Samuel Lewis - A Topographical Dictionary of England (1831)


CHESTER, a city and port and county (of itself), locally in the hundred of Broxton, county palatine of CHESTER, of which it is the capital, 17 miles (S.) from Liverpool, 36 (S. W.) from Manchester, and 181 (N. W.) from London, through Coventry and Lichfield, and 190 through Northampton and Leicester, containing 19,949 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, 21,176. 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 Brut Darian La, 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 that 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 Northumberland, who in 607 defeated them under the King of Powysland with great slaughter. But having regained possession of it, the Britons continued to hold it till 828, when Egbert, as sole monarch of England, annexed it to his other possessions. By the Saxons it was called Legancester and Legecesler. It suffered greatly from the Danes in the ninth century: on their retreat, the walls were repaired by Ethelfreda, Countess of Mercia; 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 four hundred and thirty-one rateable houses. For more than two centuries after the Conquest it was the headquarters of the troops employed to defend the English border against the incursive attacks of the Welch; and, on account of its importance as a military station, was, during that period, more or less favoured by the reigning monarchs. In the war between Henry III. and the barons, Chester was held for the crown by the Earl of Derby, who captured it in 1264, 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 Welch chieftains did homage to his son, Edward of Caernarvon, then an infant, in Chester castle. Richard II., by an act of parliament, which was rescinded by his successor, erected the earldom of Chester iato 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 Phoenix 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, Feb. 3rd, 1646. In 1659, Sir George Booth surprised and took possession of the city, but it was soon surrendered 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 extremity of each is a gate, after which are respectively named Eastgate-street, Northgatestreet, Bridgegate-street, and Watergate-street: this plan, strictly conformable to the Roman style of building, affords strong presumptive evidence of its 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 Welch, and thence obtained, in their language, the appellation of Treboeth, the burnt town. The streets, being cut out of the rock, are several feet below the general surface, which circumstance 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. 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 them to be remnants of the ancient vestibules of the Roman houses; but other writers are of opinion that they were originally constructed for defence, especially against the sudden inroads of the Welch. 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, which are well lighted with gas, 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, conducted through pipes from the Borrel on the Dee, by means of a steam-engine, into a reservoir in Northgate-street, constructed by Mr. Royle, of Chester, and capable of containing fifty thousand gallons. The city, both within and without the walls, has been much improved of late by the addition of well built houses: a new street has been made from St. Michael's church, leading to the new bridge, opposite Overleigh, which is formed on a level, and avoids the steep descent down Lower Bridge-street, and the ascent through Hanbridge; opposite to it Earl Grosvenor has erected a lodge, to form a grand entrance to the grounds of Eaton. This bridge, consisting of one arch of two hundred feet in the span, is constructed of Peckforton stone, with quoins of granite, at an expense of £40,000, from a design by Mr. Thomas Harrison. The old bridge, consisting of seven arches, has, within the last few years, been considerably widened and improved. Fine views of the city, the peninsula of Wirrall, the Welch hills, and the √¶stuary 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 summer; and grand musical meetings are held at distant periods. The annual races, which attract much company from Wales and the neighbouring counties, commence on the first Monday in May, and terminate on the Friday following: the grand stand has been enlarged by Royle, and is capable of holding £1000, the produce being usually applied to increase the prizes: the races take place on the Rood-eye, a fine level beneath the city walls, belonging to the corporation. All ranks are admirably accommodated, a kind of verdant amphitheatre being formed by an ascent from the course to the walls; and, from the picturesque nature of the place, the spectacle is very imposing.

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 formerly 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, which trade increased so much, that the fairs were principally distinguished by the quantity sold annually at them, estimated at four millions of yards. The number of vessels that entered inwards from foreign ports, in 1826, was forty-one, and outwards thirteen, all British. The manufactures are inconsiderable: the principal articles are tobacco, snuff, white lead, shot, tobacco-pipes, and leather. The skin trade was formerly extensive, and is still of consequence; but 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, the previous buildings having been burnt down, and formerly 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: these canals originally belonged to separate companies, now united; they extend to Nantwich, Whitchurch, Ellesmere, and Llanymynech, and uniting with the Montgomeryshire canal, form a line of communication by water of more than one hundred miles.

The market days are Wednesday and Saturday: the new market-place, comprising five distinct buildings, was erected at the expense of the corporation, in 1828. The fairs are 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, Welch 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 Button family over the Cheshire minstrels, which is related to have originated in the deliverance of Earl Ranulph de Blundeville from a body of Welch 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, is suspended from the Pentice, adjoining St. Peter's church, where it remains during the fair (a period of twenty-nine days), when nonfreemen are allowed to trade in the city; and during the continuance of the fairs, a court of pie-powder is held by the sheriffs. The Linen Hall, built about the year 1780, is a spacious pile of building, forming an oblong square; it comprises more than one hundred shops, ranged round the sides of the area, with a counting-house behind each; the upper apartment projects, and is supported by pillars, forming a covered walk all round: the entrances are in the east and west corners.

Chester is one of the oldest 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 privileges were conferred on the inhabitants by charters of Henry II. and John. Henry III. constituted the chief magistrate mayor. Edward II. granted to the corporation all the vacant lands within the liberty of the city; and Richard II. authorised the mayor, sheriffs, and commonalty, to hold courts of common law and other courts; which privileges were confirmed and extended by Henry IV. 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." Parliament subsequently deprived the city of its privileges as a separate county; but this act was revoked at the Restoration. Charles II. disfranchised it in 1684-5: its privileges, however, 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. The charter of Henry VII. conferred on the freemen generally the important privilege of electing the officers of the corporation, which consists of a mayor, recorder, two sheriffs, twenty-four aldermen, and forty common council-men, assisted by a town-clerk, sword-bearer, macebearer, and subordinate officers. From the non-exercise of this privilege the election has, in effect, long been vested in the court of aldermen and common council, who now consider it their exclusive right. Several attempts have been made by the freemen to recover this lost power; but the question, after much litigation and expense, remains unsettled, and the practice continues as before. The mayor, recorder, and aldermen, who have passed the chair, are justices of the peace. The recorder and town-clerk are chosen by the corporation, who appoint, from among the common council-men, officers termed leave-lookers, whose business it is to inspect the markets and receive the dues; and, from among the senior aldermen, messengers for the superintendence of the walls of the city. The two aldermen next in rotation for the mayoralty are, respectively, by the same body, usually appointed treasurer and coroner. There are no less than twenty-four guilds, or trade companies, headed by aldermen, or wardens, and holding charters of incorporation under the city seal: by their constitution they are obliged, when required, to pay homage to the mayor, and to contribute certain sums yearly to the city plate, run for at the races on St. George's day.

By ancient usage, confirmed by the several charters, the mayor, assisted by the recorder, holds a crown-mote and a port-mote: 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 power to pass sentence of death, and order execution, independently of the crown; and in the port-mote pleas to any amount are cognizable. There are also two ancient courts, one called "The Pentice court," which has cognizance of personal actions to any amount; and the other "The Passage court," held before the sheriffs and a jury, with appeal to the port-mote, to which records are removable by command of the mayor without writ. The courts of session are held in the exchange, where also the magistrates and members for the city are elected; and the assizes for the county are held in the castle. 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 Sir Joshua Reynolds, and handsome portraits of the Grosvenor, Cholmondeley, Bunbury, and Egerton families, and of several charitable individuals. The sessions have been held here before the mayor since 1377. The freedom of the city is inherited by all the sons of freemen, and acquired by servitude and purchase. On the abridgment of the privileges of the county palatine, in 1541, an act passed, empowering the county to return two knights, and the city two burgesses to parliament. The election for the city is in the mayor, aldermen, and common councilmen, whether resident or not, and freemen resident in the city a year preceding, and not having received alms: the sheriffs are the returning officers.. The number of freemen who polled, during the election of 1826, was one thousand five hundred. The preponderating influence is in the Grosvenor family, members of which, or their nominees, have generally represented the city.

Of the ancient castle, built by the Conqueror, there remains only a large square tower, called "Julius Agricolas Tower," now used as a magazine for gunpowder. Though of modern appearance, having recently been newly fronted, it is undoubtedly of great antiquity, and interesting as the probable place of confinement of the Earl of Derby; and 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. The roof, from the rich 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, which was regarded as a superb specimen of baronial magnificence; it was ninety-five feet long and forty-five wide, with an antique roof of wood, curiously carved and resting upon brackets. 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 Acropolis at Athens. Opposite to the great gate is the shire-hall, a magnificent structure, internally of the semicircular form, eighty feet in diameter, in height forty-one, and in width fifty: a semicircular range of twelve Ionic pillars supports the roof, which is finely ornamented in stucco, and the effect of the whole is highly imposing. The entrance to the gaol, which is appropriated to debtors and felons of the county, is on the right of the hall. At the eastern side of the yard are barracks, fronted with white freestone, and ornamented with Ionic pillars, capable of lodging one hundred and twenty men. On the western side is a corresponding building, used as an armoury, which will contain thirty thousand 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. The castle, although within the city walls, is extra-parochial, as is also the township of Gloverstone, now merged into the county: the sheriffs for the city attend the execution of criminals for offences committed in the county, whom they receive in form at the verge of the city, and conduct to the drop in front of the gaol; for which service, the corporation, as keepers of the north gate, were formerly entitled to a toll. Sixteen persons are named in a record of the fourteenth century as being obliged, by their tenure in the city, and the exemptions they enjoyed, to conduct the malefactors, not only of the city, but also of the county palatine, to the gallows; and the occupiers of some houses held by this tenure still continue to pay a composition, called Execution, or Gable rent," to be relieved from this duty.

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 see to Chester, whence it was a second time removed to Lichfield, by his successor, Robert de Lindsey. It again became a 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. In 1547 this prelate granted the manors and demesnes of the bishoprick to the king, accepting impropriations of little value in exchange, and thus rendered it one of the least valuable of the English sees. Its temporalties 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 cathedral, originally the conventual church of St. Werburgh, was first dedicated to St. Peter and St. Paul, but subsequently placed by Ethelfreda under the patronage of the Saxon saint, Walmgha, daughter of Wulphen, 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 dissolution of the abbey, a dean, six prebendaries, and six minor canons, were appointed in lieu of the abbot and monks, the last abbot being made dean: there are also a chancellor, registrar, sacrist, and precentor. At the dissolution the cathedral was dedicated to Christ and the Blessed Virgin: it stands on the eastern side of Northgate street, 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. Within ten years, the exterior, which, from the soft nature of the stone, was greatly dilapidated, has undergone considerable repairs. The interior is elegant and impressive, and exhibits portions in the Norman and in the early and decorated styles of English architecture. 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 painted windows. To the east of the north transept are some chapels in the early English style; the south transept, which is larger than the north, and consists of a centre and two side aisles, is in the decorated style, and, being separated from the cathedral by a wooden 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 chapterhouse, 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. Under 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 Dr. Blomfield, the present bishop of London, who then presided over this see.

The city comprises the parishes of St. Bridget, St. John the Baptist, Little St. John, St. Martin, St. Michael, St. Olave, and St. Peter; and part of the parishes of St. Mary on the Hill, St. Oswald, and the Holy Trinity, and the precinct of the Cathedral Close; all in the archdeaconry and diocese of Chester. The living of St. Bridget's is a rectory not in charge, endowed with £200 private benefaction, £200 royal bounty, and £200 parliamentary grant, and in the patronage of the Bishop: the church, lately built, is a chaste and elegant structure in the Grecian style of architecture, and 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, endowed with £200 royal bounty, and £2000 parliamentary grant, and in the patronage of Earl Grosvenor: 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 since destroyed; the nave has massive Norman piers with a triforium and clerestory of the early English character; the north porch, in the same style, is very beautiful; and the tower, a fine composition, though greatly mutilated, is detached from the church by the shortening of the western part of the nave. The living of Little St. John's is a perpetual curacy, endowed with & 30 per annum private benefaction, £1200 royal bounty, and £600 parliamentary grant, and in the patronage of the Mayor and Corporation. The living of St. Martin's is a rectory not in charge, endowed with £200 private benefaction, £800 royal bounty, and £600 parliamentary grant, and in the patronage of the Bishop. The living of St. Michael's is a perpetual curacy, endowed with £600 royal bounty, and £1200 parliamentary grant, and in the patronage of the Bishop. The living of St. Olave's is a perpetual curacy, endowed with £200 private benefaction, £200 royal bounty, and £1400 parliamentary grant, and in the patronage of the Bishop. The living of St. Peter's is a discharged perpetual curacy, rated in the king's books at £6. 13.4., endowed with £200 private benefaction, £400 royal bounty, and £400 parliamentary grant, and in the patronage of the Bishop. The living of the parish of St. Mary on the Hill is a rectory, rated in the king's books at £52, and in the patronage of Earl Grosvenor: the church is a venerable building in the later style of English architecture. The living of St. Oswald's is a discharged vicarage, with the perpetual curacy of Bruera annexed, rated in the king's books at £8. 18. 4., and in the patronage of the Dean and Chapter: the parochial church is formed of the south transept of the cathedral. The living of the parish of the Holy Trinity is a discharged rectory, rated in the king's books at £8. 15. 6., and in the patronage of the Earl of Derby. There are places of worship for Baptists, the Society of Friends, those in the connexion of the late Countess of Huntingdon, Independents, Welch 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 twenty-four boys, from amongst whom the choristers of the cathedral are chosen, who receive annually from the funds of the school £6. 8. each, and the other boys half that sum: the age for admission is nine years, and the term of their continuance in the school four years: it has an exhibition for a scholar at one of the Universities. The school-room, originally the refectory of the monastery, is a fine specimen of the early style of English architecture, 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-five boys for four years, at the end of which they are apprenticed. In 1781, the revenue being augmented, a plan was adopted for educating one hundred and twenty day-scholars in addition; hence the origin of the Green-coat school. A similar school for girls was established in 1718, when they were only clothed and instructed, but the greater number is now boarded also, and, on leaving school, they are placed out in service. In 1811, Earl Grosvenor founded a school for instructing four hundred boys in reading, writing, and arithmetic; and the Countess established a similar school for four hundred girls: the school-rooms form a handsome building, erected by the earl, near St. John's church. The Diocesan school was instituted in 1812, under the patronage of Bishop Law, for the education of children in the principles of the church of England: the school-room, erected in 1816, will accommodate four hundred scholars. The infant school, and the working school, are of later establishment, and are supported by subscription. There are also various Sunday schools for both sexes, respectively supported by members of the church of England and dissenters.

Among the charities are divers bequests for the benefit of decayed freemen and freemen's widows; the principal is that by Mr. Owen Jones, who, in 1658, bequeathed the profits of a small estate in Denbighshire to the poor of the several city companies; which bequest, in consequence of the discovery of a lead mine, has of late enabled the trustees to distribute £400 annually. Earl Grosvenor founded ten almshouses for decayed freemen. Most of the parishes have also the distribution of benefactions; and three or four of them contain almshouses, the chief of which are for forty decayed freemen above sixty years of age. The house of industry, built in 1751, is pleasantly situated near the Rood-eye, and is under the control of the mayor, the aldermen who have passed the chair, and seventy-four guardians chosen from the several parishes. The general infirmary, a well built commodious structure, pleasantly situated on the western side of the city, is supported by a numerous body of subscribers, and possesses property to a considerable amount: it 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 subscriptions. A county asylum for lunatics, capable of accommodating one hundred patients, has lately been erected on the Liverpool road, from a design by Mr. William Cole, jun.: it cost upwards of £12,000, and is supported by a county rate and by payments from the more opulent patients, for whom superior accommodation is provided: the whole of the building, except the kitchens and governor's rooms, is heated by patent flues.

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 Phosnix and Water towers exist. To keep them in repair, a small murage duty was granted by Edward I. on all merchandise brought to the town by sea. 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, and which, in comparison with the walls are modern erections, there 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 by 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.; the remains constitute the parish church of St. John: the monastery of St. Mary, of uncertain foundation, for Benedictine nuns, mentioned in Domesdaybook, the revenue of which, at the dissolution, was £99. 16. 2.: the monastery of St. Michael, of which mention occurs in the charter of Roger, constable of Chester, and 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, at the dissolution, was £28. 10.

In the neighbourhood of the castle were formerly numerous Roman antiquities, particularly at Nensfield, where remains of a tesselated 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 bnilt over part of a Roman well; but a segment of the circle 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 at different times been discovered; one in a cellar in Eastgatestreet, dedicated by Telarius Longus, of the twentieth legion, to the emperors Dioclesian and Maximian; another ascribed to Jupiter the Thunderer, now preserved with the Arundelian marbles at Oxford; another, in 1693, in Eastgate-street; one in 1779, in Watergatestreet, now preserved in the grounds of Oulton Park; and, in 1821, one in a field in Great Boughton: the last was purchased by Earl Grosvenor, and is placed in a temple in the garden at Eaton Hall: it is of red sandstone, with bold mouldings, and has no ornament but the scroll which supports the thuribulum. Henry Potts, Esq., of this city, has in his possession the figure of a Retiarius, armed with his trident and net, and the principal portion of the shield of the secutor, found iu the market-place in 1738. 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 south-eastern direction from the ruins of the abbey, but it was soon closed up.

Chester 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 this city from 1687 to 1713, to whose memory a brass tablet has been placed over the communion-table; and Parnell, the poet, October 24th, 1718. Chester gives the title of earl to the Prince of Wales, eldest son of the sovereign.


BOUGHTON (SPITTLE), a liberty (extra-parochial), within the county of the city of CHESTER, containing 150 inhabitants


From Samuel Lewis A Topographical Dictionary of England (1831) ©Mel Lockie