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Unhappy Times in Chester, Then and Now.

Beneath the Inner Ring Road,as it passes the end of Watergate Street, lie the foundations of the handsome Yacht Inn, demolished in 1964. Among the buried rubble and assorted debris lies also the smashed remains of the window pane, where an angry and rebuffed Jonathan Swift scratched an uncomplimentary epithet with his diamond ring after local Cathedral dignitaries snubbed his invitation to dinner at the Yacht.

In the following century, it would become the setting of a terrible tragedy involving loss of life, when landlady Martha Miller attempted (with partial success) to kill herself and her two young children.

!879 had been a bad year for Martha - a succession of illnesses including bronchitis, measles and whooping cough had laid the family low, with not only 3 year old Alice and 1 year old Elizabeth Mary to be looked after, but also husband Daniel's four children from a previous marriage, the Inn to run on a daily basis, and now she was pregnant again, with health issues of her own to add to her worries.

One June evening it all became to much to bear, and locking the bedroom door, she attempted to cut the throats of her young daughters as they lay sleeping, before turning the knife upon herself. Alice was to die of her injuries the following day, but Elizabeth Mary miraculously clung onto life, although grievously wounded. Martha was taken to the local Infirmary, where she was confined in a straitjacket, with which she was somehow able to fashion a makeshift noose in a further attempt at suicide. The response of the hospital was to transfer her immediately to the local Lunatic Asylum, in whose care she would remain for what turned out to be the last three months of her life.

The institution's Guardians were to send Martha's husband Daniel demands for payment towards his wife's upkeep during this distressing time, until matters came to a head in October when she died just three days after giving birth prematurely to a baby girl, who would follow her mother to the grave just two months later.

It is unclear what happened to Daniel Miller and what remained of his family in the years to follow ; the Yacht Inn suffered a downturn in business due to the notoriety of the case which was widely reported in the local papers, and it seems unlikely that they would have wanted to remain in a place so full of traumatic memories.

There may still be a spirit of mental and emotional disturbance abroad in the street, or so it seemed on the day I visited last week. A young woman with wild eyes was walking erratically towards Watergate Street, after exchanging abusive words with a homeless woman outside St. Peter's Church. She radiated anger and the potential for violence as she shouted almost incoherent profanities to everyone in general and no-one in particular, her agitation increasing by the minute. The people on the street watched her with a combination of curiosity and wariness as she raged on, until abruptly she sprinted up a set of steps leading to the particular galleried shops of Chester, where she smashed a glass display case as her shouting and cursing reached a crescendo. The noise was deafening, and she ran swiftly away, still apparently in the grip of some inner demon.

Whether this troubled woman's need for help with obviously serious mental health issues will be better served than Martha Miller's, I can only hope for, or guess at.

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