A History of the County of Chester: Volume 5 Part 1, the City of Chester: General History and Topography. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 2003.
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THE ECONOMY, 1871-1914: THE LIMITS OF REORIENTATION
Chester's mid-century boom was not sustained after 1871. The importance of manufacturing diminished because the development of new industry did not offset a steep decline in craft production and a slackening of Saltney's rate of growth. The fairs effectively disappeared and the regional role of Chester's markets dwindled. Shopping continued to grow, and many businesses, though not all, did well. The central shopping district was more intensively developed. Chester's significance for transport, administration, health, and other services was enhanced. The overall picture was thus mixed. The city continued its reorientation in late Victorian and Edwardian times, but with less obvious success than in the thirty years before 1870.
The growth rate of Chester's population fell sharply after 1871 to only half that of the region. (fn. 1) There were two periods of very low growth separated by a somewhat faster interlude in the 1890s, but even then Chester was below the regional average. The migration of people away from the city after 1871 probably exceeded the inflow which had occured during the mid-century boom. (fn. 2)
Although migration out of Chester suggests weaknesses in the city's economy, the picture is complicated by growing emigration from the British Isles as a whole. (fn. 3) Overseas emigration probably formed a large part of the migration from Chester, and was mainly the result of national and international factors rather than local ones (Table 17). (fn. 4) If such emigration is discounted the result is a more positive picture of Chester's fortunes. Even so, the period 1871-91 seems to have been one of relative depression for the city, and although improvement took place in the 1890s it was not sustained after 1900.
By 1900 the division between manufacturing and retailing was more ingrained in the economy and a much higher proportion of goods was produced in large factories and workshops, distributed by the railways, and sold by specialist retailers. (fn. 5) The trend undermined Chester's handicraft producers. The number of manufacturing workers in Chester actually fell between 1871 and 1911, mainly through a large reduction in the already limited number of women employed in manufacturing. Male jobs remained almost static. (fn. 6)
In 1871 as many as 93 per cent of women workers in manufacturing worked in the traditional sector, rising to 97 per cent by 1911. The decline of traditional crafts thus had a disproportionate impact on women, particularly in the case of shirt-making, an occupation almost monopolized by them which fell away sharply in the period. Dressmaking and millinery remained the main manufacturing jobs for women in 1911, with little change in the numbers employed after 1871. At both dates much of the employment was outwork for Chester shops and private customers, but Browns directly employed 150 in their own dressmaking workroom in the 1870s. (fn. 7) The continued importance of dressmaking and millinery in Chester reflects the fact that the production of women's and children's outer garments was still not dominated by large specialist firms in 1914. (fn. 8)
Only tobacco and snuff-making provided a significantly growing number of jobs for women. In 1910 there were five manufacturers in Chester, two of which were large concerns, W. T. Davies & Sons of Canal Street and Thomas Nicholls & Co. of Deeside Mills, Handbridge. (fn. 9) The former, established in 1860, was already in the ownership of Imperial Tobacco, an example of national firms strengthening their direct involvement in the local economy.
For notes and sources see appendix, below, pp.204-5.
Although the number of male manufacturing workers remained almost static between 1871 and 1911, there was a great change in the work they did. The proportion employed in the traditional and handicraft sector dropped from 61 per cent to 43 per cent. The most dramatic fall was in shoemaking. As the footwear trade became more concentrated in specialist towns like Stafford, Northampton, and Leicester, and as mechanized factory production progressively eliminated hand-work, (fn. 10) so shoemaking as domestic outwork declined in Chester. Attempts were made to move to factory production there, notably by William Collinson and his various partners. He traded from premises in Watergate Street from the mid 1840s, and later opened a shop in Eastgate Row South. Between 1864 and 1866 he also started a large new factory at the canal bridge on City Road, housing 'vast amounts of machinery' and employing 250 hands who turned out 2,000-3,000 pairs of boots a week. (fn. 11) Collinson did not, however, stay in manufacturing. Around 1875 the factory was taken over by Alfred Bostock & Co., a Stafford shoe firm, but by 1892 Bostocks had left and the premises were occupied by a rope and twine manufacturer. Another member of the same Stafford family, Edwin Bostock, opened a small shoe factory in King Street in the 1860s, but it closed between 1902 and 1906. Factory production of footwear thus failed to establish itself in Chester, (fn. 12) and by 1911 the number of male shoemakers had dropped to a third of the 1871 level. Very few women remained in the trade.
Milling reached its zenith in the late 19th century, but decline thereafter was rapid and by 1914 Chester's mills were a shadow of their former prosperity. Two structural changes eroded the industry's base locally: increasing imports of hard foreign wheat from c. 1860 and the development of roller milling from the 1870s. (fn. 13) Chester's mills, which were wrongly located and not big enough, were ill-fitted to respond to the challenge. F. A. Frost and Sons was the city's most successful firm. It installed the first Simon automated roller mill in the country in 1881, (fn. 14) and by 1889 had switched over completely to roller milling. (fn. 15) Around 100 workers were employed in 1892, (fn. 16) and in 1904 the mill was 'equal to anything in the country'. (fn. 17) The firm switched to milling imported hard wheat brought by river and canal from Birkenhead and Liverpool, (fn. 18) but the need for transhipment exposed the disadvantage of the site in Chester, and in 1910 Frosts opened new mills at Ellesmere Port on the Manchester Ship Canal served directly by ocean-going ships. By 1913 they had stopped milling in Chester, and the premises were abandoned soon after Frosts' amalgamation with Spillers in 1920. (fn. 19) Frosts' mill thus closed because the firm adapted successfully to changing conditions in the industry.
In contrast the demolition of the Dee Mills in 1910 resulted from a clear failure to respond to such changes. After 1864 William Johnson, who had entered the mills as a boy in the 1830s, gradually increased his share of the mills, acquiring almost complete control in 1885. (fn. 20) Although 'the Miller of Dee' became wealthy and an alderman of the city, he was regarded as 'plodding', (fn. 21) and did little to modernize the mills. By 1892 their value was declining rapidly, (fn. 22) and after Johnson's death in 1894 and a fire which gutted one of the five units, they were put up for sale and bought by the city council in 1895 for the relatively small sum of £7,000. (fn. 23) The city wanted them in connexion with an abortive scheme to improve Chester's water supply, and it is clear that it would have closed them immediately if it had been technically necessary, further evidence that they were already of little economic significance. In the event the city council leased the four remaining units to William Gregg. (fn. 24) Limited modernization must have been carried out as they contained some roller milling machinery by 1903, when the new tenants, Messrs. T. Wright and S. Robinson of Liverpool, sought replacements of a higher grade. (fn. 25) Wright and Robinson may have taken over the lease to acquire reserve capacity for their mills in Liverpool, and no further modernization was in fact carried out. They quit the premises in 1908, after which the Dee Mills remained empty until 1910, when they were demolished. (fn. 26)
The fate of Chester's other milling firms varied, but all were in decline by 1914. John Wiseman & Co. grew rapidly in the 1870s but declined as steeply less than forty years later. Although the firm's Albion Mill in Seller Street was presumably built with millstones, (fn. 27) by 1892 it was fitted with the latest roller machinery and employed between 50 and 60 workers. (fn. 28) Wiseman also operated Milton Street (or Cestrian) Mill from c. 1869, but the owner's death in the 1900s seems to have coincided with a sharp contraction of the business. By 1910 Cestrian Mill had been leased to Griffiths Bros. for use as a warehouse and by 1913 Albion Mill was mainly producing animal feedstuffs, having fallen heavily in value. (fn. 29)
Some Chester corn and provender merchants also undertook milling. Bowling Green Mill, Milton Street, was a small concern operated in 1871 by the Chester Provender and Carting Co. (fn. 30) It continued as such into the 1920s. Griffiths Bros. became Chester's largest firm of corn merchants in the late 19th century. The firm was founded in Lower Bridge Street, perhaps in the 1850s, and c. 1873 expanded into premises on Queen's Wharf vacated by the Chester Provender and Carting Co. The increasing import of foreign wheat led it to open an office in Liverpool c. 1874. (fn. 31) The Queen's Wharf premises were greatly extended in the 1870s and again in 1912, but they were used mainly as warehouses and the amount of milling on site seems to have been limited. In 1902 the firm was milling provender, but at Mickle Trafford watermill rather than in Chester. (fn. 32) Some other corn merchants also appear to have done some milling on a small scale. The last surviving mill in Chester proved to be Upton windmill, operated by Edward Dean and his son from the 1870s to the 1930s. They had installed an auxiliary steam engine by 1892. (fn. 33) By 1914 milling in Chester was thus a dying industry, though its final demise took place after 1918.
In the 19th century Chester became a centre for market gardening, plant nurseries, and seed merchants. As early as 1837 Chester market gardens were supplying Liverpool, (fn. 34) and the coming of the railways allowed some Chester firms to expand greatly. The trade increased in importance right up to 1914 and maintained its position until the 1930s. The city's location at the geographical centre of the British Isles, together with its good rail connexions and mild climate, made it an ideal place to serve the national market. (fn. 35) The Dickson family, established in Chester by 1820, was pre-eminent in the trade, F. & A. Dickson operating at Upton nurseries and James Dickson & Sons at Newton. The two enterprises merged in the 1880s, when the grounds under cultivation extended to over 400 acres. It was one of the largest businesses of its type in the country. By the late 19th century the firm supplied all types of bedding plants and trees, together with farm and garden seeds, garden tools, and agricultural implements, and undertook commissions to design gardens for country houses. (fn. 36) Other large nurseries were operated by Samuel Dobie and John Kirk in the Vicars Cross area, F. W. Dutton at Queen's Park, McHattie & Co. at Overleigh, and Alexander McLean at Upton. (fn. 37) In 1883 James Hunter established a farm seed business in Chester, attracted to the city solely by its location. Hunter was a leading advocate of the need for scientific testing of seeds and his firm was the first to offer a guarantee of purity, genuineness, and germination rate. Operating from premises in Foregate Street, by 1913 it had become one of the leading farm seed suppliers in the country. (fn. 38) In 1911 at least 413 people living in the city, together with an unknown number from outside, worked in nurseries or related businesses, double the number in 1861. (fn. 39)
Brewing, on the other hand, almost disappeared from Chester in the late 19th century, and by 1909 only one concern was left. The decline was due to the elimination of public-house breweries and the concentration of ownership among the commercial brewery companies. In 1871 there were 13 breweries in Chester, of which seven appear to have been pub breweries. (fn. 40) All the latter had ceased operation by 1892. Of the commercial breweries, the three biggest were Edward Russell Seller & Co. in Foregate Street, the Lion Brewery in Pepper Street, and the Chester Northgate Brewery. The Seller family continued in ownership until the 1880s, but in 1889 the concern was sold to the Albion Brewery Co. of Wigan and the brewery closed shortly afterwards. (fn. 41) Between 1871 and 1892 the Lion Brewery passed through at least four hands (fn. 42) before being acquired by Thomas Montgomery. His business was incorporated as the Chester Lion Brewery Co. Ltd. in 1896, but was taken over by Bent's Brewery of Liverpool in 1902. The brewery was closed soon afterwards. (fn. 43) The Northgate Brewery was the only Chester brewery to survive beyond 1914. By 1891 the company owned 21 tied houses in Chester and numerous others within a radius of 15 miles from the city. (fn. 44)
The history of brewing illustrates a wider transition in the economy from small-scale production to business concentration and industrialized methods. The trend weakened the city's manufacturing base and was only partly offset by developments in the limited number of modern industrial concerns. Between 1871 and 1911, for example, the number of workers aged over 20 in metal manufacturing increased from 735 to 1,110, a rise of 53 per cent. Nationally, however, the increase was around 130 per cent. (fn. 45) The successful firms were those able to take advantage of new national or regional markets. The leadworks went through a difficult period, though by 1900 was probably at the zenith of its development. It continued to specialize in white lead production, which by 1890 took up over half the operational site. The production of lead shot also remained important, and Chester benefited from the decline of the firm's Bagillt works as the increasing import of overseas lead undercut ore produced, smelted, and refined in north Wales. The transfer of lead milling to Chester was completed in 1909, and shortly before the First World War the decision was taken to open a new lead refining plant. Finally, in 1929 the smelter was moved from Bagillt to Chester and the north Wales works closed completely. The production of acetic acid for the white lead process was, however, closed down before 1900 because synthetic acid could be bought in more cheaply. (fn. 46) The Chester works also suffered from more fundamental problems. In the 1880s the Walkers Parker partnership was destroyed by an acrimonious dispute between two of the partners, one of whom was manager of the Chester works. In 1889 the new limited company of Walkers, Parker & Co. bought out the partners' assets and took over the Chester works. (fn. 47) The change came at a time when trading conditions in the lead industry were difficult, and the new concern's financial performance was poor throughout the 1890s. (fn. 48) Parts of the site were sold to improve the financial position. Though no overall figures are available, it seems likely that employment grew only slowly between 1880 and 1914 before expanding dramatically during the First World War because of the firm's importance for arms production. (fn. 49)
The engineering sector in Chester in the late 19th century was very volatile. During the national economic boom of the early 1870s the number of firms increased from 11 in 1870 to 16 in 1876. (fn. 50) By then the boom was over, and in 1878 the Chester engineering trade was in depression. Wage cuts were imposed at Hydraulic Engineering, and the Northgate Iron Works in Victoria Road went into liquidation. (fn. 51) Conditions remained difficult during the 1880s, and in 1889 Arthur Rigg's Victoria Engine Works failed. (fn. 52) Though the number of firms rose again in the 1890s and 1900s, particularly with the growth of electrical engineering, many lasted only a short time, and only three Chester engineering firms survived the whole period to 1914: Hydraulic Engineering, Henry Lanceley & Co., and Samuel Taylor Parry. (fn. 53)
The engineering business of Edward and Bryan Johnson was renamed the Hydraulic Engineering Co. in 1874. The decision to specialize in hydraulic machinery proved sound as demand expanded in the late 19th century. The firm opened offices in London, Paris, and Brussels, and developed a significant export trade. (fn. 54) Hydraulic Engineering became a large employer, with 200 workers in Chester in 1879 and between 300 and 400 by 1892. The works was expanded and modernized and as early as 1879 a new erecting shop was lighted by electricity. (fn. 55) It remained, however, on the cramped site between Egerton and Charles Streets, partly bisected by the latter. There was no direct rail access and the removal of large equipment must have been difficult. (fn. 56) The failure to move to a more convenient site suggests a certain lack of enterprise during the firm's most successful period.
Henry Lanceley, Son & Co. was more typical of engineering firms in Chester. It grew modestly in the late 19th century by exploiting opportunities in the region. Founded c. 1869, the firm started in a small way in George Street but after a move to larger premises in the same street, in the mid 1880s it took over a former tannery in Brook Street and converted it into the Providence Foundry and Engineering Works. (fn. 57) In 1881 Lanceleys' business was largely concerned with satisfying the jobbing engineering requirements of other Chester enterprises, but it dealt with an extremely wide range of customers, and activities ranged from repairing mangles to supplying complete steam engines and boilers. By 1909 the volume of business had almost doubled and about half was from outside the city. In the 1900s Lanceleys benefited from the growth of John Summers's steelworks at Shotton and the sheet metal industry at Ellesmere Port, but the firm also carried out contracts along the north Wales coast, in the north-east Wales coalfield, and in the rural areas south-east and east of Chester. Even so, with a turnover of under £10,000 in 1908-9, it was a relatively small enterprise. (fn. 58)
The firm of Samuel Taylor Parry was even smaller, but was unique in Chester engineering by surviving from the 18th century to 1914 and beyond. A jobbing engineering business, Parrys occupied premises in Princess Street throughout the period and also operated the foundry in Crook Street before 1855 and again between 1876 and the early 1890s. By 1896 the firm had diversified into electrical engineering, and it played an important role in the early provision of electric lighting in Chester. (fn. 59)
Hughes and Lancaster was one engineering firm which found Chester an unsuitable place for expansion. Founded in 1865, it established a works in City Road to exploit the increasing demand for water and sewerage machinery, but the premises were too small and impossible to enlarge. In 1892 the firm moved to Acrefair near Ruabon. (fn. 60) Its disappearance was ultimately counterbalanced by the founding in 1900 of Brookhirst, another engineering firm which exploited new market potential, in its case in electrical switchgear. Neither of the original partners, John A. Hirst and Percy Shelley Brook, was a Cestrian, and the firm's location in the city was due solely to Hirst's view that Chester was a better place to live than his native Manchester and would provide 'gentle and pleasing conditions' for his workers. The original premises in Northgate Street were soon outgrown and a new works was built in 1906 at Newry Park off Brook Lane. Such was the firm's success that the works had to be expanded within two years, and it was extended again in 1915 and 1917. (fn. 61)
Two other metalworking firms established before 1914 added to the manufacturing base. Williams Bros. began c. 1859 as a timber business in the Kaleyards, but later switched to making metal windows and relocated to Victoria Road. The firm of Williams and Williams was founded in 1910 and also made metal window frames, at premises in the old engineering works on the corner of Victoria Road and George Street. It later became a company of national significance. (fn. 62)
In Saltney there were no major new developments in the main industries established before 1871, and by 1914 some decline had set in. (fn. 63) The visual contrast with Chester was startling. In 1884 it was reported that 'Saltney presents the appearance of a miniature "Black Country"; unusually high chimneys soar into the sky and the atmosphere is impregnated with thick heavy smoke. Large works abound on all sides [and] the place is alive with all the signs of industrial activity.' (fn. 64)
Between 1873 and 1910 Saltney's pioneer firm, Henry Wood & Co., may have trebled in size, (fn. 65) due partly to the closure of works elsewhere. By 1892 the works was said to be 'the largest and most complete in the kingdom [for producing] all descriptions of chains, cables and anchors and crane chains for collieries and lifting purposes'. The firm became a limited company in 1899. (fn. 66) Other activities also expanded, notably railway wagon and carriage repair, and in 1890 the L.N.W.R. opened the Mold Junction engine shed, housing 40 locomotives, which employed c. 200 workers in 1899. (fn. 67)
Saltney's oil industry seems to have peaked in the 1870s. The largest concern, the St. David's Works belonging to the Flintshire Oil and Cannel Co., was forced into liquidation in 1884 after the collapse of the cannel industry. (fn. 68) The site was later annexed by its neighbour, the Dee Oil Co. By 1884 that firm employed 300 workers producing candles and a varied range of oils, (fn. 69) but in 1913 the refinery was closed and all operations moved to Bootle (Lancs.). (fn. 70) Rogers' British Oil Works, Saltney's third refinery, had closed by 1890, (fn. 71) but the chemical industry remained important. The bone manure works of Proctor and Ryland was taken over c. 1894 by Edward Webb and Sons, seed merchants of Stourbridge, who expanded the plant to such an extent that by 1910 it was Saltney's second largest business. (fn. 72)
By the 1890s Saltney's port was in terminal decline. In the 1880s the G.W.R., owners of the wharf, put up stiff resistance to the Manchester, Sheffield, and Lincolnshire Railway's bridge over the Dee at Queensferry. When completed in 1889 it had to be provided with an opening span to allow access to Saltney and Chester. (fn. 73) Though the G.W.R. persevered at Saltney, by 1904 there was little traffic, and in 1913 the wharf was taken over by J. Crichton & Co. Ltd. to become a shipyard building small coasting vessels. (fn. 74) By 1914 Saltney had thus lost its oil refineries but benefited from the continuing growth of its other firms and from Crichton's modest revival of shipbuilding.
Shipbuilding did not return to Chester itself after the 1869 closure, and boatbuilding firms in the city were very small. William Roberts's yard, building river pleasure craft, operated at the Groves until c. 1906 when it moved to the Dee branch canal basin. The Shropshire Union Canal Co. built narrowboats and Mersey flats at Tower Wharf until 1913 and the yard was taken over by J. H. Taylor & Sons in 1917. (fn. 75)
Motor manufacturing was confined to a few cars made by George Crosland-Taylor between 1906 and 1910 using parts imported from France. Five cars were produced bearing the Crosville name, but only two appear to have been built in Chester. From 1910 the firm concentrated on running buses. (fn. 76)
Between 1871 and 1914 the limited expansion of modern industries in Chester thus brought a somewhat greater integration with the international industrial economy. By 1914 the city had three engineering firms, Hydraulic Engineering, Henry Wood, and Brookhirst, which were leaders in their fields and, together with the leadworks, gave the city a more significant national role in manufacturing than is commonly perceived. That growth did not, however, offset the decline of the local craft sector brought about by better communications and factory production elsewhere. The opening of the Hawarden Bridge (or Shotton) steelworks on Deeside in 1896 proved to be the most important industrial development in the Chester region in the late 19th century. (fn. 77) That fact, together with the rapid growth of industry in Ellesmere Port, confirmed that other localities near by were more attractive than Chester itself to major industrial investors.
Retailing and Services
The faltering of Chester's industrial development increased its reliance on shops and services. Evidence on shopping after 1871 is limited and somewhat contradictory, but it suggests that despite the continued improvement in the quality of Chester's shops, the sector did not grow much. Employment in shops, services, and transport rose from 26 per cent of the working population in 1861 to 42 per cent in 1911, when nationally only 35 per cent of the labour force worked in service employments. (fn. 78) Although Chester already had a large service sector in the early 1870s, it did not grow particularly quickly before 1914, and certainly less rapidly than in the country as a whole, by 58 per cent between 1871 and 1911 compared with a national rate of 69 per cent (Table 18). (fn. 79) Services in nearby towns grew faster, though from a lower base, and some trade was diverted from Chester to Wrexham and, to a much lesser extent, Ellesmere Port, Northwich, and Crewe. Chester's own service sector was influenced by six factors: structural and cyclical trends in the national economy; developments in the city's hinterland; local transport; purchasing power within Chester; changes in manufacturing, wholesaling, and retailing; and trends in other public and private services.
The general rise in the standard of living which occurred during the later 19th century was probably the main factor behind growth in Chester's shops and services. (fn. 80) Despite wide disparities in wealth and income, there was more money in the local economy which could be spent on goods and services. Although the total number of businesses fell slightly between 1878 and 1906 for reasons discussed below, their diversity increased. (fn. 81) Specialist trades such as those concerned with picture restoration, heraldic stationery, and antique furniture found a niche, and the number of photographers, jewellers, and music shops grew. Over the 18 years from 1892 to 1910 the gross estimated rental for poor-rate purposes of the central shopping streets rose by 18 per cent. (fn. 82)
Overall growth was, however, modulated by cyclical trends in the national economy. The generally depressed period between 1873 and the 1890s seems to have hit Chester's most prestigious shop, Brown, Holmes & Co., where sales in real terms stagnated after 1870, and there were some particularly bad years, notably 1871-2 and between 1879 and 1884. (fn. 83) Both of Chester's private banks were badly affected by the banking crisis of 1878, itself a reflection of the depression; Dixon & Co. was forced into amalgamation with Parr's Bank, and although the Chester Old Bank, Williams & Co., survived, it remained weak during the 1880s. (fn. 84) The severe depression of 1879 led to a reduction of wages in the Chester engineering trade, and the cheese market of that year was described as 'the deadest for 30 years'. The impact of recession was noted again in 1894 and 1904. (fn. 85)
Periods of national recession weakened the economy of both Chester and its hinterland, and structural changes in the latter also tended to limit the growth of the city's service sector. Some 10-15 per cent of the city's trade seems consistently to have come from north and mid Wales, and the largest group of Welsh customers, 45 per cent, lived in industrial Flintshire. (fn. 86) Unfortunately for Chester, much of that area was in decline during the late 19th century, and even the establishment of Shotton steelworks in 1896 was only partial compensation. (fn. 87)
Chester's importance as a service centre for the Denbighshire coalfield seems to have declined after 1871. That, too, was unfortunate for the city since the industrial zone around Wrexham and Ruabon had continued to grow after 1850. (fn. 88) The problem for Chester was that Wrexham itself became an important shopping centre which even began to poach trade from Buckley and Connah's Quay in Flintshire after the Wrexham, Mold, and Connah's Quay Railway was opened in 1866. The extension of the line across the Dee to Bidston and Chester Northgate in 1889-90 may have benefited Wrexham as much as Chester. (fn. 89) Butt & Co. of Chester opened a shop in Wrexham c. 1895, (fn. 90) showing the town's rising significance and resulting in a sharp decline in patronage of the Chester shop by Denbighshire customers. Chester did benefit, however, from the growth of the north Wales coastal resorts, and by the 1900s trade from that area may have rivalled that from Denbighshire. The city also continued to draw custom from rural north and central Wales.
Chester's trade from Wirral and Ellesmere Port, however, remained relatively insignificant, amounting to only 4-5 per cent of the total from a district which by 1911 accounted for 28 per cent of the hinterland population. (fn. 91) Wirral customers mainly came to Chester from places near by, and a line from Parkgate to Eastham still seems to have marked the limit of significant trade. Birkenhead emerged as a distinct rival to Chester, and Liverpool's hold on the area was strengthened by the opening of the Mersey railway tunnel in 1886. (fn. 92) Only the rapid growth of Ellesmere Port in the thirty years before 1914 worked to Chester's advantage, though even there the city's drawing power was weakened by the lack of a direct rail link, a problem remedied in 1910 by the bus service established by Crosville. (fn. 93) Ellesmere Port's population exceeded 10,000 in 1911 and was heavily skewed towards industrial workers, but 182 shops had been opened there by 1914. (fn. 94)
Around 15 per cent of Chester's trade between 1871 and 1914 may consistently have come from the areas of Cheshire to its east and south-east. Access was improved by the opening of the Tattenhall Junction to Whitchurch (Salop.) railway line in 1872 and the Cheshire Lines route to Northwich in 1875. (fn. 95) They seem to have strengthened Chester's hold over its south-eastern hinterland and opened up the Northwich area more effectively. The frontier of significant trade evidently ran roughly along the southern boundary of the county as far as Whitchurch and then north along the mid-Cheshire ridge to Frodsham, with some coming from Nantwich and the Cheshire salt towns, notably Northwich. (fn. 96) That area declined somewhat in the late 19th century, principally because the cheese trade was depressed by large-scale imports of American cheese. Even though farmers responded by switching more to liquid milk, (fn. 97) there continued to be heavy migration out of the area and the population was static. (fn. 98) Thus although the rural area remained relatively prosperous and an effective market for Chester's goods and services, there were limits to the amount of trade it offered. Similarly, the Cheshire salt towns were in difficulties after 1870, when the market for salt became glutted and prices fell. Even the creation of the Salt Union in 1888 did little to improve matters, and production fell in the 1890s and 1900s. (fn. 99) As with industrial Flintshire, a significant part of Chester's catchment area was relatively depressed. It thus seems that although the general rise in the standard of living in the late 19th century greatly boosted Chester's trade, unfavourable trends in the hinterland may have limited the benefit which it derived in comparison with other more prosperous areas.
Note: n/a: not applicable.
Source: Census, 1871, 1911, Occupations.
By 1871 the railways were fundamental to Chester's links with its hinterland and had great economic significance within the city. The facilities were much expanded in the later 19th century, (fn. 100) and work on railway projects provided many jobs in construction. In addition the railways' most direct effect continued to be as employers. Railway workers aged over 20 increased from 378 in 1871 to 698 in 1911, (fn. 101) when there were another 80 aged under 20. An estimated 200 platform staff alone worked at Chester General at the time of the 1911 railway strike, (fn. 102) and men were also employed in the three wagon repair shops in Chester and the two at Saltney. Much railway work was unskilled and quite poorly paid, though it was relatively secure. (fn. 103) The railways were also purchasers of local goods and services. In 1909, for example, Thomas Welsby & Co. had the contract to supply beers, wines, and spirits to the L.N.W.R. refreshment rooms at Chester General. (fn. 104) The centralized management of the railway companies, however, meant that large orders were placed from head office, and Chester had few manufacturing firms strong enough to compete except for the Hydraulic Engineering Co., which supplied railway cranes and other heavy equipment. (fn. 105) By 1910 five motor engineers operated in the city, (fn. 106) and in 1911 the transport sector as a whole accounted for 17 per cent of male employment. (fn. 107)
The prosperity of Chester's shops and services depended to a large extent on custom from the city itself. Demand from outside enabled it to support a larger range than its own population would have justified, but perhaps 60-65 per cent of Chester's trade came from residents of the city and its suburbs. (fn. 108) Chester's restricted manufacturing base must therefore have weakened the local service economy, since the city was deficient in both an industrial middle class and a skilled working class, two groups with significant purchasing power in the late Victorian economy. (fn. 109) Furthermore, the presence of dying manufactures alongside extensive transport and service employment meant that low-paid and vulnerable workers were probably over-represented among Cestrians. Their demand for goods and services was doubtless relatively weak and volatile.
Chester did benefit in the later 19th century, however, from the purchasing power of two other groups. Improved railway connexions allowed commercial people from Liverpool, Manchester, and other towns to choose the city as an elegant place of residence, though it is difficult to estimate their numbers. (fn. 110) In 1899 Hoole was described as a 'commercial nest' because so many of its residents travelled to Liverpool and elsewhere each day, and it was asserted that only four of 75 occupiers in Hoole Road derived their living from Chester. (fn. 111) Chester also attracted a growing rentier class living off inherited wealth and investment income, who perhaps formed 5 per cent of the population by the Edwardian period. Their purchasing power was undoubtedly significant, particularly in Chester's more elegant shops. (fn. 112) Finally, there were visitors and tourists. Day excursions were run to the city from early in the railway era, though day trippers probably did not spend much. There is evidence, however, that purchases by better-off clients from outside Chester increased in the later 19th century and may have formed 5-6 per cent of the total trade of its shops. (fn. 113) While some such customers were undoubtedly short-stay visitors, Chester shops could also build up a circle of loyal clients from outside the region through initial visits to the city or by recommendation from existing customers. Thomas Welsby, for example, had customers as far afield as Shaftesbury (Dors.), Lowestoft (Suff.), and Anascaul (co. Kerry). The business also supplied wines and spirits for the wardrooms of naval vessels. (fn. 114) Brown, Holmes & Co. also sent goods in bulk to customers outside Chester, though after 1870 the trade was increasingly dominated by orders from hotels. (fn. 115) Such trade was largely independent of any weaknesses in the local and regional economy and was an important bonus for Chester.
In the late 19th century most of Chester's shops became modern retail businesses. One symptom was the increasingly diverse and sophisticated range of suppliers used by shopkeepers, as the retail sector became integrated completely into the industrial economy. Goods purchased locally from individual craft producers or fairs were superseded by direct supplies from industrial producers or commercial wholesalers. (fn. 116) The relationship depended on efficient distribution by the railways and the Post Office. (fn. 117) In certain cases shopowners participated directly in industrial enter prises in order to control supplies to their retail outlets. In 1874 William Brown of Brown, Holmes & Co. became chairman of the North Wales Flannel Manufacturing Co., a newly floated firm which took over two woollen mills at Holywell (Flints.) employing 170 workers. (fn. 118) Flannel sales at Brown, Holmes & Co. rose from 3.7 per cent of total sales in 1871 to 5.0 per cent in 1883, a period when Welsh flannel was generally out of fashion. (fn. 119) The success of the Chester Co-operative Society, founded in 1884, similarly depended in part on the Co-operative Wholesale Society's ownership of factories producing goods for member societies. (fn. 120) Most other shops depended on outside suppliers for their stock, and the larger shops seems to have dealt directly with producers and importers. Between 1883 and 1890 T. G. Burrell's drapery and clothing business purchased goods from 124 different suppliers, none apparently based in Chester. Firms in the industrial areas and London predominated (Table 19). Small shops, especially grocers, probably became dependent on tied contracts with wholesale suppliers from outside the city. (fn. 121)
Note: 'Unknown' might include Chester-based suppliers, though cross-checking with contemporary directories revealed no proven cases.
Source: C.C.A.L.S., ZCR 529/16.
Department and chain stores were increasingly represented in Chester's shopping centre after 1871, though smaller local businesses continued to be important. The Brown family remained Chester's premier shopowners until 1907, but the period seems to have been one of transition for the firm. (fn. 122) Until 1907 the two main sides of the business, clothing and house furnishings, were run separately. The clothing store, which traded as Brown, Holmes & Co. between 1874 and 1894, seems to have marked time between 1870 and the early 1890s. The firm diversified into new lines such as tennis costumes and cycling clothes for women in the 1890s, and advertised more aggressively. The shop was more successful after c. 1890, but the potential for further growth was restricted by the firm's orientation towards a wealthy clientele limited in size. In 1907 the two businesses were combined and turned into a limited company, Brown & Co. (Chester) Ltd., an event which also ended Brown family representation on the board. More significantly, the firm started to aim at a broader custom. In 1909 both the drapery and furniture departments were renovated and in 1914 Browns was clearly Chester's leading modern department store.
Browns' monopoly had been broken in the late 19th century, however, by the growth of three other stores which exploited the increased spending power of the middle classes and to a lesser extent working people. Richard Jones's drapery business was founded in Watergate Street in the 1850s, and expanded into larger premises in Bridge Street in the 1860s. (fn. 123) It diversified into furnishings and grew rapidly from the 1890s, and in 1900 opened a new clothing shop in Eastgate Street, by which time it was second only to Browns in importance (Tables 20-2). The growth of the Chester Co-operative Society was even more rapid. The first shop was a grocery in Black Diamond Street which opened in 1884. The society moved into the city centre in the 1890s, and by 1905 the Foregate Street premises had developed into a large department store. (fn. 124) Burrells was also a newcomer to the city. Thomas Gaze Burrell, a Norfolk man working in London, was advised in 1877 that Chester 'was growing in importance as a shopping centre and would be an ideal place to start a business'. He bought an existing haberdashery shop at no. 32 Foregate Street and renamed it the 'Little Wonder'. By 1890 he had opened men's, women's, and children's clothing shops and in 1899 expanded into furnishings. (fn. 125) Burrells, however, represented a transitional form of business in that different activities were carried out in separate premises acquired as the firm expanded.
The growth of Chester's large stores may have undermined older specialist businesses, particularly those in clothing and furniture. Established firms like Beckett & Co., William Garnett, Elias Williams, and Samuel Hamley seem to have been in relative or actual decline by the 1900s, and were also challenged by younger, more vigorous businesses such as Hendersons in Bridge Street, founded in 1890. (fn. 126) The grocery trade also changed greatly between 1890 and 1914. Although the number of grocers was little altered, new shops were dispersed in the suburbs and the number of citycentre grocers fell. (fn. 127) The chain stores of Liptons, Home & Colonial, Maypole, and Pegrams established branches in Chester, and their branded, packaged goods started to supplant the shop-blended and shoppacked provisions typical of the older and often more exclusive retailers. (fn. 128) By 1910 there were c. 20 chain stores in the city, including Boots, Marks & Spencer, and Hepworths, (fn. 129) but Chester remained a shopping centre dominated by local businesses which, though often biased towards a wealthy and socially select clientele, increasingly broadened their appeal to other income groups.
The growth and modernization of Chester's shops meant that the traditional fairs and markets both declined and changed in nature. (fn. 130) The rise of corporate wholesalers and direct purchases from factories made the fairs in their original form largely redundant by 1900. The sale of livestock continued, but pressure from shopkeepers forced the fairs from the main streets into specialized auction marts. The horse fair in Foregate Street was the last street fair to survive, but a combination of trader pressure and the new trams expelled it c. 1880. (fn. 131) Chester's importance as a livestock market seems to have declined relative to railwayconnected marts, notably that established at Crewe in 1874, which aimed particularly to deflect trade in Irish and foreign cattle from Liverpool and Birkenhead to the Holyhead route. Chester could have pursued the same policy, but there is no evidence that it did. (fn. 132) Chester's livestock market remained pre-eminent in west Cheshire, but the growth of auctions at Tattenhall Road and Beeston Castle stations suggests that it was not totally secure even within the immediate area. (fn. 133) Although relocated to the Gorse Stacks in 1884 with high hopes of restoring its former wider dominance, it was still not served by rail, and really needed a fresh start in a new location. (fn. 134)
Chester's corn and cheese markets also had problems in the late 19th century. With the growth of overseas imports and the onset of agricultural depression c. 1874, cereal growing for the market declined in west Cheshire and prices fell steeply. Wheat sold at 56s. 8d. a quarter in Cheshire markets in 1871 but only 26s. 4d. in 1893. (fn. 135) That fact, together with the growth of large corn merchants like Griffiths Bros., reduced the role for Chester's corn exchange, though weekly dealing continued and was well attended by farmers in the 1900s. (fn. 136) Chester's cheese fairs remained important, but until the 1890s trade was very depressed. Only 100- 150 tons was offered for sale in 1879, and the market was 'a bitter experience for every farmer present'. (fn. 137) Undercutting by imported American cheese was blamed, as again in 1889. (fn. 138) Trade had improved somewhat by 1894, but there were poor prices again in 1898 'partly because the working classes left off cheese in summer in favour of tinned fruits, meats etc.', an indication of changed habits helped, in part, by the modernization of the grocery trade in Chester. (fn. 139) The trade picked up again in the 1900s, and the 1911 Chester dairy show, held in the market hall, took place in boom conditions. (fn. 140) Throughout the late 19th century Chester's pre-eminence in the regional cheese trade was, however, under challenge from the market at Whitchurch, established in the 1860s and more convenient for many farmers in south-west Cheshire. Chester responded by increasing the frequency of its cheese fairs, but by the 1900s they were held in rotation with those at Nantwich and Whitchurch, illustrating Chester's loss of influence over the trade. (fn. 141)
Sources: C.C.A.L.S., ZTRP 14; Flints. R.O., G/A/159/123.
Source: C.C.A.L.S., ZTRP 48; Flints. R.O., G/A/160/15.
Sources: As Tables 20-1.
Trends in wholesaling and retailing in the later 19th century confirmed the final transformation of Chester's general market into a permanent outlet for goods sold to the public rather than a periodic one whose main customers were other traders. As the general standard of living rose there were changes in the balance of traders in the market hall (Table 23). Butchers were always dominant but their sharp decline in numbers between 1896 and 1910 was almost certainly caused by the growth of private butchers' shops, the Co-op, and chain butchers. The larger number of specialist fruiterers reflected the increasing importance in the diet of fruit, much of it imported, while the distinct growth in stalls catering for specialist and leisure needs also suggests some rise in the standard of living.
Chester's importance as a centre for other tertiary activities increased only modestly. By 1910 six commercial banks operated in the city, but all were members of national or regional concerns. (fn. 142) Chester's last independent bank, Williams & Co., was forced into a takeover by Lloyd's in 1897 following the auditors' severe criticism of its liquidity and management. (fn. 143) The Chester Savings Bank amalgamated with others in Wrexham, Frodsham, Knutsford, Mold, and Nantwich between 1906 and 1912, and Chester became the head office. (fn. 144) Five building societies were based in the city by 1902, but there were interconnexions between them, and rationalization had brought the number down to two by 1910. (fn. 145) The number of people working in commercial and professional jobs approximately doubled between 1871 and 1911. (fn. 146)
The significance of Chester's administrative functions in the period 1871-1914 is difficult to assess. The effect overall must have been to strengthen links with the hinterland, particularly those parts of Cheshire which were otherwise more liable to look to Manchester, Liverpool, or the Potteries. The placing of the country council's headquarters in Chester in 1889, despite its marginal location, was important for maintaining the city's stature and drawing power. Before 1914 the number of officers employed directly in government by the county, city, and rural district councils was, nevertheless, quite modest. Only 137 people were recorded in such employment in 1911, though to them must be added local authority service employees such as tramwaymen, teachers, policemen, and utility workers, as well as the employees of the Chester poorlaw union. (fn. 147) The continuing presence of the courts and various central government offices also helped maintain the city's role, though the gaol was closed in 1872. (fn. 148) Chester was confirmed as the main medical centre in the area, though the impact on employment was still limited. The infirmary served much of west Cheshire and north-east Wales, but in 1890 employed only 24 nurses, rising to 52 in 1911. The workhouse hospital performed a similar function for a smaller area around the city, while c. 1910 the county lunatic asylum at Bache had over 1,000 patients. (fn. 149)
Source: Kelly's Dir. Ches. (1878, 1896, 1910).
The military presence became more significant in the late 19th century. Under the Cardwell reforms of 1872-3 the castle barracks became the headquarters depot of the 22nd (Cheshire) Regiment and, though the garrison rarely exceeded 300, Chester was the training centre for new recruits to the regiment. In 1881 the militia and volunteers were re-formed into battalions attached to the Cheshires' regimental district at the castle, though some also had training depots elsewhere in the city. (fn. 150) Chester was also the headquarters of Western Command. (fn. 151) The other ranks formed a continually shifting element in the city's population, and were largely divorced from it, but many officers were based there for longer periods, and their custom in local shops, together with that of the officers' messes, was significant. Many seem to have stayed on in Chester after retirement. (fn. 152)
Chester's continuing role as an administrative, ecclesiastical, and military centre may to some extent have helped offset its economic weaknesses in the late 19th century. The city's social and political sphere of influence was wider than its purely economic one, but the two were interrelated in that élite groups attracted to the city because of its social role spent money there and so helped support some of its tertiary economy. The race meetings performed a similar function on a mass basis. 'Once a year at least our streets are thronged with sightseers', claimed the Chester Chronicle in 1889, estimating that not less than 100,000 had attended the Chester Cup meeting that year. (fn. 153) The real economic impact of such popular invasions was nevertheless probably limited.
In 1914 Chester remained the leading centre for west Cheshire and north-east Wales. Many of its traditional functions had withered away over the previous 150 years, but the city had adapted to change and retained a modest prosperity through the development of some new industries, the growth of shops and services, and the strengthening of its attraction as a place to live. There were, nevertheless, weaknesses. Its manufacturing base remained limited and was dominated by obsolescent industries. Its services were overshadowed by the regional metropolises of Liverpool and Manchester, and local rivals had emerged to poach some trade. The increasingly service-based economy was vulnerable to national economic fluctuations and to structural changes in the region. Chester in the period 1762-1914 exhibited the symptoms of a difficult adjustment to the demands of a changing but increasingly integrated regional and national economy, and it is clear that the city had declined greatly in relation to other centres in north-west England. (fn. 154)