The historic Booth Mansion on Watergate street has recently reopened as an art gallery /tea room combined with small retail units offering quirky gifts and accessories. Husband and wife team Richard and Sue Jacques are behind the new venture bringing the grade I listed building back to life.
The building previously housed a firm of solicitors, and before that it was Sothebys auction room and north west head office. Prior to that it was a college of further education, and earlier, a billiard room. “Its had a varied history but has always been up there in terms of a grade I listing” said Richard who detailed the history of the building to me.
“Certain aspects are 12th century, a big chunk is 15th century, the latter part, the frontage was constructed in 1701 by George Booth who was the Earl of Warrington. This was his Chester townhouse. His country estate was Dunham Massey in the middle of Cheshire. He used to come into Chester for his social events and his meetings. He merged three houses together to create this. The great and the good of Chester used to come here. Also he was quite a party animal . All of the socialites of Chester used to go to social dances near the Town Hall (the old Exchange building which burned down in 1862) . They opened the ballroom up to the general population and certain socialites didn’t like that so George decided to invite them all here instead!”
The ballroom area is now the spacious tearoom, the key social hub of the building which serves light meals and drinks. The far end of the tea room is slightly wider than the near end, as the building juts out over the street. Richard explained that George Booth wanted to be able to view the Cross from his ballroom. This was a breach of planning and he was fined £10. The penalty of £1 a year is ongoing! Other points of interest include a 12th century stone ogre face mounted in the row level shop area and a bannister taken from a ship that was wrecked in the Dee.
Richard and his wife have set up the Booth foundation, and told me that : “If you group all the grade I listed buildings together, the Cathedral has about 7, the Walls have about 7 or 8…If you group those as one , there are actually only 8 grade I listed buildings across the whole of Chester and this is one of them! Its been empty for 7 years and that is such a shame!” Alongside the retail space, the tearoom will also serve as an art gallery to support local artists and artisans and the creative industry. “We have refurbished the first 2 floors and I’m just starting on the next floor. We are going to rent the space out to artists. There are 18 offices upstairs . There is an initiative with the council as well, working with freelancers , they want to generate collaborative learning.” With his background in media marketing services , Richard is relishing the chance to unite freelancers and local talent. He is also keen to get involved with the Watergate Street Trader’s association with the idea of a potential street festival in the future already expressed. He championed the independent spirit of the street, with many established traders including Roly’s Fudge, Corks Out, Rainforest , Toycraft etc as well as newer traders such as The Weasel and the Bug. “I think its fantastic, yes we have a Costa, yes we have a Sainsburys but other than that its independents” he says.
Word of mouth is important for the new business which only opened on October 6th. “We have quite a good twitter following and the facebook and Instagram pages are now up and running” says Richard. Wife Sue who is responsible for the tearoom and retail space encourages Cestrians to come and have a look around the building , which will hopefully develop as a key player in the city’s independent community. Once the retail areas are fully stocked Richard has high hopes saying that one customer has already described Booth Mansion as the “Fortnum and Mason of the North!”
Booth Mansion is open Monday to Saturday from 9-6. With thanks to Richard and Sue !