The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland - 1868
"CHESTER, comprising the parishes of Holy Trinity, St. Mary On The Hill, St. John and several others;} it is a city, port, municipal and parliamentary borough, and a county of itself, locally situated in the hundred of Broxton, in West Cheshire, 178¼ miles distant from London by the London and North-Western railway, and 213 by the Great Western, 84½ from Holyhead, 84¼ from Birmingham, and 52 from Manchester. It is connected, by the Ellesmere canal, with the Mersey and with Nantwich. It is a bonding port, and is 22 miles distant from the sea. It does not appear that Chester was a place of any importance before the Roman era. It was then walled round, and was called in the Cymric language Caer Lleon vawr, the "Camp of the Great Legion." It is probably identical with the Deva of the Itinerary of Antoninus, and was called Deunana, or Deva, by the Romans, from being half encircled by the Dee. After many struggles the Saxons finally wrested it from the Britons in 830, the Danes from the Saxons in 894, and again the Saxons from the Danes in 908. It was an important post as a fortress on the Welsh frontier, and as a stronghold against Danish invaders. Edgar received at Chester the homage of six kings in 972. As the story is told by William of Malmesbury, Edgar sat in the prow of a boat on the Dee while the six kings plied their oars. After the Conquest Chester fell to the share of Hugh Lupus, nephew of William the Conqueror, who was created Earl of Chester, and who built the castle, in which were held the courts of the county palatine of Cheshire. From Domesday Book it appears that, at this time, there were 431 houses taxable, and 56 belonging to the bishop, and that it had a "guild mercatory," equivalent to a corporation, with a chief magistrate, called "præpositus regis," or provost. The descendants of Hugh were earls of Chester until the reign of Henry III., when the earldom, being again in the gift of the crown, was conferred upon Prince Edward, whose son, Edward of Carnarvon, was the first Prince of Wales. The title still belongs to the eldest son of the sovereign. In 1159 Henry II., met Malcolm IV. of Scotland at Chester, when the latter ceded the three counties of Northumberland, Cumberland, and Westmoreland, which had been wrested from the English crown. Edward of Carnarvon, the first Prince of Wales, received the homage of the Welsh in this city in 1309. Chester was one of the six cities which coined silver in the reign of William III. The Chester Mysteries, or plays founded on scriptural subjects, were formerly acted by the city companies in church, and are attributed by some to Randle, a monk, by others to Higden, a poet, who wrote the "Polychronicon." Their date is probably about the 13th century, and they were 25 in number, with a range of subjects including the Creation and the Judgment. Bradshaw, a poet, Molyneux and Brerewood, mathematicians, and Dean Whittingham, the translator of the Geneva Bible, were also natives of Chester. The city sustained a siege of some length during the Civil War. It was in the hands of the royalists, and was at length compelled to surrender to Brereton, the general of the parliamentary army. It is said that Charles I. saw, from the Phoenix Tower, the defeat of his own army on Rowton Heath. Chester is situated on a bend of the river Dee, and is built on red sandstone rock. The plan of the town is commonly compared with that of a Roman camp, the streets intersecting each other at right angles; and it is supposed that modern Chester covers the same ground that was occupied by the 20th Legionthe Vale's Victrix; and that the Roman camp has grown, without change of position, into the English city. In the centre of the city formerly stood "The High Cross," which was removed after the surrender of Chester to the parliamentary army. At this point the four principal streets converge. A portion of the cross itself is still to be seen in the grounds of Netherley House. The appearance of the streets-especially of Old Bridge-street and Watergate-street-is very picturesque; the houses are generally ancient, and are ornamented with the gables of the 16th century. The most remarkable feature in the architecture is," The Rows," and this feature would be unique, did not Berne, in Switzerland, share it with Chester. These Rows constitute the ordinary trottoirs, and are level with the first-floors of the houses; the second-floor projects over them and protects them from the rain. In the Rows are the principal shops. The streets are cut into the red sandstone rock to the depth of about 10 feet, the Rows marking the natural level. It has been argued that this fact is additional evidence of the Roman origin of the city-that where the Rows are there were formerly vestibules, and that the shops beneath the Rows were cryptæ and apothecæ. The old walls of Chester are among the most perfect in England; they are more than 1¾ miles in circuit. Though no longer a protection, they afford an excellent promenade to the inhabitants. Two persons can walk abreast on them in the narrowest part, and they command a pleasing view, including the Welsh hills, Wirrall (as the peninsula between the Dee and the Mersey is called), the Beeston rock, and the course of the Dee. There were formerly several towers at intervals along the walls, each within bow-shot of its neighbour; but of these only two now remain-the Phoenix Tower and the Water Tower. The Water Tower, called also the New Tower, was built in 1322. Rings were fixed into the masonry, to which ships were fastened before the sands had made their last inroads upon the channel of the Dee. The tower is, as it were, a monument to the memory of the former commercial prosperity of Chester. It has long been impossible for any vessel to approach it, and it is now not even at the water's edge. The Phoenix Tower was formerly called Newton Tower, and takes its present name from the crest of the Company of Painters and Stainers who met in it. The Phoenix Tower is the last which remains of the ancient fortifications, the Water Tower having been built at a later date and for a different purpose. Chester has four gates, marking the four points of the compass: East-gate, North-gate, Bridge-gate, and Watergate. The East-gate was the termination of the great Watling Street road, or the Via Devana, as it was here called; it was rebuilt in 1769, and has a principal arch, above which appear the arms of the Grosvenors, and two posterns for foot-passengers. The North-gate was rebuilt in 1810; it was formerly used as the city prison. The Bridge-gate was rebuilt in 1782 at the expense of the corporation. Water-gate was rebuilt in 1775, and the funds were provided from the ancient murage duties. The Dee is crossed by four bridges: by the Old Bridge, of seven arches, which is of great antiquity, but has been several times rebuilt; by the new bridge, to which the Queen (then Princess Victoria) gave the name of Grosvenor Bridge, on the occasion of her visit to Eaton Hall; by the Suspension Bridge, which has been still more recently erected; and by the iron girder bridge of the Chester and Holyhead railway. There is easy communication by railway with all parts of the kingdom, and the station is one of the most convenient and handsome in the provinces. Chester Castle is, with the exception of one tower, modern; it is built of stone, and was designed by Harrison. It serves the different purposes of county gaol, barracks, shirehall, assize court, and county court. The shirehall is of noble proportions, and is approached by a portico resembling the Acropolis at Athens. It is semicircular in form, and is supported by twelve Ionic columns. Of the other buildings the principal are the common hall, in which are portraits of the Grosvenor family, and in which the sessions are held; the county lunatic asylum, which stands on an eminence in the Bath road, and is well designed; the theatre, formerly St. Nicholas' chapel; and the engine-house, built by the Duke of Ormond, in 1680. There is much to interest the antiquary in Chester, both in the buildings of the city itself; and in the Roman remains which have been discovered; amongst the latter are altars, coins, fibulae, inscribed stones and tiles, a statue of Pallas Armata, and a hypocaust. Chester has now no great commercial importance, though it had a considerable trade both before and after the Conquest. The navigation of the Dee is difficult, and the advantages possessed by Liverpool and the Mersey render rivalry impossible. There is, nevertheless, a considerable number of sailing vessels and steamers belonging to the port. Chester possesses an iron ship-building yard, tobacco and snuff manufactories, tan-yards, smelting-works, timber-yards, corn mills, and saw-mills. Ropes, sails, whips, fringe, thread, tobacco-pipes, and woollen hose are also manufactured. Chester, even in Saxon times, had its trade companies. After the Conquest it received charters from the earls of Chester and from the kings Edward I., Edward III., Richard II., and Henry VII. In 1242 a mayor was elected by the principal citizens assembled in a guild. The power of the corporation seems to have grown somewhat despotic, for in the reign of Henry VIII., the mayor, whose name was Gee, issued an order regulating the dresses of the women and their diet, prohibiting any women between the ages of 14 and 40 from waiting in any hostelry. In 1506 the city of Chester was constituted a county of itself by a charter of Henry VII., which was rescinded in 1660, but restored by Charles II. in 1664. It is divided into five wards, and the corporation consists of a mayor, recorder, sheriff, 24 aldermen, and 20 common councilmen. The mayor is elected for one year, the aldermen for three. The recorder-ship is in the gift of the crown. The sheriff is chosen by the town-council. The borough of Chester has returned two members to parliament since 1541. Under the Reform Act the limits of the borough include the six parishes of the city, and portions of three other parishes, the cathedral precincts, the castle, gaol, and barracks, with Handbridge, Spittle Boughton, and part of Great Boughton. Assizes and sessions are held at Chester, which is the head of the Welsh Circuit, as well as of the County Court and Excise districts. Chester is also a military station, the headquarters of the Cheshire militia, and the seat of a Poor-law Union, which is co-extensive with the city. The municipal and parliamentary limits are also co-extensive. The population is 31,110, of whom 14,898 are males, and 16,212 are females. According to the census returns of 1861, there are 5,971 inhabited houses, 245 unoccupied, and 76 in process of building. The population appears to be steadily on the increase. The diocese of Chester is in the province of York. It was created by Henry VIII. after the dissolution of the abbey of St. Werburgh, which was one of the wealthiest monastic establishments in England. Though formerly of greater extent, it now includes only Cheshire and the deanery of Warrington. It is divided into two archdeaconries-Chester and Liverpool-and, comprises nine deaneries. The bishop has a fixed income of £4,500. The chapter consists of the dean, the two archdeacons, a chancellor, 6 prebendaries, 4 honorary canons, and 4 minor canons. Chester Cathedral is remarkable for its antiquity and its associations, but, externally at least, is of no extraordinary beauty. It has grown out of the church of St. Werburgh's Abbey, to which additions have been again and again made, at different times and in different styles. St. Werburgh may be considered the patron saint of Chester. She was the daughter of Wulfhere, King of Mercia, and her body, which was looked upon as a sacred relic, was removed, in the year 875, to Chester, for security against the Danish invaders. A nunnery was built, and the remains of St. Werburgh enshrined in the church. Chester soon afterwards fell into the hands of the Danes; but was retaken by the Saxons in 908, when Ethelfleda, the illustrious daughter of Alfred the Great, is said to have founded St. Werburgh's abbey on the site of the nunnery. The present cathedral is in length 350 feet; in breadth, including the aisles, 74½ feet. The length of the transept is 200 feet, and of the Lady chapel 65 feet. The length of the nave is 120 feet, and its breadth 41 feet. The height of the tower is 127 feet. The best feature in the building is the western entrance, which is in the florid Gothic style. The bishop's consistory court is on the right of this entrance, and his palace on the left. The greatest curiosity in the cathedral is the bishop's throne, which, if tradition may be trusted, was the shrine of St. Werburgh, or rather, as Pennant considers it, the base on which the shrine was placed; it is very elaborately carved, and adorned with figures of the kings of Mercia. The chapter-house, the oldest portion of the building, dates from the 13th century, and is in the early English style. In the cloisters, which form a quadrangle, is the burial-plate of the earls of Chester. In 1724, the remains of the first earl, Hugh Lupus, were dug up; they were wrapped in leather in a stone coffin, and at the head was a stone cross, with his cognizance or crest, a wolf's head, on it. The living of St. Bridget's with St. Martin's, is a rectory, of the value of £160, in the gift of the bishop. The church is a handsome building, and has accommodation for 1,000 people. St. John the Baptist's is a vicarage, value £300, in the gift of the Marquis of Westminster. It is said that the church was built on the site of Ethelfleda's Abbey, which was founded at the beginning of the 10th century. In design it was originally cruciform, and it is in the early Norman style of architecture. It was formerly a collegiate church and the cathedral of the diocese of Lichfield, of which Chester once formed a part. It possesses some ancient monuments and brasses. Little St. John's is a perpetual curacy, of the value of £230, in the gift of the corporation. St. Michael's with St. Olave's is a perpetual curacy, value £173, in the gift of the bishop. St. Peter's is a rectory, value £120, in the same patronage. Partly without the city is the parish of Holy Trinity; the living is a rectory, value £290, in the gift of the Earl of Derby. St. Mary-on-the-Hill is a rectory with Upton curacy, value £400, in the gift of the Marquis of Westminster. The church is in the early English style, and contains some curious monuments; it has also a fine painted window. Lache with Saltney is a perpetual curacy, value £55, in the gift of the bishop. St. Oswald's is a vicarage with Bruera, value £245, in the gift of the dean and chapter. The S. transept of the cathedral is used as the parish church, but it has a distinct parish. St. Paul's, Boughton, is a perpetual curacy, value £150, in the gift of the Vicar of St. John's. Christ Church is a perpetual curacy, value £170, in the gift of the bishop. The Roman Catholics, the Unitarians, the Independents, the Wesleyan, New Connexion, and Primitive Methodists, the Welsh Calvinists, the Society of Friends, the followers of Lady Huntingdon, and the Presbyterians severally have chapels of greater or less dimensions. Chester has a grammar school, which wag founded by Henry VIII., and is called the King's school; it is under the direction of the dean and chapter, is attached to the cathedral, and is endowed with one scholarship. The blue-coat school was founded in the year 1700, at the suggestion of Bishop Stratford; a portion of the hospital of Little St. John is assigned to it. It boards 32 blue-coat boys, and receives 60 as day scholars. The school is supported partly by voluntary contributions, and partly by its own revenues. The Marquis of Westminster's free school educates more than 400 boys and girls. The consolidated Sunday school, and working school for girls, serves as a training place for the blue-coat girls' school, to which the scholars are promoted according to merit. The diocesan training school was founded by Bishop Law in 1812, for the education of poor children, natives of the diocese of Chester, and with the object of providing teachers for the National schools. The hospital of Little St. John was founded before the time of Edward III. by Randal Blundeville, Duke of Brittany, for the support of 13 poor and impotent persons. On the same foundation is the chapel of Little St. John. The patronage is in the hands of the local charity trustees. There are many benevolent institutions in Chester. The General Infirmary was built in 1765; the building faces the Dee, and is well adapted for its purpose. There is also a lying-in charity and a female penitentiary. There are almshouses known as Deane's, Smith's, and Jones's. There are also public baths and wash-houses, which were erected in 1849; a house of refuge, a house of industry, a public library, a savings-bank, and a mechanics' institute, with a museum in the Water-gate. The city is paved with stone and lighted with gas. The racecourse, called the Rood-eye, Rood-ee, or Roodie, lies between the walls and the river. The course is one of the best in England, and the whole length of it is seen from the walls. Chester has from a very early period been celebrated for its horse-races, and the race for the Chester Cup is now one of the great events in the sporting year. Antiquaries are at variance upon the question of the origin of the name Rood-eye. The most amusing, if not the truest story, accounts for it in the following manner: There was at Hawarden, in Flintshire, in the year 946, a church containing an image of the Virgin Mary, Our Lady of the Rood, as she was there called, which image had a great reputation for curing all afflictions. Among other supplicants Lady Trawst, wife of the governor of the castle, was saying her prayers, when the Virgin toppled from her pedestal upon the head of her ladyship, and broke it. The offence was considered so great that the Virgin was sentenced to banishment, and thrown out on the sands of the river. The tide carried her away and landed her safely near the walls of Chester. She was buried with great solemnity by the inhabitants of the city, and the place of her interment was called the Roodeye. A new neighbourhood of villas has grown up in Curzon Park, on the S. bank of the Dee, and there are many handsome mansions within a short distance of the city. Eaton Hall, the seat of the Marquis of West-minster, is about 3 miles from Chester. The country round it is unfortunately flat; but the Hall itself is magnificent. It is built throughout in the florid Gothic style. Overleigh Hall, about 1 mile distant, contains many portraits of the Cromwell family. Chester supports three newspapers: the Chester Chroniele, the Chester Courant, and the Farmer's Herald. The ordinary market days are Wednesday and Saturday, and the corn market is held on Saturday. There are cattle fairs on January 29th, February 16th, March 26th, April 23rd, May 20th, July 6th, August 4th, September 3rd, October 10th, November 26th, and December 17th, and fairs for the sale of cheese every month on days fixed by the town council."