pointIf 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!

A Virtual Stroll Around the Walls of Chester

Chester's Visitors through the Ages: 3

1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8

Hkings head advert 1955istorian and Cartographer John Speed was born at Farndon near Chester, but spent most of his life in London working as a tailor. His extraordinary historical learning brought him to the attention of Sir Fulke Grenville and Sir Henry Spellman and enable him to publish his series of maps of England and Wales under the title of the Theatre of the Empire of Great Britain. He died at the age of 87 in 1629. Speed wrote of Chester and its people:

"Over Deva or Dee a fair stone-bridge leadeth, built up on eight arches, at either end whereof is a Gate, from whence in a long Quadren-wise the walls do incompass the city, high and strongly built, with four faire Gates opening into the four winds, besides three Posterns and seven Watch-Towers extending in compass 1940 paces. On the south of this city is mounted a strong and stately Castle, round in form, and the base Court likewise inclosed with a circular wall. It hath been accounted the Key to Ireland, and great pity it is that the Port should decay as it daily doth, the sea being stopped to scour the River by a Causey that thwarteth Dee at her Bridge."

Speed then paraphrases Lucian the Monk who lived just after the Conquest, and who said of the inhabitants of Chester "They are found to differ from the rest of the English, partly better and partly equal. In feasting, they are friendly, at meat cheerful, in entertainment liberal, soon angry, and soon pacified, lavish in words, impatient of servitude, merciful to the afflicted, compassionate to the poor, kind to their kindred, spary of labour, void of dissimulation, not greedy in eating and far from dangerous practices."

Speed adds "And let me add thus much that Lucian could not, namely that this Shire hath never been stained with the blot of rebellion, but ever stood true to their King and Crown..."

Go here to see John Speed's 1610 Map of Chester.

chester guided walksRalph Thoresby (1658-1725) was a Yorkshire antiquary who kept a meticulous diary, from which this is an extract from the year 1682...

[5th June] "To Tarvin, whereabout we have a prospect of Beeston Castle, about five miles off, seated upon a high towering hill, and seems to me not very unlike Stirling, or Maiden Castle in Edinburgh, for the situation. It was built by the last Ranulph, Earl of Chester, that ancient and famous city where I spent the rest of the day mostly in the churches of St. Werburgh, St. John Baptist, and St. Mary, but met with a disappointment as to tombs of bishops; this being one of the bishoprics of the royal foundation by King Henry VlII.
Evening, I walked round the walls, observed the situation of the city, and had a prospect of Wales towards Flint: the walls are kept in excellent repair by the Muringers.
6th [June]. Up pretty early writing; took a view of the Castle, in which is the Hall for the judges, inferior to none in England that I have seen except Westminster. In St. Peter's Church I found a remarkable tomb for the Offleys, great benefactors; and in the pentis or town house his picture, with Mr. Randall's and Sir Thomas White's, with an account of their pious gifts, and of Broughton's, from which pentis there is a curious prospect into the four best streets, in all which, and indeed most of the city, we may pass through the rows in a stormy day without the least rain or prejudice; it is a sort of building peculiar to this city, the like they say not being to be seen in Europe again; they are as walks chambered above and cellared below, with shops mostly on both sides.
From this ancient city (though I could find few monuments of antiquity in memory of the famous Earls of Chester), I departed about ten o'clock and rode through a very pleasant country, and over a remarkable hill called Helsby Tor (a Derbyshire word, I think, for crag, or rock) to Frodsham."

The Rev.Thomas Brocklebank (1671-1732), a clergyman's son, was himself ordained a priest in 1697, and was vicar of Cartmel from 1706 until his death. This description records his impressions on visiting Chester in 1696, where he was ordained Deacon on Trinity Sunday...

"This town is ancient, called formerly Caerlion, and has been strongly wall'd and fortified; the walls are yet in good repair. It has a good old castle in it where I was to wait on the Governour Colonell Kirby. The Cathedrall is large enough, and it has a parish church in one side of it: But 'tis built of a kind of red stone, with which all this country abounds, and it looks miserably ragged on the out Side. Here is an Engine that conveis water all over the town which formerly was done by a water tower that stands by the Bridge of a great height but now is useless. The town is all piazza'd and one may go any whither all most and never look out of doors. Here are some good buildings but many are ordinary enough. 'Tis a dear Town"

Celia Fiennes (1662-1741) toured much of the British Isles in the reign of William III. She almost always travelled on horseback, endured considerable hardships and kept a lively record of her journeys.

"West Chester town lies in a bottom and runs a greate length and is pretty big there are 10 Churches; the Cathedrall is large and lofty, the quire well carv'd fine tapistry hangings at the alter, a good organ; the Bishops Pallace is on the right hand of it and the Doctors houses all built of stone, there is a new Hall building which is for the assize and it stands on great stone pillars which is to be the Exchange, which will be very convenient and handsome; the Hall is round, its built of bricke and stone coynes, there are leads all round with battlements and in the middle is a tower; there are ballconies on the side and windows quite round the Cupillow [Cupola] that shews thc whole town round; there is another Town Hall a long lofty place and another by the side which is called the Council Roome both for the Major [Mayor] and Aldermen to meete for the buissinesse of the Corporation; the town is walled all aboute with battle ments and a walke all round pav'd with stone; I allmost encompass'd the walls; the streetes are of a great breadth from the houses, but there is one thing takes much from their appeareing so and from their beauty, for on each side in most places they have made penthouses so broad set on pillars which persons walks under covert, and is made up and down steps under which are ware houses; tho' a penthouse or pallasadoe be convenient and a security from the sun or weather and were it no broader than for two to passe one by the other it would be well and no dissight to the grace of the streetes, but this does darken the streetes and hinder the light of the houses in many places to the streete ward below; indeed in some places were it only before the chiefe persons houses it would be convenient whore its flatt and even with the streetes; the town is mostly timber buildings, the trade and concourse of people to it is chieny from the intercourse it has with Ireland, most take this passage, and also the intercourse with Wales which is parted from it and England by the River Dee, which washes the Castle walls in which they keep their stores but nothing fine in it. the walls and towers seemes in good repaire; at the end of the town just by the Castle you crosse over a very large and long Bridge over the River Dee which has the tyde comes up much beyond the town, its 7 mile off that it falls into the sea but its very broad below the town, when at high tyde is like a very broad sea; there they have a little dock and build shipps of 200 tunn I saw some on the stocks."

Joseph Taylor travelled from London to Edinburgh and back in 1705, and visited Chester on his return. His account of the journey calls him 'late of the Inner Temple', and men of this name were admitted to that inn in 1663.

"Chester is a City pleasantly scituated on the River Dee, the Metropolis of the Palatinate of Chester, and a Bishop's See; It's of a Square forme, surrounded with a Stone wall, on which there is a walk quite round the Town, it's 2 miles in compasse, and kept in very good repaire, It's govern'd by a Major and Aldermen, and has an Old Cathedrall, and 9 parish Churches, The Cathedrall is dedicated to St. Werburge. There is a good antient palace for the Bishop. Upon a precipice near the River is an Old Castle, now turn'd into a Goal, built by one of the Earles of Chester, where the Assizes and Courts Palatine are kept, There are very ingenious waterworks of great use to the Inhabitants perfected by John Hadley Engineer, The streets are neat, and along the high street are Piazzas to walk under, but in some places so low, that I was forc't to stoop to go under them, The best peice of building, is the Town hall, which is of brick, supported by Stone Pillars, This Town hall stands in Northgate strect and is in length 120 foot in breadth 42 in hight 85. It was begun by the honourable Colonel Roger Whitley Major 1695, carried on with great Expedition by John Bennet Esq. Major 1697, and brought near perfection by the great diligence of William Allen Esq. Major 1698.

Left: The old Exchange, or Town Hall, in Northgate Street: an early photograph by Henry Fox-Talbot, the inventor of the negative-positive process, who visited Chester in the 1840s

There are 4 Gates, answering the 4 Parts of the World, and nothing can be pleasanter, than to walk in a fine day on the Walls round the Town, where is a prospect of the City and Country at once, As we were walking there ourselves, and coming to one of the Gates, a Gentleman told us a Story of a Man who was us'd frequently to leap over the Gateway, from one wall to the other, upon discoursing whereof, a Gentleman offer'd to lay him 20 Guineas, he could not doe it, he took up the Bett, but fail'd in the attempt, and broke his Legg, Yet after his Legg was well again, he perform'd with all the ease imaginable, which shows what a great effect, a little mony has upon a Man's Courage...

We had some very good ale here, but being inform'd they had put some Oculus India berries into it to make it clear and that severall were poison'd with it, we inquir'd into the truth of the Story, and found a Young Apothecary in the Town, keeping Company with a Gang of Jolly fellows, had us'd the Experiment, but drinking excessively severall nights together, he and about 20 of his Comrades dyed, which was the only occasion of the Report."

Daniel Defoe (1660-1731), the celebrated author of Robinson Crusoe (1719) Moll Flanders, A Journal of the Plague Year and many others, as well as being a journalist and political spy, travelled widely in Britain, noting especially industrial and commercial activity. This second visit of his to Chester is undated.

"As I am now at Chester, 'tis proper to say something of it, being a city well worth describing: Chester has four things very remarkable in it. 1. It's walls, which are very firm, beautiful, and in good repair. 2. The castle, which is also kept up, and has a garrison always in it. 3. The cathedral. 4. The River Dee, and 5. the bridge over it. It is a very antient city, and to this day, the buildings are very old; nor do the Rows as they call them, add any thing, in my opinion, to the beauty of the city; but just the contrary, they serve to make the city look both old and ugly: These Rows are certain long galleries, up one pair of stairs, which run along the side of the streets, before all the houses, tho' joined to them, and as is pretended, they are to keep the people dry in walking along. This they do indeed effectually, but then they take away all the view of the houses from the street, nor can a stranger, that was to ride thro' Chester, see any shops in the city; besides, they make the shops themselves dark, and the way in them is dark, dirty, and uneven.

Tho best ornament of the city, is, that the streets are very broad and fair, and run through the whole city in strait lines, crossing in the middle of tho city, as at Chichester: The walls as I have said, are in very good repair, and it is a very pleasant walk round the city, upon the walls, and within the battlements, from whence you may see the country round; and particularly on the side of the Roodee, which I mentioned before, which is a fine large low green, on the bank of the Dee. In the winter this green is often under water by the inundations of the river, and a little before I came there, they had such a terrible land flood, which flow'd 8 foot higher than usual so that it not only overflowed the said green, call'd the Roodee, but destroy'd a fine new wharf and landing-place for goods, a little below the town, bore down all the warehouses, and other buildings, which the merchants had erected for securing their goods, and carried all away goods and buildings together, to the irreparable loss of the persons concern'd: Also beyond the Roodee, one sees from the walls of Chester the county of Flint, and the mountains of Wales, a prospect best indeed, at a distance".

general view of Chester  in1728
The South West prospect of the City of Chester, 1728 by Nathaniel Buck

"The Castle of Chester is a good firm building, and strong, tho' not fortify'd, with many out works: There is always a good garrison kept, and here the prisoners taken at Preston, in the late time of Rebellion, were kept a great while, till compassion to their misery, mov'd the clemency of the conqueror to deliver them. They say this castle was built or at least repair'd by Hugh Lupus, the famous Earl of Chester, and brother to William the Conqueror as also was the church.

The great church here is a very magnificent building, but 'tis built of a red, sandy, ill looking stone, which takes much from the beauty of it and which yielding to the weather, seems to crumble, and suffer by time, which much defaces the building: Here they shew'd us the monument of Henry IV Emperor of Germany; who they say, resign'd his empire, and liv'd a recluse here, but 'tis all to be taken upon trust, for we find nothing of it in history. We saw no monument of any note, which is partly occasion'd by its remote situation, and partly by its being but a modern bishoprick... Here is a noble stone bridge over the Dee, very high and strong bullt, and 'tis needful it should be so, indeed; for the Dee is a most furious stream at some seasons, and brings a vast weight of water with it from the mountains of Wales. Here it was that the first army of King William, design'd for the war in Ireland, and commanded by the great Duke Schomberg, encamp'd. for a considerable time before they embark'd, ann. 1689...

There are 11 parishes in this city, and very good churches to them, and it is the largest city in all this side of England that is so remote from London. When I was formerly at this city, about the year 1690, they had no water to supply their ordinary occasions, but what was carried from the River Dee upon horses, in great leather vessels, like a pair of bakers panyers; just the very same for shape and use, as they have to this day in the streets of Constantinople, and at Belgrade, in Hungary, to carry water about the streets to sell, for the people to drink. But at my coming there this time, I found a very good water-house in the river, and the city plentifully supply'd by pipes, just as London is from the Thames; tho' some parts of Chester stands very high from the river.

Tho' this is not an antient bishoprick, 'tis an antient city, and was certainly a frontier of the Roman Empire this way; and its being so after wards to the English Empire also, has doubtless been the reason of its being so well kept, and the castle continued in repair, when most of the other castles on the frontiers were slighted and demolished".

On to more Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century traveller's tales of Chester...

Chester's Visitors pages 2 | 1 | Lucian the Monk | Chester Walls Stroll Introduction | Site Front Door | Top of page

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

Site and contents strictly © Steve Howe / B&W Picture Place 1990-2014