You’ll Step Back in Time When Shopping The Rows at Chester
For power shoppers who want a nostalgic stroll down memory lane rather than a rocket ride through a collection of modern shops, The Rows in Chester have no equal. Originally constructed so many years ago, the settlement itself has been found by archaeologists to have Roman roots, just about every conquering horde lay claim to this neighbourhood, including Saxons.
History point to the 13th Century as the origin of this highly-stylised architectural phenomenon. Fires struck The Rows repeatedly over time, changing the landscape dramatically as building owners were forced to confront reality: If they didn’t find ways to fireproof foundations, they might just as well hire bucket brigades to live on site!
As a result, stone-lined “undercrofts” were added, and by 1724, iconic author Daniel Defoe waxed poetic about this burgeoning neighbourhood featuring long galleries within classic row house architecture that ultimately filled two floors. Fellow writer George Borrow added his endorsement when he wrote that, “All the best shops in Chester are to be found in The Rows.”
From Firetraps to Modern Shopping
Long before zoning limited the types of commercial and residential tenants buildings could house in the UK, The Rows in Chester fluctuated between serving as compounds and estates for the landed gentry and commercial shops. Sometimes, the two worlds collided. Sir Richard Grosvenor settled there as did Lady Calveley, but as new buildings were constructed, The Rows morphed into a predominantly commercial neighbourhood.
Architectural styles conflicted as lords and ladies commissioned Neoclassical, Tudor, Georgian, Revival and other popular facades. But at the heart of the complex remains the most nostalgic structure of all: Three Old Arches, a one-of-a-kind medieval-styled building that remains one of the few buildings built entirely of timber.
Say what you will about the history of this amazing place, visitors agree that it has no equal. If you’re interested in a scholarly study that literally digs into the past, Andrew Brown’s “The Rows of Chester: The Chester Rows research project” has been around for decades, remaining a fascinating read to this day.
A mix of yesterday and today
Frequently described as a not-to-miss experience for anyone visiting Chester (that includes seasoned shoppers and those who are willing to come along for the history lesson), The Rows current façade is now a tidy collection of timbered house exteriors and walkways that are charming enough to attract visitors from around the world.
There’s an iconic system of elevated walkways–likely installed so ladies of a certain class’s gown hems wouldn’t be splashed by muddy streets and the occasional speeding horse-drawn carriage.
These days, shoppers can browse two floors of shops filled with treasures neatly arranged on shelves. Dubious speculation has been bandied about over time to explain about why second floors exist at The Rows: According to rumour, the most expensive goods were kept up there so they remained “out of the reach of the Welsh!”
Where to go and what to do at Chester Rows
There are four primary streets that make up this community: Northgate, Eastgate, Bridge Street and Watergate Street. If your time is limited, choose just one street to roam and return at a later time to see which other shops call your name.
1. Eastgate is home to the big names
Larger retail stores can be found along this shopping avenue but that doesn’t mean you won’t run into small boutiques on the second floor along Eastgate. If you’re brand loyal, hit up Boodle & Dunthorne, Browns of Chester, Ecco, Fatface boutique, Links of London, Next, Sole Trader, Waltons the Jewellers, Jack Wills and USC.
Take the narrow passage off the main drag that’s marked “Godstall Lane” where you’ll find quirky little shop like Allison’s of Chester. Hungry? Try the Cheshire Sandwich Company or head straight for Dutton’s Wine Bar because it’s bound to be cocktail time somewhere on earth. Jones Bootmaker has been around for 150 years, so see what new footwear is displayed on their shelves.
2. Visit Bridge Street’s specialised shops
Bridge Street runs north and south and is home to covered Rows on both sides of the street. If you’re tall, keep an eye out for low wooden beams so you don’t take yourself out of commission. This street’s wares are eclectic and diverse, including French Connection, Jigsaw, Wesley Barrell and Beau Perry. If you crave sparkle, don’t skip Swarovski or Lowe & Sons Jewelers.
When energy flags, Patisserie Valerie offers a proper sugar high or pop into Mad Hatters Tearoom for an assortment of treats to fuel the remainder of your shopping spree. By the way, the Flight Centre Store, also located on Bridge Street, is happy to help you abandon The Rows in favour of shopping expeditions to Paris, Milan and other fashion centres.
3. Watergate Street: meet, greet and eat!
Shoppers who can’t get enough antiques will find the mother-load on Watergate Street and Watergate Rows where treasures of the past await inspection. Look for quality silverware and visit the Chester Assay Office if you are hesitant about the quality of merchandise you’re considering. You won’t go hungry while you step back in time: The Watergates Bar serves classic pub grub like fish and chips, pie and mash and burgers.
Alternately, God’s Providence House allows shoppers to worship the coffee gods. This independent coffee shop serves Barista’s Coffee products, but you don’t have to settle for domestic vittles if you prefer something more exotic. Choose from Fiesta Havana, The Victoria Pub, Moules a go go Restaurant, the Amber Lounge or Ye Old Custom House Inn, each of which promises a unique atmosphere and plenty of food choices.
4. Northgate: More than the annual Christmas market
Find an interesting mix of shops and offices along Northgate that include the Chester Town Hall and the Forum Shopping Center, headquarters for both Chester Council offices and the Chester Indoor Market. Browse Zara, The Gap, TJ Hughes, The White Company and The Hat Place for unique brands and don’t leave until you visit the Chester Cheese Shop for speciality cheeses and pickles that include hunks of authentic Cheshire Cheese.
Ignoring Hotel Chocolate is impossible to do. Pick up rich assortments of every chocolate under the sun and once you’ve chosen sweets for others, indulge yourself, too. The Brides of Chester boutique is in close proximity, so wash your hands before you stop in to examine the finery. You can also stop at Pandora to browse the jewellery while you’re in a celebratory state of mind that’s likely driven by that chocolate!
How to Navigate the Rows properly
Shopping is nothing if not an Olympic sport for people who pride themselves on being competitive, so prepare yourself for your day about town by adopting these tips:
- Wear comfortable shoes. Not only will you be covering a lot of ground during your spree but the streets in this quaint area are cobblestone.. Ladies: leave your stilettos in your closet and wear practical footwear.
- Don’t try to do the entirety of The Rows on a single day if you wish to immerse yourself in the rich collection of shops that comprise this nostalgic shopping district.
- The fashion police won’t be around to note your “look,” so strap on a sturdy backpack for your shopping adventure so your hands are free to sip tea, sample pastries and examine unique finds that call your name.
- Break up your shopping expedition by seeing Chester’s animal-focused sites. The Chester Zoo is home to about 20,000 animals including a Fruit Bat Forest. Check out the Chester Falconry and Nature Garden if you are passionate about flowers and birds and/or visit the sharks at the Blue Planet Aquarium.
- Visit the Chester City Walls and the Cathedral to be in the presence of 2,000 years of historical architecture that remain symbols of this area’s continued occupation over the centuries. The Cathedral tower gives you a vantage point that’s not to be missed and the priceless stained glass windows are magnificent.
- Grosvenor Museum where ancient coins and artefacts remain on permanent display. Sign up for the “Sick to Death” tour that steps off at the Water Tower and is led by guides who will explain medieval medicine, science and fascinating practices of physicians during that era.
Shop ‘til you drop. The Rows are designed with this in mind, so enjoy every moment at this one-of-a-kind shopping district that’s filled with delights that appeal to every one of your senses!
Chester Taxi Services
Chester Taxi Services can either be booked via your hotel or grab one at a selection of taxi ranks that dot Chester. The hop on hop off bus is great to orientate your self around the city and cover most of the cities main attractions.