Chester

CHESTER, a city, port, and county of itself, locally in the hundred of Broxton, S. division of the county of Chester, of which it is the capital, 17 miles (S.) from Liverpool, 36 (S. W.) from Manchester, and 197 (N. W.) from London; containing 23,115 inhabitants, and, including those portions of the parishes of St. Mary on the Hill, St. Oswald, and the Holy Trinity, which are without the limits of the city, 25,613. The origin of this ancient city has been ascribed to the Cornavii, a British tribe who, at the time of the Roman invasion, inhabited that part of the island which now includes the counties of Chester, Salop, Stafford, Warwick, and Worcester; and its British name Caer Leon Vawr, "city of Leon the Great," has been referred to Leon, son of Brût Darian Là, eighth king of Britain. But there is no authentic account of Chester prior to the period when it was made the station of the twentieth Roman legion, after the defeat of Caractacus; and the more respectable historians deduce its names, Caer Leon Vawr, "city" or "camp of the great legion," and Caer Leon ar Dwfyr dwy, "the city of the legion on the Dee," from its connexion with the Roman people. It was also called Deunana and Deva, from the same river. The Romans occupied it from the year 46 till their departure from the island in 446, when it reverted to the Britons, from whom it was taken by Ethelfrith, king of Northumbria, who in 607 defeated them with the king of Powysland, with great slaughter. Having regained the place, the Britons continued to hold it till 828, when Egbert, as sole monarch of England, annexed it to his other possessions. By the Saxons the city was called Legancester and Legecester. It suffered greatly from the Danes in the ninth century: on their retreat, the walls were repaired by Ethelfreda, Countess of Mercia: and after her death the Britons once more became its masters, but were again driven out by Edward the Elder. In 971–3, Edgar assembled a naval force on the Dee, on which occasion that king, as mentioned by some writers, was rowed from his palace on the southern bank of the river to the conventual church of St. John, by eight tributary kings, he himself taking the helm, to denote his supremacy.

On the division of England between Canute and Edmund Ironside, in 1016, Canute retained possession of Mercia and Northumbria; and Chester, which was included in Mercia, continued to form part of it till the Norman Conquest, when William bestowed it, with the earldom, on his kinsman, Hugh Lupus. At this time, according to Domesday book, the city contained 431 rateable houses. For more than two centuries after the Conquest, it was the head-quarters of the troops employed to defend the English border against the incursive attacks of the Welsh, and, on account of its importance as a military station, was more or less favoured by the reigning monarchs. In the war between Henry III. and the barons, Chester was captured by the Earl of Derby, in the year 1264, and held for the crown till the battle of Evesham, in which the barons were defeated with the loss of their leader, and an end put to the contest. On the subjugation of Wales, in 1300, by Edward I., several of the Welsh chieftains did homage to his son, Edward of Carnarvon, then an infant, in Chester Castle. Richard II., by an act of parliament which was rescinded by his successor, erected the earldom of Chester into a principality, to be held only by the king's eldest son.

The city, in common with the whole county, suffered considerably from the sanguinary conflicts between the houses of York and Lancaster, during which it was visited by Margaret of Anjou. In 1554, the inhabitants experienced the severity of the persecution by which the reign of Mary was distinguished; and the martyrdom of George Marsh, a clergyman who was burnt for preaching the tenets of Protestantism, was rendered memorable by an attempt of one of the sheriffs to rescue him, which was defeated by the other. In 1634, the city suffered dreadfully from the plague; during its continuance the court of exchequer was removed to Tarvin, and the court of assize to Nantwich, and the fairs were suspended. In the memorable siege of the city by Sir William Brereton, in 1645, when the garrison was commanded by Lord Byron, the inhabitants experienced great privations for their adherence to the cause of Charles I., who had the mortification to witness, from the Phœnix tower and the great tower of the cathedral, the entire defeat of his army under Sir Marmaduke Langdale, and its pursuit by the enemy even to the very walls. The noble commander, after a gallant resistance, surrendered on honourable terms, February 3rd, 1646. In 1659, Sir George Booth surprised and took possession of the city, but it was soon given up to the parliamentary forces under General Lambert. In 1688, the Roman Catholic lords, Molyneux and Aston, raised a force, and made themselves masters of Chester, for James II.; but his abdication rendered further efforts useless. Under William III. it was chosen one of the six cities for the residence of an assay-master, and allowed to issue silver coinage. In the rebellion of 1745, it was fortified against the Pretender, the last military event of importance recorded of a place celebrated as the rendezvous of troops from the earliest times.

Situated on a rocky elevation, on the northern bank of the Dee, and half encircled by a fine sweep of the river, the appearance of Chester is remarkable and picturesque. The city is entirely surrounded by a wall, and comprises four principal streets, diverging at right angles from a common centre, and extending towards the cardinal points; at the extremities of the streets are gates, after three of which are respectively named Eastgate-street, Northgate-street, and Watergate-street. This plan, strictly conformable to the Roman style of building, affords strong presumptive evidence of a Roman origin. Within the liberty of the city is an extensive southern suburb, called Hanbridge, which in feudal times generally fell a prey to the predatory incursions of the Welsh, and thence obtained, in their language, the appellation of Treboeth, "the burnt town." The streets of Chester, being cut out of the rock, are several feet below the general surface, a circumstance that has led to a singular construction of the houses. Level with the streets are low shops, or warehouses, over which is an open balustraded gallery, with steps at convenient distances into the streets; and along the galleries, or, as they are called by the inhabitants, "rows," are houses with shops: the upper stories are erected over the row, which, consequently, appears to be formed through the first floor of each house; and at the intersection of the streets are additional flights of steps. The rows in Bridge and Eastgate streets, running through the principal part of the city, are much frequented as promenades. Pennant considered these curious galleries to be remnants of the vestibules of Roman houses; but other writers are of opinion that they were originally constructed for defence, especially against the sudden inroads of the Welsh. The fronts of such of them as have not been modernised are bounded by a heavy wooden railing; and immense pillars of oak, supporting transverse beams, sustain the weight of the upper stories. Many of the houses in Bridge and Eastgate streets, having been rebuilt, are considerably improved and enlarged, and their appearance rendered light by iron-railing. The streets are well lighted with gas; they are indifferently paved, but the inconvenience to foot passengers, to whom the rows afford a sheltered walk, is little felt: the inhabitants are plentifully supplied with water, and the city, both within and without the walls, has been much improved of late by the addition of well-built houses. The new bridge, consisting of one arch of 200 feet in the span, is constructed of Peckforton stone, with quoins of granite, at an expense of £50,000, from a design by Mr. Thomas Harrison: the old bridge, consisting of seven arches, has, within the last few years, been considerably widened. In 1845 an act was passed for further improving the city, and for establishing new market-places. Fine views of the peninsula of Wirrall, the Welsh hills, and the estuary of the Dee, are obtained from the walls, which afford a delightful and favourite promenade. There are two public libraries: the theatre, a small neat edifice, is open during the races, and generally throughout the summer; and grand musical meetings are held at distant periods. The races, which attract much company from Wales and the neighbouring counties, commence on the first Monday in May, and terminate on the Friday following; they take place on the Rood-eye, a fine level beneath the city walls, well adapted to the purpose.

The port is not of much importance, owing to the shallowness of the water; but, by the exertions of the River Dee Company, the channel has been deepened, the navigation improved, and a tract of ground, formerly sands, but now arable land, has been gained by altering the course of the river, and making embankments, the last of which was completed in 1824. The commerce, both domestic and foreign, was once somewhat extensive, but is now chiefly confined to Ireland, though a few ships trade with the Baltic, Spain, Portugal, and the Mediterranean shores. The articles imported are, linen, butter, provisions, timber, hides, tallow, feathers, iron, hemp, flax, kid and lamb skins, fruit, oil, barilla, and wine; those shipped, chiefly coastwise, are cheese (in large quantities), coal, lead, copper, calamine, and lead, copper, and iron ores. About 1736, Chester became a great mart for Irish linen, the trade in which increased so much, that the fairs were principally distinguished by the quantity sold annually at them, estimated at 4,000,000 yards. The manufactures are inconsiderable; the principal articles are tobacco, snuff, whitelead, shot, tobacco-pipes, and leather. The skin trade was formerly extensive, but is now extinct; and the manufacture of gloves, in which several hundred persons were employed, has much declined. The city mills, standing on the western side of the old bridge, are complete and extensive; they were erected a few years since, in consequence of the destruction by fire of the former mills, which were a source of considerable profit to the earls of Chester, the inhabitants not being permitted to grind their corn elsewhere.

Chester is connected with Liverpool by the Ellesmere canal, which commences at Ellesmere Port, on the Mersey, and here joins the Dee and the Chester canal. The Chester and Crewe railway diverges from the Liverpool and Birmingham railway a little to the north of Crewe, and proceeds in a west-north-west direction towards Chester, on reaching which, it is connected with the Chester and Birkenhead line at its terminal station in Brook-street; it was opened in October, 1840. The Birkenhead line commences at the station in Brookstreet, and runs north-north-west to Birkenhead; it was opened for passengers and general traffic in September, 1840, and is 16 miles long. A railway to Holyhead has been carried straight through the walls of the city, so as to cut them in two places; the walls are here of considerable height, and the railway reaches them from a bridge that has been thrown over a canal, and leaves them by an embankment that is carried onwards to the Dee. Two strong bridges of iron and wood continue the walk upon the walls, on which a person can stand and see a train passing immediately under his feet. In 1845 an act was passed for making a railway to Shrewsbury; and in 1846 another act authorizing the formation of a railway from Chester, to join the proposed line between Hooton and Stockport. In 1847 a central station was projected for all the lines meeting at Chester.

The market-days are Wednesday and Saturday: the market-place comprising five distinct buildings, was erected at the expense of the corporation, in 1828. Fairs are held on the last Thursday in February, for horses and cattle; and July 5th and October 10th, for articles in general, of which Irish linen, Manchester goods, Welsh flannel, and Birmingham and Sheffield wares, are the principal. The two latter fairs were granted by Norman earls; and their antiquity is proved by the recorded jurisdiction of the Dutton family over the Cheshire minstrels, which is said to have originated in the deliverance of Earl Ranulph de Blundeville from a body of Welsh invaders, by a band of minstrels and buffoons, under the command of Hugh Dutton, who had assembled at Chester fair; for which service Dutton was afterwards allowed to license minstrels, and other itinerants, without their being accounted vagabonds. Fourteen days before the commencement of each general fair, a wooden hand, as the emblem of traffic and bargain, used to be suspended from the Pentice, adjoining St. Peter's church, where it remained during the fair, a period of twenty-nine days, when non-freemen were allowed to trade in the city. Besides these fairs, are others for the sale of live-stock, held on the last Thursday in April, the first Thursday in September, and the last Thursday in November; and for the sale of cheese and other agricultural produce, on the days preceding all the fairs. The Linen Hall, built about the year 1780, is a spacious pile of building, forming an oblong, and comprises more than one hundred shops.

The city is one of the most ancient corporate towns in England. At the Conquest, it ranked as a Guilda Mercatoris, a constitution somewhat similar to that of modern municipal corporations; it was chartered by its Norman earls, and additional immunities were conferred on the inhabitants by charter of King John. Edward III. granted to the corporation all the vacant lands within the liberty of the city; and Richard II. authorized the mayor, sheriffs, and commonalty, to hold courts of common law and other courts, which privileges were confirmed and extended by Henry IV. and VI. Henry VII., besides granting a more extensive charter, remitted four-fifths of the fee-farm rent of £100 per annum, which Henry III. and Edward I. had claimed from the citizens in consideration of continuing their privileges; and constituted the city a county of itself, under the style of the "City and County of the City of Chester." Charles II. disfranchised it in 1684–5; but its liberties were afterwards restored, with a discretionary power in the crown to displace the officers of the corporation. James II., availing himself of this prerogative, displaced the mayor, recorder, and other functionaries, but was induced, at the approach of the Revolution, to restore them to office. By the act of the 5th and 6th of William IV., cap. 76, the government is vested in a mayor, 10 aldermen, and 30 councillors; the council appoint a sheriff; and the city, formerly in 12 wards, is by that act divided into 5 only: the number of magistrates is 15. No fewer than 24 guilds or trade companies, headed by aldermen or wardens, hold charters of incorporation under the city seal. The freedom of the city is inherited by all the sons of freemen, and acquired by servitude. On the abridgment of the privileges of the county palatine, in 1541, an act was passed, empowering the county to return two knights, and the city two burgesses, to parliament. The election for the city was vested in the mayor, aldermen, and common-councilmen, whether resident or not, and freemen resident in the city a year preceding, in number about 1300; but by the act of the 2nd of William IV., cap. 45, the right of voting was extended to the £10 householders; and the limits of the borough, which anciently comprised 3000 acres, were enlarged, so as, for electoral purposes, to include part of the township of Great Boughton, and comprehend 3080 acres. The sheriff is returning officer. By ancient usage, confirmed by the several charters, the mayor, assisted by the recorder, held crown-mote and port-mote courts: the recorder has been sole judge since the passing of the act of the 5th and 6th William IV. The earliest rolls in these courts are of the date 1277: the jurisdiction of the crown-mote extends to all crimes except that of high treason, the mayor having had power to pass sentence of death, and order execution, independently of the crown; and in the portmote, pleas to any amount are cognizable. There are two other ancient courts; one called the "Pentice court," which has cognizance of personal actions to any amount; and the other the "Port-mote court," held before the mayor, to which records are removable from the Pentice court, by command of the mayor, without writ. The courts of quarter-sessions are held in the exchange, where the town officers and the members for the city are elected; and the assizes for the county are held in the castle. The powers of the county debtcourt of Chester, established in 1847, extend over the registration-district of Great Boughton. The exchange is a handsome brick building, finished in 1698; it is fronted with stone, supported by columns, and surmounted by a glazed cupola. On the ground-floor are the record-room and shops; and on the first floor the council and assembly rooms, which are decorated with a picture of George III. by Reynolds, and portraits of members of the Grosvenor, Cholmondeley, Bunbury, and Egerton families, and of several charitable individuals. The city gaol contains twelve wards, day-rooms, and airing-yards, and eight work-rooms.

Of the ancient castle, built by the Conqueror, there remains only a large square tower, called "Julius Agricola's Tower," now used as a magazine for gunpowder. Though of modern appearance, having been newly fronted, it is undoubtedly of great antiquity, and interesting as the probable place of confinement of the Earl of Derby, and the place in which Richard II., and Margaret, Countess of Richmond, were imprisoned. In the second chamber James II. heard mass, on his tour through this part of the kingdom, a short time previously to the Revolution. This apartment, when opened after many years of disuse as a chapel, exhibited, from the richness of its decorations, a splendid appearance, the walls being completely covered with paintings in fresco, as vivid and beautiful as when executed; and the roof, from the fine effect produced by the ribs of the groined arches, springing elegantly from slender pillars with capitals in a chaste and curious style, was equally striking. The remainder of the original structure, which was pulled down in 1790, contained a room termed Hugh Lupus' Hall, that was regarded as a superb specimen of baronial grandeur. The new edifice, which has excited general admiration, was erected from a design by Mr. Harrison, and under his inspection: the principal entrance is of the Doric order, resembling the Propylæa at Athens. Opposite to the great gate is the shire-hall, a magnificent structure: on the right of the hall is the entrance to the gaol, which is appropriated to debtors and felons of the county. At the eastern side of the yard are barracks for 120 men, fronted with white freestone, and ornamented with Ionic pillars; on the western side is a corresponding building, used as an armoury, which will contain 30,000 stand of arms. The castle is a royal fortress: the establishment consists of a governor, lieutenant-governor, ordnance-keeper, and barrack-master. The constableship of the tower is held by patent, and is free from municipal control.

Chester, with part of the kingdom of Mercia, at an early period gave name to a diocese, which afterwards was incorporated with that of Lichfield. In 1075, Peter, Bishop of Lichfield, restored the episcopal chair to Chester, whence it was a second time removed to Lichfield, by his successor, Robert de Lindsey. Chester again became a distinct diocese under Henry VIII., who named it one of the six new sees created in 1541, and endowed it with a portion of the possessions of the abbey of St. Werburgh, the revenue of which, at the Dissolution, was £1073. 17. 7. The first bishop was John Bird, previously a provincial of the Carmelites, and Bishop of Bangor, who, in 1547, granted the manors and demesnes of the bishopric to the king, accepting impropriations of little value in exchange, and thus rendered it one of the least valuable of the English sees. Its temporalities in Chester consist only of the palace, which was rebuilt in 1752, by Bishop Keene, and its appendages, and two houses near St. John's church. The act of the 10th and 11th Victoria, cap. 108, provides that the diocese of Chester shall consist of the county of Chester, and of the rural deanery of Warrington, in Lancashire. The bishop has the patronage of the canonries, of the honorary canonries, and the archdeaconries and chancellorship. The Dean and Chapter have the patronage of the minor canonries. The cathedral, originally the conventual church of St. Werburgh, was at first dedicated to St. Peter and St. Paul, but subsequently placed by Ethelfreda under the patronage of the Saxon saint Walmgha, daughter of Wulphere, King of Mercia: that princess, and Leofric, Earl of Mercia, were great benefactors to the church, as well as Hugh Lupus, who substituted Benedictine monks for Secular canons. On the suppression of the abbey, a dean, six canons or prebendaries, and six minor canons, were appointed in lieu of the abbot and monks, the last abbot being made dean: there are now a dean, four canons, four honorary canons, four minor canons, two archdeacons, a chancellor of the diocese, registrar, sacrist, and precentor. At the Dissolution the cathedral was dedicated to Christ and the Blessed Virgin. It stands on the eastern side of Northgatestreet, and exclusively of some interesting remains of the abbey, the present building was erected in the reigns of Henry VII. and Henry VIII. With the exception of the western end, it is externally a heavy irregular pile: the tower in the centre, originally intended to sustain a spire, is supported by massive piers, and is in the later style of English architecture. The interior is elegant and impressive, and exhibits portions in the Norman and the early and decorated English styles. The piers of the nave are in the decorated style, with flowered capitals; and the clerestory, which is in the later style, has a fine range of windows. To the east of the north transept are traces of some chapels in the early English style; the south transept, which is larger than the north, and consists of a centre and two aisles, is in the decorated style, and, being separated from the cathedral by a screen, forms the parish church of St. Oswald. The choir has a chequered floor of black and white marble, and the stalls are adorned with light tabernacle-work skilfully executed; the bishop's throne, usually deemed Werburgh's shrine, is a beautiful specimen of workmanship, in the style of the early part of the fourteenth century. The chapter-house, an admirable relic of antiquity, in the early English style, stands in the eastern walk of the cloister; it was built by Earl Randulph the first, and became the burial-place of the earls of the original Norman line, except Richard, who perished by shipwreck. The cathedral was re-opened at the close of 1845, having undergone an almost complete restoration. Beneath part of the prebendal houses is a fine Norman crypt, in good preservation, which supported the great hall of the monastery, and had lain concealed till it was cleared out and rendered accessible by order of Dr. Blomfield, the present Bishop of London, who then presided over this see.

The city comprises the parishes of St. Bridget, containining 675 inhabitants; St. John the Baptist, 6752; Little St. John, extra-parochial; St. Martin, 532; St. Michael, 649; St. Olave, 430; and St. Peter, 847; part of the parishes of St. Mary on the Hill, 2975, St. Oswald, 5959, and the Holy Trinity, 3340; and the precinct of the Cathedral Close, 329. The living of St. Bridget's is a rectory not in charge, with that of St. Martin's; net income, £150; patron, the Bishop. The church, lately rebuilt, is a chaste and elegant structure of the Doric order; towards its erection the Bridge Committee gave £4000, and the parishioners £500. The living of St. John the Baptist's is a vicarage not in charge; net income, £237; patron and impropriator, the Marquess of Westminster. The church, formerly collegiate, and, on the removal of the see of Lichfield to Chester by Bishop Peter, used as the cathedral, consists of the nave and portions of the transepts of the ancient cruciform structure, of which the eastern part has been long destroyed. The nave has massive Norman piers, with a triforium and clerestory of early English character; the north porch, in the same style, is very beautiful: the tower, a fine composition though greatly mutilated, is detached from the church by the shortening of the western part of the nave. Little St. John's is a perpetual curacy; net income, £164; patrons, the Mayor and Corporation, who, by the Municipal Corporations' act, were directed to dispose of the advowson. The living of St. Michael's is a perpectual curacy, with that of St. Olave's; net income, £173; patron, the Bishop. St. Peter's is a discharged perpetual curacy, valued in the king's books at £6. 13. 4.; net income, £120; patron, the Bishop. The living of the parish of St. Mary on the Hill is a rectory, valued in the king's books at £52, and in the gift of the Marquess of Westminster: the tithes have been commuted for £400. The church is a venerable building, in the later style of English architecture. St. Oswald's is a discharged vicarage, with the chapelry of Churton-Heath annexed, valued in the king's books at £8. 18. 4.; net income, £245; patrons, the Dean and Chapter. The church is formed of the south transept of the cathedral. The living of the parish of the Holy Trinity is a discharged rectory, valued in the king's books at £8. 15. 6.; net income, £290; patron, the Earl of Derby: the tithes have been commuted for £245. An additional church, dedicated to St. Paul, has been erected at Boughton, of which the living is a perpetual curacy; net income, £60; patron, the Vicar of St. John's. In New Town, likewise, is a church, dedicated to Christ, built in 1835: the living is a perpetual curacy in the gift of the Bishop, with a net income of £150. There are places of worship for Baptists, the Society of Friends, the Connexion of the Countess of Huntingdon, Independents, Welsh and Wesleyan Methodists, New Connexion of Methodists, Sandemanians, Unitarians, and Roman Catholics.

The Free Grammar school was founded by Henry VIII., who, in the 36th year of his reign, endowed it with a rent-charge of £108. 16., for two masters and twentyfour boys, from amongst whom the choristers of the cathedral are chosen: it has an exhibition for a scholar at one of the Universities. The schoolroom, originally the refectory of the monastery, is a fine specimen of the early English style, but retaining little of the ancient edifice, except a stone pulpit, and a staircase in good preservation. The Blue-coat school was founded in 1700, on the recommendation of Bishop Stratford, and endowed for the maintenance of thirty boys: it is supported by the interest of money arising from benefactions, legacies, surpluses of musical festivals, rent of land, and annual subscriptions. In 1781, the revenue being augmented, a plan was adopted for educating 90 day scholars in addition; hence the origin of the Green-cap school. A similar school for girls was established in 1718, to which in 1793 Mary Tilley bequeathed £400, paid in 1815. In 1811, the late Marquess of Westminster founded a school for boys, and the marchioness a school for girls; the rooms are situated near St. John's church. There are two diocesan schools, one of which, the Diocesan Central school, was instituted in 1812, under the patronage of Bishop Law; also a day school supported by endowment; a training college, with a commercial, agricultural, and mechanical school under the same roof; and various infants' and Sunday schools which are maintained by subscription.

St. John's Hospital, a very ancient institution, founded probably before the reign of Henry III., was demolished during the siege of Chester, but was rebuilt in the reign of Charles II., and its revenues conferred by charter on the corporation, in trust for the poor in the hospital; the charter also included the revenues of St. Giles's Hospital in Spital Broughton. In consequence of extreme neglect and misapplication, the property belonging to this charity has been greatly reduced. The buildings which now occupy the site of St. John's Hospital form, towards the front, three sides of a quadrangle, separated from North-street by iron-railings; the south wing is used for the church of Little St. John's, the Blue-coat school occupies the centre, and the remaining wing contains the master's house, at the back of which is an inclosed yard, whereof one side contains six dwellings for poor women, who represent the sisterhood of the hospital. Six almshouses founded by Sir Thomas Smith in the reign of Henry VII., are inhabited by widows of freemen; four were founded by Robert Fletcher, in 1674, for widows; and almshouses containing 16 rooms, in St. John's lane, are tenanted by as many poor women. In 1658, William Jones, of the Middle Temple, granted buildings containing 10 rooms, and endowed them for six poor women and four men above 55 years of age; the houses are situated in Pepperstreet, and the income amounts to £67. 16. per annum. There are various endowments and bequests belonging to dissenters of the Presbyterian denomination, among which are almshouses for four women, in Trinity-lane, erected and endowed with property bequeathed by Mrs. Jane Dean, in 1729. The house of industry, built in 1751, is pleasantly situated near the Rood-eye. The general infirmary, a well-built commodious structure, on the western side of the city, originated in 1756, from a bequest of £300 by Dr. John Stratford, and its expenditure is now nearly £3000 per annum: the establishment of fever wards was proposed in 1774, and a few years afterwards carried into execution, chiefly through the exertions of Dr. Haygarth. There is also a lying-in institution, supported by subscription; and a county asylum for lunatics, capable of accommodating 96 patients, has been erected on the Liverpool road, from a design by Mr. William Cole, jun., at a cost of £25,125.

The Walls of Chester rank amongst its principal Antiquities, and are the only specimen of this species of ancient fortification in Britain remaining entire; they comprise a circuit of nearly two miles, and, in the narrowest parts, are sufficiently wide for two persons to walk abreast. Of the small towers, or turrets, erected within bow-shot of each other, only the Phœnix and Water towers exist. To keep the walls in repair, a small murage duty was granted by Edward I. on all merchandise brought to the town by sea, but this revenue is not now very productive, in consequence of the principal articles of commerce being landed at Liverpool, and conveyed hither by canal; the corporation, however, continue the repairs. Besides the city gates before enumerated, which, in comparison with the walls, are modern erections, is a fifth, or postern, between East gate and Bridge gate, called New gate. The military importance of the city rendered the custody of four of the gates, for centuries, an honourable and lucrative office; it was held successively by the Earls of Shrewsbury, Oxford, and Derby, and Lord Crewe, and that of the fifth by one of the magistrates for the city. The custody of Water gate, connected with the office of issuing process for offences committed on the Dee, was sold in 1778, by the Earl of Derby, to the corporation. Among the ancient Religious Establishments may be noticed the monastery, or abbey, of St. John the Baptist, founded in 906 by Ethelred, Earl of Mercia, the revenue of which, at the Dissolution, was £88. 16. 8., and the remains of which constitute the parish church of St. John; the monastery of St. Mary, of uncertain foundation, for Benedictine nuns, mentioned in Domesday book, and the revenue of which was £99. 16. 2.; the monastery of St. Michael, of which mention occurs in the charter of Roger, constable of Chester, and also in the reign of Henry II.; a house of Grey friars, in the parish of the Holy Trinity, probably founded by Henry III.; a house of Carmelites, and another of Black friars, in the parish of St. Martin; and, without the North gate, the hospital of St. John, which had a sanctuary and extensive privileges, and the revenue of which was £28. 10. In the neighbourhood of the castle were formerly numerous Roman antiquities, particularly at Nunsfield, where remains of a tessellated pavement have been discovered. The esplanade, when cleared of the ancient parts of the castle, was given by government to the county, for the erection of the splendid public buildings which now ornament the site; but the right of establishing a fortification, whenever necessary, was reserved for the crown. The eastern wall is built over part of a Roman wall; but a segment of the wall is left outside the esplanade, for the purpose of clearing it. In a cellar belonging to the Feathers hotel is a Roman hypocaust, in a remarkably perfect state; and in a close at the southern end of the bridge, termed Edgar's field, the supposed site of Edgar's palace, and adjoining a cavity in a rock, is a stone figure of the goddess Pallas, a relic alluded to by ancient writers. Remains of Roman altars, with figures and inscriptions, have also at different times been discovered. Randle Higden, Roger of Chester, and Bradshaw, mention subterraneous passages under the city; one of these was discovered about the commencement of the present century, extending in a southeastern direction from the ruins of the abbey, but it was soon closed up, On taking down an old house lately in Eastgate-street, a silver coin of Titus was found among the rubbish, and while digging for the foundation of the new building, a pavement was discovered about eight feet below the present road, giving authority to the prevalent opinion that the level of the city was formerly the same as that of the cathedral, the descent to which is now made by several steps.

This ancient city has been the birthplace of several eminent men, the most distinguished of whom were, four antiquaries of the same family, all named Randle Holme; Dr. William Cowper, who made collections for a History of Chester; and the celebrated mathematicians, Edward Brerewood and Samuel Molyneux, the latter a friend and correspondent of Locke. In the church of the Holy Trinity were interred, Matthew Henry, the commentator on the Bible, and a pastor in the city from 1687 to 1713, to whose memory a brass tablet has been placed over the communion-table; and Parnell, the poet. Chester gives the title of Earl to the Prince of Wales, eldest son of the sovereign.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of England, by Samuel Lewis, 7th edition, published in 1848.

Navigation

Preface
A
B
C
D
E
F
G
H
I
J
K
L
M
N
O
P
Q
R
S
T
U
V
W
X
Y
Z