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 ©

Delivering the plaque
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Plaque ready for restoration Copyright ©

Plaque ready for restoration
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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 ©

Master mason Altomont Townsend supervises student John Roberts
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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 ©

Restoration in progress
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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 ©

The Sealand Road End in 1990 showing the brickwork that was added in 1935. The plaque is just visible by the lamppost.
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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
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Sealand Road 1990 Copyright ©

Sealand Road 1990
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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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Don’t Stand So Close

After posting the last photographs of the old Sealand Road ground I was provided with some more superb photos of the Stadium by Fraser Warburton. There are plenty of photos of the main stand being demolished but it’s rare to see pictures of its construction behind the old wooden stand.

Building work started on the new stand towards the end of the 1978/79 season and Fraser’s three photographs were taken in May 1979 after the final home game against Sheffield Wednesday. In the short term the method of construction proved beneficial as it allowed the ground to remain fully functional but when the wooden stand was demolished it created an awful no-mans land which destroyed the character of the ground. The overall appearance was hardly helped by the chicken wire fence erected parallel to the touchline in front of the stand.

The first photo is one of the best pictures I have seen and was taken from the corner by the open Kop end.  It shows the east wing still in place in front of the new structure.

The second photo is a closer view of the new construction taken at the same time as the first picture.

The next picture is actually taken from the Cheshire Observer and although the quality is not particularly good I thought it was interesting because it was obviously taken after the first two photographs but before the final one. It shows the west wing of the wooden stand (nearest the Sealand Road End) was the first section to be demolished.

Fraser’s final picture shows that demolition had progressed slightly and most of the west wing had been cleared but the metal struts holding up the roof were still in place as was the metal crossbeam following the old roof line. In addition the new stand roof had now been erected.

It’s interesting to see the edge of the central section of the wooden stand which was in place 10 years before the wing extension was built. This marked the end of the original stand which was the only seating available in the 1920s when Chester played in the Cheshire County League. The west wing was the first of the extensions to be built, in 1931, with the east wing added a few months later in time for Chester’s entry into the Football League. The banner photograph for this website shows work being completed on the second wing.

The final picture is taken from the Chester v Walsall League Cup programme, the first game in front of the new stand. It was taken 12 days before the start of the season. By now the old stand had been completely removed but there was still a certain amount of work that needed completing and very few seats were in place.

Once again if anyone has memories of the construction of the new stand I would be interested to hear from them. Even better, I would be fascinated to see any more pictures.

I will be adding more photos of the ground in future blogs but I have a long list of things I want to cover so I’ve no idea when this will happen.

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From a Distance

I came across a couple of fascinating photographs of the old Sealand Road ground recently and would like to thank former Manweb employee, Peter Thomas, for allowing me to use them. Peter’s pictures were taken from the top of the old Manweb building which was itself demolished at the turn of the century. I’ve added a couple of my own pictures, taken in 1990, which also show the outside of the ground from a slightly different viewpoint.

The two Manweb pictures show the view looking up Sealand Road towards the city centre. The patch of green on the left of Sealand Road is the Greyhound Stadium with the old football ground just above it. I think that the pictures were taken in the mid 1970s based on the work that appears to be taking place between the two stadiums. I believe that this is the construction of the small industrial estate that was built following the sale of the old training annexe in 1973. It also appears as if the picture was taken before the new office block was built at the front of the ground, around the time of promotion in 1975. You can just make out the old wooden office at the corner of the Main Stand and Sealand Road End. The old wooden main stand was replaced in 1979.

The Greyhound Stadium was itself demolished around 1986 while the football ground was vacated in 1990 and then eventually knocked down in 1992.

The third picture was taken from the inner ring-road in spring 1990 and shows how much the old ground used to stand out on the skyline.

The final picture is taken from Bumpers Lane before the final game against Rotherham United in April 1990.

If anyone else has any further thoughts on the dates of the photos taken from the top of the Manweb building I would be interested to hear any comments.

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