Posted: Wed 12th Jul 2023

Chester’s historic Rows unveiled: University experts shine light on secrets and evolution in new film series

News and Info from Deeside, Flintshire, North Wales
This article is old - Published: Wednesday, Jul 12th, 2023

The origins, evolution, secrets and treasures of Chester’s world-famous and unique Rows are revealed in a new set of short films featuring experts from the University.

Premiered during the recent Chester Heritage Festival, the five films are now all available to watch online. They unravel the mysteries and celebrate 800 years of the Rows – the galleried upper-level streets, creating two tiers of shops and venues, along Watergate Street, Northgate Street, Eastgate Street and Bridge Street. 

The series has been created thanks to the Chester Rows High Street Heritage Action Zone programme which is funded by Historic England and led by Cheshire West and Chester Council with partners, the University of Chester, Marketing Cheshire, Chester BID (Business Improvement District), Chester Civic Trust and Grosvenor Estates.

The Revealing the Rows series includes:

Film One – How The Rows Began? – Experts Dr Caroline Pudney, Senior Lecturer in Archaeology at the University of Chester, and Dan Garner from MOLA (Museum of London Archaeology), look back 2,000 years to the origins of the Rows in the creation and collapse of the Deva Victrix Roman fortress and settlement; and examine exciting evidence of that Roman settlement that survives today. Dr Tom Pickles, Associate Professor in History at the University, then investigates a 100-year boom period between 1250-1350, when investment arising from two kings’ hostile campaign plans for North Wales led to a growth in trading activity and structures in the city.

Film Two800 Years of Shopping and Trading – Chester today is lauded for its large number of independent shops, cafes and restaurants, with antique emporiums and art galleries clustering on Watergate, while many jewellers can be found on Eastgate. Dr Katherine Wilson, Associate Professor in History at the University, examines the roots of Chester’s importance, with 170 trade occupations represented in Middle Ages Chester. The film also shares more about Lowe and Sons, the oldest shop in Chester, with a fascinating history linked to monarchs and prime ministers. 

Film Three – Fabulous Facades – Chester is held by many to be one of Britain’s most historically beautiful cities. The 250-plus Rows buildings span the ages from the 1200s through to the present day, and Conservation Manager Lee Bilson discusses why Chester is special. The Rows may be most noted for the black and white half-timbered ‘medieval’ buildings. However, it is explained how all is not what it seems, how changes from the 1850s altered the face of Chester, and about threats to the Rows in the 1960s. Dr Rebecca Andrew, Senior Lecturer in History at the University talks about the history of the department store, Brown’s, and street life in the mid-19th century is depicted.

Film Four – Secrets of the Rows – Exploring behind, and below the Rows’ frontages can reveal hidden secrets. The film introduces restaurant owner Sam Ripari who is proud to have a ‘building within a building’ complete with biblical scenes. At a secret location below Northgate, Cellan Harston, from Roman Tours, shows remains of the Roman ‘Principia’. On Watergate Row, Julie Edwards and Poppy Garrett of the Grosvenor Museum see how in 1375 a king’s surgeon created a dwelling, that is today a rare surviving example of a magnificent ‘Rows House’. Finally Dr Pickles looks at an incredible medieval under croft, which was rescued from burial by tons of rubble, and today has been repurposed for the modern age.

Film Five – Treasures of the Rows Liz Montgomery, from the Grosvenor Museum, and Dr Wilson take a look at some fascinating artefacts found in Chester, from Roman times through to the 18th century and share which are their favourites. The pieces include a very unusual find, probably courtesy of Henry III’s royal menagerie while a more modern highlight is spotlighted in one of the last Chester hallmarked pieces of silverware. Looking back again, the film delves into the discovery of impressive remains of the Roman bathhouse, and also the depiction of sea creatures in beautiful mosaics.

The films were produced by Phil Hirst, MD/Director Producer of independent production company, Planet X Television, and Media Production Officer at the University of Chester, who has also produced the University’s Global History in One City films.  

Dr Hannah Ewence, Head of the Department of History and Archaeology at the University of Chester said: “Chester’s world-famous Rows have captivated and intrigued residents and visitors for centuries. They are a much-loved and distinctive feature of the city, with nowhere else having galleried shopping streets that can be traced back so far. 

“We’re delighted that academics from the University have contributed to unravelling the mystery of how these two-tiered streets evolved, and this new series of fascinating films.”

Councillor Louise Gittins, Leader of Cheshire West and Chester Council added: “This series of fascinating short films uncover many secrets of Chester’s famous Rows. They help to explain just how special they really are and that there are more secrets still to be uncovered.

“Thanks to all of the experts who have shared their knowledge about many of the features that many people would never know about and I’m sure the next time you pass the Rows you will see them in a different light.”

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