Kingsholm, Hare Lane and Worcester Street
When it comes to historic attractions, the area immediately north of Gloucester city centre cannot compare with the big ticket items such as Gloucester Cathedral or the Docks. But between them, Kingsholm, Hare Lane and Worcester Street account for 47 of the city's listed properties in 22 separate Historic England listings and represent three significant stages in the city's history – Roman, Saxon and the rapid growth of the 19th century.
The Kingsholm area north of today's rugby stadium was the location of the first Roman fort, established in the late 40s AD on the site of an earlier Celtic settlement. It was chosen to control the crossing of a now long since silted up branch of the River Severn (and possibly the only branch then existing) and abandoned some two decades later, possibly due to poor drainage.
The Romans built a new fort a short distance to the south, at what would eventually become Gloucester, though they later used their original fort as a burial ground. Since the late 18th century, first through gravel extraction, then through urbanisation and the occasional archaeological dig (of which there have been five), some 1,500+ late-Roman burials have been unearthed in the Kingsholm area.
The Romans abandoned Britain in the early 5th century, and by the end of the 6th century Gloucester was under Anglo-Saxon control. By the 10th century the city was an important centre in the Kingdom of Mercia, and by the 11th century the site of the original Roman fort had become the location of a royal Saxon manor, referred to today as Kingsholm Palace. It was here that Saxon royalty held court, elevating Gloucester in status to the equivalent of the Saxon capital cities of London and Winchester. After the Norman invasion, William the Conqueror continued to hold court at Kingsholm Palace, and it's possible it was here in 1085 that he ordered the detailed survey of his newly conquered kingdom, the Domesday Book.
In the 13th century Gloucester Castle replaced Kingsholm as the seat of royal authority in Gloucester. The palace was used as a manor house until its demolition in the late 16th century. The land became pasture and orchard until Gloucester's urban sprawl began laying claim to it in the mid 19th century, all trace of its Celtic, Roman and Saxon significance lost to all but archaeologists.
In the decade from 1851 the number of houses in the two hamlets of Kingsholm St. Catherine and Kingsholm St. Mary increased from 219 to 383. The terraces of today's 'Rainbow Street', St. Mark's Street, and Edwy Parade sprang up, and Kingsholm Square was first laid out.
Today the area is heavily built up. The oasis of tennis-court green that is Kingsholm Square has been listed by Historic England as a scheduled monument, a small patch in the larger area straddling today's Kingsholm Road believed to have been enclosed by Roman fort and Saxon palace. In the middle of this patch, No. 13 Kingsholm Square stands apart, an early 19th-century house listed by Historic England hinting at the grandeur that once stood here.
For further reading on Roman and Saxon Kingsholm, see Goths and Saxons? The Late Roman Cemetery at Kingsholm, by Carolyn Heighway, published 2012 by the Bristol & Gloucestershire Archaeological Society (Transactions vol. 130, pp. 63–113).
Although Gloucester remained an administrative centre after the departure of the Romans, it appears to have been severely neglected. Other than the four 'gates', the Roman street layout disappeared under the plough. The Saxons established their own streets when Gloucester re-emerged as a major centre in the late-9th/early-10th centuries, probably as a result of the leadership of Aethelflaed, Lady of the Mercians and daughter of King Alfred the Great.
Hare Lane is almost certainly one such street. Although first recorded in 1301, the name is Saxon in origin, derived from the Old English here straet, meaning military road. It's very likely that, hidden below the surface, there is an archaeological treasure trove not only of Saxon suburbs but also Roman premises that were typically established immediately outside the walls of Roman coloniae.
The lane, along with it's parallel Hare Back Lane (today's Park Street), was for centuries the start of the main route north out of Gloucester towards Tewkesbury. The medieval Alvin Gate once stood at the top of Hare Lane, somewhere near today's junction with St. Catherine Street and Skinner Street. First recorded in 1181, the gate was one of five official entrances to a city that had gradually expanded northwards beyond its original Roman colonial walls (the other four being East, West, South and Outer North Gates).
Alvin Gate was apparently destroyed by Royalist artillery in 1643 during the English Civil War siege of Gloucester. Its destruction would have been witnessed by four buildings just inside the gate on St. Catherine Street which still stand today. The oldest of these, occupied today by the Coach and Horses pub, was originally built in the early-16th century and subsequently extended and altered, most noticeably with the 19th-century addition of the single-storey wing. Its attached neighbours, Nos. 6, 8, & 10, date to the late-16th or early-17th centuries.
The arch of the railway viaduct constructed over Hare Lane in the 1840s gives a sense today of a gated street, albeit a little farther down from where Alvin Gate once stood. By the time the viaduct was built, the lane (which had only some half a century previously really only been lined on its eastern side with housing) was an impoverished, densely built area with housing sandwiched even in the strip between the two parallel lanes. Much of this was cleared in 20th-century redevelopment, beginning with the slum clearances of the late 1930s and continuing in the 1960s. A notable casualty was 43 St. Catherine Street, on the corner of Park Street, in which Robert Raikes, Gloucester citizen and pioneer of the Sunday School movement, established one of the first Sunday schools in Gloucester.
Today Hare Lane has been cut in two by a car park between Gouda Way and Pitt Street, but in its original form it ran uninterrupted all the way down to Northgate Street. Its oldest resident – perhaps the oldest secular building still standing, albeit only just – is the remains of a 13th-century building fronting onto the modern Gouda Way. Originally built as a town house, the property was used as a tannery from the 16th to the 18th centuries, and is known as Tanners' Hall. Later converted to cottages then neglected to the point of ruin (and even lost for a while; it was rediscovered when the garage into which it had been incorporated was sold in preparation for the construction of Gouda Way in the 1970s), the remains, pretty much just the north wall, are now wrapped in Gloucester's newest building (as of 2020).
At the other end of the car park, where Hare Lane resumes, is the timber-framed Raven Centre building. Originally constructed as a merchant's house c.1520, the property served from the late-17th century until the mid-20th as a tavern. It was saved from demolition in the 1930s by the High Sheriff of Gloucestershire and is currently occupied by the Old People's Association. It was a property attached to this building, marked on maps as College Mews and demolished in the 1960s, that was in 1946 mis-identified as Tanners' Hall. Across the road on the corner with Pitt Street is the former probate registry office, built 1858.
The last of the historic Hare Lane survivors is located just before the lane reaches Northgate Street. No. 8 is another of Gloucester's black and white, exposed-timber buildings. Originally built as a merchant's house in the early-16th century, the first floor was remodelled in brick in the 18th century, and the property now serves as a chippy.
Just off Hare Lane, on the footpath towards Gloucester Cathedral's east entrance, stands the top three metres of the spire from the nearby Church of St. John Northgate. Dating to c.1450, the tip was removed in 1910 for safety reasons and installed in its current position in St. Lucy's Gardens, formerly the church graveyard.
Finally, Historic England also lists two iconic K6 telephone kiosks in a corner by the side of No. 8 Hare Lane, but today that corner consists of paving slabs that look suspiciously cleaner than the rest of the footpath on that section of the lane, as if someone has scrubbed a little too hard at the scene of some minor act of heritage vandalism.
Of historic interest, but not included in the Historic England listings, are the remains of a wall on the opposite side of the path to the spire. A nearby blue plaque for St. Lucy's identifies this wall as part of the original abbey (now cathedral) wall that once ran along the west side of St. John's Lane down to Pitt Street.
Also not listed by Historic England, the Park Street Mission Room is a successor to the Friends Meeting House established 1682 at the latest by the conversion of two cottages. On a 1780 map the location is marked as "Quakers Meeting & Burying Ground." The Quakers sold the meeting house in 1834. The single-storey property with dormer windows and a plain brick front was replaced by the current brick building in 1903.
In A Street Through Time: Gloucester’s Westgate Street, a talk produced for the 2020 Gloucester History Festival, city archaeologist Andrew Armstrong explains the 1750 Improvement Act which cleared many structures that impeded traffic along Westgate Street "...was probably the single worst act of vandalism to the history of the city until the 1960s. But it did leave a nice clear open street for traffic..." The same desire to improve access for wheeled traffic drove the construction of Worcester Street, laid down in 1822 to replace the medievally narrow Hare Lane a short distance to the west as the main route out of the city centre towards Tewkesbury.
Unlike the Westgate Street clearances, there was little carnage to the city's built heritage; a 1780 map of the city shows the land over which the new street would run was field and orchard. Worcester Street appeared at a time of significant growth for the city after a long period of economic stagnation.
Already by the end of the 18th century trade had taken a large step forward with direct delivery of Portuguese and Spanish wine, lemon and cork by brig (much larger than the usual Severn trows) via the River Severn to Gloucester Quay. The main basin at the newly built docks had already commenced operations by the time traffic started moving along Worcester Street in 1822. Five years later the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal was opened (Britain's longest, deepest, widest ship canal at the time), relieving ships of the dangerous vagaries of the Severn, another significant step in the improvement of Gloucester's fortunes.
The construction of Worcester Street prompted the building of new properties; between 1811 and 1831 the number of inhabited houses in Gloucester rose by a third, from some 1,500 to over 2,000, with most of the increase concentrated in the north of the city. The fields of Monkleighton, between Worcester Street and London Road with Alvin Street along the south-western boundary, disappeared under hundreds of tightly packed working-class houses (an area that was redeveloped as part of the slum clearances of the 1960s, resulting in today's maisonettes, flats and Clapham Court tower block).
Within a few years of its construction, Worcester Street itself was lined with new housing. Examples from this time of new economic vigour can be seen today, on the west side of the street between Northgate Street and the inner ring road (specifically, Nos. 1, 5 and 9–29), and on the east side from the railway viaduct (the terraces of nos. 38–60 and the semi-detached nos. 74 & 76).
To provide for the spiritual welfare of the predominantly poor neighbourhood, the Church of St. Mark was built in 1847 at the point where Worcester Street becomes Kingsholm Road. Large enough for 600 people and 200 children, the church was subject to alterations and restorations in the late 19th and late 20th centuries, but was more recently declared redundant and closed in 2006.
Farther up Kingsholm Road, the junction with Denmark Road marks the beginning of a concentration in the archaeological record of late-Roman burials and perhaps the southern boundary of the original Roman fort. A short distance down Denmark Road is the Denmark Road High School (near which the final resting place of five Romans was unearthed in 1989), built at the turn of the 20th century and opened on 14th January 1909.
Continuing on up Kingsholm Road, two pairs of semi-detached houses, Nos. 80 & 82 and Nos. 84 & 86 (Roman bodycount: more than eleven), were originally built c.1820. Opposite, at the junction with Sandhurst Road, an octagonal house with a short wing attached was originally built 1822 as the turnpike tollhouse (near which in 1989 three late-Roman burials were unearthed).
In 2007 Gloucester City Council designated fourteen Conservation Areas "of special architectural or historic interest the character or appearance of which it is desirable to preserve or enhance." In addition to listed sites, unlisted buildings "that make a positive contribution to the character or appearance of the conservation area" are identified (as indeed are negative features that adversely affect the area). Kingsholm, Worcester Street (including Hare Lane and other nearby streets) and Denmark Road have all been designated as conservation areas. The Worcester Street conservation area in particular identifies a number of significant positives, which include the 1904–1907 neo-Tudor terrace near St. Mark's Church, the mid-19th century Worcester Parade in its entirety, the former Co-op building on Alvin Street built in 1885 (currently occupied by Roots Coffee and Community), and the mid-19th century arched, traceried window, partially visible from Park Street, of the former mid-19th century Methodist church at no. 35 Worcester Street.
Except for one scheduled monument, all sites are grade II
1002074 – Site of Kingsholm Palace – Scheduled monument, also the area in which the original Roman fort was located
1245751 – No. 13 Kingsholm Square – Early 19th-century house
1245663 – Coach and Horses Inn – Early 16th-century
1422933 – Remains of Tanner's Hall – Originally 13th-century townhouse, used as a tannery between 16th and 18th centuries, wrapped in 2020 in Gloucester's newest building
1245683 – 3&4 Pitt Street – Former Gloucester Court of Probate built 1858
1245831 – Raven Centre – Built c.1520 as a merchant's house, from late 17th century a tavern, from mid 20th century an old people's centre
1245830 – No. 8 Hare Lane – 16th-century merchant's house
1245665 – Tip of the Church of St. John Northgate spire – Spire erected c.1450, tip removed 1910 and installed in the church graveyard, now St. Lucy's Garden
1245717 – No. 1 Worcester Street – With Nos. 83 & 85 Northgate Street, corner terrace of three shops and dwellings built early 19th century with the construction of Worcester Street.
1245089 – No. 5 Worcester Street – 1830
1272051 – Nos. 9–17 Worcester Street – Terrace of five houses built 1825
1272052 – Nos. 18, 20 & 22 Worcester Street – Terrace of three houses built 1825
1272053 – Nos. 19, 21 & 23 Worcester Street – Terrace of three houses built 1825
1272054 – Nos. 25, 27 & 29 Worcester Street – Terrace of three houses built c.1825
1272055 – Nos. 38–60 Worcester Street – Terrace of twelve houses built 1825
1272056 – Nos. 74 & 76 Worcester Street – Pair of semi-detached houses built 1825
1245750 – Church of St. Mark – 1847
1271658 – Denmark Road High School – c.1900 according to Historic England, opened 1909 according to the school's own website
- 1271690 – Old Turnpike House – Tollhouse built 1822