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Chester (Roman), known to the Romans as Deva, was founded in the 70s as a legionary fortress, originally for legio II Adiutrix. From the 80s it became the long-term base of legio XX Valeria Victrix. Originally constructed in timber, it was rebuilt in stone c.100 and was larger than normal at 60 acres. Parts of the northern and eastern defences continued in use down to the English Civil War. Excavation within the fortress is restricted by later buildings, but it seems to have contained the usual complement of buildings, and an unexplained and elaborate complex known as the ‘Elliptical Building’. Outside the south-eastern angle of the defences lay an amphitheatre, and traces of riverside works have been found to the west in the area of the Roodee. In the later Roman period the intensity of occupation declined, though was probably still military.

Alan Simon Esmonde Cleary


After the Norman invasion of 1066, William quickly marched north to subdue the rebellious native population, particularly the Welsh; the castle was commenced and an hereditary earldom created, but this title reverted to the crown in 1237. Although Chester prospered as an administrative centre, the port was no longer viable by 1600 because of silting.

Granted a royal charter in 1506, Chester was severely affected by the Civil War since city and county supported opposing factions. Besieged 1644–6, the city was Charles's last important outlet to the sea and the nearest port for Ireland; he is said to have watched his army's defeat at Rowton Heath in September 1645 from the medieval walls before escaping into Wales, leaving the city to starve. By mid-18th cent., it had recovered into quiet country-town prosperity, remaining untroubled by later industrial unrest. The continuous, rambling first-floor arcades of the medieval rows are unique, but many of the black-and-white half-timbered restorations are Victorian.

A. S. Hargreaves

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Chester City and county district on the River Dee, nw England, Cheshire. A Roman garrison town, it has been of strategic importance throughout British history. It was a major port until the Dee became silted and Liverpool's port facilities were expanded. Notable buildings include the city wall, a Roman amphitheatre and a medieval cathedral. Industries: tourism, engineering. Area: 448sq km (173sq mi). Pop. (1994) 120,622.

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