Francis Chester

Place of Birth

  • Born      8 October 1811 at London
  • Died       27 December 1881 at 23 Beaufort Street, Chelsea (his daughter’s home?)
  • Buried   West Brompton Cemetery


Mr Francis Chester was born in London in 1811. His father remembered Sir Joshua Reynolds. Chester appears to have been educated for a land surveyor, and in 1830 he came to Manchester and entered the office of John Gould Irwin, land surveyor and valuer, as an assistant. After being nine years with Mr. Irwin he became a partner, when architecture was added to the practice, and the firm of Irwin and Chester is still remembered by older members of the profession in Manchester.  The principal building carried out by Irwin and Chester is the great Independent College situate at Whalley Range. Although the Independent College is an example of Gothic architecture, Mr Chester seems to have had a partiality for Classical work. After separating from Irwin he was called in to rebuild and restore the fire damaged portions of All Saints Church in Oxford-street destroyed in the fire in February 1850. After the burning of the Theatre Royal on Fountain Street, Chester was selected by Knowles as the architect for the new building in Peter-street. This building as a theatre is still architecturally one of the finest in the kingdom. 

The Peter-street facade is a pure and scholarly design, having as its central feature of interest the cross-legged white marble statue of Shakespeare. This statue is a reproduction of one in Westminster Abbey designed by Kent, the architect, and executed by Scheemakers under the direction of the famous Earl of Burlington, Mr Pope, Dr Mead and Mr Martin. Mr John Knowles had a marble works at the foot of the hill leading to London Road Station; for this Chester designed chimney pieces and other artistic works and he was no doubt instrumental in securing this reproduction for the centre of his Peter-street elevation.

 Mr Chester was also associated with the old Theatre Royal; the building was redecorated under his direction; the ornaments in relief were executed by the well-known modeller George Jackson, and the Shakespearean medallions in the box fronts painted by Robert Crozier.  It was, however, in the interior of the new Theatre Royal that Chester was enabled to display his knowledge of classic work. The proscenium and the box fronts are beautiful examples of ornament in relief and show an intimate acquaintance with the finest period of Italian architecture. Knowles entertained such a high opinion of his architect=s powers that on the opening of the theatre on September 29th, 1845, he presented him with a handsome piece of plate suitably inscribed and setting forth the high appreciation the client had for the devotion and genius of the architect.  Chester had strong artistic instincts; he became a close friend of the celebrated scene-painters  William Beverley, Sam Bough and Channing. He designed and drew in the architectural portions of that historic act-drop painted by Beverley which, after delighting the eyes of thousands of play-goers for over a quarter of a century, fell victim to the so-called clean sweeping policy of the monster Alimited liability@. Chester became also intimate with the first master of the Manchester School of Design (now called the School of Art), John Zephaniah Bell, whose eldest son married Chester's only daughter.

The School was opened in 1838 and amongst the first pupils were Chester, Warwick Brooks and Robert Crozier; and it is recorded that the first prizes were carried off by this trio of enthusiastic students. On Bell leaving the School of Design, Chester induced his friends to form an Academy of Art and their meeting place was in King-street, next to Rose,s well-known china shop. The formation of the first Manchester Academy was owing to Chester’s efforts; and through the academy's influence, Haydon, the painter, was induced to give his art lectures at the old Mechanics Institution on Cooper-street. Haydon had a high opinion of the talents of the academy's students and borrowed and exhibited their drawings at his lectures. After the opening of the Theatre Royal in 1845, Chester could not forsake the beautiful architectural child of his fancy. He increasingly allied himself with the permanent staff, and his artistic abilities contributed greatly to the beautiful scenery and other pictorial adjuncts of the Shakespearean and pantomime productions. Chester remained with Knowles until the theatre passed to new proprietors in 1875. His attachment to the theatre was its gain, but a loss to the profession he had honoured in his short career as an architect

Chester was rather small in stature; he was somewhat dark in complexion, with a sharp-pointed beard; and habited in his usual Inverness cape and felt hat was a familiar figure in the streets of Manchester. He was of a retiring disposition and spoke little, but withal he had a warm and genial heart. On leaving Manchester he retired to Richmond and then to Chelsea where he died on December 27 1881. He was buried in the West Brompton Cemetery. [Alfred Darbyshire 1899]

1851        Francis Chester, architect. (Irwin & Chester) 102, Regent Road, Salford
1852        Francis Chester, 102, Regent Road, Salford
1855        Mr Francis Chester. 112, Regent Road, Salford
1861        Francis Chester, architect. 1, Windsor Terrace, Old Trafford

Death Notice    Manchester Guardian 31 December 1881. Page 9. Column 6
Obituary        Manchester Guardian 2 January 1882 page 8
Obituary        Manchester City News Saturday 7 January 1882
Obituary        Builder v 42 7 January 1882 Page 30




Name Designation Formed Dissolved Location
Irwin and Chester Architectural practice 1840 1852 Manchester