The other side: some correspondents opposed to the further excavation of the amphitheatre and / or the demolition of Dee House... This page last updated 6th April 2001 (but we have a full record of correspondence since then.)
18/1/00 'Always a Warm Welcome in Chester'
City council leaders have slammed a call by a disgruntled Internet enthusiast for tourists to avoid Chester as irresponsible and damaging to the local economy. Councillors are furious with local historian, Steve Howe of Hoole, who is using his computer website to urge visitors to boycott Chester because he's unhappy with the council's planning policy for the city's Roman amphitheatre.
In a joint statement city council leaders, Councillors John Price, Graham Proctor, Brian Bailey and Doug Haynes hit back at the misinformation being sent to potential visitors.
They say: "Mr Howe is right to point out that our city thrives on tourism and its heritage so it seems bizarre that he should dissuade visitors from coming to enjoy what we have to offer. He is betraying the city, putting jobs and livelihoods at risk and undermining the tremendous work being done to maintain Chester's reputation as the " jewel of the north."
"Planning decisions are made through the democratic process. He has every right to disagree, but besmirching the city on the World Wide Web is not the way to win an argument and does everyone a great disservice.
" We would urge people visit Chester and make their own minds up about the heritage, culture, top quality shopping and beautiful countryside that has helped establish our renowned international reputation."
Half of the amphitheatre was uncovered and developed by the council as a tourist attraction more than thirty years ago. The remaining section has an 18th century listed building, (known as Dee House) and a car park on top of it. Developers David McLean, own the car park.
English Heritage, which guides policy on archaeological digs, is keen for such sites to remain unearthed and intact.
Under planning permission granted several years ago the developers intend to build new county courts on the car park and will cover only 4% of the hidden site, while retaining the architecturally important Dee House.
The city council will continue to work with all parties on plans to enhance this significant site.
For further information contact Michael McGivern, Public Relations Officer 01244 402362
Note to Editors: There is a new "vision" for the site. I hope to make pictures and information available in the next few days for a follow up.
Michael McGivern for Chester City Council
(Many months- nay, years- have now gone by since the above was issued and still, we regret to say, no sign of Mr McGivern's promised visionary 'follow up'. If and when it comes about, will, we wonder, this include copies of the many, many letters of condemnation (such as these) from disgusted readers which have appeared, and continue to appear, in the local and National press? Or justification for replacing a perfectly good, modern, recently-refurbished court building simply because of lack of car parking? Or how our council hope to deal with the greatly-increased traffic congestion the new building will generate in an already unacceptably congested corner of our city? Or details of the highly suspicious fire at Dee House in early February? Or the spineless silence of the city's archaeologists, museum, educational, cultural and tourism officials- and Member of Parliament? Or even an attempt to explain the motives of people who build office blocks on Roman antiquities and of the elected representatives who allow them to do so- and then publicly condemn those who dare to criticise? In fact, anything at all to convince a sickened population that the whole affair doesn't stink to high heaven? Somehow we don't think so)
20/1/00 The article on the amphitheatre was interesting
but may we point out that it is only a 'dip in the ocean' and is something
which could be repeated anywhere, in any field.
Some years ago there was a big inquiry about the site and great play was made of the house facing the dug-out bit, namely Dee House, a Georgian house and very attractive as one comes down St John Street. The building used to be the Ursuline Convent School, now sadly closed and missed.
The building however remains and we trust that it will be retained and the one at the side, which was the chapel and has some interesting stonework. The buildings at the back are no use and can be safely removed as they are they are an eyesore. It is very unlikely that there would be any Roman remains under the buildings as the Georgian and Victorian builders dug deep cellars and anything Roman will have long gone.
The site had planning permission for 'Disneyland-on-Dee' by Mr Barbet. We understand that this lapsed due to lack of financial support. We hope McLeans, who we understand now own the site, will retain the Georgian buildings and get rid of that awful red brick wall replacing it with some flowering shrubs and roses, make the place look nice.
(Miss) Dora Taylor, Chester Community / Ratepayers Party, 60 St Oswald's, Newtown, Chester
More of the great lady's ponderings are here...
A lawyer writes...
Over the last few weeks I have been badgered by well meaning but sadly misguided county friends to add support to their blocking of the new court building. If only people could accept that Chester is not a theme park. It is a dynamic and vibrant city.
The essential infrastructure for the commercial life of the community demands a court worthy of the 21st century. Tourism and the retail trade should not be allowed to dominate the essential needs of city life.
Until someone comes up with a better idea for a site, and some constructive suggestions over the provision of an essential resource I would ask those who are determined to stay rooted in the past to give just a modicum of thought to the future.
The Rumans placed great store by their judicial system and have left a legacy which benefits much of the Western world. I doubt if they would have had much truck with professors seeking to hamper their building projects.
Let those who have to have recourse to law be allowed the dignity of convenient and commodious surroundings.
Jean France-Hayhurst, Barrister-at-law, Bunbury Heath, near Tarporley
A further helpful letter from this individual appears below...
The current debate aboul Chester's Roman amphitheatre and the area surrounding is most interesting. It is good that local people are taking such an interest in part of the city's heritage.
I well recall similar debates in 1995 before planning permission was granted. Incidentally that planning consent was designed to minimise the impact of any development on the underlying archaeological deposits. They would be preserved in situ for future generations of archaeologists with probably much improved techniques. Perhaps more out of a sense of cunosity at that time I would have liked to have seen the whole amphitheatre exposed but better informed people than me had other views, based, I have to admit on evidence rather than feelings.
In 1995 there was as much opposition to the demolition of Dee House as the appears to be support now for excavation of the amphitheatre. I wonder where those objectors are now? Have they changed sides at an opportune moment?
The issue of Dee House was considered at length at inquiry. Archaeological evaluation in 1994 indicated that deposits underlying Dee House were heavily truncated and damaged. We need also to remember that much of what we can see of the 'visible" half is actually reconstructed. So like some other parts of Chester's history, like our mock-Tudor buildings, what you see is not necessarily what you think it is!
Recently 400 local history enthusiasts attended the 9th Cheshire Archaeology Day which took place in Northwich. In addition to Tim Strickland giving a presentation about Chester's Walls, a representative from English Heritage was another key speaker. He said that demolition of Dee House would set a dangerous precedent. He also reminded the audience that the amphitheatre remains were not the only ones of importance on the site. The area contains important post-Roman remains included some associated with St John's Church. This is an important point. Visitors and historians don't just come to Chester because of its Roman history. We have 2,000 years of history. We should be equally proud and aware of our Norman, Mediaeval, Tudor, Georgian and Victorian heritage too.
Whilst I welcome the interest of the local community, and continuing discussion about the site, we have been waiting far too long for something to happen. Since 1995 Dee House has suffered vandalism and fire. If it was judged to be of such merit in 1995 that its demolition was not allowed then, things can't have changed significantly in the five years since. It's a great pity that the interior of the property has been damaged, some of it by previous occupants, but despite this it is still a Grade II listed building. Over the last 10-15 years there have been lots ot suggestions about excavating the site and bringing it into wider use as some kind of "attraction'. None have reached fruition. None have managed to obtain the necessary financial support.
Local councils strive to get people involved and interested in local government. Sadly, too often people only get involved sometime after decisions have been taken.This is not the council's fault. Meetings are publicised, plans are consulted upon but rarely do people take part until it's too late.
I hope the issue of the amphitheatre will encourage people to take a greater intetrest in discussions at parish, city and county councils in the future and not just at election times.
Cllr Sue Proctor, 15 Ash Bank Chester
28/4/00 Sue Proctor rightly reminds
us that there was much opposition to the
demolition of Dee House five and more years ago. There still is.
Our concern was met by provision in the planning permission both for the preservation of Dee House and the eventual full investigation of the site, which is not merely a matter of the Roman period but the history of the site in succeeding centuries. There is no conflict between retention of Dee House and the archaeological requirement. It is feasible to conduct archaeological investigations under standing buildings.
While renewed public interest in the site is welcome, those who advocate removal of Dee House should say exactly what this would achieve. Meanwhile, what is highly regrettable is the continued deterioration of Dee House, a Grade II listed building. This is a situation one associates with rogue developers; it should not be happening in Chester.
Esmond Hawes, Hollow Lane, Kingsley, Frodsham
27/4/00 Dr Stanley Holliday's letter
needs a reply. He asks the question "Have
we no respect for what the city possesses?". So far in the debate about the
amphitheatre history has been at the forefront. There has been no mention
of urban design. I ask your reader, Dr Holliday, the city councillors and
Liane Smith to walk down John Street and observe how important Dee House is
to the view. Imagine that view without. Such enclosing vistas are essential
to good townscape as they prevent streets from merely petering out at the
end, and instead provide points of focus.
The city gateways are good examples of this. It should further be seen how the city wall, Newgate, Dee House, the amphitheatre and St Johns church form a unifed group with a positive sense of place. Take any one of them away and the effect would be destroyed.
A creative design solution would be to retain Dee House and excavate the amphitheatre around it, allowing the two to relate much as a promentory projects into a lake. This would provide a visually exciting experience and the layering and continuity of history would be dramatically demonstrated. Dee House could be assigned an appropriate role as museum, study centre or the like- nine tenths of the amphitheatre could be revealed and the town-scape preserved with fair shares and equal honours all round.
To retum to Dr Holliday's question, "Have we no respect for what the city possesses?" The I8th century buildings are one of the most important elements in our city townscape and we cannot afford to sacrifice any more of them. There is great danger in thinking in a one-sided way and of saying that we care when inadvertently we are intent upon destruction.
Jack Shore, 11 St George's Crescent Queen's Park, Chester
What a lot of hot air is being blown about the amphitheatre. It is only
a dip in the land and could be built in any field.
Why so much fuss about possible Roman remains? The Romans were not particularly nice people and treated us Brits as slaves. Some were sent to the galleys to row, chained until they died.
The amphitheatre was used for some poor Brit fighting for his life with just a sword and shield against a fully armed man- a very one-sided action, put on for the sport of the Romans.
Chester has had other invaders- Celts, Vikings, Saxons, Normans- all have left their remains under our City. But it all remains were exposed we would be living in a city of ruin.
Dee House, which the amphitheatre lobby wish to destroy, is a Georgian Town House and about the only one of its kind left in Chester city. Let Dee House and the amphitheatre stay as they are, enough is enough. Dee House would make a good place to live in flats, or offices or an art gallery, we have not got a good one. People should remember that the Georgian and Victorian builders dug deep and whatever bits of pot or rabbit bone- remains of some Roman dinner?- are long gone.
Regarding the new courts, what was wrong about those presently in use? The site would have been better for housing to populate the city.
(Miss) Dora Taylor, Chester Community Ratepayers Party 60 St Oswalds, Newtown, Chester
26/5/00 Copy of a letter sent to constituents
and other correspondents about the amphitheatre.
Thank you for your Ietter expressing your concerns over ths proposed new County Court building. As you may be aware, I opposed the planning application in 1995 from David McLean Developments Ltd on the grounds that the design of the new building was mediocre and over intensive.
While I accepted that the plans were an improvement on the existing building, I felt the new building would not enhance the setting of St. John's Church, Dee House and the Bishop's Palace. I also believed that it would be possible to move the new building further back into the site away from the perimeter of the amphitheatre. This argument was not accepted by English Heritage who felt this modification would have a detrimental effect on the Bishop's Palace.
Five years later, my views have not changed and I find it rather ironic that the Conservative councillors who enthusiastically supported the planning application at the time now appear to regret that decision. Although, to be fair to my former council colleagues, their support for the proposal was probably influenced by the fact that no individual or local organisation, apart from the Chester Civic Trust, raised any objections at the time.
As far as I am aware, the city council followed all the proper consultation procedures. The local press publicised the planning application prior to the council decision In March 1995.
I have taken up the matter of the physical space requirements of the county court with Jane Kennedy, the Government minister responsible for the Court Service, and I enclose a copy of her response. The present situation is immensely difficult as all the interested parties- the city council (owner of the site), David McLean Developments and the proposed tenant, the Court Service, have all acted in good faith and within the law.
I have consulted the planning law experts in the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions regarding the change of end-user for the new building. The application in 1995 was for commercial offices for David McLean Developments Ltd. But I am afraid the 'experts' do not consider that county court use constitutes a material change of use. This means that the city council has no legal grounds for stopping the development.
The Court Service has entered into a legally binding agreement with the developer for 25 years. I arranged for Jane Kennedy, the Minister in the Lord Chancellor's Department, to meet representatives of Chester Civic Trust and the Amphitheatre Trust when she visited the city for a ministerial engagement on May 19th. While Mrs Kennedy listened sympathetically to their representations, she pointed out that the Lord Chancellor's department is contractually committed to David McLean Developments Ltd.
The Lord Chancellor's Department's costs are estimated at £7m; Paul Durham, the chief executive of Chester City Council, was also present at the meeting and he agreed that the total compensation costs that would have to be borne by taxpayers could be as high as £15m. In these circumstances I really cannot see the elected Members of Chester City Council being willling to revoke the 1995 planning permission.
The future of Dee House is currently under discussion by Chester City Council who own the building.
I am grateful to you for raising your concerns with me and for giving me the opportunity to respond.
Christine Russell, City of Chester MP
2/6/00 The Roman amphitheatre (substitute 'a hole in the
ground') debacle crawls inexorably on. It seems to be a battle of brainless
wits on the one hand versus the archaeologists on the other.
I wish Joe (or Josephine) public would get their facts correct. Amphitheatres in Britain are not a great crowd puller. If you want Roman amphitheatres, visit the spectacular ones at Arles or Nimes in France, or Merida in Spain, not forgetting thc Coliseum in Rome, and other vastly superior ones in North Africa (compared to Chester).
If you must visit one in Britain, why not visit Maumbury Rings in Dorset? The most impressive visible structure in Britain surely has to be Caerleon in Gwent.
Survival of Chester's amphitheatre is more or less limited to the arena wall as there is no surviving seating bank. Most of the amphitheatre has been destroyed by Dee House. So why demolish it? As has been suggested, it was not a 'military parade ground' but a place of brutal entertainment and public execution (a similar situation still exists with bull fighting in today's Spain).
I came to visit the beautiful city of Chester from Manchester, not for the Roman ruins, but for the wonderful cathedral, the medieval Rows (partly Victorian 'restorations'), the city walls etc.
Don't forget that if it were not for Queen Aethelflaed's creation of the Anglo-Saxon Burgh of Chester in 907, your city would most definitely not exist (it was a derelict Roman shell by her time). It was she who created the Burgh by vastly extending the walls and imposing an Anglo-Saxon street pattern on this shell, which later had medieval additions.
The most important phase of your city's history is between the 10th and 14th centuries. This is the best archaeology. It includes the medieval city walls and towers, the castle (still not publicised enough), the Rows with medieval undercrofts, St Werburgh's, St John's- in parts built by using the stones from the dilapidated amphitheatre. Would you pull this down to 'restore' your precious amphitheatre, like the misguided and misinformed Victorian public did with some of the buildings on the Rows or, more recently, erecting 1960s monstrosities on Watergate Street?
It seems all Cestrians can think of is money, cunningly cloaked as tourism. A quick 'fix' and not thinking long term at all. All based on a selfish desire for 'us' to see things now. Is this good for archaeology? It seems to suit Cestrians to a tee when they can make money out of it quickly (look at the appallingly displayed Roman strongroom at the side of the hideous Forum Shopping Centre).
The 1960s excavator Hugh Thompson admitted that the techniques used then were 'brutal'. The post-Roman deposits were bulldozed away to 'reveal' a Roman 'amphitheatre'. It is a well-known fact that the most important archaeology on a site resides in the deposits, particularly the post-Roman, as they contain the significant information about the late 4th to 11th centuries. Precisely the stuff that archaeologists find hard to recognise at the moment, which is why it needs to be kept until they can deal with it. One only has to look at the piles of sand laying all around the bases of sandstone buildings to see the 'Deva-stating' effect the weather has on them. Do you want this to happen to your amphitheatre?
If you want to attract international tourists, then publicise your much better preserved and much, much more impressive and beautiful buildings mentioned earlier.
Tony Fitzpatrick, Manchester
The above correspondent states that "it seems to be a battle of brainless wits versus archaeologists". Which group, we wonder, does he fall into? And as for one or two local archaeologists... Whatever, there's a number of responses to the letter here
Open letter to Alan Williams from Paul
Durham, Chief Executive of Chester City Council:
One of the problems staff here have faced from the start in trying to find a positive way forward with the Amphitheatre Trust has been your personal style in dealing with other people.
This is most evident in recent press coverage in the Standard and Chronicle newspapers where your avowed wish to work and co-operate with us has been totally compromised by your apparent mission to publicly denigrate both the city council and its hard working people and, in your own words, to 'hang us'.
I refute entirely your accusations of corruption here. Would you please contact the newspapers you have spoken to and withdraw the accusations of corruption you have made against the city council. Please also confirm to them that you were wrong ever to have made such baseless allegations.
When you have done so then my colleagues and I will be able to have further contact with you and to attend meetings that you are involved in. Until you withdraw your very serious accusations against us officers of the city council cannot work with you. We will however continue to work with the trust through any other representative the trust chooses to nominate.
16/6/00 Last week's letters page carried protests from elected
city councillors about the undemocratic decisions taken by Chester City
Council in granting planning permission to the development at the Dee House
This is errant nonsense- and those who spout it know it is nonsense. At the time that permission was given, English Heritage had been consulted and had raised no objections because of the way in which the development was planned. It would be interesting to learn whether the Civic Trust has had any consultation with English Heritage and if not, why not.
It would also be interesting to know why these current councillors believe they are more democratic than previously elected members of the city council and why their views should take precedence.
Their new call to arms- a public protest- describes the Trust as forward-thinking. So forward-thinking that they object to a 21st century civic building. So forward-thinking that they are prepared to risk over £1m worth of Chester's taxpayer's money on a scheme with no guarantee of either benefit or fruition.
However, my greatest criticism of the debate is of the methods used by some of the leading lights of the campaign. I have made my views known through your newspaper and am as entitled to them as anyone else. There is no justification, therefore, to be subjected to hectoring telephone calls made on behalf of the Trust, nor to be continually bombarded by Trust literature.
If the Civic Trust really believes that the Lord Chancellor is ignoring the people of Chester, perhaps they would care to square that circle with the huge investment of time and money that has been committed into this venture and with the fact that he is part of a democratically elected government. The Civic Trust must be very wary of assuming that is speaks for all- it is no more than a pressure group and composed of individuals.
Jeannie France-Hayhurst, Bunbury Heath
16/6/00 I have been reading the comments and letters over
the past few weeks about the amphitheatre with growing amusement. I have
often wondered if a complete stranger walking past the site might be puzzled
to figure out what it actually was. It seems to me it needs tarting up a bit.
Surely there is in Chester a craftsman who could make one or two chariots
and build the equivalent of the royal box where on a nice day the Lord Mayor
would sit watching the streams of traffic flow past the Roman Gardens under
the ancient Newgate (built 1937) instead of sitting in the Town Hall.
Why not scatter a few old loaves about and borrow a couple of lions occasionally from the zoo?
F Pownall, Peel Crescent, Ashton
16/6/00 Before any more emotion is wasted on Chester's amphitheatre,
the archaeologists should establish once and for all that the masonry in St
John's Church is of Roman origin. If this can be proved there is no point
in continuing with the 'Save our Amphitheatre' campaign. The Chronicle should
modify its slip to: 'We the citizens of Chester demand a steep rise in our
Council Tax to pay for a hole in the ground.' That should bring in the letters.
Chester already has unique and genuine attractions, the newest of which is the Roman Garden project which leads down from the Newgate to the river. That is there to be enjoyed by visitors and residents alike. Let us waste no more effort on trying to save something that was probably dismantled nearly 1,000 years ago.
Dilys Dowswell, Eastern Pathway, Queen's Park, Chester
30/6/00 Chester City Council's chief executive Paul Durham,
was quite right to object to the suggestions of certain members of the amphitheatre
lobby about alleged corruption. It should be known that if the plans passed
by the city council are changed, then the city would have to bear the cost
of between £12m to £15m.
The amphitheatre should stay as it is, with no more digging up. It was a place for very nasty so-called sport in which men were killed by lions or other men in unequal combat. The Romans were not nice people. Dee House should remain. It neatly hides the new building and it will not be noticed. Dee House is a very good example of a Georgian Town House. Its beauty lies in its very simplicity and it is the only one left of its kind in the city.
Dora Taylor, Chester Community/Ratepayers Party
Gets repetitive, don't she?
30/6/00 There has been a great deal of public debate on the
development of a new county court in Chester.
Debate is always healthy- providing it is based on fact. However, over the past few months the Lord Chancellor's Department and the Court Service have been quite unjustly accused of riding roughshod over the wishes of the people of Chester. I strongly refute that accusation and I'm pleased to have been given this opportunity to put our case.
The pivotal element of this whole issue- which I want to make very clear- is that the Court Service is under a legal commitment to take a lease of the site when the development is completed. It is not for the Court Service or the Lord Chancellor's Department to unilaterally walk away from that commitment and take the decision that the development should be abandoned. It is a matter for the City Council as planning authority and for the developers of the site.
When this site was first offered to the Court Service in November 1997 we had to take into account a number of important factors- of which value for money for the taxpayer was but one. Firstly, it was noted that in 1995 Chester City Council decided that this development should proceed and granted full planning permission. At that time there was little indication of any major public concern over a development on the site. Proper planning procedures had been followed and the City Council further approved the county court as a proper use for the development.
Secondly, from the outset we took care to ensure that the development should not damage the archacological value of the site in any way. We were reassured on a number of points:
The development has the support of English Heritage, as having been designed in line with national architectural policies to preserve the Roman amphitheatre for future generations.
The developer had funded extensive archaeological excavations prior to work beginning on site.
The foundations of the building have been specially designed to stop one metre above the depth of the ruins. By placing the building on a concrete 'raft', the developer has made the ruins safer for future generations than had the site been Ieft as it was.
Only after it had been given these reassurances did the Court Service enter into a formal legal agreement with the developers in December 1999, and the Court Service is now contractually bound to become tenants in this development.
It has been suggested recently by the City Council that the Court Service should look for an alternative site and that they would be willing to help in the selection of an alternative. To embark on this track at such a late stage (our lease on the present county court facility expires in early 2002) would have serious consequences for tax and ratepayers- both locally and nationally. Compensation calculations vary, but the City Council's own officers estimate it would cost up to £15m to compensate the development company and Court Service. Which doesn't take into account the sums that would be needed to uncover the remains to restore the amphitheatre.
Unless the City Council is willing to absorb the total costs of relocating the county court, the Court Service has no alternative but to fulfil its contractual obligations to take up the tenancy. Given that we have taken the correct legal steps at each stage of this development, I regard these enormous sums as a quite unacceptable charge for taxpayers to face.
The decisions the Chester Amphitheatre Trust want taken are not within the Department's remit to take- without an unacceptably high cost to local ratepayers and national taxpayers alike.
Most importantly, no-one must lose sight of the fact that at the end of the day we are seeking to improve the civil justice facilities for the people of Chester.
Jane Kennedy MP, Courts Minister: Chester Chronicle 30/6/000
6/7/00 I am writing about the recent developments over the
Chester Amphitheatre. As you well know there has been a demo in Chester
Well, I am writing about the trees that are on the site, what will happen to these? People at the moment are thinking and arguing about long dead monuments and property and forgetting that in having the amphitheatre and maybe other developments that the trees will be destroyed. Surely these things which have been planted a long time ago have the right to live? People seem to have forgotten this.
I would love to see another part of the Roman structure opened but surely our responsibilities are to the living things and not to the long time dead of ages past? Yes, we truly have forgotten the true a perspective of things.
T. J. Walsh, Chester
7/7/00 An abridged (no surprises
there) copy of a letter to the chief executive of Chester City
Council, Paul Durham
May I compliment you on the manner in which you put Mr Alan Williams of the Chester Amphitheatre Trust firmly in his place following his attack on council workers.
After reading your letter in reply, my gut reaction was that Mr Williams is fortunate indeed that his diatribe was directed at the local authority and not a company with the financial clout of, say, Shell or Esso.
What you are now witnessing is the more reprehensible side of CAT's supporters. After leaving their first meeting at Chester Town Hall on April 5, at which I spoke up (a lone voice) in favour of retaining Dee House, I was involved in a skirmish by the Odeon. A man, much smaller but very much younger (I'm in my 71st year), apprehended me and remonstrated with me for my 'verbal attack' on Cllr Bailey. Believing he was about to attack I got in first by headbutting him. Not something I'm proud of but at least he finished up on his backside whilst I walked away unscathed. When I reached home, I received an abusive phone call, threatening my home with arson if I didn't shut up about Dee House.
Oh, Dee House! For years it has been a thorn in the side of 'experts' who believe wonders unimagined lie beneath its cellars. I'm sure some won't be content until it's razed to the ground. It must not be.
Dee House, the old Old Ursuline Convent taught its pupils, both Catholic and non-Catholic, to a very high standard. But it also taught them another very important subject. Manners! Woe betide any convent girl who stepped out of line on public transport. The nuns would be down on them like a ton of bricks.
I attended both CAT's town hall meetings and declared my opinion that Dee House was the victim of arson. Some even agreed with me, in fact no-one disagreed, with the notable exception of the Cllr Bailey, who said it was vagrants trying to keep warm. Yes, and the Pope is C of E!
But most disturbing of all, not one person in that assembly saw fit to condemn arson: What a reflection on their mentality!
Come on, Chester councillors, refurbish Dee House. It won't cost you a penny. David McLean will foot the bill. To capitulate to arson would be criminal.
In the interests of fair play, I may add that it has never entered my head that either Mr Alan Williams or his CAT co-founder, Dr Liane Smith, are in any way responsible for the incident outside the Odeon or the abusive phone call. indeed, Dr Smith was the first to condemn the latter when a report of it appeared in The Chronicle. They could hardly comment on the former because, to the best of my knowledge, they know nothing about it.
I must also point out that knowing me to be a detractor didn't prevent the duo from cordially inviting me to attend their second public meeting at the Town Hall where I was very warmly received by them but not their supporters.
So you see, Sir you're not the only one to have been the victim of vitriol. And all because the gentleman loved Dee House!
Terry Coppack, 8 Newton Park View, Newton, Chester
14/7/00 I was impressed by the campaign that Chester Amphitheatre
Trust mounted to stop a County Court being built behind Dee House.
Predictably it failed (??) and the city council is now seeking permission to have Dee House demolished.
However if Dee House was removed the new Court House would be open to full view. Furthermore the side which would be overlooking the amphitheatre was presumably designed assuming that it would be obscured by Dee House- the separation is only a few metres- and not for a sensitive heritage setting.
Local distinctiveness would take on a fresh meaning and from a heritage standpoint this city would be ridiculed by our European partners. Fortunately the chance of permission being given is slight and the commonsense proposal to develop Dee House as an interpretation centre with access directly to an amphitheatre which will itself undergo further excavation and made more suitable for public performances will prevail.
Cllr. David Challen, 6 Cliveden Road, Chester
14/7/00 In the ongoing campaign to 'Save Our Amphitheatre'
we have encountered euphoria, listened to idealism, met with opposition, and
I have consistently held the view that completion of the county court development is inevitable. Despite the city council's decision to seek permission for the demolition of Dee House, Cllr David Evans admits that there is a real possibility that this permission may not be granted by the Environment Secretary.
It is, therefore, time for a pragmatic approach to take centre stage. Whether Dee House is to be demolished or renovated, firm contingency plans are needed. At the April 5 meeting in the Town Hall which led to the foundation of the Chester Amphitheatre Trust, I gained the impression, from the strength of feeling expressed and the offer of an Internet site to help the cause (you're reading it!) that an initial sum of £250,000 would not be impossible to raise. Recent reports suggest that up to £500,000 could be injected into the Dee House renovation project by McLean which would then be granted a 200-year lease on the building.
Rather than tolerate such an injection, I suggest the Trust endeavours to raise an appropriate sum within a specified reasonable time in order to keep the Dee House site in the full possession and guardianship of the city council.
Mr D Andrews' recent letter referred to cellars under Dee House which contain important and substantial structural elements of the amphitheatre site. Undercover access to view Roman remains in their original position in Chester is limited. Examples exist in the following places:
The basement of Jigsaw in Northgate Street (access, accompanied by a member of staff, to view part columns and tour column bases);
The basement of Spudulike in Bridge Street (free and ready access to the 1st Century Roman Bath and Hypocaust);
Dewa Roman Experience opposite Spudulike (admission charge).
If the Dee House cellar area were to remain partially or completely covered by a renovation of Dee House, there would appear good reason to preserve for public viewing the structural elements described by Mr Andrews as an undercover complement to the wider outdoor arena, and to give serious consideration to the suggestion that a 'Dee-va House Amphimuseum' be constructed within the area currently covered by the sad ruin of Dee House.
The successful commercial foundation of the Dewa Roman Experience should be looked upon as an inspiration to establish an equally successful amphitheatre complex. There is small doubt that with courage, cheerfulness and resolution on the part of all interested bodies, the fullest possible excavation of the amphitheatre can be achieved, together with the added advantage of an adjacent 'Amphimuseum'.
Alan Bonner, 15 Meadow Lane, Huntington Chester
14/7/00 I have been reading with interest over the last
few weeks the views of people on the future of the amphitheatre.
Unfortunately, the debate has centred centred around over-simple slogans like 'Stop the Courts', 'Demolish Dee House', and 'Save the Amphitheatre', without any consideration of the obstacles that stand in the way.
This led to public expectations that were always unlikely to be realised. It was never likely that the owner of the rear part of the site, who was already constructing a building and was under contract to an end user, would be prepared to relinquish his interest in the site. Also, English Heritage has stated that it would not agree to the demolition of the Grade II listed Dee House, as it considers an economically viable adaptation of the building is possible.
It is therefore quite understandable that the public feel confused and frustrated. It is also clear, from comments on 'Save the Amphitheatre', that some people thought there were proposals to destroy the remains of the amphitheatre or cover over the already exposed area of the site.This of course is not the case.
I've been prompted to write because of a caption below a photo of the amphitheatre site in last week's Chronicle which read: 'Is Dee House more important than the amphitheatre?' I think that this is an inappropriate question. It's like asking a parent or guardian of two children which child they like the best. It's my view that we are all guardians of our historic buildings and built heritage, and that we have a responsibility for their safekeeping, so that they can be passed on and enjoyed by future generations.
The most satisfactory, realistic and responsible solution for the site, therefore, would be imaginative improvements to the setting, display and interpretation of the Roman amphitheatre, and the refurbishment and reuse of Dee House. I am sure that given good will, it is possible to produce a scheme that will gain all the necessary approvals and, most importantly, gain the approval of the people of Chester.
Cllr John Vernon, Cross Lanes Cottage, Broom Heath Lane, Stapleford, Tarvin
21/7/00 If the County Court building on the amphitheatre
had been prevented, it might make sense to move back or demolish Dee House
if the whole ampitheatre could be excavated.
However, with the County Court building proceeding, it would be a sheer case of vandalism to knock down a Grade II listed building, especially when the Roman ruins underneath it were probably destroyed when it was built.
It would be better to demolish the blank wall and negotiate with the developers who plan to fit a car park on 20 per cent of the amphitheatre site (the same area as Dee House and an area which has not been destroyed)
Gordon Emery, 27 Gladstone Road, Chester www.gordonemery.com
21/7/00 The decision of the Conservative and Liberal Democrat
councillors at the full council meeting on July 5 was disgraceful as they
bowed to the howlings of a mob over the wish to destroy the Georgian building
Officials pointed out that the various ministers had made it plain they would not sanction the destruction of Dee House, a listed building and the only one of its kind in the city of Chester.
The amphitheatre, on the other hand, is just a 'dip' in the land and could be placed in any old field. The mob's 'victory' will prove to be a very hollow one and expensive to the city- which is already cash-strapped.
There are so many things that need doing in our city- the Market roof needs repairing, the Brook Street traders need some access to the city via Brook Street. The barriers need to be removed from the Market Square to enable shops in Werburgh Street to trade again- there are four empty in the city centre positions, a thing never heard of a few years ago. Time was when a business could not get a city position for love nor money, but not now pedestrianisation has stopped business. Result- empty shops.
Chester needs the amphitheatre like it needs a hole in the head. We say scrap the plans, there is enough to be seen. No-one needs more empty space.
Dora Taylor, Chester Community/Ratepayers Party, St. Oswalds, Newtown, Chester
OK, that's it. We've all enjoyed a chuckle at Dame Dora's ramblings, but enough is enough and the above is definitely her last waste of this particular portion of cyberspace...
28/7/00 On viewing the large steel frame work (now at roofing
stage) of the new court building, I feel at this late stage thal the Lord
Chancellor and his advisers will not back down and stop this work taking place.
The new court will have good proportions and straight lines, the same as in Roman days of building. Look at 'Deva Roman' layouts and the designs, with straight street plans and the mostly oblong buildings of 'Forum High Command', with colonnades to cover the plainness of stone.
The worry today in Chester about this court building seems be the large plain brick wall, facing north on to St John Street. This wall, with Dee House removed, can be made into an object of artistic value. (Like the side of the Police HQ?) The Lord Chancellor could be shown a prepared arrangement drawing of the wall, with a large plaque attached to it. The plaque should be on centre line to the width of the wall and halfway up it, according to the dimensions of the wall. A well designed work from a good sculptor could make a large marble plaque in high relief, depicting the time the Romans lived and worked in Deva and their 200-year occupation of Britain.
It could be a plaque of the ordinary Roman people of Deva, with their children in togas, grouped in front of a rear colonnade looking through on to an amphitheatre to enjoy happier times and honour their gods. For example, Minerva's Day could be shown with white doves, flowers and, at the end of the colonnade on each side perhaps a guard- two Roman soldiers bearing staffs with the round medals of the arms of Deva.
For Roman style today in Chester, one has to look at the Bridgegate down by the old Dee Bridge. When the bridge was built over 100 years ago the architect used Roman plaques for relief and enhancement. Today we could use this fashion on a very plain wall to at least help to merge the new court building with a Roman theme. Maybe the Lord Chancellor might like to pay for this plaque to ease the distress of accepting this court. He could even be carved into it should he wish. (As a gargoyle perhaps- flanked by Christine Russell, John Price, Stephen Langtree and Andy Farrall?)
28/7/00 Letter to the Chester Chronicle
I note with interest Alan Williams' call for open and honest debate over the future of Dee House.
I am of the opinion that opportunity for such debate already exists through the courtesy of your columns. A further opportunity for open and honest debate would become available if the leadership board of the city council establishes a team to take a 'detailed excavation strategy project' forward.
At the present time it may be helpful to remind ourselves of the objectives underlying the foundation of the Chester Amphitheatre Trust:
1. Stop the current plans for the development of the site
2. Produce a vlable plan for the excavation
3. Promote the site as a public amenity
At a meeting held in the Town Hall on April 5, James Lathom referred to the city council's then 'Cultural Tourism and Citizen's Benefit' proposal for development of the site:
1.Complete renovation of Dee House, or such parts as are retained
2. Some further excavation work.
3. Improvements to the existing excavated area to enable it to be better used for public enjoyment.
Should a city council project team be established, I trust that the submissions of interested individuals, as well as those of 'local, national and international organisations', would be welcomed by the team. My present thinking is as follows:
1. Renovate part of Dee House in either its Georgian or Victorian style, or design an aesthetic external union of the adjacent styles in a renovation of the whole building
2. Utilise any renovation of Dee House to display not only Roman themes, but also relevant displays ol the Medieval, Georgian and Victorian contributions to the rich tapestry of Cestrian history. Such utilisation would bring together four essential elements in the development of the amphitheatre site.
3. Utilise the remaining available amphitheatre space to create a more effective amphitheatre representation.
Alan Bonner, Meadow Lane, Huntington
2/3/01 Alan Bonner (February 16) raises several interesting questions.
The status of Dee House depends on its being a listed building. Whether or not it was part of the county court development is irrelevant. If you abandon the protection of a listed building when it happens not to suit you, you open the floodgates.
The amphitheatre site is just that- a site, not an entire structure. Amphitheatres were much used for gladiatorial combats and public executions, then popular attractions.
Neither seems likely in the immediate future.
Chester indeed had ib origin in Roman times, but its development as a city came later, in the Anglo Saxon period using the ruins of the Roman fortress.
The archaeological investigation of the amphitheatre site has to be concerned with all periods of its history- not least its successor, the Saxon minster of St John, notably sited outside the city walls.
Why? Because it started taking advantage of the protection afforded by the ruins of the amphitheatre.
This is what we hope the archaeological work will clarify.
E M Hawes, Hollow Lane, Kingsley, Frodsham
2/4/01 My letter about the amphitheatre site may lead to some confusion, as a result of editorial culling...
The importance of this site lies particularly in what happened to it after the Roman period. We have here a unique opportunity to learn more about the long period which eventually saw Chester re-emerge as a flourishing town with two Anglo-Saxon minsters.
For this purpose, total excavation is not necessary. Excavation is now recognised to be essentially destructive, and modern archaeological techniques can recover the information sought without recourse to such drastic methods.
In this, we are far more advanced than was thought possible when the northern section of the amphitheatre site was excavated in the 1960s.
By the same token there would be no archaeological justification for the demolition of Dee House.
E M Hawes, Kingsley
6/4/01 It is some comfort that Dr Liane Smith recognises the concern that I and others have that the current frenetic efforts to formulate a plan for the development of the amphitheatre site may end up doing more harm than good.
In our view there are two essential preconditions. One is that Dee House should be preserved; Chester should not be in the business of destroying protected buildings.
The other is that the whole of the amphitheatre site and its immediate surroundings should be subject to thorough archaeological investigation, to discover as much as we can about what it was like in Roman times.
It would be a disaster if at this stage we were to see a repeat of the loss of information on Chester's past which occurred during the large scale redevelopment of the 1960s; understandable given the circumstances of the time but inexcusable now.
E M Hawes, Hollow Lane, Kingsley
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