The day begins with a quick tidy of the “Lego display” in the market, emptying the heavy donation pot ready to be counted later in the day and removing assorted clutter. Out comes the Valentines heart, Cupid atop the Eastgate and the Chinese new year dragons, as well as a few loose figures of those who ghosted /vanished from the social media life. The latest addition is Lowe and Sons, created to mark the 250th anniversary of the shop. Just need 2 more TripAdvisor reviews to make it to the magic 100, hint hint.
Leaving the market via the side entrance overlooking the former bus station site, which is at last starting to look like a construction site, I see that 2 of the yellow bus shelters have been removed. The not fit for purpose “shelters” were the basis of an early twitter campaign in late 2013, and to see these anti heroes finally going symbolises a world moving on at last , as well as how SLOW everything in Chester is.
The early morning streets are deserted, a young man hoovers the steps of Loake, the high end shoe shop recently moved to Eastgate street. As I head towards the Cross I see a pink figure and the random magic of Chester hits me again. “Ooh why don’t you post funny pictures like you used to, you were better then” says the wittering critical voice in my head. And there she is, a pig in a dress, assumed to be lady, but we can’t assume gender these days, accompanied by a human woman holding some leaflets. As the joyous sight passes I snap a photograph. A social media appeal reveals nothing about the meaning behind the pig encounter. Great start to the day!
At the Cross I note the faded stars in the window of the former Zatchel’s Unit and then a discarded bra behind the locked gates of the former Booth Mansion. On a more positive note, I notice that the former 49 Watergate cafe unit has been papered over, ready for the second branch of award winning pizza king, Stile Napoletano. Great news for the street! Dogtooth gallery is also now trading, but somehow I was missed off the guest list for their opening. I head back towards Eastgate.
Next up is Debenhams, former chain wielding nemesis. I like the store but am dismayed to see they no longer sell Lego, with their twitter replying quickly confirming the abolition of the toy department. However there is a fair amount of ex Christmas stock at 70% off left, ready for this years Christmas gifting, boosting the supplies from Boots I had to virtually fight for a few weeks ago. So, yeah no Lego anymore from here, so just have to buy on the internet like everyone else. The world diminishes around us, slipping into a virtual wonderland. I go upstairs to use the toilets, given that the Grosvenor Centre, egregiously now has no toilet facilities of its own – the toilets on Pepper street were given to the new hotel development. I consider buying a drink in the cafe, but instead decide to just use the toilets and go. Use and abuse like so many in this society. People use me to boost their profile so yeah I can live with the toilet use.
Corner Store Coffee is next on the list. The place has a cool vibe, but at 10am their full stock of donuts hadn’t arrived yet, meaning I settled on a Haribo/popping candy donut (2.5) which is OK. The very instagrammable Cookie Monster donut is not available, and this plain offering doesn’t blow my mind . The staff are friendly and the venue looks very nice. I get on with making notes for this weeks Dee radio slot, scribbling down key points in my notebook. I wish Corner Store all the best, but am not sure how many people will pay £3 for a donut.
Leaving the centre down the whitewashed corridor flanked now only by TK Maxx on one side and emptiness on the other, ghosts of the past emerge. In the pre internet age the Pepper street wing of the centre (it has a special name but can’t remember it) had The Body Shop, a juice bar, a big furniture shop, Music and Video, and many others. There was a hustle and bustle now gone. But that’s the modern world for ya.
The scene by the river is like many things in the world, beautiful and devastating at the same time. Winter still hanging on, the veins of the bare trees reaching up to the sky. The flooding has receded. From a spot overlooking the river, I record my radio slot in advance over the phone, speaking to my good friend Gavin Matthews. Supporter from the start and all round nice guy, Gavin invited me to do a weekly guest slot on his breakfast show after a successful “review of the year” which was broadcast live on New Years Eve. The topics for discussion are the new parking charges coming in May, and the building of the Northgate drain.
After a Polish snack on Brook street, I go to Storyhouse and whilst waiting for my next appointment, select some Chester history titles from the reference library.
Chester at Work (Shuttleworth and Jenkins, 2019) is my first pick, recently released, the book charts the development of business and industry in the city through the ages, bringing the story right up to date with the changes of recent years. The VR centre on Northgate street features as an example of changing amenities in the city centre, and the community focus of the thriving market is highlighted .Worth seeking out, as a reminder that not all changes are bad, just different.
Rare old city of Chester (1909) is a beautiful read. It’s timeless black and white photos of streets that have barely changed in decades, alongside vintage adverts of a world long swept aside by history. Wrights Emigration Offices- tickets by all the steamships to all ports of the world, says one. Bollands confectioners- fancy cakes as presented to Queen Victoria in 1836, or AS Dutton’s celebrated pie shop. Imagine taking afternoon tea in “The Vienna” bakery and restaurant.
Chester, more than a guide (2004) offers more recent nostalgia, which so much retail space vacated in 15 years: Armadillo- “an unusual shop selling green men and gargoyles.” Blue moon cafe, Alfresco, Weinholts (the smell of bread as you descended into the Watergate street store), plus specialist stores like Kites Aloft and the coolly named Counter Culture. A section of “Hidden Chester” , tells of metalwork snails on the gates on the Town Hall. I vow to look for them, and perhaps the plagiarise the other entries into a blog.
My next meeting is with the team behind the Northgate Development, yes its finally happening! Having been blogging since 2014 the scheme has changed several times and of course the overall vision of regeneration goes back several decades . I am shown a CGI video of the construction process, which is expected to be all complete by the end of 2021, changing Chester forever. The public seem quiet at the moment, perhaps the eternal cynics can be shaken once the buildings start to take shape. When Storyhouse was being built people were saying it would fail. I’m remaining optimistic on this one.
In the current market , I take the heavy bag of coins up to the market office, where 2 very helpful market staff help to count the charity funds. Having not emptied the box for over 6 months, probably longer, £559 plus a few Euros will be handed over to mental health charity, Chapter Chester. Thanks to the market staff! “Can we get this press released” I ask the market manager. One last issue to deal with:
And there is the snail on the town hall gates!
The day comes to close with a tweet explaining the mystery pig person: a promo for Kids Planet Nursery’s open day on the 21st March(Boughton) Wonderful to end the day with the mystery solved.