Historic Chester Travel Guide
History, tourist information, and nearby accommodation
This most delightful of cities was originally built by the Romans to control the native tribes in North Wales and northern Britain.
The layout of Chester still follows the Roman pattern, and the Roman defensive walls create a pleasant walk around the old city centre.
Roman remains abound in Chester - near Newgate you can visit a reconstructed Roman Garden, and a hypocaust, or central heating system. The Amphitheatre at Chester was the largest permanent amphitheatre in Britain, seating 7,000 people for entertainment spectacles. Today you can sit in one of those seats and imagine the gladiatorial combats unfolding on the floor of the amphitheatre before you.
Chester was abandoned when the Romans left in the 5th century, but the Anglo-Saxons resettled the town and in the early 10th century it was refortified by Aethelflaeda, daughter of Alfred the Great. Though the Roman heritage of Chester is attractive, it is as a medieval city that Chester is most known to visitors.
The city abounds in medieval architecture and beautiful half-timbered buildings. The most famous of these is the complex known as "The Rows", a series of covered galleries above street-level shops lining Watergate, Eastgate, and Bridge Street. The layout of The Rows dates back to the 13th century.
Turning from wood to stone, another medieval building worth visiting is Chester Cathedral, originally built as an abbey church for a Benedictine monastery.
A Saxon church here was founded at the start of the 10th century as a resting place for the bones of St. Werburgh, which had been brought from Hanbury, Staffordshire, in 875 to protect them from Danish attack. Throughout the medieval period, the tomb of St. Werburgh was a popular pilgrimage centre.
The Benedictines rebuilt that earlier church and lived here for 500 years until disbanded by Henry VIII in 1540. The abbey church then became Chester Cathedral. Within the Cathedral, you can still see traces of the earlier monastic settlement, as well as lovely architectural features such as the 13th century Chapter House, with a cupboard of intricate medieval ironwork.
An unusual feature of Chester Cathedral is the free-standing Bell Tower, or campanile, built in 1974. It is the first such separate bell tower built in Britain since the 15th century.
A much-photographed Chester landmark is the Eastgate Clock, built in 1897 to mark the Silver Jubilee of Queen Victoria. Its intricate iron framework, designed by architect John Douglas, is a marvel of ornate Victorian style.
Another Chester gate, Wolf Gate (next to the present Newgate), has a romantic ghost story associated with it: it seems that Ellen Aldersley, daughter of a city alderman, eloped through the gate in 1573. In the years since then, the ghostly clatter of her horse's hooves has occasionally been heard around the area of the gate.
Another Chester legend holds that Harold, king of the Saxons, was not killed at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, but escaped and came to Chester, where he lived as a blind hermit in the Anchorite's Cell, a simple sandstone structure near the river.
Legends aside, there is much more to visit at Chester - the award-winning Grosvenor Museum, which includes a reconstruction of a Georgian Period House, and the Toy Museum, featuring the world's largest collection of Matchbox toys, are just two popular attractions. And don't miss the familiar figure of the Chester Town Crier, who appears at The Cross at noon every day in summer, clad in a tricorn hat and bright red Georgian coat to shout out the news.
Take the time to explore Chester, and see if you don't agree with James Boswell, who claimed that 'Chester pleases my fancy more than any town I ever saw...'
Address: Chester, Cheshire, England
Attraction Type: Town
Photo Credit: David Ross and Britain Express
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Roman (Time Period) -
NEARBY HISTORIC ATTRACTIONS
Heritage Rated from 1- 5 (low to exceptional) on historic interest
Chester Cathedral - 0.2 miles (Cathedral)
Eastgate Clock - 0.2 miles (Historic Building)
The Rows - 0.2 miles (Historic Building)
Grosvenor Museum - 0.3 miles (Museum)
Chester Roman Amphitheatre - 0.3 miles (Roman Site)
Chester, St John the Baptist Church - 0.4 miles (Historic Church)
Chester Castle, Agricola Tower - 0.4 miles (Castle)
Roman Garden - 0.6 miles (Garden)
Nearest Holiday Cottages to Chester: