Page:EB1911 - Volume 06.djvu/121

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
108
CHESTER


the four gates. These four streets exhibit in what are called “the Rows” a characteristic feature of the city. Their origin is a mystery, and has given rise to much controversy. In Eastgate Street, Bridge Street and Watergate Street, the Rows exist on each side of the street throughout the greater part of its length, and may be described as continuous galleries open to the street, over and under which the houses lining the streets project, and which are formed as it were out of the front first-floor of the houses, approached by flights of steps from the roadway. The Rows are flagged or boarded under foot and ceiled above, thus forming a covered way, standing in the same relation to the shops, which are at their back, as the foot pavement does in other towns. In Northgate Street, on the other hand, the Row on the west side is formed as it were out of the ground floor of the houses, having cellars beneath, while on the east side the Row is formed at the same elevation as in the other three principal streets. In these streets are several examples of old timbered houses and some good modern imitations of them,—all combining to give a picturesque and individual character to the city. Among the most interesting of the ancient houses are Derby House, bearing the date 1591, Bishop Lloyd’s house, and God’s Providence House in Watergate Street, and the Bear and Billet in Lower Bridge Street; the three last date from the 17th century. There is also a chamber with stone groined roof of the 14th century in the basement of a house in Eastgate Street, and another of a similar character in Watergate Street. A mortuary chapel of the early part of the 13th century exists in the basement of a house in Bridge Street.

Chester is the only city in England that still possesses its walls perfect in their entire circuit of 2 m. The gateways have all been rebuilt at various dates; the north and east gates on the site of the Roman gates. The Grosvenor bridge, a single span of stone 200 ft. in length, said to be the largest save one in Europe, carries the road to Wrexham and Shrewsbury over the Dee on the south-west; while the old bridge of seven arches is interesting on account of its antiquity and picturesqueness. The castle, with the exception of “Caesar’s Tower,” and a round tower with adjacent buildings, in the upper ward, was taken down towards the end of the 18th century, and replaced by a gateway, barracks, county hall, gaol and assize courts.

The cathedral church of Christ and the Virgin Mary, which stands towards the north of the city within the walls, rose on the site of a church of extreme antiquity. It appears that the dedication of this church was altered, perhaps in the reign of Athelstan, from St. Peter and St Paul to St Werburgh and St Oswald, St Werburgh being a niece of St Etheldreda of Ely. In 1093 Hugh Lupus, earl of Chester, richly endowed the foundation as a Benedictine monastery. The bishops of Mercia had apparently a seat at Chester, but the city had ceased to be episcopal, until in 1075 Peter, bishop of Lichfield, removed his seat thence to Chester, having for his cathedral the collegiate church of St John. The seat of the see, however, was quickly removed again to Coventry (1102), but Cheshire continued subject to Lichfield until in 1541 Chester was erected into a bishopric by Henry VIII., the church of the dissolved abbey of St Werburgh becoming the cathedral. The diocese covers nearly the whole of Cheshire, with very small portions of Lancashire and Staffordshire. The cathedral does not rank among the most splendid English churches, but possesses certain details of the highest interest, and gains in beauty from the tones of its red sandstone walls and the picturesque close in which it stands. It is cruciform with a central tower 127 ft. high. The south transept is larger than the north. The nave is short (145 ft.), being of six bays; the southern arcade is Decorated, while the northern, which differs in detail, is of uncertain date. The basement of the north-western tower—all that remains of it, now used as a baptistery—is Norman, and formed part of Hugh Lupus’ church; and the fabric of the north wall is also of this period. The north transept also retains Norman work, and its size shows the original plan, as the existence of the conventual buildings to the north probably rendered its extension undesirable. The south transept has aisles, with Decorated and Perpendicular windows. The fine organ stands on a screen across the north transept; but some of its pipes are upon the choir screen, both screens being the work of Sir Gilbert Scott. The style of the choir is transitional from Early English to Decorated, and its length is 125 ft. It is a fine example, and its beauty is enhanced by the magnificent series of ancient carved wooden stalls unsurpassed in England. The Lady Chapel, east of the choir, is of rich Early English workmanship. Of the conventual buildings the cloisters are Perpendicular. The chapter-house, entered by a beautiful vestibule from the east cloister, and lined with cases containing the chapter library, is Early English (c. 1240). The refectory, adjoining the north cloister, is of the same period, with Perpendicular insertions; it has been curtailed in size, but retains its beautiful Early English lector’s pulpit. An early Norman chamber, with massive pillars and vaulting, adjoins the west cloister, and may be the substructure of the abbot’s house. The abbey gateway is of the 14th century.

Within the walls there are several churches of ancient foundation; thus St Peter’s is said to occupy the site of a church erected by Æthelflæd, queen of Mercia, and St Mary’s dates from the 12th century. None, however, is of any special interest; but the church of St John, outside the walls, which as already stated became the cathedral in 1075, is a massive early Norman structure, with later additions, and, especially as regards the exterior, considerably restored in modern times. Its fine tower fell in 1881. It was a collegiate church until 1547, and there are some remains of the adjoining buildings. Among numerous modern churches there may be mentioned St Mary’s without the walls, built in 1887 by the duke of Westminster, of red sandstone, with a fine spire and peal of bells.

Among the chief secular buildings, the town hall replaced in 1869 the old exchange, which had been burnt down in 1862. The Grosvenor Museum and School of Art, the foundation of which was suggested by Charles Kingsley the novelist, when canon of Chester cathedral, contains many local antiquities, along with a fine collection of the fauna of Cheshire and the neighbourhood. The King’s school was founded by Henry VIII. (1541), who provided that twenty-four poor scholars should be taught free of cost. It was reorganized as a public school in 1873, and possesses twelve king’s scholarships tenable in the school, and close scholarships tenable at the universities. Among other schools may be mentioned the blue-coat school (1700), the Queen’s school for girls (1878), the girls’ school attached to the Roman Catholic convent, and the diocesan training college for schoolmasters. For recreation provision is made by the New Grosvenor Park, presented to the city in 1867 by the marquess of Westminster; Handbridge Park, opened in 1892; and the Roodee, a level tract by the river at the base of the city wall, appropriated as a race-course. An annual race-meeting is held in May and attendedby thousands. The chief event is the race for the Chester Cup, which dates from 1540, when a silver bell was given as the prize by the Saddlers’ Company. Pleasure vessels ply on the Dee in summer, and an annual regatta is held, at which all the principal northern rowing-clubs are generally represented. The town gains in prosperity from its large number of visitors. The principal industries are carried on without the walls, where there are lead, shot and paint works, leather and tobacco factories, and iron foundries. The trade gilds number twenty-four. There is a considerable amount of shipping on the Dee, the navigation having been much improved in modern times. The parliamentary borough returns one member. The municipal council consists of a mayor, 10 aldermen and 30 councillors. Area, 2862 acres.

History.—Setting aside the numerous legends with regard to the existence of a British city on the site now occupied by Chester, the earliest authentic information relating to its history is furnished by the works of Ptolemy and Antoninus. As the Roman station of Deva it was probably founded about A.D. 48 by Ostorius Scapula, and from its advantageous position, both as the key to communication with Ireland and as a bulwark against the hostile tribes of the north, it became a military and commercial centre of considerable importance. In A.D. 78-79