Ghostly soldiers marched through Chester , posing frozen in time at various locations to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. The national event, which saw 1500 soldiers appear across the UK, was a sombre and moving memorial to the sacrifices of the lost generation.
Well known night club Rosies was closed down on police orders due to two violent incidents. Measures agreed with police allowed the business to reopen after 2 weeks preventing heartbreak for young partygoers. The court hearing proved too dramatic for one spectator who collapsed and was admitted to hospital.
A new market was announced by the council , replacing the nearly 50 year old market hall and scheduled to open in 2019. The movement of the current Hunter street bus station to the “world class” site on Gorse stacks allows the market to move to its new home as part of the long delayed Northgate development.
The Summer Storyhouse season was a triumph. The outstanding Two Gentlemen of Verona was the highlight, and possibly the best ever production from the company. With its light hearted mix of comedy drama and music- including One Direction in Italian and Talking Head’s “Road to Nowhere” – it offered perfect escapism from the political turmoil that blighted the nation. A magical show that will long in the memory performed by an outstanding cast.
July saw Dinosaurs invade the Grosvenor Centre as part of a series of dino themed events organised by the CH1 BID group. In true Chester style CGI artists impressions of dinosaurs rampaging through the city led to some irate comments on social media that the reptiles were not in keeping with the city’s image and could damage the historic buildings…
The Dee106.3 local heroes awards were another emotional night recognising many unsung heroes from across the city. After the awards MP Chris Matheson said that it was an “inspirational evening, when we see ordinary people doing extraordinary things…. For everyone that’s won, there are 10 more that could have won, there are so many special people here, whose work goes unheralded.”
The death of the Duke of Westminster stunned the city with many tributes paid to a man who had supported many causes across the city. Despite his wealth he was known for being down to earth, memorably posing for selfies at the reopening of Grosvenor Park in 2014. His 25 year old son inherited his father’s title.
The doors closed on BHS for the last time following the collapse of the national chain The closure left a huge void on Foregate street, with many fearing the focus of retail would inevitably shift towards the proposed Northgate development.
Businessman Adam Dandy was back in the news leading a vague but passionate campaign to “Dig up Deva” via a petition which frequently changed wording in response to council plans to develop the derelict Dee House. A furious public debate followed but the Dig up Deva refused to attend the “Big Deebate” despite a previous intensive media campaign.
When the council revealed that a pub/hotel was to be built inside the renovated Dee House few were happy with many still calling for the listed building to be demolished. The toxic debate split the city with some unsettling techniques used by certain people in the Dig Up Deva campaign. Outsiders might question why a council so fond of consultation (PSPO, A boards, cemeteries) didn’t consult more widely, but given the restraints on the location and everyone’s lack of money, it is unlikely to have made any difference. The “jump the shark” moment of Dig up Deva was when Dandy told a council meeting that leasing Dee House was “not what the Romans wanted”. They have all been dead for nearly 2000 years. The depressing nadir of the year…
On a lighter note the Weasel and the Bug toy shop was a new addition to Watergate street. Owner Katie Jones originally traded from the market before moving to the Christmas market before opening her own unit selling traditional wooden toys. The store later won best independent retailer at the BID’s customer service awards.
The TV cameras were back again as Hollywood star Toby Jones was spotted filming on Abbey Square for a new Agatha Christie production .
After years without a city centre cinema the council revealed that Picturehouse would be running a cinema scheduled to open in 2019 as part of the Northgate development. The multi screen cinema will complement the 100 screen cinema opening inside the Storyhouse.
Local music blogger and champion of the Chester music scene Daniel Schott gave his thoughts on all things Chester in an interview. Schott rejected negative vibes about the city saying that everyone had their own version of Chester.
“My Chester is ace! Its exciting , its a culturally rich atmosphere. There’s that much going on. I am following 625 accounts on soundcloud. I could fill 10 shows now! So much music. Ignorance is the biggest killer of culture in Chester it really is. What annoys me is misinformed opinions having a negative effect on the city. When people read things, people believe what they read unfortunately.”
In another musical development The Bandstand in Becnicks Wonder Emporium on Brook street offering music fans a place to discover new local acts as well as buy physical media from. Curated by Carrie Hyndman, of Campfire Social and also known as Becnicks trader Junkbox, Carrie said that she wanted to provide a further platform for the growing Chester music scene.
Husband and wife team Richard and Sue Jacques were behind the reopening of the historic Booth Mansion on Watergate street. Originally built as a townhouse and having various uses over the years, the new combined cafe/art gallery/retail space was a boost to independent retail in the city.
The former Forest House reopened as the Brewhouse Kitchen offering more relaxed service, freshly cooked food and on site brewery. The pub also offered a range of themed Chester beers including “Golden Boy” in honour of Michael Owen and “Madhouse” for fans of another local hero Russ Abbot. At the other end of town work began to turn the Bull and Stirrup into another Wetherspoons.
As in 2015 Chester Pride and the Marathon took place on the same weekend , surely putting the myth that “nothing ever happens ” to bed.
Chester based MEP Stephen Woolfe was pictured slumped and unconscious on the floor of the European Parliament after an alleged attack by one of his UKIP colleagues. Woolfe had had earlier failed in his bid to stand for leader due to submitting his application late. After recovering from the incident he resigned from UKIP.
4 months in the making a Lego version of Brook street went on a mini school tour as part of a schools project celebrating the cultural diversity of the street.
A spate of restaurant closures led many to question the expansion of the Pepper street dining quarter and how sustainable the restaurant boom was. The Mockingbird tap room, Tropeiro, Zizzi , Blackhouse grill and Ed’s Diner all ceased trading this year. Despite this new trendy wine bar Covino opened in December, as well as the UK’s first Steak and Shake..
Neil Bellis , reporter for the Chester Leader was interviewed for the blog and gave his views on local media reporting as well as Chester FC. “I don’t want to slag off the Chronicle but we’re better than them! ” he said diplomatically. Bellis also bemoaned the bubble match arrangements “No one on the board wants it but we don’t get much choice when it comes to policing. ”he said.
Popular independent Hopper Coffee on Godstall Lane celebrated its one year anniversary. Owner Mark Higgins was hugely positive about the city’s future.
“I think Chester is going through a lot of changes and obviously it splits people. The new bus station… I’m all for it! I think it will bring people into town that end, the Frodsham street end. And I know businesses on Northgate street that have been helped by the Fountains car park. Plus Storyhouse is going to be amazing, and I’ve met the people as well. The enthusiasm is infectious and you want to be part of it. It’s going to be an asset”
Repairs to the Northgate which were expected to be completed by late autumn were delayed for 18 months due to the discovery of previously unknown architectural remains. The news was a blow given the gateway location to the city but illustrated the delicate balance of living in a city packed with history and listed structures. Meanwhile repairs to the also long scaffolded over Watergate were announced…
One Bridge street resident wrote a letter to the papers attacking the “mickey mouse” events such as marathons and parades which led to road closures and the invasion of human rights. The backward looking view was at odds with those who wanted a vibrant city centre. A similar attack was made by blogger Cestrian Think Tank who attacked Storyhouse for the “privatisation of the park” with their open air theatre claiming the park was essentially out of bounds for months of the year. Hysterical comments about damage to the grass were another strange twist…
After a private funeral in the summer the Duke’s memorial service at Chester Cathedral was a high security event with many high profile mourners including most of the Royal Family. Royal watchers and flag wavers waited patiently along St Werburgh street for a glimpse of the royal visitors. Critics complained about disruption to the road closures and pedestrian congestion.
During the Duke’s memorial a diverted bus crashed into one of the notoriously awful yellow bus shacks which was knocked out of place and damaged beyond all repair. It’s distorted yellow frame seemed to sum up the mood of the year.
The Flower cup opened on Watergate row, an Italian themed coffee shop/florists. The new business was in the unit that had previously housed the One Chair exhibition earlier in the year.
The council launched a consultation into the borough’s parking strategy with the often praised “free after 3” potentially being replaced by other parking initiates. There was a generally angry response to the proposals with parking being the number 1 contentious issue for Cestrians in the face of Cheshire Oaks/Broughton competition. Responses to he consultation will influence the new strategy which will be revealed mid 2017.
Christmas in Chester was the usual festive mix of parades , family events and the Christmas market. A new addition was the CheSTAR in the Cathedral grounds with over 19,000 lights. Parades included the traditional Winter Watch alongside Saturnalia and a lantern parade. Another new addition was an evening of choral performances from choirs from across Chester and once again led by Theatre in the Quarter’s Matt Baker.
After a long fought social media and event based campaign Hoole was successful in its Great British High Street campaign. Hoole won the Local Centre/Parade of Shops award with the judges commenting that “Hoole returned to this year’s competition with even more passion, innovation and community spirit. By working with both independents and national retailers, and their commitment to deliver some amazing events and growing the local economy, the team has put Hoole on the map.’
As the year drew to a close work on the Frodsham street redevelopment was again halted. After eventually beginning in August the project was delayed due to a supplier going out of business leading to frustration and confusion about the lack of progress. More engagement needed from the council with the work not expected to be completed before March and little visual evidence of any improvements.
An early Christmas present for Chester FC fans was a bizarre recorded message by former X factor star Wagner who taunted Wrexham/ex Chester’s John Rooney.
Thanks to everyone who has helped out with the blog this year particularly those who have written entries: Emma Stringfellow, Kate Northcott, Rachel O Kelly., Richard Beacham.