October 14 – Chester and Chester Cathedral

In Pursuit of Harold on the Anniversary of the Battle of Hastings

Hi from Michal and Gillian of 1066 – A Medieval Mosaic

Today we decided to go to Chester to visit the cathedral and to find the Anchorite Cell where King Harold possibly lived out his days after surviving the Battle of Hastings. We particularly wanted to go today as it is the 952nd anniversary of the Battle of Hastings.

We drove to the Chester Zoo or Upton Park “park and ride” car park where we got free parking the whole day and the bus fare costs £2 each. It is by far the best way to go into a city. The bus stopped at the bus station in Chester and we could have, maybe should have got off the bus there but the driver said the next stop would take up to the middle of town and it did. We were right beside the Eastgate clock when we got off the bus and what a beauty it is.

Chester is an ancient town which was first established as a Roman fortress and town, known as Deva Victrix in about AD74. It was surrounded on four sides in a rectangular shape by a wall and a V-shaped ditch. On each side was a gate and Eastgate is one of them. The original gate was a wooden tower but it was replaced by a stone tower in the 2nd century which was later replaced in the 15th century. The present Eastgate is a three-arched sandstone structure which carries the Chester city walls. The Eastgate clock was added to the top of the gateway in 1899 to celebrate Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee. It has a clock face on all four sides and a copper ogee cupola. The whole structure is Grade I listed and is apparently the most photographed clock in England after Big Ben.

One block away was the Chester Cathedral. Chester Cathedral was built as the abbey church of a Benedictine monastery dedicated to St Werburgh and became a Church of England cathedral in 1541 and has since been the seat of the Bishop of Chester. The building dates from 1093 but has been modified many times and has many styles of English architecture from Norman to Perpendicular. Even some traces of the Saxon church was discovered in an excavation of the nave in 1997.

What a wonderful cathedral with all its brilliants mosaics, full mosaic walls and reredos mosaics. The north aisle mosaics were designed by Clayton and Bell in 1883 – 1886, executed by Burke and Co. and the mosaics depict Abraham, Moses, David and Elijah. The reredos and the floor mosaic in the quire date from 1876 and were also designed by J.R. Clayton as were the mosaic and the fresco painting in the south choir aisle. The cathedral also had wonderful stained glass windows and lovely carvings in the bench-ends, misericords and rood screen. The bench ends are 14th-century and quite outstanding. There are so many different creatures depicted. The quire stalls include 48 misericords and all but five are original from 1380. They depict a variety of subjects, some humorous and some grotesque. The quire screen, the rood screen and the Bishop’s throne or cathedra were designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott. In the chancel, the encaustic tile work is fabulous and was designed by Craven Dunnill in about 1880. The many reredoses around the cathedral and its chapels are wonderful and awe-inspiring. The high altar reredos is of the Last Supper and the reredos in St Oswald’s chapel is by C.E. Kempe. The reredos in the Chapel of St George is by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott and depicts a lovely rendition of St George and the Dragon.

Everywhere you look there is more to see. The gilded ceilings are fantastic and different designs in each part of the cathedral. There are many wonderful monuments, wall monuments and tombs including the tomb of the 1st Duke of Westminster who died in 1899, the tomb was designed by C.J. Blomfield. We spent several enthralled hours in this cathedral and it is definitely one of our favourites. The red sandstone of the cathedral and many other buildings and walls in Chester make it stand out from other cities too. There is a church micro at the cathedral which requires you to find four places around the inside of the building. We are so glad we did as one place we had to go was the cafe which we would not otherwise have visited. In here is an amazing Millenium stained glass window ‘ Creation ‘, designed by Ros Grimshaw, 2001 with the Hand of God is outlined in white. There is so much wonderful stained glass which mostly dates from the 19th and 20th centuries as the cathedral suffered badly at the hands of the Parliamentary troops. Stained glass artists include William Wailes, Hardman & Co and Michael Connor from the early Victorian times. Clayton & Bell and Heaton, Butler & Bayne from the High Victorian times and Charles Eamer Kempe from the late Victorian era. The eight-light Perpendicular window of the west end contains mid-20th-century glass representing the Holy Family and Saints, by W. T. Carter Shapland. Three modern windows in the south aisle, designed and made by Alan Younger to replace windows damaged in the Second World War. They were donated by the 6th Duke of Westminster to celebrate the 900th anniversary of the cathedral and contain the dates 1092 and 1992 to reflect the theme of “continuity and change”. Alan Younger also transformed Lord Grimthorpe’s great rose window in the North transept in St Alban’s cathedral.

We collected the numbers for the church micro and after not quite making it to ground zero which appeared to be inside the cathedral, we talked to a verger and he helped us to get there. It was outside and at the back but the verger took us on a shortcut through the cathedral. His boss loves geocaching and is responsible for placing this clever cache. We opened the padlock using the four-digit combination that we had collected, signed the log and replaced it in a nice muggle free zone. We gave the cache a favourite point for an awesome cathedral and for the excellent cache. Finding this cache also filled in another spot on our Jasmer Challenge as this cache was a D4/T2.5, only 17 more spaces to fill.

Next, we walked around Chester collecting the information we need for two other multis, one using the blue plaques on buildings and the other, numbers on various buildings. We didn’t find either of these today but would find one on a subsequent visit to the city. It is a great way to visit all the highlights of the city though including all the black and white half-timbered Gothic style buildings constructed in the 1890’s, some by architect John Douglas and others by Thomas Lockwood. Thomas Edwards, and Charles A. Ewing. St Nicholas’s Chapel became a wool hall in the 17th-century, Theatre Royal in 1777 and Chester Music Hall in 1855. Charles Dickens performed here in 1867. We completed an earthcache in the park by the Roman Bath House remains. The subject was the sedimentary gritstone that the columns were made from.

By mid-afternoon, we arrived beside the river Dee and went to find the Anchorite Cell where one of the legends says that King Harold lived out his days after surviving the Battle of Hastings in 1066. It is a bit of a tall tale but we wanted to find the place especially on this date the 952nd anniversary of the Battle. We found it in a garden on some private property. When we walked around the corner to see if we could find a sign anywhere we found a gentleman working in his garden. He confirmed that this is the “Anchorite cell” that we are looking for but he did not believe a word of it. He did not realise that this was the anniversary. We talked to a few other people about it while we were looking including one lady who had always lived in Chester and was fascinated but had never heard the story. We walked up through the park on the way to a traditional and just as I was nearing the cache a guy stepped out from the bushes and it could only be another geocacher. He was using a cell phone and was having no success so the three of us went looking again using the GPS and after a little while, I found the cache under a bush. His wife, a non-geocacher was sitting on the bench nearby reading a book. It was nice to meet SirTrev and his wife. We do not often meet fellow geocachers despite the numbers of them that there are in the UK. On our way back to the bus station we saw the Roman amphitheatre which is another famous spot for visitors to Chester. It is managed by English Heritage but is a free site. The amphitheatre is the largest so far uncovered in Britain and dates from the 1st century. Only half the site is uncovered, the southern end has buildings on it some of which are themselves grade listed.

The weather had not started off overly bright but it had improved all day until when we were walking beside the River Dee we were able to enjoy the sunshine and the atmosphere of a sunny Sunday. Chester is definitely one of our favourite cities with a great atmosphere but compact enough to walk around easily and enjoy what it had to offer. We would happily come back here again and again.