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The Eastgate part II

A Virtual Stroll Around the Walls of Chester

7. The Newgate

The Amphitheatre

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The Northgate
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Sgrosvenor precincthould you be overcome with the urge to go shopping, you can join Eastgate and Foregate Streets by descending the steps on either side of the Eastgate. Otherwise, we shall cheerfully leave the commercial bustle behind us and continue on our way.

The modern world is very much in evidence on this part of the wall- on our left we pass the backs of utilitarian shops and offices, through which we see the large rose window of the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel of 1811 in work-a-day St. John Street. This was the third church designed by Thomas Harrison, whose work we have encountered throughout our wanderings, though its interior was the work of his assistant and pupil William Cole- who was also responsible for completing work on the great Grosvenor Bridge after Harrison's death. The original bowed, two-storey front of the church was replaced in 1906 with the red-brick facade we see today, with its large nine-light window, filled with Perpendicular tracery, and its interior has also been significantly altered.

Some curious relics survive unnoticed and unvisited in the area between the rear of the church and the City Wall- three old, and very weathered, gravestones and the original name plaque of the first Weslyan Chapel on the site.

Look out also for the pub by the name of the Marlbororough Arms- no, it's not our mistake- in the course of erecting a new sign, its name was accidentally misspelled- an extra 'or' being included by a signwriter obviously charging by the letter- but then retained as a novelty. A proper, unspoiled traditional English pub, it is, however, yet another of the many in Chester that are reputed to be haunted... (see the ghosts entry in our general index for more on this).

The pub itself has been in existence for about 150 years. Previously on the site had been the coach house and stables of the Blossoms Hotel next door. A terrible fire put an end to its days, with many lives of horses and the attendants lost. A few years later, the still half-standing coach house was replaced by the hostelry that is still there today.

One version of the 'ghost' tale tells that it is one of these, a stable boy, who now haunts the pub- another is that it is the shade of an old, bankrupt, landlord, who cut his throat in the cellar..

Only a few days after taking charge of the pub, the licencees preceding the current ones were woken at 3am by the sounds of moving barrels. They ran down to the cellar, but all was fine, no disturbances. They waited until the next day and visited next door, but, of course, people don't crash barrels around in modern hotels, and nobody was in that area all night. Next, the landlady was cleaning the pub at about 2am and felt as though she was being watched. She looked up from the bar and saw an apparition of an old lady dressed in a large white bonnet and a lacy Victorian white dress, next to the fruit machine. Since then many folk have noticed odd goings on and lots of items have been found to have moved. A child, dressed again in Victorian clothes has been seen by a few, wandering around aimlessly upstairs, disappearing after a while of being watched. Evidently the stableboy- or suicidal landlord- have company...

The Blossoms Hotel itself, on the corner of Foregate Street, is a 19th century building standing on exact the site of hosteleries dating back to the early 15th century. 'Blossoms' as an inn name came into use at the Reformation. The signs of inns in the vicinity of churches dedicated to St. Lawrence the Deacon commonly displayed his portrait surrounded by a wreath of flowers. After the Reformation, the idolatrous image of the saint was obliterated but the 'blossoms' remained. This does not explain the Chester inn name as there was no church here dedicated to St. Lawrence but the Chester-London coach service had its terminus at the Blossoms Inn in St. Lawrence Street, close to the Church of St. Lawrence Jewry.

Visit our Lost pubs of Chester pages to learn about hundreds more of our city's vanished pubs and inns.

Returning our attention to the City Walls, the anonymous author of the early 19th century A Walk Round the Walls and City of Chester, recorded that "the scene becomes uninteresting owing to the number of dwelling-houses which have been allowed in former times to have encroached upon the walls". In 1836, author and guide Joseph Hemingway in his Panorama of the City of Chester, wrote that this section "is all of the most uninteresting description, closely crowded with buildings on both sides, and furnishing not a single object worthy of notice for their elegance or antiquity". Twenty years later, Thomas Hughes, in his Stranger's Guide to Chester remarked that "the steps we have just ascended give us but poor 'first impressions' of the Walls, the view being blocked up on either side by most unpicturesque buildings".

Could things possibly get worse? Indeed they could- on the site of Hughes' "unpicturesque buildings", beyond a shabby bit of wooden fencing now rises the crude bulk of the Grosvenor Laing Precinct and its even uglier multi-storey car park, opened in 1971 and an outstanding example of the brutalist architecture of the period.

Apparently concerned at the down-market image indicated by the word precinct, the management later tried- not entirely successfully- to persuade us to refer to it as the Grosvenor Shopping Centre. But not for long, it seemed, for in January 2003 we learned that the precinct had been sold and the place was imaginatively re-named The Mall Chester. Locals stubbornly persist in continuing to refer to it as the "Precinct", however.

In October 2005, the owners of The Mall announced proposals to erect a large extension to their premises on the opposite side of Pepper Street, linked to the existing shops via overhead walkways. Initial 'artist's impressions', predictably, showed a run-of-the-mill 'modern' design, effectively a glass box, that promised to be anything but a sympathetic addition to Chester's townscape. Gratifyingly, a great deal of fuss was soon kicked up about the proposals and many objections lodged, especially from residents of the well-kept neighbouring terraced houses, many of which would be required to be demolished to make way for the new development. That a great many commercial properties were already sitting empty in the city centre also came into the debate. The ill-considered scheme has now, we're told, 'gone back to the drawing board' and, nearly six years later- August 2011- nothing more, for the moment at least, has been heard of it. The buildings on the affected site, however, are emptying of tenants and assuming a decidedly neglected air.

Excavation of the three and a half acre site in preparation for the construction of the precinct at the end of the 1960s revealed the extensive, well-preserved remains of major Roman buildings; barrack blocks, a gymnasium and a vast bath house "with walls up to two hundred feet long, standing to twelve feet in height"- amazing relics of the great fortress of Deva from two thousand years ago. Unforgivably, hardly a scrap of any of them was preserved in situ.

Dennis Petch, Curator of the Grosvenor Museum throughout the 1960s, recalled bitterly that, "the developer refused to give permission for any formal excavation once his work on the site had begun... with customary efficiency Laing's immediately commenced the earthworks for underground storage and delivery bays for shops to be built in the precinct above... it was soon clear that the great colonnaded hall under the arcade formed part of the same complex and was in all probability one of the earliest of the covered palaestrae of the north-western provinces of the Roman Empire. Even after the great size and high degree of preservation of the building had been clearly demonstrated, and protests against its impending destruction were made at local and national level, commercial considerations prevailed, effectively limiting our gathering of site data to piecemeal observation and recording at the pleasure of the contractor, supplemented by very little formal excavation. This was not a very satisfactory way of proceeding in the case of such an important building which had apparently begun its life in the early years of the fortress and was still in use in the third century. This debacle attracted a great deal of public attention and criticism, and the upshot was a general conviction that such vandalism should not be allowed to recur".

If only that had proved to be the case. The (now defunct) Cheshire Observer of 5th September 1969 quoted the Oxford Professor of the Architecture of the Roman Empire, Professor S S Frere, then on a visit to Chester, as saying, "It is absolutely disgraceful that modern businesses cannot see the value of the history of the town where they have their businesses and which they are expoiting".

Left: some of the massive and substantial remains of the Roman bathhouse complex photographed just before their total destruction in 1964.

Apocryphal tales from this time remain common; we recall speaking with an elderly gentleman who had been employed upon the preparations for the precinct's foundations. He told us of the discovery of a large, finely-executed mosaic of an eagle, "made of pieces this big" (indicating with his fingers a distance of about half an inch)- "we got a wet cloth on it and it came up lovely, but when the boss saw it, he ordered it to be got rid of pronto".
He described how the shovel of a digger was then scraped across the surface, completely obliterating the treasure- which was never even photographed. The developers, it seems, were concerned with getting the job done on time and were not prepared to let a 'few old ruins' stand in their way. Once archaeologists got further involved, they believed, the schedule- and the profits- would go out of the window. He also recalled the "chap in a white van who would call round of an evening and give us a few bob for whatever we'd found, coins and the like, during the day"...

demolition of newgate streetDuring demolition and site clearance work, the rear of St. Michael's Arcade was sealed off by a wooden hoarding, into which was thoughtfully inserted a number of windows through which the people of Chester could, in the words of eminent archaeologist Dr. David Mason, "watch their precious Roman heritage being smashed up and carted away on the backs of lorries" (Roman Chester: City of the Eagles, p. 20). He knew whereof he spoke for he records in this excellent book how, as a boy, he was one such observer.

Right: the end of the old Talbot Inn in Newgate Street in 1964. A photograph of it taken just before its destruction is on our Vanished Pubs of Chester pages...

Our elderly informant cited similar examples during the construction of the Inner Ring Road and the orgy of commercial redevelopment in and around the city centre at that time and our conversations with numerous construction workers have since revealed similar anecdotes. (all further contributions gratefully received!)

Interestingly, the small seaside resort of Prestatyn, a few miles along the North Wales coast, not (deceptively) otherwise noted for its antiquities, has taken the trouble to preserve the remains of its small Roman civil bath house. Still clearly visible in situ are tiles stamped 'Leg XX VV' and bearing the wild boar motif of the Twentieth Legion. (although, by the summer of 2001, most of these had disappeared and this site, too, became subject to the tender attentions of the property developer, as you may read here).

Further afield, in Leicester, the so-called Jewry Wall is the largest Roman civil building surviving in Britain and formed part of a great public baths and gymnasium Bath, the famed Aqua Sulis of the Roman world, where visitors from around the globe queue to pay hefty fees to view the unrivalled bath house complex.

These are just a few examples. Chester, the 'Roman City', the mighty fortress of Deva, on the other hand, can boast of little like this- merely the make-believe remnants in the so-called Roman Garden and the contents of a few glass cases in the Grosvenor Museum. In the 18th century, the enlightened citizens of Bath restored and re-opened their Roman bath house and the world flocked to see. In the 1960s, Chester bulldozed hers. Think of what might have been when you pass this way and look down from the wall into the car park below...

Half a century after the tragic destuction of the Roman bath house complex, a reproduction of the of the Ostia-style mosaics discovered there was created in late 2011 in the Roman Garden which we will be visiting shortly...

Trouble raised its head once again here in September 2007, when this stretch of City Wall was actually closed to the public for safety reasons. It seemed that a section of 18th century brick wall started to signs of collapse. It once formed the rear wall of an 18th stable block and was which unaccountably allowed to remain in place when this was demolished to make way for the precinct.

Something of an almighty row had broken out regarding the state of our precious walls back in October 2006 when much hand wringing- not to mention a great deal of accusation and name-calling between political parties- ensued and a council working party reported that, much as they wished it otherwise, there simply wasn't enough money avilable to do the job properly and desperate appeals were said to be being made to central government to make up the shortfall.

The blame game stated again when this new problem arose. Athough the public was assured that the usafe structure did not actually form part of the ancient City Wall but merely butted up against it, great problems, it was reported, were being experienced ascertaining who exactly owned it- and would therefore be responsible for putting the matter right. It struck us, if not the local press, that ownership was no mystery. As the entire area belongs to the Duke of Westminster's Grosvenor Estate, and it was they who trashed the bath house complex and built the precinct, it seemed obvious that this humble wall must do too.

After safety tests, the city wall was re-opened to the public on Christmas Eve- but much more serious trouble was to follow a few months later in April 2008. Work had recently started on removing the troublesome brick wall when a great stretch of the ancient City Wall itself collapsed onto the recently-erected scaffolding! Our photograph, taken on 9th April, shows just a small part of the very serious destruction. It was a miracle that nobody was injured- people had been walking on the spot just moments earlier- but the entire stretch had now to be sealed off and signs erected directing visitors to a detour around the affected area.

It seems that the 'scaremongers' were right all along.

foundation of Roman towerBy the start of 2009, however, detailed archaeological and structural analysis of the damage had taken place- affording priceless insights into the wall's construction- and repairs were well under way. In the following December, the well-preserved remains of a previously-unknown Roman interval tower was discovered beneath the foundations of the City Wall.

These interval towers were sited at regular distances along the fortifications and acted as lookout points and as bases for artillery. They were constructed and placed according to the specifications of Roman military architects such as Marcus Vitruvius Pollio who directed that towers should be round, to deflect missiles and the force of battering rams, and placed so as to be within bow-shot of each other. He also directed that a wall should be of such a thickness that two armed men could pass on top of it without impediment.

Vitruvius's works were the standard reference on military and civil building principles from Roman times right up to the 18th century and his was the second book- after the Bible- to roll off the printing presses of Gutenberg. Read the whole of his great On Architecture on Bill Thayer's magnificent website here.

City Archaeologist Mike Morris said of the discovery: “We have been working closely with the stonemasons as they carefully dismantled the City Wall. When they came to the bottom, we excavated an archaeological trench to see what lay underneath. To our surprise, almost as soon as we started digging, a well-made sandstone wall appeared. It was running across the line of the City Wall and was more than 1m thick. Several of these towers have been found over the last hundred years and we knew there should be one in this vicinity but it is remarkable that we hit on exactly the right spot and that it has survived so well in this location. The last time we had the chance to investigate one of these was during the development at Abbey Green more than 30 years ago. Although we know a lot about the archaeology of Chester, there will always be exciting, unexpected discoveries like this. A tumble of large stones was found on each side of the Roman wall, probably from the collapse of the tower sometime after the fortress was abandoned and before the City Wall was built. It is hoped that these will be able to be reused in the rebuild so that something of this hidden history is visible for future generations.”

Restoration specialist Maysand undertook the repair work, joined by a team of specialists from Giffords, English Heritage, Chester Renaissance and Cheshire West and Chester Council. Visitors will be pleased to learn that all the repairs are now completed and the walkway along this section has re-opened, appearing to the casual observer as if nothing at all had ever happened...

Parallel with this stretch of the City Wall, Newgate Street formerly ran from just west of the present Grosvenor Hotel in Eastgate Street to the Newgate. From the 12th to the 18th centuries, it was known as Fleshmongers Lane, but is now transformed, its antiquity suspected by few, into Newgate Row, one of the covered ways within the shopping centre itself. St. Michael's Street.

Our photograph above shows its final days as demolition gangs moved in to prepare the ground for the construction of the precinct. The Cathedral and Eastgate Street may be seen in the distance. In addition, our gallery of old photographs and drawings of Chester includes this interesting view of the precinct under construction in 1965.

A concrete walkway on our right allows us access, should we so desire, to the car park, hotel and shops. A little further on, we come to a curious structure on our left. This is a 14th century watchtower known as Thimbleby's Tower or The Wolf Tower. (seen under the small triangular roof in the centre of our photograph)

It may have been named after Sir Richard Thimblebye of Hilbre Island or Lady Thimbleby who died in Chester in 1615. It originally posessed a groined roof and the position where the supports joined the tower may, with difficulty, still be seen within. During the Civil War Siege of Chester in 1645, a battery of cannon under the command of Parlimentary forces was situated in in the nearby tower of St. John's Church. After some fierce firing, the Parliamentarians attempted to scale the walls using ladders, but the defenders managed to beat off the attack, causing many casualties. However, by that time, severe damage had also been done to the tower and the upper part was eventually demolished, never to be rebuilt. Later, the surviving portion was used as a laundry by the Kenrick Family whose mansion was situated nearby- and of whom more will will later be told- and it also later served as a tile kiln.

For centuries, the Wolf Tower stood open to the sky and was rather a sorry sight, generally being being used as a convenient receptacle for rubbish thrown from the wall. Things improved, however, thanks to the city's one-time Conservation Officer, Peter de Figueiredo. As part of his 'restoration' of the tower, a strange, historically irrelevant, new roof was added and the front was 'enhanced' with a crude wooden framework containing perspex windows behind which was provided an information panel. Within a very short time, the windows had been vandalised, the panel rendered illegible (and subsequently removed) and the tower's interior rendered virtually impossible to view. Thus, despite considerable expenditure, the ancient tower has become an embarrassment to all who love Chester's antiquities- and remains still rather a 'sorry sight'.
On his own website De Figueiredo may describe himself as "one of the most experienced and knowledgeable professionals working in the field of historic building conservation" but, to many locals, an anagram of his name- 'eerie fidget doer-up'- succinctly sums up his brief career in Chester.

Left: the remains of the first-century Roman South-East Corner Tower and, beyond it, the medieval Thimbleby's Tower, clearly showing its absurd new roof.

The wall kinks slightly at this point and beneath our feet we see the predecessor of the grander entrance which stands just beyond it. This is the Peppergate or Wolfgate, but also known, after a rebuilding in 1553, as the "Newegatt" ('Newgate). It first appears in the written record as the Porta de Wlfild c.1258 and the names Wulfeld Gate or Woolfield Gate were later used until a shortened version, Wolf Gate, became common in the 15th and 16th

From the 11th century, there was a community of Scandinavian (Norse) settlers in Chester- their settlements were common throughout the Wirral and Merseyside and their church, dedicated to St. Olave, still exists (and recently re-consecrated after years of being used for more secular purposes) in Lower Bridge Street. The gate's name may be connected with a Scandinavian personal name such as Ulf, Ulfaldi, Wulfadus, or the like- Interestingly, the son of Wulfhere, King of Mercia, and brother to St. Werburgh (to whom our Cathedral is dedicated) was named Wulfhad, so 'Wulfhad's Gate' may have possibly been a monkish dedication to this Prince and martyr. In addition, the symbol of the first Norman Earl of Chester, Hugh Lupus ('Hugh the Wolf'- in later life, 'Hugh the Fat') was a wolf's head.
The gate took one of its names from the street that passed through it, known from at least the 13th century as Pepper Street, and having never changed its name since that time. From 1355: "Pepu Street goith out of Brugge Street apon the southe syde of the churche of Saynte Michell".

There are Pepper Streets in other ancient English towns, for example, Middlewich, Nantwich and Nottingham- and there is also a Pepper Alley in Southwark, London. (from where Chaucer's Canterbury Pilgrims set out).

The name would seem to mean what it says- referring to a thoroughfare redolent of pepper- the place where the spice merchants practiced their trade. Dodgson comments: "It is likely that of all their spices, only pepper would be pungent enough to be discernible through the stench of a medieval thoroughfare".
For many centuries a narrow lane, it was doubled in width to form part of Chester's Inner Ring Road during the 1960s. This interesting photograph by Chris Langford shows Pepper Street- utterly devoid of charm- as seen from the Newgate just after the work had been completed. A little of how the street was in the eighteenth century may be imagined from the following advertisment in the long-defunct Chester Courant of December 4th 1750, "To be sold, a large and commodious dwelling-house with a coach-house, garden, summer-house and very good vaults, and other converniences proper for a gentleman's family, situate in Pepper-street, Chester, now in the holding of the Rev. Mr. Barnston".

The Peppergate was originally built to give the townsfolk easier access to St. John's Church just outside the walls, and was, for defensive reasons, only made wide enough for a single man or horse to pass through at a time- in fact, a postern gate. Of Chester's ancient entrances, only the Kaleyard Gate is smaller. It was however, subsequently enlarged several times: in 1603, 1608 and 1768, though the decorative mock 'battlements' above were not added until over a hundred years after the last rebuilding.

wolfgate'Shut the Peppergate'
There is an old local proverb connected with this gate which runs: "When the daughter is stolen, shut the Peppergate".
About the year 1573, the daughter of a Chester Alderman, Rauff Aldersey, despite having had a 'suitable' husband chosen for her by her father, eloped through this gate, and, to quote the assembly book of the city, "was married by an unlawful minister to one Rauff Iaman, draper, without the consent and goodwill of any other kinsfolk and friends, to their great heviness and grief, and contrary to any good civile order".
So incenced was her influential father that soon after he persuaded the council to issue the order that "for divers good causes, a certain gate or passage through the walls, called Wolfe-gate or New-gate, shall forthwith be stopped and fenced substancially and that no passage to be suffered in the nyght and the same to be opened in the day". Thus, 'Shutting the Peppergate' became a local proverbial equivalent of "Closing the stable door after the horse has bolted".

In the record of the city's expenses for the year 1613, is the following entry: "Paid to Stammering Davye for clearing the watercourse (gutter) at Newgate- vi d" (sixpence).

The Kenrick Mansion
In 1748, while digging "very deep in Mr Kenrick's garden", a centurial stone was found. These were erected by units of the XXth Legion charged with building the fortress wall to record those sections for which they were responsible. The stone, now in the Grosvenor Museum, measures 24 by 6 inches and bears the following inscription: "The century of Ocratius Maximus, in the first cohort of the Legion built this piece of wall. L.M.P". (Limitis Mille Pedes: this denotes a length of wall equivalent to 1000 paces).

This garden was that of the barrister Andrew Kenrick, whose large mansion was built here on the eastern side of Newgate Street in 1703 on the site of seven cottages, their gardens and outbuildings. Described as being of brick with decorative stone facings, its lofty body was set back three yards between projecting wings and a flight of broad stone steps led to a front door on the first floor. On its southern side were stables and coach houses, stretching as far as, and butting onto, the Newgate. Behind it and on its northern side, extensive gardens stretched as far as Thimbleby's Tower, close to which the centurial stone was unearthed.

Such spacious elegance is difficult to imagine when we consider the jumbled collection of mediocre structures that later came to occupy the site.

The house's story is fascinating- but a sorry one indeed for its builder and his descendants. The land and cottages, which had been built around fifty years earlier, had passed through the hands of several families until it was eventually acquired by one Thomas Morris, who pursued a curious mix of professions- those of speculative builder and linen draper.
Hearing of the newly-married barrister's search for a suitable property, Morris, himself lacking sufficient capital, borrowed heavily from several sources, demolished the cottages and proceeded to lay out a grand mansion, outbuildings and gardens on the site. Once completed, this was let to Kenrick at the sum of £24 per annum.

Trouble was soon to follow, however, as Morris soon found himself unable to repay the interest on his many loans, some of which were then settled by Kenrick. One of these was to John Hankey, whose widow, after he died unpaid, was arrested for debt, until Kenrick again stepped in to bail her out. The stress was evidently too much for her, however, for she died soon afterwards, in 1717.

wolfgate 1925By 1708, Kenrick himself, it transpired, had not paid any rent for the last four years but he duly 'formalised' the situation by proposing to pay off some of the creditors from the owed money, rather than turn it over to Morris. Poor Thomas achieved little relief, however, for by 1712 he was resorting to earning a living as a 'cordwainer'- a shoemaker- and he eventually died, "being at the time very much indebted to many" in 1715. He left the sum of £15 to his wife, £30 as dowries to each of his two daughters- and the worry of his debts to his unfortunate son George.

Right: the Wolfgate as it appeared in 1925, looking towards the site of the soon-to-be-discovered Roman amphitheatre.

George did his best to clear his father's numerous debts. He declared himself perfectly willing to dispose of his father's estate in order to do so but its value was considerably less than the sums owed and he was eventually arrested as a debtor and imprisoned in the infamous Northgate gaol, where he stayed until one of his sisters, who had recently married a Mr Seagreen and moved to London, was persuaded, with her new husband's agreement, to give up her £30 dowry in order to secure his release. Freed in 1718, George soon after turned over the Newgate Street mansion, "together with the coach-house, two stables, beere-house, the yard, coal-yard, muck-yard and two gardens" to Andrew Kenrick, who by this time had become widowed and married for a second time, for the princely sum of £510.

The course of poor George's life from this point on is unknown but we can only earnestly hope that, at last, fortune started to smile on him...

Andrew Kenrick, his new wife and children long continued to enjoy their occupation of the mansion and eventually acquired Thimbleby's Tower (which we met with earlier) which they converted for use as a laundry and even obtained permission to make a passage through the City walls to allow easy access from their garden to the tower. Andrew died, having achieved the high office of Vice-Justice of Chester, in 1747 and several generations of his descendants lived and died in the house and were buried with him in nearby St. John's Church.

The Kenricks had originally hailed from Woore in Shropshire, where they owned property and maintained a house, Woore Manor. They also possessed land in North Wales. Before bidding them farewell, there is one last tale concerning them that may explain why young Andrew was so anxious to leave the ancestral lands and set up home in Chester instead.

chester guided walksOne of their other properies in the village, Woore House- now a farmhouse- was the scene of a grim tragedy, for, at an unrecorded point in the recent past, one of the daughters of the house was murdered by her brother, in pursuit of the money she possessed. It was said by the villagers that the place was afterwards haunted by poor Miss Kenrick's ghost and that a portion of the cellar had been closed off immediately after the event and never re-opened. It was said that in the cellar was a table with a bottle upon it, so it may perhaps be inferred that the murder took place with poison and that the body was hidden here...

In the early 19th century, the house passed to the Farmer family, one of whom became a noted Royal Navy captain- Horatio Nelson served as a midshipman under him. It then, in the 1870s, passed on to the Boydells, under whom the estate was split up and in the 1920s the mansion, described in a Cheshire Sheaf of the day as a 'quaint, old, ivy-covered, gabled house" became the home of the noted family of veterinary surgeons, the Storrars, who continue in that noble profession in Chester to this day.

At this point, the original Roman South Wall turned west, roughly following the line of the righ-hand side of Pepper Street, and below us we can see the excavated lower courses of this ancient wall, together with its internal South East Corner Tower (illustrated above) dating, according to Professor Newstead, from the earliest days of the stone fortress- around 81-96 AD, in the reign of the Emperor Domitian. It is the only one of the twenty six Roman towers known to have existed whose remains have been put on public display.

Prof Newstead wrote at the time, "In contrast with the North Wall and north part of the East Wall which were rebuilt early in the third century....the south-east portion remained in use until the end of the Roman occupation" (around 400 years) "The remains exhibited an element of great permanency throughout: there was no trace of structural alterations or rebuilding... moreover there was no trace of a conflagration or the like. The mutilations we see today... are evidently the work of medieval builders who quarried the ready-made blocks of sandstone and re-used them in their temples and defensive walls".

For centuries lost beneath later buildings, the remains of the ancient tower, now set within a small but pleasing garden, was opened to the public in 1949.
In common with many places in Chester, there is a ghostly yarn connected with this place. A Roman section leader who served here who was in the habit of leaving his men on duty to have an amorous dalliance with a local British girl on the banks of the River. Returning one night he found all his men dead, slain by local tribesmen. Faced with the choice of death or dishonour he chose the former and flung himself off the tower. People are said to see his forlorn ghost walking between the river and the remains of the tower, via Souters Lane.

The Victorian writer Joseph Hemingway, normally an entertaining and reliable Chester guide, got it badly wrong regarding the Saxon extension of the walls- which commence at this point- when he asserted: "The present form of the walls is strictly Roman, which goes a great way to negative the old legends of the monkish chronicles, that the walls were enlarged one-third in circumference by Ethelfleda, the celebrated Saxon princess. The walls at present... are so entirely Roman, that any addition she could make would have destroyed the peculiar figure which that wise people always preserved in their stations, wherever the the nature of the ground would permit".

drawing of newgateRefer again to our sketch map of Chester's City Walls to compare the area of the original Roman fortress with the later Saxon and Norman extensions.

The imposing modern structure bearing a proud stone lion on its roof seen on the corner of Pepper Street and Park Street is a multi-storey car park which was designed by the Biggins Sergent Partnership. It stands on the site of the Lion Brewery, which was established here in 1642. It was said that underneath it was a tunnel used to sally the besiegers during the Civil War. The brewery was rebuilt in 1875 by Bent's and the lion, their trademark, was added at this time. It was made of a manmade material called coadstone. When the building was eventually demolished and replaced with the starkly modern structure, the lion was saved by the secretary of the Chester Civic Trust, Dr John Tomlinson, and displayed fror a while in his garden in Curzon Park before being remounted on the top of its tall lift shaft.
You can see a fine photograph of the Newgate and Lion Brewery here, part of our 'lost pubs, hotels and breweries' gallery.

A few steps on and we come to the Newgate, seen here in a fine drawing made in 1939 by William Robert Wright Boyd. Its playful design puts one in mind of the set of a Hollywood production of Robin Hood or suchlike 'Merry England' swashbuckler...

Despite appearances, the Newgate is actually built of reinforced concrete and faced with red Runcorn sandstone. The architect was Sir Walter Tapper, who died before its completion, the work- which took a mere 20 months- being completed by his son, Michael Tapper.

(Sir Walter (1861-1935) was best known known for his Gothic Revivalist architecture. Learn more about the man and his work on John Whitworth's website: Sir Walter Taller and his Churches.)

building of newgateThrough the arch may be seen Victorian extension to Dee House, which had originally been built in 1730 over the south-west quarter of the Roman amphitheatre- at the time of writing, the future of Dee House and the amphitheatre are a subject of great local controversy, as we shall soon see.

With the coming of the motor car, the old Wolfgate proved completely inadequate so this new entrance was built in a cheerful mock-medieval style (more correctly described as Gothic Revival) and opened by the Mayor on October 3rd 1938. There was considerable debate at the time regarding how this new entrance through the City Walls was to be executed, even with the pages of the national press. This article, for example, appeared in the London Times on 27th April 1929:

"The necessity for sacrificing about 40ft. of the old city wall at Chester to the needs of modern traffic has led to a controversy concerning the type of bridge which shall be constructed across the widened gap to carry the footway by which visitors walk round the walls. One side proposes a mock-medieval archway, possibly with lesser archways for the pavements, all in the Gothic style. The other, led by the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, argues that the needs would be met by an unpretentions bridge of iron, made perhaps in the Adam style. As Chester's walls are scheduled as an ancient monument, the Chester Corporation, which has the street-widening project in hand, has been brought into conference with the authorities in London and has finally accepted the suggestion that the Royal Institute of British Architects should be asked to prepare a design for its consideration.

newgate 1930sThat, however, does not necessarily indicate an agreement in principle as to the treatment the case is unanimous. The trouble has arisen owing to the serious traffic congestion caused at the Cross by the narrowness of the New Gate. This gate was cut through the walls in the the 18th century (oops!), and allows only a single line of traffic to pass. It has been shown that the traffic difficulty cannot be solved except by widening this gate at the cost of some 40ft. of wall or by another scheme which would involve damage to the Rows, those quaint medieval galleries of shops, and the destruction of St. Peter's Church. There has, therefore, been no serious opposition to the widening of the New Gate. The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings agreed that it was the right course, and its criticism was only evoked when certain archaeological architects proposed that over the widened gateway should be thrown a great archway, with lesser ones on either side to cover the pavements. This scheme was regarded as a mistake and as an alternative it was suggested that two fairly big piers should be built on either side of the gate in order to end off the walls suitably and that nothing should be carried over the roadway except a light ironwork bridge, for the purely utilitarian purpose of conecting up the footways running round the walls on either side".

The design of the new gateway was eventually settled and it was opened on 3rd October 1938. This report appeared in The Times the following day:

"The rebuilt Newgate at Chester was opened by the Mayor, Alderman George Barlow, yesterday. Presenting the Mayor with a pair of gold scissors with which to cut the tape, Alderman Matthew Jones suggested that they might rename it the Munich Gateway having regard to the circumstances of its inauguration. A prayer was offered by the Dean of Chester, and afterwards there was a luncheon at the Town Hall. The gate has been erected to meet traffic demands and displaces the oldest of the city's gates. The date of erection of the original gate is not known, but a gate stood on the present site in or before 1327 and was known as Wolf's Gate, and later as Pepper Gate".

newgate 1960sAbove is a rare photograph of the Wolfgate still in use by motor traffic- and demonstrating its increasing unsuitability for such- while the wall next to it is being torn down to make way for the grand new entrance. The council had planned to carry a new road straight ahead from this gate- right across a site unfortunately occupied by the newly-discovered Roman amphitheatre! National uproar naturally ensued, and the Ministry of Works eventually compelled them to construct their road around the ancient monument instead. Sadly, the foolishness did not end there, as we are about to discover in the course of our next few chapters.

Above right we see the newly-completed Newgate in 1938- the little corner tower park next to it is still unfinished. Note how narrow Pepper Street still is, and will remain for some decades, until the coming of the Inner Ring Road. The tower of the Lion Brewery may be seen rising on the left.
On the left, we see the same view thirty years later. The road has been widened and new buildings have risen but the old brewery still, for the moment, stands. Aside from the latter- and a radical increase in traffic- the scene looks almost exactly trhe same today.

In early 2011 a plan came to light, sponsored by Cheshire West & Chester Council and Chester Renaissance, to construct a modern steel structure on top of the Newgate, a viewing platform "designed to provide improved views of the Roman surroundings, including the amphitheatre." The proposals were, inevitably, backed by 'conservation specialists' and English Heritage.
Objections to the plans soon followed, saying that the development was grossly inappropriate to Chester's City Walls, that it was unnecessary- and aptly describing the proposed structure as "a perforated baked bean tin".
Somewhat embarrassingly, in early March 2011, CWAC's own councillors unanimously rejected the planning application. Only time will tell if it will rear its ugly head in modified form.. Watch this space.

From our vantage point on top of the Newgate we can see outside the walls a very special- and very threatened- relic of Chester's ancient past, which we are to visit next. Brace yourselves....

Curiosities from Chester's History no. 12

  • 1540 The Mayor of Chester, Henry Gee, made an order that no female between the ages of 14 and 40 years were to to be allowed to serve in or keep any inn or tavern. Also that all children over 6 years old should attend school every work day, and on Sundays and Holy days and after attending church they must exercise with bows and arrows on the Roodee or other open spaces. He also ordered that unmarried women should not be permitted to wear white or coloured caps, and no woman to wear any hat unless when riding or when she 'goe abroad into the country" on pain of a fine of 3s 4d. King Henry VIII marries Anne of Cleves. The marriage is annulled and he marries Catherine Howard.
  • 1536-1541 The Dissolution of the Monasteries. In 1541 Letters Patent decreed that an episcopal see and Cathedral Church be founded on the site of the dissolved Benedictine Monastery of St. Werburgh, and that Chester should forever be a city, exempt from the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Coventry and Lichfield. John Bird was appointed Bishop and Thomas Clark appointed Dean of the new Cathedral. St Mary's Nunnery surrendered. The King's School was founded by Henry VIII. Ordered, that when any of the common council die, others shall be chosen in their places, of the 'saddest and most substantial citizens'. 'Sturdy beggars' ordered to be 'whipped at the cart's tail' and, if caught begging for a third time, to be executed.
  • 1540 First horse races on the Roodee.
  • 1542 Queen Catherine Howard, Henry's fifth wife, executed after less than two years of marriage for 'immoral conduct'. Mary, Queen of Scots (1542-1587) comes to the Scottish throne, aged six days.
  • 1543 Henry VIII marries Catherine Parr, his sixth wife- who survives him
  • 1547 Henry VIII died, his and Jane Seymour's son, Edward VI (1537-1553) ascended the English throne, aged nine years. The 'Holy Rood' (the figure of Christ on the Cross) taken down from St. Mary's-on-the-Hill and the walls were whitelimed to destroy any paintings or ornamentation which were upon them. St Ursula's Hospital dissolved, but continues as Sir Thomas Smith's Almshouses.
  • 1548 Edward VI's commissioners visited St. John's, which at the time was a Collegiate church with a Dean and seven Canons. It was acknowledged that the congregation had the right to worship in the Nave, which was consequently spared, but the Choir and Chantry Chapels were dismantled- "the goods and ornaments, plate and jewels" and all but a single bell, were all taken for the King's use.
  • 1550 An abundance of tallow having been brought into the city, it was ordered that candles should be sold "at a fair price" of threepence ha'penny a pound. The 'sweating sickness' returned to Chester, one victim of which was Edmund Gee, the zealously reforming Mayor. John Speed wrote of its effect upon the country, "wherein died infinite numbers of men in their best strength which followed onely Englishmen in forraine countreys, no other people infected therewith, whereby they were both feared and shunned in all places where they came." First licencing of alehouses and taverns in England and Wales.
  • 1553 Edward VI dies; Lady Jane Grey proclaimed Queen of England, but is deposed nine days later and executed. Mary I, ('Bloody Mary' 1515-1568) daughter of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, becomes Queen.
  • 1554 Lady Jane Grey executed; Princess Elizabeth sent to the Tower for suspected participation in rebellion against Queen Mary- who marries Philip II of Spain the same year. George Marsh (1515-1555), a Protestant Minister, after being tried in the Lady Chapel of the Cathedral, was burnt at the stake at Boughton for "blasphemous and heretical preaching against the Pope and Church of Rome." On April 24th he was marched through the streets of Chester to Boughton, reading his Bible on the way. He was offered a pardon if he would recant, but refused to do so and consequently perished in the flames. The fire, it is said, was badly managed and his death "protracted".

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