pointerIf you're enjoying your visit to our site, please consider donating a small sum to help us keep it online and growing for the benefit of all who love Chester. Simply click the button and enter your contribution, no matter how small. It's safe and easy- you don't even need a PayPal account. We thank you!

The Kaleyard Gate I

A Virtual Stroll Around the Walls of Chester

The Kaleyard Gate II

Chester Cathedral

Site Front Door
Search the Site Index

Check out the Route Map
A brief introduction to Chester

The Northgate
The North Wall
The Phoenix Tower
The Kaleyard Gate
The Cathedral
The Eastgate
The Newgate & Wolfgate
The Amphitheatre / galleryAmphitheatre Comments
St. John's Church
The 'Roman Garden'
River Dee & Grosvenor Park
The Bridgegate
The Castle
The Grosvenor Bridge
The Roodee
/ 2
The Watergate
The Infirmary
The Watertower
Tower Wharf
St. Martin's Gate
The Bridge of Sighs
Chester's visitors through time
The Rows of Chester
The Chester Gallery
Old Maps & Aerial Photos
Old photos of Chester & Liverpool
Vanished Chester Pubs
Chester Cinemas
The Old Port
The Chester Canal
The Royalty Theatre
Chris Langford Gallery
Mystery Plays Gallery
Chester Anagrams!
MickleTrafford Railway Stroll
Letters about the CDTS Busway
Letters about our site
The B&W Picture Place
Links to Interesting Places
Advertise with us
Write to us

deanery cottageContinuing with our exploration of the Kaleyards area of Chester's ancient circuit of City Walls, we pass by the lovely Deanery Field and encounter the picturesque Deanery Cottage on our right (illustrated here under heavy snow) and soon the atmosphere changes as we enter the environs of Chester Cathedral.

If you feel the need to take a picnic break and feel some green grass under your feet, you can gain access to the aforementioned venerable and charming open space through the wooden gates next to the cottage. Access is also available from the end of Abbey Green, off Northgate Street.

The Deanery Cottage was long allowed to fall into disrepair but has recently been renovated and converted into student accomodation.

Moving on, our attention is drawn to the handsome large arched window of the house standing on the corner of cobbled Abbey Street (just visible beyond the cottage in our photograph). Like so many of Chester's fine buildings, this house is a product of centuries of change and alteration: the eighteenth century facade fronts a seventeenth century house, which in incorporates an even earlier stone building.
It was not always the handsome structure we see today, however. In fact, by 1976, when it served as eight 'bed sitters', its condition had deteriorated to a degree that it was thought to be beyond economic repair. But, with the aid of numerous grants, in 1983-4 the house was restored- including the rebuilding of the entire north gable with its lovely Gothic arched window- and converted into four fine apartments.

The Abbey Gateway and Square
abbey gateway by cuittContinuing on down Abbey Street, with its elegant terrace of Georgian houses along one side and the Cathedral Green on the other, we soon come to the lovely Abbey Square, which was laid out as a speculative development by the Cathedral authorities in the middle of the 18th century on the site of, amongst other things, the old brewery, bakehouse, stables and suchlike concerns that served the needs of the monastery, its many visitors and guests and, for a while, of the Cathedral church that succeeded it.

The Abbey, and later Cathedral, precincts had always been independent of the jurisdiction of the City and, doubtless much to the irritation of the civic authorities, all manner of polluting industries were carried out behind the protection of high walls and the great 14th century Abbey Gateway (of which more below).

Right: the Abbey Gateway, an etching by George Cuitt (1779-1854)

In addition, the Abbey was not subject to the extremely restrictive trading regulations of the town and 'strangers'- those who were not Freemen of Chester- could, as long as they paid their dues to the Abbot, trade here without requiring the permission of the Mayor and Burgesses.

The stench of the brewery and other annoyances would long remain a source of complaint to the townsfolk (and others- see below) until they were swept away when the area was transformed into Chester's first formal square, built "after the London fashion" between the years 1754 and 1761- although the western terrace (parallel with Northgate Street) was not completed until the 1820s. This extract from a letter to the Dean & Chapter from the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1637 would seem to indicate that the area's former noisome activities had attracted official disapproval, and at the same time provides a description of the area before the coming of Abbey Square:

abbey square"I am informed, that in yor Quadrangle or Abbey Cort of Chester, wherein my Lord the B'p of Chesters house and yor owne houses stand, the B'ps house takes up one side of the Quadrangle And that another side hath in it the Deanes house and some buildinges for singing men: That the third side hath in it one Prebende's house onelie, and the rest is turned to a Malthouse; And that the fourth side (where the Grammar Schoole stoode) is turned to a Comon Brewhouse, and was lett into lives by yor unworthie Predecessors. This Malthouse and Brewhouse, but the Brewhouse espetiallie, must needes by Noise and smoke and filth infinitlie annoy both my Lord the B'ps house and your owne, And I doe much wonder that any man of Ordinarie Discretion should for a little trifling gayne bring such a Mischiefe (for less it is not) uppon the place of theire owne Dwellinge.”

Left: an evocative view of Abbey Square sometime in the 1950s by the great Liverpool photographer Edward Chambré Hardman. All that has changed since is the cars!

The Bishop of Chester at that time, Bishop Bridgeman, would appear to have been in agreement, as he replied to Archbishop Laud, "ever since my being Bishop of this Sea (which is now almost 20 years) I have scarce had a month's health together, while I lived at Chester, by means of the smoake and the annoyance which came thereby"...

On the eastern side of the square, which was initially known as Abbey Court, between a large, free-standing 18th century house and the Cathedral, a group of humble sandstone cottages curiously escaped the redevelopment and two (they formerly stood back-to-back with two others) remain with us to this day. They were built in 1625 by Bishop Bridgeman on the site, and incorporating part of the structure of, the Abbey's kitchens, to house lay clerks of the Cathedral. They continue to serve as private residences in the ownership of the Dean & Chapter.

The south side of the square was dominated by the Bishop's Palace. This had been badly damaged in the Civil War and so eventually, a century later, between 1754 and 1757, was rebuilt. Local author and guide Joseph Hemingway was evidently unimpressed with the result, describing the new palace as being "as destitute of magnificence as it is of elegance". This second palace duly disappeared in its turn and its site is now occupied by a handsome Victorian pile housing a bank and offices. The present Bishop's residence, built later in the 18th century, is situated behind the high wall on the opposite corner of Abbey Square.

You may notice the causeways of weathered York stone laid between the cobbles in the square. These are known as 'wheelers' and were thoughtfully provided to allow the residents' carriages with their solid wheels and primitive suspension a slightly smoother ride. They still serve their purpose very well for today's bicycles!

The lower part of the pillar in the middle of the central grassy area, which was formerly surrounded by iron railings, is said to have been rescued from the Exchange- the predecessor of the Victorian Town Hall we know today- in nearby Northgate Street, after it was destroyed by fire in 1862. Another version is that, a hundred years earlier, during the early stages of the building of Abbey Square, the pillars supporting one side of the Exchange were found to be weakening and so were removed and the space filled with a row of shops and one of them was presented by the city to "the gentlemen of Abbey Square". The grassed area where it was erected was formerly occupied by a stinking and polluted pond, 'the Horse Pool' which, in 1523 claimed the life of one Roger Ledsham, "Keeper of the Great Gate of the Abbey of St. Werburgh" when he fell in it and was drowned. Could it have been that the proximity of the Abbey's brewhouse played some small part in the tragedy?

remains of abbey wallThe great Abbey Gateway, seen above in an early 19th century engraving by George Cuitt, that now links Abbey Square with Northgate Street and the Market Square dates from the fifty-first year of the reign of Edward III, 1377 (the last of his long reign), in which year he granted a licence for the monks to crenellate their abbey- in other words, to enclose it within high walls with fortified entrances. Some authorities say the gateway actually predates this event, being erected around 1300. The style of the gateway is Decorated, though late in that style. Walking beneath it will reveal its groined vault with ribs, in the centre of which still survives a sculptured statuette in bas-relief, probably a depiction of the patron saint of the Abbey, Saint Werburgh. Look out for the iron hinges where the great wood and iron-reinforced doors once hung. On the right hand side of the interior of the gateway, as viewed facing out to the Market Square, is an area of sandstone bearing deep grooves. This is where the armed monks guarding the portal would, in idle moments, have sharpened their weapons.

The upper part of the structure, with its 16-pane window in a Gothic arch, was rebuilt in 1800.

The Abbot's fair was held in front of the Abbey Gate for 3 days from the Feast of the Translation of St, Werburgh, the 21st of June. At Whitsun the Mystery Plays were performed by the members of the city's 25 companies of guildsmen. The earliest recorded performance of the plays was in 1566 or 1567 but they are believed to be much older than this. They were suppressed after the Reformation but revived in 1951 and are now performed by Chester's people every five years.

Just a little further down Northgate Street may be seen what remains of a secondary entrance into the precinct, the Little Abbey Gateway. Only the outer arch remains and it is unknown if a fortified gatehouse also once existed here. What does survive, noticed by virtually nobody, but as you will see should you step through the arch into what is currently a scruffy car parking area, is a small section of that once-formidable defensive wall, now built into the rear of the once-grand 18th century houses (now converted to shops and offices) in Northgate Street.

We invite you to view our gallery of images, old and new, of the two venerable Abbey Gateways here.

The anonymous author of the early 19th century work, A Walk Round the Walls and City of Chester, wrote of the Abbey Gateway, "which is a noble entrance of two Gothic arches, included within a round one of great diameter... over the arch of the gate-way is the Register's Office, consisting of large convenient rooms, surrounded with neat oak cases where the wills are kept, and two smaller rooms for the Register and his clerks. On the front of the gate are two niches; in one of which the image of Hugh Lupus was used to placed during the fairs."

filming in abbey squareOf the square itself he wrote, "The Abbey Court is a neat square, within an obelisk and grass plot, enclosed by a neat iron railing; there are handsome modern-built houses on two sides; the Bishop's palace filling up the south side, which is a plain stone pile, built by Bishop Keene, in 1753, upon the walls of the ancient Abbot's house. The house in which the Dean resides, was lately built upon the walls of St. Thomas's Chapel, and is a commodious handsome building. The Prebends, Minor Cannons and Vicars Choral, have houses within the Abbey Court."

The first occupants of the elegant new development were clergy, local gentry and private families of means, but as time passed, the rising class of 'professionals' such as doctors, lawyers and architects (including the celebrated John Douglas who worked at number six from 1860 until his death in 1911) came to dominate, and the interiors of the majority of the old houses were converted into offices and other commercial premises, a situation that endures to this day.

Nevertheless, an air of past times definitely remains- this photograph shows how effectively the square was utilised by Granada TV in a filming of a scene from Thomas Hardy's Far From the Madding Crowd- virtually all the producers had to do was to remove the cars and the TV aerials! (Our picture library has many more photographs of this event, should readers be interested).

During the Second World War, number six Abbey Square was requisitioned from architects Messrs Douglas, Minshull and Co. to become the city's ARP (air raid precautions) office. Circulars from the Home Office were continuously received here by the Emergency Committee, with instructions for setting up public shelters, school shelters, decontamination posts, first aid stations and the like. The ARP equipment itself was stored at nearby Folliot House in Northgate Street.

The Little Abbey Court
Making our way back up Abbey Street, the sharp-eyed may spot a small plaque about eight feet up on the wall of one of the houses that provides amusement for anyone acquainted with the long-running TV comedy, 'Last of the Summer Wine', for on it is inscribed "These properties belonging to the Dean and Chapter were renovated in 1979-1980 with the help of a substantial legacy from Mrs Norah Batty".

Today, those who pass along Abbey Street may enjoy the sight of a verdant grassy lawn which covers the entire area between the Cathedral, the street and the City Walls, known as the Cathedral Green, where the venerable Mystery Plays used to be performed. But it wasn't always like this, and until the end of the 19th century, much of the area was covered by private houses and the area was known as The Little Abbey Court.
A matter of further interest is that that these houses were constructed from the remains of an important medieval establishment which passed from use with the suppression of the monastery- the Abbey Infirmary. This was used not only for the accomodation of sick monks but also for the lodging of those brothers who, by reason of age and infirmity, were incapable of taking part in the regular routine of the monastery.

Monastic infirmaries generally consisted of an accomodation hall, kitchens and chapel. In time, the central area of the great hall became an open courtyard from where the surrounding cells of the infirm monks could be accessed, as well as the kitchens and, by way of the slype or 'maiden's aisle', the east cloister of the abbey. An outer gateway gave access to the burial grounds and to Abbey Street.

abbey square todayAfter the Dissolution, the chapel and other buildings became derelict and eventually disappeared but the old cells of the monks were added to and adapted into dwelling houses and these are clearly shown on period maps of the city.

Left: Abbey Square today

The last remnants of the kitchens were demolished during improvement work by Dean Cholmondeley in 1809 at which time an old door was discovered and a dark passageway beyond. A witness at the event later recorded how "a light was procured and we went in at least 70 yards in the bowels of the earth, taking a direction apparently south-east. It extended further but we did not advance. Others, more daring, proceeded afterwards a greater distance. It was a regular footway. It is now covered with earth but the entrance to it is marked by a small archway and is about ten feet below the surface. it is to be lamented that this passage was not further explored under authority".

This mysterious passageway, seemingly of Roman origin, was later mentioned in Hansall's Stranger in Chester (1816) and in W T Watkin's great Roman Cheshire (1886), in which some later explorations of the relic are described in which it was said to be circular and at least ten feet in height. Dating from centuries before the establishment of the Abbey, it seems likely that part of the passageway came to light during early construction work and was incorporated into the cellars of the infirmary and later dwelling houses. Its situation today is entirely unknown, by this writer at least.

cathedral greenThere were five old houses standing in the Little Abbey Court- also known as the Abbey Close- when the the greater Abbey Court, some distance to the west, was renamed Abbey Square in the middle of the 18th century. As previously noted, they originated from the five lodgings of the sick monks and radiated from a central courtyard. A watercolour of 1875 shows some of the old houses, two-storied structures of red sandstone with upper floors of black-and-white work standing on the north side of the court. On the west side there is an ancient sandstone building, also of two stories, with mullioned windows capped by dripstone mouldings and the ground floor fronts show signs of niche or canopy works.

The residents of this secluded little group of houses in the 19th century were, to a considerable extent, connected with the affairs of the Cathedral and it seems likely that the same association applied to those residing here in earlier times- minor canons, organists and the like- and their names and occupations are recorded in the local directories of their day. One of these, a Mr Frederick Gunton, was a teacher of the Cathedral's choristers who would make use of an apple tree which grew in the courtyard to obtain 'instruments of chastisement at choir practise".

All this was to end in December 1884, however, when the entire area was demolished and the green lawns we see today were laid over the venerable foundations. The old apple tree survived the destruction, however, and was recorded as still flourishing in 1918. Our photograph shows the tranquil spot where the monk's infirmary and Little Abbey Court long stood, now being enjoyed by sunbathers.

Rejoining the City Walls and looking over the parapet, we see a tree-lined area, now used for car parking, and long known as The Kaleyards. Descending the stone steps, we see next to them a narrow opening in the wall, equipped with a stout oak door. This is the Kaleyard Gate and is a smaller and less ancient affair than Chester's other gates.

In 1275, the third year of the reign of Edward I, the Abbot of St. Werburgh's Abbey requested permission of the town to construct a postern in the Walls at this place so his monks could avoid having to go round via the Eastgate to attend to their vegetable gardens situated outside the Walls. In these troubled times, when the risk of armed attack by Prince Llewellyn's Welshmen was a deadly reality, all of the city gates were closed at curfew- at that time 8.00pm- and at times of danger. Thus, there was considerable unease at the Abbot's request, and permission was only eventually granted as long as the Abbey assumed responsibility for closing their new gate at curfew and for making it secure during times of crisis.

kaleyards 1908
An evocative view of the Cathedral and Kaleyards from the early years of the 20th century

Some time later, the monks were allowed to make yet another opening in the walls, "where the swine sty used to be", the proposed door "to be of such dimensions that a man on foot might lead a horse through without difficulty, the same to be closed in time of war should the safety of the city require it." It was also ordered that a "drawbridge should be put across the fosse at the Kaleyard gate". This fosse was a deep ditch, a standard feature of a Roman fortress, which ran outside the north and east walls. Having filled up over the centuries with the accumulated debris of the town, it was re-excavated at the time of the Baron's war in 1264 as a defensive measure, and was still in existence in the late 16th century, when it appears on Braun's Map, but has since entirely vanished. The northern section was re-excavated for a third time in the 1770s to carry the bed of the new Chester Canal. (The contractor, expecting to have to excavate through solid rock, was doubtlessly pleasantly- and profitably- surprised to encounter the forgotten Roman ditch).

Its presence at the Eastgate was first shown in 1860, when workmen were trying for a foundation for a new building just outside the gate, and had to excavate to a depth of 30 feet before they found rock at the bottom of the ancient defensive works.

Despite the convenience of the new openings, it would appear that the safety of the monks became an issue: after many complaints that the garden was frequently robbed and "the monks assailed with abuse", the gardens were surrounded by a high stone wall and the abbot actually constructed two gates on the wall walk itself, to further hinder unauthorised access to the gardens. This of course, also prevented the law-abiding from passing by and he was indicted for obstruction in 1352. Nontheless, in 1414, Henry V granted the monks a licence to close these gates on condition that those who maintained the Walls, the Murengers, and those responsible for the city's defence in time of war were always allowed access.

anchor inscription on city wallAfter Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries, the duty of securing the Kaleyard Gate fell to the Dean & Chapter of the newly-created Cathedral. The Swine Sty Postern survived until the late 17th century, when it was removed during repairs to the Walls following the end of the Civil War.

During this conflict, Sir William Brereton, leader of the besieging Parliamentary forces, observed of the Kaleyard Gate, "All the ports made up (gates sealed up) and strong guards sett upon them, some of them within pistoll shott soe that none remained open but one little sally porte whiche is betwixt the Phenix Tower and the Eastgate".

The curfew is still rung from the Cathedral belltower at 8.45 each evening and the Kaleyard Gate is locked fiteen minutes later, at nine o'clock, and re-opened at sunrise. It is the only remaining city gate at which this ancient custom is still observed and originated in the Norman law of couvre feu ('cover fire'- which gave rise to the modern curfew) when, to ensure the safety of the largely timber-built town, the gates were closed and all fires had to be extinguished.

A few years ago, the Dean and Chapter of the Cathedral, expressing concern that their staff may possibly be assaulted during the carrying out of their duties, did away with seven and a half centuries of tradition and discontinued the evening locking of the Kaleyard Gate. However, in June 2012, the ancient practice was resumed and carried out by a Cathedral Constable, an office that was formed as recently as December 2011 to look after the security of the Cathedral and its Estate.

Mason's Marks
kaleyards wallPassing through the Kaleyard Gate and turning around, notice the great eruptions of Roman masonry running along the base of the present wall to our left and note also the variety of building styles evident in stonework ranging from the 1st to the 20th centuries. You may rejoin the wall here either by re-ascending the steps or walking up the ramp.

Looking around, the sharp-eyed may spot carved into the triangular coping an anchor and "692 feet". This marks the distance between here and the Phoenix Tower and represents the length of the SS Great Eastern, the double-hulled steam and sail ship which was launched in 1858 and used for the laying of the first transatlantic telegraph cable in 1866. This great vessel, which was originally called The Leviathan, was built in four years by the great engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel and weighed 19,216 tonnnes- several times the size of the largest ships of the time. Her vast size greatly impressed the public mind, and especially that of one Mr Musgrave, who owned the timberyard next to Cow Lane Bridge, for he commissioned William Haswell, a master mason, to record the event on the wall here. This was done in 1858, the year the great ship was launched. Our photograph above shows the inscription still clearly visible, but noticed by few visitors, a century and a half later.

The Great Eastern was designed by Brunel and Scott Russell in 1852 and built at Millwall. She was ready for launching by October 1852 but it was not until January 1858 that she was actually afloat. Her cost was £732,000. Her greatest achievement was the laying of the first transatlantic cable and also similar communications cables in the Mediterranean and Red Seas. By 1874 the Great Eastern was deemed obsolete and she was sold at auction in 1886 for £58,000, ending her days in the River Mersey as a floating advertisment for Lewis' department store, lying at anchor with music hall shows and circus acts on board. She was broken up on the seashore at Tranmere in 1889, where many of her iron plates may still be discovered, rusting away beneath the sand. Learn much more about her here.

Deanery Field in SpringOther interesting marks may be spotted by the sharp-eyed along the City Walls, such as initials, symbols and dates which appear at numerous locations around the circuit. These were inscribed by the generations of masons who have maintained, repaired and rebuilt the walls over the centuries- Chester's Murengers. The earliest examples were left by Roman Centurions in charge of construction gangs, each of whom would have been responsible for completing a given length of wall. None of these remain in situ but examples may be examined in the Roman Stones Gallery in the Grosvenor Museum.

left: Chester Cathedral from the daffodil-fringed Deanery Field, photographed by the author in 2002.

Chester's first Infant school was opened in the Kaleyards, following the forming of a benevolent society set up for the purpose in 1825, under the direction of the-then new Bishop of Chester, Dr. Charles Blomfield (in office 1824-48). A public subscription was raised to pay for the building, but when this proved to be insufficient, the ladies of Chester held a grand bazaar, which raised £357, and the new school opened in July 1826. The bazaar profits also helped the society to extend their benevolent activities to other needy parts of the city. The schools were largely supported by the parents of each child attending paying one penny per week. The old schoolhouse still stands here, albeit converted to a private residence.

On 14th August 1940, a Luftwaffe Heinkel HE III bomber attacked RAF Sealand, causing damage to some of the buildings. Three Spitfires from the nearby Hawarden Airfield were scrambled and attacked the enemy plane as it was making its third bombing run, bringing it down in a field near to Border House Farm in Bumper's Lane (close to where the recycling centre and Chester City FC's stadium is now). The crew all survived and were incarcerated briefly in cells at Chester Castle and spent the rest of the war as prisoners in Canada. As a morale (and fund)-raising exercise, the remains of the Heinkel were put on display in the Kaleyards, together with a money collection box.

wahle in kaleyardsReader Mike Wells wrote to tell us about an even stranger object that was once to be seen here: "I remember being taken on a school trip to see a blue whale. It was on display in the car park at the lower end of Frodsham Street, probably around 1957-8. The whale was a full size sperm, or possibly blue whale. It was mounted and preserved, on an articulated truck. How they managed to drive it around the streets of Chester I do not know. I remember it as part of an exhibition that filled the car park, from the Kaleyard Gate to the back of what became the Witches' Kitchen. I think I was then at the grammar school, although if it was before 1956, I would have been at Westminster Road School. Do you have any record or photographs of the occasion?"

Does anyone else remember seeing this remarkable sight? We've since learned that it was known as 'The Barnsley Whale' was also put on display around this time at the Pier Head in Liverpool. The much-missed DJ John Peel mentioned seeing it on his Home Truths radio show a few years ago. Here is a fascinating illustrated website about it..

Frodsham Follies
Ahead of you through the Kaleyards is the busy shopping area of Frodsham Street, formerly known as Cow Lane because for centuries cattle and other livestock would be driven from the countryside down this street en route for the beast market that was held in Foregate Street. Later, this situation becoming inconvenient (a new generation of genteel residents and shopkeepers objected greatly to the disruption the herds produced- the proverbial 'bull in a china shop' was often a reality here!)- the Cattle Market was transferred to Gorse Stacks at the other end of Cow Lane, where it thrived until the

Even earlier, Frodsham Street was the commencement of the Roman road which ran from the fortress, along the line of modern Brook Street, through the suburb of Hoole (where these words are being written)- and on to Frodsham and the Mersey crossing at Wilderspool (Warrington). Much of the route remains in use to this day- although some sections, as at the Newton Hollows in Hoole, are now little more than footpaths.

'hop pole garden'This slightly fuzzy, but fascinating 'artist's impression' is from the remarkable Greenwood Redevelopment Plan of 1944- when this country was still enmeshed in the Second World War- which advocated demolishing the entire west side of Frodsham Street and landscaping the area to create a new city park, and to restore the area's ancient name, the Hop Pole Paddock. How delightful. Notice the fountain among the trees in the centre. You can also see the familiar Kaleyard Gate, stone steps and ramp on the city wall in the

We shall encounter a number of other bold proposals from Mr Greenwood's grand scheme- none of which, for good or bad, were ever acted upon- during the remaining course of our stroll.

This ancient thoroughfare has undergone numerous changes in modern times. The entire west side (the left, looking from Foregate Street) was demolished to allow it to be widened in the first decade of the twentieth century. Among many businesses lost was the 17th century Raven Inn. (Learn more of it and the other vanished inns of Frodsham Street here.) In the 1960s, a stark shopping development known as Mercia Square (illustrated right) was erected which lasted a mere thirty years before being done away with and eventually replaced by the mediocre collection of shops that stand in this sensitive spot today. See some more photographs of it here.

mercia squareYes, times have changed, and today's planners and commercial interests too often seem to consider the open spaces within and around our city- school playing fields, allotments, green fields and meadows- even Roman amphitheatres, for heaven's sake- as mere 'development opportunities' to be sold off and built upon. And indeed, in early 2000, we were concerned to hear that a company by the name of Ethel Austin Shop Properties had sought planning permission to erect a two-storey building in Frodsham Street, immediately next to the pedestrian access to the 13th century Kaleyard Gate, a location described by the city's conservation officer as "an exceptionally sensitive site". Councillors were warned that the building would be "over dominant", would virtually fill this end of the Kaleyards, would necessitate the removal of all trees and shrubs (and no replacement landscaping was indicated on the plans)- and that it "owed nothing to local architectural styles".

The Chester Civic Trust objected to the proposals, describing them as being "seriously inappropriate". They noted that the "overblown scale of the mock timber framing on the building, together with other design features, were objectionable in relation to the City Walls, shops and listed public houses on Frodsham Street", that the narrowness of the alley that would be created between existing shops and the new structure would be "oppressive and potentially dangerous" and that it would block the only remaining viewpoint outside the city walls from where one can see the Cathedral and Town Hall tower. (and what a view!)

Given such a body of well-reasoned objection, councillors had little difficulty in wisely dismissing the application which was duly withdrawn by the aspiring developers- who then promptly appealed to Environment Secretary John Prescott on the grounds "that the council had not decided its application"- and even demanded that the council should pay the costs of that appeal!
By the time this came about, in February 2001, the developers claimed their building had been "totally redesigned" and attempted to have this version considered by the government Inspector. He, however, declined to do so, explaining that an appeal must be based upon the original application and that people must be allowed time to consider and comment upon the revised plans. Both designs were the handiwork of Liverpool-based architect Craig Foster, incidentally.

In their original objection, the Chester Civic Trust had concluded that "this is a visually and historically important site which needs a distinguished design sensitively related to the local distinctiveness of its setting". But better by far, we say, would be to reconsider the good Mr Greenwood's proposals of so long ago. Not, of course, that we would advocate his large-scale demolition of existing buildings, but the adoption of the Kaleyards as a much-needed 'green lung'- a place of rest and recreation in the heart of the bustling commercial centre of our city- would certainly be much appreciated by residents and do much to attract visitors. The current proposals for the relocation of Chester's smaller car parks, such as that currently occupying much of the Kaleyards, would surely add to the viability of the scheme.

chester guided walksThe less-than-attractive sight from this, probably the most visited section of Chester's City Walls, of the back doors, rubbish bins and advertising banners of the adjoining, deeply mediocre Mercia Square development makes it additionally important that the remaining areas surrounding the Kaleyards should not end up the same way. A new park here would be an ideal location for concerts and an open-air market too.

But what were we thinking? This is Chester after all. By the end of September 2001, all parties had kissed and made up and Ethel Austin's re-design had been approved by city planners- and the ever-compliant Civic Trust now described it as "much improved". We were told that the design was "in keeping with the mixed architectural character of Frodsham Street and avoids obscuring views of the cathedral". We also heard that the design is "supported by the City Centre Conservation Area Advisory Committee", whoever they may be.

But, by eight years later, Summer 2009, no sign of the controversial development had yet to be seen- and no surprise, for soon afterwards it was announced that Ethel Austin had gone into receivership! So that, hopefully, was the end of that.

But then, in October 2010, we heard the first of a deeply idiotic proposal to erect Chester's long-delayed new Market Hall, not somewhere on the vast area of dereliction behind the Town Hall as we had long been promised, but right here, on the Kaleyards! Architect's drawings forming part of consultation exercises taking place in January 2011 would appear to show a two-storey wood-faced modern structure with a plastic roof with a bridge walkway connecting it to the City Wall. We say 'appear to' because, for unknown reasons, no actual 'artist's impressions' of the building were made available for the public's enlightenment, merely aerial views of the site with the new building's outline imposed upon them. A skeletal side view of the new Market Hall's dimensions struck us as highly suspicious, appearing as it did to be no higher than the neighbouring shops in Frodsham Street..

Roman parade ground, medieval jousting croft and monks' vegetable garden, Victorian school playground- millennia of open-air usage, all apparently soon to end because a bunch of Dutch speculators in cahoots with a short-sighted local council don't want our market to to be rebuilt in the area where it has traded since Saxon times, in the vicinity of, you've got it- Market Square. According to aspiring developers ING, despite the pack of lies we were fed when they got their hands on it, the great area of land behind the Town Hall is now far too valuable to be wasted upon such trifles as theatres, bus stations, libraries- or Market Halls. All must be reserved for shops, shops and more shops. But not yet, for, intriguingly, rather than being put to good use, the land has just been laid out as a temporary public open space, St. Martin's Park, and will remain so for at least the next decade, awaiting the time when fat profits may once more be gleaned from it. Meanwhile, all of those much-needed community facilities must now be squeezed into what remains of Chester's open spaces such as the Little Roodee and here at the Kaleyards. Utter, utter folly.

But this, too, came to nought and, at the time of this brief update, March 2013, the talking shop regarding the Northgate Scheme goes on and on. Further dodgy developments, past and present, at the other end of the Kaleyards will be told of in our Eastgate chapter...

This remarkable aerial view- a detail from John McGahey's famous View of Chester from a Balloon- shows the Kaleyards and their surroundings as they appeared in 1855.

We now turn our attention to the great and ancient building now rising before us: Chester Cathedral...

Curiosities from Chester's History no. 7
  • 1277 The King (Edward I) ordered that all in Cheshire that could spend £20 per annum should be made Knights. He establishes Chester as his base for the conquest of North Wales.
  • 1278 The Old Dee Bridge was overthrown by a great flood, and the city was reduced to ruins by a dreadful fire.
  • 1279 The Carmelites, or White Friars, established their house in Chester.
  • 1281 December: Llywelyn, the last Welsh Prince of Wales, died in a skirmish with Lord Mortimer.
  • 1283 (-1323) The building of Caernarvon Castle commenced. The 'Pied Piper of Hamelin'.
  • 1290 Grant of land to the Carmelite (White) Friars enables them to build their friary in White Friars Lane.
  • 1291 Thomas de Burchelles becomes fourteenth Abbot of St. Werburgh's (-1323)
  • 1300 In Chester was received the final submission of the Welsh to the Sovereignty of England by Edward of Caernarfon, the first English Prince of Wales and later King Edward II, when the freemen of the Principality did fealty for their lands. Water from the springs at Christleton was first brought to the Abbey of St.Werburgh in earthenware pipes
  • 1307 Edward I died and was succeeded by Edward II (1284-1327). Murage duty was introduced- a tax on goods entering Chester, which was used for the upkeep of the city walls.
  • 1322 The Water Tower or Port Watch Tower, a defensive structure standing in the waters of the receding River Dee, was built by John de Helpston for £100- equivalent to around £250,000 in modern currency.
  • 1323 William de Bebington becomes fifteenth Abbot of St. Werburgh's (-1349)
  • 1327 Edward II was deposed by Parliament and brutally murdered "in a manner which could be seen by no man" (a red hot poker inserted into his back passage) at Berkeley Castle in Gloucestershire and was succeeded by his son as Edward III (1312-1377). The Aztecs establish Mexico City
  • 1331 Chester's unique Rows are first mentioned by name in the city records- although they almost certainly existed long before this date.
  • c. 1340 The Black Death kills a third of England's population. Within five years, it had arrived in Chester; crops rotted in the fields around the city because there were not enough reapers left to harvest them. Abbot William de Bebington died of this plague and was buried in the Abbey Choir.
  • 1337 Beginning of the Hundred Years' War
  • 1349 The Mayor of Chester, Bartram Northen, was slain by Richard Ditton, who was pardoned upon paying the sum of 150 marks. Richard de Seynesbury becomes sixteenth Abbot of St. Werburgh's (-1362) The Black Death kills a third of the population of England. Boccaccio: The Decameron
  • 1353 Edward the Black Prince, Earl of Chester, and an armed force here to protect the justices against a 'commotion', caused by the dearness of provisions due to the effects of the Black Death. The citizens also complained of the cover afforded to robbers and villains in the now-overgrown Forest of Wirral. Edward requested his father to make an order to de-forest it, to which he agreed.

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

Strictly © Steve Howe / &W Picture Place