Explore the Rows at the Grosvenor Museum

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Chester’s unique and innovative medieval Rows are explored in a dynamic, free new exhibition at Chester’s Grosvenor Museum from 15 October – 30 April 

The exhibition features a ‘never before seen’ Louise Rayner picture, permanently donated to the museum by Big Heritage. In addition, will be modern pieces of conceptual artwork inspired by The Rows – ‘Ellen’s Dress’ by Rachel Davies and a striking hat by Estelle Woolley (one of several hats also featured in a film modelled on the Rows) 

Chester’s unique medieval Rows are one of the city’s most visited attractions and from October 15 – 30 April, an inspiring, free, new exhibition at Chester’s Grosvenor Museum will explore its 700-year history, evolution and its development to the present day. It will draw heavily on the museum’s unrivalled collection of highly picturesque Victorian watercolours by Louise Rayner, using a reconstruction of Rayner’s Chester to explore the history of the Rows and the people who lived in them. This exhibition is thanks to the kind sponsorship of The Gerrard and Audrey Couch Charitable Trust. For more information on the exhibition, go to www.westcheshiremuseums.co.uk 

Chester’s unique Rows were developed in medieval times and ingeniously incorporated storage, retail and accommodation all in the one building, linked to others with a connecting walkway.  Today, the Rows have developed to house businesses on both street and first floor level, cleverly maximising space and profit. The exhibition examines the mystery and theories behind this unique 700-year old structure, bringing together extensive architectural research by The Rows Research Project* as well as other archaeological investigations of specific buildings.  

The exhibition explores ‘A Victorian Lady’s Guide to Chester’ featuring the picturesque street scenes of The Rows, created by Louise Rayner in the 1860s and which beautifully capture the character of Chester. A donation of a watercolour ‘Watergate Rows’ painted by Louise Rayner, generously gifted to the Museum by Big Heritage (creators of Chester’s popular ‘Sick to Death’ attraction), will also be on display for the first time.  

Bryony Fisher and Georgia Hayes from Big Heritage giving the Louise Rayner picture (Watergate Rows) to Liz Montgomery, curator, from Chester’s Grosvenor Museum

Dean Paton, Big Heritage, said: “‘Big Heritage’s Sick to Death’ attraction explores the ‘gory story of medicine’ with a ‘playground of plague’ and a ‘smatter of splatter’ from the redundant St Michael’s Church located on Chester’s iconic Rows. Every time, I’m on the Rows, I think how special they are – so when I saw Louise Rayner’s ‘Watergate Rows’ at auction, I knew I had to buy and bring it ‘home’. Big Heritage has close links to the museum and to many of the other artists producing work inspired by the Rows. I am delighted that this fine watercolour has been so warmly received by Liz and her dedicated staff at the Museum.”  

The Rows Exhibition will also examine some of the striking and well-known buildings and businesses for which the Rows are known, for instance The Three Arches (dating back to the 13th century) and Lowe’s jewellers (dating back 250 years). Designed to inspire its visitors to go out and walk the Rows, staff at the museum also hope that visitors may wish to consider using Marketing Cheshire’s new, downloadable guided walk of the Rows at www.visitchester.com/discover-the-rows

The exhibition also complements the extensive work of Chester High Street Action Zone’s Refresh programme* that has not only funded the exquisite Rows-inspired conceptual artwork ‘Ellen’s Dress’ by Rachel Davies but a zine featuring previous Rows projects, such as Estelle Wooley’s ‘Fashion on the Rows’; ‘Missing Buildings Project’ and ‘Rows Stories’. During October, there is a call for Flash Fiction stories to be submitted that share experiences of the Rows – these too will be featured during the exhibition. Until 2024, Refresh’s art programme featuring artists, actors and writers will pop up in Chester. Cheshire West and Chester Council is one of its partners. 

Councillor Louise Gittins, Leader of Cheshire West and Chester Council, said: “This exhibition is timely as never have the high streets of the country been more hotly debated than at present. Chester has a beautiful and unique high street and one we are rightly proud of. This free exhibition brings the fascinating history of Chester’s famous Rows to life for both residents and visitors. It is also another jewel in the sparkling programme of events that are celebrating the Rows and the high street in the next couple of years.  I hope as many people as possible are able to enjoy this imaginative, free exhibition.” 


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