Chester, is a city in Cheshire, England. Lying on the River Dee, close to the border with Wales, it is home to 120,622 inhabitants, and is the largest and most populous settlement of the wider unitary authority area of Cheshire West and Chester, which had a population of 328,100 according to the 2001 Census. Chester was granted city status in 1541.
Chester was founded as a "castrum" or Roman fort with the name Deva Victrix in the year 79 by the Roman Legio II Adiutrix during the reign of the Emperor Vespasian. Chester's four main roads, Eastgate, Northgate, Watergate and Bridge, follow routes laid out at this time – almost 2,000 years ago. One of the three main Roman army bases, Deva later became a major settlement in the Roman province of Britannia. The Roman Empire fell three hundred years later, and the Romano-British established a number of petty kingdoms in its place. Chester is thought to have been part of Powys at this time. King Arthur is said to have fought his ninth battle at the city of the legions and later St Augustine came to the city to try and unite the church and hold his synod with the Welsh Bishops. In 616, Æthelfrith of Northumbria defeated a Welsh army at the Battle of Chester and probably established the Anglo-Saxon position in the area from then on.
In the late 7th century, (AD 689) King Æthelred of Mercia founded the Minster Church of West Mercia on what is considered to be an early Christian Site and known as The Minster of St John the Baptist, Chester (now St John's Church) which later became the first cathedral. Much later the body of Æthelred's Niece, St Werburgh was removed from Hanbury in Staffordshire in the 9th century and, in order to save its desecration by Danish marauders, she was reburied in the Church of SS Peter & Paul - later to become the Abbey Church (the present cathedral. Her name is still remembered in St Werburgh's Street which passes alongside the cathedral, and near to the city walls. A new Church dedicated to St Peter alone was founded in AD907 by the Lady Æthelfleda at what was to become the Cross
The Saxons extended and strengthened the walls of Chester to protect the city against the Danes, who occupied it for a short time until Alfred seized all the cattle and laid waste the surrounding land to drive them out. In fact it was Alfred's daughter Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians, that built the new Saxon burh. The Anglo-Saxons called Chester Ceaster or Legeceaster.
In 973, the Anglo Saxon Chronicle records that, two years after his coronation at Bath, King Edgar of England, came to Chester where he held his court in a palace in a place now known as Edgar’s field near the old Dee bridge in Handbridge. Taking the helm of a barge, he was rowed the short distance up the River Dee from Edgar’s field to the great Minster Church of St John the Baptist by six (the monk Henry Bradshaw records he was rowed by eight kings) tributary kings called ‘reguli’.
Chester was one of the last towns in England to fall to the Normans in the Norman conquest of England. William the Conqueror ordered the construction of a castle, to dominate the town and the nearby Welsh border. In 1071 he made Hugh d'Avranches the first Earl of Chester.
Chester has a number of medieval buildings, but some of the black-and-white buildings within the city centre are actually Victorian restorations. Chester is one of the best preserved walled cities in Britain. Apart from a section, the listed Grade I walls are almost complete.
The Industrial Revolution brought railways, canals, and new roads to the city, which saw substantial expansion and development – Chester Town Hall and the Grosvenor Museum are examples of Victorian architecture from this period.
The Romans founded Chester as Deva Victrix in the 70s AD in the land of the Celtic Cornovii, according to ancient cartographer Ptolemy, as a fortress during the Roman expansion northward. It was named Deva either after the goddess of the Dee, or directly from the British name for the river. The 'victrix' part of the name was taken from the title of the Legio XX Valeria Victrix which was based at Deva. A civilian settlement grew around the military base, probably originating from trade with the fortress. The fortress was 20% larger than other fortresses in Britannia built around the same time at York (Eboracum) and Caerleon (Isca Augusta); this has led to the suggestion that the fortress, rather than London (Londinium), was intended to become the capital of the Roman province of Britannia Superior. The civilian amphitheatre, which was built in the 1st century, could seat between 8,000 and 10,000 people. It is the largest known military amphitheatre in Britain, and is also a Scheduled Monument. The Minerva Shrine in the Roman quarry is the only rock cut Roman shrine still in situ in Britain. The fortress was garrisoned by the legion until at least the late 4th century. Although the army had abandoned the fortress by 410 when the Romans retreated from Britannia, the Romano-British civilian settlement continued (probably with some Roman veterans staying behind with their wives and children) and its occupants probably continued to use the fortress and its defences as protection from raiders from the Irish Sea.
Chester was captured from the Britons by the Kingdom of Northumbria after the brutal and decisive Battle of Chester in the early 7th century. Deverdoeu was still one of two Welsh language names for Chester in the late 12th century; its other and more enduring Welsh name was Caerlleon, literally ‘the fortress-city of the legions’, a name identical with that of the Roman fortress at the other end of the Welsh Marches at Caerleon in Monmouthshire, namely Isca Augusta. The modern Welsh name is the shortened form, Caer. The early Old English speaking Anglo Saxon settlers used a name which had the same meaning, Legacæstir, which was current until the 11th century, when, in a further parallel with Welsh usage, the first element fell out of use and the simplex name Chester emerged. From the 14th century to the 18th century the city's prominent position in North West England meant that it was commonly also known as Westchester. This name was used by Celia Fiennes when she visited the city in 1698.
Chester played a significant part in the Industrial Revolution which began in the North West of England in the latter part of the 18th century. The city village of Newtown, located north east of the city and bounded by the Shropshire Union Canal was at the very heart of this industry The large Chester Cattle Market and the two Chester railway stations, Chester General and Chester Northgate Station, meant that Newtown with its cattle market and canal, and Hoole with its railways were responsible for providing the vast majority of workers and in turn, the vast amount of Chester's wealth production throughout the Industrial Revolution.
Grosvenor is the Duke's family name, which explains such features in the City such as the Grosvenor Bridge, the Grosvenor Hotel, and Grosvenor Park. Much of Chester's architecture dates from the Victorian era, many of the buildings being modelled on the Jacobean half-timbered style and designed by John Douglas, who was employed by the Duke as his principal architect. He had a trademark of twisted chimney stacks, many of which can be seen on the buildings in the city centre.
Douglas designed amongst other buildings the Grosvenor Hotel and the City Baths. In 1911, Douglas' protégé and city architect James Strong designed the then active fire station on the west side of Northgate Street. Another feature of all buildings belonging to the estate of Westminster is the 'Grey Diamonds' – a weaving pattern of grey bricks in the red brickwork laid out in a diamond formation.
Towards the end of World War II, a lack of affordable housing meant many problems for Chester. Large areas of farmland on the outskirts of the city were developed as residential areas in the 1950s and early 1960s producing, for instance, the suburb of Blacon. In 1964, a bypass was built through and around the town centre to combat traffic congestion.
These new developments caused local concern as the physicality and therefore the feel of the city was being dramatically altered. In 1968, a report by Donald Insall in collaboration with authorities and government recommended that historic buildings be preserved in Chester. Consequently, the buildings were used in new and different ways instead of being flattened.
In 1969 the City Conservation Area was designated. Over the next 20 years the emphasis was placed on saving historic buildings, such as The Falcon Inn, Dutch Houses and Kings Buildings.