One of my favourite small buildings in the city is the former MONSOON store building on the corner of King Street and Police Street. I say ‘former’ because MONSOON moved out last year. They moved into a huge new unit in the Arndale Centre. The building has been a shop and occupied by one business or another continuously since it was built up to last year. It was sad to see it empty for the first time in its long history.
With its black and white exterior it looks like a Tudor building put up somewhere between the times of Henry VII and Elizabeth I, including her father Henry VIII. But it isn’t. In those days where King Street is now, in the centre of Manchester surrounded by a population approaching 3,000,000, was fields outside the small market town clustered around the church that would become the cathedral just 10 minutes walk away. The woodwork and the enclosed plaster is far too regular to be real Tudor, a more refined building technology and tools have built this. Also, real Tudor buildings are unpainted wood and the natural pink of the plaster not this black and white. This is a Victorian idea of what a Tudor building should be like. Chester, a little city near to Manchester, is full of such buildings. They are all glorious fakes. The Victorians also went so far as to paint original Tudor buildings with black and white paint to ‘improve’ them. We have been spending a lot of time and money taking them back to something that Elizabeth I or Henry VIII might have recognised.
I was pleased to see something seems to being done with the building again. Maybe a new store? But I have heard rumours that it might be turned into a restaurant. As people know we are desperately short of both these services in Manchester.
Popular, handkerchief sized Beech Park in Chorlton was busy on Saturday afternoon. The children’s’ part of the park was full of kids enjoying themselves while the well heeled Beech Road doggies were out and about enjoying a walk in the park in the sunshine.
The warm weather moved up to the city from the south over the weekend bringing the trees into bloom. It also bought a fine covering of sand that has covered the cars left out over night. Apparently it is part of the Sahara Desert picked up by winds and blown north across Europe by the same winds that brought us the warmth.
One tree, a cherry, looked particularly spectacular, with every part covered with white cherry blossom with just a tinge of pink.
And some of the bushes are looking good as well. This deep, yellow one is called Forsythia and is popular in people’s gardens at this time of year. We have one. It was named after the great grandfather of veteran British entertainer, Bruce Forsyth, who brought it to the UK from China I think.
And this deep red one is called a Flowering Currant. It is related to black, red and white currants. It has the same leaves. It has these deep red flowers but no currants to enjoy later on in the year.
Last Friday I had to go to Chester for some business. I parked the car up and made my way to the meeting. The route took me through Hoole. It doesn’t sound the nicest places but it really is a very pleasant part of the town. It’s between the railway station and the A56 route into town. The houses along the A56 are rather grand Victorian affairs that have found themselves on the busy link from the motorway to the centre of this pretty, historic city. So they are not popular as places to live and have been converted into hotels serving Chester’s tourist industry. The street behind the main road are filled with terraces of little houses that used to house the working classes of Victorian Chester who worked on the railway and in other industries in the city. Ironically, they are now very much sought after by the well to do, young middle classes who want to get on the property ladder and have a place close to the facilities in the city centre. Consequently they have become quite expensive.
Hoole has something of the atmosphere of Chorlton in Manchester with lots of independent shops that the local people support. It’s a thriving area no more than 10 minutes walk from the city centre. I wanted to take some pictures of the attractive shops but had to get to the meeting. On the way back to the car the stores were closing for the day but I did manage to take these of the beautiful flowers outside the wonderfully named Mr. Fruity (the greengrocer’s) and Quality Flowers on Faulkner Street in Hoole as they were being put away for the night.
When it was a working class suburb, these public houses would have been one of the focal points of the community where people would have met up to have a beer and socialise after work. The surroundings in the pubs would have been opulent compared with their homes and would have been nice to visit to escape the drudgery of their daily lives. The pubs still operate but are now selling artisan beers and good wines and have great menus for food that will attract the young professionals who have colonised the area. The poorer people of the city will have moved out to the council estates in places like Blacon. On the edge of the city and not featuring in any of the tourist guides, these estates were built in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s with, the then, good quality houses compared with those in Hoole that lacked bathrooms and the like. The middle classes moved into Hoole, renovated the houses, added the bathrooms and the designer kitchens and Hoole has changed.
Here’s a couple of the ‘cottages.’ They look small but they tend to go a long way back and with some imagination they can be turned intoi a comfortable home in this prosperous part of the city.
Just behind the Cathedral is Abbey Square. All the buildings, which used to be Georgian town houses, are owned by the Cathedral and most are now offices for running the church in Cheshire and running the Cathedral. The Bishop of Chester lives in one.
Leaning against the Cathedral wall is a little, ancient cottage. You can rent it to live in if you like. My mum’s bud, Maggie and her then husband used to rent it. We went for dinner one evening when I was a little guy of about 10. The dining room wall is actually the wall of the Cathedral. It’s a pretty cool place to live. Dinner was ready and we were about to sit down at the table and I noticed something weird. There was an extra place setting over the number of people in the house sitting for dinner. The conversation went something like this:
Me: Why is there an extra place set? Who else is coming?
Maggie: Oh, that’s for Charlie.
Me: Who’s Charlie?
Maggie: He’s someone who gets upset if we don’t set him a place at dinner, he likes to be included.
Me: Where is he?
Maggie: He’s about somewhere.
Me: I can’t see him.
Maggie: Well no one can actually, he’s the house ghost!
So I got to sit next to a ghost for dinner! hehe
The Victorians built this really cool shopping centre in Chester. It’s the only one like it in the UK if not the world. In those days their streets were not as clean as they are today and the ladies wore those long dresses that swept the ground which meant that, on wet days, the hems of their dresses got wet and muddy. In Chester they decided to do something about that. The shops come in two levels. The cheaper shops were at ground level where the poorer people would walk in the mud. The smarter shops were on a higher level where the ladies in the nice dresses could walk along an elevated street above the shops for the poorer people. They called this shopping area, the Rows. If you look carefully at these pictures you can see the two levels. Of course now ALL the shops in central Chester are smart and the streets have been pedestrianised and there is no mud or long flowing dresses so the problem doesn’t occur. It is one of the nicest shopping areas in the country and is very popular with visitors. In a couple of the pictures youcan see Brown’s of Chester. It’s Chester’s little, upmarket department store, Chester’s Harvey Nichols or Selfridges.
This is the Victorian Town Hall. It is in the centre of the city across the road from the Cathedral. It’s built in the Victorian Gothic style. Next to it is The Forum Shopping Centre. It’s called this because it was built on the site of the Roman Forum where the Ancient Romans would have done their shopping as well. You can see it next to the Town Hall in the first of the pictures. Sadly this shopping centre was designed in the 60s and built in the 70s so it’s not a beauty. They did try to refurbish it in the 90s but it’s still ugly. When we go shopping we stick to The Rows.
Between the River Dee and the Roman walls of Chester there is a huge area of open space called The Roodee that has never been built upon because , in the past, it was damp and tended to flood in periods of heavy rain. The Dee doesn’t flood anymore and this ares is now occupied by Chester Race Course. Chester Race Course, along with York Race Course, are the most fashionable in the north of England. When the races are on the men dress in morning suits and the ladies dress in big hats. Much champagne is drunk and a lot of caviar canapes are eaten. Everyone spends the day pretending not to notice anyone else while checking out how many people are noticing them. Occasionally someone might even watch a horse run round the course! On Monday they had just put the finishing touches to the race course for the September race meeting. You can see all the marquees ready for the drinking of the champagne.
There are some beautiful white, well appointed villas on the banks on the Dee in the distance. They have gardens that sweep down to the river and the view is across the Roodee to the Cathedral in the city. My mother would like one. Only problem is they cost a fortune.
If you had come and looked at this area 2000 years ago, when the Romans were here, it couldn’t have been more different. Where the race course is now was the harbour of the Roman city and that flat piece of land would have been full of Roman ships bringing in supplies from all over the Empire. When the Romans left, the port fell into disrepair and the harbour silted up leaving this flat land.
The River Dee starts in the Welsh mountains and flows into England and enters the Irish Sea near to Chester. The Romans were able to sail up the Dee and when they got to a point where their sea going ships couldn’t get any further they built Chester. Sea going ships can’t get up to Chester any more as the river has silted up in the last 2000 years. But the river is a very popular part of the city and on Monday it was busy with people enjoying sailing on the river, walking by the river or just sitting in the sunshine eating an ice cream and enjoying the view.
Chester is famous for its black and white buildings. Some of them are original wattle and daub, timber framed buildings dating back from the Tudor times. The black bits are the timber frames and the white bits are the wattle and daub infill. Wattle is the interwoven twigs which are then covered with daub, which is a mixture of dried mud and cow dung which is plastered to the wattle to make the walls. It is then painted white. It must be very strong because some of these buildings have been up for over 400 years.
Some of the black and white buildings are Victorian copies of the Tudor ones. You can tell the difference because the Victorian ones tend to be more perfect looking and bigger and more elaborate and to stand up straight while the Tudor ones are a bit more organically grown, tend to be smaller and tend to lean all over the place.
Can you see which is which? Sometimes you can see tell the age because they put the date on them. hehe
The Romans built the original walls around their city of Chester which they called Deva. They fell into disrepair after the Romans left and people carried off the stone for other building projects as it was a source of readily cut stone. After the Normans arrived Chester found itself on the border between Norman England and Celtic Wales. In the medieval times the Roman walls were rebuilt and extended as Chester was used as a base to attack the Welsh and the city was used as a stronghold to stop the Welsh getting into Cheshire. As well as the walls, a castle was built. The castle has been changed over the years and the medieval one has all but been dismantled. The Victorians punched great holes in the walls to allow traffic, trains and a canal into the city but at least they built gateways that continued the walls around the city and in the last century a ring road was pushed through the walls but they kept the walls complete by throwing a bridge across it
Many old cities in the UK have walls around them but Chester is the only city that has the complete walls. This means that you can walk all the way around the city centre and never meet a car. Its a pleasant way to see the city as the walls pass all the main sights you might want to see. They were built for defense and I wonder what the people who stood on the walls with enemies creeping closer and closer would make of us strolling around them having an idle hour and enjoying the view. In one picture you can see the Welsh hills just across the river where Welsh raiders would have attacked the city from. Here’s a little walk around the walls for you.