Coming to you live from Chester

Those of you who know me personally will perhaps know that I have been in the city of Chester for the past few days.  Perhaps not the best timing for a holiday (with an important gig coming up, and days after my girlfriend arriving back off holiday), but a welcome change of scenery all the same.

Chester is a city of heritage and beauty.  Initially a Roman settlement founded around the time of the crucifiction of Christ, the city is the only city with a complete surrounding wall left in England – although only half the wall is Roman, the rest added as the city expanded a few centuries later.

Chester is also the home of England’s largest Roman ampitheatre.  Situated just outside the city walls, it seated up to 7000 people - although it’s primary use was combat training, not recreation.  The city isn’t full of just Roman artifacts, however; the city has a wide array of Tudor, Victorian, and Georgian sights and houses.  One of the city’s main attractions (other than the wall and open excavation of the ampitheatre, of course) is the city’s unique and characteristic rowed shops.

The main city centre streets are lined with these ‘rowed’ shops – essentially ground-floor shops with a second row of shops on top of them, accessable by a sort of balcony.  The floor are uneven and the ceilings low, and many of the buildings are of Victorian origin.  It is a beautiful place.

It is only at times like this, when we are given something as a base of comparison, that it becomes obvious precisely how crap my home town of Derby is.  We are a small city that barely seems worth our ‘city’ status.  We have virtually no heritage in the city centre, and what we do have goes completely unnoticed due to a lack of tours or even informative plaques.

It is true that we have some historical buildings that could be of interest to some people – the second highest Cathedral of it’s kind in the UK, the oldest ring of 12 church bells, the Dolphin and Bell public houses, Friargate with it’s rows of Georgian houses, older buildings such as the building which is now Pierre Victoires, the old gaol and Vernon Gate, etc. – but these are so poorly signposted and advertised that even the majority of Derby citizens are ignorant of their histories.

We are, of course, currently having our city ‘refurbished’ by the Cityscape organization.  These is plainly well needed – the uglyness of post-war art-deco buildings such as the likes of Debenhams and parts of the Eagle Centre, and of course the ugly and dated bus station have far outlived their lives, regardless of what a very vocal minority might like you to believe.

If we cannot have old, historical buildings, then we must move forward with new, more modern architecture.  We should also glorify the history that we do have with better signposting and public awareness.  So all you mardy cityscape protesters – shut up and allow the contractors to do their work.

Anyway, my time on this Chester Library terminal is fast running out.  Look out for pictures of Chester on my Flickr Photostream in the next few days.

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