Chester is the county town of Cheshire in the north-west of England, close to the border with Wales. It is one of the best preserved walled cities in the country. It is situated north of the River Dee. It has a population of around 80,300
Chester is an old city dating back approximately 2000 years to Roman times (when parts of the City wall date from) when it was known as Deva or Castra Devana. They built it as a fortress for LEGIO XX VALERIA VICTRIX, the 20th Legion, safe in the loop of the River Dee and used it as a port and defence from the Welsh Celts. It was then the principal town of England, with many relics remaining today, including the weir on the river to keep water levels high and stop ships going too far, the 'cross', where the four main streets intersect, as well as remains of a strong room and hypocaust system underneath shops and, controversially, half of its original amphitheatre, with the other half built over.
After the fall of the Roman Empire three hundred years later, the Saxons extended and strengthened the walls to protect the city against the Danes.
After the 1066 Norman Conquest, Chester Castle was built as another defence from the Celts. Along with this, the Normans built Chester Cathedral which, before Henry VIII, was dedicated to Saint Werburgh, and still stands in the city centre today. Chester was at this time the largest port in Northern England, with the trade that this created bringing affluence to the city. This continued until the River Dee silted up, after which trade was diverted to the relatively young town of Liverpool. The silting of the River Dee created land which is now Chester's racecourse (known as the Roodee), on which a stone cross, once used as a water level marker, still stands.
Chester continued to deal with its loss of trade throughout the centuries, and in the 1640s English Civil War the Battle of Rowton Moor occurred in nearby meadows, where the Parliamentary Forces crushed the Royalist loyal Cavaliers. This battle was watched by King Charles I from Chester's Water Tower on the City Walls.
In the Georgian era, the city became again a centre of affluence, a town with elegant terraces where the landed aristocracy lived. This trend continued into the Industrial Revolution, when the city was populated with the upper classes in amongst the industrial sprawls of Manchester and Liverpool. The revolution brought the Chester Canal (now part of the Shropshire Union Canal) to the city (which was dubbed 'England's first unsuccessful canal', after its failure to bring heavy industry to Chester) as well as railways and two large central stations, only one of which remains. The Victorians progressed to build Chester's Gothic Town Hall, which, along with the Cathedral, dominates the city skyline. This was built after the original Guild Hall burnt down, and features a clock tower with only three faces, with the Welsh facing side remaining blank. The reason for this was declared by the architects to be simply because “Chester won't give the Welsh the time of day”.
A considerable amount of land in Chester is owned by the Duke of Westminster who lives in the nearby village of Eccleston, which explains the Grosvenor Hotel and Grosvenor Park, Grosvenor being the Duke's family name. This also explains a large extent of Chester's architecture that dates from the Victorian era, with many of the buildings that aren't modelled on the Jacobean half timbered style of the medieval times being designed by John Douglas, employed by the Duke as his principal architect. He had a trademark of twisted chimneystacks, and designed amongst other buildings the Grosvenor Hotel and the City Baths. The two wars created a large extent of affordable housing in Chester's suburbs, eventually completely encircling the city, and also in what is now Chester's student district for University College Chester. The 1960s did account for approximately four large tower blocks that replaced slums, and a number of concrete and steel buildings that do not appear sympathetic to the city's original style.
The city is a popular shopping centre, with its unique 'Rows' or galleries (basically two levels of shops) which date from medieval times. The city is heavily populated by chain stores both in the centre and on retail parks to the west, and also features two indoor shopping centres, an indoor market and a department store, Browns of Chester, once known as 'the Harrods of the North'.
The city has two cinemas and a theatre, the Gateway Theatre, and in the summer the city hosts the annual Chester Music Festival and the Chester Mystery Plays, the latter of which dates from medieval times. Numerous pubs populate the city, some of which are medieval, as do wine bars at night, and Chester also has five nightclubs. The city also has a football team, Chester City F.C, who play in the Deva Stadium and a national basketball team, the Chester Jets, who play in the city's Northgate Arena leisure centre. Also to the east side of the city are the UK's largest zoological gardens, Chester Zoo.
The city's main industry is retail and tourism, but there is a large Shell oil refinery, and also a chemical factory, operated by ICI to the north of Chester near Ellesmere Port. To the west near the village of Hawarden there is an aviation factory, operated by BAe Systems (formerly British Aerospace) where the wings of the Airbus are manufactured, and there are food processing plants to the north and west.
Chester has a railway station to the North East of the town centre with an impressive italianate frontage of 1848, though the interior is somewhat dilapidated. Trains go from here along the North Wales coast, Liverpool, Crewe, Manchester and Shrewsbury. The former Northgate station was closed in 1969, was demolished and is now the site of the Northgate Arena leisure centre. The city is also the terminus of the M53 from Liverpool and, via the M56, Manchester, as well as the terminus of the A55 to Holyhead in North Wales.