A Virtual Stroll Around the Walls of Chester

The Vanished Pubs of Chester Gallery

yacht inn

yacht innThe venerable Yacht Inn for centuries stood at no 81 Watergate Street on the corner of Nicolas Street before it was demolished in 1964 to make way for the coming of the Inner Ring Road.

Its landlord in 1749 had been Thomas Hart, in 1780 Simeon Leet, in 1782 Mrs Leet, in 1818-20 Benjamin Powell, in 1828 Benjamin Sowell, in 1850 John Heppel, in 1880 Daniel Miller, in 1902 Henry Ellison Ostle, in 1910-1914 William Henry Lucas.

It was recorded as being used as a polling station in 1809.

axe tavern and yachtThis 19th century engraving (right) shows the inn, which was named after the Yacht Field upon which it was built, and the view up Watergate Street towards the centre of the city and the High Cross. On the left, Holy Trinity Church is yet to be rebuilt in the form we know it today with its tall spire- which work was carried out in 1865-9 by James Harrison.

Left: this interesting old photograph shows the Yacht Inn at the end of the street and, nearest to us, The Axe Tavern.

This advertisement for the old Yacht appeared in Adams’s Weekly Courant, 7th March 1780:

"YATCH INN, Chester. SIMEON LEET, OF the PY’D BULL, in Northgate-street, Chester, humbly begs Leave to inform the Public, That for several Reasons, particularly the great Distance of his present House from the Center of the City, which rendered it very inconvenient to Travellers, he has taken that compleat and old-established Inn, the YATCH, and intends entering on it by the 25th of this Inst. March, where he hopes to be honoured with the Countenance of his Friends who have resorted to the Py’d Bull, as well as those Gentlemen who have usually bestowed their Favours to the Yacht.
The Yatch will be fitted up in a very commodious Manner, and the utmost Endeavours will be exerted to give the fullest Satisfaction to all his guests, and to prove himself their very gratefully obliged and obedient humble Servant, SIMEON LEET.
yacht inn 1965N. B. Good Post-Chaises and careful Drivers at the shortest Notice".

Simeon was soon to pass on, apparently, as The Yacht appears in Cowdroy's Directory two years later, in 1782 with its licencee being given as Mrs Leet.

The Yacht is seen in this photograph of c.1900, which shows the view up the street towards Chester Castle. It is hard to believe that only forty ago, this vista remained almost unaltered. But then the Yacht, the venerable Church of St. Martin and every other bulding seen on the left hand side of the photograph was demolished for road widening and today this quiet scene seems difficult to imagine. As may be seen on the right, the inn and its surroundings seem not to have changed for sixty years.

The old inn was described in the 19th century as "without exception the most picturesque and curious of all our Chester inns" and a century before that was considered "the premier hostelry in the city on its most important street".

Both the London and Ireland stage coaches called at its door and it was noted for its feasts, entertainments and good accomodation. However, the great churchman, satirist and author Jonathan Swift was somewhat less enthusiastic...

My landlord is civil, but dear as the devil:
Your pockets grow empty with nothing to tempt ye:
The wine is so sour, t'will give you the scour:
The beer and the ale are mingled with stale:
The veal is such carrion, a dog would be weary on:
All this I have felt for I live on a smelt.

Swift was a frequent visitor to Chester, passing through on his way to and from Ireland and his duties as Dean of Dublin Cathedral. He did not seem to greatly enjoy the experience, especially when his stay in the city was extended due to bad weather at the port- by his time the wharves in Chester itself had become unusable and he would have had to travel a few miles by coach to the satellite port of Parkgate along the Wirral coast. During one of these enforced delays, he invited a number of dignitaries from the Cathedral to join him for a meal at the Yacht, but none of them bothered to turn up. Infuriated and insulted, with his diamond ring he scratched into one of the windows:

Rotten without and mould'ring within, this place and its clergy are all near akin

yacht innSwift did not, however, confine his disparaging comments merely to Chester's clergy, as is hilariously illustrated in the following:

The walls of this town
Are full of renown,
And strangers delight to walk round 'em;
But as for the dwellers,
Both buyers and sellers,
For me, you may hang 'em or drown 'em.

By the mid-nineteenth century, the old inn had fallen on hard times; in 1853 it was described as "now reduced to very humble pretensions compared to its former character" and, a century on, had apparently become just another street corner pub.

On the right, we see the old Yacht in its final days, as viewed from the far side of Nicolas Street. Yhe scene remains apparently peaceful- a far cry from the orgy of speeding traffic that roars through here today. The building on the far right is still standing and until very recently housed a fine antiquarian bookshop.

In 1965, the ancient Yacht, its windows and scratchings- together with every other building on the left-hand side of the photograph below- were bulldozed during the creation of the Inner Ring Road, and their foundations and cellars now lie beneath the left-hand carriageway of busy Nicolas Street..

yacht inn

the yacht inn

side view of Yacht 1960s
the yacht from watergate street
Drawing from 'Chester As It Was' by J S Howson, Dean of Chester 1872

yacht inn

yacht interior 1965
Packing up: final days at the Yacht, 1964

The following grim story was written by Elaine Pierce Jones of the excellent Chester History & Heritage. We're very grateful to her for sharing it with us here..

Tragedy at the Yacht Inn roof space at Yacht Inn 1965
In December 1875, Kent-born widower Daniel Miller married Martha Wenham, a young woman of 25. He had been left with four young children to look after and bring up, and although a cooper by trade, failing eyesight was hampering his work so in late 1878 he used up all his savings and took over as the landlord of the Yacht Inn, Watergate Street, intending to start a new life in Chester, where he already had relatives living.

From the beginning delicate Martha Miller suffered ill health, nervousness and attacks of melancholy, possibly exacerbated by post natal depression – she gave birth to a daughter Alice in 1876 and a second child Elizabeth Mary in 1878. She had also been coughing up blood, a sign of consumption.

Right: ancient oak beams in the roof of the Yacht, photographed just before its destruction in 1965. Can you see the ghost?

One Friday evening in June 1879 Martha went up to bed at the Inn at about 8pm, taking her two small children with her. A little before 11pm her 10 year old stepdaughter Emma heard piercing screams coming from the bedroom and ran to alert her father who was sitting in the clubroom with some customers. Daniel rushed upstairs, broke down the locked door and found that his wife had cut the children’s throats – and her own. He shouted for help and one of the customers went up to see the children covered in blood, soaking their nightclothes and the bedding and Martha sitting on the bed, fully dressed but bleeding from the neck. A table knife was lying on the floor.

cutting about murder at yachtThree doctors and the police quickly arrived. Martha at this point was so violently agitated that a straight jacket was obtained from the Infirmary and two nurses called in to attend to her and the injured children. Daniel’s aunt, a Mrs Eliza Richardson who was landlady of the Ship Inn, Handbridge, was also sent for and later testified that Martha had been rambling and muttering, saying “Bronchitis, measles, whooping cough and now they say that I am in decline – we will all four go together”.

Little Alice died from loss of blood on the Sunday and that same morning Martha again tried to kill herself by managing to release one of her hands from the straight jacket, loosening the tapes that tied it and fastening them to the bed head in an attempt to strangle herself. Baby Elizabeth was then taken to the Infirmary to recover and poor Martha was sent to the Lunatic Asylum.

yacht innDaniel’s nightmare persisted. In July he was called before the Board of Guardians and pressed for money towards his wife’s upkeep in the asylum. Desperately he tried to explain that he had nothing – trade had all but disappeared from the pub since the tragedy and he had children to maintain – although Elizabeth Mary had survived her mother’s attack she too had developed consumption and urgently needed medication The Guardians were divided in their opinions, whilst a number expressed compassion, others were adamant that the monies were due. The Chairman himself intimated that the reason Daniel could no longer ply his trade as a cooper was “his own fault”. One of the most sympathetic was Thomas Quellyn Roberts who stated “he is as poor as a church mouse..if you take harsh measures you will certainly not meet with my approval”. Despite his intervention Daniel was summonsed in August and a maintenance order was imposed.

In the event, the order was immaterial as in October Martha died in the Lunatic Asylum – three days after giving birth to a premature baby girl, christened Martha. This sickly, frail baby died a few weeks later and was buried with her mother and sister Alice in Overleigh Cemetery. This pregnancy explains Martha’s anguished comment in June – “we will all four go together”

In 1881 Daniel gave up his licence. During his short stay in Chester he had lost his wife, two children, his home, his work and his savings. Where he lived after 1881, and for how long, we cannot say but he surely held no fond memories of our city and the heartbreaking times that he and his sad family endured here.

yacht inn coaching advert
An 18th century coaching advertisment

Do you have any more information about this old pub?

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