Is there anywhere else in the world where you can experience the majesty of a time travelling toilet? We think not.
Bravo to the good folk at Big Heritage for producing a fun and also thought-provoking heritage attraction. Chester: A Life Story looks at the fascinating and multi-faceted history of the people who have lived and worked in and visited our city.
Chester: A Life Story is based in the gorgeously gothic St Michael’s Church on the corner of Bridge Street and Pepper Street. In a previous life, you may remember it as Chester History and Heritage Centre.
Fair play to the hard working and passionate team at Big Heritage, it’s been transformed into a perfect place to while away a few hours immersing yourself into some of the lives of those who have trod these ancient streets before us.
Gritty social history
I love a bit of gritty social history and I do like to imagine journeying back in time to, for example, walk Chester’s historic rows in the Edwardian era, when the nearby St Michael’s Arcade was built, or to experience the sights, scents and sounds of wandering the Medieval streets of our city. And if I could, I’d also journey back to Roman times to see real Roman soldiers marching through the streets of Deva.
The attraction is broken down into 13 sections, each looking at the various aspects of life in Chester in a fun and engaging way, with plenty of hands-on interactive exhibits. You can find out what our predecessors liked to eat in the days before our city centre was populated by foodie haunts such as Jaunty Goat or Meltdown, and long before we residents or visitors had the option of a Tesco supermarket run* to stock up for the week ahead.
Kids drinking beer
We also get to see what our ancestors liked to drink, including the kids who, shock horror, were encouraged to imbibe beer at one point in time. And there’s a gritty crime and punishment section, where you can find out what some of Chester’s former residents got up to and the high price that some of them paid for their misdemeanours.
Rather refreshingly, you can also get to handle some historic artefacts, rather than looking at them from behind a glass panel. For someone like me, who is intrigued about our city’s past, it’s a cool way to feel a physical and visceral connection to our fellow residents of days gone by. There’s also a deeply thought-provoking section on death, with the option to miss this bit out if you are not comfortable with this topic.
And there are opportunities to listen in to tales of the Chester of the past, along with some nifty animations to bring history to life. We also get to see a wall of Chester’s notable residents over the years, including our very own film star and 007 Daniel Craig, along with our town crier David Mitchell.
Chester: A Life Story is also inviting us to share our experiences of life in Chester, with a number of points where we are encouraged to share our thoughts on a range of topics. This invaluable material could well be incorporated into future exhibits at the attraction, building an important bank of memories of the very social fabric of our city.
Credit where credit is due, the hard working and dedicated folk at Big Heritage have done a superb job in bringing this fascinating and creative visitor attraction to Chester.
They manage to bring history to life in a way that, perhaps, some more traditional history books and museums don’t always manage to do. And they are passionate about ensuring that we feel a connection to the past and can learn lessons from it. We are encouraged to question what has happened before us and what we are doing in the world right here and right now to make it a better place.
This is the very essence of Big Heritage, which is led by Dean Paton, and we are fortunate, indeed, to have such an organisation based here in Chester. I have to say that the rest of the team, including Rebecca Mason, Emma Stringfellow, are excellent at providing a warm welcome and always being happy to chat about the exhibits.
If you haven’t already been to Chester: A Life Story then we would urge you to visit this summer and beyond. There is an entrance fee but it’s worth every penny and the Big Heritage team have also been making a range of enticing offers of late, such as free admission on your second visit. Keep an eye on social media for more details of these.
So please go, explore, have fun and be amazed at what the residents and visitors to Chester in years gone by can teach us – the present incumbents of our ancient city – in our lives today. We are the guardians of our city for future generations and we can all play our part in making this city a nurturing, inclusive and outward-looking place in which to live, work and visit.
Chester: A Life Story is open 10-5pm, seven days a week. The project has been made possible with support from the Wellcome Trust and Cheshire West and Chester Council.
*Other supermarkets are available!