FRIDAY 21 – MONDAY 24 SEPTEMBER
Chester was one of the finest strategic outposts of the Roman Empire. At the centre of the entire province of Britannia it became the headquarters of the governor of Roman Britain; it may well have been intended as the eventual capital of the entire British Isles. The Roman army arrived in Chester sometime between AD 71 and 79. They began building a vast garrison on a mighty headland above the river Dee that was eventually connected to all parts of the Roman province by brilliantly engineered Roman roads. Establishing an important position on a pre-existent trade route, it would not have gone unnoticed that this would be an ideal position from which to invade Ireland. The complex included barracks, granaries, headquarters, military baths, an unusual elliptical building, and a huge theatre, the largest military amphitheatre in Britain. Amazingly parts of the walls, the baths, the theatre, together with the only Roman shrine in all of Western Europe still in its original position, have survived. For more than three centuries Chester was one of the most important military bases in the Roman Empire.
By 689 Chester had its first cathedral, founded by King Athelraed of Mercia. The mighty Roman city walls were further strengthened by the Anglo-Saxons to withstand Danish advance, and now Chester is one of the best-preserved walled cities in Britain. In 973, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records that when King Edgar of England came to Chester, he held his court in a palace in a place now known as Edgar’s Field near the old Dee bridge in Handbridge. Monastic orders – the Blackfriars, Greyfriars and Whitefriars- settled in Chester, and once the town had assumed its huge military and political significance under Edward I in the late 13c, the city walls were rebuilt and Chester became the home of the finest master masons in Europe. The walls remain the best-preserved in England, while the monastic buildings surrounding Chester Cathedral, once a Benedictine Abbey, survive as the most complete monastic enclave in the country. Medieval grade 1-listed churches and houses abound, sometimes surviving as cellars beneath fine later structures. The early significance of Chester in the story of English cities cannot be overestimated. We are delighted to have been able to arrange two days with author Dr. David Mason, Principal Archaeologist of Chester who has been involved in the investigation and research of Chester’s archaeology and history for more than 30 years.