Friday 16 June 2017

Protecting Cityscapes

This year we celebrate 50 years of the Civic Amenities Act 1967, and what it means for our historic places across England, Wales and Scotland. President of The Civic Trust and MP, Lord Duncan Sandys helped to bring this legislation into being. The Act was passed in 1967 but a number of events leading up to it pushed conservation to the forefront.

After the war there was a need to rebuild war damaged areas across the country. Chester had been largely unaffected by the architectural damages of war but was in need of an overhaul to rectify some of its problems. A Plan for Redevelopment was written up by Charles Greenwood in 1945. It focused on controlling the city centre traffic and dealing with old housing with undesirable living conditions. About 2500 houses over 100 years old were condemned.
Chester, Francis Street. Image Courtesy of Chester History & Heritage. Image Bank ch5860

Many recommendations in the report were used as the basis for future changes, but lack of funding meant that redevelopment was slow and ineffective in reaching the goals over the short term. But it was the beginning.

In the 1950-60s there was concern that the historical face of Chester was being slowly obliterated which sparked the creation of Chester Civic Trust in January 1960. After their formation, the Chester Civic Trust immediately had to step in regarding The Blue Bell. The Blue Bell in Northgate Street was in danger of being demolished, but the Chester Civic Trust put forward their case that it should be kept and restored. The council agreed to keep the building and to fund the restoration project themselves. This was one of the first major wins for the Trust.
Northgate Street, Chester : neglected and in danger of demolition (LHS)
Northgate Street, Chester : Restored and repaired with the adjoining Blue Bell. (RHS)
Taken from the Insall Collection at Cheshire Archives and Local Studies.
In 1964 a Central Area Plan was developed for the city by Grenfell Baines. The plan focused on traffic flow- using one-way streets to discourage traffic in inner city areas. It also suggested the pedestrianisation of Town Hall Square (which was undertaken) and St Werburgh Street.
Around this time, lots of new development projects were being proposed. This included small and larger tower blocks. Chester Civic Trust tried to fight to stop these going ahead. Those approved with only minor consideration for the views of the public included Commerce House (now demolished to make way for Storyhouse); The Police Headquarters (now demolished to make way for the ABode hotel and Chester West and Chester council HQ) and the replacement for Clemences restaurant on Northgate Street.
Chester Civic Trust did however make some headway and advised the council not to demolish a number of historically important houses on Queen Street and to acquire and renovate the Nine houses on Park Street, which still stand today. The idea of preserving and conserving buildings had been brought to the forefront of people’s minds.
Chester: Park Street View of the Nine Houses. Image Bank c10324 
1967 brought the Civic Amenities Act. The Act required local authorities to start to recognise groups of buildings with historical value and designate them as conservation areas. Most of the centre of the city was designated. Previously, historical buildings were at risk of becoming derelict and demolished with little money or support to stop this. The aim of the Act was to conserve groups of buildings which made a town, city or village unique and ensure their value was not overshadowed by new developments.

In the new conservation areas, additions to properties such as extensions were regulated and trees within the areas were occasionally granted historical importance and not allowed to be felled. Also, any “proposed developments must preserve or enhance the special architectural or historic character of the conservation area. This does not specifically exclude innovative proposals but they must be sympathetic to their context.”
Out of this Act came four Historic Town Reports (one each for Bath, Chester, Chichester and York). Chester commissioned their Historic Town Report to be undertaken by Donald Insall Associates entitled ‘Chester, A study in Conservation’.

  Cover of Donald Insall’s report “Chester: A Study in Conservation.” Taken from the Insall Collection at Cheshire Archives and Local Studies.

Sir Donald Insall and his team identified key streets and areas in need of conservation efforts. Photographs were taken, voice recordings of initial impressions made and rough conservation costs drawn up of properties at risk. The photographs produced for this work are now held on-site at Cheshire Archives and Local Studies.
The report considered the most problematic area to be Bridgegate. A base of operations was set up in the area, and the need for swift restoration was highlighted when the office’s roof collapsed!
Gamul House and Gamul Place were some of the first chosen to be preserved and extensive work was carried out in this area and the rest of Bridgegate. A short film ‘The Conservation Game’ was produced and shown on television to highlight the considerations over this period and to follow the renovations of the buildings.
Gamul House, Lower Bridge Street, Chester : following restoration

Houses in Shipgate Street, Chester before restoration
Houses in Shipgate Street, Chester following restoration. Taken from the Insall Collection at Cheshire Archives and Local Studies.

More recently, conservation work was undertaken on the City Walls in 2013 and on Eastgate and Eastgate Clock in 2014. Modernisation and conservation of buildings around Chester Station has also been undertaken after some had fallen into disrepair. The Civic Amenities Act 1967 has made a difference to the cityscape of current Chester with the spirit of conservation continuing on.
More photographs from the Insall Collection will be shown on our Twitter page @CheshireRO for #civicday 17th June 2017. The whole collection of images taken for Chester’s Historic Town Report are held by Cheshire Archives and Local Studies and we are working to make them accessible to the public as soon as possible.

Wednesday 14 June 2017

Monumental Inscriptions

A few months ago, whilst I was producing documents for customers in the searchroom, a customer ordered D5104 which the catalogue describes, accurately but somewhat drily, as “1 folder: Transcripts of monumental inscriptions made from tombs and printed sources, various Cheshire parishes, 17c-20c”

When I found the folder and opened it to check its contents it looked like hundreds of tiny typed copies of inscriptions in small bundles, each one held together by a paper clip.  Unsurprisingly, not all the paper clips were still in the right place. Using the description and numbers of items in each theme from the full paper catalogue that the customer had seen here it didn't take long to make sense of the jumbled slips, and present the customer with what she expected. To prevent this happening again and to make the experience of reading them a little less chaotic in future, we decided to copy the slips onto A4 sheets by theme, which gave us the chance to experience a little flavour of what lay within!

We’ll start with the benevolent Joseph Bleamire, Coachman, 1760 (buried in Barthomley):

Coachman to/JOHN CREWE Esq./left by his last Will and /Testament
the Sum of Sixty/Pounds the Interest of which/to be laid out
weekly in brown/Bread of the value of two/Pence per Loaf and to
be/distributed in the Parish Church of Barthomley/
every/ Sunday immediately after/morning Service to the Poor/of
the Township of Crewe.

Then, how about the somewhat productive Sir Henry Bunbury (17th Century, from Thornton-le-Moors):

He married two Wives: first Anne/by whom he had yssue 3 sonnes
And 6 daughters/and Martha by whom he had/yssue 7 sonnes and 3

And the even more eye watering Lady Katherine Clegg from Heswall:
She was married on the 22nd July 1650 and died on the 26th
August 1666 aged 39. She bore 15 children, 13 sons and two

Next how about poor Latitia Leyland, Born and Died October 1st 1837 in Cheadle:
Sweet Babe, she glanc’d into our world to see
A sample of our misery,
Then turn’d away her languid eye,
To drop a tear or two and die
The cup of life to her lips she press’d
Found the taste bitter and refus’d the rest.
Sweet Babe no more but Seraph now
Before the shrine behold her bow,
Adore the grace that brought her there
Without a wish – without a care,
That wash’d her soul in Calvary’s stream
That shorten’d life’s distressing dream.
Short pain – short grief – dear Babe was thine
Now joys eternal and divine.

If you’ve managed to compose yourself again after reading that one, we can return to issues of mind boggling productivity with Ann Barker of Middlewich:
Here lies Ann, Wife of Daniel
Barker, who died July 3, 1778,
Aged 77
Some have children and some have none,
But here lies the Mother of Twenty one
Time for reflection in Church Lawton where “it is said that an iron tombstone by the main gate of the churchyard bore the following inscription (long since illegible)”:
He was a brute of a husband and
led me a shocking life
Another desperately dispiriting pair now, firstly Martha Clark of Bidston who died in 1846, aged 21:
Nineteen years/a Maid/Two years a Wife./Nine days/a Mother/And
then /Departed Life.

Secondly, here is poor William Pownall of Mobberley who died in 1864, aged 20:
All you that stop this Stone to see
Pray think how sudden death took me
I in my youth God call’d away
Just before my wedding day
More happily, it is pleasing to discover that some lived just a little longer. Joseph Watson, ‘Park-keeper’ died in 1753, aged 104 and is buried in Disley:
He was Park Keeper to Mr Peter Leigh, at Lyme,
more than 64 years and was ye first
that Perfected the Art of Driving ye Stags.
Here lyeth also the body of Elizabeth his wife,
aged 94 years, to whom
he had been married 75 years.
Reader, take notice, the longest life is short.

A note is added stating “He was born at Mosley Common in Lancashire.  He claimed that he drank a gallon of malt liquor every day for sixty years”.  Five other centenarians are also recorded, although, sadly perhaps, their level of alcohol consumption isn’t.
If you are interested in Monumental Inscriptions in a more structured sense then please note that a search on our catalogue for that term lists over 400 items in total.  Please also be aware that we have a large collection of individual volumes on open access in the public searchroom  that each relate to a different Parish in the County.

Friday 9 June 2017

A honeymoon tour to remember!

Who has kept a diary? I have – with a birthday at Christmas time and growing up in the seventies there was every chance I would receive at least one diary, usually with matching pen, every year – but even the most attractive of them (purple velvet) still didn’t inspire me much beyond February. Then there were the teenage years  ... And the last diary I kept? Recording a trip to Japan in my early twenties I supposed I wouldn’t make again.

The wonderful thing about diaries in Cheshire's archive collections is that we can recognise all of this and ourselves in them. For International Archives Day 2017 and #archivestourism here are extracts from a young woman's honeymoon diary.

Wednesday July 13th 1892

We were to travel by a train which left Alderley Edge soon after half past three in the afternoon – Leo and I. The express which Leo had decided on to take us up to London would not stop for us at Alderley, though most politely requested to do so; but brides and bridegrooms were things it was very accustomed to, and its iron heart was not to be moved. The express left Manchester at a quarter past four, so we had a good half hour to wait at Crewe. Leo put me in the waiting room to rest before the journey. He came to summon me presently, and took me to the express which had come in, and finding his name on the window of a coupe, he opened the door. We reached Euston about half past eight. Leo got a cab and we packed in with our luggage, my box and Leo’s portmanteau and he had a hat box, and I a handbag, and set off for the Victoria Hotel in Northumberland Avenue.  We were expected, and our room was waiting for us. It is a very fine hotel, the largest I have yet been in.
Of course we were much too late for dinner, and we were too tired to care for a private one, so Leo ordered cutlets and tea, as the most refreshing things he could think of, to be ready immediately. Leo, who knew the hotel, made his way to the coffee room, where our tea was to be laid, a handsome room, but oh so hot and close! Our tea came soon, cutlets, chip potatoes, tea and toast, and very good and refreshing it was, but I was not sorry to leave the hot room as soon as possible, and as we were both very tired, we went straight away to bed. I do not seem to have much to say about today, but it is not a day one would choose to write about.

Thursday July 14th

I am ashamed to say what time it was when we got up, but Leo had slept badly, having had toothache, which was very unromantic, but true nevertheless. 

We went down to breakfast (I might say at last), and Leo ordered coffee, and fried soles, and toast, which was very nice, but the room was as close as ever, and my new morning frock pinched so dreadfully round the neck, that I unhooked it, and furtively fastened the brooch in again over a good gap of collar. (Otherwise, it is a very nice blue serge, and in my heart I rather admire it, with collar and cuffs.) 

Our newly weds have the best part of a day to kill before their train to the coast and the boat for Rotterdam.  They would both have liked Kew (Frances will become an expert gardener) but it’s too far out and museums or galleries seem like hard work …

So Leo proposed that we should go and see ‘Venice’ at Olympia, as a good lazy way of passing the time, for as we know that there were canals and gondolas, we naturally thought that they must be in gardens. In other respects, we knew nothing at all about it.

The gardens were creations of our own wild imagination … the glass-making was in progress at certain hours, but we did not see it …. We went to see the – I know not what to call it – say, spectacle. Presently the play began, a hash-up of all sorts of things, the whole thing was sung; and we were too far away to hear anything of words. 

And on to the boat at Harwich, and perhaps the reasons for Frances’ growing dissatisfaction becomes clear … Leo predicts a calm night …

We did not want any supper, after the long dinner we had had, but I was very anxious to be allowed to pass the night on the saloon couches; the cabins looked so full and close, and I don’t care to be sick before strangers, in a box. At first we were told that I could and Leo went away cheerfully to look after his own berth. But by and by came the stewardess to me, and said that it could only be allowed if all the berths were taken up. When Leo came back he had found a berth, and an old lacrosse acquaintance. I waited awhile, but I was doomed to disappointment; the stewardess came and bore me off to a berth, in a cabin containing four. The whole place was about as big as a very small dining table and it already contained three Americans. I climbed into my top berth, half undressed and lay down. Presently came the stewardess and dealt out basins. ‘Prevention is better than cure’ she said with a pleasing smile. My heart sank right to the bottom end of my berth. The abominable Adelaide began to roll almost immediately after leaving Harwich, and one of the Americans succumbed early, and kept it up all night. If this were any consolation to me I had the pleasure of lying and listening to it, until the small hours, when I too succumbed. 

Friday July 15th

Not to have slept till morning, and not much then, does not conduce to general briskness, to say nothing of the horrors of seasickness and a close cabin. Soon after six I roused up altogether, for the stewardess came in and said that we were later than usual, for we had had a very rough passage. And that was Leo’s calm night.

Frances Crompton was born near Prestbury in 1866, and lived in Wilmslow, where she met and married bank manager John Leopold Walsh. They later lived in Holmes Chapel and Chelford. She published 29 children’s stories, was a skilled painter and kept her Gardening Diary begun in 1915. She died in 1952 and her daughter deposited her diaries in the archives. The collection reference is D 5453.

With thanks to volunteer Hilary Morris for transcribing diary extracts.