THE CITY OF CHESTER
This Volume, published in two parts, provides a full treatment of most aspects of Chester’s history from Roman times to the year 2000. The two parts are complementary. The chapters in Part 1 give a general account of the city, covering administrative, political, economic, social, and religious history, divided into six periods: Roman, Early Medieval (400-1230), Later Medieval (1230-1550), Early Modern (1550-1762), Late Georgian and Victorian (1762-1914), and Twentieth-Century (1914-2000). The topographies of Roman and 20th-century Chester form integral parts of the first and last chapters, while a separate chapter deals with Topography 900-1914. Part 2 of the volume contains detailed accounts of particular topics, institutions, and buildings, grouped in five sections: Local Government and Public Services; Economic Infrastructure and Institutions; The Churches and Other Religious Bodies; Major Buildings; and Leisure and Culture. Part 2 has a full index to the whole volume, including subjects; Part 1 an index only of persons and places mentioned in that part.
Until the 19th century what was meant by ‘Chester’ was unproblematic. The Roman fortress with its adjacent civilian settlement was succeeded in the early Middle Ages by a small fortified town on the same site. Probably in the 10th century two sides of the Roman walls were abandoned, and by the early 12th century the circuit of walls had reached its modern extent. Sizeable extramural suburbs grew up, including the separately named Handbridge south of the river, which has always been reckoned part of Chester. The suburbs were encircled by Chester’s arable fields, meadows, and common pastures, with heaths to the north-east around Hoole, and a large area of marshland to the south-west at Saltney.
Beyond the immediate environs of walled town, suburbs, and farmland, an extensive territory depended upon Chester in the early Middle Ages, covering many townships with their own villages, hamlets, and farms. During the central Middle Ages many of the townships were incorporated into newly formed parishes, leaving a few outliers attached to the oldest Chester parishes of St. Oswald and St. John. They were never strictly speaking part of Chester, and their histories are not treated in this volume.
In the 10th and 11th centuries Chester hundred was one of twelve in Cheshire, but the creation of civic institutions in the 12th and 13th centuries led to the disappearance of the hundred and its replacement by the liberties of the city, the area within which the citizens enjoyed their various individual and corporate privileges. The liberties were first explicitly demarcated by a precise boundary in 1354 but must have existed long previously as a territory whose limits were generally known. They covered some 3,000 acres and included the abbot of Chester’s manor north of the city, and an extensive area south of the Dee, focused on Handbridge. Both the manor of Handbridge and its open fields extended beyond the liberties into the township of Claverton to the south. (fn. 3)
On the north-east, north, and north-west the townships immediately beyond the liberties were Great Boughton, Hoole, Newton, Bache, and Blacon. The Hoole boundary was little more than ½ mile from the heart of Chester at the Cross (the central crossroads by St. Peter’s church, also the site of the medieval High Cross). The approach to Great Boughton, 1½ miles distant from the Cross, lay through Chester’s most important medieval and early modern suburb in Foregate Street and its continuation beyond the Bars, which was called Boughton. Right on the boundary from the early 12th century until the 1640s stood the leper hospital of St. Giles, occupying a tiny extra-parochial area called Spital Boughton. On the south-western side the boundary of the liberties coincided with the national boundary between England and Wales from 1536, when the Act of Union placed the lordship and parish of Hawarden in the newly created Welsh county of Denbighshire (it was transferred to Flintshire in 1541). (fn. 4)
From the 19th century Chester is less easy to define. The liberties circumscribed the formal extent of the city of Chester until minor adjustments were made in 1835, enlarging the municipal borough at the expense of Great Boughton, but already by then the town had spilled over the boundary through residential building in the adjoining parts of Great Boughton and Hoole. The arrival of the railway in the 1840s quickened the growth of Chester beyond the borough boundaries, creating new streets which were physically part of the city but administratively outside the remit of the borough council. North-east of the town, the main railway station was built on the boundary with Hoole, the nearer parts of which were rapidly built over. To the west, the railway brought industrial development and associated housing to a new suburb which straddled the boundary between Chester and the township of Saltney in Flintshire. For a variety of reasons there was no major extension of the city’s boundaries until 1936, when the county borough incorporated parts of Great Boughton and Newton and most of Blacon, the last intended for a large new councilhousing estate. Hoole remained a separate unit of local government (latterly an urban district) until it too was absorbed by Chester in 1954. Meanwhile the building of more new housing in the townships of Upton and Bache north of the city created a large builtup area which was not brought under Chester’s control until 1974. Even after that date Saltney had to be excluded from Chester district because it was in Wales and the national boundary was regarded by central government as inviolate.