Gloucester Docks

There is evidence to suggest that a quay was located on the Old Severn, a now vanished channel of the River Severn, at St. Oswald’s Priory. When that silted up a new quay, first recorded in 1390, was established on the east channel of the Severn in the area where the Old Custom House is now located, near the entrance to Quay Street.

The quay handled goods carried to and from Gloucester by small boats that navigated the Severn from Worcester and Shrewsbury in the north to Bristol and Chepstow in the south. In 1580 Queen Elizabeth I granted Gloucester port status, allowing the city to trade directly with foreign ports. The quay was designated the new port’s principal landing place, and a customs house was built the next year, possibly on the site of the early 18th-century Old Custom House that still survives today.

By the early 18th century, the quay and associated buildings extended south to just short of today’s Barrack Square, which runs down the side of the old prison on the former site of Gloucester Castle. By the end of the century hundreds of boats were trading each year at Gloucester and larger ships began to bring wine from Spain and Portugal.

The larger vessels could navigate up the Severn only on the highest tides. Most of them chose to dock at Bristol, where cargoes were transferred to smaller boats that could more easily manage the passage up the river.

The quay declined in importance as the Docks were developed. The river wall was extended to Gloucester Lock in 1937 as part of a road improvement scheme. Further road widening in the 1960s brought trading at the quay to an end and left only the Old Custom House as a reminder of this patch of Gloucester’s maritime trading heritage.

Docks and Canal Development

To improve the city’s maritime trade prospects, work was begun both on enlarging the port and bypassing the difficult-to-navigate Severn with a canal from the city to Berkeley. Between 1794 and 1797 a large basin was excavated at Gloucester, with access to the river via Gloucester Lock. It was opened to vessels in 1812, following the completion of the horse-drawn Gloucester and Cheltenham Tramroad (commemorated today by replica wagons outside Albion Cottages).

In 1814 a ship-builders yard opened on the main basin, followed in 1818 by a dry dock. The latter was rebuilt in 1837 and supplemented in 1853 by a larger dry dock, both of which remain in use by T. Nielsen & Company, who still build and rig ships there today. Opposite, the barge arm was dug in 1825, down one side of which is now the National Waterways Museum Gloucester.

The canal was finally completed after much difficulty in 1827. It followed a shorter route than originally planned, connecting to the Severn at Sharpness rather than Berkeley. At the same time, the canal company built the first of the warehouses, North Warehouse. Over the following decades more followed, privately built but to a similar design as mandated by the canal company.

As the Docks flourished capacity was expanded. In 1836 the canal south of Llanthony Bridge was widened and Baker’s Quay established by entrepreneurs Samuel Baker and Thomas Phillpotts, whose fortunes were derived in part from compensation they received as slaveowners whose enslaved people were emancipated by the abolition of slavery in 1833. In 1849 another basin, Victoria Dock, was excavated next to the main basin, along which Victoria, Albert and Britannia Warehouses were built in 1849, 1851 and 1861 respectively. All three warehouses are still standing today, though Britannia was rebuilt after being destroyed by a fire in 1987 and is not listed by Historic England.

The arrival of the railways in the mid-19th century saw the end of the Gloucester and Cheltenham Tramroad. Two large rail yards were laid out in the docks: one in High Orchard behind Baker’s Quay; the other one opposite, across the canal at the newly built Llanthony Quay (now the site of the Gloucestershire College campus).

The Llanthony Quay rail yard was the terminus of a branch line off the Gloucester and Dean Forest railway. The branch was laid across Alney Island from the main line farther north to bring coal from the Forest to the Docks. It crossed the Severn by a hydraulically operated swing bridge, built in 1852. Its replacement, built in 1899, still stands today as a listed site, albeit barricaded and in a sorry state of repair.

Development of the Docks slowed after the 1860s. Vessels were becoming too large for both canal and docks, and the canal company focused its attention on the development of port facilities at Sharpness. The slow decline of the Docks as an industrial area accelerated after the Second World War as the road network became the dominant form of transport. By the 1960s, warehouses and railways were being dismantled, followed the next decade by the demolition of some of the smaller buildings.

Pleasure craft began to supplant commercial vessels as the main users of the Docks in the 1970s. In the mid 1980s North Warehouse was refurbished as offices by the city council, the start of the regeneration of the docks as the commercial, residential and leisure area it has today.

 

That regeneration is ongoing, and in April 2020 demolition work was begun on the 1893-vintage Downings Malthouse at Baker's Quay, the facade of which will be retained by the apartments and retail space it will become. Its neighbours – the 1867-built rail transit shed and 1901-vintage Downings Malthouse Extension – currently lie derelict on the canal side; in some ways the least opaque of windows on the Docks' past as they await their turn to be reborn into the 21st century.

There are two museums at the docks, both highly recommended. The National Waterways Museum Gloucester at Llanthony Warehouse tells the story of the docks and canal. The Soldiers of Gloucestershire Museum at the former Customs and Excise office tells the story of the county’s military heritage.

Listed Sites

All Docks and related sites are grade II 

  • 1271651 – Navigation House – Chandler’s house, 1848, now offices

  • 1271652 – Nos. 27–39 Commercial Road – Docks merchants’ offices, 1848, now awaiting redevelopment as Gloucester Food Dock, 2020

  • 1271653 – Soldiers of Gloucestershire Museum – Customs and Excise office, 1845 and converted to museum c.1985

  • 1245598 – City Flour Mills – Flour mills, warehouse and office block, 1850–1854

  • 1245470 – Victoria Warehouse – Bonded warehouse, 1849, and converted to offices c.1990

  • 1245467 – Phillpotts Warehouse – Warehouse, 1846, and converted to retail and offices 1985 with link to neighbouring Kimberley Warehouse

  • 1245606 – Kimberley Warehouse – Warehouse, 1846, and converted to retail and offices 1985 with links to Herbert and Phillpotts Warehouses either side.

  • 1245605 – Herbert Warehouse – Warehouse, 1846, and converted to retail and offices 1985 with link to neighbouring Kimberley Warehouse.

  • 1245599 – Dock Company Office – Originally built 1831 and 1854 for the Gloucester and Berkeley Canal Company as offices and living accommodation for the Clerk of the Company. British Waterways Board offices after 1947. Currently (2020) offices of the Canal and River Trust.

  • 1245466 – North Warehouse – Bonded warehouse, 1827, and converted to offices 1986

  • 1271746 – Lock House – Lock keeper’s cottage, 1826, with back range and single-storey extension added later 19th century

  • 1245604 – Gloucester Lock – Completed 1799 as a two-chamber staircase lock and modified to a single chamber 1892

  • 1245608 – Lock Warehouse – Bonded warehouse, 1834.

  • 1245601 – Small dry dock – Built 1837 on site of an 1818 dock

  • 1245602 – Large dry dock – Completed 1853

  • 1271792 – Alexandra Warehouse – Bonded warehouse, 1870, and rebuilt after fire, 1875

  • 1245603 – Fox’s Malthouse – Built 1888

  • 1271710 – Llanthony Provender Mill – Originally built 1862 and extensively enlarged and altered 1890–1895 and 20th century. Also known as Foster Brothers Oil and Cake Mill. Destroyed in an arson attack 2015 and rebuilt 2018. Now retail and accommodation.

  • 1271709 – Rail transit shed – Built 1867 for the Midland Railway Company

  • 1271707 – Downings Malthouse – Built 1893, and currently (2020) being regenerated into apartments and retail space

  • 1271708 – Downings Malthouse Extension – Canalside extension to Downings Malthouse completed 1901 and now lying derelict

  • 1271711 – Pillar and Lucy Warehouses – Semi-detached bonded warehouses, probably built 1838 and converted to retail and offices late 20th century

  • 1245764 – Bridge House – Bridge-keeper’s house, 1852, on site of earlier house demolished during widening of the canal and construction of Llanthony Quay

  • 1245607 – Llanthony Warehouse – Built 1873 and converted for use as the National Waterways Museum Gloucester c.1987

  • 1245763 – Sudbrooke House – Former house and offices built 1840s for timber merchants

  • 1245761 – Mariner’s Hall – Early 19th-century offices and warehouse, later converted to Mariners Hall and then converted to offices c.1985

  • 1245468 – Shiptons Warehouse – Built 1833

  • 1245597 – Biddles Warehouse – Bonded warehouse, 1830

  • 1245469 – Reynolds Double Warehouse – Bonded warehouse, 1840. Originally Sturges Warehouse

  • 1245609 – Mariners Chapel – Completed 1849 to serve sailors and dock workers

  • 1245471 – Vinings Warehouse – Built 1840

  • 1271791 – Albert Warehouse – Bonded warehouse, 1851, and converted to flour mill 1869

  • 1245477 – Old Custom House – Custom house built c.1700 on The Quay to the north of the Docks

  • 1393287 – Llanthony swing bridge – Built 1910 over the Severn near Llanthony Lock on Alney Island, possibly on the iron-clad piers of an earlier bridge built 1852–1854 for the Gloucester and Dean Forest Railway

Awaiting photo​​

  • 1245600 – Drinking Fountain – Installed 1863

  • 1245762 – St. Luke’s House – Early 19th-century shop, dwelling and warehouse, converted to offices c.1990

  • 1245612 – Weighbridge House – Built 1849 as office and store for a weighbridge at the east gate entry to the Docks

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