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The Turbulent History of Chester

The Roman History of Chester

In approximately 75 AD, Roman soldiers built a wooden fort next to the River Dee and called it Deva.  A civilian settlement quickly began to grow outside the fort. Bakers, butchers, carpenters, blacksmiths and other craftsmen sold their goods and helped to provide for the soldiers in the fortress, which was 20% larger than other fortresses in Britain at the time. The Romans also ran a successful port in Deva, where they imported luxury goods such as wine and pottery.

The amphitheatre, which was discovered in 1929 and can still be seen in Chester today, was built by the Romans in the 1st Century. To this day, it is the largest amphitheatre uncovered in Britain. At its peak, the structure could hold 8000 to 10000 people. It was used for military training, as well as live entertainment such as gladiator fights, bear fighting and bull baiting.

When Roman rule came to an end in Britannia, cities like Chester were left abandoned when the Roman soldiers left to secure their borders elsewhere in the Roman Empire.

Chester in the Dark Ages

After the decline of the Roman Empire, England entered a transitional period which is now known as the Dark Ages. It is characterised by the absence of written historical records. For this reason, the fifth century and early sixth century remains quite a mystery. It is a time of legend when, according to English folklore, King Arthur sat upon the English throne.

However, we do know that it was during this period that the Anglo-Saxons from Denmark, Germany and Holland first invaded eastern Britain, where they killed many men, women and children.

Anglo-Saxons and Vikings in Chester's History

The Saxon period lasted more than 600 years from 410 to 1066.

After invading in the East, the Saxons began to move across England to the west of the country. They reached Cheshire by the 7th Century, when in 617AD the Saxons defeated the Welsh in battle and gave Chester its name.

The language we speak today originates from the Germanic language of the Anglo-Saxon settlers. However, it was not just our language that changed during the Saxon period. The arrival of St Augustine of Canterbury in 597 AD converted most of Britain from paganism to Christianity.

The Vikings first invaded England in 793 AD but it was one hundred years before they raided Chester in 893 AD. They wintered at the old Roman fort but were besieged by King Alfred the Great and control of Chester returned to the Saxons, who refortified Chester walls to protect the city against Viking raiders.

The Norman History of Chester

William the Conqueror launched the Norman Conquest in 1066 and became the first Norman King of England. However, he struggled to overpower Northern England. In fact, Chester was one of the last cities to come under Norman rule.

In retaliation for their rebellion, William the Conqueror led a series of savage campaigns known as the ‘Harrying of the North’ against the people of Chester. More than 200 houses were burned to the ground. To keep an eye on the people, the first Earl of Chester built a very early version of Chester Castle from wood, which was later rebuilt in stone.

Medieval Chester was very prosperous. As a port, it imported and exported luxury goods. The main industry was leather. However, the region was plagued with the Black Death throughout the Middle Ages.

Chester in the Tudor Times

The Tudor period first began in 1485 when Henry Tudor defeated Richard III in battle. But how did this affect Chester? Many of the stunning, tiered black and white buildings you can see in the city today were built in the Tudor period. And the world-renowned Chester Racecourse, also known as The Roodee, was first founded in 1539 under King Henry VIII’s rule. This was the same year Anne Boleyn was beheaded.

Furthermore, Henry VIII named what was originally Chester Abbey as Chester Cathedral in 1541. The magnificent Cathedral is more than 1000 years old. It originally began life as a Benedictine Abbey in 1092. Although the Cathedral was rebuilt in 1250 to reflect the Gothic architecture of the time, elements of Norman architecture are still visible today.

Chester under the Scottish Stuarts rule

The Stuart period lasted from 1603 until 1714. It was a very unstable time for Chester in particular. Tension was growing between Parliament and the Monarchy and civil war seemed imminent. King Charles I visited Chester to ensure the election of a royalist.

This did not go down well with Parliament who laid siege to the city of Chester in 1645. Parliamentarians attempted to breach the city walls using a cannon battery multiple times but were repeatedly defeated.

In fact, the Royalists within the city walls refused to surrender a total of nine times. It was only in 1646, after the 17,000 citizens living in Chester had been forced to eat their own dogs, that a treaty was signed.

Despite the treaty, Puritan forces moved in and destroyed religious icons throughout Chester. King Charles I was declared a traitor and beheaded in 1649. And it only got worse for the citizens who, already starving, contracted the plague. 2099 people died in less than 12 months.

Chester in Georgian times

The Georgian period in England started in 1714 and ended in 1837. Throughout this period, Chester was a popular market town and a centre of affluence, popular with the upper class aristocracy who fled from larger cities like Liverpool and Manchester during the Industrial Revolution.

The industrial revolution brought change to the city of Chester. The Chester Canal was built in 1797 in an attempt to bring industry to the city. It was a failed attempt however and was known as “England’s first unsuccessful canal”.

Nevertheless, by 1801 the recorded population of Chester was 15,000. It was considered both a large and important town. This was due, in part, to the booming shipbuilding and lead working industries in Chester at the time; a result of the Napoleonic Wars.

Chester as a Victorian city

Queen Victoria reigned from 1837 to 1901. This era is frequently referred to as ‘The Golden Years’. The City of Chester benefitted hugely from her rule which brought a lot of wealth to the region. Buildings were restored to their former splendour. However, the Victorians are famous for being ‘copycats’.

In fact, a lot of the architecture visible in Chester today are actually Victorian restorations, not Tudor buildings as they might first appear. Gothic revival architecture also increased in popularity at the time. Our latest property development, Chapel Place, is a stunning example of gothic revival architecture. Chester Rail Station was first opened in 1848. It was inspired by the classical architecture of Italy. Pigeons were carved into the wood to deter feral pigeons. This train station is still used today.

We cannot talk about Victorian Chester without mentioning the iconic Eastgate Clock, which was crafted for Queen Victoria’s Jubilee in 1897. The stunning and ornate clock, which stands on the site of the original entrance to Deva, the Roman Fortress mentioned at the beginning of this article, is the second most photographed clock after Big Ben in London.

Modern day Chester

Chester has continued to grow over the past century. Whilst, Shipbuilding ended in the 1930’s and the remaining docks closed in the 1960s, Chester Zoo opened in 1931 and the Grosvenor Centre opened in 1965.

Today, the most prominent industries in the city are tourism and retail. The high street is lined with boutique shops and restaurants and thousands of people attend the Chester Races each year. This is a city with a past, a present and a future, and a heart and soul.

We at Blueoak Estates are very excited to see where the future will take us.

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