Tuesday 2 May 2023

Records of Royalty

Ahead of the Coronation of King Charles III, we’ve been looking at some of the records held at Cheshire Archives and Local Studies related to kings and queens of the past. Our earliest records date from the 12th century, so there are plenty of monarchs to choose from! Here is just a flavour of what you can find at Cheshire Record Office.

We have original photographs of royal visits to Cheshire throughout the 20th century, from King Charles as Prince of Wales back to his great-great-grandfather King Edward VII at the start of the 1900s. Many are available to search online at Cheshire Image Bank. This selection shows the new King (then Prince of Wales) at Chester Castle in 1973; Queen Elizabeth II visiting Chester Royal Infirmary in 1957; King Edward VIII (also as Prince of Wales) visiting Nantwich in 1926 and King George V meeting some Brownie Guides in Frodsham in 1925.



Our Local Studies collection holds a wealth of books and pamphlets commemorating such visits and marking other significant occasions. There is extensive material about Queen Victoria, for example.  There are documents linked to major events, such as the Mayor of Chester’s Proclamation of Accession (ref: 226498), a limited edition book of The Celebrations at Winsford of on the Occasion of the Jubilee of HM Queen Victoria (ref: 201682) and pamphlet How Loyal Macclesfield and the District Celebrated the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria 22nd June 1897 (ref: 115520). More widely, we have archives on a range of items linked to Victoria - anything from her diamond jubilee being marked with Chester’s famous Eastgate Clock, to the opening of places like Victoria Park in Widnes in her honour.

We hold letters patent (a written order issued by a monarch) from Queen Victoria in 1845 to the Mayor of Chester (Richard, Marquis of Westminster) whom she addressed as ‘our most dear cousin'. They were attached with a great seal made of leather, one side of which has an imprint of the queen enthroned, the other shows her on horseback.

The seals of many other monarchs are contained in our collections - the earliest dates from the reign of King Henry II in 1175 or 1176 (ref: ZCH 1). Only a fragment now remains - perhaps understandable for something made 850 years ago!

This is the seal of King Richard III, from a medieval charter granting remission of Chester rents due to the King. The seal constitutes the signature of the monarch, and shows Richard with his sword and shield on a horse (ref: ZCH 30).


The Interregnum of 1649 to 1660 saw a break between Kings Charles I and Charles II, and Oliver Cromwell became Lord Protector. We have some archives from that period such as this deed (ref: DDX 181/3) headed ‘Oliver, Lord Protector’ and the unusual accompanying seal depicts an image of Parliament.


Sometimes a seal has not survived well, but the documents they were attached to remain in good condition, like the examples below.

The one above left is a charter that includes a portrait of King Charles II in oils.  It is embellished with ornate gilt designs and dates from 1685 (ref: ZCH 39). The other charter (above right) dates from 1803 in the reign of King George III (ref: ZCH 42) - it has engraved borders and also has a portrait of the King in the initial letter.

We are the proud custodians of some 'letters close' of Queen Elizabeth I - these are unopened letters dating from May 1583 (ref: DSS 3991/329). As opposed to letters patent, letters close were personal, and were delivered folded and sealed so only the recipient could read their contents. Elizabeth’s signature is visible on other documents however, such as this one from our Cholmondeley Estate collection (ref: DCH/X/15/4).  The document is bound in a leather volume embossed with the initials ‘ER’ – not dissimilar to those used in the cypher of Queen Elizabeth II that we’ve been used to seeing over the past 70 years, except from the 1560s!


Other monarchs’ signatures are held on a variety of documents at Cheshire Record Office too – for instance, the writing on the top left of this document is the signature of Elizabeth’s father, King Henry VIII – it is a warrant to release the Abbot of St Werburgh’s Cathedral from financial obligations, and dates from 1510 (ref: EDD/3913/20). 

Queen Anne’s handwriting is a little easier to read – this is her signature on a Royal Commission relating to the governor of Chester castle dating from 1702 (ref: DSS 1/3/37). The same can be said of King James I’s signature, shown on this 1609 correspondence about game in Delamere Forest. (ref: DAR/A/3/13)


Coming a little more up to date, a copy of George VI’s signature was included on a card sent to schoolchildren to commemorate the official Second World War Victory Celebrations, which took place on 8th June 1946. The back of the cards had space for children to note down their own family’s war record. An example is held in our collection from Boughton St Paul’s Girls and Infants school in Chester (ref: ZDES 12/27).

There are many Cheshire documents related to the Coronation of each monarch (except of course Edward VIII who abdicated before he was crowned) from souvenir programmes like those produced by the Borough of Crewe to commemorate the coronation of King George VI in 1937 (ref: 230556); a printed handbill celebrating the coronation of Queen Victoria in 1838 with a programme of events in Chester, including a procession and a display of fireworks on the Roodee, ref: 231779); and minutes and papers of Congleton’s preparations for the coronations of King George IV, Queen Victoria and King Edward VII, from 1820 to 1902 (ref: LBC/47/6). The excerpt below shows careful planning for a public dinner and tea party in 1838. 
And to celebrate the platinum jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II in 2022, Cheshire Archives and Local Studies published a blog which includes lots of 1953 coronation memorabilia from across the county.

Below is a page from a whole volume of minutes of the Coronation Committee set up by Alderley Edge Urban District Council to plan their proceedings for King George V’s coronation in 1911 (ref: LUAd/2035/6). Men of the village are recorded in committees covering every aspect of the day: from a general committee to a finance one, another for catering, one for sports and procession, another for decorations and medals - and even a bonfire and fireworks committee. Every detail was planned, discussed and scrutinised – even deciding the different categories of races, which included one for people named George or Mary like the new king and queen, a smoking race (we aren’t sure either!) a 50 yard race category for married women, even a ‘veterans’ race – for people aged over forty!

For anyone taking part in community celebrations for King Charles’ coronation, we have photographs of previous generations in Cheshire doing a similar thing. This Image Bank selection shows a lorry in Frodsham decorated for the coronation of George VI, a Malpas street party celebrating that of George V, and coronation celebrations for King Edward VII in Wilmslow in 1902.

Whatever you’ll be doing to mark 2023’s event, we wish you an enjoyable Coronation weekend!

Tuesday 18 April 2023

A Grand Day Out in Chester: celebrating 100 years of the new Queens Park Suspension Bridge

This year we celebrate 100 years of one of the most significant landmarks in Chester. We have looked back through newspaper reports and records held at Cheshire Archives and Local Studies to relive the local anticipation and excitement that surrounded the opening of the new Queens Park suspension bridge.

There had been an older bridge in existence since 1852 and it was used as a private bridge that provided a connection between the Queens Park Estate and the city and avoided a longer route round via Handbridge. The decision was made to replace the structure with a new bridge and demolition of the old bridge began in August 1922.

On 18th April 1923, the new Queens Park suspension bridge was officially opened by the Mayor of Chester, the Sheriff and aldermen of the city. Crowds gathered along both banks of the river and the steamers on the river were crowded with people too. One of the headline articles of the Chester Chronicle on 21st April 1923 was ‘great crowd witness unusual event’ and the paper reported that ‘the scene on the bridge was one that made a great impression on all who witnessed it’.

All the City officials were present with the Mayor of Chester, Councillor SR Arthur Hall, presiding over the event. The Sheriff, Chief Constable, City Surveyor and aldermen of the city processed to the bridge from St John School dressed in their formal robes along with the official sword and mace bearers.

The Mayor gave a speech in which he thanked all the people who had contributed to the construction of the bridge. He thanked the City Engineer, Charles Greenwood, who had developed the design for the bridge. At Cheshire Archives we hold a fascinating photograph album belonging to the City Engineer showing improvements and developments in the city. It includes a number of photographs of the early construction of the bridge.

The firm of W H Brockelsby of Birkenhead held the contract for masonry and the groundwork foundations and a separate contractor, David Rowell & Co of London, was appointed to create the steelwork. After the tower foundations had been laid, the sections of steelwork were transported to the site and constructed in situ.

The design of the bridge had been previously reported in the Chester Chronicle on 14th April 1923 - it described the bridge as a ‘wire rope stiffened suspension bridge’. It revealed further statistics on the bridge - a total length of 277 feet (beating the old bridge by twelve feet) and a width of 12 feet (twice the width of the old bridge) and finally a load capacity of 160 tons. Further points of interest in the design were copper ball finials on the towers that were designed to weather to a light green colour over time.

The Mayor stated that the bridge had to have certain conditions of use and they are listed in the minutes of the City Improvement Committee on 13th April 1923 and show how things have changed over the last one hundred years:
  • That no bicycles shall be ridden across the bridge
  • That no barrows, handcarts, or other vehicles other than perambulators and bathchairs, shall be allowed on the bridge
  • That no person shall run about, jump on the bridge, or use the bridge as a diving platform…. or use the bridge in such a manner as to cause unnecessary vibration.
  • That no horses or cattle be allowed on the bridge
The Mayor drew attention in his speech to the heraldic shields fixed to the towers which were symbols of the early history of the city. The coats of arms depict the first seven Norman Earls of Chester along with the arms of the Palatinate of Chester. Cheshire Archives hold the original design drawings of the shields (ref: ZCR 715/1-10) and you may have read a recent blog by our Conservator where she talks about the process of conserving these drawings for future generations to enjoy.

The Sheriff gave a vote of thanks too and said that ‘he hoped it would be appreciated as one of the beauty spots of their wonderful old city of Chester' and ‘would be a credit and source of pride to the citizens of Chester.’

When the speeches had concluded, the Mayor moved forward and ‘formally removed the rope obstruction which crossed the bridge and released the union jack which fluttered from the tower above the ancient heraldic symbols’ and announced, ‘it is my pleasure and honour, and I do hereby declare the bridge open.’

The Mayor and company then walked across the bridge and retraced their steps. Then it was the turn of the public and ‘there was a tremendous rush on to the bridge when the barriers were finally removed and there was great competition as to who should be the first across.’ 

Finally we can leave you with some contemporary sound recordings taken from our Chester Talking Tour which recount the opening of the bridge and the competition to be first across the bridge: Queen's Park Bridge in Living Memory: A Talking Tour of Chester and Stream Queen's Park Bridge - the Grand Opening by Cheshire Archives & Local Studies 

Wednesday 15 March 2023

Behind the Scenes in Conservation: Drawings of the Heraldic Coats of Arms for Queens Park Suspension Bridge

There’s nothing that gets our hearts racing more than being presented with a box of dirty, torn, and tatty plans and being asked to Conserve them! In this instance, a map box containing ten rolled bundles of drawings of the Heraldic Coats of Arms for the ‘new’ Queens Park Suspension Bridge in Chester (ref. ZCR/715/1-10).

What are the drawings of?

The first suspension bridge from the Groves to the new housing at Queens Park was built in 1852. This first bridge was replaced in 1923 by the Corporation at a cost of £7,000. These drawings are of the heraldic coats of arms of eight Norman Earls of Chester which decorate the arches above the bridge. The drawings are by architects F.A. Roberts and P.H. Lawson of 88 Foregate Street, Chester.

Why conserve these plans when we have so many others that need our care?

Events, activities and exhibitions are being organised to celebrate the one hundred year anniversary of Queens Park suspension bridge during May and June of this year. These plans, along with other related material, have been chosen by our Archivists’ to support this work.

How were the drawings made and what condition are they in?

An outline of the heraldic shield encircled by a wreath was printed onto paper and used as a template for the drawings. The designs have been hand drawn at full scale and coloured. There are eight completed designs with a set of additional pencil drafts of the designs on tracing paper. Media used for the drawings include pencil (for outline and shading), water colour paint and ink.

Once unrolled, we can assess the condition. Much of the damage has been caused historically by poor handling and storage. We find surface dirt, tears, missing areas (lacunae) and areas of paper degradation, especially along the top and bottom edges.

The conservation treatment consists of cleaning, flattening and repairing the plans so that they can be handled safely, without causing further damage, digitised and exhibited.

How do we remove the surface dirt?

The bread and butter of any Paper Conservators’ work is cleaning, and lots of it! It looks simple, but it takes years of experience (and sore fingers) to develop techniques that work effectively and that don’t cause damage to the original material.

These drawings were especially challenging to clean as the artist has used pencil for outlining and shading. We need to remove the general surface dirt whilst being careful not to remove the actual pencil. Using thin wedges of vinyl eraser we are able to carefully work around the pencil and remove the surface dirt.

How do we get them flat?

Next, we need to ‘flatten’ the rolled plans so that we can repair them. The drawings are placed in a large ‘damp-pack’ to introduce water vapour into the paper in a very controlled and gentle way. This in turn will ‘relax’ the individual paper fibres and make the paper more pliable. Once damp, they are placed under thick sheets of blotting paper and covered with sheets of Perspex, then weighted down to flatten them.

The humidification chamber (damp pack) we use is made up of a layer of clear polyester, a wet layer of capillary matting and a layer of Sympatex (a breathable waterproof membrane) on the top. The same three layers are then placed over that in reverse order, and the document placed in the middle to receive the water vapour and ‘relax’!

How do we mend the tears and fill in the lacunae?

Most of the drawings have some minor tears that need repairing, but a few of them, including ZCR/715/4 for Ranulf I, Earl of Chester, 1101–1120, have suffered more substantial damage. This long horizontal tear was likely to have been caused by someone attempting to unroll the plan. This sort of damage is commonly seen in large paper documents such as maps and plans that have been stored rolled.

The process begins with cooking some fresh wheat starch paste to use as an adhesive for the paper repairs, which we prepare in the Conservation studio. After cooking and cooling the paste, we sieve it three times to create a super smooth and sticky, but fully reversible paste.

It can be difficult realigning long tears so that the image area joins up accurately, even when the paper appears perfectly flat. Paper can be affected by levels of high humidity, so any exposure in the past, and during the humidification process can alter the placement of paper fibres making it difficult and sometimes impossible to join them perfectly.

We apply paste using a small brush to the edges of the tear, working on the image side (the recto) to check on alignment, and work along a small section at a time. This is sometimes called ‘Chasing the tear’! When the edges are joined, we turn the drawings over and adhere a section of Japanese repair paper to support this area from the back (the verso).

How do we consolidate these repairs?

Adding a support layer on the verso is essential when repairing tears as it adds strength to weak and degraded areas and allows the repaired paper to flex normally without any further damage being caused. We select a Japanese paper (Kozo Shi) of lighter weight but similar colour to the original document. The repaired areas need to be clearly visible but also be sympathetic to the original material.

Handmade Japanese papers are ideal as they have long fibres and keep their strength when wetted out. We use a mattress needle to score the repair paper to the shape and size we need, wet with a water brush and tear the support out. The resulting long fibred edges make for a strong and sympathetic support layer once pasted down.

What about the lacunae?

We add repair paper to infill and strengthen missing areas. This also includes replacing original material that has become detached. Using a heavier Japanese paper (Bunkoshi) that equals or is a bit lighter than the original and working on a light (illuminated) table; we score the exact area missing with a mattress needle.

We then soften the paper fibres using a Rotring pen filled with water and tear out the infill, add paste to the reverse and adhere in place to fill in the missing area. The repair to this plan is finally complete after the repairs have dried and trimmed with a sharp scalpel. As a final protective measure they are placed into transparent polyester sleeves.

We still have a bit of work to do until they are all conserved and accessible, but they will be ready in plenty of time for the upcoming events and activities. We wait, in eager anticipation, for the next box of tatty items to appear in our conservation studio!

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