TWO thousand years of Chester’s rich and colourful history have created one of Europe’s finest heritage trails around Chester’s world famous City Walls.
The only complete Roman Wall circuit in the UK was recently given an asset value of half a billion pounds – but the attraction is about to become even more valuable to the future of tourism in Chester.
Established and built by the Romans, they have been repaired, extended and adapted by successive generations ever since.
Now the two-mile-plus sandstone circuit is a Mecca to more than 2.7m visitors each year, supporting the equivalent of more than 300 full time jobs and makes a net economic contribution to the Chester economy calculated at more than £20m per annum.
And when the Portico co-operative European Project completes its imaginative restoration, improvement and interpretation works of the Walls and towers, their amazing stories are expected to attract a much wider audience.
Cheshire West and Chester Cllr Herbert Manley, executive member, prosperity, said: “Certainly, we expect the Walls to become one of the leading heritage trails in Europe and play a leading role in the realisation of our aim that Chester will be a ‘must see’ international destination by 2015.”
The Walls have benefited from more than £3m worth of specialist repair and maintenance work by the council’s bridges and structures and historic environment teams since the council’s inception in April 2009.
For many years the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979, which protects Britain’s archaeological heritage, has required owners and local authorities to obtain statutory scheduled monument consent before work can begin.
But a new agreement between CWaC and English Heritage will provide a framework to allow the council – owner of the Walls – to carry out routine preservation work without this permission.
Dr Jennie Stopford, inspector of ancient monuments for Cheshire, Lancashire and Merseyside, said: “CWaC has done a great job working with us over the last three years to bring the City Walls and towers into good condition.
“We have been impressed with the standard of the work done and the care that is now being taken of this top class heritage asset.
“English Heritage is delighted to sign up to a formal management agreement with CWaC that will enable the city's on-going monitoring and maintenance regime.”
Cllr Manley added: “English Heritage quite rightly sets the very highest standards and this agreement is a statement of faith in our ability to help preserve one of the country’s most important ancient monuments.
“Recently, in response to a Government request we anticipated the asset, or rebuild value, of the walls at half a billion pounds. Their overall worth to Chester and indeed, the borough, will be far greater than that when our plans for one of the best European Heritage trails are realised.”
The council’s commitment is illustrated by its decision to devote £500,000 a year to spend on the cyclical maintenance and repairs needed to enable the structure to stand the test of time.
Shadow executive member for prosperity, Cllr Carolyn Graham, said: “Chester’s City Walls are internationally famous and an integral part of our heritage offer. Their preservation is vital for future generations and the economic benefit of the city.”
As part of the interpretation works a new series of panels – especially designed to tell the various and colourful stories of the Walls and towers – are being installed at strategic points.
You can now learn about the Royalist Captain Morgan and his Civil War exploits; Queen Aethelflaed’s extension of the Roman walls to build a fortified city and how legend tells that the ill-fated King Charles I watched his troops defeated at Rowton Moor.
The panels have been produced in lava stone, which as a natural material complements the Walls.
They have been designed to capture the imaginations of a wide range of audiences, but with a particular focus on visitors with a general interest in heritage, local residents, walled town special interest visitors, and families with children in the seven-11 age range.
The nine panels can be found at East Gate, King Charles Tower, North Gate, Newgate Bridge, Pemberton’s Parlour, Water Tower, Water Gate, Chester Castle and Bridge Gate.