Welcome to the Chester Millennium Festival Trail, laid down in 2000 as part of the city’s “2000 Years of Building Millennium Festival”.
This web based version of the Chester Millennium Festival Trail is based soley on the official leaflet that was produced at the original opening of the Trail. Leaflets are still available from the Chester Tourist Office in the Cathedral Square and at our Head Office in Bishop Lloyd’s Palace in Watergate Street.
All 40 buildings on this Trail were selected by local people as outstanding examples of Chester’s architectural development over two millennia, from Roman times to the present day. They include many well known and much loved buildings. Others are less familiar – and some may surprise! They all contribute to their rich architectural heritage which makes Chester so special among British historic cities.
Each building is celebrated with its own unique way marker, created by artist Michael Johnson. The complete route is approximately 3 miles (5200m) long and takes about 3 hours. For a shorter tour, the trail can be divided into two routes. covering the southern section (way markers 1 – 27) and the northern section ( way markers 28 – 40 ).
However you choose to use this Trail, you will explore some of the most beautiful architecture in Britain – and possibly discover your own favourite Millennium building somewhere along the route!
The trail begins and ends at Chester Town Hall and Tourist Information Centre. Look for the way markers set in the ground.
Access: Disabled people, particularly wheelchair users, will find parts of this walking route inaccessible. For access information in Chester contact the City Council’s Access Service on 01244 324324
Artist’s Impression of Millennium Trail Map.
Details of the Millennium Trail
1 Town Hall
Waymarker: The clock tower – “A building that deals with numbers”.
Designed in the Gothic style by the Belfast architect WH Lynn and opened by the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII) in 1869. The grey and pink sandstone clock tower 160 feet high (48.7m).This replaced a building of 1698 called the Exchange, which burnt down in 1862. Designs were selected by an architectural competition. Entrants included Alfred Waterhouse, but the winner was the Belfast architect, WH Lynn. Built 1865 – 69, at a cost of £40,000, the Town Hall contains a large assembly room, council chamber (by TM Lockwood) and Lord Mayor’s parlour.
Proceed to Abbey Gateway: Walk diagonally across the Town Hall Square and stop outside the large arch of the Abbey Gateway.
2 Abbey Gateway
Waymarker: “The lock and key, a symbol for entrance as well as confinement”.
A vaulted sandstone arch dating from the mid-14th century which was the main entrance to St Werburgh’s Abbey (now the cathedral). This medieval gatehouse led to a great Benedictine abbey dedicated to St Werburgh. Within the vaulted interior you can see carved sandstone bosses, including the faces of Christ, St John the Baptist and St Werburgh herself. The upper storey is a late 18th century addition and is not accessible to the public.
Proceed to Abbey Square: Walk through the gateway and turn left once in the Abbey Square.
3 Abbey Square
Waymarker: Plan-form – “a considered layout”.
Georgian terraced houses mainly built between 1754 and 1761 on the site of the old abbey kitchens, Bake-house and brewery. Most of these houses were built in the mid 18th century in the ‘London style’ although the houses adjacent to the Abbey Gateway were not completed until the 1820s. Each terrace has a uniform design, but the individual houses are very different in their detailing. The central garden was once enclosed by iron railings, while the York stone pavings or ‘wheelers’ ensured a smooth carriage ride over the cobbles.
Proceed to The Bell Tower: Walk through Abbey Square to the opposite side. Continue along Abbey Street and at the bottom turn right up the ramp onto the City walls to reach the Bell Tower.
4 The Bell Tower
Waymarker: “A bell in its tower”.
Officially called the Addleshaw Tower, this remarkable free standing tower designed George Pace in sandstone and Welsh slate, has housed the Cathedral bells since 1975.
In the 1960s the central tower of the Cathedral suffered structural problems, and a
new tower to house the 13 bells was commissioned by Dean Addleshaw. Sometimes described as the ‘Chester space rocket’, George Pace’s innovative design was the first detached bell tower to be built for an English cathedral since the Reformation.
Proceed to Eastgate Clock: Continue along the City Walls to the Eastgate.
5 Eastgate Clock
Waymarker: “The VR picks up on both images and metal work details in the clock”.
Chester’s now famous landmark was designed by the acclaimed local architect John Douglas to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee of 1887 – not actually erected until 1899. Said to be the most photographed clock in the world after Big Ben, John Douglas’s exuberant Eastgate Clock has come to symbolise the spirit of Chester. The open wrought ironwork is by Douglas’s cousin James Swindley and the clock itself by JB Joyce
of Whitchurch. Below, the elegant sandstone Eastgate of 1769 replaced the medieval gateway, which in turn replaced the Roman east gate or Porta Principalis Sinistra.
Proceed to The Nine Houses: Continue along the City Walls and over the Newgate. Go down the steps on your left to Street level, cross over and walk up Park Street.
6 The Nine Houses.
Waymarker: “The door is an image of security for the almshouses”.
These tiny timber and sandstone cottages were built as almshouses in about 1650. Only six of the original nine survive. The six surviving cottages are the oldest almshouses in Chester. Residents had to be over 65 years old and promise not to indulge in tobacco or alcohol! In the late 1960s the almshouses were rescued from collapse and heavily restored by Chester City Council. Look for the unusual parish boundary sign, marking the boundary between St Olave’s and St Michael’s parishes.
Proceed to Roman Theatre: Cross the road and go through the gate in the City walls, turn left to walk through the Roman Gardens. At the main road turn right and cross narrow Souters Lane for the amphitheatre.
7 Roman Amphitheatre
Waymarker: “Roman coins, hand stamped and cut”.
The partially excavated remains (including about 40% of the Arena) of the largest Roman amphitheatre in Britain. It lay just outside the south-eastern corner of the fortress and may have seated 10,000 spectators at its height. The first amphitheatre was built around 80 AD. Improved seating and external staircases were added around 95 AD. In about 200 AD the structure was remodelled with a 12m high outer wall, decorative facade and internal staircases (vomitoria). It was used for gladiatorial combat and executions. No longer used as an amphitheatre after 350 AD, archaeological evidence suggests it may have become a stronghold following the fall of the Roman Empire. By the 11th century much of its masonry had been taken to provide stone for new building projects across the city.
Proceed to St John’s Church: Follow the road around the amphitheatre and head for the railings outside the church.
8 St John’s Church.
Waymarker: “The light of the church can be found in its congregation”.
Within the Victorian exterior is one the region’s finest Norman churches, once Chester’s first Cathedral. The eastern ruins are open for exploration. The Saxon minister of St John the Baptist was refounded as a collegiate church in 1057. Between 1075 and 1102 it was the cathedral for the diocese of Lichfield, which initiated an ambitious rebuilding programme that continued intermittently over three centuries. The splendid interior gives a good idea of the size and scale of the original building. The eastern chancel and chapels were cut off from the main building in the 16th century and survive outside as picturesque ruins .
Proceed to Anchorite’s Cell:Follow the path alongside the church and at the ruins turn right down the slope and steps towards the river. Turn right along the Groves.
9 Anchorite’s Cell
Waymarker: “In isolated, elevated building”.
Probably built in the mid-14th century to house an anchorite or hermit – a recluse who locked himself away for a life of prayer and contemplation. This tiny building, built on a sandstone outcrop within a former quarry, is one of two cells or hermitages associated with St John’s church in medieval times. According to legend, King Harold II did not die at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, but fled to Chester where he lived as an anchorite for many years. The building was much altered in Victorian times when a porch from St Martin’s Church was added.
Proceed to Norman Weir: Continue along the Groves until you reach a sandstone bridge – the Old Dee Bridge.
10 Norman Weir
Waymarker: “The river and its life are constant”.
This massive stone weir across the river was built in the 11th century to provide water power for the Dee Corn Mills, situated on the city side of the Old Dee Bridge. Hugh Lupus, the first Norman Earl of Chester is thought to have first constructed a weir or causeway here to provide power for his corn mill on the north bank of the river. All citizens were compelled to have their corn ground there, providing a rich source of profit to the Earldom. By the 17th century the weir served eleven water wheels, six for grinding corn, three for fulling cloth and two for raising water to a water tower on the Bridgegate .
Proceed to Bear and Billet:Turn right and go under the Bridgegate. The Bear and Billet is on the opposite of the road.
11 Bear and Billet
Waymarker: “Old inn sign”.
There is no mistaking the many -windowed black and white frontage of the famous 17th century house, once owned by the Earls of Shrewsbury. Dated 1664, this is one of the last major timber framed houses to be built in Chester and probably the whole country, until the style was revived in the 19th century. It seems to have replaced an earlier house, destroyed in the 1640s, when Royalist Chester was attacked by Parliamentarians during the Civil War. Until 1867 it was owned by the Earls of Shrewsbury, who as custodians of the Bridgegate, had the right to control tolls in goods brought through the gate into the city. It became an inn in the late 18th century .
Proceed to St Mary’s Church: Continue up Lower Bridge Street. Take the first street on the left, turn right at the end and walk up the steps (beware of wet leaves at certain times of the year).
12 St Mary’s Church
Waymarker: “Detail from the Gamul family tombs”.
One of Chester’s nine medieval parish churches, this dates mainly from the 14th and 15th centuries and is an excellent example of the perpendicular style. The original parish church was in the tiny chapel of St Mary de Castro in the Agricola Tower of Chester Castle (see no. 14). By about 1350 this was too small and a new church outside the Castle was commissioned. This became the final resting place for many prisoners, including three witches sentenced to hang in 1656. Inside is a fine timber roof and the tombs of several important families including the 17th century effigies of Thomas Gamull and his wife Alice attended by their children.
Proceed to Chester Castle: Take path the beside the church between two black bollards. Walk through the archway and across the car park to the statue of Queen Victoria.
13 Chester Castle
Waymarker: Looking through the gateway – “designed around viewpoints”.
Built between 1788 and 1822 by Thomas Harrison and largely replacing the medieval castle, these neo-classical buildings have been described as the best examples of the Greek Revival style of architecture outside of London. The rebuilding of the medieval castle occupied Thomas Harrison for 40 years. From here you can see the central block with a pediment supported by twelve giant unfluted Doric columns. This housed the Shire Hall and assize Court with the County Gaol (demolished) behind. The two wings were for the Armoury and Barracks. The great entrance gateway, not completed until 1822, was said to have been inspired by the Propylaeum of the Acropolis in Athens.
Proceed to Agricola Tower:Continue across the car park and through the archway in the corner. Once in the courtyard, turn left.
14 Agricola Tower
Waymarker: “Detail from the wall paintings in the tower”.
Built in the 12th century as the gatehouse to the inner bailey, the Agricola Tower is one of the oldest surviving parts of the great medieval castle. On the first floor you can see the medieval chapel of St Mary de Castro. Chester Castle was built by William I in 1070 as a typical Norman motte and bailey castle with earthen mound and timber defences. In the 12th century both the tower on the motte and the bailey wall were rebuilt in stone and this impressive gatehouse was added. It was later replaced by a new gateway (now demolished) and you can still see where archways were filled in. The chapel, which is still used by the Cheshire Regiment, has fragments of exquisite – but very difficult to spot – 13th century wall paintings .
Before leaving the Castle, it is worth visiting the Cheshire Military Museum for a fascinating insight of the Regiments of Cheshire over the past 300 hundred years.
Proceed to Magistrate’s Court: Leave the castle forecourt by the impressive Propylaeum or gateway. Cross the main road at the pedestrian crossing and then take the second crossing to the Magistrates’ Court on the other side of the roundabout.
15 Magistrates’ Court
Waymarker: The coat of arms – “a contrast in silhouettes”.
Built in 1991 to replace the old Magistrates’ Court in the Town Hall, this is an excellent example of how a truly modern building can make a positive contribution to an historic setting. Occupying a very prominent position adjacent to Chester Castle and the Victorian buildings of Grosvenor Street, this courthouse by Cheshire County Architects won a Civic Award in 1995.
Proceed to Gamul House: Take the first road on your left, using the crossing to reach the opposite side of the road. Don’t miss the award-winning Grosvenor Museum, re-opened in August 2000 following major improvements. An excellent introduction to Chester’s past. Just past the museum, take the first right into Bunce Street and then left into Castle Street. Gamul House is at the junction with Lower Bridge Street.
16 Gamul House
Waymarker: “Corn, toll bar and Charles I”.
Behind the 18th century brick frontage lies a late medieval Great Hall, once owned by the Gamull family. The entrance at first floor indicates that the building once had an elevated Row walkway, similar to those in Chester’s main streets. The external appearance dates from about 1700 when the timber structure was refronted in brick, with a Classical doorway and unusual elliptical windows. Inside the Great Hall is open to the roof in true medieval style. In the 17th century, the building was owned by the influential Royalist Gamull family who leased the Dee Corn Mills. King Charles I is said to have stayed here on the eve of his army’s defeat at the Battle of Rowton Moor on 24th September 1645.
Proceed to Park House: Cross Lower Bridge Street (take care). Park House is half-way up.
17 Park House
Waymarker: “view through the window”.
This elegant Georgian town house was built in 1715 by Madam Elizabeth Booth and became one of Chester’s leading hotels in the early 19th century. The Duke of Wellington stayed here in 1820. In the 18th century; Lower Bridge Street was Chester’s most fashionable street and many leading families built new town houses here. Rebuilding resulted in the medieval Rows being lost on both sides of the street. Behind this house
were two acres of parkland, which were opened as formal pleasure gardens when it became the Albion Hotel. This closed in the 1850s and the park was developed for housing, including Albion Street.
Proceed to Tudor House: Continue up Lower Bridge Street, Tudor House is three doors along.
18 Tudor House
Waymarker: Timber detail – “a variation on a pattern”.
Although the wall plaque states 1503, this important timber framed town house was built for a wealthy Chester merchant in the early years of the 17th century. Like many other buildings in Lower Bridge Street, Tudor House once contained a Row but it was enclosed to form an upstairs front room in 1728. The large sash windows probably date from this time. At street level were two shops. One was the Britannia Inn until 1820 and the other a bake-house. The original oven has been preserved .
Proceed to The Falcon: Continue up Lower Bridge Street, and turn left, using the crossing to reach The Falcon.
19 The Falcon
Waymarker: Timber detail – “circles and squares”.
Formerly the town house of the Grosvenor family, this largely 17th century timber building was the first in Chester to lose its elevated Row walkway. This is the surviving half of a much larger medieval town house which extended down Lower Bridge Street. Original 13th century timbers survive in the undercroft (now the beer cellar). In 1643 the Row was enclosed by Sir Richard Grosvenor. The stone Row piers and original late medieval shopfront are still visible inside. The Falcon was an inn from 1778 to 1878, when it was repaired by John Douglas and re- opened as a temperance house. It was restored in the 1980s and became a public house once again.
Proceed to The Three Old Arches: Cross Grosvenor Street at the crossing and walk up Bridge Street. The Three Old Arches is on the left hand side.
20 Three Old Arches
Waymarker: Shops on two levels – “wheat, barley and rye”.
The three arches at Row level are some of the earliest structures to be seen in the Rows and provide a vital clue to what Chester’s medieval stone houses looked like from the street. These three round headed arches formed the Row frontage of the 13th century hall built at right angles to the street. The property was enlarged in the 14th century to form a stone hall of massive proportions running parallel to Bridge Street. The brickwork of the upper storeys dates from the 18th century, but much of the original medieval stonework survives inside.
Proceed to Bridge Street: Continue to walk up Bridge Street towards St Peter’s Church and The Cross.
21 1 Bridge Street
Waymarker: From a 1975 postage stamp – “a familiar image”.
These corner buildings at The Cross are the most famous of Chester’s Victorian ‘black-andwhite ‘revival. They were designed by the local architect TM Lockwood and are dated 1888. In the second half of the 19th century much of central Chester was rebuilt in the ‘black- and-white’ half timbered style. Although local architects took their inspiration from 16th and 17th century buildings, the Victorian examples tend to be larger and more highly decorated than the originals. Like this example nearly all the Victorian buildings are dated.
Proceed to Browns of Chester: Turn right down Eastgate Street, keeping on the right hand side.
22 Browns of Chester
Waymarker: “Where architectural styles meet”.
Built in two very different styles – one Classical, the other High Victorian Gothic – these adjacent buildings represent two phases in the development of Browns, Chester’s leading store in the 19th century. Established by Susannah Brown in the late 18th century, Browns quickly became the symbol of Chester’s importance as a fashionable shopping centre. It has often been described as the ‘Harrods of the North’. The severe Classical building with stone Doric columns opened in 1828. In 1856 TM Penson’s extension was designed in the Gothic style ro reflect the early 14th century stone vaulted undercroft or cellar which survives below. Look for the original medieval doorway with flanking lancet windows.
Proceed to 33 Eastgate Street: Cross to the left hand side and continue down Eastgate Street to the corner of St Werburgh Street.
23 33 Eastgate Street
Waymarker: Building detail- “a Classical language”.
Now the National Westminster Bank, this was built as Dixon and Wardell’s Chester Bank. The Classical design by George Williams was much criticised when it opened in 1860. By the late 1850s local opinion firmly believed that new buildings in Chester should reflect the ‘black-and-white’ vernacular style. So when the proprietors of the Chester bank decided to commission a monumental Classical stone building in the middle of Eastgate Street, the design was inevitably controversial. Thirty years later, when so many adjacent buildings had been given the half timbered treatment, George Williams’s bank was still hated for being ‘distinctly out of place in such a street’.
Proceed to St Werburgh Street East: Take the next street on your left, keeping to its right hand side pavement.
24 St Werburgh Street East
Waymarker: Carved detail- “fact and fiction”.
Built 1895-97 by John Douglas, the buildings on the eastern side of the street are widely acknowledged to be the finest examples of Chester’s Victorian ‘black-and- white’ vernacular revival. St Werburgh Street, originally a narrow alleyway, was widened in the late 19th century to make a new approach to the Cathedral. On the eastern side, John Douglas created an outstanding range of timber buildings, whose composition, picturesque proportions and ornamental detailing are unsurpassed. Look out for the carved figures of Norman earls, saints (including St Werburgh herself) and even Queen Victoria, in whose Jubilee year the buildings were completed. A plaque on the bank building commemorates Douglas’s work in Chester.
Proceed to St Nicholas’s Chapel: Follow the curve of St Werburgh Street. The sandstone St Nicholas’s Chapel is on the left hand side.
25 St Nicholas’s Chapel
Waymarker: Old theatre bill – “the theatre was one of the many lives of this building”.
A much altered medieval chapel which at various times has been used as the city’s Common Hall, Wool Hall, Georgian theatre, Victorian Music Hall and early cinema before becoming a shop. Built in the early 14th century as St Nicholas’s Chapel. Medieval buttresses and windows can be seen from the side passageway. Between 1545 and 1689 this was the Common Hall, Chester’s most important civic building. It was used as the Wool Hall and as a playhouse before being converted into the Theatre Royal in 1777. Many stars of the Georgian stage, including Sarah Siddons and Mrs Jordan appeared here. The present Gothic appearance dates from 1855 when it became a Music Hall. Charles Dickens gave readings from his novels here in 1867 .
Proceed to St Werburgh Row: Continue walking up St Werburgh Street, under the arcade of St Werburgh Row.
26 St Werburgh Row
Waymarker: St Werburgh links the city and the Cathedral – “from a stained glass window in the Cathedral”.
This range of arcaded shops and offices is a rare example of 1930s architecture in Chester. Built in 1935 by Maxwell Ayrton, who also designed Wembley Stadium. Maxwell Ayrton’s design reflects the Chester tradition of building over the pavement to form an arcade, which can be seen in the main streets beyond the Rows (see no. 36 The Blue Bell). The western end is linked to Clemence House, also by Ayrton. Look for the inscribed stones commemorating the architect, his client and the date.
Proceed to Chester Cathedral: Cross over the road to the Cathedral entrance.
27 Chester Cathedral
Waymarker: “From medieval carving of elephant and castle in the Choir”.
Founded as a Benedictine Abbey dedicated to St Werburgh in 1092, this great building became the Cathedral in 1541. Inside are some of the best preserved monastic buildings in the country. The Saxon church on this site was refounded as a Benedictine Abbey dedicated to St Werburgh in 1092. From 1260 to 1537 the Norman monastic buildings were gradually replaced by the great Gothic building, which became the Cathedral in 1541. The west front dates from the early 16th century, but like much of the Cathedral, was restored and embellished by Sir George Gilbert Scott in 1868-76.
Proceed to Commercial Newsroom & Inn: Continue in the direction of the Town Hall, turning left when you reach the square to walk down the right hand side of Northgate Street.
28 Commercial Newsroom & Inn
Waymarker: “World events were first heard here”.
Designed by Thomas Harrison, architect of Chester Castle, this fine Classical building opened in 1808 and housed a newsroom, coffee room and subscription library. Behind it, the Commercial Hotel was also built by Harrison at the same time. Before public libraries were introduced in the 19th century people generally paid to read newspapers or to join a circulating library. Harrison’s Commercial Newsroom became a fashionable meeting place, rather like a gentleman’s club. The narrow passageway leads to the charming St Peter’s Churchyard and the Commercial Hotel, probably the only public house designed by Thomas Harrison.
Proceed to 38 – 42 Watergate Street: Turn right up the steps into St Peter’s Churchyard to the Commercial Hotel. Leave the churchyard by the archway in the far left hand corner. This leads on to Chester’s famous Rows, where you should turn right.
29 38-42 Watergate Street
Waymarker: “Hidden interiors”.
The buildings on this side of Watergate Street include some of the best preserved medieval stone town houses in Britain. No. 38-42 is the largest, spanning three tenement plots and dates from the early 14th century. Here the Row runs through a great stone house built above three undercrofts or cellars running back from the street. At Row level there was a range of small shops with the open great hall behind. Through the window you can still spot the small arched doorway, connecting the hall and shops. The large studded door led to the passage which screened the hall from the service rooms. The outline of the blocked up stone arches is visible inside. The open hall was subdivided in the late 16th century, when a cross-beam floor and back-to-back fireplaces were inserted to created four heated rooms.
Proceed toBishop Lloyd’s Palace: At the end of the Row descend the steps to street level cross over and continue a short distance down Watergate Street.
30 Bishop Lloyd’s Palace
Waymarker: Carved detail – “The Legs of Man”.
Chester’s most ornately carved timber-framed town house was built for George Lloyd
(d. 1615), Bishop of Sodor and Man and then of Chester. Open to the public Monday-Thursday (noon-2pm) and at other times by arrangement. Originally two houses built over medieval cellars, the Palace was completely rebuilt in the early 17th century, although heavily restored by T M Lockwood in the 1890s. The elaborate carvings include Biblical scenes, the arms of King James I and the Legs of Man. Above is a riot of detail including heraldic images and fantastic beasts – don’t miss the 17th century version of an elephant! More original carving survives within the Row, where you can find some fearsome giants, animals and an owl.
Proceed to Stanley Palace: Continue down Watergate Street. Use the crossing over the ring road to reach the opposite corner.
31 Stanley Palace
Waymarker: Timber detail- “building and patterns”.
This late Elizabethan town house is dated 1591. It is named after the Stanley family, custodians of the nearby Watergate, who were responsible for collecting tolls on goods brought into the city from the Port of Chester. One of the city’s finest timber buildings, Stanley Palace was originally built for Sir Peter Warburton, passing into the hands of the influential Stanley family in 1621. Its fortunes subsequently declined and by the 19th century it was occupied as cottages. It was saved from demolition and possible reconstruction in the United States by the Chester Archaeological Society. The building was restored by Chester Corporation in 1935 when a new gable was added to the street side.
Proceed to Watergate House: Continue down the hill Watergate House is on your left on the corner of the next street.
32 Watergate House
Waymarker: “Corners and curves”.
Thomas Harrison, architect of Chester Castle, designed this house for his friend Henry Potts, Clerk of the Peace for the County of Cheshire in 1820. Although Thomas Harrison designed a number of villas, this is his only town house. It has an unusual curved entrance, flanked by Ionic columns which leads to an octagonal entrance hall. The letters ER over the porch refer to Edward VII who was on the throne when the building became the headquarters of Western Command in 1907.
Proceed to Queen’s School: At the Watergate, cross the road to turn right into City Walls Road.
33 Queen’s School
Waymarker: Building details – “is that a window or a class of children”?
EA auld, a pupil of John Douglas, designed this school in 1883. The site was formerly occupied by the Ciry Gaol and House of Correction. This school was founded in 1878 as the Chester School for Girls. It was renamed by permission of Queen Victoria in 1882. Ould’s Tudor Gothic building with intricately patterned brickwork clearly reflects the influence of John Douglas. It replaced the City Gaol, built here in 1807 as successor to a gaol in the medieval Northgate. Public executions took place here between 1809 and 1866.
Proceed to Water Tower: Continue along the road and follow the upward slope of the City Walls.
34 Water Tower
Waymarker: “From a watercolour by Francis Nicholson”.
Dating from the time when Chester was a major port, the Water Tower was built at the edge of the river to protect the harbour in 1322-26. Until the early 14th century, the north-western corner of the medieval walls and the harbours below were guarded by Bonewaldesthorne’s Tower. Gradually, extensive silting caused the river course to move away from the base of the walls, so the New or Water Tower was built further out in the river, connected by a spur wall. It cost £100. Over the centuries, the course of the river has changed dramatically and the tower now stands isolated in gardens over 200 metres from the river.
Proceed to Northgate Locks: Leave the City Walls by the next main steps (on your left) turn right and walk beside the canal and under the railway to reach the top of the locks.
35 Northgate Locks
Waymarker: “Lock gates holding back the water”.
An impressive staircase of three deep and wide lock chambers on the present Shropshire Union Canal. These date from the 18th century when Chester was a canal and river port. In the 1770s the Chester Canal connected the River Dee at Chester with Nantwich on the Cheshire Plain. To reach the eastern side of the city the engineers built a set of five locks and excavated a deep cutting through the sandstone below the City Walls. In the 1790s a new canal was cut linking the Chester Canal at Tower Wharf to the River Mersey at Ellesmere Port. The original five locks were modified to become the present three.
Proceed to Blue Bell: Continue past the locks and up the slope or the steps on your right. Go through the gateway in the City Walls and straight ahead along Pemberton Road. Turn left into King Street and left again onto Northgate Street.
36 Blue Bell
Waymarker: “Food and wine on a plate”.
Once an inn, this splendid little building is dated 1494 and formed part of a range of buildings known as ‘Lorimer’s Row’. The detached cabin was used as a barber shop in the 18th and 19th centuries. Originally two small mid – 15th century houses, the Blue Bell is a rare example of a medieval building outside the main Row system. Typically, the upper story is built over the pavement to form an arcade. This was once very common in Chester and can be seen in adjoining buildings and also in Foregate Street. The tiny cabin is the only one to have survived.
Proceed to Bluecoat School: Continue up Northgate Street and under the Northgate.
37 Bluecoat School
Waymarker: “Learning time”.
Built in 1717 to house a charity school for poor boys, the first of its kind outside London. The Blue Coat boy over the main entrance wears the distinctive uniform worn by pupils until the school closed in 1949. Sometimes called the Blue Coat Hospital because it stands on the site of a medieval hospital, the chapel of Little St John was relocated within the south wing of the building. Poor boys were taught reading, writing and accounts. Boarders wore blue coats and day boys wore green caps. The original structure of 1717 has been altered, most notably in 1854 when the central section was enlarged.
Proceed to Rufus Court: Cross Northgate Street and return to the Northgate. Climb the steps on your left and enjoy one of the most spectacular stretches of the Roman/medieval City Wall After a short distance the steps on your right lead down to RufUs Court.
38 Rufus Court
An award-winning development of the 1980s, tucked between the City Wall and Northgate Street. Go down the spiral stair and through the court. An interesting courtyard development of small shops, restaurants and bars which successfully blends old and new buildings. The two-tiered design by James Brotherhood & Associates reflects Chester’s unique Row system.
Proceed to Odeon Cinema: Turn left into Northgate Street, crossing over to the Odeon Cinema on the corner.
39 Odeon Cinema
Waymarker: “Cinema, a new artists’ palette for the 20th century”.
One of the most prominent buildings in Chester, the Odeon Cinema of 1936 was designed in the typical Art Deco style by the Odeon Company’s architect, Harry Weedon. Chester’s Odeon building is typical of hundreds of provincial cinemas designed by Weedon in the 1930s. However, to harmonise with the historic character of the city, this Odeon is clad in hand-made brick, rather than the more usual white ceramic blocks.
Proceed to Westminster Coach & Motor Car Works: Cross the road in front of the Odeon and walk towards the Town Hall Square, building number 40 is on your right.
40 Westminster Coach & Motor Car Works
Waymarker: “Look above the library”.
This splendidly decorated brick and terracotta facade of the Edwardian Baroque motor works has been retained as parr of Chester Library. In the future this will become the entrance to the new market hall. Designed by Philip H Lockwood in 1914 for the Westminster Company, this replaced an earlier coach and motor works which was destroyed in a fire. It was still used as a car showroom in the early 1970s. The restored facade was incorporated into a new library building which opened in 1984.