A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Saturday, 7 December 2013

The Chester Trip

Evidence - there's not a lot of contemporary stuff left, but here the repair to the main
breach in the wall is clearly visible
On Sunday, I went down to Chester for a few days looking at the ECW sites. I went with an old friend, whose name – as it happens – is Chester. Merely a happy coincidence, but I shall take care to make it clear to which Chester I am referring, as necessary.

Our preparation for the trip was mostly in reading John Barratt’s fine The Great Siege of Chester, and booking ourselves on to a couple of guided tours.

Monday we walked around the walls – there is a very good set of visitor information boards for the ECW period, featuring excellent artists’ impressions of how the various locations looked in the 17th Century. As far as we can tell, these painted views are not available in any publication or online – I am still checking, but they probably should be.

In the afternoon we went for a guided walk around the battlefield at Rowton Moor (about 4 miles outside Chester’s walls) with Ed Abrams, who offers a fine blend of enthusiasm and expertise – his Civil War Tours enterprise is heartily recommended.

In the evening, we had arranged to have dinner at The Brewery Tap, in Bridge Street, which was the home of Francis Gamul during the siege, and is where Charles I spent the nights before and after Rowton Moor. I was very pleased with this little bit of historical tie-in (and the food was great). I guess our meal was rather more cheerful than Charles Stuart’s must have been the night after the battle. In passing, I was also delighted to learn that Gamul’s daughter was christened Lettuce, a name which appears to have drifted out of fashion lately.

Original, with new bits - the Water Tower, near the old port

A tax called murage was collected to pay for maintenance of the walls. The
officials in charge of this were called Murringers - here's a list of some of them 

Captain Morgan's cannon - OK, it's a monument - certainly, an iron gun
carriage would take a bit of shifting

Gone but not forgotten

Chester (the person) at the Phoenix Tower. Legend has it that King
Charles watched the battle of Rowton Moor from the top. He
must have had remarkable eyesight - you can't see Rowton from here.

Looking down Foregate Street from the Eastgate - much of this part of the city
was destroyed in the siege, and most of what you can see in this picture is Victorian

Eastgate Clock

Near the South-East corner of the old city - this area saw some of the most fierce bombardment

The rear portion of this pub was the house of Francis Gamul, who was Charles' host
at the time of Rowton Moor

The scene of the first stages of Rowton Moor - there are three modern villages
built on the old battlefield

Ed Abrams, the expert guide (left), discusses the role of dragoons at Rowton with Chester

There are very few contemporary buildings still visible at Rowton - this one, by
local tradition, may have been a dressing station for the Royalist wounded.
The farmer has refused permission to survey the field.

This is almost the only official recognition of the fact that an important
battle was fought here. The monument is close to what is thought to be a mass
burial in an old lime pit.
Tuesday morning we joined Ed’s colleague Viv (who was in costume) for a tour of the Civil War sites within the city, so we were back on the walls again. Informative and very entertaining – again, recommended.

Behind many of the shops in The Rows, in the old city of Chester, are these vaulted
medieval cellars, which were used as storehouses and also as bomb shelters during the bombardment

The Bear and Billet - this pub was originally the house of the keeper of the old
bridge over the Dee, and the copious windows were originally access to a warehouse,
to store goods coming over from Wales

Different time, different approach. As roads improved and commercial transport
became larger, gates changed from  being a means of keeping enemies out to a way
of letting friends in. The Wolf Gate on the right is one of the original gates, the
much larger New Gate next to it is clearly intended to give a prestigious welcome to
the city.
On the Wednesday, we set out on the trail of King Charles. We had intended to move on to the battlefield at Montgomery, south of Welshpool, but the weather warnings for the following day were a bit alarming, and we decided, since Montgomery is not far from the same latitude as Birmingham, that we should not stray so far south. In the event, we went to have a quick look at Denbigh Castle, which is where Charles stayed after his visit to Chester. We stayed overnight at Maeshafn, near Mold, and the next day we had a rather stressful drive home through howling gales and very serious rain. No real problems for us, but we saw a number of large trucks which had blown over, or blown off the road.

This is fine - what has become a standard approach - but I have some misgivings.
Jolly signboards give bilingual information so that Miss Williams' class from the
primary school can identify with life in a medieval castle, and it's great that kids
have such a resource available, but you won't find very much about the actual
history of the place. I checked in Denbigh town library, and there wasn't much there,
either. Is there a tacit assumption that primary schools are the only people who visit such sites?


  1. Some fascinating pics! Thanks for sharing!

  2. All in all a worthwhile trip. I'm afraid we get a bit phlegmatic about Chester (the place!) as it's just down the road. Same for some friends in North Wales who also see it as a shopping venue. Same with Lathom House, near Ormskirk.

  3. In response to an email from Gerry, I have to admit that the final stage of the Battle of Rowton Moor, as the Royalists were driven back towards the city, took place around the site of the present railway station, and some of that would certainly have been visible from Charles' mooted observation point on top of the Phoenix Tower, but that brings us to another dodgy legend (like the garrison, I'm not giving up without a fight). The story goes that the officer standing next to the King was killed by a sniper located on St Michael's Church. No way. With a modern weapon and telescopic sight, it would be possible, but in 1645 the bullet must have come from somewhere nearer. Whatever, the fact that the King decided that a viewing point on the cathedral would be safer seems reasonable.

    On the name front, apart from Lettuce Gamul, I am reminded that there were a number of splendid handles in evidence at Chester - including Marmaduke Langdale and Sydenham Poyntz, who was obviously named after a railway junction.