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

CHESTER NORTH TO SOUTH - Northgate Street to Bridge Street

King Charles Tower At present we have very few pictures of Northgate, and this photograph that Louise had taken of one of her paintings is not Northgate itself, but the King Charles Tower a little further along the city wall at its north east corner.

Built in Mediaeval times and earlier known as the Newton Tower from the local suburb, it took its popular name from King Charles I's presence there in 1645 when his army was defeated at nearby Rowton Moor and the tower itself was mauled. It was offered subsequently as a guild meeting house on condition that they restored it. This work added a stone with a carved phoenix from the guild's emblem, so it also became known as the Phoenix Tower. Louise's painting is from the 1870s, prior to the tower's next restoration in the 1880s, and shows it from the canal built along the wall in 1772. The wall curves away leftwards past the canal boat and then out of view (towards Northgate itself), and while the works on the right might suggest the remains of a bridge, they have no connection with the wall.

On the right-hand bank of the canal, the painting shows what used to be called 'Gorsestacks'. The family still have a signed close-up of 'the Gorsestacks' by Louise which must have been done somewhat later as it shows a slate roofed Victorian(?) Tudor style house behind them. The vertical and horizontal stacks of thin straight branches are thought to be drying either before or after being transported by canal.

Bluebell Inn, Northgate Street The effect of walling a city and putting gates into its four main faces is to encourage four main streets to develop (or existing ones be reinforced) from gate to centre, and that is exactly what happened in Chester. And they meet not quite squarely at the Cross by St Peter's Church. The northern route is along Northgate Street, and the picture here (apparently titled City Street, but not necessarily given the name by Louise) was kindly provided by Peter Cleaver from a print which has begun fading to blue. The view - thought to have been painted around 1880-90 - is from near the Northgate bridge over the canal looking down Northgate Street toward the Town Hall and the city centre.

Visible names on the left of the painting are Morton(s) on the dark sign, and Smith just beyond it. The Bluebell Inn (M.Hodgson?) on the right is two medieval buildings merged into one and extended, and known as Lorimer's Row. Building the upper floor out over the pavement is fairly common in Chester but this example is unique in having a shop on the front face of the passage. It still exists as no.65 Northgate Street.

Town Hall Square, Chester

Town Hall Square, Chester The Town Hall was built in late 13th century Gothic style in 1865-9, during Louise's early period of residence in Chester. But with her love of the old and the grand, she may not have chosen to sketch the building while it was under construction - except, perhaps, for herself.
[Grosvenor Museum collection, large print available, included in Picturesque Chester.]

Until 2011, we had seen no paintings of Chester Cathedral which is almost directly opposite Town Hall Square, and was rather a big gap to have. All we knew was that it could be reached by St. Werburgh Street, which is covered on our East-West page. We still have no general view of the cathedral, but the next two paintings offer a taste.

Figures outside the west door of Chester Cathedral
Bishop Pearson's Monument Above, we see Figures outside the West Door of Chester Cathedral. The image comes from where it is described as an oil on canvas. However, the family have a previously unidentified photograph that Louise had made of the original painting which could have been a watercolour. If so, the colour image here may have been of a reproduction of that watercolour, made to look like an oil. There is also a Shrewsbury painting with a very similar look to the finish. Whatever the truth of that, we are looking at the heavily decorated West Door entrance, and through it into the cathedral lit by long shafts of sunlight. We have no date for it, but it was clearly a period or a commission when she set her brush to capturing as much of the detail as she could.

At right, another photograph Louise had made of her work, and though the photograph is fading, the fine detail of her work is again impressive especially in the monument itself and the faces around its base. This painting is Bishop John Pearson's Monument in the North Transept. Andy King says that this is how it looked when first completed. Bishop Pearson actually died in 1686 but the monument was designed by Sir Arthur Blomfield, possibly around the mid 1880s to coincide with the bicentenary, and carved by Nicholas Earp with an effigy by Matthew Nobel. Andy adds that it seems to have been moved since then, and has lost its elaborate canopy. We don't have a date for this painting, though these notes point us to the 1880s at least - and clearly Louise was still in full command of her skills when she created it.

Northgate Street approaching the Cross Although the title ascribed to the view above is Lower Bridge Street, it patently isn't. As Louise omitted titles from some of her paintings, there are examples of sellers titling by guesswork and this possibly happened here. The view shows us a street with Rows, approaching a tee or staggered junction with another street that has Rows, and this immediately suggests the southern end of Northgate Street with Eastgate Street running across the bottom to the Cross, just out of sight to the right. The Roman-style building just left of centre is therefore the City Club in Northgate Street, and though its tower is invisible, the building beyond it is St. Peter's Church at the Cross.

Alex Malthouse, a research historian currently studying Northgate Street's Inns and Taverns for the period 1775-1900 has kindly confirmed our identification, and adds that the businesses on the right were in buildings sometimes called 'Shoemaker Row'. Phillipson & Golder (of Eastgate Street) produced commercial trade directories of Chester, and their 1870 and 1876/7 directories both list T.F Denson as a tailor/draper at no.6 Northgate Street Row West. To the right, the 1870 directory has John Dodd as the proprietor of a wholesale confectioners in Northgate Street Row, without offering a shop number - but the 1876-77 directory is more positive and gives a Mrs. Dodds, wholesale confectioners, no.7 Northgate Street Row. The business of Taylor & Willcock is more of a problem as it isn't listed in either directory. This implies a period outside the 1870-6 bracket, and from the clothes worn we'd suggest it was later. But as Northgate Street had no trams, and Louise has suppressed the street lighting from her picture, we don't get any hints from those. Suggested dates welcome!

This painting, auctioned by Peter Wilson in February 2009, gives us a view of Shoemaker's Row, Chester from inside the Row itself, and we can see the business signs of City Tea Warehouse, John Cook, and to the rear, of a shirt business. There are times when Louise seems uncomfortable about painting younger children - you can make your own judgement on these - but she's very much at home with the languid pose of Shoemaker's Row, Chester
the man by the railing, looking across to the east side of the street. There is another point of interest in this painting in that it is so far the only one we have seen that looks north along the row (the street as well until 2014). We've added an enlarged detail from the painting to show the street beyond the Row, and you can see how much bustling detail Louise has added to this piece of background as a contrast to the calm interior of the Row, when she could easily have been a lot more superficial. Chester has attracted a host of artists over the years - quite a few of whom have managed to make quite an unusual city look two-dimensional - but Louise always delivers scenes you feel you could walk into.

The painting sold for 3,800 in the midst of the world economic crisis, so it may do better if it appears again in a sale room at some future date. It's possible the painting was originally a gift, as it carries an inscription "With good wishes from Westminster, February 8, 1894" - which usefully gives us an approximate date for the painting and the scene it depicts.
Shoemaker's Row, Chester
Northgate Street Chester
This view of Northgate Street Chester viewed from the Cross (not the official title) is another image sourced from the photographs Louise had taken of her best paintings or possibly those she liked most, which is why it is shown here in monochrome. The painting views Northgate Street from its southern end, close to The Cross. As with other such photos, its original black has a brownish tinge, either by decay or tinting, though we'd go for the first. Andy King says there had always been one of the old photos he could not identify, but this scan revealed more detail, including "what I'm sure is the Northgate in the distance. I now realise it shows the southern end of the street before all the alterations, which means it shows old Shoemakers Row on the left and the last surviving timber framed building of Breakshin Row on the right. This building 'survives' in raised and renewed form in the Row today. Louise has adjusted the details, positions and perspective somewhat, but I think people will agree the original painting (if it survives) must be rather fine."

The painting has two additional interests. The first is the whitened crowd background, pushing those figures back from the foreground interest. While we realise that this may be partly accounted for by a fading photograph, it is quite likely to be deliberate work by the artist, and is something done elsewhere by other artists. It is also one of Louise's early views where she was known to be using (among others) David Roberts's scene painting advice to the full, to get the dramatic effects she wanted. She even utilised the tall three gabled shops behind on the left (which were new when she painted the scene) to increase the 'olde worlde' effect. And look at all those shop blinds on the right, looking like they lead all the way to the Northgate - and quite possibly they do.

Northgate Street Chester

The second feature of note - it would be difficult to miss! - is the enormously wide cart in the middle of the painting. What was its purpose? (We can speculate on one possibility, but we'd rather wait for more informed suggestions). If you think you know, please tell us. Our email address is at the bottom of the page. Thank you!

Finally, we have this view titled Breakshin Row Northgate Street Chester, showing the row interior of the building at near right in the main photo above, and supplied to Andy King's wife Jean by Courtaulds when they were building a Rayner exhibition some years ago. Mark Edwin Arstall, our best researcher, can find no clear reason for the name, though a name like that suggests that the Row was unsafe enough to have threatened or actually caused a notable accident - perhaps when it was being built or when maintenance was poor.

Breakshin Row Northgate Street Chester

Mark did find a reference to "Broken-shin row" in Hanshall's "The History of the County Palatine of Chester" published in 1823. Another possibility is that it was the name of a merchant trader: the alleys off the main Rows are named after plot owners, and the name Brokenshin (not Breakshin) occurs in census records - but mainly in Cornwall. And in a preface to a re-issue of Batenham and Musgrove's 1816 engravings of Chester streets, but published in 1880, Louise's mentor Thomas Hughes says the name derived from the unevenness of the Row where he played as a child. Lastly, there is the entertaining but probably spurious explanation offered by one James Evans writing in an American journal, "The Scranton Republican" on 17 Feb 1906: "It is said that an auctioneer, while energetically repeating his 'Going, going, gone', fell through the decayed floor and broke his shins". It's a nice story, but we're a teeny bit sceptical... We would, however, welcome informed(!) suggestions as to the real origin of the name.

Continue south into Bridge 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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