So here is part two from our day out to Wrexham and Chester. We left Wrexham and returned to the city of Chester, getting there in the afternoon.
Status: Cheshire West and Chester, Cheshire, City, England
Travel: Merseyrail (Southport – Chester, Via Moorfields), Arriva Trains Wales (Chester – Wrexham)
Eating & Sleeping: Caffe Nero
Attractions: Chester Old Buildings, Chester Castle, Chester Cathedral, River Dee, Chester Town Walls, Chester Town Hall, Eastgate Clock, Grosvenor Museum, Cheshire Military Museum etc
The station is a small walk outside of the main city centre, so on the way in we passed a number of interesting buildings.
Firstly, we crossed a bridge over the Shropshire Union Canal, which begins at the Manchester Ship Canal in the town of Ellesmere Port next to the River Mersey. It runs through Cheshire, Staffordshire, Shropshire and through to the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal in the West Midlands.
The original stretch from Ellesmere Port was opened in 1797, to connect the port at Liverpool with the river Severn over in Shrewsbury although this was never completed and the canal was instead linked up to the existing Chester canal.
On the right side of the Canal, you can see the tower of the old Steam Mill. This was built in 1785, and was the first ever steam powered canal-side flour mill. On the left side of the canal you can see the top of the cylindrical Shot Tower, rising up behind the modern flats. This is significant, as it one of the few remaining Shot Towers in the UK, and it could be the oldest still standing in the world. It stands at 168 feet tall, with a 30 feet wide diameter.
Built in 1799 by Walker, Parker and Co, it’s function was to drop molten lead from the top, and through gravity these formed into balls and then landed in a water basin to cool down. The same happens with Water so water droplets that fall are perfectly spherical when they land. Any shots that aren’t quite right can then be melted down and dropped again. It’s a fascinating, yet simple process invented by William Watts in Bristol in 1782.
Moving on, we came across this beautiful row of terraced houses, that makes up numbers 6-11 Grosvenor Park Road. They were designed by John Douglas (1830 – 1911, English Architect) and constructed around 1879. At either end of the building is a turret, a short one at the near end and a taller one at the far end.
At the end of the road is the vast Grosvenor Park, a large open space bequeathed to the city of Chester by Richard Grosvenor, 2nd Marquess of Westminster (1795 – 1869, English Politician and Landowner) in the 19th century, and laid out between 1865 and 1866, opening the following year in 1867. The entrance is marked by an impressive Lodge, also designed by Douglas.
We moved on into the main city centre and came across a fine example of the beautiful Tudor buildings that can be found throughout Chester and are a well known part of it’s architecture. Some of them are originals and some of them are Victorian Restorations however every one of them adds to the cities character.
Chester is sat next to the border between England and Wales, which is just to the West of the city. The River Dee runs through Chester and out to see as part of Wales through Flintshire, and Chester was the site of many historic battles with the Welsh. City status was granted to Chester in 1541, and founded even further back in 79 AD as a Roman Fort called Deva Victrix.
As we explored the centre, we arrived at Chester Cathedral, a vast impressive structure that is so large I couldn’t see a good vantage point to get the whole building in shot, so I took one near the main entrance with the War Memorial in front.
The Cathedral was founded as a Benedictine Abbey dedicated to Saint Werburgh in 1093. Some of the current building even date back that far, which is very impressive. This is actually the 2nd Cathedral in Chester as the nearby church of St John the Baptist was Chester Cathedral between 1075 and 1082. After the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII (1491 – 1547) in 1541 and Saint Werburgh’s became the new Cathedral for the Church of England now that Henry had severed ties with the Roman Catholic Church in the Vatican and formed his own church. In the following centuries there have been various additions to the building including the Lady Chapel which was rebuilt in the 13th and 14th centuries, and a consistory court in 1636.
The War Memorial in the picture was installed in 1922 after World War I, dedicated to the fallen soldiers of the Great War, and later World War II a well. Between 1873 and 2005 there have been more additions to the Cathedral, including a detached Belfry and a new Song School.
The Cathedral is free to enter, and it is a fantastic space inside, with lots of avenues to explore. It’s a beautiful building and right at the heart of the ancient city.
Opposite the Cathedral is another landmark building, the fantastic Victorian Town Hall. The current version was opened in 1869 by the then Prince of Wales, Edward VIII, and Prime Minster William E. Gladstone. A clock was added to three faces of the tower (excluding the west side) in 1979.
The previous Town Hall was built in 1698 as the Exchange, but it burnt down in 1862, so a competition was held to design a new building. William Henry Lynn (1829 – 1915) from Belfast was the winner, and he also designed the impressive Town Hall in the town of Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria.
I love the Victorians, the sheer quality of the architecture they brought to the UK, including the fantastic Town and City Halls all over the country from Sheffield, Middlesbrough, Barrow and Chester to Manchester and Birmingham.
In a square outside the Town Hall stood the Christmas Tree, covered in lights and flanked by more beautiful Tudoresque buildings. Chester really felt festive, and what a great place to celebrate our first Christmas out travelling.
We kept exploring the city, and got quite close to the Castle which is situated next to the River Dee, and contains the Cheshire Military Museum, although as we were pressed for time we kept going around the city centre.
Chester Castle was originally built in 1070, by the 1st Earl of Chester, Hugh Lupus (1047 – 1101) as a wooden tower. This was replaced with a stone tower in the 12th century, and the walls of an outer bailey added in the 13th century. It was later used as a prison after the Civil War, but by the 18th century the old building was in severe need of refurbishment, so a large portion of the castle was rebuilt to a design by Thomas Harrison (1744 – 1829, English Architect) in 1792. A lot of what he designed survives today, along with portions of the pre 17th century castle.
Looking back at the city centre, we found the Chester History and Heritage Museum, situated in St Michael’s Church (shown above) from sometime after 1188, although it hasn’t been used as a church since 1972. It once had a 70 feet high steeple but this was removed during a rebuild between 1849 and 1850. Today the building is the aforementioned Chester History and Heritage Museum where you find out about ancestors from the area, or the local history of Chester.
We kept going through the streets, stopping for a cuppa in Cafe Nero’s before carrying on. All of the streets had Christmas lights up, an the buildings just looked more and more beautiful as the darkness crept in and lights came on. This is a view of one of the high streets, and its such a magical city.
We started heading back towards the station, and passed one of the cities most famous landmarks.
This is the Eastgate clock, which sits atop the city walls. As its name suggests, it is above the East Gate into the city. There are three other gates into Chester, being Northgate, Bridgegate and Watergate. Chester city walls are among the best preserved in the whole of Britain, and the most complete Grade I listed wall structure and form a full circuit around what were the Roman boundaries of the city hundreds of years ago. After the Romans left extensions to the walls were made by the Normans after they invaded England in the 11th century.
The clock itself was added in celebration of the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria, being installed in 1899. Rumour has it that this clock is the 2nd most photographed clock in the UK, after Big Ben of course. We had been past the clock earlier in the day, but we came back this way when the sun started to go down, as I thought it would look really nice lit up. And I was right. It really added to the Christmas trees, lights and shops all over the city.
To end our trip, the bright lights of Chester Railway Station greeted us. The front of the station has an Italianate design by Francis Thompson (1808 – 1895, Architect from Suffolk) built in 1848. The station replaced two previous ones run by different train companies. If you ever visit the station keep an eye out for the Wooden Owls scattered around the roof space, designed to scare off Pigeons.
The station has a wide variety of services, as it is one of the 7 terminus stations on the Merseyrail Network concentrated on Liverpool so there are trains every 15 minutes back to Liverpool City Centre. Arriva Trains Wales between Holyhead and Cardiff also run through Chester and give direct links across North Wales through places like Rhyl and Bangor, as well as Wrexham and Shrewsbury and Newport on route to Cardiff.
Virgin Trains run trains from London to Chester, occasionally extending services on to Holyhead, and Northern Rail trains run from Chester to destinations including Manchester, Stockport and Runcorn.
Chester is an amazing city, and this time was our final trip before Christmas, and certainly one of the most memorable.