|Eastgate Street - South Side|
Chester’s modern streets are littered with numerous buildings that offer visitor’s a wide variety of history, style and construction materials, ranging from 13th century cellars to brand new city buildings that are only a few years old. However, the type of property most commonly associated with Chester is the Black and White half-timbered, Tudor style building which often appears to suggest great age and history, even where little if any exists. The city can also boast a plentiful supply of classically elegant Georgian houses, along with revivals of the much more ancient styles of architecture, including Roman, Greek and Gothic.
Despite the fact that Chester can probably offer an example of any sort of architecture that has been employed in England over the past 2000 years, much of what actually captures the eye and the imagination of the visitor today is probably new in terms of the city’s great age. And the reason for that is simple; it is because the central core of the city has been designed by a relatively small number of architects and designer’s who have either been artistically and stylistically sympathetic to their predecessors, guided by current trends or perhaps even influenced by a wealthy employer who had very clear ideas of how he wanted the particular building to look.
This particular section offers a brief overview of the careers and works of that relatively small number of men who most people would agree have been at the forefront of creating modern day Chester and whose work continues to draw inspiration and admiration from the hundreds of thousands of people who visit the city every year. Before beginning with the career of the Georgian architect, Joseph Turner, it is perhaps worth remembering that the city was still recovering from the devastating effects of the English Civil War siege in 1645 and that Chester was no longer a viable trading port, or indeed a strategically important military base, any and all of which might account for the sudden and expansive rounds of modernisation which took place in the city over the following 150-200 years.
Joseph Turner (1729 – 1807)
Although Joseph Turner is commonly associated with the city of Chester and two of its most notable Georgian landmark structures, the Bridgegate and Watergate, he also has equally strong connections with the adjoining Welsh counties of Flintshire and Denbighshire, where he was reported to have been employed on a variety of important civic projects. It is also worth noting though that there seems to have been several generations of related architects, all of whom were called Joseph Turner, which has tended to confuse the issue of exactly which projects were undertaken by the different individuals.
There is a suggestion that Turner may have been living or working in Whitchurch around 1756; as it is recorded that a Mr Turner, architect, was sent for from there to survey the old Exchange building at Chester, possibly as part of one of the series of alterations which were undertaken on this building throughout its lifetime. Eleven years later, in 1767, a Mr Turner of Hawarden was reportedly asked to survey Chester’s medieval East Gate, its adjoining buildings and to design a new arch with a passageway above it. No record of his designs are thought to have survived, but evidently they were not accepted by the city’s corporation, as another architect, a Mr Hayden, was eventually contracted to produce the gateway which stands in Chester today.
Regardless of this particular rejection of his work, Joseph Turner continued to operate in and around the city and in 1774 was recorded to have been formally admitted as a Freeman of Chester. In the same year he was known to have submitted his designs for the new Ruthin Gaol, which was reported to have been built in 1775. Some three years later, in 1778, he was recorded to have been the under-tenant of Further Bayley’s Croft at Overleigh in the outlying township of Handbridge, although whether or not he was actually living there is unclear.
In 1780, the architect was reported to have been residing in Chester itself, notably in the area of Paradise Row, a relatively new and exclusive suburb of the city which lay to the west of the ancient city walls and adjacent to the River Dee. According to records of the time, Turner was involved in purchasing plots of land in the area from a Mr Chamberlain, although the reason for the new land acquisitions is not particularly stated, but presumably the land was being bought for residential development. The Crane Street area of Chester was reported to have been laid out sometime after 1769 and by 1831 was being described as one of the most pleasant streets in the whole of the city
As his property holdings in the city increased, so too did his involvement in property and rental disputes which were commonly brought before the corporation and the courts. In 1780, he was reported to be in dispute over the rental of premises in both Queen Street and Crane Street, although full details of the disagreement are unclear. However, these cases failed to harm his architectural career, as in the following year he was asked to produce designs for a replacement for the city’s medieval Bridgegate, which was thought to be in a fairly perilous condition at that time.
With his designs accepted by the corporation, Chester’s medieval Bridgegate, including its flanking towers, drawbridge and portcullis’ was thought to have been demolished around 1780/1 and Turners replacement gateway substantially completed by 1782. In the same period he was reported to have been elected as one of the city’s Sheriffs in the autumn of that year.
In March 1785, Turner once again found himself in trouble with the local courts, when a local stonemason called John Broad prepared to sue the architect for £19 which he claimed he was owed for work done for the architect. However, the matter was finally settled when the stonemason’s brother, who was also Mr Turner’s foreman, promised to settle the debt on behalf of his employer, who at the time was reported to be “out of town”.
The Chester Watergate was completed circa 1788/9 and replaced a much more ancient gateway which by the middle of the 18th century was recorded to have fallen into a fairly ruinous state. Historically held by members of the Stanley family, the Earls of Derby, this old medieval entrance was eventually bought by the city’s corporation and demolished almost immediately, being replaced by Turner’s archway which remains with us today.
During the 1780’s, Turner was reported to have been employed to design a terrace of houses in the Black Friars area of the city, possibly including the notable Soughton House and was the reported architect for the former County Jail which was built on City Walls Road around 1807, but which was subsequently demolished and replaced by the Queens School building, designed by another local architect E A Ould.
Nearby, on the western flank of modern day Nicholas Street the extensive terrace of elegant Georgian properties, previously known as “Pill Box Terrace” are largely attributed to the same architect. Commonly thought to have been occupied by Chester’s professional classes, including a large number of doctors, from where it derived its locally held title, this whole area was thought to have been owned and inhabited by members of the local aristocracy and wealthy city merchants. Later architectural students however, have suggested that this particular terrace appears to have been built in a rather piecemeal fashion, which might imply that Turner was not the only designer involved in its overall construction.
|Turner's Bridge of Sighs|
Thomas Harrison (1744 – 1829)
Architect Thomas Harrison is now synonymous with the city and is unique in having been given the epithet “Of Chester” which no other building designer has since achieved. In 1785 the city’s corporation was recorded to have run a competition to find a suitable replacement for the County gaol which was housed within the precincts of the medieval castle and offered a prize of 50 guineas to the winning entry. Typhus or more commonly “gaol fever” was known to be rife at Chester’s historic castle prison and over the years hundreds of prisoners had succumbed to cold and disease while being held in its enclosed and airless conditions. The celebrated prison reformer John Howard had likened it to 'the black hole of Calcutta' and called for the city authorities to do away with the prison.
From the entries that they received the city authorities chose the plans of a relatively obscure 40-year-old architect called Thomas Harrison, who did not even live in Chester, but although unaware of it at the time, the adoption of his proposals would mark the start of a lifetimes work in the ancient city for the Yorkshire-born designer that would only end with his death in 1829.
|Chester Castle Entrance|
Returning to England in 1776, Harrison was reported to have received a commission to design the new Skerton Bridge across the River Lune, reportedly the first level bridge in the country and soon followed this up with work on Lancaster’s Shire Hall, both of which projects were reported to have been substantially completed by 1783. He continued to undertake several projects in Lancashire, even while he was employed at Chester and was said to have received the commission to rebuild the precincts of Lancaster’s historic castle, a project which was thought to have lasted right through until 1802.
Almost immediately Harrison’s proposals for the old gaol at Chester were extended to include the entire medieval castle complex, including the great Shire Hall and the many other medieval structures that had degraded so badly over the previous decades. Beginning in 1788 these ancient buildings were systematically demolished and swept away to be replaced with the modern castle development which inhabits the site today. Harrison’s new castle would ultimately include a magnificent Shire Hall, Crown Courts, Armoury, Prison and Military Barracks, all of which would take him the next 35 years to complete. Housed within three great sections, fronted by a central courtyard, the architects new castle buildings were described as being the finest County buildings in the Greek Revival style anywhere in the country and helping to establish him as one of the most pre-eminent regional architects of the age.
By 1792 the new gaol had been completed, its dirty disease-ridden communal chambers replaced by new individual cells for the prisoners, offering light and space to those that were incarcerated. Inmates that were being held for minor civil offences like debt were now kept separate from the more serious felons that were incarcerated for murder, theft, etc. At the time of its completion this new gaol was regarded by most as a real step forward in penal reform and yet it was later demolished to make way for the new County Hall which stands over the site today. However, it is also worth noting that there were some reports that large sections of the new gaol had to be rebuilt at a later date, due to the fact that much of this modern “humanitarian” prison had in fact been built by the inmates themselves, which led to an extremely poor level of construction throughout.
Between 1791 and 1801 the centrepiece of the new castle complex was constructed, the magnificently colonnaded portico incorporating the county’s Shire Hall and judicial Courts. To the east and west of this central building, new wings were added, which would subsequently accommodate the castle’s Armoury and Military Barracks. Now extending well beyond the limits of the original medieval walls Harrison designed a new gateway for the castle in the form of a 'Propylaeum' built on large stone columns. It was also during the reconstruction of the castle complex that Harrison was reported to have designed and built St Martin’s Lodge, one of his homes in the city, which is dated from around 1796.
|Chester Castle's Propylaeum|
The Yorkshire-born architect was also said to have undertaken a partial restoration of the city’s historic Cathedral, which had suffered much over the previous centuries and continued to be visited by a number of the nations leading architects in an effort to maintain its fabric, even after Harrison had completed his work. Visitors and commentators alike had been moved to highlight the dreadfully poor condition of its magnificent stonework and to call for action to save the historic structure. Between 1818 and 1820 extensive renovations were undertaken by the architect to preserve the building’s inner and outer fabric and to ensure that it would survive intact in the coming decades.
Harrison was also responsible for the overall design of Chester’s second river crossing, the Grosvenor Bridge, but sadly did not live to see its completion as he died on 29th March 1829, aged 85. Opened by the then 13-year-old Princess Victoria in 1833 the bridge project was reported to have been completed by William Cole, a pupil of Harrison’s. Up until 1864 the Grosvenor Bridge was thought to be the world’s greatest single span stone bridge, standing 200 feet wide and 60 feet high.
Although Harrison is still generally credited with the design of the new second crossing of the River Dee, the Grosvenor Bridge; it was largely constructed under the supervision of William Cole, one of Harrison’s most notable pupils, simply because Harrison himself had resigned from the post of architect some years before the bridge was actually completed.
Plans for the proposed second crossing were thought to have originally been put in place as early as 1818, with a suggested location at Handbridge and much closer to the historic Old Dee Bridge which had served as the only permanent crossing for hundreds of years. However, problems regarding the foundations for the new river crossing and the need for Parliamentary permissions in order to construct the new bridge caused a delay of several years, during which time the likes of Brunel and Telford were thought to have become involved with the engineering aspects of the scheme, causing dissent amongst the various parties. By 1827 the plans had received all necessary permissions, but clearly Harrison, its designer, was thought to have become so exasperated by the unexpected and possibly unwelcome interference by these other equally notable and qualified engineers that he was said to have simply withdrawn from the project.
|Harrison's Grosvenor Bridge|
Before his death Thomas Harrison was also said to have rebuilt the ancient St Bridget’s church around 1825 after it had been removed from its original home in Bridge Street to make way for the laying out of Grosvenor Road and relocating it close to the castle complex. Sadly the rebuilt church failed to survive later city developments and finally disappeared forever at the end of the 19th century along with a number of other historic buildings. As with the still standing Grosvenor Bridge though, the rebuilt church of St Bridget’s was probably constructed under the watchful eye of William Cole, rather than the great architect Harrison.
Folliot House in Northgate Street which was built as his private residence dates from around 1788 is yet another Harrison building that has managed to last the test of time, albeit in a much reduced form, but is now largely hidden behind the 'Odeon' cinema and converted into offices. Further along Northgate Street Chester’s northern gate was also designed by the same architect and erected between 1808 and 1810. This important civic project was later followed by a series of other commissions in the city including the Commercial Newsrooms, which later became the Barclay’s City Club, the Wesleyan Chapel in St John Street which was completed in 1811, Dee Hills House, later the Ursuline Convent, which was completed in 1814, Richmond Terrace, built by Harrison for Robert Baxter in the same year and Watergate House which he built for his friend Henry Potts, the Clerk of the Peace and completed in 1820.
|Harrison's Foliot House|
He was also known to have accepted and completed a number of commissions for wealthy landowners and aristocrats, including restoring the Elgin Marbles for their titled owner, as well as undertaking a number of works for various Scottish nobles at their ancestral seats. Closer to home he has been credited with designing the Lyceum in Liverpool, along with the Exchange Building in Manchester.
In 1843 a noted northwest architect wrote of Harrison that “it was to be regretted that he (Harrison) had buried his fine talents in the obscure city of Chester, instead of settling in London and correcting the bad taste of Nash, Sloane and others”
When he died in March 1829 Harrison was laid to rest in the family vault which was located in the churchyard of the newly raised St Bridget’s which lay close to his home at St Martin’s Lodge. Despite this church later being demolished, it was thought that the burial grounds were later absorbed into the parish of St Mary’s which lay close to Harrison’s new castle complex. However, when Chester’s new inner ring road system was being laid out during the 1960’s these grounds were reported to have been cleared to make way for the new roadway. Along with many other burials and family crypts, Thomas Harrison’s vault was thought to have been rediscovered and a closer inspection revealed the presence of three separate coffins within the vault, although there was no clear indication of which one was Harrison’s. All of the burials recovered at that time were reported to have been re-interred at the city’s municipal Blacon cemetery on the outskirts of Chester.
Thomas Lunt (1770 – 1851)
One of the most notable local builders and altruistic businessmen of the later Georgian and early Victorian periods in Chester, who is often overlooked by history, was Thomas Lunt, who was reported to have been born in Tattenhall on the outskirts of Chester sometime during 1770.
|Harrison's Watergate House|
Lunt has also been largely credited with the construction and layout of Egerton Street in the Newtown area of Chester, where he was thought to have established an Iron Foundry, supplying the much needed building material to the city’s emerging industries and commercial interests. As well as Chester’s long gone Commercial Hall, which once occupied a site close to today’s British Home Stores and former Littlewood’s store in Foregate Street, this historic character was also thought to be responsible for constructing Chester’s Union Hall in 1809 which stood on the opposite side of the same city thoroughfare, on the site now marked by the 1920’s Mark’s and Spencer’s storefront.
Demolished during the early 1950’s, Lunt’s Commercial Hall, which was said to have been a forerunner of today’s modern shopping centres, was constructed around 1815 and during its 135 year history had served as a second market hall in Chester, being occupied by a large number of both single and double shop units, located over two floors. During the city fairs which were held in both July and October of each year, tradesmen from all over the country, including London, Glasgow, Birmingham and Sheffield would converge on the Commercial Hall and sell their much needed wares to Chester’s traders and shoppers.
As well as being a noted businessman within the city, Thomas was also said to be a member of the city’s Quaker community who attended the Society of Friend’s meeting house in Frodsham Street and was a renowned philanthropist and by repute, a man of high integrity and honour.
|Thomas Lunt's Union Bridge|
Prior to his death, such were his financial difficulties, that a number of his friends within the local business community were said to have offered him financial aid, all of which were thought to have been politely refused by the extremely proud entrepreneur. He was then reported to have relocated himself and his family to Liverpool, where on the 7th November 1851 he was said to have passed away.
Rather than be buried away from his family roots however, later reports suggest that his body was subsequently removed to Tattenhall in Cheshire where he was interred along with his son John who had died in 1804, at the tender age of ten years and his daughter Martha who had died in 1798, aged twenty-two years old.
James Harrison (1814 – 1866)
Although today Harrison is generally remembered for his rebuilding of religious buildings, in and around the Chester area, he along with his better known contemporaries were known to have undertaken a variety of commissions, both for the church authorities, as well as for a number of wealthy individuals who lived within Cheshire.
Between 1849 and 1850 St Michael’s Church, which now serves as Chester’s Heritage Centre, was largely rebuilt by Harrison, principally because much of its ancient fabric was in such a ruinous condition and its early steeple appears to have been in danger of falling down. Reportedly demolished during the winter months of 1848, using cranes borrowed from Chester’s new castle complex, the foundation stone for the restored St Michael’s church was reported to have been laid in May 1849 and the whole building completed by the early months of 1850.
Queens Park, which lies on the southern bank of the River Dee, was developed as a private residential estate by the businessman Enoch Gerrard who was thought to have employed a number of Chester’s leading architects to design and build the affluent estate. James was reported to have begun his association with the landowner around 1850, about the same time that he was finalising his rebuilding of St Michael’s church in the city.
Another of his earliest commissions in Chester was thought to be for the design of the Chester (later the Trustee’s) Savings Bank building which is reported to date from the period between 1851 and 1853. Although the site now operates as a restaurant, the Chester Savings Bank was reported to have been founded around 1817 and was initially located in the city’s Exchange building which was in the same general area of today’s Victorian Town Hall. It was thought to have remained around the Market Square until 1846 when the bank premises were temporarily relocated to Goss Street, which is just off Watergate Street. In 1851 the owners were said to have purchased the land in Grosvenor Street for the specific purpose of erecting their brand new premises, which were designed by Harrison in a largely Tudor Gothic style.
Shortly after starting the Chester Savings Bank commission, Harrison was fortunate enough to be offered yet another church building project by the religious authorities. The church of the Holy Ascension at Upton-by-Chester was designed and built by the architect between 1852 and 1854, requiring him to switch between this project and the still to be completed bank building in Grosvenor Street.
|St Nicholas' Chapel|
Around the same time that Harrison was finalizing the work on St Nicholas’ chapel, the brand new Christ Church located at Hough Green on the outskirts of Chester was in the process of being designed and constructed by the architect, with a reported completion date of 1855 assigned to the building.
Number 40 Bridge Street, Chester was rebuilt by Harrison in 1858 and in the same year, both numbers 51 and 53 in the same city thoroughfare were reported to have been rebuilt to the designs of the same architect, with both properties thought to originate from 1700.
The ancient St Olave’s Church in Chester, which is reported to have been founded prior to the Norman Conquest of the city in 1070, was yet another restoration projects undertaken by Harrison, with the work reportedly being largely completed by 1859. Close by, the church of St Mary’s within-the-walls, which today operates as an educational centre, was restored by Harrison around 1861.
The following year, God’s Providence House, was rebuilt by Harrison in 1862 and is inscribed with the words “God’s Providence is Mine Inheritance”, a clear reference to the householders belief that God had spared him and his family from an outbreak of plague in the city. Carrying a date of 1652, the building was likely to have been rebuilt following the end of the Civil War siege of Chester, a time when poor sanitation and the influx of thousands of soldiers was thought to have caused several instances of the dreaded disease.
The Old Custom’s House in Watergate Street was thought to have originally been built around 1633, the offices having been moved from Chester’s medieval castle buildings around that time and was then rebuilt to Harrison’s designs in around 1868, two years after the architects untimely death. The adjoining church of the Holy and Undivided Trinity, which now operates as the city’s Guildhall, was also restored to Harrison’s designs around the same time, but once again was only completed after his death, probably by his former pupils and later successors, Edwards and Kelly who were reported to have taken over his practice which was located in St Werburgh’s Street, Chester.
|Old Customs House|
Despite being one of the city’s most prominent architects and having left his mark on a number of Chester’s landmark buildings, there is a suggestion that Harrison was a fairly solitary, perhaps even slightly tragic figure who continued to live with his parents, at their home in St Martin’s-in-the-field right up until his comparatively early death at the age of 52.
Thomas Mainwaring Penson (1818 – 1864)
Thomas Mainwaring Penson was born into a family of regional architects, with his father also called Thomas, reportedly having studied under the renowned Thomas Harrison of Chester. His older brother Richard Kyrke Penson was also a noted architect in the family’s home town of Oswestry, but Thomas Mainwaring Junior decided to pursue his career in the historic city of Chester.
He was responsible for the design of Overleigh Cemetery’s Bridges & Gates between 1848 and 1850, although the actual layout of the cemetery grounds themselves was thought to have been the work of another landscape designer, a Mr Lister. Penson was reported to have designed a bridge within the grounds, which has long since disappeared, along with the gates and piers which continue to adorn the main entrances to the city’s suburban graveyard. In a curious twist perhaps, this cemetery is still said to hold the mortal remains of Penson’s architectural contemporaries, John Douglas, Thomas Meakin Lockwood, along with a number of other notable individuals, who were responsible for building the city we know today. Some seven years after completing his designs for the cemetery, Penson was reported to have returned to the same site, this time as the architect responsible for the design of the Henry Raikes tomb and monument, which was said to have been sculpted by one Thomas Earp. Raike, who lived between 1782 and 1854, was reported to have been the Chancellor of the Chester Diocese, as well as being an active politician within the city and his grand tomb, designed by Penson, continues to reflect both the wealth and importance of this particular individual.
Thomas has often been categorized
as a student of the Gothic Revivalist style, who has been accused by some
critics of over-embellishing his works with heavy ornamentation and irregular
features. Penson’s first architectural commission, in which he was said to have
first employed the Black & White Revival style for which he and other Chester
architects have become noted, was on the restoration of 22-24 Eastgate Street
in around 1852, with one of the gables of the restored building still carrying
a date of 1640, the year that it was originally built. In 1856 he was recorded
to have undertaken another project at numbers 34-36 in the same street, having
just completed an earlier project at the city’s racecourse, rebuilding the
grandstand which was thought to have been destroyed by fire during 1855. The
Eastgate Street building designed by Penson is generally described as being
classically revival in style and was perhaps influenced by or a tribute to the
works of Thomas Harrison, who had reintroduced this style of architecture to
Chester some 50-odd years earlier.
|Grosvenor Hotel Front|
His next major undertaking in Chester was reported to be the “Browns” crypt building which is said to date from 1857/8 and built in a High Victorian Gothic style for the Brown family, who were reported to have been milliners and haberdashers in the city since 1828, when the business was first founded by Susannah Brown. As part of the commission, Penson’s new department store building incorporated the medieval under-croft which had stood on the same site for hundreds of years and is used today as part of the modern shop premises. In 1858 and between this new Gothic building and his earlier restoration project of 1852 Penson then undertook a second Black and White restoration commission at no 26 Eastgate Street, which is described as a mid 17th century house that contains a number of early Jacobean features, including a ceiling, staircase and mantelpiece.
Penson has also been credited with designing Chester’s long since demolished Militia Building, which he was thought to have completed sometime around 1858 and previously occupying the site of the 20th century Cheshire Police Headquarters which itself has recently been demolished to make way for a new multi-million pound hotel complex. Designed and built to house the soldiers and their families garrisoned at the nearby Chester Castle, this uniform and robust looking building was said to be reminiscent of a much earlier defensive structure, complete with castellated walls, but was thought by some to have been heavily influenced by the relatively modern fortress at Peckforton.
The Queen’s Hotel in Chester’s City Road, which still faces the Victorian General Railway Station it was built to serve, was rebuilt by Penson and Cornelius Sherlock from Liverpool in 1862 following a fire which had destroyed a large part of the earlier building, save for a brand new wing which had just been built and somehow managed to survive the inferno.
|Queens Hotel Entrance|
As with his equally notable fellow architect, James Harrison, Thomas died a comparatively young man, being 46 years of age at the time of his death. Just a year or so before his untimely demise, he was reported to have undertaken his final commission at Chester, the design of the east window of St John’s church in the city, with the glass being supplied by Clayton and Bell.
John Douglas (1830 – 1911)
Douglas was the son of a local building contractor and surveyor from Sandiway in Cheshire who trained under Edward G Paley of Lancaster and was known to have travelled widely throughout Northern Europe and North West England, developing his own particular architectural style which mixed stone, brick and timber into a buildings construction. Having settled down to practice in the historic city of Chester around 1860, his emerging and highly individual style helped to further develop the “Black and White” revivalist look that has become synonymous with the city and which was said to have first been reintroduced by T M Penson some years earlier. Some of Douglas’ best work is thought to be in St Werburgh Street in Chester.
|Douglas' Police Station|
By the mid 1890’s, Douglas along with his single surviving son, Sholto, was thought to have moved to the new Walmoor Hill property that he had once again designed and built at his own expense, an impressive Tudor style buildings which was ridiculed by some and admired by many others. Despite the problems of his personal life, professionally, Douglas remained as one of the most pre-eminent and sought after regional architects of his age and counted amongst his clientele the great and the good of both northern England and the Welsh borders. His client list included the Duke of Westminster, Lord’s Delamere and Leverhulme, various city and church authorities from around the region, as well as a plethora of individually wealthy landowners including the Egertons and the Frosts, etc.
Throughout his renowned career, the sheer breadth and variety of building designed by Douglas and his associated partners is not only surprising, but should perhaps be more aptly described as staggering. He undertook public and private commissions for churches, chapels, farm buildings and cottages, grand halls and mansions, hotels, as well as stables and even found time to design at least two hospitals within the northwest region. But his most famous and photographed design is undoubtedly Chester’s world famous Eastgate Clock, reportedly the second most photographed clock in the world, behind Big Ben in London.
|Douglas' Park Lodge|
Such was Douglas’ reputation that examples of his work were illustrated throughout Europe including those of his buildings on the Eaton estate, the home of the Grosvenor family who were by far his most important and influential clients.
One of his first commissions for the Grosvenor family was for the design of the buildings at the newly opened Grosvenor Park complex which was undertaken sometime between 1865 and 1867 and included the half-timbered Park Lodge Building, featuring figures of a number of the city’s early Norman rulers. This particular commission also included the designs for the canopy for the reportedly ancient “Billy Hobby’s” well, as well as the elaborate gates and piers which adorned the entrance to the new leisure park complex.
Around the same time Douglas was commissioned to design St Bartholomew’s Church at Sealand which was reported to have been built in around 1867. Today, the building serves as the parish church for worshippers from both the Sealand Road area of the city and for the nearby village of Saughall, but attracts little attention from fans of the architect, due to its semi-rural location.
As previously mentioned, in 1869 Douglas was reported to have acquired a plot of land on the outskirts of the city, in the Boughton area, on which he designed and built a pair of new properties, later known as 31 and 33 Dee Banks. The following year, he was thought to have undertaken the first phase of the buildings which now stand in the Bath Street area of the city, although the completed project is thought to be a mix of both Douglas and his contemporary Lockwood and taking until 1903 to fully complete.
|St Werburgh Street Buildings|
St Oswald’s Vicarage, which later served as the English department of Chester College, was built by Douglas in 1880 and the following year he began the Grosvenor Club building in Eastgate Street, which later became the home of the N and S Wales Bank and today continues to serve a similar purpose for the HSBC. Completed in 1883, the property was thought to have been further extended by Douglas, sometime around 1908. The now often overlooked County Police Building at the corner of Grosvenor Park Road was built by the architect in 1884 and is similar in look to his earlier commission, the Grosvenor Club building, being faced with a highly attractive red brick.
The north Porch of the church of St John the Baptist was said to have been rebuilt by the architect in 1882 following the collapse of the nearby tower and 4 years later he was said to have also undertaken the rebuilding of the north-east Belfry. This was not the first time that the architect had completed work at St John’s, as some reports suggest that Douglas had first completed work there around 1876, although the nature or scale of this earlier commission is unclear.
Parkers Buildings in Foregate
Street, Chester were designed by Douglas around 1890 as accommodation for
retired workers from the city’s Grosvenor Estates and were erected by the
Northern Counties Housing Association. This association with the Dukes of Westminster
continued with the restoration of the historic Falcon Inn, the one time home of
the Grosvenor family in the city, which was thought to have been restored by
Douglas around 1894. Another of the architect’s personal building projects, at
numbers 2-18 St Werburgh’s Street, on the eastern side of the thoroughfare, was
thought to have been constructed between 1895 and 1899, with the then Duke
reportedly influencing Douglas’ choice of style for the new terrace of
|Douglas' Shoemakers Row|
As noted previously, Walmoor House, on the Queens Park estate, was designed and built by Douglas for his own use around 1896 and two years later he was commissioned to design and build No 7 Grosvenor Street as a home and training centre for city midwives which was commissioned by the 1st Duke of Westminster and in the same year he was also said to have designed St Oswald’s Chamber in St Werburgh’s Street.
Douglas’ most celebrated and photographed creation in the city is the Chester Eastgate Clock, which he designed to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1897, but which was only completely erected and working by 1899. That same year, he was thought to have begun the reconstruction of Shoemaker’s Row in Northgate Street, which is said to have been designed by a number of Chester’s noted architects, often in a fairly piecemeal fashion, between 1899 and 1904.
|Chester's Eastgate Clock|
Shotwick Park was a commission for a House and Stables ordered by Thornycroft Vernon, which were rebuilt after a fire in 1907 and today serves as an Old People’s Home. The site was connected with the ancient Shotwick Castle, first built by Earl Hugh Lupus in the 12th century. Douglas was reported to have designed the buildings there, between 1872/1875.
When he died on 23rd May 1911 at his Walmoor Hill home, Douglas was reported to have left a personal estate of some £32,000, as well as title to numerous properties in and around the city. His architectural practice was later absorbed by the less notable Minshall and Muspratt, becoming Douglas, Minshall and Muspratt. The remains of the architect were later interred in the family’s tomb at Chester’s Overleigh Cemetery where they can often overlooked by visitors. Happily though, many of his works continue to grace the precincts of the historic city, allowing resident and visitor alike to admire skills of the man that Pevsner once described as the “very best Cheshire architect”.
Thomas Meakin Lockwood (1830 – 1900)
Much of Lockwood’s career and his associated buildings were conducted in the city and along with John Douglas and TM Penson he has been credited with creating the Chester “look”, the black and white, half-timbered style which has become synonymous with the city. He was extensively employed by the 1st Duke of Westminster in Chester and he is remembered with a memorial window in the north aisle of St John the Baptist church in Chester. His most famous and photographed commissions in Chester, are the buildings which form the junction between Bridge Street and Eastgate Street at Chester’s High Cross which was completed around 1888. On the opposite side of Bridge Street, marking its junction with Watergate Street, the buildings and elevated rows are also Lockwood’s work, being completed sometime around 1892.
|Lockwood's High Cross|
One of Lockwood’s earliest commissions was Chester’s Northgate Church, built in 1874 and located at the northern end of Upper Northgate Street and today sited close to the much more modern Fountain’s Roundabout, which is a by product of Chester’s 1960’s inner ring road system. The church today is largely associated with the student body of the city’s University College in nearby Parkgate Road, as well as the neighbouring communities in Lorne Street, etc.
In 1877 Lockwood undertook the design and construction of the Grosvenor Rowing Club Boathouse which sits alongside the bank of the River Dee. Close by and some 4 years later the architect was commissioned to design the Hall for the church of St John The Baptist which continues to stand in this part of the city, a building he would revisit in 1895, when he designed the Organ Case for the same religious house.
On the western side of Chester in 1885, Lockwood has been credited with the rebuilding and extending of White Friars Lodge, a historic building in the city which owed its title to the former presence of the Carmelite Order which was known to have inhabited this particular area of the city.
Prior to the construction of Lockwood’s Grosvenor Museum building in 1885, Chester’s Archaeological Society, along with many of their historic finds were thought to have been housed at the Albion Hotel which was located in the Lower Bridge Street area of the city. The new museum building, constructed by the architect was commissioned by the 1st Duke of Westminster and just as this commission was coming to an end Lockwood was reported to be designing the property at No. 3 Upper Northgate Street, which was thought to have been built as a town house for one of Chester’s wealthier residents.
|Lockwood's High Cross Designs|
Away from the main shopping thoroughfares, evidence of Lockwood’s work continues to exist in some of the city’s less obvious but still equally important streets, most notably at 24 to 26 Common Hall Street and numbers 2 to 5 Old Hall Place. All of these properties were reported to have been built as staff cottages for Browns of Chester employees and presumably commissioned by a member of that merchant family in around 1889.
Following his successful work at the south east junction of the High Cross, in 1892, the Duke of Westminster then commissioned Lockwood to redesign the opposite junction of the street, including numbers 2 to 4 Bridge Street, which the architect did, but in a wholly different style.
Further south of these buildings and on the eastern side of the street, today’s St Michael’s Row and the associated stone stairway and St Michael’s Arcade are all attributed to Lockwood, although some sources suggest that the half timbered street frontages are the work of his son, rather than the architect himself. According to contemporary reports, the whole of this area was originally designed and constructed sometime around 1900, in the same tiles and brickwork style as is evident in St Michael’s Arcade today. These designs were said to have caused such a furore amongst the local population that the Duke of Westminster, who had originally commissioned the scheme, later ordered the street facades taken down and replaced with the traditional and much more acceptable half timbered look that exists today.
|Lockwood's St Michael's Row|
The Blossoms Hotel, which now occupies a site in St John Street, formerly stood in the city’s Foregate Street, at the junction with St John’s Street, the site later being occupied by the National Westminster Bank and today, by the “Lush” retail outlet. The later frontage dated 1911 was thought to have been designed by Lockwood himself, but raised by one of the architects sons, sometime after his death in 1900.
Although Lockwood does not appear to have been particularly favoured by the local council for some reason, in 1897 he was the architect that the corporation turned to following a fire in the new Town Hall’s Council Chamber which had been seriously damaged by fire. Two years later Bishop Lloyd’s House in Watergate Street was restored by the architect and in the final year of his life, 1900, Lockwood was reported to have started his final two projects in the city. Numbers 4 to 10 in the City Road area of Chester was a commission for a new property, which continues to stand today and possibly first served as a bank building for the city’s emerging middle classes. His second project of that final year was said to be at numbers 9 to 13 Eastgate Street, on the northern flank of the thoroughfare and including the site of today’s famous Boot Inn. Reportedly a renovation rather than a complete rebuild, a number of these historic buildings are thought to date from the 16th and 17th centuries, although their ancient timber frames are now hidden by Lockwood’s later work.
E A Ould (1852 – 1909)
The young Edward Augustus Ould was known to have studied in York during the 1870’s before becoming a pupil of the noted Chester architect John Douglas. Obviously influenced by his mentor, Ould was known to be an advocate and practitioner of the revivalist style of architecture, which employed the “Black & White” half timbered look, commonly found both in the city and in the surrounding countryside.
|1911 Foregate St Frontage|
For his own part, Ould was thought to be a highly skilled and technical architect, who was more interested in the form and function of his designs, rather than just simply how they looked and was said to have received regular commissions from the Grosvenor family.
The Chester Queens School which was completed around 1878 and originally known as the Chester School For Girls, stands on the site of the former County Gaol, which itself had only been newly built around 1807, to replace the infamous Northgate gaol which had been demolished and replaced about the same time. The land for the new school was thought to have been donated by the Duke of Westminster, who along with a number of the city’s wealthiest inhabitants was reported to have helped finance the new institution.
In 1882, Queen Victoria herself, was reported to have decreed that the new school should forthwith be called the Queen’s School, a title which it continues to retain today. The school building itself is said to be in the Tudor-Gothic style of architecture.
|EA Ould's Queen School Frontage|
Although not a prolific architect in the historic city of Chester, Ould was known to have been largely employed by a small number of wealthy individual’s throughout his career, including the likes of the Grosvenor’s and Lord Lever. One of his most important and longest lasting working relationships though, was said to have been with the Samuel Theodore Mander, a member of the family who made their fortune from the manufacture of paints and varnishes. Edward was thought to have been engaged on the redesign and rebuilding of Mander’s country estate at Wightwick Manor over a period of several years.
Other Noted Architects In Chester
Sir Robert Taylor (1714 – 1788)
Taylor was born at Woodford, Essex in 1714 and having left school, initially followed his father into the family business as a stonemason and sculptor. However, he enjoyed little success in the business and instead turned his talents to architecture, which eventually proved to be a more profitable and successful career.
|Site of Forest House, Love Street|
Taylor has been credited by some with designing “Forest House” in Chester’s Foregate Street which was reported to have been built for the Barnston family of Crewe around 1759. However, a number of other architectural sources have dismissed the idea of the property being the architect’s work, most notably because of its age and design. Elsewhere in the city though, Taylor is thought to be responsible for the design of the former Bishop’s Palace that once occupied the site, which is now inhabited by Sir Arthur Blomfield’s King School buildings that now houses a branch of Barclay’s Bank.
William Cole Junior (1800 – 1892)
Reportedly born in Chester, William Cole Junior was thought to be the son of another William Cole who was also an architect in the city. However, William Junior was said to be a pupil of Thomas Harrison and the man credited by some with completing his former masters Grosvenor Bridge, although the names of both James Trubshaw and Jesse Hartley have been attributed to the completed single span river crossing. At the time of its completion, this second Dee bridge was reported to be the widest stone arch in the world and was officially opened by the then Princess Victoria in 1831.
|St Bridget's Illustration|
William is also credited with designing the core buildings of the then newly constructed Chester Lunatic Asylum in 1829 and is noted as being the “County Architect” of the time. Built on ten acres of land purchased from the Reverend Sir Philip Egerton, a Baronet, the plans were drawn up by Cole, who had been selected by the County Magistrates to design the new building, but much of the day-to-day construction work was reportedly undertaken by a Mr W Quay of Neston.
As has been previously mentioned, the now extinct St Bridget’s Church, which formerly occupied a site close to Thomas Harrison’s modern castle complex, has often been credited to the same master architect, but was probably designed by Cole around 1826. The foundation stone for this popular, but now extinct parish church was reportedly laid on the 27th October 1827, but within 70 years the church was thought to have become unfashionable and was taken down for the second and final time in 1892, the same year that its architect departed this world.
William H Lynn (1829 – 1915)
Although William Henry Lynn is only credited with designing and constructing one single structure in the city, Chester’s Town Hall which was generally completed by 1869, is such a notable site that its architect should indeed be mentioned.
|WH Lynn's Town Hall|
In 1872 however, Lynn was reported to have established his own practice in Belfast and set about designing buildings in his favoured modern Gothic and Italianate styles. Much favoured by a number of bank and civic committees, Lynn quickly established a reputation with the commercial, religious and community leaders of the city and was commissioned to design a number of the city’s landmark buildings.
Although primarily based within his home city, such was his success and confidence that he was also prepared to compete against his architectural contemporaries across the Irish Sea in the north of England. In 1862, Chester’s historic Exchange Building which served as the city’s Town Hall was destroyed by fire and the designs for its replacement was put out for competition. Lynn’s design which was reported to have been influenced by the medieval Cloth Hall at Ypres proved to be the winner of the contest and although delayed by a series of disputes with the men who were actually building it, the Town Hall was generally completed by 1869. Perhaps as a result of this commission and his ongoing work in Belfast Lynn was thought to have gained further work in mainland Britain, most notably in North Lancashire and Scotland.
Sir Arthur Blomfield (1829 – 1899)
The former Kings School Building (now Barclay’s Bank) in Northgate Street was thought to have been converted on the orders of the Dean of Chester’s Cathedral around 1875, which resulted in the junction of Northgate Street and St Werburgh Street being widened to its present extent.
The noted architect Sir Arthur William Blomfield was commissioned to undertake the work, no doubt aided by the fact that he was a highly experienced church architect and that his father, who had previously been the Bishop of Chester, later became the Bishop of London. Some five years after completing this particular project, the architect was reported to have returned to Chester Cathedral once again, this time to oversee restoration work within the Abbey, a commission that was thought to have lasted from 1882 through to 1887.
Arthur Blomfield had been born on 6th March 1829 at Fulham Palace in London, the fourth son of Charles James Blomfield, the Bishop of London and who was later educated at Rugby School and at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he received a BA in 1851 and an MA in 1854. By 1861 the architect was reported to have been elected as the President of the Architects Association and in 1883 became the architect to the Bank of England. He received his knighthood from the monarch in 1889 and finally passed away at the age of 70, on the 30th October 1899.
In 1852 he was reported to have been articled to Philip Charles Hardwick and travelled throughout Europe in order to broaden both his horizons and his education. By 1856, the 27-year-old Arthur was thought to have established his own independent practice and no doubt helped by his family connections, within a relatively short time had gained himself a reputation as a leading architect, notably in the design and renovation of church buildings.
The King School for boys which had originally been founded by the Tudor monarch, Henry VIII, sometime after 1540 had previously occupied various locations within the cathedral buildings, including the former refectory of the earlier Norman Abbey. The King’s School building, designed in 1875 was thought to have fulfilled this particular role right through to the 1960’s, when the school was relocated to a new site on the Wrexham Road on the outskirts of the city.
|Former Love Street School|
Sir George Gilbert Scott (1811 – 1878)
Born at Cawcott in Buckinghamshire to a local builder, George Gilbert Scott was articled to architect James Edmeston from 1827 through to 1831 and later formed a partnership with W B Moffat, a joint architectural practice that would last for some 11 years.
|Sir George Gilbert Scott|
Between 1868 and 1876 Scott undertook a series of restoration projects at Chester’s historic Cathedral, which many experts agree was the most dramatic alteration of the building since its foundation in the 11th century. He was reported to have largely rebuilt the Lady Chapel and added the turrets, pinnacles and flying buttresses that adorn the Cathedral’s exterior, as well as re-facing much of its crumbling façade with sandstone blocks that were quarried at Runcorn. His most controversial restoration however, was thought to be the reconstruction of the east end of the Cathedral’s south choir aisle.
While working at Chester Scott was also credited with designing St Thomas of Canterbury Church which is located on Parkgate Road in Chester and constructed between 1869 and 1872.
Giles Gilbert Scott (1880 – 1960)
The grandson of Sir George Gilbert Scott, Giles Gilbert Scott was born in London on the 9th November 1880, the third son of George Gilbert Scott Junior, who like his more famous father was also an architect. Unhappily for the family, George Junior was thought to have suffered severe mental health problems through the latter part of his life, which ultimately culminated in him committing suicide, reportedly at his own father’s St Pancras Station.
For the young Giles however, the illness and later loss of his father does not appear to have hindered his progress towards achieving the aim of following both his father and grandfather into the family business. Educated at Beaumont College, he was then articled to the architect Temple Lushington Moore in 1899, as was his brother Adrian.
|Giles Gilbert Scott|
In the intervening years, he achieved even greater national distinction with two further landmark projects, Battersea Power Station and Britain’s iconic red telephone kiosk. In 1930, proposal’s to build a new power generating station at Battersea were tempered with a need to build a plant that was both efficient and generally acceptable to the people and the skyline of the capital city. Because of his architectural style which was thought to have mixed traditional Gothic with both modernism and utilitarianism, Scott was asked to help design an industrial building that was sympathetic to its background, but at the same time, be suitable for its original purpose.
Six years earlier, in 1924, the authorities were reported to have sought a new design for the capital’s phone booths, an earlier design having been rejected by them. Whether or not Scott could have ever expected that his highly functional telephone kiosk would eventually become an iconic symbol for everything English is unclear. Nonetheless, the bright red booths designed by the architect have remained a traditional feature of British life for the past 70-odd years and it is only with the advent of mobile communications that their future is now being reconsidered.
In around 1913, Giles was reported to have undertaken a restoration project at Chester Cathedral, parts of which included the design of the “Rood” (Choir Screen), as well as the design of two of the “Reredos” (Altar Screen) which are part of two of the chapels located in the Cathedral’s south transept. As part of this same work, he has also been credited with designing the east window of the Cathedral’s refectory.
Richard Charles Hussey (1806 – 1887)
|St John's Church|
|Former Fire Station Site|
Strong’s picturesque Fire Station which occupied a site at the upper end of modern day Northgate Street and built around 1911, stood on the same spot as had the city’s earlier Potato Market. In later years Strong’s architectural designs were thought to have been used in the initial phases of the Lache housing estate in 1919, which centred around the present day Cliveden Road, Sunbury Crescent and Abingdon Crescent.
Walter Tapper (1861 – 1935)
His replica medieval gateway at Chester which was reported to have taken less than two years to complete is constructed of reinforced concrete and faced with sandstone that was quarried at Runcorn. The “New Gate” was reported to have been officially opened on 3rd October 1938, almost three years after its creator had died, on the 21st September 1935.
Ormrod Maxwell Ayrton
|Ayrton's St Werburgh Street Buildings|