Meet Me On The Rows

Photography by marlcarline.co.uk

Photography by marlcarline.co.uk

Journeys lie at the heart of 'Meet Me On The Rows'. This was something apparent to us from the start of this project which has been a privilege to be involved in.

When we travel from one place to another, consciously or unconsciously, we engage with the external world around us, drawing in the sights, sounds and smells to help us understand and navigate the environment we are in. But also, journeying engages our creative impulses. We often go for a long walk to 'clear our head', to process a problem, to get to the heart of an issue. So when we walk, we interpret not only our immediate environment but our own internal landscape, emotional and psychological. Difficult steps are taken, challenges are overcome.

Walking then, encourages interpretation. It is also transformative - we move from one space to another; we are changed by the journey we make and no two journeys are the same.

The Rows are special because they constitute not only a physical route but also one rooted firmly in the psychology and emotional history of Chester. When I first encountered them, I was frequently surprised by beautiful tiny details, a stone carving here, an intriguing passageway there. So I knew that I wanted surprise to be a part of our piece. 

The more time I spent 'on the rows', the more I became absorbed by the sense of the lives lived here. I am fascinated by the profundity of the everyday, of how seemingly insignificant traces of a person's life can intimate to some greater emotional experience. The fact that the steps I was taking here in the 21st century are little different to those of a Baker in the 17th or a Victorian housewife fallen on hard times, makes for a potent sense of history.

And as they journeyed through their lives, their traces linger in the stalls and shop windows or the handrails steep steps, something almost tangible.

The challenge we faced then, was to find these lives. In order to create the physical journey that forms the spine of our piece, we had to embark on a metaphorical one, moving through time, journeying across official records and microfisch of  ancient newspapers, scrolling through time to find  'a way in'. Here the support of the Civic Trust,  the Grovesnor Museum and particularly the Records Office became invaluable. Hunting high and low we came across records of fireworks explosions and illicit liaisons, of crimes and commerce; we looked for lives and stories we could tell and gradually through criss-crossing, retracing steps and poring through records of meetings, registers of marriages and deaths and through interviews, characters emerged - 

They are just a few of the lives that were spent on the rows; our stories are mostly based on real individuals or, at least, real occurrences and we hope that they capture the richness of the history of the place and we hope that the journey we have made  is a good one.