Chester City Walls
City Walls project timeline
Since 2009, the Council has spent around £6m to ensure the Walls can be enjoyed by generations to come.
Since we took over care of the City Walls, many restoration projects have taken place. This is to ensure the ancient monument is cared for and well preserved. To-date, around £6m has been spent to ensure the City Walls can be enjoyed by generations to come.
Bridgegate Bridge at the end of Lower Bridge Street was closed in 2021 for safety reasons when a problem was found with the parapet. Scheduled Monument Consent was granted by Historic England to investigate the cause of the problem and to check that parts of the structure below the paving were in a safe condition. The defects found were repaired during the summer months to allow the use of specialist lime mortar.
While the bridge was closed, engineers took the opportunity to carry out some routine tasks like masonry repairs, repointing and vegetation removal which are difficult to carry out when the bridge is in use, to minimise disruption. the bridge is now open again.
The Northgate Steps were propped in 2012 after showing signs of very significant movement which would have resulted in collapse. Like the section of the City Walls north of the Eastgate Bridge, the steps were partly founded on the soft clay Roman rampart defences and partly on firmer ground.
In April 2016 work began to carefully dismantle the Steps so that a new foundation could be installed. Shortly afterwards, engineers found that the inner wall they had expected to see between the steps and the actual City Wall was not there. If the dismantling work had continued, there was a real risk that the City Wall itself could become unstable because there was nothing to support the wall core material behind the Steps. Beneath the foot of the steps, close to the Northgate Bridge, archaeologists found the remains of the foundations of the very first Roman stone gateway, something that had not been seen in living memory.
Because of these unexpected findings work was suspended so engineers and archaeologists could work out how to make the wall safe without damaging the archaeological remains. The new foundation to the steps also had to be completely redesigned to protect the archaeology.
Work began again in 2019 to build a new inner wall and core, followed by the steps which have been rebuilt using most of the original stones in their original positions. A chamber has been included inside the steps over the newly discovered Roman foundations. This should allow the archaeology to be put on display in the future. To finish, a new, illuminated handrail has been installed in a design that is more in keeping with the status of the City Walls.
Watergate Bridge is a popular vantage point on race days and a safe way for pedestrians to cross a very busy road junction. A routine inspection in 2012 found signs of structural problems in the parapets so propping was installed immediately to keep the bridge open whilst repair work was planned.
Many of the stones forming the balustrade had decayed badly due to weathering and the effects of the hard cement mortar used in historic repairs. Stonemasons carefully took apart the parapet, saving as much of the original stone as possible for re-use but sadly many could not be saved. Where stones could not be saved, the stonemasons made copies by hand. The parapet was rebuilt with internal reinforcement and a waterproofing layer was installed over the bridge to prevent water damage to the soft sandstone structure.
The City Wall just north of the Eastgate Bridge had been propped since 2010. After observation, the wall was found to be slowly rotating outwards. The movement was happening because the wall was partly founded on the very soft clay rampart, which formed part of the original Roman city defences, and partly on a firmer footing. To stop the rotation, part of the wall and core was taken apart and carefully rebuilt to shift the centre of gravity back to a safer line. This solution was chosen in preference to an underpinning scheme which would have destroyed some of the Roman rampart.
While the stabilisation work was taking place, we took advantage of the closure of the wall walkway to carry out some much-needed masonry repairs to the Eastgate Bridge. The wrought ironwork supporting the clock was also cleaned, repaired, and repainted.
Pemberton’s Parlour was suffering from the combined effects of roof damage, weathering, vegetation growth and poor-quality historic repairs.
Root growth from vegetation growing on top of the tower had penetrated deep into the roof and surrounding walls causing cracks which allowed water into the structure. Specialist stonemasons carefully took apart large sections of masonry to trace and remove the roots before repairing and waterproofing the roof. The very damaging hard cement mortar was replaced with a softer traditional lime mortar. New benches were installed inside the chamber to provide a place to stop and rest along the long route around the wall.
Although the Roman Gardens Gate is quite modern, having been built in the late 19th century, the roof was showing signs of distress and had been propped for quite some time. A new architectural frame was installed in the opening to support the roof without interfering with the scheduled monument or any buried archaeology.
The Water Tower complex, comprising of Bonewaldesthorne’s Tower and Water Tower linked by a spur wall, was built in the River Dee in the 14th century to defend the Port of Chester. Though the river had silted up by the 16th century the towers remained in place and now form a backdrop to a public park.
Repair work focused on measures to protect the towers, such as roof repairs and lightning protection, and to remove modern décor and fixtures. New balustrades were installed along the spur wall steps and the camera obscura on the roof of Bonewaldesthorne’s Tower was restored.
There is a chamber in the King Charles Tower at walkway level which has a domed ceiling. Structural and archaeological investigations found that the tower was ‘spreading’ outwards at ceiling level, causing the floor of the chamber above to sag. The repair was to install a stainless steel frame below the ceiling fixed into the walls to hold the walls together. This also supported the floor of the upper chamber so that propping could be removed. As well as being functional, the frame is an example of the use of modern materials in sympathy with the historic surroundings.
To create more space on the walkway outside the tower and to allow people to step back and view the tower more easily a new balcony was built to cantilever out from the City Wall. The balustrade was designed to match the one at Morgan’s Mount.
Inspections at Morgan’s Mount found that the inside wall of the tower had loose material beneath the paving, some of which had been washed away by water. The inner City Wall had separated from the wall core and the steps from Water Tower Street up to the tower were leaning. Observing the wall found significant movement, so the wall was propped to prevent collapse.
Repair work focused on underpinning the inside wall of the tower before the steps and inner City Wall were taken apart and rebuilt. A waterproofing layer was added beneath the paving to protect the structure in the future. Also, the tower roof, which was closed for safety reasons, was strengthened and a new balustrade was added. Visitors can once again admire the view across to Wales from the roof of the tower.
St John Street Steps date back to the early 1800s and were probably built around the same time as the Methodist Church next door. The steps were closed in summer 2008 following a risk assessment of the City Wall following the collapse above. There was a void inside the staircase and the slender outer wall had bowed outwards, which, together some movement, led engineers to conclude it was unstable.
A steel frame was built inside the void and attached to parts of the stair structure and to the City Wall at the top. During the repairs, the workforce accidentally broke through the roof of a previously unknown underground crypt which has since led to the discovery of two further crypts behind the church building.
A 25m section of wall next to The Grosvenor Hotel was closed in April 2008 after a partial collapse. The collapse happened at the junction of two much earlier repairs where water had washed some of the core material away. This left a length of unstable wall between the repairs.
The remaining wall was carefully taken apart until all the unstable material had been removed. It was then rebuilt using the original stone as far as possible, together with modern materials designed to tie the different parts of the wall together. If you look over the wall behind Cruise nightclub (on the right-hand side if you are facing the Eastgate clock), you will see a large modern retaining wall which was built to support the outer wall. This is the best way to protect the outer wall without damaging the archaeology beneath.
Other small-scale projects have included:
- June to November 2009: Extensive vegetation removal to entire wall circuit
- November 2011 to October 2012: Tower accesses installed at Newgate Bridge
- July to October 2012: New viewing window installed in Thimbleby's Tower
- September 2016 to April 2017: Rock ledge/outcrop stabilisation and masonry repairs to Barnaby's Tower