Louise Rayner's Paintings of Chester
The Town Hall and Market Square
Chester's Town Hall was built in late 13th century Gothic style in 1865-9, during Louise's early period of residence in Chester, by William Henry Lynn (1829-1915) of Belfast, to replace the 17th century Exchange which formerly stood in the middle of the square before burning down in 1862. The new building was inspired by the beautiful medieval Cloth Hall in Ypres, Belgium.
The City Council meet in a grand chamber on the first floor which had to be rebuilt by local architect Thomas Lockwood after a disastrous fire which completely destroyed it in 1897. Today, as well as the affairs of local government, the Town Hall is used for concerts, receptions, exhibitions and the like- and you can even get married there! The ornate interior is well worth viewing.
Chester's main police station was situated on the Town Hall's ground floor until 1967, when its (recently demolished) replacement was opened near the Roodee. The old cells still exist, however, and a small police station has recently been re-established in its original location, accessible from the Princess Street side of the Town Hall.
The Market Square has been a place of commerce for many centuries. The regular markets and twice-yearly fairs, when country people would bring their produce from the fields and farms to sell, were once administered and strictly controlled by the monks of the Abbey of St. Werburgh (now Chester Cathedral).
One end of the ornate Market Hall can just be seen on the extreme left of the painting- and in this late 19th century photograph. Built in 1863, it just predated the construction of the Town Hall.
Aside from those trading from within the comfort of the Market Hall or the now-vanished Green and Fish Markets- the red brick building seen on the extreme right- the painting shows how a throng of less fortunate others, mostly shawl-wrapped women, are selling their goods from ad hoc stalls- or just heaped on the ground- in the Market Square. Today, the ancient tradition of trading outdoors in the square continues in the form of the regular Farmer's Markets.
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