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Castle II

A Virtual Stroll Around the Walls of Chester

12. The Grosvenor Bridge
and Overleigh Cemetery



Roodee



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s we stroll on with the Castle on our right and the River Dee to our left, we rejoin the walls proper, even though at this point they are by no means of the impressive dimensions we encountered earlier in our journey. As we learned earlier, the walls in the vicinity of the Castle were greatly altered when the gaol was built- and then demolished- and the nearby land was enclosed.
As we turn the corner of Castle Drive, we encounter a large tree-lined area known as the Little Roodee- of this curious name we will have more to say later when we visit the Roodee proper.

The Overleigh Cemetery
By the 1830s, the city's ancient churchyards were full up. The Bishop of Chester had spoken of the disgraceful state of these burial grounds and of a "general feeling that the interments of the dead should be removed from the abodes of the living". A private company proposed to develop the Little Roodee area as a new cemetery but the city authorities disapproved of this and, in 1847, Canon Blomfield suggested a site on the other side of the river instead. This land actually belonged to the Marquis of Westminster but, when approached, he agreed to exchange it for a modest shareholding in the new Chester General Cemetery Company and thus was commenced what is now known as the Overleigh Cemetery.

It was designed by local architect Thomas Wainwaring Penson (1818-64) and laid out in 1848-50 "with admirable taste", including two chapels- one for Nonconformists and one (on higher ground) for Church of England members- two lodges, a house for the chaplain and a lake with islands. This has since been filled in and all of the buildings have vanished but the cemetery still contains a remarkable variety of Victorian monuments and remains a most pleasant and peaceful spot. In 1856, local author and guide Thomas Hughes wrote of the cemetery's facilities that, "nature and art make them worthy of the dead and pleasant for the living"... (It was fortunate that he approved for he himself was to be buried there in 1890.)

Penson was a well known Chester architect who also designed the Gothic part of Brown's department store, the Grosvenor Hotel in Eastgate Street and The Queen Hotel opposite Chester Railway Station.

In 1850, the first person was laid to rest in the new cemetery, one William Ayrton of Abbot's Grange, Chester. Citizens of all classes were soon to follow. The graves of the humbler order were often unmarked or provided with simple wooden crosses which have long since disappeared but the grander memorials of the better off remain in large numbers. After the closure of the city churchyards, Overleigh was Chester's only burial place until Blacon Cemetery opened in 1922.

The atmosphere of the cemetery's great occasions was well conveyed by the Chester Chronicle's long description of the funeral of industrialist Sir Thomas Gibbons Frost in 1904. The cortege from his home, Redcliff in Queens Park, consisted of the hearse, 15 broughams and 100 wreath-carrying workmen from his huge Steam Mill on Canalside (which still stands today, converted into a business centre). Some 250 dignitaries headed by the Bishop attended at the ceremony.

In stark contrast is the simple grave of poor Edward Langtry (left) , the ill-used husband of a superstar of her day, Lily Langtry, the 'Jersey Lily'. In 1897, separated from his notorious wife- who was, at the time, otherwise engaged with Edward, Prince of Wales (later to become King Edward VII)- he had been discovered wandering "bruised and dazed" around Crewe railway station. Previous to this, he had apparently sustained a mysterious injury during his voyage from Ireland. He was duly committed to the Chester Lunatic Asylum (now the psychiatric wing of the Countess of Chester Hospital) where he died nine days later. His funeral at Overleigh was attended by a few friends and relatives- and also by many spectators, anxious to catch a glimpse of the beautiful actress. Lily didn't turn up, but sent a wreath and money for expenses instead- in addition to having a statement read out that she had been giving Edward a quarterly allowance. She died in Monte Carlo in 1929 and was buried alonside her parents in St. Saviour's, on the island of Jersey and poor Edward lies alone in his Chester grave. Learn more about their life and times here.

Look also for the grave of Mary Jonas, a furniture dealer in Foregate Street, who died 4th December 1899 aged 85, after having given birth to thirty three children- including no less than fifteen sets of twins, all comprising one boy and one girl! All survived to be christened but most died before reaching adulthood. Ten were still alive when their father, John died on 24th February 1892, by whose side Mary was laid to rest seven years later. When a popular magazine of the day, Tit-Bits, offered a copy for life to the lady "judged to have contributed most to the population of the Empire", Mrs Jonas was the easy winner.

Then there is the realistically-carved memorial stone of three-year-old Mabel Francis Ireland-Blackburn, who reputedly choked on gum (but actually died of whooping cough) in 1869. She became known locally as the 'Chewing Gum Girl' because of a notice said to have been posted up near her grave to discourage the young from using gum:
Chewing gum, chewing gum, made of wax
Brought me to my grave at last.
When I die, God will say "Throw that dirty stuff away!"

Local children long used to sing this ditty as a skipping song, and to this day flowers mysteriously appear on little Mabel's grave.
Also in Overleigh are the eminent local architects Thomas Meakin Lockwood and John Douglas, both, in stark contrast with their grand building designs, now resting beneath plain and simple monuments. Professor Robert Newstead (right), the renowned archaeologist who discovered the amphitheatre and many other Roman remains, lies here too, his humble grave disgracefully neglected and overgrown.

Richard Price, Dee salmon fisherman, has a carving of the Grosvenor Bridge (which we will visit shortly), the river and a fishing boat on his white marble headstone.

William Biddulph Cross, known for his galvanic cures and the maker of his own coffin, died 5th September 1908 aged 85. He was a multi-talented man- shoemaker, electrician, bound his own books and framed pictures. He possessed a wonderful library was also a student of anatomy with many diagrams hanging in his room. The coffin he made took him 10 years to complete and was made of thousands of matchboxes packed with wood and framed in black wood. In a space in the lid was a battery, with wires and zinc plates throughout the coffin (it is said he intended to fit a light).

During the two days the coffin was at the undertakers, Messrs Dutton and Sons in Frodsham Street, the shop was visited by hundreds of curious people anxious to have a look. The funeral took place on a wet Wednesday afternoon. Long before the hearse left his house in Crook Street, hundreds of people crowded the Rows in Watergate Street and Bridge Street to get a better view. Wreaths were hung on the hearse and the coffin with the battery on the lid were in full view. At the cemetery the path to the grave was lined by large crowds and policeman were on duty to keep order. The battery was disconnected and removed before the remains were laid to rest and the crowds dispersed quietly at the end of the service.

overleigh cemetery under snow 1981Other gravestones tell of two young boys drowned in the Dee at Saltney, one while trying to save the other and of goldsmith Harry Riley Horton, who died in 1893 aged 39, buried here with his nine infant children. His is a rare example of a Victorian headstone bearing a photograph set in a small sealed frame- a practise more common on the continent. After 100 years it is still faintly legible.

The well-maintained Overleigh Cemetery and the Grosvenor Bridge as they appeared on a snowy day in 1981. Times have changed, however, and this splendid view is no more, having been totally curtailed as large numbers of trees and shrubs have been unaccountably allowed to proliferate, as dramatically illustrated below in an image from the identical viewpoint in July 2008, 27 years later. Both photographs were taken by reader Roy Tighe from his living room window.

Henry Raikes, Chancellor of Chester, has one of the most extravagant tombs in the cemetery, featuring a full-size prone statue of the occupant protected by an ornate stone canopy. Today, it is extensively- and picturesquely- overgrown by ivy.

A sad story is that of Ishiao Ishimura, a 23 year old Japanese acrobat and part of the Mikado Company. While they were performing at Chester's Royalty Theatre in December 1915, he failed to complete a somersault and struck the stage heavily with the back of his neck. He was rushed to the Infirmary but died the following day. He lies here now, far from home, his memorial inscribed in both English and Japanese.

Higher up the bank in the shadow of the mighty Grosvenor Bridge is the small and simple war grave of white Portland stone of a young Chester girl from Liverpool Roadwho was serving in the Womens Royal Air Force, Marjorie Anne Tucker aged 32. She served a driver at RAF Sealand. Along with a group of friends she arrived early at Sealand Station on 31st August 1918. To reach the exit, passengers had to walk about 35 yards and then cross the line at the rear of the standing train. Miss Tucker, being nearest to the line, failed to notice a train approaching which struck her and killed her instantly. Her funeral was the city's first military funeral for a woman. The coffin, draped in the Union Flag, was drawn by the tender that Miss Tucker had driven. Tragically this was just three months before Armistice Day.

Mrs Mary Finney, the "Queen of the Gypsies", is buried in the later extension to the cemetery on the other side of the road. She died in 1962, aged 79 and rests now, re-united with her husband Guilderoy, who had died 30 years earlier, beneath a stone angel with outspread wings. The grave is close to the gate and often has flowers on it. By tradition, passing travellers always lay flowers on any 'Royal' gypsy tomb.

Many of the memorials in the cemetery were made by the master stonemason H A Clegg- including his own.

In November 2001, the presence of the old filled-in lake in the cemetery was commemorated when the area was formally re-opened as a site for the burial of cremated remains and named The Garden of Reflection. Designed by architect Rob Rodger, the new garden was conceived around the idea of a lake: "It has been laid out in circles. Imagine a stone being dropped into a lake and sending out ripples. There are ripples of maintained yew hedges, and hopefully we will get some reflections from the head stones as well".

Anyone searching for details of an ancestor they think may be buried in Overleigh Cemetery should avail themselves of Cheshire County Council's excellent online database which covers the years 1850-1950 and contains over 60,000 entries. The Chester Wiki has a page about the cemetery including an interesting aerial photograph showing the location of some of the above-mentioned graves. Overleigh Cemetery contains 127 First World War burials, about half of them made from local hospitals including the Chester War Hospital which was housed in the Infirmary building. Second World War burials number 69. The majority of the burials are scattered throughout the cemetery but there is a small war graves plot made up of 32 graves from both wars. Details can be found on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission's website.

Go here to view our new gallery of notable memorials in the Overleigh Cemetery!

Back across the river, the Little Roodee is today mostly used as a car and coach park except for a couple of weeks in the Spring when it traditionally accomodates Pat Collins' travelling fair. You will find refreshments and toilets available here, should the need arise; access is via steps running down from Castle Drive. From the riverside here, you will also be able to access the newly-built Riverside Promenade and also obtain a splendid view of the great bridge which dominates the area and which we are to discuss next...

The Grosvenor Bridge
Set into the grassy embankment of the city wall here is a small stone bridge, about six feet long, which is illustrated at the bottom of the page. Constructed by James Trubshaw of Staffordshire- whose company also built the real bridge- this was architect Thomas Harrison's model for the huge and elegant structure which was his finest work, seen rising beyond the sea of parked cars on the Little Roodee: the Grosvenor Bridge, shown here in an arcadian lithograph by Thomas Bailey.

The model had originally been exhibited in the Grand Jury Room in the Castle- also built by Harrison- but was later removed to the Water Tower Gardens until, in 1979 it was restored and placed in its present location here in Castle Drive.

By the beginning of the 19th century, the only river crossing, the Old Dee Bridge, was almost constantly congested and an alternative route was urgently required. In 1808 Chester Corporation had held a competition to select the best plans for a new bridge, but no further action was considered until Thomas Telford was appointed in 1815 to construct a new road from Shrewsbury to Holyhead. Because of this threat to Chester's trade, a public meeting was held at the Exchange- the old Town Hall- on 28th September 1818, and a committee was appointed which included the mayor the two city treasurers, the two members of Pariiament for the city, Earl Grosvenor and the Bishop of Chester. The committee was empowered to consider plans, surveys and estimates, and at its first meeting, held on 3rd October 1818, Thomas Harrison was requested to supply plans for a new bridge. Eventually application was made to Parliament for an Act to empower Commissioners to improve the Old Dee Bridge, erect a new bridge and construct approach roads. This Act received the royal assent on 10th June 1825.

thomas harrisonThe radical solution eventually arrived at involved the construction of an entirely new thoroughfare, Grosvenor Road, which ran diagonally to the ancient street pattern and linked the city to a new bridge, designed by Thomas Harrison and proving to be his final work- at the time of the commission he was 82 years old.

In fact, he did not live to see its completion- he resigned aged 85 and died four years later, the great task not yet completed. The work was finished by his able pupil and assistant, William Cole.

Previously, Harrison (his portrait seen here, hangs in the Grosvenor Museum) had designed Skirton Bridge, over the River Lune in Lancaster, which was copied by John Rennie for the Waterloo and London bridges.

He actually provided three different designs, two in stone and one using iron and the foundation stone of the chosen design was laid by the Marquis of Westminister on the 1st October 1827.

The original plan was to turn the road from Bridge Street left by the Castle and cross directly to what is now Old Wrexham Road, but Harrison found deep soft ground where the bridge piers were intented to stand. Several eminent architects were called upon to give opinions, but it was the great railway, bridge and canal builder, Thomas Telford who found firm rock a little downstream from the original site, and it was here they chose to build. Longer embankments to carry the approach roads became necessary, as did the new stretch of Wrexham Road that we know today.

The construction was undertaken by Trubshaw's of Staffordshire, and the surveyor and clerk of works was Jesse Hartley, the celebrated engineer responsible for the magnificent masonry still very much in evidence in Liverpool Docks.

Speaking of the project, James Trubshaw (1777-1853) said he was "convinced the arch will be the largest and finest stone arch in Europe and will consequently be a lasting monument to the glory and superority of Great Britain".

construction of grosvenor bridgeAn interesting pencil sketch of 1831 by Thomas Bailey (who also produced the splendid view above) shows the method of the bridge's construction. The massive centring consisted of struts radiating from the top of temporary stone piers, braced horizontally in both directions and supporting planks, upon which the curve of the great arch was formed. The outer courses of the arch and the quoins are of Anglesey limestone, which was brought to Chester by sea, while the rest of the bridge is cased in Peckforton sandstone.

The Grosvenor Bridge was built at a cost of £50,000 and for the next three decades was the greatest single span- at 200 feet across and 60 feet high- of any stone arch anywhere in the world. It was only exceeded when the Union Arch Bridge (below) also called the "Cabin John Bridge", was opened in Cabin John, Maryland USA. It was designed as part of the Washington Aqueduct and as a roadway bridge. The aqueduct was completed in 1864 and the roadway surface was added later. The bridge was designed and built by the United States Army Corps of Engineers under the direction of Lieutenant Montgomery C. Meigs. What is interesting, as our photograph of it shows, is that it seems have been an almost exact copy of the Grosvenor Bridge! (Learn more about the Union Arch Bridge here).

The largest masonry-arch span in the world today, at 89.9 m (295 ft), is the Syra Bridge at Plauen, Germany, completed in 1903.

Thousands turned out to watch when the Grosvenor Bridge was formally opened on Wednesday 17 October 1832, by the thirteen year-old Princess Victoria (five years before she became Queen and three years after the death of Thomas Harrison). The Princess and Duchess had been touring Wales and were staying in Chester as guests of the Marquis of Westminster. In a family ceremony, the Princess stood as female sponsor at the christening of Lord and Lady Robert Grosvenor's infant daughter, Charlotte.

Accompanied by her mother, the Duchess of Kent and the Marquis and Marchioness of Westminster, the princess was driven through a triumphal arch decorated with the Royal Arms erected in the centre of the still-unfinished bridge. The state coach was driven by the chief coachman of Eaton Hall, Mr Robert Roberts. A 21-gun salute was fired from the Castle Square and the Princess gave a short speech, when she declared, "I seize the occasion of our being the first persons to pass over this magnificent Bridge to lend myself to the feeling that prevails, and to name it Grosvenor Bridge".

bridge toll collectorThe Chester Chronicle at the time described her as "this interesting little princess, dressed in white, her hair combed back and plainly adjusted behind her ears, with bright blue eyes and pleasing countenance".

Lord Robert Grosvenor led the Royal procession on horseback, followed by carriages containing Chester's Member of Parliament, Mr Wilbraham, and Lady Anne Wilbraham, Lord Ragot and family, Sir John Conroy, the Baroness Litzen, Lady Catherine Jenkinson, the Earl and Countess Grosvenor and Countess Wilton.

After the naming ceremony Princess Victoria visited the Shire Hall and County Gaol where she met the Governor, Mr Dunstan. The Duchess left £25 for the comfort and consolation of poor debtors. Later she visited the Garrison Armoury at the Castle and was shown the store of 30,000 weapons. The day concluded with a thanksgiving service in Chester Cathedral, conducted by the Lord Bishop, the Rev. Prebendiary Blomfield.

The bridge was duly completed and opened to traffic in November 1833. Writing soon after the event, Joseph Hemingway commented: "While the erection of this bridge is allowed to be a decided improvement and a great ornament to the city, some doubt whether the excessive tolls will not materially injure its trade. Already, new roads have been made and coaches set up by which Chester is avoided as a thoroughfare. Hitherto the shareholders have had no reason to congratulate themselves on their speculation".

His fears were obviously shared, for the tolls were abolished in 1885 and the cost of maintainance thenceforth became the responsibility of the city. On the right, we see a picture of James Hurst, the former Grosvenor Bridge toll collector.

grosvenor bridgeThe bridge's great height was necessary to allow the masts of those sailing ships which were still able to travel this far up river to pass underneath. When you look down from the parapet today, it is obvious how advanced has been the silting of the river and it is indeed difficult to realise that for centuries Chester was the foremost seaport of northern England, trading with all parts of the known world.

Left: The great bridge as viewed from the fascinating Overleigh Cemetery,

Chester was also a major shipbuilder- in 1810, more ships were launched along the banks of the Dee than at Liverpool! One of the most famous was the steamship Royal Charter which famously sank off Holyhead in 1859 with great loss of life and property. She had almost completed a voyage from Australia to Liverpool and her passengers, many of whom had made their fortunes in the gold fields, were returning home to a life of affluence. But it was not to be- most of the passengers were drowned, and their treasure lost and scattered by the tides. The wreck of the Royal Charter has been picked over by divers ever since, and finds are still being made- an acquaintance of the writer has a wedding ring fashioned from a nugget of Australian gold from the ship, which he discovered upon the sea bed.

During the Second World War, a Chester veterinary surgeon-turned-airman by the name of Jimmy Storrar flew his Hawker Hurricane beneath the arch of the Grosvenor Bridge!

Late in life, around 1820, Thomas Harrison moved from his home, Folliot House in Northgate Street into a neat little villa he had designed for himself on the old Nun's Field, so as to be close to his great Grosvenor Bridge project. This was St. Martin's Lodge, a simple and elegant, understated piece of Regency architecture, which remains with us today, newly restored as a pub called, apty, 'The Architect'. You can see some pictures of it in our Nuns of St. Mary's chapter..

Thomas De Quincey, the 'English Opium Eater', frequently came to Chester to 'dry out' and to evade creditors and officers of the law. His mother lived in a house known as 'The Priory', which had been adapted and enlarged from some of the now-vanished ancient buildings adjoining St. John's Church.

Twenty years after the events, De Quincey wrote about his wanderings near the River Dee in his great Confessions of 1821: "The streets could be evaded by shaping a course along the city walls; which I did, and descended into some obscure lane that brought me gradually to the banks of the river Dee. In the infancy of its course amongst the Denbighshire mountains, this river, famous in our pre-Norman history for the earliest parade of English monarchy (it was a very scenical parade, for somewhere along this reach of the Dee,Edgar, the first sovereign of all England, was rowed by nine vassals reguli) -is wild and picturesque, and even below my mother's Priory it wears a character of interest.

two bridgesBut, a mile or so nearer to its mouth, when leaving Chester for Parkgate, it becomes miserably tame; and the several reaches of the river take the appearance of formal canals. On the right bank of the river runs an artificial mound, called The Cop. It was, I believe, originally a Danish work; and certainly its name is Danish (i.e. Icelandic or Old Danish) and the same from which is derived our architectural word coping.

Upon this bank I was walking and throwing my gaze along the formal vista presented by the river. Some trifle of anxiety might mingle with this gaze at the first, lest perhaps Philistines might be abroad... but I have generally found that, if you are in quest of some certain escape from Philistines of whatsoever class- sheriff-officers, bores, no matter what- the surest refuge is to be found amongst hedgerows and fields, amongst cows and sheep..."

Right: Looking from the high motte of Chester Castle, it is interesting to compare the similarity of the great Grosvenor Bridge with the arched entrance to the Castle in the foreground. This dates from the 19th century when the Gaol and Skinner's Lane were done away with and the line of the City Walls altered. This new structure not only allowed improved access to the Castle but allowed for the continuity of the promenade on top of the walls.

This Cop De Quincey referred to, which "transformed a marshy waste, the haunt of thieves and vagabonds of all descriptions into the verdant pasture we see today" was constructed under the mayorality of Thomas Lyenall who came to office in 1591. He took the opportunity to undertake a major 'spring clean' of the town and all manner of rubbish and waste from the streets was incorporated into its fabric. It commences approximately where the Grosvenor Bridge now stands and continues to border the Roodee, which we will encounter soon.

In July 1801, the youthful De Quincey walked to Chester after escaping through a window of Manchester Grammar School, en route to the Lake District to pay his respects to Wordsworth. He came to make contact with his sister Mary, who lived with their mother. In the Confessions, he describes, in quite a comical passage, his terror at encountering for the first time the tidal phenomenon known as the Bore of the Dee: "I descended into some obscure lane that brought me to the banks of the river Dee. I was walking along this bank, with no one else in sight except a woman of middle-age, dressed in rustic fashion, when suddenly ... an uproar of tumultuous sound rising clamorously ahead.
From round the bend of the river came that angry clamour. What was it? Earthquake? Convulsion of the earth? There came as with the trampling of cavalry a huge charging block of water, filling the whole channel and coming down upon us at the rate of forty miles an hour."

When the water had passed, so shaken was Thomas by the spectacle that, abandoning the conventions, he approached the woman and spoke to her, "despite the fact that I had never been introduced to her." "It was," she told him, "the Bore." An affectation to which only some few rivers here and there were liable... so ignorant was I that, until that moment, I had never heard of such a nervous affection in rivers. Subsequently I found that the neighbouring river Severn, a far more important stream, suffered at spring-tides the same kind of hysterics..."

What Thomas had seen was a phenomenon denied to us now. The great tidal bore swept daily along the Dee, but since those times the river has gradually silted up in the estuary, choking the commercial life out of what was in earlier times the Port of Chester and preventing the bore from forming.

This remarkable aerial view- a detail from John McGahey's famous View of Chester from a Balloon- shows the Grosvenor Bridge and its surroundings as they appeared around the year 1855 and here is a fine watercolour of the bridge in 1869....

This fisherman's gravestone in the Overleigh Cemetery bears a beautiful carving of the Grosvenor Bridge.

'Nowhere'
If you were to take a stroll along Sty Lane, the pleasant, almost rural, path (but, as our photograph shows, very potholed and muddy!) which connects Edgar's Park by the Old Dee Bridge with the Grosvenor Bridge, you would pass by a small cottage bearing the intriguing name of 'Nowhere'!

For many years, this house on the banks of the Dee has been the subject of speculation as to the origins of its curious name. It was said to have been built in the early nineteenth century to accomodate the Clerk of Works for the construction of the Grosvenor Bridge, but old maps show the house standing as early as 1789, and records seem to indicate that it was actually built by a fisherman named James Bingley and that its original name was, simply, 'Riverside'. The house was occupied by the family until at least 1850 and then passed to a one Nan Youde- actually a relative of the Bingleys- who gave it its remarkable name. It was suggested by two elderly sisters, the Misses Brown, who used to used to stop and chat with Nan on their daily walks to the riverside from their home in Curzon Park. Their sentiments were that the house stood "in the middle of nowhere" and that this seemed an appropriate name for it. Nan was happy to oblige and from that day, the house became known as 'nowhere'. Nan's relatives, the Smith Family, resided there for a further forty years, leaving around 1960 and the property, which at some point had been split into two small cottages- named One and Two Nowhere- were sold to a Mr Lewis, who converted them back into one large accomodation. The present owners of Nowhere are Mr and Mrs White.

A local fisherman's tale of the cottage was that it stood in the middle of "a high life, a low life and a no life". The 'high life' being Overleigh Manor, which stands on the cliff overlooking the cottage, and where the squire of the village once lived. The 'low life' was old Greenway Street, the home of the salmon fishermen and their families and the 'no life' was, of course, the Overleigh Cemetery! A further legend has it that long ago, the building was an 'unofficial' pub- a secret drinking and meeting place for the menfolk of Handbridge. When asked by their wives where thay had been, they were able to answer, (you've guessed it) "nowhere, dear"!

A more recent legend connects the house with the Beatles! It is said that when the Fab Four were performing at the (sadly, recently-demolished) Royalty Theatre in City Road in 1963, they heard the old stories and couldn't believe that there could be a place called Nowhere. John Lennon was so fascinated he apparently visited the house to see if it was true- and, inspired, later wrote a song, featured in Yellow Submarine, entitled Nowhere Man...

John Lennon had another Chester connection, for his grandmother, Annie Jane Milward, was born at the ancient Bear & Billet Inn, across the river in Lower Bridge Street, in 1873.

model of grosvenor bridgeWe now come to the junction of Castle Drive and Grosvenor Road
- one of the noisiest and busiest part of our entire journey round Chester's city walls. In ancient times a narrow valley containing a tributary of the River Dee existed here. By late in the Roman ocupation, this watercourse seems to have declined and, in the 12th century, the whole area was eventually enclosed within the walls, but for centuries remained low-lying boggy ground.

In the 12th century the area from the Castle as far as modern Blackfriars (which we will pass later) was granted to the nuns of St. Mary's as part of their estate. Much later, when the approaches to the Grosvenor Bridge were being prepared, the entire valley was "necessarily filled up at an immense expense of time and labour".

What, we wonder, would those citizens witnessing the stately passage of the first horses and carriages at the opening of this grand bridge make of the bedlam of motorised traffic that constantly passes to and fro today? Aside from their horror at the noise and stench, they would nontheless doubtless be proud that their solid Victorian engineering was still giving excellent service to the city after 165 years of constant use!

Taking great care to cross Grosvenor Road safely, we enter Nun's Road and are refreshed by the sight of the huge green open space that is home to Britain's oldest racecourse- the beautiful Roodee...

Curiosities from Chester's History no. 21

  • chester guided walks1647 The Commons vote to disband most of the army. King Charles is captured and imprisoned in Carisbrooke Castle on the Isle of Wight. A terrible plague, no doubt encouraged by the conditions prevailing in Chester following the siege, carried off 2,032 people in five months. It struck the victims black on one side, "then they run mad, some drowne themselves, others would kill themselves; they dye within a few hours, some run up and down the streets in their shirts to the great horror of those in the City." A Captain Oldham and a Lieutenant Ashton formulated a plan to seize the city and castle for the King, but were discovered and shot in the Corn Market. The Scots begin Second Civil War, but are defeated at Preston.
  • 1649 King Charles I was beheaded on January 30th in London, and proclaimed a traitor at Chester High Cross. The Prince of Wales, in exile at The Hague, takes the title Charles II (1630-1685) and is proclaimed king by the Scots. England is declared a Commonwealth.
  • 1650 The Bishop's Palace, with all its furniture, was sold for £1,059 to Robert Mallor and William Richardson. The 'Nine Houses' in Park Street built. Charles II lands in Scotland. According to official inventories, Charles I had a stud of 139 horses and 37 brood mares.
  • 1651 On account of the Plague at Liverpool, a watch ordered to be set at the gates. A court martial was held and ten individuals found guilty of "holding a correspondance with the King" were executed. Charles II crowned King of the Scots; flees to France after his defeat by Cromwell at Worcester.
  • 1652 God's Providence House in Watergate Street built
  • 1653 Oliver Cromwell becomes Lord Protector
  • 1654 A house of correction ordered to be built outside the Northgate
  • 1655 A Horse Market to be held every Wednesday in Northgate Street. The 'Old Lamb Row' built this year. Many of the principal gentry of the county sent to the Castle, under suspicion of being disaffected of Cromwell's government. Cromwell prohibits Anglican services, dissolves Parliament and divides England into 11 districts, each with a major-general as governor.
  • 1656 The trial of three witches, Ellen Beech, Anne Osboston and Ann Thornton, took place in the Commonhall of Pleas in Chester. They all pleaded not guilty, but were convicted, hanged at Boughton, and buried in a corner of the churchyard- "next to the Castle Ditch"- of St.Mary's-on-the-Hill.
  • 1657 Randle Holme restored the tower of St. Mary's-on-the-Hill, which had been much damaged in the late Civil War, and added a new peal of four bells. The "ancient and laudable custom of the Midsummer Show, by the late obstructive times much injured" was revived this year (See above). First London to Chester coach service started. Oliver Cromwell rejects the title 'king'. First stockings and fountain pens manufactured in Paris. Drinking chocolate introduced into England
  • 1658 The Phoenix Tower was repaired after being damaged during the Civil War. Oliver Cromwell died and was succeeded as Lord Protector by his son Richard- who resigns the following year.
  • 1659 Sir George Booth, on hearing that the Parliamentarian General Lambert was appoaching the city, marched on him with 3,000 troops and engaged him in battle at Northwich, where Booth was defeated. Lambert then carried on to Chester. As a punishment, Parliament dissolved the Chester Corporation and ordered that the city should no longer be a separate county. However, the Parliamentarians did not hold power long enough to enforce the order.

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