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Eastern England   London and its Region   South Eastern England   Louise Abroad     Town pages:   Chester   Flint   Dudley

CHESTER EAST TO WEST - Foregate to The Cross

Foregate Street
A Busy StreetForegate Street - Chester is a walled city, originally entered only through narrow gates. "Foregate" means outside the gate, so above we are approaching Chester from the Eastern side, and hence towards the East Gate. Internal peace and growing prosperity has made business boom, diminished the need for gates, and made tolls a nuisance, so these have steadily been replaced by bridges to allow traffic to move more freely. The old Gate was demolished circa 1766 and this overbridge erected in its place so that the walls of the city can still be walked for business or recreation. This bridge often appears in Chester publicity with a charismatic clock above the centre of its span - but that (dated 1897) didn't get added until 1899.

Louise Rayner lived in Chester for many years and painted the same scenes several times. A Busy Street is practically identical to our main picture but steps back to include more of the surroundings. We have a section of it here on the right showing the local emporium (a popular term for a large store through the 19th century and much of the 20th, but rare now with the advent of "supermarket"). While we have no date for either painting, the rebuilt tower of St Peter's Church in the distance and the absence of the clock put both paintings between 1886 and 1899.

Miliner misspelling [We bought a framed print of the above for about 10 from a market stall in Blackburn, Lancashire, c.1996, but there is no source on it. Try art shops that do cheap framed prints. Also take note that 'A busy street' is a catch-all title used for many different paintings.]

The small section at right was kindly supplied by Angela Tibbles. She has a print of this picture with a bit more width than we see above, so it probably came from a different print run - and perhaps even a different company doing it. The interest lies in the shop at the right-hand edge of the bigger illustration, as this shows its side wall and the lettering painted on it: "Miliner". Since that seems to be the shop's trade rather than the owner's name, it's misspelt. We don't know whether that was by the signwriter (surely not!) or by Louise. A very small number of spelling errors do occur in Louise's work, although the only other example we actually have is on our Eastern England page, 2/3 down in the Cambridge section.
South side of Foregate Street
Here we are looking in the same westerly direction from across the road, and perhaps from a few yards further out from the distant bridge. We have no title for this painting but for identification we'll call it South side of Foregate Street, and although the painting is more softly detailed than the above images, it does give us a better view of the southern collection of pillared overhanging frontages. The nearest is lettered "Rodmore Carver & Gilder", and the second is just readable for a locksmith. Other lettering is harder to make out, even in the enlarged image of the shoppers below, but one shop is clearly signed "Baby Linen". This painting is earlier than the two above, hence some of the differences in the buildings. No actual date is known, but the big dresses of the earlier 1860s are completely gone and the lack of tramlines makes it before 1879, so sometime in the dozen or so years between the two.

South side of Foregate Street
Horsefair Foregate Street Chester
In the days before motor transport - and in this case even the tramway - the personal transport power unit, if you had need of one, was a horse or similar animal. Over time you'd want to change it as the animal got old or the tasks changed in nature. So towns would have horse fairs several times a year. Louise's painting The Horsefair Foregate Street Chester tells us that this is where Chester held some or all of its fairs. And it made sense since the road at this point was wide enough to accommodate the fair and still allow traffic to pass. That said, the fair would probably vary considerably over the year, with new young animals arriving for the first time. But street shopping was changing its character. Bonhams auctioned this image in 2012 for 36,050, and in their descriptive notes say that the horse fairs continued until about 1880, when they ceased under pressure from the street's retailers. The fairs were highly disruptive to shop trade, and where the horses stood also blocked the track of the brand new tram service.

The picture below was on sale in 1995 as "Queen's Head Vaults Northgate Street". At the time, we didn't have the pictures we have just discussed above, and the problem with this one's identity is that a horse tram is visible between the pillars of the nearest building, and the tramway didn't go down Northgate. It couldn't be Watergate Street for the same reason, and the buildings do not have rows in them, so it wasn't Eastgate Street. It might have been Grosvenor Street, which branches off Bridge Street - we still have no images to compare with that - but it most obviously matched the architectural character of Foregate Street (despite some apparent omissions), and that, of course, is where it is. So this could have been careless titling - or possibly, as does seem to arise, a deliberate attempt to raise the picture's sale value at some point in the past. The period is between 1879 and 1903. [Note: the picture has been sharpened from a blurry photograph and cannot be made any better. A sharper copy would be very welcome!]

Queen's Head Vaults
In April 2005, Andy King attended one of Peter Boughton's talks at the Grosvenor Museum. Peter Boughton is the curator there, they have regular Louise Rayner exhibitions, and he reminded his audience that Louise was selling a product. We already knew that she would often enhance the areas she wanted to be seen at the expense of those she didn't, for example compressing less interesting buildings, and would also use artistic licence in moving buildings (particularly church spires) to a more prominent place to produce a picturesque scene. Both of these techniques can be seen on our Lower Bridge Street page (see the Duke Street and Bear and Billet paintings). Andy King believes that there was almost certainly some degree of religious evangelism in this - which would fit with her strong Catholic Apostolic faith.

Peter Boughton pointed out that Louise had also painted shadows on the 'wrong' side of some streets, probably to add vitality, depth and interest. She would also subtly alter colour to produce the effect that she - and presumably her customers - wanted to see, (e.g. making red stone appear light 'salmon' pink or even whitish). But the paintings were intended to be art, and should not be taken as completely accurate. Further evidence of this lies in her brother Richard's outlines and watercolour sketches - and what Louise did with the same scene to create her finished work. One such example, Christmas Steps, Bristol (1863), can be seen at Bristol Art Gallery and demonstrates how clever she was at this process. So what we're left with here in Foregate Street is that the view is exactly the location it resembles, and it merely reflects our small-mindedness to complain that some of the buildings seem to have changed!

St. Werburgh's Mount St. Werburgh Street
Once through the Gate we are in Eastgate Street, but the first part we encounter is the narrow opening off the north side of the street (above right) into St. Werburgh Street, named after the Anglo-Saxon Princess Werburgh, daughter of Wulfhere, the King of Mercia. She became a nun praised for her holiness, and her grave a place of reverence after she died c.690. When a Danish invasion c.875 threatened the grave, her remains were hurriedly transported to the Saxon church at Chester. Her street goes up towards the southern end of Chester Cathedral, visible in the distance in this mono copy of the painting, then veers westwards around it, passing St. Werburgh's Mount, St. Werburgh Street and joins Northgate.

[We have no source for the mono image. The two colour pictures are from Grosvenor Museum's collection in Chester. A larger version of the upper image appears in Picturesque Chester, but no prints were available when we asked. We don't know about prints for the second image. Both were painted in 1873 on commission from the owner of the house, Thomas Hughes (a local antiquary), just before the building was demolished. He wanted the house shown in two seasons. St. Werburgh's Mount, Chester is summer; we think that the one above is spring disguised by an autumnish colour cast. Comment welcome.]
St. Werburgh's Mount, Chester Street

           Eastgate Street
As we return to Eastgate Street and move along it, we reach her painting of North Side of Eastgate Street. This offers our first glimpse from this direction of Chester's famous rows - the first floor (i.e. one floor up from the ground floor) public passageways that run continously from building to building - occasionally enclosed, but usually open-fronted as we see in the buildings towards the right. This particular picture is not later than 1874 as rebuilding began in that year and all the buildings were eventually restored or otherwise changed. Given also Louise's strong religious beliefs, it is most unlikely that she would have omitted the more distant church spire unless it wasn't there to be included, and as we'll see, that pushes the latest date back into the 1860s.

The bright slash across the street in the distance marks the point where the north-south route through the city intersects at the Cross with our own east-west route. The junction is staggered rather than a straight crossing, with the southern leg further away from us. To the right is Northgate Street, straight on is Watergate Street, and to the left is Bridge Street.
[Grosvenor Museum collection, no print available, but included in Picturesque Chester.]

Below - untitled, but we'll call it Eastgate Street near the Cross. It is a similar view, but rather closer to the Cross and significantly later. The stepped pyramidal tower on the nearer church makes it at least 1886 while the lack of wires or poles for the trams would suggest earlier than 1903 - assuming that Louise didn't simply suppress them from her painting. Lamposts are visible in profusion, but these are probably gas (going by the top ventilators), so for a moment we cannot be more precise (see the section on Bridge Street for more about dating).

Eastgate Street near the Cross

Eastgate Street at the Cross
Again unnamed (but we'll call it Eastgate Street at the Cross for differentiation), this image supplied by Peter Cleaver early in 2008 exemplifies why Louise's critics dislike her re-visiting the same material for several paintings, thus undermining the freshness of each. It's essentially the same picture with a few standard elements moved around, and the painting style lacks the precision of the picture above it. Even so, it has an appeal of its own - and local history value, of course. The business names all appear to be the same, but clothing seems to be subtly more modern.

Eastgate Street, south side near the Cross The Boot Inn (extreme right) reveals more detail, and then when you look over the Cross to the building on the far left corner, it has clearly undergone rebuilding into the style it would be recognised by in the twentieth century. This rebuilding would most likely have occurred in 1889-92, so this painting is between then and 1903 if the lack of wires can be trusted, and the picture above it is between 1886 and 1889-92.

The more precisionist picture - Eastgate Street near the Cross as we titled it - is worth a closer look for several reasons, hence these two enlarged sections of it. The painting has its own quiet energy and is actually a fine and very closely detailed picture, with plenty of merit to call its own.

The section here on the left shows only a bare fragment of Eastgate Street's south side, but even so is currently the best we have. The heart-shaped sign is barely legible, but appears to carry the name "Butt". A view from Northgate suggests that the south-side Row continues close to the Cross, but if it's here as well, it must have slipped behind the first floor of these buildings. Beyond the building we see the Cross, and a clear view of the stairs up to the Rows at the corner of Bridge Street and Watergate Street.

But if we look down Watergate Street, we also catch the painting in a lie, for the church - as such buildings are wont to do in Louise's paintings - has marched up the hill to gain a more dominant position than it has in the other two views!

Eastgate Street, north side near the Cross

In mediaeval times the shops at the corner were known as the buttershops as they traded in dairy produce. In the earlier picture above, the buildings near the corner have pillars to support their overhanging bays, but the 1874 (onwards) rebuilds stripped them away and changed their character. Beyond them, the reddish brown building disappeared altogether, but resulted in making the church beyond the Cross more visible than it had been previously.

The older picture and the general view of Foregate Street are reminders of how characterful our town streets used to be, and how much we have lost in the pursuit of modernisation and straight-out-of-the-box architecture. Character can also be found in smaller things, and deliberately or accidentally, Louise likes to include eye-catchers in her paintings - and this one is no exception, with the slim barrow with large spindly wheels and a spade handle standing off to the right.

[The above image, and the one below left are both from the Grosvenor Museum collection, no prints available at the time of writing, but both included in Picturesque Chester.]

The Dark Row The Dark Row
But character isn't always attractive if you are meeting the real thing. The painting to the left here, Eastgate Row North, shows the western end of Eastgate Row where it turns away from the street frontage and drops down to street level out of sight. Known as Pepper Alley Row by the time Louise painted it, it had previously been known as the Dark Row or Dark Lofts, and was not somewhere that polite people would want to go. Louise did other paintings of the scene, such as The Dark Row, Eastgate, Chester. John Taylors Auctioneers kindly sent us an image (right) just prior to its auction on 12th April 2011. The full painting is virtually identical to the one at left, but with a slightly different colouring and a different group of people, so our second image closes in on the group in that painting. A third version, Pepper Alley Row, and similar to the one at left was included in a Laurences auction scheduled for January 20th 2012.

The Cross, Chester
For a long time, this has been the "missing painting" from our coverage. We didn't know it existed, but felt that something like it surely did. Even now, we don't know its title (we'd welcome the proper title if anyone does know), so for reference we'll call it The Cross and Eastgate Street, seen from Watergate Street. It was sent to us by Michael McKenna and his wife - and received with delight.

In this view we are standing at the city-centre end of Watergate Street. Beside us to the left is St Peter's Church at The Cross; directly ahead is the Cross and then Foregate Street. Turning left (i.e. north) from the Cross by the rounded building is Northgate Street, though we don't see much of it, and in the immediate foreground, those curved lines are swinging round into Bridge Street at our right. The curved lines are tramway tracks, and in the distance we see a tram approaching the Foregate itself.

This isn't a pure cross like '+' but "cross" is merely a very old name for two routes that intersect at an angle and pass on their respective ways, and as Peter Boughton's lovely book Picturesque Chester shows in the map on plate 1, the kink was already well established here by 1581.
Continue west into Watergate Street by clicking here.

Chester (front page)    Northgate    Bridge Street    Lower Bridge Street    Foregate to the Cross    Watergate Street

Many of the Chester images appear with the co-operation and courtesy of the Grosvenor Museum, Chester.

Harry Drummond, January 2015.
DudleyMall pages about Louise:
Louise at Dudley - Front page introduction, Dudley, link to Richard Rayner's work at Dudley.
Louise Rayner - the main biography, listing some of her early paintings
Louise at Chester - where Louise made her home and did some of her best work.
Louise at Flint - her drawings for Henry Taylor's book.

Louise on expedition:

North to South progression, West before East
Louise in Scotland - Edinburgh
Louise in Southern Scotland - Roslin Chapel (we have no other Scottish paintings at present)
Louise in Northern England - York... Selby... Beverley... Durham
Louise in Wales and the west Midlands - Conway... Ludlow... Gloucester
Louise in the South and South West - Oxford... Chippenham... Salisbury
Louise in Eastern England - Lincoln... Derby... Cambridge
Louise in London and its region - Temple Bar, Drury Lane, Holborn, Greenwich, Eton and Windsor
Louise in the South East - Tunbridge Wells, Knole, Herstmonceux, Canterbury, Hastings... more
Louise Abroad - Rheims, Nuremberg, Bruges... and possibly Venice
In preparation: - The Rayners at Windsor

Please note: we claim no art expertise, and in no way do we offer provenance for any paintings. What you see here was compiled out of interest in Louise Rayner's paintings and those by her family, but is based on sometimes very fragmentary evidence. It is inevitable that there will be errors, though we naturally correct these when we learn of them.

We would gratefully receive any information or corrections that will help us to fill the gaps and resolve unproved links - for example confirmation of dates of birth, death, etc., and details of other addresses the family lived at (and roughly when). Images of any of the family's paintings would also be very welcome. And we'd like to thank the many people who have already contributed - you've helped to make these pages as good as they are. Thank you!

Copyright 2015 DudleyMall.

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