Updated: Jun 25, 2019
My favourite city in England (so far), I was easily swept up in the fascinating history of Chester, a Roman-turned-Medieval town in the north of the country. Here are some highlights of my time there.
When I did a quick Google Image search of Chester, England and saw the Tudor style buildings lining the beautiful cobblestone streets, the history buff in me nearly fainted. My friends had me look up Chester several months before I arrived in the UK to see if it was a place that I would be interested in visiting; my longtime fascination with English history and thus, the changing architecture throughout its longtime existence, had left me desperately hoping to see as much as I possibly could while visiting the United Kingdom this past November/December, and Chester looked like the ideal place to start. The Tudor architectural style of buildings was the final development of Medieval architecture in England, taking place during the Tudor period (between 1485–1603, but sometimes extending beyond this time frame). In Chester, what appears in most places to be solely a Medieval village was actually built upon an original ancient Roman town. In fact, Chester is one of the best preserved walled cities in Britain — walls which were constructed when they established the fortress of Deva Victrix between 70 and 80 AD.
With all that being said, Chester offers visitors much more than just pretty, old buildings.
One of the first things my friends and I decided to do was eat lunch… I mean, food was usually top of the list for us, to keep us energized for the long days of walking and exploring. We debated between going to several different places, then decided to go to The York Roast Co., after having seen a sign for their Yorky Pud. This Christmas special was a thing of sheer beauty: roasted turkey with stuffing, mulled cranberry sauce, roasted seasonal veggies, and a thick gravy all wrapped up in a crispy Yorkshire pudding. We crammed ourselves onto a small table in the very tight seating area and ate our food before heading back out to Bridge Street to continue our day of meandering.
There are so many beautiful sites to take in while walking through Chester, including the endless rows of shops and cafés, many of which have a foundation dating back from the original Roman settlement, which was later “renovated” and often reconstructed in the Medieval/Tudor Era.
In fact, it’s not uncommon to come across a sign in a storefront window telling you to come in and see their shop’s Roman foundation, which is still intact.
Eventually, you reach the outskirts of the main town and come to the outer walls of the city; there are stairs leading up to the top, which you can walk around on (but I didn’t do this time). Instead, we found ourselves wandering along a stream, flowing off from the River Dee, and toward the University of Chester.
At the end of the path, we looped around back toward the city in hopes of going to the Grosvenor Museum. However, before we found our way over to the museum, we did what we did every other day of exploration and asked each other: “Want to stop for a drink?”
And, since it’s Chester we’re talking about and everything is seeped in an incredible history, we easily came across what is the coolest pub I have ever been to in my whole life: Ye Olde King’s Head. Located at 50 Lower Bridge Street, the building itself was constructed around 1208 for Peter the Clerk, the administrator of Chester Castle; however, alterations were made to it between the 15th and early 17th centuries, which is the atmosphere the pub holds on to, to this day.
Upon walking in, you feel an instant sense of comfort thanks to a giant lit hearth, cozy seating, dark wood wainscotting, and an extremely friendly bar staff. The occasional patron will come up to the hearth to warm their hands in front of the warm, flickering glow of the flames before adding another log to the fire to keep it going.
I didn’t want to leave the pub’s warmth, but as the afternoon crept on, we had to in order to reach the museum on time.
Built in 1882, not only is the exterior façade of Grosvenor Museum beautiful, but the artifacts that it houses within its historical walls are so worthwhile, as well. Due to the heavy Roman influence within the town, the majority of the (FREE ADMISSION!! *gasp*) museum is dedicated to ancient Roman artifacts found around the city between the 20th century to modern day excavations.
From objects used in daily life to beautifully carved stone tombstones, you really gain a deeper understanding of what Roman life in Chester was like many hundreds of years ago.
One of my favourite things to see in the museum was a miniature model of the original town structure; you can see where construction during the Medieval Ages took off from, and in some places, where it slightly changed. For the most part however, it appears to have generally the same layout as it originally had.
Other galleries to see in the Grosvenor Museum include the Kingsley Natural History Gallery (on taxidermy of local species), the Ridgway Silver Gallery (silver artifacts made in Chester over hundreds of years), an art gallery (of paintings and sculptures created in the Chester area, from around the 1800s), and a special exhibit room (which, when I went, was full of modern, purchasable local art). From the main floor gift shop, you can enter Number 20 Castle Street, an example of a typical gentry townhouse.
With over three storeys, you can explore the varied rooms within, which give an impression of how the house would have looked through the ages.
The bottom floor begins with the early to mid 1800s, and as you look into each room while moving up toward the top floor, time “passes”: from Victorian to Edwardian, from Edwardian to the Roaring Twenties, from the Twenties into the Great Depression Era. Each room displays people (mannequins) in period clothing, going about their typical day. Another fun fact: The Grosvenor Museum is actually called in full, “The Grosvenor Museum of Natural History and Archaeology, with Schools of Science and Art, for Chester, Cheshire and North Wales”. Quite the name, huh?
I was so pleased with the length of time my friends and I were able to explore the Grosvenor Museum (and all for free!), due to the mass amounts of artifacts and interesting things to see within its walls. It wasn’t until the end of the day when we finally wrapped up our time in Chester by checking out the Christmas Market in the main town square before heading home. It’s here that I bought even more cheese than I had already collected at other markets, a bottle of “Christmasy” Dà Mhìle Sloe Gin, a beautiful white wooden miniature chapel that holds a tea light, and some little gifts to bring my friends back in Toronto.
In hindsight, if I were to go back to Chester, I’d love to spend an extra day exploring the different shops and cafés along the main strip, and to see inside of the beautiful Chester Cathedral (which I opted out of seeing in favour of wandering through the Christmas Markets). Have any of you visited Chester before? If so, where would you recommend on a second visit? If you’ve never been, which of these locations seem like the most interesting to visit? Let me know in the comments!
*Originally posted on Emulating Emily