Twentieth century Chester 1914-2000: Society and culture, 1945-74

Pages 264-265

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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Health. (fn. 1) The establishment of the National Health Service consolidated earlier gains in some aspects of public health. In 1948, because of immunization, there were no cases of diphtheria for the first time in Chester's recorded medical history. In the 1950s treatment with new antibiotics and vaccination virtually eradicated tuberculosis. Whereas in 1932 there had been about 200 cases and 40 deaths, in 1962 only two people died of the disease. Such improvements brought other diseases to the fore: by the early 1960s lung cancer had overtaken tuberculosis as a major cause of death; coronary heart disease was also increasing, and in the 1950s there was a virulent epidemic of poliomyelitis.

In 1945 the infantile death rate was a matter for concern. It had fallen as low as 56 per thousand live births in the late 1930s, but during the war rose again into the upper 70s. The reasons, which were extensively debated in local newspapers, were thought to be bad housing, maternal undernourishment through poverty, and deficiencies in health care. There were no resident consultant paediatricians, gynaecologists, or obstetricians, no specially trained children's nurses, no special children's wards, and insufficient maternity beds. (fn. 2) In 1947 the infantile death rate in Chester rose to 81.2 per thousand live births, almost twice the national average, and the Ministry of Health instituted a local inquiry into the possible causes. Before the report was published and its recommendations effected, the corporation had appointed specialist medical and nursing staff at the City Hospital, and provided dedicated children's beds and a premature baby unit. Within two years infantile mortality fell to 20.1 per thousand live births. Thereafter there was further improvement, and by 1965 infant mortality was 14.6 per thousand live births, appreciably lower than the national average. Despite improvements at the City Hospital there were still insufficient maternity beds, until in 1971 a new maternity unit was provided at what was later called the Countess of Chester Hospital in Liverpool Road. (fn. 3)

Under the 1948 National Assistance Act destitute old people were moved from the City Hospital, formerly the poor-law workhouse, to Sealand House, which replaced the former infectious diseases hospital in Sealand Road. Other residential homes for the elderly were established later. (fn. 4) In general Chester's health record improved dramatically between 1945 and the mid 1960s. Although better health services were the main cause, other factors included the alleviation of poverty and malnutrition, full employment, and the falling numbers of those living in overcrowded and defective houses.

Culture and Leisure.With the spread of television there was a decline in cinema-going from the 1950s; the Music Hall cinema became a retail shop, the Gaumont a bingo hall, and by the early 1970s, when audiences began to recover, there were only two cinemas left. (fn. 5) The Royalty Theatre closed in 1966 after an unsuccessful attempt to turn it into a cabaret club. (fn. 6) In 1968 a new civic theatre, the Gateway, opened in the Forum Centre. (fn. 7) Attempts to persuade the council to fund an arts centre as a home for the city's numerous drama, music, and arts societies failed, and the cathedral remained the only suitable venue for large orchestras and audiences over 1,000. (fn. 8)

In 1961 the corporation's only contribution to arts provision was £550 pledged to cover the losses incurred by the Hallé and Liverpool Philharmonic concerts. (fn. 9) In 1967 for the first time it funded a Chester Festival, of which the central event was an adaptation of the Chester mystery plays on Cathedral Green. After criticism of the council's parsimony, arts expenditure increased, primarily in the form of subsidies to the Gateway theatre. (fn. 10)

In 1948 the Chester City Record Office was established. (fn. 11) Nothing, however, was done to improve the central library, although the need for a new building had long been recognized, and the county council had in 1966 agreed to share in its cost. (fn. 12) At the Grosvenor Museum, which was more favoured, a professional archaeologist was appointed curator in 1948, and in 1953 a new Roman gallery was named after Professor Newstead. In 1966 the museum was also provided with an art gallery. (fn. 13)

The cathedral was crucial to the city's cultural life. The clergy, especially successive deans, cultivated good relations with the local community, the Army, and the corporation, through special annual services and organizations such as the Old Choristers' Association and the Friends of the Cathedral. They also hosted large orchestral concerts and performances of the mystery plays. The bishop maintained close contact with Chester College, the expansion of which after the war had a big impact on the cultural life of the city, and in the 1960s the cathedral clergy as a whole gave strong support to the bid to locate a university in Chester. (fn. 14)

Chester was reasonably well endowed with open spaces laid out for organized sports, but there was a shortage of appropriately sited land for recreation and children's play. (fn. 15) In 1945 the need for a park in the southern part of the city was recognized, and the duke of Westminster gave the corporation 46 acres at Hough Green; (fn. 16) Westminster Park, however, was not developed until 1966 when a nine-hole golf course, tennis courts, football pitches, and a running track were planned. (fn. 17) City and county co-operated on the construction of the Northgate Arena leisure centre, built on the site of Northgate station and completed in 1977. (fn. 18)


  • 1. Acct. based, except where stated otherwise, on Annual Reps. of M.O.H. (1932-72): copies in C.C.A.L.S., ZDH 2/10-18; ZDH 4/3-15.
  • 2. Ches. Observer, 11 May 1946.
  • 3. V.C.H. Ches. v (2), Medical Services: National Health Service.
  • 4. C.C.A.L.S., ZCA 9, statement to Sir John Maude, p. 15.
  • 5. V.C.H. Ches. v (2), Places of Entertainment: Cinemas; Ches. Observer, 7 Feb. 1959.
  • 6. Ches. Observer, 19 June 1966.
  • 7. Ibid. 22 Nov. 1968.
  • 8. Ibid. 13 Oct. 1967; 13 Feb. 1968; 6 Oct. 1972; Greenwood, Chester, 59; Chester City Cl. Mins. 1971/2, pp. 548-9, 653; Chester District Local Plan: First Draft for Public Consultation, Mar. 1996, p. 218 (copy at C.H.H.).
  • 9. Ches. Observer, 29 June 1961.
  • 10. Ibid. 13 Oct. 1967; 31 Mar. 1972.
  • 11. Archives and Records, ed. Kennett, 8.
  • 12. Ches. Observer, 15 Sept. 1962; 25 July 1966; 2 Apr. 1971.
  • 13. Ibid. 5 Aug. 1966; V.C.H. Ches. v (2), Museums.
  • 14. Ches. Observer, 25 June 1955; 28 Jan. 1961; 29 Sept. 1972.
  • 15. Ibid. 10 July 1970; Greater Chester District Plan: Technical Rep. (1977), pp. 90-4.
  • 16. C.C.A.L.S., ZCA 9, statement to Sir John Maude; Ches. Observer, 1 June 1946.
  • 17. Ches. Observer, 2 Dec. 1966.
  • 18. Ibid. 20 July 1973; 8, 20 Mar. 1974; Chester City Cl. Mins. 1972/3, pp. 907-8; 1973/4, p. 621; V.C.H. Ches. v (2), Sport after 1700: Public Facilities.