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A Virtual Stroll Around the Walls of Chester

Tower Wharf

St. Martin's Gate

Site Front Door
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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
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St. John's Church

The 'Roman Garden'
River Dee & Grosvenor Park

The Bridgegate

The Castle

The Grosvenor Bridge
The Roodee

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 / gallery
Chester's Lost Cinemas
The Old Port
The Chester Canal
The Royalty Theatre
Chris Langford Gallery
Louise Rayner Gallery
Mystery Plays Gallery
Chester Anagrams!
MickleTrafford Railway Stroll
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Standing at the top of the steps leading down from the city walls near the Watertower, we can see an interesting microcosm of British transport history. The Shropshire Union Canal passes under a railway bridge and then makes a right-angled turn to the north, broadening into the Tower Wharf Basin.

Right: The canal frozen solid during the long hard winter of 1992. Telford's Warehouse is in the background. (Photograph by the author).

To the west, a branch leads down through three locks to the River Dee. The railway, as previously mentioned, passes through the walls en route from Holyhead to London. Above the canal locks you can see the great concrete supports carrying the 1960s Inner Ring Road from St. Martin's Gate- which we shall visit shortly- to the Fountains Roundabout.

Just across the road, and taking its name from the medieval Watertower, Tower Wharf is particularly interesting corner of Chester that is well worth interrupting your tour of the city walls to explore, especially so as, in the very near future, it is due to be radically redeveloped by British Waterways.

Reportedly involving the construction of yet more hotels, apartments and offices, locals fear the changes may also bring about the sweeping away or 'prettification' of much that makes the area special.

Certainly, nobody was sorry to see the demolition of the ugly and derelict British Telecom office block which formerly occupied much of the site, but many feel it would be a great shame if other open spaces were filled with mediocre new buildings and the existing businesses and boat residents- on and off the water- driven out by gentrification and the rent rises that inevitably accompany it.

(Note the complete- and worrying- lack of water craft but thick press of new buildings in the 'artist's impression' of a redeveloped Tower Wharf at the bottom of the page.)

Telford's Warehouse- a splendid 18th century former canal warehouse (seen in the centre background of this photograph and the one above) situated here is a case in point. For many years, it has been a unique popular live music and arts venue, contributing enormously to the cultural life of the city- and in the daytime and early evening is a relaxing spot, ideal for indulging in a spot of well-earned refreshment and good conversation.

At one point, British Waterways planned to convert the building next to it into a hotel and hinted at turning Telford's into their idea of a 'businessman's bar' connected to it by a walkway. Public opinion- even from within the city council- considered many of BW's ideas for this sensitive site to be 'ill judged'. Chester's Member of Parliament- and local resident- Christine Russell admirably expressed the view that BW's plans "should aspire to the standard of Telford's rather than dragging Telford's down to the level of BW's plans". The short-sighted scheme was soon dropped and we're happy to report that the future of Telford's as we know and love it is, for the moment, now assured.

Except that, on Saturday, 22nd July 2000, Telford's was badly damaged by fire! A small blaze broke out in the kitchen and spread via ventilation ducts to the upper floors and roof, where the worst damage occured. All customers and staff were safely evacuated from the building with the exception of poor Elbow, the resident cat, who sadly died. Telford's was consequently forced to remain closed for the best part of a year to allow restoration work to take place but eventually held its re-opening party on 20th June 2001- and what a night it was!... Welcome back.

Be sure to visit the Telford's website where you can find full details of their excellent programme of live music events. Highly recommended.

This anonymous watercolour shows the Tower Wharf area as it appeared in 1790; somewhat more rural but, on the whole, entirely familiar to modern eyes, Bonewaldesthorne's and the Watertower and Telford's Warehouse looking much as they do to us today.

Close by Telford's Warehouse is Taylor's Boatyard (illustrated below), a busy repair and restoration facility, now run by David Jones Boat Builders- benefitting the many craft using this section of the canal network, which at its height employed almost 200 people building and maintaining the canal company's fleet of 640 wooden boats. British Waterways had proposed turning this interesting structure into office accomodation, of all things, but a public outcry led to this idea being abandoned, and an organisation of concerned individuals, the Taylor's Yard Development Group has now appeared, who have held 'open weekends' when they showed visitors around the site and told them something of its history.

The building adjoining Telford's Warehouse was formerly the Ellsmere Canal Tavern (seen in both the old pictures above) which supplied refreshment and accomodation to the many people who travelled by canal boat from Tower Wharf to the Mersey at Ellsmere Port and thence by ferry to Liverpool.

The service started in 1795, cost 1/6d 1st class and 1/- second and took five or six hours to get to Liverpool, refreshments being served on board. The service was once very popular- in 1801, 15,000 people used it- but it was forced out of business by the opening of the railway to Birkenhead and closed in 1841. The building, until recently occupied as offices by the Church of England, has now been restored to serve as British Waterways' own regional headquarters.

As part of the redevelopment of the area, the old North Basin, which was filled in when the canal network went into decline during the 1950s, was re-excavated to provided additional mooring and also to serve as a 'visual feature' for whatever new buildings are eventually erected around it. The project cost £410,000 and water was first admitted to the restored basin in July 2000. A couple of months later, in September, it was formerly opened by Chester's Lord Mayor and Admiral of the Dee, Councillor Reggie Jones, who led a fleet of historic boats into the basin for the first time in half a century.

To assist the filling-in process, at least ten great old wooden canal boats had been deliberately sunk in the basin and then covered over with rubble. An archaeological investigation funded by British Waterways in the Winter of 1998 rediscovered these old craft and they could be viewed from the bridge crossing the canal at this point. The majority of them dated from the 1870s and would probably have been operated by the Shropshire Union Canal Company at a time when Tower Wharf was one of the prime staging posts on the canal and had a key role in the early transport network of the North West.

Efforts have been made to ensure the preservation of at least some of the craft, seven of which are wide Mersey Flats and three other traditional narrow boats. This photograph shows one of the hulks emerging from the mud.

sunken barge 1998But not for long, it seemed, for in June 2001, British Waterways unveiled their long-awaited £35 million "blueprint for the future" of the 8.5 acre brownfield site. Working in conjunction with developers CTP Ltd and Bellway Homes, plans include the construction of a 200-bed hotel, located directly opposite Telford's Warehouse (marked with a red dot in the illustration below) and run by "an international operator" (the 1997 planning permission was for just 80 beds) and 141 residential units, including a mixture of townhouses, maisonettes and flats- the centrepiece of which will be a seven-storey tower block offering views over the canal and designed to act as a 'focus' for the development. The majority of the surrounding structures will be of three and four storeys however.

There are also to be 60,000 sq ft of offices and 'leisure facilities' such as restaurants and bars with apartments above. One restaurant, close to the aforementioned restored canal basin (marked with a yellow dot), is said to be a "glass structure above a colonnade", which would be illuminated at night.

No decision has apparently yet been made regarding the British Telecom exchange building (seen on the right of our photograph above) still occupying part of the site, but it seems unlikely that its less-than-attractive utilitarian design will find a place among the bright new flats and wine bars.

The western side of the canal, including the listed dry dock and roving bridge, will apparently remain untouched by the development, but it is reported that, once again, the Taylor's boatyard complex is threatened with being turned into offices.

Discussions about the proposals are currently underway with the city council and the influential resident's group, the Canal Basin Community Forum, and these, it is said, may result in the provision of 25% of the site being given over to so-called "affordable" housing although just where these homes for 'ordinary' folk would be located is as yet uncertain.

One thing, we're sure you'll agree, is clear from the architect's drawing; that the development aims to pack in as many profitable buildings as possible into the available space- and that virtually not a square foot of green is anywhere in evidence...

But then, almost two years later, in May 2003, the local press reported that the future of the entire affair had been again thrown into question. Prompted by the large number of complaints coming from local residents and groups, city planners have, remarkably, requested that the developers ditch their current proposals and enter into fresh negotiations in order to come up with plans that would be rather more acceptable to the local community, not to mention fellow-objectors English Heritage (presumably because of the rotten architecture), Cheshire County Council Highways (because of transport and access issues)- and the increasingly irrelevant Chester Civic Trust (who actually approved the proposed demolition of the unique Electric Light Building and its replacement by some deeply unpleasant and unsuitable glass-and-steel tower blocks just down the road in the so-called Old Port just a few years back. To everyone's relief but theirs, unsuccessfully as it turned out...)

tower wharf development artist's impressionThis artist's impression of the redeveloped Tower Wharf appeared during the summer of 2005, when there was a brief flurry of excitement that the project was back on the rails. Telford's Warehouse is on the far right and then it's closely-packed apartment blocks and offices as far as the eye can see...

This interesting reminiscience about Tower Wharf and the old buried canal craft from Alex Woods appeared in the local press in December 1998:

"When what is seen as a momentous discovery falls within that which you knew well as a child, you start to feel really old. In fact the whole area from the filled-in basin along the canal to the river lock was a graveyard of boats, mainly flats, which as children we played on and later fished from. Those opposite the telephone building were in the best condition and were perfectly safe to walk all over. But at that time, flats, never as wide as described in some archival material, still used to come up the Dee on high tides, pass through the swing bridge and eventually squeeze through the canal at Northgate Street. The huge rush of water past the boat's sides as the canal sought to restore its level causing great excitement.
It isn't really that long ago though, is it?"

building work at Tower WharfAfter years of delay, work on the new development at Tower Wharf finally got underway in January 2008.

Users of the towpath running between here and the Millennium Cycleway should note that it has been closed for approximately 20 weeks but that it is still accessible from the far side of the canal via the footbridge.

By October 2008, the sea of mud that for a while comprised the construction site had gone and the new access roads and suchlike were in place but, doubtlessly due to the global banking crisis, all work seemed to have once again ground to a halt. Watch this space for more news and photographs of the changes as they occur. See picture below...

For those readers who would like to know more about Chester's historic canal system, we highly recommend a recently published book edited by local historian and author Gordon Emery (who lives just across the road from Tower Wharf)- The Old Chester Canal: a History and Guide, which is available in local bookshops or send a SAE to 27 Gladstone Road, Chester CH1 4BZ to receive a list of his fascinating and informative books.

The remarkable artist John McGahey drew this fascinating view of the Tower Wharf area as he hung beneath his balloon in 1855...

new apartments at tower wharf
May 2013: new apartment blocks at Tower Wharf

new apartments at Tower Wharf

Now, suitably refreshed, we will rejoin the City Walls and embark on the homeward stretch of our epic journey, via St. Martin's Gate...

Curiousities from Chester's History no. 25

  • 1763 Mr Evans-Jones offered to pay the cost of reclaiming land, so that ships up to 100 tons could sail up to the City Walls, provided the land so reclaimed be vested in him, on payment of the usual Crown rent. The money was to be accumulated in order to finance the building of ships for the benefit of the City companies, the profits to be divided amongst them. Evans-Jones wished to claim a levy on coals, lime and stone, and for this reason the scheme was rejected. However, over 1410 acres of land was reclaimed, and a passage created to the sea, by the River Dee Company.
    In the same year, between an application to construct a cellar and a complaint about an unsafe well-head, the City Assembly books record: "Upon reading the petition of Sheriffs John Drake and Wm Dicas for £12.16s. 8d expenses for the execution of Mary Heald, who was burned at Spittle Boughton on Saturday 23rd April for the murder (by poisoning) of her husband, which exceeded those normally disbursed by the Sheriffs for the common execution of felons and malefactors, the Treasurer was ordered to pay the same".

    "In reference to the execution of Mary Heald at Spittle Boughton, in 1763, I found the article very interesting as I had been looking for quite awhile for some definite info about her and the execution. For you information she was married in 1749 to Samuel Heald, of Mere, and in February 1742 had a son, John, May 1744, she had a son Samuel, Nov 1746, a son Joshua. Then in May 1749 Joshua died. In November 1749, she had a son, who they named Joshua. Then in Jan 1752, Henry was born, Aug 1754 James born and Apr 1757 William was born. Then tragedy struck again and Henry died in May 1761, at age 8. Then in October of the following year, for reasons unknown, Mary poisons her husband Samuel, and passes into the history book.
    My ancestors came from Mobberley to America in 1703, Samuel was related to them somewhere along the way. And I believe that Samuel's (born 7th Dec 1709) parents were William and Hannah Heald of Nether Walton. Thank you for the article, it was very informative".
    Bill Heald, Sanger, California 4/12/2000
  • 1779 Sarah Jones was executed at Boughton for stealing 28 yards of chintz from the shop of Mr Meacock in Chester.
  • 1789 Thomas Mate hung at Boughton for the murder of Constable John Parry at Handbridge. Mate was 64 years old and, when at the gallows, publicly accused his 70 year-old wife of infidelity.
  • 1791 Allen, Asten and Knox executed for burglary. Upon this occasion, the fateful tree was removed from Gallows Hill to the other side of the road, whence it remained until 1801 when the place of execution was finally removed within the walls of the city.

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