A History of the County of Chester: Volume 5 Part 2, the City of Chester: Culture, Buildings, Institutions. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 2005.
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A piped water supply was designed as an integral feature of the Roman legionary fortress, though it was one of the last parts to be built, dated precisely to A.D. 79 by lead distribution pipes stamped with the consular date. (fn. 1) Since the large intramural bathhouse was also dedicated in that year, it would appear that the two were planned together. The aqueduct ran from springs at Boughton, east of Chester, where, in the 90s or later, the Twentieth Legion built a shrine with an altar dedicated to the nymphs and wells. Ceramic supply pipes have been found in and near Chester, three with a similar bore of over 160 mm. at the wide end.
In the Middle Ages most inhabitants were supplied from wells (fn. 2) or the river. The city's water carriers had formed themselves into a company, the Waterleaders, by c. 1500; they had links with the fishermen's company, the Drawers of Dee, and the two companies merged in 1603. (fn. 3) As elsewhere, aqueducts were built only by religious houses. (fn. 4) The Dominicans were licensed in 1276 to pipe water from Boughton through the city wall, (fn. 5) and two years later the abbey decided to make an aqueduct from a well at Newton. (fn. 6) It presumably did not carry a large enough supply, for in 1282 Sir Philip and Isabel Burnel of Malpas gave the monks a spring at Christleton. (fn. 7) Earthenware pipes found in 1814 near Dee Hills House may have been part of the scheme. (fn. 8) The abbey encountered opposition from other landowners, who broke the pipe. (fn. 9)
In 1537 the last warden of the Franciscans, Dr. William Wall, began a conduit with lead pipes which ran from Boughton along the riverside to the Bridgegate. (fn. 10) A more northerly line would have been necessary to supply the friary, and Wall perhaps changed the line of the aqueduct when he knew that the friary was to be dissolved. It came to be used as a public supply, (fn. 11) but did not meet all the town's needs. A well sunk in Northgate Street in 1572 did not find water, and in 1573 the mayor, Richard Dutton, brought an unnamed workman from London to build a conduit from the Dee to the Cross. (fn. 12) By 1574 the plan had been altered: the corporation gave a contract to Peter Morris to excavate a spring at St. Giles's well in Spital Boughton and convey the water in lead pipes to the cross at St. Bridget's church. Morris was almost certainly Dutton's contractor of the previous year, for a Dutch hydraulic engineer of that name was active in London in the 1580s. Presumably it was intended that for much of the distance his conduit would follow the same route as Wall's. It is not certain that the plan was carried out. (fn. 13)
A more effective attempt to alter Wall's conduit was made in 1583, when the Assembly decided to have it realigned along Foregate Street and Eastgate Street to a cistern at the corner of the latter and Bridge Street. The site was chosen by four benefactors of the scheme, the three Offley brothers and John Rogers of London. (fn. 14) A stone cistern house was decorated with the arms of the city, the earls of Derby and Leicester, one of the Offleys, and Dr. Wall. The pipes were lead. (fn. 15) By 1586 the scheme was causing problems: the spring did not provide enough water and the mason had overspent. To produce a better supply other springs were diverted to the head of the conduit, work paid for by a voluntary subscription and mostly completed in 1586–7. It included a well house at Boughton, where the flow was turned on at five every morning and again between four and five in the afternoon to fill the cistern. Private citizens could have water laid on to their houses. (fn. 16)
The Dee provided a plentiful source of water throughout the year, but since it lay below most of the town the only way to use it before the 16th century was to draw it out in buckets and fill barrels on water carts. In 1600 the corporation licensed John Tyrer to draw water from the river by a waterworks on the Bridgegate and lay pipes in the streets. (fn. 17) The works were completed and made over to the corporation in 1605. A hydraulic engine in the river fed two pipes leading to a tall turret above the Bridgegate, which acted as an air pipe to the long pipe running up Bridge Street to the cistern at the Cross. (fn. 18) Householders paid the city rent for domestic supplies. (fn. 19)
Tyrer's son, also John, was granted land at Boughton in 1621 to improve the supply to the cistern, and built a water tower outside the Bars. (fn. 20) In 1622 the corporation leased his father's waterworks back to him. (fn. 21) In 1632 Tyrer sold his interest to a consortium headed by Sir Randle Mainwaring, (fn. 22) but a dispute with Francis Gamull, who controlled the Dee Mills and causeway, led to Gamull's cutting off the supply. (fn. 23) The privy council decided that Gamull must allow the supply to continue, but soon afterwards it was interrupted when the causeway was damaged and the water tower destroyed during the siege of Chester. (fn. 24) Although the tower was rebuilt, it is not certain when the supply was resumed. The Assembly leased the works in 1673, (fn. 25) but they may not have been restored to full working order, for in 1681 a reservoir elsewhere was under consideration, (fn. 26) and in 1690–1 they were apparently not operational. (fn. 27) The conduit from Boughton to the Cross was also no longer working. The conduit house was turned into a shop as early as 1652, and the lead was ordered to be taken up in 1671, (fn. 28) though the building itself, or a successor built on its footings, remained standing on the corner of Bridge Street and Eastgate Street until the 1880s. (fn. 29)
In 1692 two water engineers, John Hadley of Worcester and John Hopkins of Birmingham, were given permission to repair the waterworks, (fn. 30) and immediately began buying up shares in the Bridgegate water tower, (fn. 31) from where they pumped water into a large cistern, built in 1694 on pillars above the shambles in Northgate Street. (fn. 32) By 1698 they were in debt and sold out to a consortium of eight shareholders later known as the Waterworks Company. (fn. 33) The new owners bought rights to some of the mill streams at the weir and the enterprise eventually became profitable, partly by leasing riverside premises for light industry and warehousing. (fn. 34) The water tower, a tourist landmark, was pulled down along with the Bridgegate in 1782. (fn. 35)
The pressure in the system was insufficient to supply Upper Northgate Street, where a well was opened in 1764. (fn. 36) The rest of the city had to manage with an intermittent supply at low pressure. The purity of the water does not seem to have occasioned complaint until the 1820s, in spite of the fact that it was drawn from the causeway, just below which the river was tidal. Spring tides, indeed, pushed salt water over the causeway. The state of the river in flood had concerned the Waterworks Company in 1710–11, when rubbish dumped at Dee Lane was carried downstream and damaged their machinery. (fn. 37) Purification was limited to placing a grating across the intake and raking it out. Little was spent on repairs or cleaning. An increase in expenditure in 1825 on repairs to pipes and new premises in Northgate Street (fn. 38) was evidently in reaction to demands voiced the previous year for a new supply, pumped by steam power so as to be under higher pressure. The promoters of the new supply favoured an intake more than a mile upstream from the causeway, at Barrel Well Hill in Boughton, where the water would also be freer of sewage because Boughton had few houses. (fn. 39) A new waterworks company was to have seven directors and 160 shares at £50 each, (fn. 40) and a bill was presented to parliament to have the old company's monopoly revoked. (fn. 41) The old company at first fought back, (fn. 42) but when it became clear that the new company's bill was likely to be passed it agreed to rent out all its own pipes and cease operating. (fn. 43) The old works on the river continued only until the new one at Barrel Well was ready. (fn. 44)
The new company, named the City of Chester Waterworks Company, bought Barrel Well from the corporation in 1828. It took some time to become profitable, (fn. 45) so that investment in efficient pumping machinery and storage capacity was delayed. The first priority was to lay mains, which were much extended between 1838 and 1840. A special council committee in 1841 recommended a new source of supply for the whole town from a spring recently tapped at Christleton, but the scheme was not implemented, probably because of the cost of buying out the company. (fn. 46)
The council took a sustained interest in the water supply after the cholera outbreak of 1849. The sanitary committee noted that there were not enough standpipes, that sewage from Boughton was seeping into the Dee just above the works, and that much of Handbridge was badly supplied. The Waterworks Company agreed to supply Handbridge by laying a pipe across the Dee Bridge. (fn. 47) It also decided to reconsider the intake, and in 1849 took on J. F. Bateman, one of the greatest Victorian hydraulic experts, as its consulting engineer. (fn. 48) Bateman wanted to build a tunnel under the river to catch springs in the rock, which he hoped would not need filtration; (fn. 49) the company spent over £1,000 on the scheme, but it was dropped in 1851. (fn. 50)
The city council appointed a new water supply committee in 1852, with a brief which included considering taking over the water supply. There were three main complaints: the water was not filtered, (fn. 51) despite the fact that untreated sewage was increasingly channelled into the river, some of it upstream from the weir; (fn. 52) the supply did not reach throughout the city; and it was intermittent, (fn. 53) partly because there was not enough storage capacity. (fn. 54) Demand for a constant supply was growing as more households installed water closets. (fn. 55)
Consultants hired in 1853 proposed an additional supply from springs outside the city at Ashton, (fn. 56) and the council's threat to obtain parliamentary powers forced the company to begin work on a constant supply of filtered water at high pressure. (fn. 57) Acting on Bateman's plans it built filter beds, a reservoir, additional engines, and an elevated tank. (fn. 58) Work proceeded slowly and doubts continued to be expressed about the site of the intake, which was endangered by sewage from Boughton and Dee Lane. (fn. 59) Under pressure from the corporation, the company made some concessions and in 1857 obtained an Act which raised additional capital and reconstituted it as the Chester Waterworks Company. (fn. 60) Shortly afterwards the company agreed to move its intake to the south side of the river upstream from Huntington brook, from where water was piped to Barrel Well, though work began only in 1866. (fn. 61) The water tower at Barrel Well, which ensured adequate pressure and allowed storage, was opened in 1867. (fn. 62)
Filtration alone did not solve the problem of water pollution, and the company and the corporation were in dispute over the purity of the supply in 1871, when both sides produced expert analyses to back their case. (fn. 63) Concern after a serious pollution incident at Minera (Denb.) in 1879 led to co-operation between the city and local health boards upstream to check on industrial discharges and sewage outfalls. (fn. 64) In Chester itself, contamination by sewage continued from the suburbs south of the river and was eventually recognized as the cause of an alarmingly high level of typhoid. A report of 1890 pressed for restrictions on extracting water from the river during spring tides, (fn. 65) and in 1891 Bishop Jayne denounced the water supply as impure, to the irritation of the influential Charles Brown, who was both mayor and chairman of the Waterworks Company. (fn. 66) The company was, however, finally impelled to take action: it improved its filtration over the years 1895–9, (fn. 67) and its water analysis in 1897 and 1900, (fn. 68) but as late as 1910 water was not stored before filtration. (fn. 69)
A constant supply was provided in stages from 1868: the whole town had water on Sunday mornings from 1871, (fn. 70) and capital raised under the 1874 Chester Waterworks Act (fn. 71) allowed the company to buy more efficient pumping engines from 1875 (fn. 72) and meters to locate wastage in the mid 1880s. (fn. 73) From 1887 the supply throughout the system was continuous. (fn. 74) Public drinking fountains were provided in several of the main streets in the later 19th century, most prominently one donated in 1860 by the former mayor Meadows Frost at the junction of Bridge Street and Grosvenor Street. (fn. 75)
Further technical improvements in purification and filtration followed in 1911 (a reservoir allowing partial purification before filtration), (fn. 76) 1920 (rapid filters), (fn. 77) and the 1930s (chemical treatment). (fn. 78) The Waterworks Company built an octagonal concrete water tower south of Overleigh Road in 1935, and by 1957 was serving c. 90,000 consumers with an average daily consumption of 3.6 million gallons. (fn. 79) The supply of water from the Dee was guaranteed by the construction of reservoirs: the natural Bala Lake was deepened in the 1950s and Llyn Celyn was completed in 1965. (fn. 80) In 1974, without surrendering its independence, the company became a distributing agent of the publicly owned Welsh Water Authority, empowered to extract supplies from the Dee. The 1989 Water Privatization Act constituted it a water undertaker accountable to the Director General of Water Services; whereas previously, as a statutory company, it had limitations on capital borrowing and dividends, it was thereby allowed to become a public limited company and make profits, subject to the Director General's approval of price increases. (fn. 81)
Until the early 19th century public sewerage was limited to open gutters carrying away rainwater and street debris. Some householders disposed of their domestic waste by digging cesspits into the bedrock, which lay only 3–4 ft. below the surface; deep examples have been uncovered at the Linenhall and Northgate Brewery sites. The town ditch provided an easier, though illegal, alternative: seven citizens were indicted for building cesspits there in 1293. (fn. 82) The street gutters, first mentioned in 1508, ran down both sides of the street until the late 16th century, when they were moved to the middle to make building encroachments easier. (fn. 83)
The improvement commissioners were empowered in 1803 to build sewers by raising loans not exceeding £1,000 in total. (fn. 84) They ordered tunnel drains, intended for rainwater, to be built in Watergate Street in 1807 and Lower Bridge Street in 1808. (fn. 85) Over the next twenty years most streets, especially within the walls, were provided with similar rainwater culverts, though when a drain was built in Foregate Street in 1826 householders were invited to pay for their private drains to be connected to it. (fn. 86) The most ambitious plan, in 1824, brought a drain down Cow Lane (later Frodsham Street) and St. John's Lane (later Street) and extended it to below the bridge in order to prevent the outfall from contaminating the waterworks intake at the weir. (fn. 87) By the 1840s, when the limit of the loans had long since been reached, the council found it difficult to undertake schemes of its own. The drainage of Northgate Street in 1844 was partly financed by private subscription. (fn. 88) The council encouraged private schemes, hoping in 1845 when the railway station was being built that nearby residents would construct their own drainage. (fn. 89)
The Chester Improvement Act of 1845 allowed the council to undertake large-scale sewerage projects, financed by borrowed money. (fn. 90) In 1846 it appointed an experienced sewerage engineer, B. Baylis, whose first tasks were to drain Newtown and the west of the town and lengthen the Northgate Street drain. (fn. 91) In 1847 he built 540 ft. of sewers in Boughton, 630 ft. in Northgate Street, and 771 ft. in Watergate Street, and was already connecting side streets to the sewers in Boughton and Foregate Street. (fn. 92)
Newtown, however, had to be drained from scratch. Baylis followed a practice common among Victorian engineers by combining his scheme for the area with the drains being laid by the railway companies. (fn. 93) In 1848 work continued in the area between the canal and Foregate Street, the middle stretch of Northgate Street, and Watergate Street, (fn. 94) and in 1849 a start was made in the quadrant between Watergate and Bridge Streets and in Handbridge. (fn. 95) As a main sewer was laid in each street, notices were served on owners and occupiers to connect their private drains to it. (fn. 96) Those further from the main sewers were required to install ashpits and privies. (fn. 97) Baylis laid short lengths of drain in different areas simultaneously, extending the existing sewers and adding new ones a little at a time. The method did not have happy results. To some extent it was forced on him by the council's parsimony and his reliance on outside small building firms. Judging from later criticisms, however, his work was also flawed by inattention to both detail and the whole. Baylis was careful to build the approved egg-shaped sewers and to trap drains, (fn. 98) but failed to deal successfully with ventilation and outfall. The main outfalls were the river at the bottom of Dee Lane for Foregate Street, Flooker's brook for Newtown, and the Dee at the bottom of Crane Street for the western part of the town; almost certainly Bridge Street and Northgate Street were drained into the river at the weir. Much of the city's sewage thus entered the river above the tidal reach. The outfall in Crane Street was so shallow that sewage backed up into houses at high tide, while those at Dee Lane and the weir stank during droughts. (fn. 99) Baylis probably ventilated the sewers by passing rainwater spouts into them, an inadequate method which later Victorians abandoned. (fn. 100) Water for flushing the drains was available only close to the canal, and malodorous and toxic fumes emanated from ventilators in the roadways. (fn. 101) The Waterworks Company, which had difficulties in maintaining an adequate supply, refused to allow the sewers to be flushed from its mains until 1880. (fn. 102)
The overcrowding, filth, and lack of drainage in the city's courts and yards were recognized as aiding the spread of the cholera outbreak of 1849, and a general plan to drain Handbridge, badly affected by the epidemic, was perceived to be an immediate necessity; (fn. 103) moves were also made on the slums around Princess Street and between George Street and St. Anne Street. (fn. 104)
In 1851 Baylis built an intercepting sewer to divert Newtown's waste away from Flooker's brook to the river at Dee Lane. (fn. 105) Its completion led to renewed concern about the effect of the outfall on drinking water, (fn. 106) and sewage from Northgate Street was diverted down Watergate Street. (fn. 107)
Most of the public streets were sewered by 1851, except the Nicholas Street area and Upper Northgate Street, which were completed in 1854. (fn. 108) Attention was then turned to private streets, (fn. 109) especially the courts, many of which had more than three houses for each privy. (fn. 110) Orders to drain many of the courts were issued in 1853, (fn. 111) the work being undertaken by the council and the cost borne by the owners. Private streets built after 1825 were sewered at the joint expense of owners and occupiers, who were expected to contract for the work themselves. Only if the city surveyor pronounced the sewerage and paving satisfactory would the council adopt the streets as public highways. (fn. 112) In 1854 a start was made on draining existing private streets. (fn. 113)
In 1855 irregularities were discovered in Baylis's accounts; he was dismissed and later convicted of embezzlement. (fn. 114) His successor, George Angelo Bell, remained in post barely a year, escaping to more lucrative private practice, (fn. 115) and the council economized on the salary of a qualified sanitary engineer by employing the deputy surveyor, on the grounds that most of the city had already been sewered. (fn. 116) Over the years 1857–9 he drained Hough Green and Curzon Park, (fn. 117) and extended the sewers in Princess Street, Liverpool Road, and Eaton Road. (fn. 118) The pace slowed after 1860, but quickened between 1867 and 1870 when several private streets were drained. (fn. 119) Meanwhile the council improved arrangements for the removal of night soil, (fn. 120) from 1872 taking over the work from private contractors. (fn. 121)
By the late 1860s the faults of Baylis's system were becoming apparent. (fn. 122) G. A. Bell had already advised ventilation in 1866, (fn. 123) and in 1869 after a damning report commissioned by the Local Government Board he was called in as a consultant and recommended ventilation as an urgent necessity. (fn. 124) In 1872–5, alarmed by analysis of the drinking water, and with Bell as consultant, the council built intercepting sewers to collect the outfall from Baylis's drains, one running from the Bars to the Little Roodee and the other from Liverpool Road to a new treatment works by the Dee off Sealand Road, from where the treated effluent was discharged into the river. (fn. 125)
Once the northern intercepting sewer was under construction, it was possible to drain the growing north-western part of town, work completed by 1879. (fn. 126) Between 1881 and 1883 the council tackled Boughton. (fn. 127) Tarvin rural sanitary authority and Hoole local board connected their systems with Chester's intercepting sewers, the city contributing to the cost of the Hoole scheme in 1881. (fn. 128)In 1882 work began on an intercepting sewer from Queen's Park, which had been discharging its waste upstream from the weir, to below the weir, half the cost being paid by the residents. (fn. 129) Large houses and estates just outside Chester were connected one by one to the city's sewerage under private agreements. (fn. 130)
A report of 1890 on sanitation urged improvements to sewage disposal, and another intercepting sewer to carry sewage from the south side of the city under the river to the outfall works was built in 1897. (fn. 131) The works were enlarged between 1900 and 1905, after which they also treated sewage from Great Boughton, Christleton, Newton, Upton, and Bache, (fn. 132) and again in 1919. (fn. 133) An additional disposal works was constructed at Bumper's Lane in the early 1930s. (fn. 134) The area served by the council was extended along the Eaton and Wrexham roads in 1926, when the hydroelectric works on the Dee weir provided electrical pumping for a new intercepting sewer for Handbridge. (fn. 135) Blacon was connected to the system in 1936 and Saughall in 1951. (fn. 136) A duplicate northern intercepting sewer was planned in 1953 but incomplete in 1960. (fn. 137)
A major reconstruction of the Sealand works was begun in 1962. (fn. 138) In 1974 control of the treatment works was transferred from the city council to the Welsh Water Authority, which by 1987 was planning a large programme of improvements. (fn. 139)
The Chester Gas Light Company was formed after a public meeting in 1817; the local banker G. B. Granville was elected chairman (serving as such until 1845) and the share capital of £6,850 was quickly taken up. (fn. 140) The company hired the doyen of gas engineers, Samuel Clegg, to build the system, ensuring that its works in Cuppin Street, opened in 1819, was at the forefront of the emerging technology of gas supply. (fn. 141) The immediate intention was to replace the inadequate oil lamps which the improvement commissioners provided for street lighting. (fn. 142) The company won the contract to light the streets around its works in Cuppin Street in 1818, (fn. 143) and at least the main city streets were gas-lit by 1830. (fn. 144) The supply was inefficient and expensive, despite the relative cheapness of coal in Chester, (fn. 145) but the company forestalled complaints by paying retainers to the lamp rate collectors and by having on its committee many members of the improvement commission. (fn. 146) It also consciously subsidized the supply for street lighting in order to retain the commissioners' goodwill, but charged private customers enough to make large profits and pay handsome dividends in the period before 1838. (fn. 147)
In 1837 the city council took over responsibility for street lighting, and frequently complained about the quality and price of the supply. An attempt to threaten the company with a rival undertaking was beaten off in 1844, but continuous agitation forced the company to cut prices and modernize the system. (fn. 148) Private gasworks were built at the General railway station and by other businesses, (fn. 149) and eventually the council broke the Gas Light Company's monopoly by sanctioning a rival undertaking proposed in 1851 by Samuel Highfield, the engineer to the company supplying Birkenhead. The council leased Highfield a site on the Roodee, where he completed a new gasworks in 1852, and awarded him the contract for street lighting in 1853. Highfield was probably backed financially by local business interests. (fn. 150) The council tried to prevent High field from amalgamating with the old Gas Light Company, (fn. 151) but he outwitted them by conveying his business in 1854 to a newly formed company, the Roodee Gas Company, whose main shareholder was the Radical politician E. G. Salisbury. Under Salisbury's wily management, the Roodee Company in effect bought out the Gas Light Company in 1856, forming the Chester United Gas Company (incorporated by Act of Parliament in 1858), with Salisbury as chairman and largest shareholder. (fn. 152) The council was forced to acquiesce in the new monopoly, gaining in return the closure of the Cuppin Street works, which caused serious pollution, (fn. 153) the power to appoint an inspector to test the pressure and illuminating power of the gas supplied, (fn. 154) and, from 1858, a seat on the board for the mayor. (fn. 155)
The new company enlarged its premises on the Roodee in 1865, (fn. 156) and raised additional capital under Acts of 1870 and 1880. (fn. 157) The quality of its supply was generally above the minimum required in the original Act, (fn. 158) and in the 1890s it supplied more powerful gas burners at a cut price in response to the threat of electricity. (fn. 159) Electric street lighting was installed from 1896, (fn. 160) and the last gas street lights were given up in 1905. (fn. 161)
Despite the loss of its largest customer, the gas company's financial position improved in the 1890s and 1900s as domestic demand for gas increased. (fn. 162) The Board of Trade allowed it to raise prices sharply in 1921, (fn. 163) and in 1933 it was authorized to supply a ring of villages around the city. (fn. 164)
The company was nationalized in 1948 and its responsibilities were taken over by the North Western Gas Board, which continued production at the Chester works in order to supply the city and Wirral. (fn. 165) The works closed in 1966 after pipelines had been laid to connect west Cheshire with Lancashire, north Wales, and the works at Ellesmere Port. (fn. 166) The gas holder on the Roodee was retained. (fn. 167) The supply to the city was converted to natural gas in 1970. (fn. 168)
Electricity Supply (fn. 169)
The city council opposed private applications to supply electricity to Chester under the Electric Lighting Act of 1882, (fn. 170) and in 1889 decided to apply for powers itself. (fn. 171) Having obtained authority by an Act of 1890 (fn. 172) it then delayed even beginning to implement it until 1892 and hesitated over the choice of a system and a site for the generators until its hand was forced in 1895 by the threat of a rival scheme headed by the duke of Westminster. (fn. 173) In 1896 the council opened a coal-fired generating station in New Crane Street, mains were laid along the principal streets in the city centre, and electricity supply began. The number of customers rose from 211 in 1898 to 703 in 1903. In 1904 the city appointed Sydney Ernest Britton as its electrical engineer; he held the post until his death in 1946 and became a leading figure in his profession, (fn. 174) preparing many schemes for developing the local electricity supply, not all of which found favour with the council.
The New Crane Street works reached capacity in 1910 and work started the next year on a hydroelectric generating station on the site of the Dee Mills. The choice of Gothic detailing for the building, consciously in keeping with the architecture of the adjoining Dee Bridge, was influenced by the Chester Archaeological Society. (fn. 175) When it opened in 1913 it provided 40 per cent of Chester's electricity at a fifth of the price of coal-generated power. Rising demand from many more consumers meant that its output met only 2 per cent of requirements by 1946, and the hydroelectric plant was closed in 1951, the building being used thereafter as a water pumping station. (fn. 176) After the First World War Chester bought electricity from the government's munitions works at Queensferry (Flints.), and in 1923 acquired the power station itself. The overhead high-tension cables between Queensferry and Chester were among the first in the country. From 1932 the city was buying electricity from the Central Electricity Board's embryonic national grid in order to cope with demand which grew to over 23,000 consumers by 1946, most rapidly in the decade 1927–37.
Many of those customers were outside the city. Britton pioneered rural electrification in the 1920s, especially for dairy farmers, obtaining powers to supply Hoole and parts of Chester and Tarvin rural districts in 1923, with an extension in 1927 to cover 144 square miles. On the other hand, the council declined to implement his schemes for Chester to participate in a joint electricity authority for south Cheshire and north Wales (1920–3; it went ahead without the city) and to build a new power station at Queensferry (1937).
At nationalization in 1948 the corporation's system came under the Merseyside and North Wales Electricity Board (Manweb), (fn. 177) which in 1968–70 built its administrative headquarters in Sealand Road. (fn. 178) The buildings had as their centrepiece a seven-storeyed Yplan office block which dominated the skyline looking west from the city centre until it was demolished in the 1990s.
Local Public Transport
Public sedan chairs were in use in Chester by 1781, when regulations about conditions and fares were published in the earliest of the city's directories. The chairs, licensed by the improvement commissioners, were ordinarily available for hire between 9 o'clock in the morning and midnight. At assemblies, balls, plays, and other social events the chairmen had to form an orderly line, take up passengers in rotation, and not hold the chair for a particular person. (fn. 179) In 1796 there were probably 42 chairmen (that is, 21 sedan chairs), the number on the Grosvenors' payroll during an election campaign. (fn. 180) Twelve chairs were licensed in 1806. (fn. 181) It is not clear how long afterwards they survived.
Hackney cabs were started c. 1830, (fn. 182) and by mid century there were also waggonettes operating along Liverpool Road, private omnibuses run by the big hotels, and a public omnibus service between the main railway station and the town hall. (fn. 183) By 1902 there were well over a hundred licensed horse-drawn vehicles plying for hire in the city. (fn. 184) Despite lobbying by the cabmen the first motor taxis were licensed in 1908. (fn. 185)
The idea of a tram service from the station to the town centre was promoted in 1877 by T. Lloyd, manager of the Liverpool tramways. (fn. 186) A private limited company was formed under an Act of 1878 (fn. 187) and laid standard-gauge tracks from the station to Saltney via City Road, Foregate Street, Eastgate Street, Bridge Street, Grosvenor Street, Grosvenor Road, and Hough Green, with a depot near the station. Lloyd was the first manager, and horse-drawn services started in 1879. The company also ran horse buses to Bache, Christleton, and Hoole. The Act permitted Chester corporation to buy the undertaking after 21 years, and the city made plans to do so after it opened an electricity generating plant in 1896. (fn. 188) Under an Act of 1901 (fn. 189) the corporation bought the tramway company, electrified the system, and relaid the tracks at a gauge of 3 ft. 6 in. Horse buses were used while the work was under way but the corporation then disposed of them. Electric tram services from the Cross to Saltney in one direction and the station in the other began in 1903, and were extended eastwards in 1906 as far as the city boundary in Tarvin and Christleton roads. The old tramway company's manager appointed in 1885, John Gardner, served the corporation in the same capacity until 1915. By the early 1920s the tracks needed replacing and although the trams ran at a profit, carrying 2 million passengers a year at the start of the decade and 4 million by the end, they were not recouping any of the capital outlay. The council replaced the tracks between the castle and Saltney in 1921 but accepted a report of 1928 that the cost of overhauling the whole system was too great and that it ought to abandon trams in favour of motor buses. (fn. 190) A ballot of ratepayers supported the change, and the last tram ran in 1930. (fn. 191)
The tramways committee had wanted to start a motor bus service to Bache, Handbridge, and Newton as early as 1905, (fn. 192) and periodically revived the idea of corporation motor buses or trolleybuses in the 1910s and 1920s, (fn. 193) but the council itself was reluctant, preferring to license other operators. They included H. H. Aldred along Liverpool Road and Garden Lane between 1907 and 1915, (fn. 194) Wrexham and District Transport to Saltney and Parkgate Road from 1914, (fn. 195) and the Chester-based Crosville Motor Company to Hoole, Newton, and Liverpool Road from 1919, Garden Lane from 1922, and Sealand Road from 1925. (fn. 196) The city council, meanwhile, declined in 1915 to co-operate with Hoole urban district council in subsidizing a service to Hoole and Newton. (fn. 197) Finally the deterioration of the tramway system forced its hand. It obtained powers to run municipal buses under the Chester Corporation Act of 1929 (fn. 198) and began services in 1930 along the earlier tram routes, with extensions to Vicars Cross, Christleton village, and Saughall Road. (fn. 199) After the Road Traffic Act of 1930 the corporation negotiated with Crosville, by then a large business, (fn. 200) and agreed in 1932 to exchange routes so that corporation buses served most of the city except Hoole, Newton, and Upton (which were reserved for Crosville) but gave up their out-of-town destinations. (fn. 201) The municipal undertaking thereafter operated between a dozen and twenty routes, increasing its fleet from 20 buses in 1931 to c. 50 by 1955 and the number of passengers carried from 6.5 million in 1931 to a peak of over 15 million a year c. 1950, with a considerable reduction afterwards. (fn. 202)
After the government deregulated the bus industry in 1986, Chester City Transport (as it had been called since 1957) became a limited company owned by the city council; by 2001 it was one of fewer than 20 municipal passenger transport undertakings to survive. Deregulation also ended the route-sharing agreement with Crosville, and a period of fierce competition ensued; by the end of the 1990s 'bus wars' Chester City Transport had lost its service to Saltney but retained the others. The continuing fall in passenger numbers had already led to the development of other types of passenger service. Bus tours of the city, started in 1981, were from 1994 provided in conjunction with a private company, Guide Friday Ltd. A park and ride service was introduced from Boughton Heath to the city centre in 1983 and from Sealand Road in 1986, though the complementary services from Wrexham Road and Upton, started in the 1990s, were put on by other bus operators licensed by the city council. (fn. 203)
The city's tram depot was adapted for buses in 1930 and extended several times afterwards, the original horse tram shed of 1878 remaining in use in 2000. (fn. 204) Most local services ran from Market Square until 1983, when a new bus exchange between Hunter Street and Princess Street was opened. (fn. 205)
From the later 16th century, if not earlier, government mails between London and Dublin passed via Chester and Holyhead. (fn. 206) Government letters sent from Chester often reached London less than 30 hours later, and on average took 37½ hours. (fn. 207) In the 17th and 18th centuries the clerkship of the Chester road was the most important of the six divisions of the general post office in London. (fn. 208) Chester had a resident postmaster by 1561; in 1581 he and his colleagues at Conwy and Holyhead were the only three retained in government pay. (fn. 209) Early 17th-century postmaster also sent government mail to other places in the North as required. (fn. 210)
Public letters were carried by the government's horse posts from 1635. (fn. 211) In May 1666 the London mail started from Chester at noon on Saturdays, Mondays, and Wednesdays, and could take as little as 40 hours. Packets were sent weekly from Chester to Dublin. (fn. 212) Stage coaches provided a slower service by 1675: they left London and Chester every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and took between four and six days. (fn. 213) In 1700 a service was set up direct from Chester to Bristol and Exeter, one of the first two cross-country routes; at first it had a separate office in Chester, (fn. 214) which may have continued until the national bye-post was united with the general post office in 1799. (fn. 215) Other routes were soon added: in 1721 letters for Manchester, for example, were sent and received three days a week. (fn. 216) By the 1780s the post went daily to London and the North, five times a week to Dublin, and three times on the cross road to the South-West and into north Wales. (fn. 217)
The main Chester post office declined in relative importance from the late 18th century, especially after the Chester-Holyhead road was superseded in the 1820s by Telford's direct road through Shrewsbury, and later by railways. (fn. 218) In 1792 the Chester postmaster's salary was among the top six in England, commensurate with Birmingham, Liverpool, and Manchester, (fn. 219) but by 1840 it ranked only 22nd. (fn. 220) In 1833 the office's revenues came mainly from the provincial post (70 per cent) rather than the services to London (25 per cent), Dublin (3 per cent), or the local penny post (2 per cent). (fn. 221)
Until the mid 19th century almost all provincial post offices were run from the postmasters' own premises. (fn. 222) In 1787 and 1830 the Palin family kept the Chester office at a house in a yard off the north side of Foregate Street just outside the walls, later called Old Post Office Yard. (fn. 223) William Palin built a new office in 1842 on the east side of St. John Street behind the Blossoms Hotel, evidently to cope with the greatly increased business occasioned by the introduction of the national penny post in 1840. (fn. 224) The Post Office opened a new head office for the town in 1876 on the other side of St. John Street, (fn. 225) where it remained in 2000. By 1878 there were sub-offices in Boughton, Handbridge, and Hoole; others in the city centre and outlying areas followed later, especially as the suburbs grew. There were 9 in 1896, 12 in 1914, 17 in 1939, and 25 in 1974. (fn. 226) A sorting office facing Chester General station was opened in 1912, (fn. 227) and was replaced by a new building west of the Brook Street railway bridge in 1983. (fn. 228)
The telegraph arrived in Chester with the railway in the 1840s, and at first the only telegraph office was at the station. (fn. 229) The Post Office ran the service from 1870, when the telegraph companies were nationalized. (fn. 230) By 1896 there were telegraph offices in the main post office and the Boughton and Hoole sub-offices. (fn. 231)
There was a telephone exchange in 1882, probably opened that year, operated by the Liverpool and Manchester Exchange Telephonic Co. as a subsidiary of the United Telephone Co. and under Post Office licence. (fn. 232) The U.T.C. merged with its subsidiaries as the National Telephone Co. in 1891. (fn. 233) Its Chester exchange and regional head office were in Godstall Chambers, St. Werburgh Street. In 1898 there were 168 subscribers, mostly businesses. (fn. 234) The exchange was transferred to a new building next to the main post office in St. John Street in 1908 (fn. 25) in anticipation of the Post Office's acquisition of the telephone system, which took effect in 1912. (fn. 236) It moved again in 1950 to a neo-Georgian building on the north side of Little St. John Street built for the purpose in 1939, (fn. 237) and in 1979 across the road to Dee House, the former Ursuline convent south of the Roman amphitheatre. (fn. 238)
Baths and Wash-Houses
Paying members of the public were allowed to use the warm slipper bath installed at the infirmary in 1773. (fn. 239) After the building was enlarged in the late 1820s there were two public baths (one for the wealthy on payment, the other for dispensary patients free) besides four for in-patients. They could all be used for hot, cold, shower, or vapour baths. (fn. 240) The paying bath cost 1s. in 1811 and 2s. in 1852 and so was out of reach of all but the richest Cestrians. (fn. 241)
A subscription baths committee existed by 1847. In 1848 it secured from the city council a grant of £1,260 and the lease of a plot of land south-west of the Water Tower, where it opened a public baths and wash-house in 1849. Access was through a new opening in the city wall. (fn. 242) In 1850, with the baths losing money, the council adopted the Baths and Wash-houses Act of 1846, which permitted it to operate its own establishment. (fn. 243) It was only the eighth local authority to do so, far in advance of other towns of comparable size. (fn. 244) Those in favour of adoption were inspired by Liverpool's pioneering work in providing baths and wash-houses for the poor, but the motion was carried only on a casting vote. (fn. 245) The council took over the private committee's premises and debts. (fn. 246) The wash-house, a financial burden, was closed in 1851, reopened (for only two days a week) in 1852, and finally closed in 1855; (fn. 247) the equipment was sold in 1861. (fn. 248) The slipper and swim ming baths, however, were popular: 700 people a week swam or bathed in summer 1850 and 25 even in December. (fn. 249) Mindful of the need to subsidize baths for the poor, the council added a suite of private warm baths in 1853. They were divided into four classes, with prices ranging from 1s. to 2d (fn. 250) The swimming pool was segregated socially by pricing its use at 1d. before 8 a.m. and after 5 p.m. and up to 6d. at more desirable times. (fn. 251) Water for the baths was drawn from the canal. (fn. 252) In 1852 the pool was heated to 70 degrees F. but in the 1860s had cold water all year round. (fn. 253) The baths were closed in 1878 and afterwards demolished. (fn. 254)
The Chester Floating Baths Co. opened a swimming bath in 1877, moored on the Dee at the Groves. Professor Mitchell and his daughter were hired as swimming teachers from the St. George's baths at Liverpool pierhead. The bath was open daily in summer, with prices ranging from 1d. upwards according to the time of day. (fn. 255) The council took it over in 1883 (fn. 256) and considered replacing it in 1887–9 and again from 1894. A site in Union Street was found only in 1898 and new baths were opened there in 1901. (fn. 257) Meanwhile the floating bath was badly damaged when it drifted from its mooring on to the weir during a storm in 1899. It was temporarily repaired but in 1902 was sold and broken up. (fn. 258)
The Union Street baths were designed by John Douglas in his usual vernacular style. (fn. 259) The entrance block is of red brick with elaborate stone porches and a black-and-white timber-framed first floor. Behind it were two swimming pools, and slipper and vapour baths, with two classes of pricing. In the early years, females had the use of the better pool for a few hours three days a week (fn. 260) but most bathers were male: in the first full year of opening 4,000 tickets were sold to women but 57,000 to men. (fn. 261) The swimming pools remained in use by Chester Swimming Club in 2000. (fn. 262)
By 1830 seven of the nine parish churchyards in the city were regarded as overcrowded. New burial grounds had already been consecrated in 1810 for Holy Trinity, 1825 for St. Mary's, and 1829 at the new church of St. Bridget. St. John's was using the churchyard of the medieval hospital of St. Giles at Spital Boughton. (fn. 263)
A proposal in 1833 to use the Little Roodee as a municipal cemetery came to nothing. (fn. 264) In 1848 a group of subscribers obtained an Act of Parliament for incorporation as the Chester Cemetery Co. They included Richard Grosvenor, marquess of Westminster, and the dean and chancellor of Chester. The Act allowed the company, whose directors were to include the mayor and a representative of the marquess, to make a cemetery on land bought from the marquess and the corporation on the south bank of the Dee east of Grosvenor Bridge, and restricted burials in existing churchyards. (fn. 265) Most of the latter, together with the Roman Catholic and six nonconformist burial grounds, were closed in 1855, though St. John's churchyard was partly in use until 1875 and the new churchyard of St. Bridget's remained open until 1877. (fn. 266) Chester was thus one of the few places, including other cathedral and county towns and resorts, which obtained a general cemetery through a Local Act rather than under the Burials Act of 1853. (fn. 267)
The cemetery was laid out between 1848 and 1850 to a design prepared by Mr. Lister on the rocky site climbing south from the Dee to Overleigh Road, bounded west by Grosvenor Road and east by River Lane (Fig. 25). Lister made good use of a naturally picturesque spot, incorporating serpentine walks, a rustic bridge, a small lake, and much ornamental planting. The buildings - Anglican and nonconformist chapels, two lodges, and a chaplain's house - were designed by T.M. Penson. Graves were scattered in small groups. (fn. 268) The cemetery was much admired by contemporaries. (fn. 269) By 1894 there had been over 30,000 burials; in that year the company made a profit of £ 148 on its income of £945 and paid a dividend of 3 per cent to its 42 shareholders. (fn. 270) The chaplain's house was demolished between 1872 and 1898, the nonconformist chapel in 1907, and the lodges after 1967. Penson's Romanesque Anglican chapel, derelict by 1968, was pulled down in 1980, (fn. 271) and in the 1990s the cemetery was suffering from neglect and minor vandalism.
The cemetery company bought an additional 4 a. south of Overleigh Road under an Act of 1879. (fn. 272) The land, flat and treeless, was marked out on a rather regimented plan by 1894, (fn. 273) but was apparently not used until 1904. (fn. 274) In included a lodge and two chapels, built in brick with stone dressings: the Anglican one in vernacular style with a nave, north aisle, and low tower over the north-east porch; its nonconformist counterpart a plain box-like nave and aisle. Both survived in 2000, not in use as cemetery chapels, (fn. 275) though some burials were still then taking place on reserved plots.
The city council bought the cemetery in 1933 under enabling legislation of 1932. (fn. 276) It had to drop a planned extension because the adjoining land was unsuitable, (fn. 277) and instead prepared a new cemetery and crematorium on 30 a. on the eastern edge of the Blacon housing estate. Burials began there in 1942 (fn. 278) and it remained in use as Chester's main cemetery in 2000. It included two areas maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, containing over 500 graves, mainly of men of the Canadian, Australian, and British air forces, and of Polish troops settled in the area in the 1940s. (fn. 279)
Burials also took place at the Chester Union workhouse from 1880 to 1900. (fn. 280)