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North West The Grosvenor Museum and Roman Chester

Chester was an important Roman settlement and the museum has an excellent collection of Roman artefacts

The Grosvenor Museum is a flamboyant brick building built in 1885 to house the collections of the Chester Archaeological Society and the Chester Society of Natural Science, Literature and Art. It is almost too large to photograph.


It is named after Hugh Lupus Grosvenor, Ist Duke of Westminster who owned most of the land in Chester and donated the land and paid part of the building costs.

At the rear of the building is 20 Castle Street, built around 1680 which has the shop, cafe and the period rooms.

The inside is as impressive as the exterior, with a grand entrance hall with a magnificent cantilever staircase and decorative tiled floor.


As well as an impressive collection of Roman artefacts, there is also a display of silver, a natural history gallery and art gallery.

The Roman Galleries include the Newstead Gallery which covers life in Chester. The Stories in Stone Gallery has an impressive collection of Roman tombstones and altars.


The Ridgeway Silver Galleryhas a wonderful collection of Chester silverware.


The Natural History Gallery has a collection of stuffed birds and animals so beloved by Victorian collectors as well as rock samples. It now has a more modern approach with information about local ecology and conservation as well as children’s activities.

The Art Gallery has a collection of oil and water colour paintings by local artists.


The Period Rooms in 20 Castle Street cover different periods from the Tudors to the early C20th.



The Honourable Incorporation of the King’s Arms Kitchen was a gentlemen’s club that was founded in 17790. It is thought it was set up in opposition to the Chester Incorporation as a result of a quarrel whether the major should be elected by the Aldermen or the Freemen of the City. It had its own Aldermen, Mayor, Sheriff, Recorded and Town Clerk. The Honourable Incorporation lapsed at the end of the C19th due to lack of interest. Their meeting room has been reconstructed in the Museum.


Allow plenty of time for a visit as there is a lot to see. Admission is free, although donations are appreciated.

I have been wanting to visit for many years. The Roman Collections were the definite highlight of the visit, and I enjoyed the silver collection too. It is definitely worth adding to the list if visiting Chester.




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Grosvenor Museum cont - the Newstead Gallery

A full size model of a Roman Legionary stands outside the gallery.

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There is a model of Deva Roman Fort and also the amphitheatre, giving an impression of how large and important Deva was.



The street plan in the centre of Chester still reflects that of the Roman city and Roman masonry can still be seen in the base of the north and eastern sections of the city walls.

Buildings and building techniques

The Romans were great builders from massive forts, to Roman villas and smaller domestic buildings. As well as using natural materials like wood and stone, they also used man made substances like mortar, plaster and cement as well as kiln fired products like clay tiles and glass. Lead was mined in North Wales and was also used for water pipes and weights.


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The lead ingot was found to the east of the city centre.


A small ‘shelter’ has been built to demonstrate Roman building techniques. The roof is made from Roman tiles found in Chester.


There were three different types of roof tile. The tegula was a large flat tile with raised edges that formed the base of the roof. These were laid side by side in slightly overlapping rows. The inbrices were tapering curved tiles that were placed over the edges of the tegulae and packed with cement to make the joints water tight. The top ridge was covered by rounded ridge tiles. The ends of the join between the tegulae and ibrex was covered by decorative antefixes.




Several different styles of floor covering were used depending on the status and purpose of the room. These varied from small tiles laid either flat or on end, fragments of broken tile embedded in cement tile or mosaics made from small coloured pieces of stone


The Romans understood the use of lime in making mortar, concrete and wall plaster. Walls were often painted and the remains of painted wall plaster are often found during excavations.


There are also fragments of window glass, which were usually blue green in colour. Glass was rare and windows were made of small panes of glass held together with lead or iron strips and fastenings.


Rooms were heated by hot air, either by underfloor hypocausts or through hollow box shaped tiles built in the walls.


The Romans brought piped water and underground sewage systems with them, using ceramic or lead water pipes


Locks and keys were used to secure houses and belongings.




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Grosvenor Museum cont - the Newstead Gallery

Daily Life

The gallery has many smaller artefacts found in Chester and the surrounding area illustrating life in Chester.

Many coins have been found dating from the early occupation through to the time the Romans left Britain.


Pottery is commonly found from cheap, locally produced kitchenware to more expensive imported goods. There are also examples of glassware.

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The metal blades of knives and spoon bowls survive, unlike the handles which werre made of made of wood or bone.


Personal hygiene was of utmost importance and the wealthy regularly visited the public baths. A strigil was used to scape grime from the skin. Oils and perfumes were massaged into the skin from small unguent vases.



There are examples of wooden pins which were used either as cloth or hair fasteners. These range from very simple those with elaborately carved heads.


There are also examples of beads and rings. Rings were made from metal, bone, jet or even glass. Many had a gemstone which might be carved with religious or mythological scenes or motifs connected to the family.



Broaches were used to secure clothing and were made of a variety of materials and styles. The simplest was a long pin coiled into a spring at one end and fastened under a catch. More elaborate were shaped to resemble animals or birds.


Legionaries wore a broad leather belt decorated with belt plates. This held the dagger and a protective apron of studded leather straps.


There are also examples of a dagger blade a with wooden scabbard. This was worn on the left side and was used as a tool as well as a weapon.


There is also a spearhead or the decorative tip of a standard. The standard were used as rallying points and signals in battle and were regarded as religious and superstitious talismans.


Leather rarely survives, but two leather boot soles were found during excavations. These had open tops, much like a modern sandal but thick soles with metal studs. As well as making the boots last longer, they gave extra grip on slippery slippery surfaces.


Also on display is a replica of a Roman military diploma found in 1812 . Only 13 have been discovered and this is the most complete. These were bronze tablets given to foreign soldiers after 25 year’s service, granting citizenship to the soldier and their children and also making their marriage legal. The original is in the British Museum.


Normally writing was done with a wooden pen dipped in ink on Papyrus or thin sheets of wood. Iron or bronze stylus was used for writing on wax tablets. This had a sharp point at one end and a broad tip at the other to rub out mistakes. Tablets could be fastened together with leather strips and a wax seal attached for extra security.




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Stories in Stones Gallery


This has an impressive collection of altars and tombstones and also covers funerary rites in Roman times. Tombstones were erected outside the city either in a cemetery or along major roads.

Funerals were important occasions to remember and honour the dead. The body being washed and laid out on a couch in their best clothes for eight days before the burial. The burial procession usually took place at night and was led by the dominus funeri followed by musicians and mourning women. A coin was often placed in the mouth of the dead to pay Charon the boatmen across the River Styx to the land of the dead .


If the body was to be cremated, it was put on a funeral pyre. The ashes were gathered and placed in funerary urns.


Later, burial became more common, possibly in response to Christianity. Burials were always outside the city, either in large cemeteries or along the major roads. Many small lachrymatory vessels have been found. These may have contained scented oils and unguents used to anoint the body and placed in the grave afterwards.


Many of the stones were discovered during repair work to the walls in the late C19th and had been recycled as building stone when the walls were being repaired.

They would originally have been brightly painted. They included a carving of the person commemorated as well as a brief inscription. They offer a wonderful insight into the life of the dead.


Many of the tombstones depict banqueting scenes with the deceased reclining on a couch and holding a small cup. There is often a small three legged table in front of the couch. They are intended to represent the loved one still enjoying the good things of life....

This commemorates Caecilus Avitus, who was a junior clerk and was second in rank to the Centurion and was responsible for bookkeeping. He carries his staff of office and a writing tablet.


Sextus is shown on horseback and may have been a member of a cavalry group attached to the legion. The small boy alongside is carrying a shield and may have been a captive slave. At the top of teh stone is a portrait of Sextus with the head of a roaring lion on either side, with a ram in their paws. Lions were ferequently shown on tombstones as the symbolised the suddenness of death.


The centurion, Marcus Aurelius Nepos is shown with his wife. Although space was left for his wife’s epitaph, it was never added.


This tombstone has been broken and shows a Sarmatian cavalryman with a tall conical hat carrying a dragon’s head standard. This was designed to make a horrible noise, frightening the enemy, when the wind rushed through it as the soldier rode into battle


This is another cavalryman who wearing a long chain mail shirt and holding a spear. His horse is trampling a naked barbarian who is clutching a shield.


This stone commemorates a man who died at sea. Usually the inscription would read H S E for hic situs est (he is laid here) . On this stone the H is missing indicating the body was never recovered to be given a proper burial.


Romans worshipped many gods and Romans often had their own personal god and a small shrine in their villa. Larger altars were designed to display the wealth and piety of the person who had them made. Many of the altars were either a plea to grant a wish, thanksgiving for the wish being granted.

There is a small selection of altars in the gallery which were carved with a dedication to the god and either the request or thanks for its granting.




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