Cheshire is a country that’s a tremendous draw to would-be tourists. It’s rich in entertainment, most notably in the form of its world-class zoo, and it’s packed with natural beauty and historical intrigue, too. With excellent transport links to nearby Liverpool and Manchester, it’s a place that many won’t hesitate to visit.
The history of Cheshire stretches back to when the Romans first invaded Britain in the first century AD. The occupiers considered the settlement second in importance only to Londinium, and it was to become a staging ground for further incursions northward, and a home for the 20th Roman legion. You can still find evidence of all things roman throughout the city – most notably in the Roman amphitheatre and the occasional costumed parade that’s conducted through the city centre.
From the Middle Ages through to the late Tudor period, the city would transform enormously – with the city’s walls and cathedral first coming to be during this time. It wasn’t until the English Civil War, however, that the city would really begin to transform into the one we know and love today. Let’s take a brief tour of everything that’s happened between then and now.
The Siege of Chester
During the English Civil War, Chester was an important stronghold for forces loyal to the crown. Early in proceedings, between 1642 and 1643, the already considerable walls were bolstered by a new ring of earthwork defences. For a spell lasting a few years between 1644 and 1646, Chester came under intermittent siege from parliamentarian forces.
The real turning point came in September of 1645, with royalist cavalry being comprehensively smashed within sight of the city walls, from which Charles I watched the defeat. Though he didn’t know it at the time, his allies in Scotland had already suffered a crushing defeat of their own – and so his hopes of winning the war were largely doomed from this point onward.
The Georgian period was one of relative prosperity and peace, especially relative to the bloody history the city had experienced up until then. Where once bloodshed was just a few miles away, now Chester was more often the sight of trade and innovation than wonton carnage.
One man who exemplified this change was Thomas Harrison, an architect active around the turn of the 19th century. He was born in Yorkshire, and did his training in Rome, before moving to Chester, where he did much of his work.Harrison was arguably among the finest architects of the age, and played a key role in reviving the Greek and Roman styles he’d picked up during his studies. Take a walk around Chester, and you’ll find his work strongly evidenced: there’s the rebuilding of Chester Castle in the neoclassical style, which took place between 1788 and 1813; there’s the Grosvenor Bridge and the Northgate Arch. You’ll also find his designs in the Portico library in Manchester.
If the Georgian period saw radical change in the city, this evolution was only to accelerate during the reign of Queen Victoria. The city’s main railway station was to open in August of 1848, and it remains one of just two dozen listed railway stations remaining in the country. This development had an enormous effect on the surrounding city, with Victorians now able to travel to their holiday destination of choice – with holiday destinations across the coast experiencing a marked uptick in custom. Naturally, this is something which modern holidaymakers are still able to take advantage of.
It wasn’t all plain sailing at this early period in British rail transportation, however; the year prior, 1847, had seen a rail disaster strike on a new bridge fording the river dee near to Chester. The carriage fell through the bridge into the river below – an inquest revealed that the designer, Robert Stephenson, had loaded the bridge with ballast in order to prevent a fire breaking out in the supporting oak beams. The cast iron holding the bridge up, while able to withstand strong compression forces, was brittle under tension and snapped, doing large, but not lasting, harm to the reputation of rail transport in the region.
If you’d like to enjoy some of the historical richness the city has to offer, but you’re travelling from further afield, then you’ll want to book accommodation in one of the many high-quality hotels in Chester. Carden Park stands out as particularly suitable – it’s a Cheshire wedding venue, hotel and golf course – so you’ll have plenty to entertain you when you’re not checking out the county’s historical mysteries.