August 28th) Liverpool's first charter granted by King John- "John, by the grace of God, King of England, to all his faithful people who have desired to have burgages at the township of Liverpul, greeting. No ye that we have granted to all who have taken burgages at Liverpul that they shall have all liberties and free customs which any free borough on the sea has in our land".
  • 1208 Hugh Grylle becomes 8th Abbot of St. Werburgh's (-1226)
  • 1215 King John signs Magna Carta at Runnymede.
  • 1216 John died, Henry III (1207-1272) succeeded.
  • 1220 Earl Randle III, on his return from the Crusades, commenced the building of Beeston Castle, near Chester, funded by a tax levied upon his tenants.
  • 1226 William Marmion becomes Abbot of St. Werburgh's for just two years and is succeeded in 1228 by Walter de Pinchbeck (-1240).
  • 1232 Earl Randle de Blundeville died without issue, leaving four sisters as heirs to his estate. John the Scot, Earl of Huntingdon (son of Randle's eldest daughter and David, King of Scotland) succeeded as the last independent Earl of Chester. The Black Friars (or Dominicans) were established in Chester. Their monastery and extensive grounds- now wholly vanished- was situated at the north end of Nicolas Street- their chapel being dedicated to St. Nicolas- and Blackfriars Lane.
  • 1237 Earl John died without issue, poisoned by his wife Helen, a daughter of Llewellyn, Prince of Wales. Henry III annexed the Earldom to the crown, and it became a title conferred upon the Sovereign's eldest son when he is created Prince of Wales. Thus, Prince Charles is the current Earl of Chester- and the late Princess of Wales, Lady Diana was the last Countess. The Franciscan (Grey) Friary founded north of Watergate Street.
  • 1238 William the Clerk, the first Mayor of Chester, was appointed to the post in this year.
  • 1240 Roger Frend becomes eleventh Abbot of St. Werburgh's (-1249)
  • 1245 King Henry III ordered that all brine pits be destroyed and that the Cheshire countryside was to be impoverished in order to prevent the marauding Welsh from obtaining provisions. The decree resulted in a most terrible famine throughout the county.
  • 1249 Thomas Capenhurst becomes Abbot of St. Werburgh's (-1265)
  • 1254 Henry III's son, Prince Edward (later Edward I) was created the first royal Earl of Chester. The Prince developed a great love for the county and named it the 'Vale Royal of England'- founding an abbey (a vast building, now almost completely vanished)- of that name in a particularly favoured spot, a few miles from Chester.
  • 1257 The Welsh under Llywelyn ap Grufydd (also called Llywelyn Ein Llyw Olaf- 'Llywelyn the last') ravaged the country "to the very gates of the city". He was the last prince of an independent Wales before its conquest by Edward I.
  • 1264 The War with the Barons. William le Zouch, Justice of Chester, ordered a deep defensive ditch to be dug outside the walls, but the Earl of Derby with a large force captured Chester for the Barons. On Christmas Eve, King Henry and Prince Edward were taken prisoner by Simon de Montfort at the Battle of Lewes, and surrendered the Earldom- the price of his ransom- up to him. However, he did not live long enough to enjoy the title as he was slain at the Battle of Evesham the following year, after which the Earldom reverted back to the Crown.
  • 1265 Simon de Whitchurch becomes thirteenth Abbot of St. Werburgh's (-1291)
  • 1272 Henry died and the Prince succeeded, becoming King Edward I (1239-1307).
  • 1271-95 Marco Polo journeys to China
  • 1275 The Kaleyard Gate constructed (see above)
  • 1276-7 Edward came twice to Chester to summon Prince Llywelyn to make peace, but was each time refused, on the grounds that the Prince of Wales "feared for his safety". Whereupon the King laid siege to Rhuddlan Castle, where Llywelyn was starved into submission.

Top of Page | Site Front Door | Site Index | Chester Stroll Introduction | Phoenix Tower | Kaleyard Gate II email

Help keep the Chester Virtual Stroll growing and up-to-date- please donate!

Strictly © Steve Howe / B&W Picture Place