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Propylaea

Case study: Castle Square, Chester, Cheshire West and Chester, Cheshire (North West)

List entry number: 1271822

Chester Propylaea building at risk, from car park
The elegant Doric colonnade now faces onto a busy car park rather than a landscaped historic ‘castle square’, providing vehicular and pedestrian access through the central gateway

Background and history

The Propylaea was built as a monumental entrance gateway to Chester Castle. It was constructed in 1811 to the designs of Thomas Harrison of Chester. It is a grade I listed building.

It is a fine example of Greek neoclassical style architecture. It comprises a central gateway with colonnades to either side that connect to semi-enclosed pavilions. It is built of solid masonry, including a huge stone slab roof.

The building forms the ceremonial route into the 'castle square', which is a scheduled monument. The square is surrounded by the historic Shire Hall (now the Crown Courts) and the former officers' mess building. Also on the square is the former barracks (now the Cheshire Military Museum). The enclosing curved walls around the open sides of the square are contemporary with the Propylaea.

The setting of the Propylaea has been compromised in recent times. The historic 'castle square' is now used as a hard-surfaced car park. There is both vehicular and pedestrian access through the gateway. On the other side, the structure faces directly onto a busy roundabout.

The building is owned by Cheshire West and Chester Council.

Is it at risk?

The Propylaea was added to the Heritage at Risk Register in 2015.

It is suffering from two main issues. Firstly, rainwater penetration is causing corrosive damage to the iron cramps built into the masonry. Secondly, settlement of the north pavilion foundations is resulting in cracking and distortion of stonework at roof level. There has also been cumulative damage from vehicles hitting stonework on passing through the gateway.

Chester Propylaea building at risk under scaffolding
The scaffolding is protecting the pedestrian route through the gateway from falling masonry that has been fractured by corroded iron cramps

What's the current situation?

The council has undertaken extensive investigative works to understand the causes of structural subsidence. Historic England has been providing technical advice on the production of a comprehensive schedule of repairs. The proposed works will ensure dry masonry by providing a protective roof covering. The north pavilion foundations will be strengthened by installing micro-piles underneath the structure.

The council has pledged a significant sum towards this programme of work. It has secured some match funding from WREN. It is also in advanced discussions with Historic England regarding a grant application.

Cheshire West and Chester is keen to do more than just the necessary repairs. They also want to enhance the setting and security of the structure. This will be done through use of subtle lighting and CCTV cameras. Improved road demarcation on the route through will reduce likelihood of vehicles knocking against stonework.

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