The Rows of Chester: The Chester Rows Research Project

By Martin, David | Antiquity, March 2002 | Go to article overview

The Rows of Chester: The Chester Rows Research Project


Martin, David, Antiquity


ANDREW BROWN. The Rows of Chester: the Chester Rows Research Project. xviii + 216 pages, 185 figures, 21 tables, 13 colour plates. 1999. London: English Heritage; 1-85074-629-X paperback 35 [pounds sterling].

The city of Chester is famous for its unique first-floor shopping rows which line the four principal streets. These take the form of elevated walkways contained within the buildings and giving access to an upper tier of shops set above those at street level. The walkways, always privately owned, are accessible to public use and in their original form often incorporated stalls between them and the street. Although constructed with traditional-looking timber-framed facades, much of the scheme as it survives today dates to the 19th century; but it is now clear that by 1350 a recognizable, but incomplete, row system had emerged. Although disguised, considerable early remains of this system still survive.

Arrangements incorporating some similar characteristics are to be found in other medieval towns, both in England and on the Continent, but the rows as they exist at Chester are unique and have long been the subject of comment. Not surprisingly, a number of authors have theorized on their origins -- amongst them J.T. Smith -- but these earlier writings were made without the benefit of an intensive, systematic study. This deficiency was rectified in 1984 with the launch of the Chester Rows Research Project, a long-term intensive inter-disciplinary programme co-founded by Andrew Brown and Rick Turner and latterly financed principally by English Heritage and the former Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England. The Rows of Chester presents the findings of that research.

Although the origin of the rows may have been the driving force behind the project's foundation, its scope included studies of the town's topography and morphology, a programme of tree-ring analysis aimed at dating where possible the surviving early buildings, and an investigation into the likely original form of the row buildings. Documentary research was carried out to place the buildings in their historical context and comparisons were made with groups of buildings incorporating similar design features in other towns. Consideration was also given as to how the rows evolved and adapted to meet changing needs, and why they have endured to the present day. All these topics are fully and clearly dealt with in the publication's 10 chapters and three appendices. …

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