Chester, Cheshire Family History Guide

Chester comprises the following parishes:


Nonconformists within the city of Chester were:

  • Baptist
  • Presbyterian
  • Society of Friends/Quaker
  • United Presbyterian Church of Scotland
  • Catholic
  • Wesleyan
  • Wesleyan Methodist
  • Primitive Methodist
  • Congregational
  • Calvinistic Methodist

Historical Descriptions

Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales Circa 1870

Chester, a city and two sub-districts in Great Boughton district, Cheshire; and a diocese in Cheshire and part of Lancashire. The city stands on the river Dee and on the Via Devana, 5 miles SE of the head of the Dee's estuary, and 16, through Birkenhead, SSE of Liverpool. An artificial channel of the Dee, navigable for vessels of 350 tons, gives it communication, through the Dee's estuary, with the sea; one canal connects it northward with the Mersey at Ellesmere - Port, and another east-south-eastward with the Birmingham canal at Nantwich; and railways go from it in five directions, toward Birkenhead, Manchester, Crewe, Shrewsbury, and Holyhead.


The ancient Britons had a town on the site of Chester from some remote period unknown to record. The Romans took possession of it in 61; built fortifications round it; placed in it their twentieth legion, “Valens Victrix; called it Deva or Deunana; and held it till the last hour of their sway in England. The Britons, on gaining repossession, called it Caer-Lleon-Vawr, signifying “the fort of the great legion.” The Saxons took it from the Britons in 828, and called it Legeceaster. The Danes got possession of it in 894; but were expelled by Ethelfreda in 908. Hugh Lupus obtained it, with the county, from the Conqueror; and made it the seat of his palatinate. Henry II. visited it in 1156; John in 1212; Henry III., gathering his nobles against Llewelyn, in 1260; Edward I., marching to the conquest of Wales, in 1274, 1276, and 1294; Queen Eleanor, in 1284; Prince Edward of Carnarvon, receiving the homage of the Welsh, in 1300; Edward II., in 1312; the Black Prince, in 1353; Richard II., in 1394,—and again, as a prisoner, in 1399; Margaret of Anjou, rallying her Lancastrians, in 1455; Henry VI., in 1470; Henry VII., in 1495; Prince Arthur, in 1499; James I., in 1617; Charles I., retreating from Benton Heath, in 1645; and James II., in 1687. It suffered sharply, more than once, under the shocks of political change and military movement; and sustained a disastrous siege of three months, in 1645, by the parliamentary forces under Brereton. It became a county of itself, with jurisdiction separate from Cheshire, in the time of Henry VII.; yet continued to be the seat of the palatinate; and it still gives the title of Earl to the eldest son of the British sovereign.

Public Buildings

Public Buildings.— A castle was built in the city by Hugh Lupus, soon after the Conquest; and appears to have included some portion of the Roman fortifications. A magnificent hall of it, 100 feet long, 45 feet wide, very lofty, and of great historical interest, was pulled down in 1786; and the chief part of it now standing is a tower, called Agricola's, containing a frescoed chapel, in which James II. heard mass. A spacious modern edifice occupies the castle's site and bears its name; is a royal fortress, with a governor and other officers; includes barracks, armoury, shire hall, and county jail; presents a grand classical exterior, much admired; and equals or surpasses every edifice of its kind, in the convenience of its interior arrangements. The barracks have accommodation for 120 men; the armoury contains 30,000 stand of arms, and 90 nieces of ordnance; the shire hall has a twelve-columned portico, with monolithic columns in two rows, and contains a spacious semicircular courtroom; and the county-jail comprises three suites of buildings, and has capacity for 34 debtors, and for 148 male and 27 female criminals. The militia barracks stand in close proximity to the castle-yard; are structures of local red sandstone, with Helsby stone facings; and were erected in 1860, at a cost of about £8,000. The city jail and house of correction are two-storey edifices, surrounded by a brick wall.; and have capacity for 32 debtors, and for 102 male and 36 female criminals. The exchange, in Northgate-street, was burnt down on 30 Dec. 1862; and a new one is to be erected at a cost of from £20,000 to £30,000. The linen hall, in Watergate-street, was built in 1780, by the Irish merchants; and is now the cheese market. The corn exchange is a recent erection, raised at a cost of £4,000. The new general market was built in 1863, after designs by Messrs. Hay of Liverpool; is covered, spacious, and convenient; and has a principal frontage 120 feet long and 50 feet high, in a somewhat bizarre renaissance style, with attached rusticated Ionic columns. A new bank, in Eastgate-street, completed in 1861, is a handsome edifice with tetrastyle Corinthian portico. The railway station is common to the five railways which meet at the city; was erected at a cost of upwards of £220,000, after designs by Thompson of London; has a main facade 1,010 feet long, and a passenger range 1,160 feet long; and is covered by a strong elegant iron roof, after a design by Wylde. The works near the station, on the Holyhead line, include a tunnel 300 yards long, a viaduct of 74 arches, and a long cast-iron girder bridge over the Dee, memorable for the tragical accident by the fracture of one of its girders in May 1847. The old bridge across the Dee was originally constructed by Edward the Elder, but has undergone considerable alteration; and is seven-arched, narrow, inconvenient, and picturesque. The new bridge was opened in 1832 by Princess Victoria; is 340 feet long and 33 feet wide; and has a single arch, 200 feet in span. The race-course, on low ground at the base of the city wall, is 1,800 yards in circuit; looks, from the high grounds above it and from the Holyhead railway, like a great verdant amphitheatre; and bears the name of Rood-Eye, from a cross which once stood adjacent. The theatre, now superseded by the music hall, was originally St. Nicholas' chapel, and is notable for having been under the management of the Kembles, with Mrs. Siddons. Other public buildings are markets, baths, wash-houses, the custom-house, and the commercial. Union, and Manchester halls; and more will be noticed in subsequent paragraphs.

Walls and Streets

Walls and Streets.—The city stands on a rocky elevation, half encircled by a bend of the Dee; is engirt with walls 1 ¾ mile and 101 yards in circuit; and presents to the eye of a stranger a striking and picturesque appearance. The walls date from the Roman times; underwent extensive repair and improvement, in 908, by the Princess Ethelfleda; retain, to the present day, portions of both Roman and Saxon masonry; are so broad as to admit, even where narrowest, of two persons walking abreast; form a fine promenade for the citizens; and afford most delightful views of the Dee's estuary, the circumjacent country, and the distant Welsh mountains. Four main entrances and three posterns pierce the walls; and three of many towers which formerly defended them, are still in a nearly perfect state. The main entrances are arched gateways, and bear the names of Bridge-gate, Watergate, East-gate, and North-gate. One of the three nearly perfect towers, the Bonewaldesthorne, contains a camera; another, the Water-tower, has been converted into a museum for the mechanics' institution; and the third, the Phoenix-tower, bears an inscription to the effect that “King Charles stood on it, on 24 Sept. 1645, and saw his army defeated on Rowton-moor.” Many Roman relics, including altars, urns, coins, lamps, weapons, statues, pottery, and pieces of pavement, have been found near the wall and under the streets, in the course of excavations; and a considerable part of a hypocaust or sudatory still stands at an inn, with the sign of the “Roman Bath,” in Bridge-street.

Four principal streets run from a common centre, called here the pentise—elsewhere it would be called the cross ,—to the four cardinal points of the compass, and terminate at the gates. Lesser streets intersect the principal ones at right angles, and divide the four quarters of the city into lesser squares. The carriage-way of the principal streets is sunk, by excavation, from 4 to 10 feet below the original level of the ground; ranges of one-story buildings, used as shops and warehouses, extend along the sides of the carriage-way; piazzas for foot-passengers, with shops behind them, surmount these buildings, and bear the name of rows; upper storeys of houses, mostly in the mediaeval style, some of them old and timbered, surmount the piazzas; and flights of steps lead down, at convenient distances, from the piazzas to the carriage-way. So unique and curious an arrangement of thoroughfares has been a subject of marvel to many a writer. “Here,” said Thomas Fuller, “is a peculiar property of building called the Rows, being galleries, wherein the passengers go dry, without coming into the streets, having shops on both sides and underneath; the fashion whereof is somewhat hard to conceive. It is worth their pains, who have money and leisure to make their own eyes the expounder of the manner thereof; the like being said not to be seen in all England; no, not in all Europe again.” Much rebuilding has taken place in recent years, with great enterprize and at great cost; but it retains the old style, includes some restoration of timbered houses, adds tasteful imitations of mediaeval stone architecture, and leaves the city as curious as ever.

“Queer, quaint old Chester,
Grotesque and honest art thou sure,
And so behind this very changeful day,
So fond of antique fashions, it would seem
Thou must have slept an age or two away.
Thy very streets are galleries . . .
Old Rome was once thy guest, beyond a doubt,
And thou dost hoard her gifts with pride and care,
As erst the Grecian dame displayed her jewels rare.1)“

Source: The Imperial Gazetteer of England & Wales [Wilson, John M]. A. Fullarton & Co. N. d. c. [1870-72].

Leonard's Gazetteer of England and Wales 1850

Chester (the County town), 180½ miles N.W. London, 20 m. from the sea, 20 m. Denbigh, 40 m. Shrewsbury, 46 m. Stafford, 76 m. Derby, and 75 m. Lancaster. It stands on the banks of the Dee. Markets, Wed. and Sat. P. 23,115.

Source: Leonard's Gazetteer of England and Wales; Second Edition; C. W. Leonard, London; 1850

Photographs & Illustrations


Below is a list of people that were declared bankrupt between 1820 and 1843 extracted from The Bankrupt Directory; George Elwick; London; Simpkin, Marshall and Co.; 1843.

Babb John, Chester, woollen draper and tailor, Sept. 15, 1840.

Blayney John, Chester, stone and marble mason, April 17, 1840.

Boden Edward, Chester, chemist and druggist, April 28, 1840.

Butler Robert, Chester, cabinet maker, Aug. 21, 1840


Edwards William; and George Walker; Chester, nurserymen, Sept. 11, 1840.

Ellis Joseph, Chester, brewer, wine and spirit dealer, July 13, 1830.

Evans Joseph, Chester, innkeeper, May 8, 1832.


England and Wales Census, 1841

England and Wales Census, 1851

England and Wales Census, 1861

England and Wales Census, 1871

England and Wales Census, 1881

England and Wales Census, 1891

England and Wales Census, 1901

England and Wales Census, 1911

Parish Records

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England, Cheshire Non-conformist Records, 1671-1900

England, Cheshire Probate Records, 1492-1940

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