Chester Historic Pub Walk
Follow the trail of historic pubs in the centre of Chester (2x Grade I, 2x Grade II*, and 2x Grade II).
A magnificent timber-framed building which was originally the townhouse of the Earls of Shrewsbury, the Bear & Billet was built in 1664, probably replacing a building destroyed in the Civil War. It became an inn in the 18th century.
The building was heavily restored in the later 19th century – the windows are probably of this date. The interior has been largely opened out, and much of the panelling appears to be relatively modern.
A medieval timber-framed townhouse dating originally from about 1208, the building was refronted in the 15th and 16th centuries and was reconstructed in the later 17th century (it was described as ‘new built’ in 1663).
In the mid-17th century, it was the home of the antiquary Randle Holme, who was responsible for recording many of the City’s medieval landmarks which have now vanished.
The building was heavily ‘restored’ in 1935. The bar counter, fireplaces, and other features clearly derive from that refurbishment, although the pub interior also retains a great deal of far older woodwork.
The later 19th century saw pub owners under pressure from licensing magistrates to improve the quality of their buildings, many of which were squalid and viewed with suspicion by respectable people. Rebuilt in 1894 to the designs of W M Boden, the Cross Keys is a typical example of the improved public house of the turn of the 20th century.
Built largely in red Ruabon brick in a freestyle including elements of medieval design, it stands on a prominent corner site.
Some internal partitions have been removed, but a sympathetic refurbishment carried out by Joules Brewery of Market Drayton has resulted in a good impression of a late Victorian pub interior.
The former St Martin’s Villa, built by the noted Chester architect Thomas Harrison (1744-1829) as his own home, where he lived from 1820 until his death.
The building overlooks two of his most important commissions, Chester Castle, rebuilt in Greek Revival style between 1788 and 1822, and the Grosvenor Bridge, which was the largest single-arch bridge in the world when it was completed a few years after his death.
His house was a simple and austere building, influenced by the classical villas Harrison had seen in Italy, where he had studied in the 1770s.
After his death it became a rectory, and in 1960 became part of the Cheshire police headquarters. It has recently been converted to a public house by local chain Brunning & Price, who specialise in the restoration and conversion of historic buildings. It retains a number of original features such as fireplaces.
Formerly Gamul House, the home of a wealthy Chester merchant family, parts of the building date back to the medieval period. Refronted in brick in the late 17th century as a precaution against fire, the building has had a variety of uses.
Rescued from dereliction by Chester City Council in the 1970s, it was converted to a pub by the local Spitting Feathers brewery in 2008.
The bar occupies the late medieval great hall on the first floor of the building, an impressive space that includes a spectacular carved fireplace of 17th-century date.
The project won a CAMRA/English Heritage Pub Design Award for best conversion to pub use.
The Falcon incorporates some of the oldest surviving domestic architecture in Chester – the beer cellar is a stone-built undercroft of 13th century date. The building above it is largely 16th and 17th century in date and was purchased by the Grosvenor family of Eaton for use as their townhouse.
It originally opened out onto one of Chester’s elevated shopping streets, the Rows, but this was incorporated into the house in 1643. The enclosed row still survives in the front bar of the pub – the partition in front of the bar includes the remains of a shop front.
The building became an inn in 1778, but in 1878 was acquired by the Chester Cocoa Tavern Company and was used for some years as a Temperance house, selling only non-alcoholic drinks.
After a period in which the building came close to dereliction, it was restored in 1980 by the Falcon Trust. It is now operated by Sam Smith’s brewery of Tadcaster.