City of Chester began as a Roman fort in the first century AD, almost
2000 years ago. There were several reasons why Chester was a good site
for the Romans to build a fort when they began moving north through
reasons were all linked to the River Dee.
it was built, the Roman fort was at the mouth of the River Dee, where
it met the sea. Sea-going ships could sail right up to the fortress
walls, bringing supplies to the soldiers. The
Romans could also use the fort as a base from which to send supplies to
their soldiers in Scotland and North Wales, where they were fighting
the local tribes. They might even have been planning an
of Ireland from Chester.
There was a sandstone outcrop above the river floodplain, surrounded on
two sides by the river. This
was a good place to build the fort for defence against the Welsh tribes
on the other side
of the river: they could not easily attack the fort over the water, and
the Romans could see attackers coming from their high position.
There was a supply of fresh drinking water from the River Dee. A good supply of fresh water is
important, because water is vital to human life.
There was higher ground either side of the river, so a bridge could be
Old Dee Bridge (built in 1387) still stands at the point where the
Romans probably built their first bridge over the River
the point nearest the sea where this could be done safely. The bridge
provided a route into Wales that could be defended.
CGI pictures, created by Take 27, show the site of Roman Chester, and
the River Dee at the time
Chester, 250 AD - the wide River Dee provided a natural harbour
Looking north west towards the Irish Sea:
the fortress was built
almost where the River Dee met the sea, before the river silted up.
power of falling water can be used to turn a wheel. The Ancient Greeks
were the first to realise they could use this power to grind corn in
mills, using waterwheels, as shown in the animation to the right. The Weir In Chester
this idea was used from at least the eleventh century.Hugh
Lupus, first Earl of
Chester, ordered the building of a weir in 1093, near the Old Dee
Bridge (the only bridge in Chester at that time). This weir
exists today, and is a very important historical monument (listed grade
1 by English Heritage).
directed the flow of the
River Dee towards the right-hand bank, between two arches of the
bridge, as shown in the photos to the right.
At the end
of the weir, beneath the arches of the bridge, the water suddenly
dropped, driving waterwheels to power the mills.
The Mills Over
centuries the waterwheels on the weir were used to power many different
mills, grinding corn from
the eleventh century, and later snuff (tobacco). They also powered a
needle-making factory and a paper mill. The photos below show some of
The mills on either side of the
the Dee Mills, and the Snuff
John McGahey's painting
of Chester from a Balloon
this video to find out how
watermills make flour from corn.
The Dee Mills, on the town side
of the bridge The waterwheels were inside the building (demolished in the early
Snuff Mills, built in the 1780s
on the far side of the weir (demolished in the 1960s)
the Dee Mills were demolished, a hydro-electric power station was built
in their place. This provided electricity for Chester between
1913 and 1939, using water power to drive turbines which made the
The building still stands today, as shown in the photo below.
There are plans to build a new hydro-electric station in the
The hydro-electric station on the
Old Dee Bridge
The River Dee has been one of the
most important salmon fishing rivers in the country for 1000 years or
more. In the 1830s there were 32 rowing
boats used to fish the Dee in Chester.
There was a salmon fishing community in Handbridge,
to the south of the Old Dee Bridge, which fished from 14 special places
within 2 miles of the bridge (now there are only 6).
A small number of salmon netmen still work in
the estuary and the canalised section of the river.
with bag nets in the King's Pool
near the Old Dee Bridge, 1760
were also hung between the arches of the Old Dee Bridge to catch fish,
and in the late 1500s a 'salmon cage' was built to catch the fish
coming through the millrace on the south side of the weir.
later, in 1913/14, a 'salmon leap' was built alongside the weir, to
allow the fish to swim past the weir. It has four pools which
like a staircase for the fish.
'salmon leap' at the weir, built
to let the fish swim back
salmon fisherman on the Dee
WATER SUPPLY The
weir creates a pool behind it, from which water is taken
for Chester's own water supply. It also creates a 'lake' that
stretches back to Huntington Water Works, where water is taken from the
Dee and treated by United Utilities. This water is then
supply the Wirral and surrounding areas.
The Dee and
part of the
Huntington Water Works.
LEISURE The River
Dee has long been used for recreation - rowing, sailing and pleasure
cruises, even raft races!