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Monday, 14 April 2014

The Men Who Built Chester:

Builders as such, are known to have existed for thousands of years, ever since mankind first decided to construct shelters from the native materials that existed around him, as opposed to living in naturally occurring caves and hollows. However, it was probably only with the dawn of permanent settlement, as opposed to the temporary camps of itinerant hunter gatherers, that the skills of what we would now recognise as a builder began to be developed and appreciated, although in all likelihood, basic construction skills would have been shared amongst the men of the village, who would have worked together to build their community.
 
Although Chester’s extensive history generally begins with the legions of Rome, there is ample evidence to indicate that the site of our modern city, at one time played host to a pre-Roman Iron Age community, who occupied and farmed the land for hundreds of years, before finally being driven off or destroyed by the incoming legionary forces. However, unlike their military successors who left their immense defensive walls, great communal buildings and occasional works of art, as evidence of their extensive occupation, their Iron Age predecessors left little more than post holes and pits, many of which were swept away or simply hidden by the later grandiose architecture of the Roman builders of Chester.
 
Even where evidence of pre-Roman occupation remains intact though, its very nature prevents identification of the individual builder, bearing in mind that most Iron Age houses would have been made of timber, mud and thatch, which usually would have been built by an individual settler or possibly by members of that particular community. Even assuming that such people had been inclined to mark their work, which was most certainly not the case, the very nature of the building materials themselves would have assured anonymity, as it rotted away, leaving only indentations and soil discolouration to actually identify its very existence.
 
Although the succeeding Roman builders of Chester were known to be far more skilled than their British counterparts, in terms of constructing buildings of a far greater scale and from a greater variety of materials, they too seem to have built their military fortresses and great civic buildings in a communal fashion, rather than having to employ individually skilled builders. Along the length of Chester’s still standing Roman walls, there are stone cut records recalling the efforts of individual legionary units, who were assigned the task of erecting a particular section of the fortress’ defensive wall, suggesting that all members of the resident legion were well enough trained to build their camp to a given standard.
 
The arrival of Rome’s legions during the first half of the 1st century probably also saw the dawn of the specialist craftsmen, the masons, smiths and the carpenters who brought with them the tools of their trades, enabling them to produce work of a standard previously unimagined by their British counterparts. It is also likely that the 2nd Legion that first occupied the site at Chester had amongst its ranks a military engineer who was entirely responsible for the structure and layout of the fortress, as well as the many buildings that lay within its walled precincts.
 
Prior to the Romans, British building projects were thought to have been entirely limited by both knowledge and generally inadequate skill levels, which saw building sizes and weights limited by the almost sole use of timber posts and lintels. The arrival of the Roman military builders, surveyors and engineers however, with their much more efficient load bearing pillars and arches, coupled with their ability to employ a variety of materials, including concrete and sandstone allowed them to construct buildings of a much greater size and with a far greater life span.
 
By the late 4th and early 5th centuries though, the Romans were reported to have abandoned Britain, as well as the many thousands of buildings that they had constructed during their 300 year occupation of the province. Along with the soldiers themselves, the skills and techniques used to design and build these impressive Roman facades also seems to have left the country at the same time; and it would be another 500 years before the next stage of Chester’s building development would begin, with the builders and engineers who came to Britain with the forces of Duke William of Normandy. 
 
Although a number of substantial Anglo Saxon buildings were thought to have been constructed throughout Britain between the 5th and 11th centuries, mostly by native Kings, the vast majority of dwellings, including Royal Halls were still constructed of timber, mud, thatch, as well as wattle and daub. The main exception to these basic and often temporary buildings were Britain’s growing number of religious houses, but even these were fairly rudimentary constructions, sometimes built using recycled stonework that had been taken from much earlier, but by then abandoned Roman buildings.
 
According to local records, prior to Duke William’s capture of the city in 1070, there were  reported to be at least five such religious houses in Chester, four lying within the precincts of the extended Anglo Saxon fortress and the final one, located close to the site of the Roman’s abandoned amphitheatre. Dating from before its rededication to St Werburgh in around 875 AD by the Anglo Saxon leader Aethelflaeda, the first of these early Anglo Saxon churches was reported to have previously been dedicated to Saint’s Peter and Paul and has been speculated to have a late Roman foundation, following the adoption of Christianity as the official religion of the Empire by the Emperor Constantine. Earlier still, this same site, now marked by Chester’s magnificent Cathedral, was reputed to have housed a temple dedicated to the Roman deity Apollo, replacing an even earlier native British shrine which was said to have pre-dated the invasion of Britain in the 1st century AD.
 
Today’s St Peter’s church, at Chester’s High Cross is reported to have been re-founded by Aethelflaeda towards the end of the 9th or beginning of the 10th century, following the Anglo Saxon leaders use of its former home as the site for St Werbugh’s new Abbey church, which was dedicated sometime around 875 AD. The third city church that was said to pre-date the Norman conquest of Chester was the one dedicated to St Bridget, which was otherwise known as St Brides. Formerly occupying a site at the junction of Bridge Street and Lower Bridge Street, this ancient church was reported to stand on, or close to the site of the Porta Praetoria, the long since extinct southern gate of the Roman fortress. Supposedly dating from the 8th century and having been founded on the orders of the monarch, King Offa, this historic church, along with the nearby St Michael’s, was said to have formed the “two churches” that became a notable city landmark for hundreds of years. Sadly though, unlike its religious partner, St Bridget’s became a victim of the city’s redevelopment during the 19th century and eventually passed into history.
 
The fourth and final city church that is said to have preceded Duke William’s capture of Chester in 1070 is the generally small former parish church of St Olave’s, which stands on the eastern flank of today’s Lower Bridge Street. Dedicated to a canonised monarch who was reported to have died in 1030, there is a suggestion that this church had existed well before the death of King Olaf and that its dedication to his memory is of a much later date, possibly sometime after Chester had fallen to the Norman invaders. The fifth of these Anglo Saxon churches; and the only one lying outside of the city’s defences, was known to have been dedicated to St John the Baptist and was said to have been founded by King Aethelred of Mercia in around 689 AD, as the result of a dream regarding a white hart attributed to that particular monarch. It has been suggested that the first church was built by its religious community re-using the huge sandstone blocks from the abandoned Roman amphitheatre that stood close by.
 
In common with the invading Romans who conquered Britain some 1000 years earlier, the forces of William the Conqueror were thought to have been accompanied by the skilled military engineers, architects and builders who had helped him to build his continental kingdom, including its many castles, towns and cities. The greatest building developments generally credited to King William I and his new Norman administration in Britain was the multitude of new Christian Churches and Abbey’s, alongside that particularly continental military invention, the motte and bailey castle.
 
Although many of these individual Norman castles, Abbey’s, Monasteries and Churches are commonly ascribed to the particular nobleman who founded or funded them, in reality they were almost certainly designed and built by other more qualified, but largely unknown military engineers and architects acting on behalf of the monarch or church authorities. Within specific religious houses, the will of the presiding Abbot generally determined the layout, scale and timetable for the development of the building, with experienced church architects preparing the plans in conjunction with the head of the house, local nobles supplying the finance and members of the religious community supplying the labour and materials.
 
The same was thought to be true in the construction of Britain’s numerous castles and keeps, raised in the years following William’s successful conquest of the native British forces. Although most of these fortress’ are attributed to the nobleman or landowner who bore the financial cost of building them, their construction, design and physical layout was generally determined by a small number of military engineers whose expertise was in this particular field and who would travel the country to advise and watch over the construction of these individual fortresses. As with the Churches, Abbey’s and Monasteries that were being built around the same time, these new defensive positions were thought to have been constructed by members of the local military garrison, whose numbers were supplemented by hired labourers, or perhaps more commonly by members of the local civilian population who were forced or coerced into helping to build the new military base.  
 
It was also largely thanks to the new Norman administration that permanent records of both national and local building work and perhaps more importantly, those responsible for overseeing them began to be kept. However, one of the earliest and most notable architects cum engineers in Chester was not recorded until the late 13th and early 14th centuries.
 
Richard L’enginour has been attributed with the title of “Engineer”, when in reality he was thought to be a Master Mason, who was said to have been employed by Edward I to help construct his castles at Chester, Flint, Rhuddlan and Conwy following the king’s bitter wars with the native Princes of North Wales. Notably, Edward was reported to have granted the Dee Mills to his master mason and provided him with allowances for the grinding of corn during a “time of war”. Despite his efforts in helping to secure Edward’s hold on the Principality though, much of the credit for building these impressive Plantagenet fortresses has largely been credited to a much better known foreign military engineer and architect, Master James St George, who was reported to have been employed by the king directly.
 
Around the same time that he was involved with Edward’s grand castle building campaign, Richard was also said to have been directly responsible for the reconstruction of the ancient Weir at Chester, as well as some of the first of the long extinct Dee Mills which used to grind the city’s corn. L’enginour was reported to have held the office of Mayor of Chester between 1304 and 1305 and was said to have died in 1315. By the time of his death though, Richard was known to have acquired substantial grants at both Pulford and Eccleston and his extensive lands at Eaton were said to have been settled on his daughter when she married.
 
By 1310, Richard was also thought to have demolished the Abbey’s early Presbytery to make way for additional piers within the still comparatively new church building. A shrine dedicated to St Werburgh was also reported to have been built between the High Altar and the Lady Chapel around the same time, but this was later said to have been severely damaged during the Dissolution instigated by King Henry VIII. Three years before his death the “Engineer” was also known to have completed the construction of St Werburgh’s Choir at the city’s medieval Abbey in around 1312.
 
Richard’s contemporaries and successors in Chester included the likes of Robert de Paris or otherwise recorded as Parisius, John de Helpeston and Robert Fagan, all of whom were recorded as having been employed in and around the city in the early part of the 14th century. De Paris was thought to be a master mason in his own right who was reported to have been employed by the much notable L’enginour to undertake work on King Edward’s castles, specifically those at Chester and at Flint. Following the death of L’enginour in 1315 Paris was recorded to have purchased the late engineer’s home, which lay close to the ancient church of St Olave’s in Chester’s Lower Bridge Street. This property was later known as “Praer’s Hall” or “Hawarden Hall”, the former title thought to reflect a variation of de Paris’ family name.
 
John de Helpeston is perhaps best remembered in the city, as the builder of Chester’s Water Tower which was also called the New Tower and was primarily built to protect the city’s ancient port, although with the subsequent silting and “canalisation” of the River Dee it now stands apart from the waters that it was built to defend. This tower is commonly thought to date from 1331, although different records suggest separate dates, with one stating 1322 and another 1336, although the stated building cost of £100 remains the same in most historical records. Another member of this family, William de Helpeston who was also reported as a Master Mason in the second half of the 14th century, was recorded to have undertaken building work on the eastern choir at Chester’s Norman Abbey, having earlier signed a contract with the Abbot. 
 
Robert Fagan was reported to be a master mason in the northwest of England around the end of the 14th century and like his contemporaries Robert de Paris and John de Helpeston was thought to have helped construct many of the major buildings and defensive structures within Chester. In 1391 he was reported to have constructed the Bell Tower at St Asaph cathedral and the following year agreed a contract with the agent of the Earl of Arundel to build a bridge over the River Dee near Chirk. In 1396 Fagan was appointed as the Master Mason of Cheshire and North Wales for life and two years later was contracted to repair the various castles of North Wales by the king’s agents. As part of this contract, Fagan was given permission to employ as many stone-masons and workmen he felt were needed to complete the task.
 
Although there were undoubtedly many more masons and master masons living and working in Chester around the same period, they often remain largely unrecorded, save for their individual marks which were etched into the physical fabric of the buildings that they created. However a number of the medieval crypts dating from between the 13th and 15th centuries which still exist in Chester through to the modern day might well owe their original construction to the likes of Fagan, de Paris, de Helpeston or their predecessor L’enginour.
 
Over the next two centuries building trends were thought to have remained relatively unchanged in Chester, with most city properties being constructed of timber, apart from those owned by the crown or the church, both of whom could afford to build in the more expensive stone. However, by the beginning of the 16th century the manufacturing and use of bricks, largely ignored in Britain since the time of the Roman occupation, was actively encouraged by local authorities and most notably by the crown. Although clearly expensive materials to begin with, as brick making was still in its infancy, landed aristocrats and wealthy merchants initially built their new properties in a half timbered style, thereby reducing the cost of building, but benefiting greatly from the advantages of these new construction materials, not least because of its fire retarding properties.
 
Although the house brick itself would have been a major innovation of the Tudor age, the likelihood is that their use as a construction material would have held few fears for the skilled masons and stoneworkers of the period, who were used to handling much larger and heavier blocks of quarried stone. As bricks began to replace stonework as the preferred building materials for new houses, no doubt a shortage of skilled workman soon made itself apparent and ultimately led to the development of the specialist brick layer, who then took his place alongside the city’s masons, slaters, carpenters and paviors.
 
In Chester, city records for the 17th and 18th centuries note an ever increasing number of young men who were being apprenticed to local bricklayers; such was the demand for these workmen’s services. Generally contracted for a period of some seven years, having completed their apprenticeship, many of these young men would then be employed on a full time basis by their former teacher or would find work as “jobbing” bricklayers, travelling around the region from one job to another. 
 
A 17th century Chester builder who was particularly noteworthy was one William Hughes, who was said to have become embroiled in a civil case with a member of the Randal Holme family in 1671, in a dispute relating to the construction and cost of Holmes’ “Old Lamb’s Row” building which at that time stood at the southern end of Bridge Street. Hughes had been elected a Freeman of the city in 1664 and appears to have been a highly successful builder and brick manufacturer in Chester, with records suggesting that in 1682 his kiln at Hough Green was producing around 40,000 bricks a year, many of which were no doubt used to help rebuild the city following the devastation caused by the English Civil War. Between 1679 and 1680 he was reported to have built a property close to the Cow Lane cockpit and bowling green in the city, which is thought to be marked by the modern day Catholic Club in Brook Street. Another Hughes, called John, a brother to William was also known to have worked in the building trade around the same time, only this time as a Slater. One Thomas Yates was reported to have been employed by William Hughes as a bricklayer in 1671 and yet another Chester builder was Thomas Morris, who is recorded to have built a house in Newgate Street for a local barrister called Andrew Kenrick. 
 
Morris appears to have been notable for his inability to manage his finances however, borrowing heavily against his assets and ultimately leaving his family with numerous debts that were only finally settled some years after the builder himself had died. Born the son of a city Linen Draper and Bricklayer, Thomas was admitted as a Freeman of Chester in 1688 by right of being the son of a city Freeman and although his trade was not reported at the time, it has subsequently been assumed that he was a “jobbing” builder, making his living by undertaking his own individual construction projects or by sub-contracting his labour to other city builders of the time.
 
Sometime around 1703/4, Morris was said to have made an agreement with a local Barrister called Kenrick to construct a new mansion house that the lawyer would then rent from the builder. The site of the proposed new property was thought to have been located close to the historic “Wolf Gate” and lay below the level of the city’s defensive walls, an area now occupied by the Bridgewater Arms, a multi-storey office building and the entrance to the Grosvenor Precincts car park and delivery bays. Having purchased the site and received the necessary permission from the city Corporation to demolish the existing cottages and outbuildings, as well as to build his new property, Morris then seems to have faced an almost immediate financial problem. Being a man of little means, he was forced to borrow money from a number of sources in order to complete the project and it was this lack of finance and the servicing of these debts that would ultimately prove to be his undoing.
 
Although it was reported that Morris had borrowed several hundred pounds to build the new city mansion in the first place, by the end of 1704 the property was still incomplete and although he was said to have finished the stables and coach houses, the mansion itself had only been raised to its second floor and still required further work and investment. Forced to borrow even more money from city lenders, including the parish of St Bridget’s which loaned him the sum of £25, Thomas was thought to be finding it increasingly difficult to meet the interest payments on his outstanding loans, let alone the principal amount borrowed.
 
Eventually however, Morris was thought to have completed work on the property and his new tenant, Andrew Kenrick and his family were finally able to take up the tenancy of their new home, although the rent agreed between the two men failed to fully cover the outstanding debts that Morris had accrued in actually building the house. Consequently, Morris’ creditors were reported to have pursued the unfortunate builder for their outstanding monies, including the unpaid interest and sought to recover their loans from the sale of Morris’ assets, including presumably, the Kenrick’s mansion.
 
Almost inevitably the matter became embroiled in extensive legal wrangling which seems to have only been finalised in 1718, when Kenrick himself purchased the property and in doing so, helping to settle most of the outstanding debts that Morris’ surviving family members had been burdened with. As for the hapless builder himself, he was reported to have later found employment as a shoe-maker in the city and spent the remainder of his life trying to service the debts that his speculative property venture had left him with. 
 
Despite the development of the brick building industry throughout the country and the occasional practice of re-facing ancient stone walls with much newer brickwork, the sheer numbers of historic Churches, Chapels, Castles, Abbey’s and Cathedrals ensured that the skills of the medieval master mason would remain very much in demand. One John Shaw was reported to be a Master Mason in Chester who was asked by the Constable of the castle, Thomas Lount, to undertake repairs on parts of the fortress that formerly housed prisoners, notably the gatehouse of the outer bailey, as well as the Exchequer building.
 
Shaw reported that the castle buildings were in a fairly ruinous condition and that parts of the gatehouse had already fallen down, much to the danger of the soldiers on guard and passers-by. He also reported that the remaining part of the gatehouse, that part still standing, was so seriously decayed that if it was not taken down, then it would surely fall down of its own accord. Within the wider castle complex, the Prothonotary’s lodgings, the Constables lodgings and the Grand Jury room, the Judges lodging and the ancient Flag Tower were all reported to be in poor condition and all required urgent remedial work which would cost several hundreds of pounds to complete. 
 
Another noted city mason of the early 18th century was John Tilston who was responsible for rebuilding the fairly ruinous Pemberton’s Parlour on the city walls around 1709 and was also thought to be involved in helping to reconstruct other parts of the still badly damaged city fabric, much of which still bore the scars of the Civil War siege that had taken place some 60-odd years earlier. Tilston was also remembered for his ornate statue of Queen Anne dressed in her coronation robes, which at one time graced the city’s new Exchange Building, the predecessor of today’s Victorian Town Hall, which had first been raised in 1698 but was then destroyed by fire in 1862.
 
The 100 years marking the end of the Civil War hostilities in 1645 through to the middle of the 18th century seems to have been the period when Chester was fundamentally altered, changing it from a vitally important military outpost and embarkation point, to a quaint residential backwater that might make a living from its many archaeological treasures and retail outlets. Together with its geographical position which guaranteed its use as a staging post to Ireland, or to the emerging industrial giants of Liverpool and Manchester, Chester’s civic and financial fortunes now depended on the modernisation and expansion of its historic precincts.  
 
As early as the late 18th century, individual architects, builders and investors were also beginning to develop particular areas of the city, many of which lay behind the existing shop front premises which ran the length of the city’s main thoroughfares. In the Queen Street area of Chester, which lay just off the northern side of the city’s Foregate Street, two men, John Chamberlain and Roger Rogerson were reported to be building a number of properties sometime around 1778. Sadly, in the past 50 years or so, much of this area has been subjected to major redevelopment and very few of these elegant late 18th century properties have survived, save for a small number which have now become completely isolated at Queens Place, which is located close to the Shropshire Union Canal and now totally obscured by the monolithic Tesco supermarket and Housing Association properties. It has also been reported that during this same period, as houses were being rebuilt by their owners, that a number of residents took the opportunity to build beyond the limits of their properties or to change the layout, look or style of the building, despite this contravening civic statutes and were subsequently fined by the local authorities as a consequence.
 
Around the same time that Chamberlain and Rogerson were developing parts of Queen Street, yet another Chester builder was reported to be constructing properties within the ancient precincts of the city’s Cathedral. Thomas Boswell was successively recorded as a Barber, a Cheese Factor and a city Alderman in Chester during the mid 1700’s, who also dabbled as a part-time builder in the city. The son of one George Boswell, a tradesman in Chester, between 1768 and 1770, Thomas was said to have built several houses on a piece of land which lay between the Abbey Court and the city’s walls, today reportedly marked as numbers 1 and 2 Abbey Green. At the same time that he was building these properties, Boswell was also thought to be seeking permission to erect a footway from these new houses to the city’s walls, which he was subsequently granted. The new footpath is thought to be marked by a doorway which opened onto steps that led from the city walls directly to Abbey Green. His final building project was reported to be the rebuilding of the property close to the modern day Northgate, until recently occupied by a branch of Sayers the bakers. During the 18th century the premises were said to have housed a city tavern called the “Hen and Chicken”, which was reportedly rebuilt by Thomas Boswell in 1782, the same year that the builder died. 
 
The two most notable architects of the period from 1788 to 1829 were Thomas Harrison and Joseph Turner, the latter best known for his two stone archways, at the city’s Watergate and Bridgegate, which replaced their much earlier and by then generally ruinous medieval predecessors. Acquiring the designation “Of Chester” Thomas Harrison is famed for his numerous, but elegant buildings many of which were designed in the Greek revival style for which he was so renowned and which was celebrated by many subsequent architects who employed their talents in the city. The buildings and careers of both of these individual architects are featured in later pages of this book, but they were, needless to say, pivotal figures in the modernisation and development of the old city of Chester.
 
Some 50 or 60 years after Harrison and Turner had begun modernising ancient Chester; the likes of John Douglas, Thomas Meakin Lockwood and Thomas Mainwaring Penson were the most influential Chester architects of the Victorian period, with others such as H W Beswick and James Strong also contributing to both the layout and look of the city. Douglas and Lockwood are still generally recognised as the most important and influential architects of their age, not least because of the numbers of properties that they designed and built in and around Chester, often for the Grosvenor family, but also, occasionally for themselves. Details on these men, Douglas, Lockwood, Penson, etc., as well as the likes of James Harrison are featured separately in the next chapter.
 
Although the individual architects and their designs have helped to create the Chester “look” for which the city is celebrated, beyond the main streets of the city a large number of local builders, wealthy employers and the occasional philanthropist were all helping to expand and modernise the suburbs of Chester. William Boden, William Vernon and Thomas Edwards were perhaps the most noted city builders of the age and no doubt helped to construct many of the landmark projects, designed by their architectural contemporaries. During the 1830’s two local builders were reported to have been occupying the Stanley Palace in Chester, yet despite the presence of a Mr Boden and a Mr Hodkinson, the building itself was reported to be in a relatively poor state of repair. Hodkinson’s son was also thought to have been a pupil of the architect Thomas Harrison, so no doubt the family generally were instrumental in redesigning and rebuilding the historic fabric of Chester. Around the same time a local builder and investor from Oulton Place, Thomas Clare, has been reported to have been involved in the construction of over 500 houses on the outskirts of the city, in the suburb now called Newtown. Records suggest that Clare set about the building program around the same time that he was elected to Chester City Council in 1831.
 
It is perhaps worth noting that the Boden family appear to have played a fairly extensive part in the rebuilding of Chester, certainly from the middle of the 18th century and perhaps much earlier than that. In 1748, a John Boden was recorded as a bricklayer and plasterer in the city, whilst in 1754 one Edward Boden was reported to have been employed as a bricklayer, working on the old Bishop’s Palace, which formerly occupied the site of the modern day Barclay’s Bank building in Northgate Street. This is probably the same Edward Boden who would later train a number of Chester’s 18th century builders, including John Evans, whose name was immortalised on a plaque in the city’s cathedral. As previously mentioned, a builder called William Boden was working in Chester during the early 19th century and a Mr Walter M Boden was described as an architect living at Saighton on the outskirts of the city.
 
George Austin was another Chester citizen thought to have been largely responsible for building Stocks Lane in Boughton, whilst Enoch Kennerly along with Thomas Gorst and Sons was involved with erecting houses in both the Blacon area of Chester and along Sealand Road. At the time of his death, Kennerly was reported to have held several properties in Bouverie Street, Watergate Street, Filkins Lane and in Cambrian View.
 
William Seller was a prominent city Alderman and the owner of a local Brewery who has been credited with building the houses in the city street which still carries his name, albeit that virtually all of these properties have now been replaced by modern housing units. An associated local building contractor was a man called Thomas Kelly, who was reported to have built Christ Church in Newtown lived in the nearby Seller Street. The architect George Williams has been credited with designing the Dixon & Wardell’s Chester Bank building in 1860, a classical stone building at the junction of the city’s Eastgate Street and St Werburgh Street, now housing the National Westminster Bank. His designs were thought to be just one of many that were inspired by the classical architecture first brought into the city by Thomas Harrison of Chester.  
 
The notable Brassey family are reported to have a similar connection with Chester, with Robert being credited with building both No 1 Hillside and Richmond Bank in the Boughton area of the city. His brother Thomas, the famed railway engineer is also thought to have been involved with constructing Abbots Field in the Liverpool Road area of Chester, whilst another local man William Seaville is reported to have built Seaville Street in Boughton. The Abbots Field property, built by Thomas Brassey was ultimately gifted to Mr Wardell of Chester’s Dixon and Wardell Bank, supposedly as a “thank you” from the engineer for the banker’s efforts in helping Brassey to find finance for one of his landmark projects. 
 
Between the two World Wars, a good deal of Chester’s architecture was said to have been designed by the likes of John H Davies and Sons, Richard and Arthur Keane, as well as Arthur J Hayton. Francis Jones was the man responsible for designing the Manchester & District Bank Building, which is located at the junction of today’s Foregate Street and Frodsham Street and dates from around 1921. Two Manchester based architects, Norman Jones and Leonard Rigby, were reported to be responsible for the designs of neo-Georgian building that houses the modern day Marks & Spencer store in Foregate Street, which is thought to date from 1932.
 
The Leeds based architect, Harry Wilson, designed the Burton Menswear building, located beneath the city’s historic clock on the south side of Foregate Street, whilst Harry Weedon, designed the Art-Deco “Odeon” Cinema close to Chester’s market square, which was completed by 1936. A year earlier, the architect Maxwell Ayrton, had seen his designs for St Werburgh’s Row come to fruition, close to the city’s ancient Cathedral precincts.
 
Born in 1874 and apprenticed to the architect H Beswick in Chester around 1890, Maxwell Ayrton remained in the city until 1897 before moving south to set up practice in London. In 1905 he went into partnership with J W Simpson, the Scottish born architect and as a result of their collaboration both men achieved a great deal of professional success. Ayrton was generally seen to be responsible for the design work of the partnership, which culminated in their work on Wembley Stadium for the British Empire Exhibition held in 1924-5. 
 
Although there were undoubtedly any number of less celebrated architects, designers, engineers and builders involved with the development and modernisation of Chester during the 300 year period from 1645 to 1945, it was during this time that much of the city was fundamentally rebuilt from the ground up. The following chapter attempts to look at the buildings and careers of those leading builders and architects who history would possibly regard as being at the forefront of these changes.

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