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Gloucester Skyline.jpg
Skyline of Gloucester from Painswick Beacon
Grid reference: SO832186
Location: 51°52’12"N, 2°14’24"W
Population: 123,205
Post town: Gloucester
Postcode: GL1-4
Dialling code: 01452
Local Government
Council: Gloucester

Gloucester is a city in Gloucestershire of which it is the county town. It stands on the banks of the River Severn, some 32 mles above Bristol.

Gloucester was founded in 97 AD 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. It is the hometown of the bank Cheltenham & Gloucester and historically was prominent in the aerospace industry.[1]

The city

Gloucester Docks

Gloucester stands on the eastern bank of the River Severn. The Severn is tidal as far as Gloucester: the normal tidal limit is Llanthony Weir, just downstream of Gloucester Docks. The city is sheltered by the Cotswolds to the east, while the Forest of Dean and the Malvern Hills rise to the west and north, respectively.

In 2001 the city had a population of 123,205. However the built-up area extends beyond the city boundary and the 2001 census gave the population of the whole "Gloucester Urban Area" as 136,203.

Gloucester is a port, linked to the Severn Estuary by way of the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal which runs from Gloucester's docks, allowing larger ships to reach the docks than would be possible on the tidal reaches of the river itself. The wharves, 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 United Kingdom.

Name of the city

The name of Gloucester has a long pedigree. Immediately it comes form the Old English name Gleawanceaster ("Gleawa-city"). This in turn comes from an Old Welsh name, which is represented in Modern Welsh as Caerloyw, (in which caer means "fort", and gloyw means "glowing" or "bright", though the latter meaning may be no more than fortuitous).

The Romans called the city Glevum, which comes from a lost British original, and the full name Colonia Nervia Glevensium indicates a local tribe or clan perhaps known as the Glevii.


Roman times

Kip's West prospect of Gloucester, c. 1725

There is no direct evidence of a pre-Roman settlement in Gloucester but historians assume that the Roman colony was built on a pre-existing town. During the reign of the Emperor Nerva, the Romans founded a municipality named Colonia Nervia Glevensium ("Nervian colony of the Glevians") or Glevum. 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 claim in the Historia Brittonum that Vortigern's grandfather ruled Gloucester.

According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Gloucester was conquered by the West Saxons after the Battle of Dyrham in 577.

Early Middle Ages

Gloucester was captured from the Welsh by the West Saxons in 577 and in 584 it came under the control of the Mercians. The city's situation on a navigable river, and the foundation in 681 of the abbey of St Peter by King Æthelred, favoured the growth of the town. Long before the Norman Conquest, Gloucester was a borough governed by a sheriff|portreeve, with a castle which was frequently a royal residence, and a mint. The core street layout still dates back to the reign of the Lady Æthelflæd in the early tenth century.

In the early tenth century the remains of Saint Oswald were brought to a small church in Gloucester, bringing many pilgrims to the town.

Later Middle Ages

Gloucester in 1805

King Henry II granted Gloucester its first charter since Anglo-Saxon times in 1155. The charter 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 King Richard I. The privileges of the borough were greatly extended by the charter of King John in 1200, who granted 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. Gloucester also had a large fishing industry at that time.

In 1223 thatched roofs were forbidden in the town after a massive fire that destroyed a part of Gloucester.

In 1483, King Richard III incorporated Gloucester and freed it from the jurisdiction of the Gloucestershire justices.

Tudor and Stuart times

Subsequent charters were numerous. King Richard's charter of incorporation 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 I, martyred by her in 1555.

During the Civil War, Gloucester was for Parliament In 1643 Gloucester was besieged by the royalists and in the consequent battle the besieged parliamentarians emerged victorious.


The vast waters of the River Severn do not always stay within their course and Gloucester has a system of flood defences accordingly. In July 2007 though, Gloucester was hit badly by a flood that overwhelmed the defences, and as they flooded Gloucestershire towns and villages all along the rivers's course, Gloucester did not esape. Hundreds of homes were flooded, about 40,000 people were without power for 24 hours, and the entire city and its surrounding areas were without piped water for 17 days.


Gloucester Cathedral

Gloucester Cathedral

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 of Walter de Lacy. Its soaring gothic architecture attracts wonder and film-makers.

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.

Other churches

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
  • 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.

Sights of the city

Mediæval and Tudor buildings

Many mediæval 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 in 1450 for the pilgrims to King Edward II's shrine, by Abbot Sebroke.

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.

Modern buildings

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 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") around 2003. A new railway station building opened in Bruton Way in 1977 on the site of the former GWR Gloucester Central station, replacing 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.

Gloucester Quays designer outlet

The 1966 Heights Plan for Gloucester sought to restrict construction of tall buildings and defend spiritual values by protecting views of Gloucester Cathedral[2]. 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.

Shopping areas

The city centre contains many shops within its central pedestrianised area, and two dedicated shopping centres.

The Kings Walk Shopping Centre includes retailers such as HMV, WH Smith, River Island and Game. The Mall, located primarily alongside Eastgate street, boasts several small independent shops as well as larger chains such as H&M. Attached to The Mall is the still functioning indoor market, opened in the late 1960s. A portion of the old market is still visible.[3] Outside of the shopping centres are many other outlets including a large Debenhams, Waterstones, BHS and Argos. Three major coffee shops ( Costa, Starbucks and Nero ) and several restaurants and cafes are also present.

Gloucester Quays Outlet Centre opened in May 2009. This was built adjacent to the Peel centre complex which includes a Toys 'R' Us and a Hobbycraft outlet as well as a cinema. Nearby is a new Sainburys superstore.

Gloucester also has several out of town superstores located around its inner ring-road. These are typically either DIY suppliers such as B&Q, or electrical retailers such as Currys. There are also a large number of home furnishing outlets.


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 tons' 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.


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.

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 rail bridge furthest downstream on the Severn.

Business and industry


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.

Other industry

Gloucester was the home of Priday, Metford and Company Limited, a family milling firm which survived for over one hundred years.

Gloucester Business Park is a business park on the outskirts on the city and is home to a number of big brands.


Radio stations

Gloucester FM 96.6 or GFM 96.6 Specializing in black and urban music, BBC Radio Gloucestershire which has its studios on London Road and Heart 102.4 in Eastgate Shopping Centre.


The Citizen is Gloucester's main newspaper

Film & TV

Several high profile television and film productions have been filmed in Gloucester; most notably at the Cathedral and Docks. These include three of the Harry Potter films, which used the Cathedral, Doctor Who and Outlaw.[4]


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.[5] 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.[6] Gloucester International Cajun and Zydeco Festival runs for a weekend in January each year. A Mediæval Fayre is held in Westgate Street each year during the summer.

Nature in Art is a gallery dedicated to the display of works of art inspired by the natural world.


  2. "The Landscape of Man", pp356-7. Geoffrey & Susan Jellicoe. pub. Thames & Hudson, 1975. 
  3. "Gloucester Tourist Information & Travel Guide". Retrieved 2010-07-17. 
  4. 'Gloucester Film and TV Locations' at Gloucestershire On Screen
  5. "Guildhall". Retrieved 2010-07-17. 
  6. Gloucester Blues website

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