Chester's Pepper Gate elopement

AS visitors to Chester walk along Pepper Row and view the modern Pepper Gate they probably remain blissfully unaware of its interesting and romantic past.

In 1578 during the reign of Elizabeth 1 it is said the Mayor, one Rauff (Ralph) Aldersey, had a beautiful daughter called Ellen.

Chester's leading citizen was a proud father who wanted, not surprisingly, a good marriage for his daughter. To this end he chose a wealthy suitor for Ellen some years her senior. However, the young lady herself was in love with a penniless armourer called Luke. This association, her father discovered and forbad, he also kept a close eye on his daughter to prevent her meeting Luke.
Ellen, however, must have been an independent young woman with a mind of her own. Somehow she managed to concoct a plot with Luke to elude her father and unwelcome fiance.

One day Ellen was allowed out as usual to take her only exercise, a walk with a group of other well-bred girls, on a green area just inside the Pepper Gate. The girls, probably in league with Ellen began a ball game.

As the laughing young ladies played happily, someone threw the ball particularly high and it went over the city walls. Ellen quickly volunteered to go outside the gate to retrieve it.

Outside the wall Luke was waiting with two horses and the couple galloped off down Souters Lane to the Dee Bridge and into wild Wales, where pursuit and discovery were almost impossible. The others delayed in raising the alarm, so giving the pair the necessary time to escape.

Alderman Aldersey was so incensed at his daughters elopement that he immediately ordered the Pepper Gate to be open only to pedestrians during the day, and closed completely at night.
This caused a great deal of inconvenience to innocent people especially the tradesman with their horse-drawn vehicles. This spiteful action therefore, gives rise to a popular local saying of the period,
When the daughter is stolen,
Shut the Pepper Gate.

This, having a similar meaning to the more well known 'shutting the door after the horse has bolted.'

The story has a happy ending however. After their marriage the couple went abroad and Luke prospered, distinguishing himself in foreign wars.

This successful career resulted in him being knighted by Queen Elizabeth.

The couple returned, eventually, to Chester as Lord and Lady Lacey and, hopefully, the family were happily reconciled.