Chester’s unique and innovative medieval Rows are explored in a dynamic, free new exhibition at the 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 or Eventbrite.
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.
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.”
About High Streets Heritage Action Zones
Historic England is working with local people and partners through grant funding and sharing our skills to help breathe new life into high streets that are rich in heritage and full of promise – unlocking their potential and making them more attractive to residents, businesses, tourists and investors. The High Streets Heritage Action Zones scheme, backed by government funding, aims to help with the recovery of local high streets from regenerating historic buildings to helping to engage local communities through art and cultural projects.
About Historic England
Historic England is the public body that helps people care for, enjoy and celebrate England’s spectacular historic environment, from beaches and battlefields to parks and pie shops. It protects, champions and saves the places that define who we are and where we’ve come from as a nation. Historic England care passionately about the stories these places tell, the ideas they represent and the people who live, work and play among them. Working with communities and specialists it shares its passion, knowledge and skills to inspire interest, care and conservation, so everyone can keep enjoying and looking after the history that surrounds us all.
For more information about Chester High Street Heritage Action Zone project go to:
Chester High Street Action Zone and ‘Refresh’
Refresh brings together the cultural programme of the Chester High Street Heritage Action Zone (CHS HAZ) which is funded by Historic England and covers the area around the Rows, and a ‘Reopening and Recovery’ programme for Chester, funded by the Government’s Additional Restrictions Grant to Cheshire West and Chester Council.
The activities for the CHS HAZ Cultural Programme and Reopening and Recovery are overseen by a consortium that includes Chester Pride, University of Chester, Storyhouse, St Mary’s Creative Space, Theatre in the Quarter, Open Eye Gallery and Cheshire West & Chester Council.
The Rows Research Project
The Rows Research Project was a major inter-disciplinary research project initiated by the Chester Archaeological Society in 1984. It was funded by the then Chester City Council, Cheshire County Council and the Chester Civic Trust. The project combined archaeological investigation, historical research and detailed architectural examination to try and understand the origin of the Rows and the reasons for their survival. The resulting research, published in ‘The Rows of Chester’ in 1999 has provided an unparalleled body of information examining the Row’s origins, construction, dating, features, repair and rebuilding which is invaluable to those seeking to understand and explore them.
Ellen’s Dress by Rachel Davies
Taking inspiration from the strong visual lines of Chester’s historic buildings and from local folklore, Rachel created an exquisite conceptual piece that combines the symbolism and status of Tudor garments with architectural patterns. The dress was made entirely from second hand shirts and blouses from Chester charity. Rachel also held workshops with students at Cheshire College, creating a variety of textile installations using upcycling skills. The Ellen of the dress is Ellen Aldersey, the daughter of the Sheriff of Chester who, in1573, defied her father and eloped through Pepper Gate with a penniless young man. Her father ordered that the gate be locked, and thereafter, instead of locking the stable door after the horse, Cestrians talk about ‘locking a gate after a daughter has flown’.
This project is part of the Refresh cultural programme for Chester and was funded through the Government’s Additional Restrictions Grant to Cheshire West and Chester Council. chesterrefresh.org