Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Chester - The Wall

G. Braun´s map of Chester 1571
The construction of the walls was started by the Romans between 70 and 80 AD. From about 100 AD the wooden palisades were replaced by red sandstone. The defences were improved after 907, and after the Norman conquest, the walls were extended to the west and the south to form a complete circuit of the medieval city. The circuit was probably complete by the middle of the 12th century.

Eastgate Clock was added on top of the Gateway in 1899 to celebrate the diamond jubilee of Queen Victoria two years earlier.

Here you can see the Old Dee Bridge, one of the most important river crossings into Wales. The Norman weir, dating from around 1092, is the tidal limit of the River Dee. The Old Dee Bridge was built in 1387 and replaced an earlier wooden bridge swept away in a flood. On the English side it was protected by the medieval Bridge Gate and a fortified round-tower. On the far side of the bridge there was an outer gateway complete with drawbridge and portcullis to further protect the city from the marauding Welsh.

William the Conqueror built Chester´s first castle in 1070 - a timber tower atop an earth mound. During the 12th and 13th centuries the Castle was rebuilt in stone and extended by seccessive Earls of Chester, who were some of the most powerful nobles in the country. It became the royal base for the conquest of north Wales, and even the meeting place for the Irish Parliament during times of unrest in Ireland.
The first earl of Chester, Hugh Lupus held his parliament here. The last Norman earl died in 1237.  

Hugh Lupus
The illustration (above) from the time of Elizabeth I shows the City Walls from across the River Dee, with Water Gate depicted towards the left of centre. The semi circular Roodee, which became Chester racecourse in 1539, had already silted up, a fate awaiting the land around Water Gate and the Water Tower.

The Water Tower

The Romans, Anglo-Saxons and Normans all greatly valued Chester as a strategic port. These two towers, the smaller Bonewaldesthorne´s Tower and the larger Water Tower, were both built to defend the port.
On the drawing above one can see that these towers were close to the River Dee. In these times the river was deep enough for ocean-going vessels to reach the port. Water Gate was the main entrance for the city for goods arriving at the port. Herrings, wine, Irish linen, corn, brushwood and slate were all imported, and were often taxed on entry into the city.

Pemberton´s Parlour.
This alcove was constructed in the early 18th century on the ruins of a medieval round-tower. It was named after John Pemberton, Mayor of Chester, Murenger and rope-maker, who sat here whilst overseeing his employees on the Ropewalk below. As a Muranger he controlled "murage" - taxes raised to maintain the City Walls. Near the top of the tower one can see the stone plaque that he perhaps vainly erected in his own name.

Protected by the City Walls, Chester was one of the most important Anglo-Saxons mints in England. A rare hoard of 122 Anglo-Saxon silver coins were found in 1914, minted between 959 and 1013.

The King Charles Tower was once a medieval watch-tower, but by the 17th century had fallen into disrepair. Not enough "murage" tax was being raised for its upkeep, or to maintain the rest of the City Walls. To solve the problem the city´s guilds were invited to lease the prinicpal towers as meeting-houses and undertake to keep them in good repair. This tower became known as the Phoenix Tower after the emblem of the Painter´s Company, which met here. You can still see a stone phoenix from 1613 above the door.

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