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Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Chester’s Ancient Rows

Chester’s famous Rows have attracted visitors to the city for centuries. The Rows are situated on Watergate St, Eastgate St and Northgate St, Bridge St and (in earlier times) Lower Bridge St. Antiquarian Thomas Pennant was greatly intrigued by the Rows’ peculiar construction, which probably dates back to the mid-thirteenth century; carved stone under-crofts are still visible inside some shops. As time went by, the Row architecture fell in and out of fashion; writers such as Celia Fiennes and Daniel Defoe thought the Rows looked ugly. In Regency Cheshire , the Rows were extremely prosperous; all the best shops were found there.

Chester lost one Row without warning in 1821. Part of Lamb Row fell into the street ‘with a loud crash’ and ‘an immense volume of dust’ (Gentleman’s Magazine, December 1824.) Luckily, no-one was injured.

Chester historian Joseph Hemingway, writing in 1831, described how old dilapidated shop fronts were replaced by shining glass windows and elegant new shops: ‘drapers, clothiers, jewellers, perfumers, booksellers as respectable as the kingdom can produce.’ William and Henry Brown, silk mercers and milliners, opened a splendid new shop in Eastgate Row which was compared with ‘the magnificence of Regent St.’  There are tips for researching your Chester and Cheshire family history in my Chester feature in this month’s Discover My Past England.

Images from author’s collection: The Rows on Eastgate St, Chester. Saturday Magazine, 1836.
Lamb Row, Chester, built c.1655 by Randle Holme on the west side of Bridge St. It collapsed in 1821. Gentleman’s Magazine (Supplement), December 1824.

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