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Cathedral III

A Virtual Stroll Around the Walls of Chester

6. The Eastgate



Eastgate II


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Aengraving of eastgatefter our tour of of the Cathedral, we will now rejoin the City Walls and wander on. You will hardly fail to notice a distinctive tall modern structure situated in the corner of the churchyard here. This free-standing bell tower or campanile is known as the Addleshaw Tower, after its commissioner, Dean Addleshaw. It was built to accomodate the Cathedral's bells after the decaying 15th century central tower began to show signs of stress and judged no longer capable of supporting their great weight.

Looking rather like a windmill without sails, it was designed, by no means to everyone's taste, by the English architect George Pace (1915–1975) and finished in 1974. It is the first free-standing belltower built for a cathedral since the 15th century. Constructed of concrete with brick infilling and covered with slates from the mines of Penrhyn in North Wales, the tower stands 86 feet high and houses thirteen bells. The great Tenor Bell is named after Christ and Our Lady, to whom, along with St. Werburgh, the Cathedral is dedicated. It weighs 24.75 cwt, and is 4ft 4ins in diameter.

As we learned in the last of our Cathedral chapters, the Dean & Chapter and local authority are currently planning a range of controversial 'improvements' to the environment of the churchyard, including, we hear, the addition of a cafe in the base of the Addleshaw Tower.

addleshaw towerThe world's most famous campanile is, of course, the Leaning Tower of Pisa. To learn more about the bells of Chester and those who ring them, be sure to read Ringing in Chester by Phil Burton, here. His site offers some fascinating insights into the bellringer's art and also some nice photographs of other Chester churches.

A flight of stone steps, which were erected in 1931 at a cost of £288, here descend to an attractive, tree lined- but slightly scruffy- area now used mainly for car parking, which has for centuries gone under the name of The Kaleyards, due to the fact that the vegetable gardens of the monks of Chester Abbey were once located here.

If you look down from the wall, you will see the semi-circular base of the vanished thirteenth-century Drum Tower, which had formerly been used by the Barber's Company, who exercised most of the functions of physicians and surgeons. Between here and the Phoenix Tower also once stood the Sadler's Tower until it was demolished in 1779 after falling into decay. It had risen 20 feet above the walkway and contained rooms with groined roofs. Over its doorway was a 'machicolation' for pouring boiling oil, lead or suchlike, onto the heads of unwary attackers. The Sadler's guild used the tower for their meetings, and paid four shillings per year rent for it in the sixteenth century. We learned while visiting The Kaleyards that the tower was eventually demolished and the last traces of it were removed when this section of wall was rebuilt in the 1820s.

The whole area before us was for centuries open ground and was utilised by the Roman garrison as a parade ground. Below us, the masive stones that comprised part of their fortress wall are clearly visible, and may be closely inspected from the car park below.

The road beyond, today's Frodsham Street, was once the commencement of a Roman road which ran from just outside the main entrance to the fortress, along the line of modern Brook Street, through what is now the pleasant suburb of Hoole (where these words are being written)- and on to Frodsham and Warrington. Much of the route remains in use to this day- although some sections, as at the 'Newton Hollows' in Hoole, are now little more than footpaths.

If we may briefly digress from our current route, when landscaping work was undertaken at the Newton Hollows a few years ago, the council website had this to say about them,

"Newton Hollows is a rare and fascinating archaeological survival located in surburban Chester...an ancient route from Wilderspool into Chester. Originally a Roman road it was later used as a main route for people, cattle, and herds of sheep. This constant passage of trafficking over 1000 years has physically shaped The Hollows. (Note that 'Hoole' translates as 'Hollows' registered 1190AD)
It remained in use as the main route from Chester to the north until it was abandoned in the 18th century when a turnpike road was constructed on the line of Hoole Road.
In the mid 12th century it appears to have been known as 'The Valley of the Demons', perhaps with reference to the hiding place of robbers and thieves lying in wait for unsuspecting travellers. In addition, legend has it that the hollow was haunted, and travellers had to run the risk of coming across 'The Hound of Hell’ with reported sightings of a huge black, slavering dog with ‘great white teeth like knives’. It is a superb example of a medieval hollow way, though this is hard to tell due to the volume of trees and undergrowth"...

Resuming our stroll, in the middle ages the area before us was known as the Jousting Croft, where jousts and tournaments were held and games of all kinds were played. All round the perimeter would be erected the stalls, booths and amusements of the fairs and markets and it was to this stretch of wall that the townsfolk and visitors flocked to gain a grandstand view of the crowds below at what must have been exciting and colourful occasions:

"The plain... was a forest of pavillions, every colour of the rainbow... Then there were the people themselves. All around and about the tents there were cooks quarreling with dogs who had eaten the mutton, and small pages writing insults on each other's backs when they were not looking, and elegant minstrels with lutes singing tunes similar to 'Greensleeves' with soulful expressions, and squires with a world of innocence in their eyes, trying to sell each other spavined horses, and hurdy-gurdy men trying to earn a groat by playing on the vielle, and gypsies telling your fortune, and enormous knights with their heads wrapped in untidy turbans playing chess and- as for entertainment- there were joculators, gleemen, tumblers, harpers, troubadours, jesters, minstrels, tregetours, bear-dancers, egg-dancers, ladder-dancers, ballet dancers, montebanks, fire-eaters and balancers..."
T. H. White: The Once and Future King

For nearly two centuries the site has been hemmed in by a conglomeration of houses, shops and other buildings, but as late as 1705, the prospect of this area from the City Walls was very different, and was then described as,

view of kaleyards"a meadow, on the other side of the Gale-yards and Cow Lane, anciently, and now called the Justing Croft, wherein tilt and tourney were heretofore practised- a place very proper for these military exercises, both for the combatants, the ground not being over hard, and the spectators, who from the Walls, and from the houses adjoining on the one side, and the gently ascending grounds on the other, might with security and pleasure see the whole of the performance".

A wonderful prospect of Chester Cathedral from the entrance to the Kaleyards from Frodsham Street. This view would be utterly ruined should the council's idiotic plan to build a new Market Hall here ever be realised..

Little relating to the specific contests that took place upon this ground has come to light, but an event alluded to in the 12th century by Lucian the Monk may be one. He related that, a few years before he wrote, there emerged from the City Walls a crowd of all ages, sexes and ranks, so vast in size that scarcely a wretched old woman remained at home. The occasion for this exodus was a contest between two armed horsemen in a certain level piece of ground in the presence of the king's son and a peer of the realm- a combat in which, Lucian congratulates his readers or auditors, the Englishman won. This event appears to have taken place in the year 1186 when Prince John, son of King Henry II, and Philip of Worcester, were waiting to take ship for Ireland. Lucian did not record exactly where this contest took place and the Roodee is an alternative, but unlikely site as, prior to the erection of the embankment or 'cop' in 1587, it was boggy ground, still largely covered with water.

It was probably about the close of the sixteenth century that these military exercises ceased to be performed. The Shropshire Union Canal now flows through the old Jousting Croft and part of Queen Street covers the south side of it today.

Archery practice, which was undertaken here also, was compulsory in those warlike times for all males above the age of six years. If you look carefully, you can still see the marks where they sharpened their arrows on the great Roman stones at the base of the wall in the Kaleyards. Butts for the practice of archery were first provided on the Jousting Croft in 1562, with the sanction and approbation of the Mayor and Corporation and rules laid down which included penalties for "Layers of Wadgers."

mercia squareBut such romantic scenes of the past are extremely difficult to imagine as we gaze down at the dustbins and back doors of a brand-new commercial development, occupying what was formerly known as Mercia Square.

This entire area, hard by the Cathedral and Eastgate Clock (see below), and thus frequented by more visitors than probably any other part of the walls, was shamefully allowed to remain derelict for a remarkable number of years, the land changing hands a number of times as the speculator's game ran its course. In time, various development proposals came to light, whose merits- or otherwise- were debated in the local press. Here was a golden opportunity, people said, to produce something worthy of the site's prominent position in a historic city centre. But it was not to be: the third-rate prevailed yet again and the result lies before us now.

Reader Andy Wressel wrote to tell us about his memories of the place as it used to be:

"I remember the bar / restaurant on the upper level of Mercia Square called Duke's Wine Bar. When you entered through the glass door you found yourself in a dark room with an L-shaped bar straight in front of you. Its restaurant was to the left of the entrance and I seem to remember wagon wheels were the theme here decorating the walls.
Next to Duke's, with an adjoining internal door, was a bar called The Pump Room. I also recall this bar had a revolving door leading from the square. The decor here was old wooden barrels used as tables.
Also on Mercia Square was the wine bar Pierre Griff's, with its 'P.Gs' motif in the window with what could only be described as a drunken cherub straddling a barrel. Inside, wine bottle candleholders covered with an unbelievable amount of melted wax were the centrepiece of each table. This wine bar must have been responsible for introducing many a young Cestrian to the pleasures of wine drinking as beers and spirits were not served here.
Mercia Square was always alive with a happy atmosphere; laughter echoed as many drinkers would spill out from the bars to enjoy the summer night air. Friends would use the square as a meeting point and inadvertently spend the rest of the evening there, lost in time".

chester guided walksmercia squareAs we learned when we passed the Kaleyard Gate, over fifty years ago the Greenwood Redevelopment Plan advocated demolishing the entire west side of Frodsham Street and landscaping the area before us to create that most unfamiliar concept to Chester's contemporary planners- a new city park that would perpetuate the area's ancient name- the Hop Pole Paddock. If this project had gone ahead, the trees would now be mature and the park would be treasured as a green oasis in the city centre. Instead of which, we have a collection of exceedingly mundane structures with their backs turned to the walls, exhibiting a variety of refuse bins, discarded packaging and shabby advertising banners.

Right: the short-lived Mercia Square precinct as seen from the City Walls. More photographs of it are here.

Mind you, it could have been worse- just. At the end of the nineteenth century, it was proposed that Chester's revolutionary new electricity generating station should be built here in the old Hop Pole Paddock- much to the distress of many, including the Cathedral authorities, who in October 1893 wrote to the council that it "would be a grievous eyesore and a permanent injury to the City itself if that site is so used... Architecturally, the works would seriously effect the Cathedral which is now such an attractive feature of the City... The Chapter have always been desirous of the Hop Pole Paddock being kept as open space for the benefit of the City at large and they are quite willing to approach the Ecclesiastical Commissioners in order to see whether some substantial step can be taken to place the Paddock in trust for the enjoyment of the citizens".

The Mayor assured the Dean and Chapter that their appeal would "receive the careful consideration of the Council" but, by the following January (1894) they had formerly decided that the thing would be built here anyway, despite objections, and also that "having settled on the site, it was not for them to deal with suggestions for keeping open space" (sounds familiar?)

In March 1894, the Cathedral authorities offered to pay the sum of £1,000 to purchase the Paddock, but their offer was initially rejected, the committee declaring that this was still the best site for the generating station. A mere month later, however, came an abrupt about-turn when the council decided to accept the Cathedral's £1,000 subject to the following conditions, 1. That it never be built upon and be forever kept open and, 2. That the Chapter relinquish the Corporation a strip of land 12 feet wide at the back of Frodsham Street if and whenever the Corporation require it for widening that street".

The electricity generating station was eventually opened in 1897 in the Water Tower Gardens at the so-called Old Port instead, where, after a long resident's battle to fight off a developer's bid to demolish it, it (or at least a token part of its' facade) remains today.

And today's Cathedral authorities, intent as they apparently are to pave over the churchyard and build on the Deanery Field, would be wise to rmember the splendid efforts of their predecessors in preserving green open space in Chester "for the enjoyment of the citizens"...

In 1921, shares were offered for a proposed Scala cinema in Frodsham Street. This was intended to be built on the site of the Hop Pole Hotel (actually 13 Foregate Street) but the plan failed to come about. Then, ten years after the Greenwood plan- around 1959- it was proposed to erect an eight-storey steel and glass office block in the middle of Mercia Square- another philistine plot that thankfully came to nought.

Nontheless, if you would view the innovative, the inspiring, the sympathetic in contemporary British architecture and town planning, it pains me to say that this particular corner of modern Chester is decidedly not the place to be.

And indeed, in early 2000, we were concerned to hear that a company by the name of Ethel Austin Shop Properties had sought- and obtained- planning permission to erect a two-storey building in Frodsham Street, immediately next to the pedestrian access to the 13th century Kaleyard Gate, a location described by the city's conservation officer as "an exceptionally sensitive site". This, happily, came to nought as the company soon after went into receivership but a more serious threat emerged at the end of 2010, a ludicrous plan to transfer Chester's Market Hall from the site it has traded on since Saxon times- the Market Square- and erect a new building to house it, of all places here on the Kaleyards! Go here for the details...

The Eastgate Clock
Moving on, the walkway becomes briefly hemmed in by tall buildings on either side- the one on the right being a cafe, if you're in need refreshments or a bathroom- and through the narrow space between we spy what is said to be the second-most photographed clock in Britain- the first, of course, being so-called Big Ben in London- the Eastgate Clock.

In fact, it is unusual not to see visitors from somewhere in the world standing beneath this clock having their picture taken. Many consider it curious that such an ancient city as Chester should be symbolised by a monument just over a century old!

At the end of the 19th century there was much discussion as to the best method of commemorating Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee- 60 years on the throne- and a committee was convened to settle the matter. Altogether, Chester had raised £1,800 for the Jubilee Fund, one-third being for "general rejoicings", one-third for a nursing scheme but the final third was the sublect of much debate. Some wanted support for their favourite charities. Extensions to the Bluecoat School and Infirmary were suggested. The inevitable statue was proposed. But then the offer of a commemorative clock was made by Colonel E. Evans-Lloyd ('citizen and freeman'), and this was accepted. The eminent Chester architect, John Douglas was asked to design it, and some local relations of his, the Swindleys of Overleigh Road, who happened to be specialists in ornamental ironwork, were commisioned to produce the mounting for the clock and the railings for the top of the gate. The clock itself was made by the old company of J. B. Joyce of Whitchurch, who are to this day responsible for maintaining it.

Douglas had considered the idea of erecting a clock here from at least 1881 when he had designed the adjoining Grosvenor Club. In 1884 the idea resurfaced when a masonry clock tower was suggested. It was only when Colonel Evans-Lloyd's proposals prevailed that the commission finally went ahead.

eastgate xmas shoppersThe clock was run by weights instead of springs, thus enabling it to keep more accurate time. The pendulum was said to beat every one and a quarter seconds and the pendulum ball weighed one hundred-weight. The clock's builders formerly had to make frequent visits to wind the mechanism but since its conversion to electricity, this is no longer necessary.

The clock was formally unveiled at a civic ceremony in 1899 by the Mayoress of Chester and Miss Sybil Clarke, Col. Evans-Lloyd's niece. During the ceremony, Colonel Evans-Lloyd said the clock was his humble contribution to his native city and he "hoped that by day and night it would prove to be a comfort and convenience, noy only to the citizens, but to the many tourists who visited the city".
For years, he said, he had wished to see a clock on the Eastgate and he had first investigated the possibility ten years previously, though the difficulty had always been to find a receptacle on which to place it. The handsome Jubilee Memorial Tower had finally solved the problem.

J. B. Joyce, the designers of the Eastgate Clock, continue in business to this day- they even have a website- and are now part of the Smith of Derby Group. Founded in 1690, they are arguably the oldest surviving clockmaking company and their clocks grace buildings throughout the world. One of the most famous is the magnificent mechanism and dial at the Shanghai Custom House. Built in 1927, it was the largest clock ever made at the time and became affectionately known as 'Big Ching'.

traffic in eastgate street 1961Other Joyce clocks are in the post offices in Sydney and Adelaide in Australia; in Nairobi, Cape Town and Port Elizabeth in Africa and in Rangoon, Calcutta, Delhi and Kabul in Asia. There are also Joyce clocks in North and South America and in Canada, and there's even one on the Falkland Islands, at Port Stanley. Much nearer and more familiar to Cestrians is the distinctive Joyce clock which stands atop a pole a mere few hundred yards for the Eastgate at the end of Foregate Street. It appears in
this photograph in our 'lost pubs of Chester' gallery- the two old pubs in the picture have long since vanished, replaced by soulless office buildings, but the clock survives and continues to accurately tell us the time to this day.

Since its unveiling, our Eastgate Clock has been universally admired. Even the notoriously difficult-to-please architectural critic Nikolaus Pevsner evidently approved of the design and described it and the gateway it tops thus:
"a rusticated elliptical arch, on it jolly ironwork carrying a diamond Jubilee Clock, by Douglas, and surprisingly playful".

Our photograph shows heavy traffic passing beneath the Eastgate and its clock on a Summer day in 1961. The buildings look much the same today but this notorious bottleneck thankfully vanished when much of the city centre was pedestrianised.

1997 was the official centenary of the Eastgate Clock, and the occasion was marked by a variety of events, including photography and painting competitions and a classic car run between Big Ben in London and the Eastgate in Chester.

Its architect, John Douglas (1830-1911)- who was also responsible for the beautiful east side of St. Werburgh Street, the rebuilt Shoemaker's Row in Northgate Street, the impressive residences in Bath Street, the City Baths and his own home, the vast Walmoor House on Dee Banks, now lies beneath a humble tombstone in the remarkable Overleigh Cemetery, across the River Dee in Handbridge.

Ascending the short flight of steps to stand directly under the clock, we suddenly encounter below us the unexpected bustle of Eastgate and Foregate Streets, deemed the principal shopping area of the city centre. The attractive cobbled surface here was laid as recently as 1998 and is a great improvement upon the former tarmac surface. The obstructive and ugly wooden bollards cluttering up the pavement, brainchild of a thankfully now-departed eccentric 'conservation officer', are another matter, and attracted a deal of local criticism when they first appeared.

• Some stunning panoramic movies of Eastgate Street may, along with much else, be seen at the excellent Chester 360°.

Now go on to Part II of our exploration of Eastgate Street...

Curiosities from Chester's History no. 10

  • 1485 Richard III was killed at the Battle of Bosworth Field and his body hurredly interred in the choir of a nearby monastery, that of the Greyfriars. Henry Tudor- a Welshman- ascends the throne as Henry VII (1457-1509) and starts the Tudor dynasty.
    On 24th August 2012, the University of Leicester and Leicester City Council, in association with the Richard III Society, announced that they had joined forces to begin a search for the mortal remains of King Richard III. They set out to locate the remains of the church of the Grey Friars- long since demolished and now lying beneath a council car park!- and establish whether the remains of Richard III were still buried there.
    On 5th September 2012 the excavators announced that they had identified the site of the Greyfriars church and human bones have since been found in the church's choir. On 12th September 2012 it was announced that a skeleton discovered during the search could be that of Richard III. Five reasons were given: the body was of an adult male; it was buried beneath the choir of the church; there was scoliosis of the spine, making one shoulder higher than the other; there was an arrowhead embedded in the spine; and there were perimortem injuries to the skull. Further laboratory tests, including DNA comparisons, are planned to verify the identification. Watch this space...
    Simon Ripley becomes twenty third Abbot of St. Werburgh's (-1493)
  • 1486 Henry VII further reduced the fee farm rent to £20. The citizens claimed the walls and a quarter of the city were in ruins and the city sparsely populated on account of the wealthier merchants having moved to more prosperous towns.
  • 1489 Prince Arthur (1486-1502), eldest son of Henry VII stayed at Chester for a month and witnessed the Miracle Play 'The assumption of our Lady' performed at the Abbey Gate. He was described as "a great friend to the monks".
    (One of the great 'what-ifs' of English history: if Arthur, "friend to the monks" had survived to become king instead of his younger brother Henry and the Dissolution of the Monasteries and creation of the Church of England had never have come about, what manner of country would we be living in now?)
    Prince Arthur raised the Mayor, Richard Goodman to an Esquire. The Pentice Court was raised on the south and east sides of St. Peter's Church. The steeple was re-pointed and a goose was eaten at the top of it by the Parson and his friends, after which "they threw the bones into the four streets"
  • 1493 John Puleston Esq. of Wrexham, almost killed one Patrick Kelling at the high altar of the Abbey, and so suspended the services of the church. John Birchenshawe becomes twenty fourth Abbot of St. Werburgh's (-1524)
  • 1497 Katherine Knight and "the wife of John Bowes" were fined 4d for 'eaves-dropping".
  • 1500 The Handbridge side of the Old Dee Bridge was rebuilt and towers added to give greater protection against the marauding Welshmen. First recorded horseraces on the Roodee. The first black-lead pencils used in England
  • 1501 Arthur, eldest son of Henry VII and the first Tudor Prince of Wales, marries Catherine of Aragon (1485-1536). He died the following year, aged only sixteen years- and she went on to become the first wife of his younger brother, Henry VIII, who was six years her junior.
  • 1503 All who held the rank of Mayor or Sheriff, and all innkeepers ordered to hang out lanterns , until the 8pm curfew. The order stated that all concerned "were to have hanging at their dores a lanthorne wyth a candyll byrning in it every nighte from that it be first night unto the oure of viii of the clocke, from the feast of All Saints (November 1st) until the feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary." (February 2nd) After that, apart from the watchman's fire-brazier, absolute darkness would prevail until daybreak. The streets from the High Cross to Eastgate and to St. Michael's in Bridge Street were paved for the first time. Following the death of Prince Arthur two years earlier, Prince Henry (soon to be Henry VIII) was created Earl of Chester. Nostrodamus was born in this year. He started to write his prophesies around 1550. They were translated into English in 1672 by another French doctor, Theophilus Garencieres, whose son, Dudley, came to Chester in 1676 and served as Rector of Waverton. He was buried in the Cathedral in 1702. Dudley's wife, Elizabeth, was half-sister to another famous Cestrian, the architect and dramatist Sir John Vanbrugh.
  • 1505 Chester's 'Great Charter' granted by Henry VII. This allowed that Chester be separate from the County, with the exception of the Castle and Gloverstone- a sort of no-man's land between the Castle and the City- with the title "The County of the City of Chester", and the Mayor was given the right to have his sword carried with the point erect before him, except in the King's presence. It permitted the city to appoint its own magistrates and be governed by its appointed Mayor along with 24 Aldermen, 40 Councillors, 1 Recorder, 2 Sheriffs, 2 Coroners and 2 Murangers. In this year, the old steeple of St. Werburgh's Abbey was deemed unsafe and taken down.
  • 1507 The sweating sickness prevalent; 91 people died in 3 days. It was said that middle aged, red-faced people were particularly prone to the disease. During the plague, nobody was permitted to leave the city and dogs had to be kept indoors. Dirt and rubbish was not allowed to be thrown into the street, as was the usual custom. Doors of affected houses were marked with the words "Lord have mercy on us."

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