Ancient Roman Walls Damaged During Luxury Hotel Construction
Private developers building luxury hotel apartments in England are being taken to task for their part in the collapse of an ancient Roman City wall in Chester, an iconic feature of the city.
The ancient walls of Chester, on the River Dee in England close to the border with Wales, were first built by the Romans between 70 and 80AD. On Thursday night, while private developers Walker and Williams were building luxury apartments, part of the 2000-year-old structure collapsed and the crumbled section of the ancient monument, near Newgate Street, Chester, fell after developers compromised the integrity of the ancient monument.
An Iconic Ancient Monument
According to an article on Chester's Historic Walls the walls comprise “the most complete Roman and medieval defensive town wall system in Britain” and the entire circuit of the walls, together with the towers and gates, is recognized by Historic England as a Scheduled Monument. What’s more, almost every section of the wall is scheduled in the National Heritage List for England as a designated Grade I listed building, regarded by the Secretary of State to be of ‘national importance.’
The Romans first established a stone fortress, Deva Victrix, in the first century AD and its walls were later extended. A new castle was built following the Norman conquest in the 11th century. The walls were last used by the military during the Siege of Chester , in the English Civil War of 1642–1651, when between February 1645 and January 1646 the city was held by forces loyal to Charles I of England .
After what historians call a ‘furious battle’, in the final phase of the siege on 20 September 1645, parliamentarian troops led by Colonel Michael Jones and Major James Lothian overran the ‘eastern outworks’ and captured the eastern suburbs up to the Eastgate. Thus, Chester’s walls withstood one of the most violent battles in British history and continued to stand while Charles I was executed, his son Charles II was exiled and Oliver Cromwell replaced the English monarchy.
The Phoenix Tower on the city walls in Chester, England. Credit: Phil / Adobe Stock
No Care or Diligence
Now, a modern developer has done what no historical military force managed to do: collapse the Roman wall, and work has seized within the construction site until investigations into the precise cause of the collapse have been completed. While the Cheshire West and Chester Council said no one was injured during the collapse, Deputy council leader Councillor Karen Shore said the council is taking this situation very seriously.
Chester MP Chris Matheson claimed Walker and Williams “had been warned about digging too close to the historic monument” and he has pledged to support action to repair the section of Chester City Wall. Chris said in a LeaderLive article that Chester ’s Walls are the “jewel in our city ’s crown” and he is “appalled” that the company developing on this site has “not exercised the care and diligence” expected when working at such close proximity to what he calls an “iconic ancient monument”.
Roman wall and ruins in Chester, England. Credit: Peter / Adobe Stock
Maintenance of the walls has always been a concern and while they were further fortified before the Civil War, they were heavily damaged, and in the 18th century they became refashioned into a fashionable walkway around the city. The gateways were replaced by elegant arches and many of the towers were pulled down or altered. Today, the walls are a major tourist attraction completing an almost complete circuit of the former medieval city of Chester, with a total walkway length of 2.95 kilometers (1.8 mi).
Rows of History
It would be unbalanced to leave this article without reminding folk that besides collapsed Roman walls, this marvelous city also offers Chester Cathedral, Roman Gardens and Roman Amphitheater, Chester Groves, River Dee, Chester Castle and the Old Port and Canal. There are some original 13th century buildings including the Three Old Arches, but perhaps the most interesting feature in the city are ‘the Rows’.
These continuous half-timbered galleries, reached by steps, form a second row of shops above those at street level along Watergate Street, Northgate Street, Eastgate Street and Bridge Street and while this is unique in the world to Chester, nobody is quite sure why they were built in this way. According to a listing on British History in the mid-19th century, the Rows had become an antiquarian attraction and the Chester Archaeological Society preserved them where necessary and they were reconstructed with appropriate timber-framed buildings, and nothing collapsed!
Whilst further details about the collapsed Roman wall are forthcoming, MP Chris Matheson said he will be offering his support to all of the heritage partners in Chester, to ensure that appropriate action is taken to rectify this situation and restore this section of Chester Wall to its ‘former glory.’
Top image: Roman wall in Chester, England. Before: Peter / Adobe Stock. After: Chester Live
By Ashley Cowie