The Fenian Uprising in Chester

500px-windlecastlemapI’m a stranger in Chester in that I’ve only lived here since 1978 (38 years as I write this) and perhaps this is why I can often surprise the local Cestrians with historical and geographical titbits they miss. As a newcomer and teacher I researched into the city’s past and walked its nooks and byways which many locals take for granted. For the research for my non-fiction book, Chester’s Climate: Past and Present (1987) I spent hours in the Chester Record Office, libraries and museums to glean climate-related events of the city’s past and as a by-product encountered many interesting non-climate related incidents. One such is the Irish Fenian uprising and attempted uprising in Chester.

There is little published about the Fenian uprising and likely much is exaggerated and certainly there are contradictions but the gist is taken from PORTRAIT OF CHESTER by David Bethell Published by Hale 1980  p44-45

On 27th October 1862, after serious Irish disturbances in Birkenhead a large group of Friends of Garibaldi [not particularly religious but inspired by Giuseppe Garibaldi for his anti-authoritarian, freedom, revolutionary stance while in exile from Italy) assembled at Chester Castle gates. A bottle was thrown and hit a boy in the face badly wounding him. The Garibaldians marched on Boughton, inhabited almost entirely by Irish labourers, who stood ready for battle. Their appearance dissuaded the Cestrian mob, who retired to the High Cross, where an effigy of the Pope was exhibited, and the crowd chanted, “To Hell with the Pope!”

On Sunday 10th February 1867 Fenians (Irish Republicans) held a meeting in Liverpool and resolved to attack Chester Castle the following day to seize the arms deposited there, attack the banks and jewellers shops, cut the telegraph wires, tear up the rails and escape by train to Holyhead and then to Ireland. The armoury at the Castle held 10,100 rifles, 6,000 swords and nearly a million rounds of ammunition, plus 5.040 barrels of gunpowder, guarded by only six soldiers. The Fenians believed the 54th Regiment (Chester was the 22nd so perhaps there were the 54th West Norfolk stationed nearby? – GN) to be disaffected and have Irish sympathisers.

[From Wikipedia: The rolling stock on the railway to be appropriated for transport to Holyhead, where shipping was to be seized and a descent made on Dublin before the authorities should have time to interfere.]

One of the Fenians, an ex-officer called Corydon, who was one of 50 American-Irish, who had come to Britain to foment violence (or help the Irish independence cause – depending on your point of view – GN) had been captured in Liverpool and revealed the plot to his interrogators. The news and consequent instructions buzzed along the telegraphs to Manchester, Chester, Holyhead and London.

From noon on Monday about 700 Irishmen arrived in Chester on trains from Liverpool, Preston, Manchester and Halifax. The unusual numbers leaving from Liverpool attracted attention and fresh warnings were telegraphed. The Chester Magistrates met immediately, and special constables sworn in. The 230 Chester Volunteers were called up and police stood by.chestercastle

Around 4pm a train from Manchester and Stalybridge brought 400 Irishmen. 40 from Halifax and 70 from Leeds. By 5pm there were 1500 Irishmen in Chester and their leaders gathered for battle orders.

The railway authorities prepared to pull up the lines (too late or to keep them in the city but it might have prevented soldiers reaching the city too – GN). At 11pm two companies of the 54th Regiment and the Volunteers mustered in the Castle. At 1am another company of the 54th arrived from Manchester. A gunboat left the Mersey for Holyhead. Extra police were assembled in Liverpool. At 2.30 am the 1st Battalion of Scots Fusiliers, 500 men, left in a special 27-carriage train from Euston to Chester. (Flying Scotsman ? –GN)

Through the night 500 special constables patrolled the streets. The Fenians formed into columns on the main roads out of the city. The Cheshire Yeomanry were summoned. Before the Scots Fusiliers arrived the Irishmen started to melt away, and by morning they’d all gone. Some ammunition was found abandoned. The citizens of Chester (presumably not the Irish living in Boughton – GN) crowded to the railway station and gave the Fusiliers a rapturous welcome.

A sympathetic account of the Fenian Rebellion of 1867 as they pertained to America and the Provisional Government of Ireland can be read here:

captain-john-mccafferty-sentenced-to-death-for-the-chester-castle-c2cwdbA note on Captain John McCafferty, an Irish American involved in the uprising is in this Chester-writer’s blog

That account has the Captain alive 20 years after the uprising whereas other accounts have him arrested in Ireland and executed in 1867. The truth might never be known as the name is surrounded by romantic legend in America, Ireland and England.



Chester Suspension Bridges

One of the documents I’d read informed me erroneously that the 1867 uprising embarrassed the military in Chester because their troops were in barracks in the Handbridge / Queens Park area on the opposite side of the River Dee to the Castle. The Fenians, I’d read, blocked The Old Dee Bridge and so hindered the military advance on the Fenians. Consequently, a footbridge was established from Queens Park to the Grosvenor Park area to the North.1852-suspension-qp



This is all wonderful but nonsense. The first suspension bridge was a chain construction in 1852 (photo on the left) a full 15 years before the Fenian uprising. The bridge was instigated by Enoch Gerrard, a local entrepreneur who was developing property in Queens Park. It swayed too easily and by 1922 had become so dangerously under-maintained the local council took it over, demolished and replaced it by 1923. The bridge is a popular tourist attraction now and used regularly by me and thousands of Cestrians.1923-suspensionqp



Nelder News

chaosofmokiiLast month Solstice Publishing released my short story, The Chaos of Mokii as an ebook. It’s the first short for which I had to write a blurb, acknowledgments and select a cover art. Previously, I’d done all that for novels of over 80,000 words rather than a tale of only 3,400 words. The blurb? Mokii is a city existing only in the consciousness of its inhabitants. Olga is sitting in a train while her minds negotiates past Mokii’s bouncer and relaxes into the entertainments and infrastructure of the mind-city. She discovers a thief about to usurp the city in order to take its lucrative telepathic advertising. Does she thwart him? Yours for 99 pence or a dollar 22 cents to find out!

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  1. Peter Norman

    Just read your article on the Fenian raid on Chester. I am in the middle of writing a book on the episode as it relates to the wider Irish Revolutionary activity of the 1860s. It was an important event in many ways the pre-cursor to the violent Fenianism in the UK that followed. 1867 was an awful, bloody year after Chester.

    I had never heard the idea that the men of the 54th Reg were stuck in Handbridge, which is as you say, rubbish. John McCafferty and his second in command John Flood, both led long and quite amazing lives after their arrests and trials in Dublin following the raid. The traitor Corydon also survived for many years.

    Good luck with your writing.

  2. geoffnelder

    Thanks, Peter. It was fascinating to research and I often wonder what would have happened if the Fenians had gone ahead with their plans.


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