[from Chester as it was London: 1872 J.S. Howson and A. Rimmer]

VIII. The Stanley House.


Chester - Stanley House

T HE Stanley house is a very beautiful specimen of English City Architecture, and was the Town residence of the Stanley family, at one time. There are, both in Shrewsbury and Chester, a number of family residences that seem strangely at variance with what the present requirements of their descendants might be ; but the journey from Chester to London, in those times, would occupy some days, and be accompanied with more inconvenience, and probably greater danger, than a voyage at present is to New York.

Near this old residence were the Town houses of the Warburtons of Arley, the Brookes of Norton, the Booths, the Mainwarings, and many others. Chester had its seasons of gaiety and its county assemblies, more exclusive than anything in our day in London ; and the honour of the Mayoralty of the city seems to have been sought by the representatives of such families as the Grosvenors, the Stanleys, the Alderseys, the Winnes, the Breretons, and many others. It is difficult to reproduce even in fancy an approximate picture of Chester as it actually was a couple of centuries ago. On the south side of Watergate street, between the " God’s Providence house " and the Stanley mansion are the remains of five residences of consideration : and yet this distance is not more than about two hundred yards.

The tastes and requirements of those days were much more simple than our own, and indeed the representatives of many county families were butts for the jests of metropolitan wit on the score of their rusticity, whenever they ventured to the metropolis.

Stanley house, though its details may have an Italian character, is in all respects English in its composition ; and no city more forcibly than Chester shews us what our own architecture at its best has been. The cruel exigencies of Pseudo-Italian art that required all apartments to fit themselves to a formal row of windows was not felt, and no one with the slightest knowledge of English architecture can contemplate Hollar’s old map of Chester, of 1653, without being struck by the former picturesqueness of the city.

How English cities so greatly changed in character, and why an imported architecture was so suddenly spread over England in the reigns of the Georges is well explained by Mr. Gladstone in an inaugural speech on laying the stone of the Wedgwood monument at Bursiem. In refuting the fallacy that a handsome thing may be made as cheap as an ugly one, he argues that : " The beautiful object will " be dearer than one perfectly bare and bald ; not because utility is compromised " for the sake of beauty, but because there may be more manual labour, and there " must be more thought in the original design."—

" Pater ipse colendi
Hand fadilem esse viam voluit."

" Therefore the manufacturer, whose daily thought it must and ought to be to cheapen his productions, endeavouring to dispense with all that can be spared, is under much temptation to decline letting beauty stand as an item in the account of the costs of production. So the pressure of economical law tells severely upon the finer elements of trade. And yet it may be argued that, in this as in other cases, in the case for example of the durability and solidity of articles, that which appears cheapest at first may not be cheapest in the long run. And this for two reasons. In the first place, because in the long run mankind are willing to pay a price for beauty. France is the second commercial country of the world and her command of foreign markets seems clearly referable, in a great degree, to the real elegance of her productions, and to establish in the most intelligible form the principle, that taste has an exchangeable value. But," adds Mr. Gladstone, " there seems to be another way by which the law of nature arrives at its revenge upon the short-sighted lust for cheapness. We begin, say, by finding beauty expensive. We decline to pay the artists for producing it. Their employment ceases ; and they disappear. Presently we find that works reduced to utter baldness do not satisfy. We have to meet a demand for embellishment of some kind. But we have starved out the race who knew the laws and modes of its production. We substitute strength for flavour, quantity for quality ; and we end by producing incongruous excrescences, or even hideous malformations, at a greater cost than would have sufficed for the nourishment among us of chaste and virgin art."

It is impossible to state the case more clearly. The Italian deities and nymphs that pirouetted in costly marble round a gentleman’s court house are now becoming less popular : and though it would be impossible to predict what the style of English architecture will be in 20 years to come, it certainly is approaching more nearly the old models. Chester itself, in some recent buildings, especially in Eastgate and Northgate streets, has worthily struck the old track, and while these at a fraction of the cost of Italian or Greek fronts are much more beautiful, they fit in every respect the mercantile requirements of Chester as it is ; at the same time they might almost be mistaken, except by the eye of an adept, for portions of Chester as it was.

A. R.


 [Lords of Man] [Stanleys]

see also Bishop Lloyd's House

Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received The Editor
HTML Transcription © F.Coakley , 1999