We Are Chester’s Tori Erskine heads into the city to explore some of the more debauched aspects of our history, courtesy of historian, author and broadcaster Rebecca Rideal and the passionate folk at Big Heritage. Photos: Tori Erskine, Angela Ferguson and Rebecca Mason.
I’ve lived in Chester for almost seven years now, and I’m ashamed to admit how little I actually know about the history of the city. Sure, you can recognise the Roman architecture, but what about the people who have lived here and the centuries that weren’t all about the Romans?
On Thursday evening I was invited along to Big Heritage’s event Debauched Chester – a talk with Rebecca Rideal, at St Michael’s Church, so it was the perfect excuse to brush up on my Cestrian knowledge!
Big Heritage do some fantastic work in the city and further afield, not only inspiring groups with fantastic historical and archaeological projects, but also give individuals the opportunity to get involved with them.
St. Michael’s is a picturesque building located on the corner of Bridge Street. Big Heritage are currently transforming it into a new heritage visitor attraction looking at the history of the people of Chester. As soon as you enter the church your eyes are drawn to the wooden high beam ceilings and the gold inscription ‘Glory to God in the highest.’
Great Fire of Chester
Although little is known about the church’s early history, what we do know is fascinating. It was a place of worship as early as the 10th Century and was burnt in the Great Fire of Chester in 1188. It makes for the perfect setting for a historical talk doesn’t it?
As we take our seats, I can’t help but notice the interesting artwork on the screen, accompanied perfectly by the title ‘Debauched Chester.’ I’ll try to keep this article as PG as possible, but the image had some questionable and naked characters on it! I can already tell it’s going to be an interesting talk.
When I think of Chester, I always picture the stereotypical quaint, picturesque city, completely oblivious to the topics discussed in Debauched Chester!
Rebecca’s talk was the history lesson I had longed for in school. She has written for The Guardian, BBC History Magazine and her own book 1666: Plague, War and Hellfire. Her knowledge and insight into the city was incredible.
She focuses on three topics: intoxication, fornication and disorder, spanning roughly from the 1550 to the 1900s.
Chester is renowned today for its exceptional bars and restaurants, and a couple of hundred years ago, it was no different, alcohol was in fact, the main business of the city.
Out of wedlock
We also learnt of the tales of individuals in the city, the scandals of prostitution, children born out of wedlock and of course, one of the main discussions for the evening, venereal diseases!
The event has definitely inspired me to make an effort to take the time to learn more about the city’s fascinating history – although I may avoid the parts relating to various diseases.
You can find out more about the Big Heritage’s upcoming events here.