‘Why this small English town is a must-see for history buffs’

Sep 11, 2020
The Old Dee Bridge, river Dee, Chester City, Cheshire, England. Source: Getty

In November 2012, we ventured to Chester, close to the Welsh border, and 40 minutes south of Liverpool. Chester was settled by the Romans in the first century and there’s heaps of evidence in and around Chester to verify this. The multi-talented Tony acted as my personal tour guide, and I learned so much of Chester’s history. It was absolutely fascinating.

We visited Minerva’s Shrine, the oldest Roman shrine in the whole country still in existence in situ. It is still beside the route of the old main Roman road into the fortress of Deva from the south. Deva (or Dewa) is the ancient name for Chester derived from the River Dee on which it sits. When the river isn’t so flooded, Tony said you can still see the remains of the old Roman bridge in the bottom of the river.

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Minerva’s Shrine is a must-see when visiting Chester. Source: Adrienne Beaumont

We visited the largest amphitheatre in Britain and went for a walk along the medieval walls. The Roman ones around the fort were originally timber but were replaced with stone. Part of the Roman walls lies buried under the current sandstone ones which are the most complete set of town walls still in existence in Britain. Headstones of some Roman soldiers who lived here in up until 400AD were discovered during repair work being carried out in the late 1800s. Apparently, they had been dumped in the walls to strengthen them by the Romans themselves in the latter part of their occupation.

This was fortunate as they have been perfectly preserved and not affected by the weather so can be easily read. Many of them are on display in the Grosvenor Museum, which we visited later in the day. I just love finding little parts of history wherever I travel.

Coffee time in one of the little cafés along Bridge Street, unusual because of the Rows, another level of shops above street level. The Rows are unique to Chester. Further along the street was another café where the original Roman bathhouse was accessible via the cellar. Wow! Words fail me. Even the pictures don’t convey the feeling of being there. I was almost left there forever when I stepped back trying to take a photo, tripped on an uneven surface in the rock floor, and fell onto a flimsy-looking railing, but strong enough to prevent my falling a few metres down, back into Roman times.

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The incredible Roman bathhouse. Source: Adrienne Beaumont

More walking up to the Cathedral where the Knife Angel was on display; a sculpture made from more than 100,000 knives, daggers and other weapons that have been used for murders collected from police stations and courthouses all over the country. Some people don’t like it, but I thought it was great. Something beautiful made from something ugly. The families of the victims had inscriptions on some of the knives. Of course, they’d been blunted and cleaned before being used for the statue. This was much more recent history than Roman times, but just as interesting.

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The Knife Angel stands guard outside the Cathedral. Source: Adrienne Beaumont

Tony suggested we visit the Albion, an old English corner pub with lots of memorabilia from the First World War era. We downed a quick half-pint and were off discovering more history in the Dewa Roman Experience: an interactive museum designed for kids but very informative and fun for adults too. At least I thought so.

We had one more museum to visit (the one with the headstones) so decided to eat first at Frattoria, a very popular Italian restaurant. I ordered sand-crab ravioli and a Peroni to revive me. I was starting to feel like I had been walking since the Roman times. Next, we were off to the Grosvenor Museum which was filled with hundreds of artefacts that have been discovered in Chester. We left at closing time. It was pitch black outside. Night falls quickly in autumn. Driving back to Liverpool, I fell asleep. Don’t worry, I wasn’t driving. It had been a big day, but I had enjoyed every minute of it!

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