A Virtual Stroll Around the Walls of Chester

The Vanished Pubs of Chester Gallery

New material added here November 2017

ship victory 1
The Ship Victory, George Street 2013

The Ship Victory is located at 47 George Street, on the corner of- at least before the coming of the Inner Ring Road- what was William Street. It sadly closed as recently as New Year’s Day 2014 and, unforgiveably, demolished in November 2015.

old pic of ship victoryThe Ship was once one of a string of thriving pubs that faced upon Chester’s Cattle Market, now the cheerless Gorse Stacks Car Park, and was, until recently, the sole survivor.

It can first be traced as an unnamed beerhouse kept by Robert Knowles. Bagshaw’s Directory of Cheshire of 1855 listed, under Beer Houses, ‘Knowles Robert, William Street’. It was probably one of the many beerhouses opened after the 1830 Act. In 1855 Knowles was granted a full licence.

It was referred to in the Chester Chronicle in 1855 as The Ship and in 1858 as The Victory. It was definitely called The Ship Victory from 1868 at the latest.

Right: The Ship Victory seen sometime during the 1950s. As may be seen from our modern photographs, the row of shops between it and the George Street School (now converted for student housing) have long since vanished.

It is, surprisingly perhaps, the only pub in Great Britain to be named after Nelson's flagship, HMS Victory. The story goes that the building was originally converted from a stables and hay loft to an ale house for the benefit of the proliferating numbers of sailors and soldiers travelling through the Port of Chester en route to the Napoleonic Wars. That the inn was first recorded in 1855, but the nation’s struggles against Bonaparte ceased fourty years earlier, in 1815, presents some difficulties regarding the accuracy of this story..

It appeared in Phillipson & Golder’s Directory in 1871, landlord Robert Knowles, aged 65, widower. As we saw above, he had been here since at least 1855. The census for that year also lists him in residence but gives the address as being in the road on the corner, 48 William Street.
Robert died 'in office' in 1874, aged 70. He made his will on 22 August 1874, making a mark instead of signing his name, presumably because he was too ill to write; he died on the following day.
The will started ‘I Robert Knowles of George Street, Chester, being on my death bed but still in possession of my faculties, do leave and bequeath…’ He left all his property 2/3 to Robert Liversage and 1/3 to Mary Thelwell. According to the note of probate, ‘The Testator Robert Knowles was late of the Ship Victory Inn in George Street in the City of Chester Licensed Victualler and died on the 23rd day of August 1874 at the Ship Victory Inn aforesaid.’
The will was proved by the executors Rev James Davidson and Samuel Davies, but the pub licence was transferred to Davies alone, as the clergyman did not wish to be associated with a pub.

joe gildeaIn the same year, 1874, Joseph Griffiths took over as licencee. In 1877 Martha Griffiths, aged 40, became licencee upon her husband's death. Also there was her 11 year old daughter Jane. Ten years later, the census tells us that Martha was still in attendance, her inn’s address, however, changing to 51 George Street. Kelly’s Directories list her again in 1892 and 1896.

In 1888, at a big auction of Chester pubs attended by a crowd of brewers and wine and spirit merchants, the Birkenhead Brewery Company bought the Ship Victory for £2,350.

Kelly's Directory has Mrs Sarah Diggory as landlady in 1901, 1902, 1906 and 1910, her address latterly changing again to 49 George Street.
Kelly's Directory
has John Thomas Cunnington as licencee in 1911-14, also at 49 George Street. Edith Cunnington took over the licence from 1915 to 1921 when.. John Thomas Cunnington took over! The same JTC or perhaps his son?

Phillipson & Golder’s
lists Clifford Thomas Lyle as being in charge in 1934-6. Later in 1936 it was Owen Edward Foulkes, in 1940 Frank Cooper. Mrs Marian Lewis had the place 1943-54, succeeded by Robert James Wilson in 1954-6 (both Kelly’s), Thomas Robert Dickens in 1958, Dennis Aaron Abel in 1959 and Albert Myers was there in 1962.

Thanks to reader Peter Dyer for supplying some of the above names. We are, however, currently missing licencees from this point until the late 1970s. Can you help?

1978-81 Kim and Sue Peers (thanks to Chris Jeffery for this. He was in the darts team at the time), 1983-85 David Arnold Harrison.
Some confusion exists here as we have been informed that the Cheshire Observer of 14th June 1985 published a picture of the ‘re-opening’ of the Ship Victory, showing the owner Bernard Snell, the licensee Roger Snell, and representatives of Tetley Walker.

The following year, the pub was put up for sale at an asking price of £178,500. According to the estate agent’s leaflet...

advert for ship victory

In 1985-87 Alexander Joseph and Dorothy Gordon held the licence, 1987 John James Bird, 1991-94 Margaret Nield. From 1994-2014 Joseph John (Joe) Gildea- seen above left, just before retiring, in a photograph by Mike Penney- was the final licencee.

Joe and his wife Helen established the Angela Gildea Memorial Fund soon after Joe's daughter (to his first wife) died of breast cancer in 2002, and have raised well over £100,000 for the Countess of Chester’s Breast Care Unit. In recognition of their work, and almost similtaneously with his retirement and the closure of the pub, Joe was awarded the British Empire Medal in the Queen’s New Year Honours. Previously, in 2012, they had earned the Great British Pub Awards title of 'Britain's most charitable pub'.

In February 2012, the admirable Chester Beer Project reviewed the Ship as follows:

"This excellent boozer stands alone, surrounded by car parks, the original buildings around it having been demolished a long time ago. It’s like a plug of hard volcanic rock that’s resisted glacial erosion. And the metaphor can be extended to cover the character of the pub itself, because this place is wholeheartedly ‘old school’. You will not find ‘Horseradish Stout’, ‘Walloonian Wheat Beer’ or ‘Blue Lager’ being served here. What you will find is an excellent pint of Tetley bitter, friendly staff, good conversation and a great atmosphere. They don’t make them like this anymore".

The Ship Victory was owned by Cheshire West and Chester Council. They, in their wisdom, decided that the place was no longer commercially viable, allegedly requiring large sums of money spending to bring it up to modern standards, and also hinted at "development opportunities" for the site. In January 2014, they nontheless insist that "no decision has been taken" requiring the Ship's future..

blackboard at ship victoryAn excellent article, Ship Valedictory, in the local CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) publication Out Inn Cheshire had this to say, "This was undoubtedly the end of an era... as the free house was closing forthwith; its whole future shrouded in mystery and ugly rumour. An application to make the pub an 'Asset of Community Value' has been submitted by the branch to Cheshire West and Chester Council (CWaC) but CWaC are both the owners and the body who decide which applications are successful. We'll be watching carefully how this blatant conflict of interest is handled".

By early Summer 2014, we had learned that a the Friends of the Ship Victory had applied to purchase the pub and undertake all necessary repairs and upgrading, thus rendering CWAC's excuse that "it would take £150,000 to do this" obsolete. The Friends had also applied to the council to list the building as an ACV- an Asset of Community Value, which would allow them six months protection to buy the pub under the Localism Act 2011– but were shocked when the council refused their application, saying "it was not a viable asset”. It is thought it is the first time an ACV application has been refused by any local authority in the UK.

Around this time we also learned that the entire Gorse Stacks car park, including the site of the pub, was to be allocated to the construction of Chester's new bus station, intended to replace the existing one behind the Town Hall as this was said to be required for the years-long-delayed Northgate Development Scheme.

Council leader Mike Jones, who used to drink in the pub before football matches and has openly supported saving the Ship Victory, said: “I just love the old buildings in Chester, and for that reason I have insisted we have a full consultation. Unfortunately, the engineer cannot go forward with the bus interchange unless the Ship Victory is removed.”

A spokesperson for CWaC, one Rachel Ashley, said if the "preferred option" went ahead the Ship Victory would need to be demolished, but they would consider "putting a plaque or information board to honour the pub".

"It is a drive in, drive out facility, not one which would have buses reversing. The only straight forward way would be without The Ship Victory on site. Because it is in an area earmarked for redevelopment there is no community right to buy in these circumstances.

This section of an old Chester map shows how the Ship Victory and its neighbouring pubs stood close to the Cattle Market in a landscape that is entirely unfamiliar to modern eyes. Go here to visit the pub's own website..

ship victory 2

Above and below: the Ship Victory, outside and in, at Christmas 2013- pause to admire those psychedelic carpets!

ship victory 1964

Three photographs of the Ship Victory and its surroundings taken 30th March 1964. Thanks to Keith Hobbs

ship victory 1964

ship victory 1964

gorse stacks 1932

For those readers confused by references to Chester's vanished Cattle Market, this interesting aerial photograph, dating from 1932, should help; it shows its boundaries and some of the buildings that surrounded it.
At top left we have the City Walls, Deanery Field and Phoenix Tower. Top centre may be seen the Primitive Methodist Chapel on the corner of George and Delamere Streets. After its demolition, the site was occupied by a bus and coach station but is currently being redeveloped as a 'super surgery', office and apartment complex, in many people's view, on a scale entirely unsuited to Chester's historic and sensitive townscape.

Following George Street down, we encounter the former George Street School- now, complete with crass modern extensions, being turned into student housing- and a line of pubs: the Royal George, the Farmer's Arms (corner of Oulton Place), the Ship Victory (corner of William Street) and the Market Tavern (corner of Thomas Street). Among the buildings in the left foreground was a narrow thoroughfare by the name of White Alley wherein was an inn by the name of The Drover's Arms.

To the left, the interestingly-named Gorse Stacks branches off. Many of the old buildings here- chapels, shops and cottages, are still with us in some form today.

Since the demolition of the Cattle Market, the central space has been occupied by the cheerless Gorse Stacks Car Park. All manner of redevelopment plans have come and gone in regard to this site over the years, from the hair-brained 'Millennium Wall' to the equally-dotty 'Glass Slug' council office scheme. All have disappeared into the obscurity they deserved. The latest is that a vast bus station is to be erected here and we have been told that it will be necessary to demolish the pub as a result.
Watch this space for developments. In early 2015, campaigners opposed to the demolition plans established a Twitter group to fight them.

November 2015: Despite a spirited campaign to save it, the Ship Victory was demolished in early November.

demolition of ship victory 11/15

demolition of ship victory 11/15

demolition of ship victory 11/15

demolition of ship victory 11/15

demolition of ship victory 11/15

ship victory sign
The Ship Victory's sign was rescued from the demolition rubble and eventually restored. It now hangs from its original ornate ironwork in the garden of Ye Olde Cottage Inn in Brook Street, together with a new plaque that lists the names of past licencees.. this photograph of it by the author was taken in November 2017..

ship vistory signs

ship vistory licencees

Do you have any more information about this old pub?

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Modern photographs and text © Steve Howe/B&W Picture Place