news

How Chester came to a standstill in the aftermath of Princess Diana's untimely death

Only public toilets and emergency services operated as normal

Princess Diana opening the Countess of Chester Hospital, in 1984, during a visit to Chester and Warrington with Prince Charles (380)

Today (Thursday) marks 20 years since Diana, Princess of Wales was tragically killed in a Paris car crash at the age of just 36.

Her compassion and empathy for those she met touched the hearts not just of the nation but of the whole world, and millions were devastated when the shocking news of her death broke - none more so than the people of Chester.

The front page of the Chester Chronicle, September 5 1997

To mark two decades since Diana - whose titles included Countess of Chester - passed away, we have gone back 20 years into the Chronicle’s archives to see just how much the city mourned her, and how her death was covered in our newspaper at the time.

Back then, the September 5 1997 edition of The Chronicle came out just one day before Diana’s funeral was held at Westminster Abbey and we dedicated around 10 pages to the princess - including details of how Chester would come to a standstill on that day.

‘The normal hustle and bustle of Saturday will be suspended while virtually the entire population stays at home to watch the broadcast of Princess Diana’s funeral from Westminster Abbey,” chief reporter Eddie Glendon reported at the time.

Tributes to Princess Diana in the Chester Chronicle, September 5 1997

Shops like Asda, Sainsbury’s, Safeway and Woolworths, as well as branches of all banks including the now defunct Midland Bank were shut all day and only a handful of pubs opened, especially to show televised coverage of the funeral.

Even shops and garages closed as people stayed indoors to follow the live broadcast from Westminster. Cars in the streets stopped for 60 seconds of total silence as the service reached its traumatic climax at noon.

The Chronicle dedicated 10 pages of tributes to Princess Diana on September 5 1997

And most chain stores including BHS, Marks and Spencer, Debenhams and WH Smith shut for most of the day to give staff as well as customers a chance to pay their last respects.

During the funeral, the nation held a minute’s silence in memory of the princess, signalled in Chester ‘by a klaxon once used to warn of air raids’.

Coverage of Princess Diana's death in the Chronicle September 5 1997

Virtually every shop in the city and county closed for most of the day, as did pubs, libraries, the market and leisure and visitor attractions.

In fact, only public toilets, pharmacies and emergency organisations continued to operate as usual, with the Royal Mail suspending deliveries for 90 minutes.

Meanwhile, the Town Hall was crammed with floral tributes for weeks and thousands of Cestrians staged candelight vigils across the city and at Chester Cathedral, and people queued to sign a book of condolence in the City Record Office which was later bound and forwarded on to Diana’s family.

Also covered this week were the several times Diana had visited Chester, including of course, when she officially opened The Countess of Chester Hospital on May 30 1984.

Princess Diana opening the Countess of Chester Hospital in May 1984

She returned to the city four years later on May 18, 1988 when she visited Barnardo’s in Hoole, stopping also at St Luke’s Hospice in Northwich and to the Shell oil refinery.

One year later on April 11, 1989 she was back again, this time to open the chimp house at Chester Zoo, and on the same day she paid visits to the Hospice of the Good Shepherd at Backford and to the Turning Point charity in Hoole.

Princess Diana opens the Countess of Chester Hospital in May 1984

She opened the hydrotherapy pool at Dee Banks School in Huntington on November 14, 1991, but tragically that would be her last trip to the city before her untimely death six years later.

Chester residents recalled these happy times and her presence in Chester in the hundreds of tributes left at the Town Hall, and many in letters written to The Chronicle.

Princess Diana opening the Countess of Chester Hospital, in 1984, during a visit to Chester and Warrington with Prince Charles (380)

“The light has gone out of our life,” wrote one man. “You represented us. You meant so much to us. We felt we mattered when you were there.”

Another reader wrote: “She is seen by the majority as a woman of flesh and blood with the feelings any woman worthy of the name of woman should have. She expressed the hope and demand for a different sort of world society from that we have.”

Other tributes in the paper came from the Bishop of Chester Peter Forster, former Chairman of Cheshire Country Council John Clarke, then Lord Mayor of Chester David Evans amd Lyndon Harrison, the MEP for Cheshire West and Wirral at the time.

Princess Diana opens the hydrotherapy pool at Dee Banks School, Chester in 1991

And the now deceased Duke of Westminster and his wife, said they had been robbed of a ‘close, personal friend’ whose death had also come as a ‘severe blow’ to their then sixteen-year-old daughter Edwina, Diana’s goddaughter.

The hundreds of glowing testimonials were only slightly marred by a report of two teenagers getting arrested for stealing floral tributes to Diana outside Chester Town Hall.

The two girls were found with a black bin bag containing eight bunches of flowers which were later returned to the site.

View full mobile page