The English city of Chester, located on the border with North Wales, is an incredibly photogenic place. Its black and white architecture; the unique, two tiered shopping galleries called ‘The Rows’; the Norman cathedral and the River Dee with its tree lined promenade, all conspire to attract visitors from across the world. And they have no difficulty in capturing stunning images because this must be one of Britain’s most beautiful heritage cities.
Like those other popular destinations York and Bath, Chester owes its existence to the Romans. They founded the city over 1,900 years ago, probably in 79AD. It was the base of the Legio II Adiutrix and was named Deva, possibly after the British name for the river.
Today the city retains its Roman street pattern, with Northgate Street and Bridge Street heading north to south, and Eastgate Street and Watergate Street leading east to west. Chester’s ancient walls are also virtually intact, with parts following the Roman route and a section heading west and south to the river added in medieval times, probably by the middle 12th century. They provide a fascinating two mile circular route – photographers can take advantage of excellent views into the city from the main gates (which span the four main streets) or they can also look outwards to the distant Welsh hills.
The Rows, the only example of their kind in the UK, are another medieval creation – they can be seen in the picture of the buildings at The Cross, towards the bottom of this post. Their origin is still a mystery, but it’s possible the properties were built on top of the ruins of earlier Roman structures. Now they provide shelter on rainy days and are very popular with shoppers, particularly on Bridge Street and Eastgate Street. The Rows on Watergate Street probably provide a more authentic historic feel for photographers – many of the buildings are older, the ceiling heights vary from property to property and there is an atmospheric interplay of shadow and light looking along the pathway within each Row.
The Victorian clock, mounted on the Eastgate (pictured above), has become symbolic of the city and has been used extensively in marketing materials. Arguably too much so, particularly when featured in isolation, as The Rows, the stunning half-timbered buildings and the cathedral say so much more about the city’s distinctive qualities. It was erected in 1899 to mark Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee and is said to be the most photographed clock in the UK after Big Ben. From Eastgate Street, the gate and the clock are best photographed in the late afternoon as the sun streams in from the south and west. Try to include some of the city’s magnificent 19th century black and white timbered buildings in the shots – there are some great examples in this area, particularly the one currently occupied by the Next store – or the five star Chester Grosvenor Hotel, with its colourful flags.
There are many other attractive and historic properties to photograph in the city, such as St. Michael’s Buildings, with their imposing half-timbered façade; the 17th century Boot Inn on Eastgate Street; the 13th century Three Old Arches on Bridge Street and Chester Town Hall, opened in 1869 and designed Gothic Revival style.
One of the city’s most attractive properties is the ornate half-timbered building at The Cross (seen above), the staggered junction where the four Roman streets of Chester meet. Located at the corner of Eastgate Street and Bridge Street it looks truly Elizabethan, but is in fact an example of superb Victorian architecture and dates from 1888. You can get a great shot of this from Row level near the Victoria pub on Watergate Street.
And, of course, there are a host of other wonderful places to photograph in Chester, including the Cathedral – but more about these in an another post.