There’s a special corner of our city that has been called both Harry Potter Lane and Chester’s Romantic Heart, and when you amble along the narrow, colourful and verdant Godstall Lane, you can see why: it oozes charm, is effortlessly chic and there’s an air of magic about the place.
Not everyone has come across this Chester gem, a lane that’s nestled between two of our best-known streets. It’s so neatly tucked away that it’s too easy to walk past yet it really is right at the heart of the city. One end of the lane leads to St Werburgh Street, with the magnificent Chester Cathedral, while the other leads to Eastgate Row, just above the hustle and bustle of one of the city’s main shopping streets.
Godstall Lane is one of only four medieval lanes to survive within the City Walls and is home to some great, vibrant businesses including a beauty salon, fashion boutiques, a wine school, bars and restaurants.
Foxy Frox and Annabella are both ladies’ clothing boutiques while Zen Beauty offers treatments that aim to uplift mind, body and soul. For those who are hungry or thirsty there is Duttons, a long-established bar and restaurant that’s open all day. Its chic, Parisian-style outdoor seating area is a stylish fixture on the lane.
Walk along the lane and you’ll find Metronome Jazz Bar, an intimate venue playing vinyl and live piano, and while the main entrance is on the other side, The Botanist still very much belongs to the lane. As well as food, it offers live music and a walled garden, too.
One of the newest additions is The Wine School of Cheshire, run by Richard J Smith, who is celebrating just over a year on the lane, in a city he adores.
“I love Chester. I describe it to people who haven’t been – especially Londoners – as a giant Liberty,” he says. “Because everyone knows Liberty in London is a Tudor building, so I say imagine a whole city as a Liberty building. Chester is that and more. It is unique in so many ways.”
The wine school has been running for nine years in Chester, out of different venues. Its new home on Godstall Lane is used as an events venue for wine tasting – as well as Richard’s office – so while it is not primarily a retail shop, all the goods are available for sale to the people who book in for a tasting session. Virtually everything inside is wine related so it’s not just the bottles: there are books, glassware and even body washes (red wine and cassis, in case you’re wondering). Even the soap in the loo is made from English wine.
Richard has been involved in the wine industry for 31 years, working at luxury hotels including The Lanesborough, Four Seasons Hotels and The Savoy Group along the way.
From Chester, he offers wine tastings, tours and gifts for people keen to know more about wine. He focuses on food and wine pairing and teams up with Duttons, a business that’s just across the lane.
“Duttons is amazing because it’s open from breakfast right through to dinner and the food is fantastic,” he says.
The wine tasting events usually feature wine from a specific area, although there are exceptions. A Taste of the Unexpected featured quirky wines and unusual grapes, while a Taste of Eurovision showcased wines from participating countries. An Aldi wine and crisps event was set up with the rising cost of living in mind, and in a bid to appeal to more cost-conscious customers while highlighting wine gems from a discount supermarket.
“I don’t do wine snobbery,” says Richard. “And no-one is ever talked down to.”
He does not skimp on what he does, using the best, quality products he can, but he will adapt. So while he usually holds four-hour wine-tasting lunches he is also offering shorter events with no outlay for lunch. It also means he can hold tastings from two differing regions in one day.
Events at the wine school are open to eight people upstairs and there’s room for up to 12 in the downstairs tasting room. They are intimate spaces which people love, says Richard, and it enables him to give everyone the best experience possible.
In the wine school window there’s an eye-catching wine glass chandelier which is turned on when there are events. Richard has spotted the guests sitting in the window seat, peering out at the lane, spellbound. The lane is strewn with overhead lights which look spectacular in the evening.
“The people watching is incredible,” he admits. “Guests sitting in our window are listening to me but also looking out – and others are looking in.”
Godstall Lane is quite different to the rest of Chester, says Richard. “We are not a Tudor or Roman building – we look almost Victorian.
“And while we are so close to everything we must be one of the most central streets in the city that few people have heard of!”
But while the businesses want to draw wider attention to the lane, its shops and what they can offer, there is a core of loyal customers who are already attracted by the quality of the products and the unique location.
“The pedestrian factor is lovely,” says Richard. “And everyone thinks Duttons reminds them of Paris.”
He is complimentary, too, of the businesses that surround the school and the lane. “The small business network is fantastic, there’s lots of community here,” he says. “Everyone tends to support each other.
“In big cities people are more competitive and they don’t want to support each other. Here, there is more working together which is quite unique. You don’t see it so much elsewhere.”