Louise Rayner was born at Matlock Bath, Derbyshire in 1832 and spent her early childhood there and in Derby. Her father, Samuel Rayner (1806-1879), was also an accomplished painter of architectural watercolours and townscapes. The family moved to London in 1842 and Louise took up watercolour painting seriously when she was 15 years old. She was taught by her father and artist friends who included David Roberts, and George Cattermole. Her first exhibits at the Royal Academy in 1852, were oil paintings of interiors, and in 1860 she showed her first watercolours at the Society of Women Artists and the Society of British Artists.
Louise Rayner's first recorded visit to Chester was in 1869 when she lived at 2 Ash Grove, off the Wrexham Road. In the 1870s and 1880s Rayner spent a couple of months every summer in different British towns and in the 1890s her sister, Margaret, came to lodge with her in Chester, where they both taught watercolour painting. The Rayner sisters moved to Tunbridge Wells in about 1910 and after Margaret's death in 1918, Louise moved to St. Leonard's-on-Sea where she later died.
The present watercolour was executed between 1873 and 1888 and shows the west side of Bridge Street looking south from The Cross, in front of St. Peter's Church. The watercolour shows the corner house between Eastgate Street and Bridge Street before it was remodelled in 1888. The largest half-timbered house, the third house on the west side of the street, was called Cooper's House and housed a shop called The Old Crypt. Other shops that are recognisable in the watercolour are Cartwright in Compton House and R. Gregg at no. 2. The tallest half-timbered house, known as the Plane Tree, was built in 1873 by Thomas Meakin Lockwood. The building next to the Plane Tree was known as the Dutch Houses. This timber-framed house is unusual, in that the timber was plastered over. It can be recognised in the watercolour, as the building with projecting floors and twisted columns. This part of Bridge Street was known as Scotch Row, as the Scotsmen who always came to the fairs, held in Chester twice a year, would lodge there. An upright watercolour, focusing on Scotch Row, Bridge Street is now in the Grosvenor Museum, Chester and is illustrated in P. Boughton, Picturesque Chester, 1997, London and Frome, p. 93.
We are grateful to Peter Boughton of the Grosvenor Museum and Curator of the exhibition Louise Rayner, Watercolours of Victorian Chester, 18 July - 8 November 1998, for his help in preparing this catalogue entry.