Gloucester (/ˈɡlɒstər/ glos-tər) is a city, district and county town of Gloucestershire in the South West region of England. Gloucester lies close to the Welsh border, and on the River Severn, approximately 32 miles (51 km) north-east of Bristol, and 45 miles (72 km) south-southwest of Birmingham.
Gloucester is home to Gloucester Cathedral.
Gloucester was founded in AD 97 by the Romans under Emperor Nerva as Colonia Glevum Nervensis, and was granted its first charter in 1155 by King Henry II. Economically, the city is dominated by the service industries, and has a strong financial and business sector, being home to the bank Cheltenham & Gloucester and historically was prominent in the aerospace industry.
The existence of a British settlement at Gloucester (Caer Glow, Gleawecastre, Gleucestre) is not confirmed by any direct evidence, but Gloucester was the Roman municipality of Colonia Nervia Glevensium, or Glevum, founded in the reign of Nerva. Parts of the walls can be traced, and many remains and coins have been found, though inscriptions are scarce. Evidence for some civic life after the end of Roman Britain includes the mention in the Historia Brittonum that Vortigern’s grandfather ruled Gloucester. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Gloucester was part of Wessex from the Battle of Deorham in 577 until 584, when it came under the control of Mercia.
Gloucester (Glowancestre, 1282) derives from the Anglo-Saxon for fort (Old English ceaster) preceded by the Roman stem Glev- (pronounced glaiw). In Old Welsh, the city was known as Caerloyw, caer = castle, and loyw from gloyw = glowing/bright. Gloucester was captured by the Saxons in 577. Its situation on a navigable river, and the foundation in 681 of the abbey of St Peter by Æthelred, favoured the growth of the town; and before the Norman Conquest of England, Gloucester was a borough governed by a portreeve, with a castle which was frequently a royal residence, and a mint.
In the early tenth century the remains of Saint Oswald were brought to a small church in Gloucester, bringing many pilgrims to the town.
The core street layout dates back to the reign of Ethelfleda in late Saxon times.
The first Earl of Gloucester, Earl Godwine, was succeeded nearly a century later by Robert of Gloucester. King Henry II granted the first charter in 1155, which gave the burgesses the same liberties as the citizens of London and Winchester, and a second charter of Henry II gave them freedom of passage on the River Severn. The first charter was confirmed in 1194 by Richard I of England. The privileges of the borough were greatly extended by the charter of King John (1200), which gave freedom from toll throughout the kingdom and from pleading outside the borough.
In the Middle Ages the main export was wool which came from the Cotswolds and was processed in Gloucester; other exports included leather and iron (tools and weapons). Gloucester also had a large fishing industry at that time.
In 1223 thatched roofs were bannedafter a massive fire that destroyed a part of Gloucester.
Subsequent charters were numerous. Gloucester was incorporated by King Richard III in 1483, the town being made a county in itself. This charter was confirmed in 1489 and 1510, and other charters of incorporation were received by Gloucester from Queen Elizabeth I and King James I.
Gloucester was the site of the execution by burning of John Hooper, Bishop of Gloucester in the time of Queen Mary and martyred by her in 1555.
In 1580 Gloucester was awarded the status of a port by Queen Elizabeth I.
The Siege of Gloucester in 1643 was a battle of the English Civil War in which the besieged parliamentarians emerged victorious.
The spring of 1994 saw the arrest of Fred West and his wife Rosemary West for the murder of 12 women and girls who went missing between 1967 and 1987 – including two of their daughters. Their home, 25 Cromwell Street, where the remains of many of the victims were buried, was later demolished and a public walkway laid in its place.
In July 2007, Gloucester was hit badly by a flood that struck Gloucestershire and its surrounding areas. Hundreds of homes were flooded, but the event was most memorable because of its wider impact – about 40,000 people were without power for 24 hours, and the entire city (plus surrounding areas) was without piped water for 17 days.
In 2009, Gloucester Day was revived as an annual day of celebration of Gloucester’s history and culture. The day originally dates from the lifting of the Siege of Gloucester in 1643, during which the city held out against Royalist forces during the First English Civil War.
Gloucester is the county town of Gloucestershire, and is the 53rd largest settlement in the UK by population. In 2001 the city had a population of 123,205.However the built-up area extends beyond the city boundary. The 2001 census gave the population of the whole “Gloucester Urban Area” as 136,203.
It is located on the eastern bank of the River Severn, 114 miles (183 km) west north west of London. It is sheltered by the Cotswolds to the east, while the Forest of Dean and the Malvern Hills rise to the west and north, respectively.
Gloucester is a port, linked via the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal which runs from Gloucester’s docks to the Severn Estuary, allowing larger ships to reach the docks than would be possible on the tidal reaches of the river itself, which go well north of the city to Haw Bridge. The wharfs, warehouses and the docks themselves fell into disrepair until their renovation in the 1980s. They now form a public open space. Some warehouses now house the National Waterways Museum, others were converted into residential apartments, shops and bars. Additionally, the Soldiers of Gloucestershire Museum is located in the Custom House. The port still houses the most inland RNLI lifeboat in the UK.
Gloucester Cathedral, in the north of the city near the river, originates in the foundation of an abbey dedicated to Saint Peter in 681. It is the burial place of King Edward II of England and Walter de Lacy. The Cathedral (mainly its cloisters) was used for corridor scenes in the films Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, and Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince.
Attached to the deanery is the Norman prior’s chapel. In St Mary’s Square outside the Abbey gate, the Bishop of Gloucester, Bishop John Hooper, was martyred under Queen Mary I in 1555.
Many medieval and Tudor period gabled and half timbered houses survive from earlier periods of Gloucester’s history. At the point where the four principal streets intersected stood the Tolsey (town hall), which was replaced by a modern building in 1894. None of the old public buildings are left except for The New Inn in Northgate Street. It is a timbered house, with strong, massive external galleries and courtyards. It was built around 1450 by John Twyning, a monk.
There may be many churches now, but in the past there were also many dissenting chapels. It may have been the old proverb “as sure as God’s in Gloucester” that provoked Oliver Cromwell to declare that the city had “more churches than godliness”. Gloucester was the host of the first Sunday school in England; this was founded by Robert Raikes in 1780. Four of the churches that are of special interest are
- St Mary de Lode – with a Norman tower and chancel, and a monument of Bishop John Hooper. It was built on the site of an ancient Roman temple which became the first Christian church in Britain
- St Mary de Crypt – with a cruciform structure of the 12th century. It has later additions, such as the tower. Also the site of the Schoolroom in which The Crypt School was formed
- The St Michael church – said to have been connected with the St Peter ancient abbey
- The St Nicholas church – founded by the Normans but with many additions since then.
In the neighbourhood around St Mary de Crypt there are slight remains of Greyfriars and Blackfriars monasteries, and also of the city wall. Under the Golden Fleece (The Monks Bar) and Saracen’s Head inns early vaulted cellars still remain.
During the construction of the Boots store on the corner of Brunswick Road and Eastgate Street in 1974, Roman remains were found. These can be seen through a glass case on the street. At the back of the Gloucester Furniture Exhibition Centre part of the city’s south gate can be seen.
Noteworthy modern buildings include the museum and school of art and science, the county jail (on the site of a Saxon and Norman castle), the Shire Hall and the Whitefield memorial church. A park in the south of the city contains a spa, a chalybeate spring having been discovered in 1814. West of this, across the canal, are the remains (a gateway and some walls) of Llanthony Secunda Priory, a cell of the mother abbey in the Vale of Ewyas, Monmouthshire, which in the reign of King Edward IV became the secondary establishment.
King’s Square is at the heart of the city centre and occupies what was once a cattle market and bus station. Officially opened in 1972, it was the centrepiece of a radical redesign of the city, The Jellicoe Plan, which was first proposed in 1961. It stands beside the Debenham’s (formerly Bon Marche) store built in the early 1960s. Many of the features of the redevelopment have since been dismantled; the brutalist concrete fountains in the middle of the square have gone and the overhead roadways which linked three multi storey car parks around the centre have been either closed or dismantled. The present main bus station received a Civic Trust Award in 1963 but is now in a state of disrepair.
An indoor market opened in Eastgate Street in 1968, followed by the Eastgate Shopping Centre in 1974. The corner of Eastgate Street and Brunswick Road was redeveloped around this time; Roman remains unearthed below street level in 1974 may be seen through a glass observation panel outside the Boots building, which opened in 1980. The HSBC building on the Cross was renovated and a modern extension added to the Westgate Street aspect in 1972 which received a Civic Trust Award. Sainsbury’s opened a supermarket in Northgate Street in 1970; it retains its original interior. Opposite, Tesco opened a large two-storey supermarket in 1974 on the site of a demolished chapel. This is now occupied by Wilkinsons after Tesco moved to Quedgeley in 1984.
Gloucester Leisure Centre opened on the corner of Eastgate Street and Bruton Way in September 1974 and was redeveloped and rebranded (as “GL1”) in August 2002. Gloucester Central railway station was rebuilt in 1977 to serve both the original traffic to that station and the services from the closed Gloucester Eastgate railway station (former Midland Railway) which had stood on another site further east along the same road. Opposite the station stands one of the city’s largest office blocks, Twyver House, opened in 1968, which houses the regional Land Registry. The main shopping streets were pedestrianised in the late 1980s.
The 1966 Heights Plan for Gloucester sought to restrict construction of tall buildings and defend spiritual values by protecting views of Gloucester Cathedral. The tower of Gloucestershire Royal Hospital, started in 1970 and completed in August 1975, can be seen from miles around. In Brunswick Road, a brown concrete tower, which housed classrooms at the Gloucestershire College of Arts and Technology (now moved to a site near Llanthony Bridge). The tower was added incongruously to the existing 1930s Technical College buildings in 1971 and is due to be demolished. Clapham Court, a tall block of flats, stands in Columbia Close, between London Road and Kingsholm Road. It was built in 1972 and stands on what was once Columbia Street in a small district formerly known as Clapham.
Gloucester is linked to the Severn Estuary by the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal, which is navigable by small coasters. The city is linked to the River Avon and Stourport-on-Severn by the navigable part of the River Severn, which is navigable by river craft of a few hundred tonnes’ displacement. Gloucester Docks mark the Normal Tidal Limit (NTL) of the river.
Gloucester was formerly linked to Ledbury and Hereford by the Herefordshire and Gloucestershire Canal; and subsequently by the Ledbury and Gloucester Railway, which used the southern section of the former canal, until it also closed in 1964. This canal is now being restored, and the restored canal basin in the Gloucester suburb of Over is a local attraction.
The city is also served by Gloucester railway station, with frequent services to some of the country’s largest cities, London, Bristol, Cardiff, Nottingham and Birmingham. Gloucester was the site of the Gloucester Railway Carriage and Wagon Company railway works, which have now closed.
Gloucester is served by the M5 motorway, which runs to the east of the city. Junction 12 serves south Gloucester and Quedgeley. Junction 11a serves central Gloucester and junction 11 serves north Gloucester. The A38 runs north–south through Gloucester connecting the city with Tewkesbury and Bristol. The A40 runs west to east, connecting Gloucester with Cheltenham to the east (via a dual carriageway section known as The Golden Valley Bypass) and the Forest of Dean to the West. The A46 and A4173 links Gloucester and Stroud, and the A417 links Gloucester with Cirencester in the south east and Ledbury in the north west.
Until the construction of the Severn Bridge in 1966, Gloucester was the lowest bridging point on the river and hence was an important settlement on the route between London and South Wales. The Severn is split into two branches at this point, so the road crosses first onto Alney Island and then onto the western bank. A road bridge on this western side at Over, built by Thomas Telford in 1829, still stands, notable for its very flat arch construction, but its fragility and narrow width means it is no longer used for traffic, and since 1974 it has been paralleled by a modern road bridge. There is a rail crossing, also across Alney Island, which was the lowest on the river until the opening of the Severn Railway Bridge in 1879, followed by the Severn Tunnel in 1886, although following the dismantling of the former in 1970 Gloucester once again has the furthest downstream rail bridge crossing of the Severn.
Gloucester has a long history in the aerospace business. In 1926 the Gloucestershire Aircraft Company at Brockworth changed its name to the Gloster Aircraft Company because international customers claimed that the name “Gloucestershire” was too difficult to spell. A sculpture in the city centre celebrates Gloucester’s aviation history and its involvement in the jet engine. Frank Whittle’s pioneering turbojet engine powered the first British jet aircraft, which first flew at the company’s airfield at Brockworth. This is commemorated by the pub “The Whittle” at Gloucester Business Park, which now occupies the site. Roads in the Business Park are named after other Gloster aircraft, and a small statue overlooks the site of the old main runway. Messier-Dowty’s landing gear plant and Smiths Aerospace Dowty Propellers plants are on the outskirts of the city.
Gloucester is home to the headquarters of Cheltenham & Gloucester at Barnwood, a major mortgage lender, and now a subsidiary of Lloyds TSB. The large insurer Ecclesiastical Insurance is based in the city, as is its owner, the charity Allchurches Trust.
Gloucester was the home of Priday, Metford and Company Limited, a family milling firm which survived for over one hundred years, and hydraulic engineering firm Fielding & Platt.
Gloucester Business Park is a business park on the outskirts on the city and is home to a number of big brands including Fortis and Detica.
- Kingsholm Stadium is the ground of Gloucester RFC, founded in 1873, one of Europe’s top rugby union clubs and a member of the Aviva Premiership.
- Meadow Park was the home of Gloucester City A.F.C., founded in 1883, of the Blue Square North. The club currently play matches at arch rivals Cheltenham Town’s Whaddon Road Stadium in Cheltenham due to the 2007 Floods and have been homeless since then.
- The Gloucester Cricket Festival is held in Gloucester at the King’s School.
- Public sports facilities are focused on the GL1 leisure centre, a large modern sports centre with several swimming pools, a multi-use sports hall, indoor bowls room, squash courts, gym and health spa. There is also a new Esporta complex in Brockworth.
- The Matson district is home to Gloucester Ski and Snowboard Centre dry slope skiing facility (with two slopes of 220m and 150m respectively down the side of Robinswood Hill) and an 18 hole golf course.
- Gloucester City Swimming Club competes in county and national swimming championships, head coach is Graham Brookhouse, who won a Bronze Medal in the 1988 Seoul Olympics.
- Bentham Domes on the outskirts of Gloucester boasts one of the largest 5-a-side leagues in Europe.
- The Gloucester Banshees American Football are based in the city at Oxstalls Tennis Centre, and play at a national level in the British American Football League
- The Gloucester Vipers (seniors) & Gloucester Boxers (junior) Skater Hockey Club. Compete in BIPHA (puck) & BISHA (ball) leagues.
The Three Choirs Festival, originating in the eighteenth century and one of the oldest music festivals in Europe, is held in Gloucester every third year, the other venues being Hereford and Worcester. Gloucester hosted the festival in 2010, and it is next due in the city in 2013.
The city’s main theatre and cultural venue is the Guildhall. The Guildhall hosts a huge amount of entertainment, including live music, dance sessions, a cinema, bar, café, art gallery and much more. The Leisure Centre, GL1, hosts concerts and has a larger capacity than the Guildhall.
The annual Gloucester International Rhythm and Blues Festival takes place at the end of July and early August. Gloucester International Cajun and Zydeco Festival runs for a weekend in January each year. A Medieval Fayre is held in Westgate Street each year during the summer.
The main museum in the City is the Gloucester City Museum & Art Gallery but there are several other important museums.
The Tailor of Gloucester House which is dedicated to the author Beatrix Potter can be found near the Cathedral.
Nature in Art is a gallery dedicated to the display of works of art inspired by the natural world.
A popular and well known rhyme about the city: Doctor Foster went to Gloucester in a shower of rain, he stood in a puddle right up to his middle and never went there again.
Gloucester is twinned with Metz, France; Trier, Germany; Saint Ann, Jamaica; and Gouda, Netherlands.