Chester’s architecture: the top five things to see

The cathedral city of Chester, situated in the heart of the North West, has a rich heritage harking back to the Roman era. The city was founded around 79 AD, and the Roman architectural imprint is still palpable today. Indeed, the town wears its entire history very much on its sleeves, with structures from different eras still prominent in the life of the town, either as working buildings or as tourist attractions.

Whilst there are a huge variety of places for tourists to visit, the following five are particularly recommended, especially for a first visit.

The Walls

Known as ‘the Walls’, this defensive structure encircles the whole city. The many structured walks serve as informative, free-of-charge, introductions to Chester as a whole. Indeed, your stroll will most likely introduce you to more recent additions to Chester’s varied architecture, such as the ornate and distinctive Eastgate Clocktower, which was built in 1899 and designed by local architect John Douglas. Meanwhile, the wall itself has gone through various phases of development, starting as earth ramparts studded with wooden palisades, later fortified by sandstone and medieval masonry.

St John’s Church

Still an active Anglican church today, this building is well worth some attention, partly because it emphasises the mixed nature of Chester’s architectural heritage – beyond just the Roman examples. Owing to extensive restoration in the Victorian era, the exterior of the church, built in sandstone, has a Gothic style. The interior is an intriguing testament to the Norman-era contribution to this remarkable building. There are also fragments of stone Saxon crosses in the church, revealing the building’s distant Saxon origins.

The Cathedral

Not many buildings have a thriving refectory that was first built in the 13th century, but this is the case with Chester’s Cathedral. A church was first founded on the Cathedral site in 660. A Norman monastery was later constructed, with work beginning around 1092. Restoration work has been an ongoing process, starting in the Victorian area, and continuing, in some shape or form, today. The building follows the cruciform (cross-like) plan of many English monastic churches.

The Rows

In contrast to historical religious buildings, the Rows provide a welcome break for many shoppers. Records first appear in 1331 for these striking shopping arcades. Still a thriving retail area, peppered with tea shops and eateries of all kinds, many stores are housed in elegant black and white Tudor, or mock-Tudor, buildings.

The Town Hall

Chester’s Town Hall is a classic example of Victorian Gothic architecture, and well worth a visit. The Assembly Rooms are, in fact, open to the public. The Town Hall was constructed by William Henry Lynn of Belfast, and opened in 1869 by the Prince of Wales, accompanied by his Prime Minister, William Ewart Gladstone. The building has a formidable exterior, with elegant turrets adorning its roof, and a striking central tower. It is nearly symmetrical, and is an eloquent expression of the Neo-Gothic revival which was so popular in the Victorian era.

There is plenty to see in Chester, and however your trip is planned, you’re more than likely to stumble across a whole range of pleasant surprises as you make your way through the bustling streets.

Posted by Adam Lloyd
November 5, 2013

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