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A Virtual Stroll Around the Walls of Chester

Chester's Visitors through the Ages: 2

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Adrawing of watertowerlocal proverb dating from 1611 says, 'At Easter the wind is at Chester' "because it is good for Ireland:

T'enrich the towne and trade of shipping,
The winde which evermore is skipping,
Is said to come and dwell at Chester"
Wordworth Dictionary of Proverbs p 174.

William Camden was a schoolmaster and traveller who wrote extensively on historical and topographical subjects. He is best known for his Britannia, the first published detailed description of Britain. The following extracts are from the 1607 (Latin) edition, the additions in brackets are supplied by the English translator, Philemon Holland...

"The Twentieth Legion were at last seated in this City, (which I believe had not been then long built) for a check and barrier to the Ordovices. Tho' I know some do aver it to be older than the Moon, to have been built many thousands of years ago by the gyant Leon this day there remain here few memorials of the Roman magnificence, besides some pavements of Chequer-works...

The City is of a square form, surrounded with a wall two miles in compass, and contains eleven Parish-Churches. [But that of St. John's without the North-gate, was the fairest, being a stately and solemn building, as appears by the remains wherein were anciently Prebendaries, and (as some write) the Bishop's See.

Upon a rising ground near the river, stands the Castle, built by the Earl of this place, wherein the Courts Palatine and the Assizes were held twice a year. The buildings are neat, and there are Piazza's on both sides along the chief street. [They call them Rowes, having shops on both sides, through which a man may walk dry from one end unto the other.

Nor is there now any requisite wanting to make it a flourishing city, only the sea indeed is not so favourable, as it has been, to some few Mills that were formerly situated upon the river Dee; for it has gradually withdrawn it self, so that the town has lost the benefit of them, and the advantage of a harbour, which it enjoy'd heretofore. It's situation, in Longitude, is 20 degrees and 23 minutes; in Latitude, 53 degrees, 11 minutes"

chester guided walksHenry Hastings fifth Earl of Huntingdon (1586-1643), succeeded his grandfather as earl in 1605, and was Lord Lieutenant of Leicestershire and Rutland. His family seat was at Ashby-de-la Zouch, and he made the following notes on a journey from Leicestershire to the Cheshire home of his son-in-law, Sir Hugh Calverley...

"West Chester is a large old city. There is ten parish churches in it. The streets at the coming in are large, but the cross street which is in the middle of the city is made narrower and seems not so fair as otherwise it would by reason of pentices that go on both sides of the streets which they go up to in divers places with stairs, that one may go dry in any foul weather. The shops and houses are behind those walles, the houses for the most part old and builded of timber. There is upon the side of the town an old ruinous castle, yet some buildings within it, which stands upon the river Dee. There are mills hard by upon this river eseemed to be worth £500 a year.

There is a piece of ground a mile about encompassed with water, called the Roe Dee, where barks of some 20 or 30 tons come up from Nesson [Neston], which carry passengers into and out of Ireland. There is a fine bowling green in this ground, which is rich and worth 30s. or 40s. an acre per annum. The city used to train their soldiers there and to run horse-matches. In the Castle, near the County Hall, is a reasonable fair room beneath stairs which they call the Exchequer, where the Chamberlain of Chester or his vice-Chamberlain sits four times in the year, about a fortnight or three weeks at a time, and hears all causes for trial of lands, and his judgment is the final ordering of all matters within the County Palatine. There is no insignia of the office but that he hath at the times of sitting a tipstaff and a pursuivant that goes before him, and when he sits in the court the County Palatine seal in a purse of velvet with the arms of the County Palatine embroidered upon it is laid in the Exchequer upon a cushion on the table before him. There hangs up by the wall side a broad and a long sword in an old scabbard embossed and studded, which when Hugh Lupus, Earl of Chester, was demanded by the King's officers how he held the County Palatine of Chester, he answered to the then Attorney General who brought a Quo Warranto against him, that he held it 'per gladium sicut rex tenebat per coronam.' "

In his work The Vale Royal of England, published in 1656, Daniel King wrote of Cheshire folk:

"They are of a nature very gentle and courtious... of stomach stout, bold and hearty; of stature tall and mighty; withall impatient of wrong, and ready to resist the enemy or stranger that shall invade their country; the very name whereof they cannot abide; and namely, of a Scot...

Likewise be the women very friendly and loving, painful in labour, and in all kind of housewifery expert, fruitful in bearing of children after they are married, and sometimes before."

Randle Holme III (1627-99) was the third of four successive genealogists of Chester of this name. He was also a heraldic painter and author of The Academy of Armory, 1688, said to be the first book printed in the city. His father was a royalist Alderman of Chester during the Civil War siege and the son vividly records here the damage that was caused...

"Thus of the most anchante and famous cittie of Chester, in times past; but now beholde and mark the ruines of it in these present times, within these few years, namely, within these three years, 1643, 1644, 1645, the particular demolitions of it, now most grievous to the spectators, and more woefull to the inhabitants thereof.
Without the Barrs, the chappelle of Spittle, with all the houses, and gardens, and edifices there, upon Sir William Brereton's first assault made upon the cittie.
All the houses, barns and buildings near to the Barrs, with Great Boughton and Christleton.
In the Foregate Street, Cow-lane, St. John's Lane, with those houses next to the Eastgate, all burned to the ground.
Without the Northgate, from the said gate to the last house, Mr. Duttons [Jollye's Hall], all burned and consumed to the ground, with all the lanes to the same, with the Chappelle of Little St.John, not to be found, when the mud walls and suburbs were surprised, Saturday morning . . .
railway inn matchboxFrom Dee-bridge over the water, all that long street called Handbridge, with all the lanes, barnes and buildings about it, ruinated and burnt to the ground when Holt bridge was taken by the Parliament partie and they came on Wales side. After a great part of it being built againe, was burnt to the ground after the rout of the King's partie at Namptwich and the Parliament partie comeing over the ford the second tyme into Wales.
All the glover's houses under the walles of the cittie taken downe about the same tyme.
All the buildings and houses at the Watergate, upon the Roodee, pulled downe at the same tyme.
Besides the Halls of severall gentlemen in the same cittie, and near to it, as the Bache hall, Mr. Edw. Whitbie's, the recorder.
Blacon hall, Sr. Randall Crewe's.
Overleigh hall or Hough Greene house, Mr. Ellis.
Flookersbrooke hall, Mr. Shingleton's in lease, but Sir Tho: Smith's land.
The ffullers or Walkers mills.
Hoole hall, Mr. Bunburie's.
The Water tower at Dee bridge, shot downe in tyme of siege.
Bretton hall, Mr. Ravenscroft's, plundered and burnt little after the parliament partie first goeing into Wales; when they fled back againe, Chester soulders tooke it and about twenty soulders that were in garrison in it. The Nunne's within the cittie, Sr. Will Brereton's plundered and plucked downe at the first beginning of the wars because he was of the parliament partie against King and cittie.
The Lord Cholmondeley's house in St. John's Churchyard, plucked downe and burnt by the Parliament partie as they lay in siege about Chester.
Mr. William Gamull's house nere the Newgate, with the new gate house which was his [Mr. John Werden's house near unto it].
The destruction of divers other houses in the cittie, with grenadoes, not a house from Eastgate to the middle of Watergate street on both sides but received some hurt by them, many sleyne by the fall of houses which were blowen up, St. Peter's Church much defaced and pews torne, and all windows broken by two grenadoes that fell therein. The ruines of stalls, pentices, doores, trees and barnes, in divers lanes and places in the cittie.
The destroying of the Bishop's palace, with stables in the barne yard, and the ruine of the great churche.
The charge of mudd walles, sodding, carrying and edifying them, with centrye houses, both without the walles and within the walles.
The drawing dry of the cittie's stockes, plate, rentes, and collections, not knowne, all which losses, charges and demolishments, in opinion of most, will amount to two hundred thousand pounds att the least; so farre hath the God of heaven humbled this famous cittie; and note, here, that if Jerusalem, the particular beloved cittie of God, of which it is said in sacred writ, 'count her towers, marke well her bulwarkes, in man's judgement invincible; yet her sinne provoked God soe, that he leaved not a stone upon another, that this may be an advertisement to us, that God's mercy is yett to be found, since he hath left us soe many streets, lanes, and churches, yet unmolested. God grant us faith, patience, and true repentance, and amend ment, that a worse danger befall us not. Amen."

"Chester the loyal city, Chester with its quiet dignity, became a beleaguered fortress.
Houses flamed, mines exploded, and the spectre of starvation stalked its streets. Chester possessed strategic importance. It was the door through which a steady stream of men and munitions flowed to strengthen the royal cause. Families of quality whose homes graced the parklands of the County Palatine had their city homes in Chester. It was, by the nature of things, the rendezvous of these parts. Thus it became the prize for which men strove"
Norman Tucker: 'Master of the Field' 1949

Writing in the 1830s, local author and guide Joseph Hemingway commented upon these times:
"The incessant drains upon their property, in the shape of levies for the maintainance of the garrison, and the support of their fugitive prince, had levelled the different classes of the community, and reduced the whole to one common condition of absolute beggary. Desolation and destruction marked the suburbs, which presented an undistinguished mass of ruins, the only remains of dwellings, once the peaceful habitations of content and security; while our walls and edifices within the city were defaced, or battered down by the destructive cannon.
In addition to this, the city lands were all mortgaged, the funds quite exhausted, the plate melted down, and the churches, particularly St. John's being so long in the possession of the enemy, greatly damaged".

You can see a map of the city's defences at the time of the Civil War, published in Hemingway's Panorama of the City of Chester (1836) here.

Move on later into the Seventeenth Century and even more traveller's tales of Chester...

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