Gloucester Cathedral traces its roots to the Minster of St. Peter, established c.679AD by Osric, king of the Saxon Hwicce, a sub-kingdom of Mercia. Osric's abbey church is believed to have been located somewhere within the modern-day cathedral precinct, though the exact site is not known. It was replaced in 1058 by a new church, which some sources report was built on the site of today's cathedral based on an early-17th century source that is not considered reliable. Construction of what became the cathedral was begun by the Norman Abbot Serlo in 1089, on a site that straddled the north-west corner of the old Roman wall. It is likely that the wall in this area was dismantled for use as building materials for the new abbey. Although not yet complete, the abbey church was consecrated in 1100 as the church of the Benedictine Abbey of St. Peter.
The present structure of the cathedral is the result of centuries of building work, and the illustration to the left by 19th-century resident Cathedral architect Frederick Waller (d. 1905) shows the original 12th-century fabric that still survives in the modern structure. Milestones in the evolution of the Cathedral are:
1104–1122 – Completion of the nave
1242 – Timber roof of the nave replaced by vaulting
1319–1329 – South aisle of the nave rebuilt
1331-1336 – South transept remodelled
1337–1367 – Presbytery remodelled
c.1360 – East alley of the cloisters rebuilt with fan vaulting
1368–1373 – North transept remodelled
1381–1412 – Remaining alleys of the cloisters rebuilt with fan vaulting
c.1420 – West front rebuilt and south porch added
c.1450 – Tower rebuilt
The last major work to be carried out on the cathedral building was the late 15th-century replacement of the Lady Chapel, though it has been and continues to be subject to restorations and maintenance (most recently with Project Pilgrim, a ten-year program of works begun in 2014 which has already seen landscaping of the precinct, essential restoration work in the Lady Chapel and an improved visitor experience, including the installation of accessibility ramps).
With the dissolution of the monasteries by King Henry VIII, the abbey church became the Cathedral Church of St. Peter and the Holy and Indivisible Trinity in 1541. There are within the grade I listed cathedral building (list#: 1245952) four other separately listed sites, all grade I: the treasury, vestry and library (list#: 1245956); the Chapter House (list#: 1245953); the cloisters (list#: 1245954); and the remains of a reservoir in the north-west corner of the cloister garth, the open yard around which the cloisters are arranged (list#: 1245954).
Although not separately listed, several significant features are identified in Historic England's listing for the cathedral, such as the 13th-century effigy of Robert Curthose, eldest son of William the Conqueror; the 14th-century monument to Osric; the tomb of King Edward II, also 14th century; the great east window (memorialising, it is believed, the 1346 Battle of Crecy); the mid 14th-century carved wooden stalls with canopies and misericords; and the medieval pulpitum between nave and choir on which is supported the 17th-century organ, to name just a few.
The abbey precinct was walled around its perimeter in the 12th-century, and when the abbey expanded onto land belonging to St. Oswald's Priory c.1218, the wall was extended accordingly. At it's largest, the precinct covered some 13 acres. It was bounded on the west by today's St. Mary's Square and Street, on the south by a line set back from the north side of Westgate Street, on the east by St. John's Lane until today's Northgate Hall and then from there a direct line to the eastern entrance to Pitt Street, and on the north by today's Pitt Street.
The north wall was part of the city's defences, and in an agreement reached with the city in 1447 the abbey was required to guarantee that no breaches would be made in it, leaving only three medieval entrances into the precinct. Until the early 15th century the main entrance was on the west, via St. Mary's Gate. Around 1420 a new south porch, accessed via what is today known as King Edward's Gate, would eventually become the main entrance to the cathedral it is today. The third entrance was today's St. Michael's gate, to the east of King Edward's Gate and, like that gate, opened in the 14th century.
The number of entrances into the precinct was increased to today's five in the 17th century. In 1626 the east entrance was cut into the wall near St. John's Church, and by 1673 the north entrance, known as the Infirmary Gate, had been opened. By 1649 the first houses had replaced the precinct wall along the west side of St. John's Lane after the cathedral had ceded control of the land there, leaving the precinct boundaries largely as they exist today.
The abbey's service buildings, among them a mill, kitchen, bakery and brewery, were located in an inner court on the north-west side. This smaller court was separated from the Great Court to its south by a range of buildings that ran back from St. Mary's Gate towards the cathedral, as their successors do today, with an inner gate allowing access between the two courts, as it still does today.
Most of the rest of the precinct was sub-divided into the Great Court in the west, a lay cemetery to the south, a monks' cemetery either side of the Lady Chapel to the east of the lay cemetery, and an orchard between the monk's cemetery and the east wall. The four areas were separated by three walls:
From King Edward's Gate to the south-west corner of the cathedral, removed 1768 (after which the Great Court and lay cemetery together acquired their current name of College Green);
From just east of St. Michael's Gate to the south transept, removed 1858 though sections have been retained in properties built along the line of the wall;
A north/south wall across the whole precinct, dividing the monk's cemetery from the orchard. When the Lady Chapel was rebuilt in the 15th century it cut into this wall, so an arch under the chapel was created to allow passage between the north and south sides of the monk's cemetery.
Cathedral articles already published on this site with galleries and brief histories:
In 2007 Gloucester City Council designated fourteen Conservation Areas, among them the cathedral precinct, which are "of special architectural or historic interest the character or appearance of which it is desirable to preserve or enhance."