Hanging gates under Chester’s Eastgate Clock for Roman soldiers to open and close is an imaginative tourism idea being taken seriously by heritage chiefs.

English Heritage has given a cautious thumbs up to hotelier Gordon Vickers’ vision for our very own version of the changing of the guard.

At a launch event this week, Mr Vickers, owner of The Mill Hotel, pledged £10,000 towards reinstating gates under the UK’s second most photographed clock, in a project expected to cost £20-25,000.

Business and community leaders heard initial designs by artist Russell Kirk echo the ornate ironwork on top of the Eastgate but a public consultation will take place on the whole concept.

A sketch by design consultant Russell Kirk to show what the gates might look like if they were reinstated at the Eastgate
 

Ceremonial openings and closings, involving Roman centurions and soldiers from the Civil War period, could tie in with existing events like the Roman Festival and the Midsummer Watch Parade.

 

Mr Vickers told those present at The Mill: “At a given time, say midday, at least two Roman soldiers march from Chester Cross; march and stand guard at the open gates. They then lock shut the gates for about five minutes.

“The Civil War army then march from Chester Cross to relieve the Roman army of their duties.”

He suggested the Civil War soldiers could then make a proclamation using archaic language to the effect that the Royal city was ‘open for trade’ and ‘all within the walls will be of safe keeping’ before re-opening the gates.

Mr Vickers would like the gates to be known as the Jubilee Gates in belated commemoration of Queen Elizabeth’s 2012 Diamond Jubilee - following in the same tradition as the Eastgate Clock itself, which commemorates Queen Victoria’s 1897 Diamond Jubilee but was not added until 1899.

Funding the soldiers could come from business sponsorship with another idea for people to pay for a loved one to become gatekeeper for the day and take part in the ceremony as a birthday present.

Such was the enthusiasm in the room that Professor Tim Wheeler, vice chancellor of the University of Chester, committed £1,000 towards the scheme and in playful one-upmanship Chester Business Club pledged 1,000 guineas (£1,050).

It is envisaged part of the cost of the gates could be raised through public subscription as happened in the case of the Eastgate Clock.

Andrew Davison, English Heritage’s principal inspector of ancient monuments, told the meeting he had ‘seen nothing here to frighten the horses’.

He said afterwards: “We have a duty as an organisation to ensure that our important national heritage is protected, that it’s enhanced and that people understand and enjoy it. It seems to me, a project like that ticks all the boxes.”

David Pickering, chairman of the Friends of the Walls, who had encouraged Mr Vickers to pursue his idea, helped host the event.

Others present included vice dean Peter Howell-Jones from Chester Cathedral, Deputy Lord Mayor Hugo Deynem, heritage champion Hilarie McNae, Eric Langton, chairman of Chester Renaissance, Katrina Michel, chief executive of Marketing Cheshire and town crier David Mitchell who performed in character, creating a fitting atmosphere at the heritage initiative where a Roman centurion and Civil War soldier were also on duty.

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