Chester is the county seat of Cheshire, an area of gentle scenery spreading between the two industrial areas of Stoke-on-Trent to the south to Manchester to the north. Cheshire is famous for its little villages, with their half-timbered houses and chequerboard fronts. The River Dee runs through the county, starting far off to the west, in Wales, and running over flat plains to Chester, where it forms an estuary extending west to the coast. The town of Chester (Pop. 60,000), on the River Dee, attracts visitors for its picturesque houses, its "rows" (galleried arcades running outside the first floors of timbered houses, and now used for shops), its walls (Chester is one of the few towns in England still completely circled by its medieval walls), cathedral and castle. Once it was a busy port, but the silting up of the Dee estuary has reduced its shipping importance.
A Bit of History The Roman XXth legion built the first settlement in 68 A.D. It was no more than a camp on a sandstone hill, but before long a fortress was built and named Deva, from the River Dee nearby. The whole district was commanded from this fortress for 4 centuries. When Britons rebelled against Roman rule, the more 'civilised,' pro-Roman merchants and artisans sought refuge in this fortress. As such rebellions were quite frequent, a town grew up around the fort. The new settlement was named Laegeceaster, from which Chester comes. The Saxons moved in after the Romans left, and the town's situation on the estuary brought trade throughout the Middle Ages. So prosperous did the city become that it had to build stout walls against raiders from the rural settlements across the border in Wales.
The Walls The entire circuit is 2 miles. It follows perfectly the outline of the original Roman camp. A Roman camp was oblong-shaped, with two main streets crossing each other at right angles. These still remain: one is Northgate-Bridge Street, the other is Watergate-Eastgate Street. Though the outline is Roman, the walls themselves date from the C14. They are built of the characteristic red sandstone, and can be followed along a paved footway which gives nice views of the city.
Eastgate The main entrance to the medieval city. This gate was built in 1769 on the site of the old medieval gateway. Stand in front of the gate and look right: the lower portions of the wall are from the original Roman fortifications.
King Charles Tower (NE corner of the walled city) It gets its name from an episode during the English Civil War. King Charles I stood on the gate to watch a battle being fought between his forces and those of Cromwell. The royalist army was defeated at the nearby Rowton Heath, but the tower retained the memory of the King's visit. (There is a museum on the upper floor.)
Northgate (Situated in the centre of the northern side of the walled city.) From this gate there's a fine view of the Welsh hills. Medieval defenders of the city saw this view with trepidation, since Welsh raiders sprang out of these hills, often without warning.
Water Tower Dates from 1322, when it defended the busy port and contained water supplies in time of siege. In the Water Tower Garden are many Roman relics.
Watergate Once this was the main entrance to the port, whence the name.
Roodee A large open space which was the city's harbour in Roman times. The walls continue running northeast offering excellent views. You'll see the Recorders Steps (1700) and the Wishing Steps (1785). In Park Street are nine half-timbered workshops from the days of medieval crafts. South of Eastgate are the scant remains of the largest Roman amphitheatre in Britain.
The Rows (Along Watergate Street) These rows came into being during the Middle Ages though they were heavily restored in the C19 and are now much more Victorian than medieval. They are still undeniably picturesque. They consist of shops in double tiers, the upper tier having a balustrade. Timber-framed houses nearby give you a rare glimpse of a medieval English city. On the south side is God's Providence House, dating from 1652. Leche House is C16. At No. 35 is the base of a column from a Roman building, still in its original position. Bishop Lloyd's House is one of the finest in the city. Dates from early C17.
Town Hall Square Opposite the Town Hall is Abbey Square, to which access is given by the Abbey Gateway (1377). On the other side of Town Hall Square is Folliott House (1788), and next to it is the Pied Bull Hotel (unbroken history as an inn from 1471). Adjoining the hotel is Lorrimer's Row, where the old C15 Blue Bell Inn used to stand, made of timber, wattle, and daub in the old Anglo-Saxon style.
Cathedral It is made from red sandstone, like the town walls. The cathedral displayss the whole history of English medieval architecture, from early Norman to late Perpendicular. The cathedral used to be the church of the Benedictine abbey, but was converted into the town's cathedral during the Reformation. That's why the buildings are grouped around the Cloisters.
Inside: a variety of styles, from the late-Perpendicular west end of the nave to the heavy Norman stonework of the north aisle wall. The door leading to the Cloisters is pure Norman. The oak fan vaulting is modern. The south transept is four times larger than the north transept. The reason is that when the abbey grew in importance, and the building began to be enlarged, it could be extended only to the south, being blocked by the existing buildings north of the church. The Chapter House has beautiful carvings and pillars.
Castle This was built originally of wood around 1069 when William the Conqueror was fortifying his strongpoints to secure his rule over the Anglo-Saxons). Stone walls and towers were added under King Henry III (1216-72). The remaining buildings were added in the C18. On the first floor is a chapel; on the ground and second floors is the Regimental Museum of the Cheshire Regiment.
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