“The Stadium”

One of the most interesting items of club memorabilia I have ever seen was recently loaned to Chester FC chairman Tony Durkin.

A 336 page hardback ledger, spanning the period from November 1932 to February 1937, was in the possession of a relative of former clerk and secretary Billy Peters. It makes fascinating reading as it covers board meetings with subjects ranging from club finances and team selection down to travel arrangements and the provision of fire extinguishers.

After my recent articles on Sealand Road there was one item that took my eye. In January 1934 item 2945 referred to the naming of the ground:

Naming of the Ground

Naming of the Ground

“Sec-manager recommended the ground be given a name such as “The Stadium”, Sealand Road, Chester. Resolved on the suggestion of Mr C.J.F. Owen that the Chairman and Sec. Manager use the words The Stadium on posters and letterheads when the public would would follow the lead and accept the title.”

I never appreciated that the ground had formally been entitled “The Stadium” in this way. I had presumed that the name had been adopted by default after its construction in 1906. Given the circumstances I am surprised that such a bland, unimaginative name was endorsed. The naming may have been prompted by the imminent arrival of the Greyhound Stadium, which was built next door the following year, but I would have thought that this would have prompted a more creative title.

Ground name 1932

Ground name 1932

Ground Name 1935

Ground Name 1935

Although The Stadium may have been the official name I think it is fair to say that it never fully caught on. I always though of it as Sealand Road and this was always how the ground was known in footballing circles.

1932 Ledger  Copyright © Rick Matthews

1932 Ledger
Copyright © Rick Matthews

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Sealand Road Remains – 1

With the restoration of the plaque I thought it would be interesting to collate some pictures of other parts of the Sealand Road Stadium that have survived. I am hoping that this will be the first of a number of articles and I would urge anyone to get in contact if they have anything of interest.

The most obvious place to start is the roof of the main stand which was installed at the previously uncovered Hamil Road End of Port Vale’s Vale Park Ground in 1992. According to Simon Inglis’ Football Grounds of Britain book the stand roof was bought from Chester for a bargain price but the final bill for its transport, re-erection and repainting came to £350,000.

Main Stand 1990 Copyright © http://www.chesterfootballhistory.com

Main Stand 1990
Copyright © http://www.chesterfootballhistory.com

Demolition of the stand roof Copyright © http://www.chesterfootballhistory.com

Demolition of the stand roof
Copyright © http://www.chesterfootballhistory.com

Stand roof during demolition Copyright © http://www.chesterfootballhistory.com

Stand roof during demolition
Copyright © http://www.chesterfootballhistory.com

Inglis’ book also states that some surplus roof cladding from Sealand Road was also used at the other end of the ground in the small angled Family stand between the Railway and Bycars Lane Stands.

Coincidentally the first team to utilise the new covered Hamil Road End was Chester when they played a League Two fixture at the ground in September 1992 and were beaten 2-0. The following photographs were taken by Fraser Warburton at that game and with no adverts or Vale branding the stand still looks very much like it did at Sealand Road.

Hamil Road End Port Vale September 1992 Copyright © Fraser Warburton

Hamil Road End Port Vale September 1992
Copyright © Fraser Warburton

Corner of the stand at Vale Park Copyright © Fraser Warburton

Corner of the stand at Vale Park
Copyright © Fraser Warburton

Standing at Vale Park in September 1992 Copyright © Fraser Warburton

Standing at Vale Park in September 1992
Copyright © Fraser Warburton

Port Vale v Chester - September 1992

Inglis’ book also states that some surplus roof cladding from Sealand Road was also used at the other end of the ground in the small angled Family stand between the Railway and Bycars Lane Stands.

In 1995, 4,550 seats were installed and Blues fans were able to sit under the stand roof for the first time for a Worthington Cup tie in 1998. Two Luke Beckett goals gave Chester a 2-1 victory in that game. There was a return to the ground the following year in the same competition for that memorable 4-4 draw in Terry Smith’s first game in charge.

Sitting under the stand roof - Port Vale v Chester in September 1998 Copyright © NWN Media

Sitting under the stand roof – Port Vale v Chester in September 1998
Copyright © Leader newspaper

The second item was salvaged form the demolition of the ground in 1992 by supporter Alan Potter who managed to carry it back to his house in Blacon which is quite an achievment given its size.

Entrance sign

Entrance sign

The admission price board was initially in place at the Sealand Road End as can be seen from my accompanying photo.

The entrance sign in its original location Copyright © http://www.chesterfootballhistory.com

The entrance sign in its original location
Copyright © http://www.chesterfootballhistory.com

The final item is a gem from the old wooden Sealand Road stand and is the sign from above the away team dressing room that I was given several years ago.

Sign from old Sealand Road stand

Sign from old Sealand Road stand

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Plaque Unveiling

The installation was completed last week when Art Graphics of Saltney erected an information board alongside the sandstone plaque. This was followed by an unveiling on Saturday before the players embarked on the victory parade to the town hall.

The unveiling was attended by Rob Fleet, who retrieved the broken plaque back in 1992, as well as former ISA chairman George Rogers who had looked after the pieces in recent years. Also present were Pauline Meakins, representing the Chester Exiles who sponsored the information board, as well as Chester FC chairman Tony Durkin and members of the Senior Blues.

Plaque with Information Board

Plaque with Information Board

Plaque Unveiling - May 2013 Photograph - Rick Matthews

Plaque Unveiling – May 2013
Copyright © Rick Matthews

Before the event I was talking to Rob about the “Chester Football Club Limited” lettering that appeared above the plaque (see the picture in the February 1st article) and wondered what had happened to it. I had always thought they were individual letters attached to the wall but Rob says that they were embedded in breeze blocks and they were too big to remove. It begs the question did anyone salvage a letter as a souvenir?

This led me on to another thought. I know that other parts of the ground were salvaged by supporters after the ground’s demolition and I thought it might be a nice idea to put together some photographs and stories in an article. I have already received pictures of the old stand roof in place at Port Vale when it was still distinctly recognisable as coming from Sealand Road.

Unfortunately I missed out on taking pictures of the old stand seats which were used at the Greyhound Stadium in Ellesmere Port. These seats have recently been removed but if anyone has a picture that would be great.

Please get in touch via the message form below if you have anything of interest or just add a comment.

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Return of the Plaque

After 21 years the Supporter’s Plaque has returned home and been positioned on the outside of the ground by the main office.

Altomont Townsend and the students at the college have done a superb restoration job and three students from the Bricklaying Level 1 course, Joe Lawrence, Jamie Morgan and Danny Dowling put the plaque in place on the wall today.

Finished plaque at the college. Photo - Altomont Townsend

Finished plaque at the college.
Photo – Altomont Townsend

Installing the plaque Photo - Tony Pate

Installing the plaque
Photo – Tony Pate

Putting the plaque in place Photo - Tony Pate

Putting the plaque in place
Photo – Tony Pate

Bricklaying students with the finished plaque - Joe Lawrence, Jamie Morgan, Danny Dowling Photo - Tony Pate

Bricklaying students with the finished plaque – Joe Lawrence, Jamie Morgan, Danny Dowling
Photo – Altomont Townsend

The information board has been completed, thanks to sponsorship from the Chester Exiles, and this is expected to be erected alongside the plaque later this week.

In my previous posting I speculated that the plaque may have been made by Clegg’s stonemasons on Bumpers Lane but a more plausible explanation has since come forward.  Steve and Colin Mansley, whose grandfather’s cousin was Chester chairman at the time, tell me that there was a Mansley’s stonemasonry business at Handbridge, where Blackwell’s Stonecraft Ltd is now located, and it seems more likely to me that the plaque originated from there.

The finished plaque in place

The finished plaque in place

The finished article

The finished article

On Saturday May 11th, at 12:30 pm, there will be an official unveiling of the plaque which is scheduled to take place before the players embark on their open-top bus trip to the town hall. Supporters are welcome to attend.

For the full story behind the restoration there have been three previous posts on the topic which can be found in the archives under Grounds.

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Plaque Restoration Progress

Last week I went along to West Cheshire College to see how work on the Supporters Club plaque was progressing. In fact the stone is now almost finished and they are currently painting the letters. The department estimates that it will need between one and two days to complete the job although you need to bear in mind that restoration work can only take place once a week.

Plaque restoration progress at Chester College

Plaque restoration progress at Chester College

We have been looking at a location for the plaque and hope to install it on the wall between the player’s entrance and the ticket office window, close to the supporter’s bricks.

There is a small piece missing from the right hand side of the plaque and stonemason Altomont Townsend thought it would be better to leave this rather than patch it up. I am in complete agreement with this as it serves to emphasise the restoration work that has been performed. Altomont also pointed out to me the symbolism in the broken plaque and the football club with the repair and return of the plaque imitating the work that the supporters have done in re-building and restoring the new Chester FC.  It also acts as a strong link with the supporters from the 1930s who did so much to help the club in their early years in the Football League.

As well as spotting the paintwork on the lettering, which would have only lasted for a few years, Altomont also had some interesting theories on the making of the plaque. First of all he thinks it would have been made by someone associated with Clegg’s who were based in Bumpers Lane (no relation to tannoy announcer Robbie Clegg). They were the only stonemasons in the city but went bust in the 1970s or 1980s. It is also likely that the engraving was done by an apprentice, perhaps a Chester supporter, rather than by a professional stonemason. He bases this theory on the fact that he identied one or two flaws in the original work and  it is certainly possible to spot that the five in the year does not quite match up with the rest of the date.

If anyone has any further information on the original making of the plaque then Altomont and myself would be very interested to hear from you.

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Supporters Club Plaque Restoration

Since my February post there has been significant progress in the project to restore the sandstone plaque to its former glory. West Cheshire College has agreed to do the restoration work at no cost to the club. This has been made possible through Chester’s Volunteer Learning Co-ordinator Carol Bennett’s connection with the college.

Plaque just before ground demolition in 1992 Copyright © Steve Mansley

Plaque just before the ground demolition
Copyright © Steve Mansley

At the end of February we took the three sections down to the college in Handbridge and since then the students, under the leadership of master mason Altomont Townsend, have been hard at work on its re-construction.

Delivering the plaque Copyright © http://www.chesterfootballhistory.com

Delivering the plaque
Copyright © http://www.chesterfootballhistory.com

Plaque ready for restoration Copyright © http://www.chesterfootballhistory.com

Plaque ready for restoration
Copyright © http://www.chesterfootballhistory.com

This project has proved beneficial to all parties and Altomont described how the college became involved:

“Carol approached us and said she had a small project to do with the football club. She asked if we could take it on so we asked her to bring it along and we would see what we could do. For us it was interesting to do something for the club and I like to pass on any jobs to the students so that they can work on it and gain more experience in stonemasonry.”

The college are trying to get a stonemason’s department up and running and are aiming to find a venue within the campus for their work. So far the project has been restricted to a Thursday evening and Altomont explained the processes involved in the restoration:

“First of all, we had to clean up all the stone and remove all the algae so that we could glue it together. Using steel dowels we drilled the stone and epoxy-resined them together to make sure it was flat. The second process was to rub the stone down so that we had a nice polished surface and then we will move on to carving into it. I want the students to re-carve the letters so they stand out a bit more.”

Master mason Altomont Townsend supervises student John RobertsCopyright © http://www.chesterfootballhistory.com

Master mason Altomont Townsend supervises student John Roberts
Copyright © http://www.chesterfootballhistory.com

Work is expected to take another two or three weeks although Altomont is trying to make more time available so it can be finished a bit quicker. As he says it has been an interesting rather than a tough job to work on:

“We are looking for more projects like this that we can learn from so that we can see how it was done years ago and then re-create it. It’s a learning curve for us, we enjoy doing it and we learn how these old projects were done.”

One detail that has emerged from the work so far is that the letters were initially painted black and the intention is to restore the paintwork to match the original.

Restoration in progressCopyright © http://www.chesterfootballhistory.com

Restoration in progress
Copyright © http://www.chesterfootballhistory.com

Once the restoration has been completed the next stage will be to return it to the club and arrange for it to be re-mounted on one of the walls at the ground.

The Sealand Road End in 1990 showing the brickwork that was added in 1935. The plaque is just visible by the lamppost. Copyright © http://www.chesterfootballhistory.com

The Sealand Road End in 1990 showing the brickwork that was added in 1935. The plaque is just visible by the lamppost.
Copyright © http://www.chesterfootballhistory.com

Copyright © 2013 http://www.chesterfootballhistory.com All Rights Reserved

Sealand Road Supporters Club Plaque

The Sealand Road stadium was demolished in 1992 with the club already in situ on Bumpers Lane. One remnant of the stadium that was believed missing was a plaque presented by the Supporters’ Club in 1935. The sandstone plaque was situated on the brick wall at the front of the ground, facing Sealand Road, but partially obscured by a badly placed lamppost.

Sealand Road End in 1976

Sealand Road End in 1976 – Cheshire Observer

The plaque in 1990

The plaque in place in 1990
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Sealand Road End 1990

Sealand Road End 1990
Copyright © http://www.chesterfootballhistory.com

Sealand Road 1990 Copyright © www.chesterfootballhistory.com

Sealand Road 1990
Copyright © http://www.chesterfootballhistory.com

Although the demolition men were asked to preserve the plaque it came down with the wall and was smashed into three segments. However all the pieces were salvaged by a supporter who handed them over to the Independent Supporters Association (ISA) at the start of the last decade. With continued uncertainty surrounding the club the broken plaque was stored away at the home of ISA chairman George Rogers. Now that the club is back in safe hands George attended a recent meeting of the Senior Blues and returned the plaque to the club.

The plaque, which is inscribed “Presented by the Supporters Committee 1935”, has flaked in places and a very small piece is missing but is otherwise in reasonable condition under the circumstances. The current intention is to possibly restore the plaque and re-instate it somewhere around the ground.

Most of the development on the Sealand Road game took place in the 1930s with an active Supporters’ Club contributing funds to help finance the changes. A total of nearly £3,000 was handed over between 1930 and 1935 and chairman Harry Mansley acknowledged that “without the efforts of the committee the ground would look bad.”

After a burst of activity in 1930 and 1931, when the main stand was extended and the Sealand Road End covered, the supporters were instrumental in the changes in the middle of the decade. In 1934 the rails around the pitch were replaced by a concrete wall. In “On The Borderline” I suggest this was done at the end of the 1934/35 season but I now believe this was done slightly earlier as the wall caused major drainage problems resulting in a poor pitch and many postponements during the 1934/35 and 1935/36 seasons. The problems with the pitch were exacerbated by the construction of terracing on the popular side. This new terracing accommodated 6,000 and was completed in time for the FA Cup tie with Nottingham Forest in January 1935.

At the start of July 1935 a meeting was held between the directors and the Supporters’ Committee in order to discuss further ground improvements. It was resolved to erect boundary walls on the city side of the ground (popular side) and at the Sealand Road End to take the place of the existing galvanised iron sheets. It was also proposed to fit steel girders in the walls of the popular side to prepare for further extension of the covered accommodation. The architect (Mr A J Hayton), on behalf of the supporters, was instructed to prepare the plans and invite tenders from local firms with the intention of completing the work in time for the first game of the 1935/36 season.

In the event the surrounding walls and popular side cover were both completed during the summer although the cover did not extend the full length of the pitch. It is this work that resulted in the plaque being placed on the new wall at the Sealand Road End.

As a postscript, in the first week of January 1936 the city was battered by a severe gale which caused several hundred pounds of damage to the ground. The new wall, erected by the Supporters’ Committee at the Sealand Road End, was severely damaged and the large entrance gate completely smashed with a side wall also demolished. Fortunately the section of wall directly facing Sealand Road (where the plaque was erected) remained undamaged. In addition a 90 yard section of fencing behind the Spion Kop, which had not been included in the summer changes, was completely flattened and had to be boarded up in time for the home game against Gateshead.

I would be interested to hear about the recovery of the plaque in 1992 so please get in touch if you know its whereabouts between 1992 and the early 2000s.

Marc Williams, me and the plaque.

Marc Williams, me and the plaque.

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