A Brief History of the City of Gloucester, pt. 2

Updated: Feb 25, 2021

The boon years, from the beginning of the 19th century to the end of the 20th century. For the earlier history of the city see A Brief History of the City of Gloucester, pt. 1, and for the even earlier history of the town of Gloucester, see A Brief History of the Town of Gloucester.


Map showing the original Roman and medieval city boundaries and the seven boundary expansions between 1835 and 1991
Expanding city boundaries to 1991

While the centuries following Gloucester's elevation to a city in 1541 were largely stagnant demographically and economically, the city experienced explosive growth from the 19th century. In less than two centuries Gloucester increased in size more than thirteenfold, from 680 acres (275 hectares) at the beginning of the 19th century to 8967 acres (3629 hectares) in 1991. Over the same period the city's population increased by the same ratio, from just under 7,600 in 1801 to 103,500 in 1991. In the hamlets that would be swamped by the urban sprawl of successive city boundary extensions, seven of them over the 19th and 20th centuries, the population more than doubled between 1811 and 1831 alone.

Docks and Canal

Small inlet with steep muddy banks and a glimpse of the Severn in the background, under stormy grey skies.
Berkeley Pill, originally planned canal terminus

The key driver in Gloucester's fortunes was again waterborne trade, though the dangerous vagaries of the River Severn were side-lined by the construction, begun in 1794, of what was initially planned as the Gloucester and Berkeley Canal.

Construction was plagued with difficulties, and by 1799 only the main basin at Gloucester, the lock by which river traffic could access it, and a few miles of canal down to Hardwicke had been completed. Even then, the docks did not open to vessels until the completion of a horse drawn tramway to Cheltenham in 1812. Initial trade was primarily coal and building materials.

Night view of Gloucester Lock and white lock-keep's cottage to left, River Severn to right, and Lock Warehouse towering above in background
Gloucester Lock, completed 1799

The shorter-than-planned canal between Gloucester and Sharpness was finally completed in 1827 and quickly established Gloucester as a supplier of imported goods to Birmingham and the West Midlands. In less than a decade there was a more than eightfold increase in customs receipts at Gloucester's port. The dominant trade was in corn imported from Ireland and timber imported from Canada and the Baltic. A small ship-building industry, including associated trades such as rope- and sail-making, was also fostered by the new canal and docks.

Night view of main basin lined with old warehouses and a modern apartment block, with tower of Gloucester Cathedral in background and lights reflected in the water
Main basin with North Warehouse to left

Warehouses were established around the docks, beginning with North Warehouse in 1827, all conforming to a design mandated by the canal company.

Heavily indebted, the company sold High Orchard south of Llanthony Bridge to a private partnership. Amongst the partners were Samuel Baker and Gloucester-born Thomas Phillpotts, both of whom owned property, including enslaved people, in the West Indies. They widened the canal in front of their land and established Bakers Quay in 1836.

High Orchard was developed and plots sold on: to timber merchants; to the Midland Railway; to a chemical company for a plant manufacturing anti-dry rot; and to sundry other industrial concerns. Further expansion of docks and canal came in 1849 with the opening of Victoria Basin and in 1851 with the development of Llanthony Quay, the opposite side of the canal to Bakers Quay.

Derelict remains of the steel swing bridge over the River Severn
Llanthony rail bridge today

The arrival of railways in the mid-19th century killed off the Cheltenham and Gloucester tramway. Rail yards were established at High Orchard (near the site of today's Quays shopping centre) and Llanthony Quay, which became a terminus for Forest of Dean coal (and now the site of Gloucestershire College, with only a derelict bridge that once carried the Alney Island docks branch line across the Severn at Llanthony surviving).

Filled with narrowboats and leisure craft and lined on the west side by warehouses and the north side by 19th-century office buildings
Victoria Basin

As sea-going ships grew too big to be accommodated by docks and canal in the latter half of the 19th century, the canal company shifted its focus to the development of port facilities at Sharpness. The timber industry remained buoyant (quite literally, with timber ponds at Monk Meadow and Two Mile Bend), but the city lost out on grain imports to Bristol and Avonmouth. Although the engineering firm Fielding & Platt had launched a seagoing steamer in 1868, Gloucester's shipbuilding industry could not adapt to the change from wood to iron and concentrated instead on the construction and repair of river and canal craft.

Docks- and canal-based industry diversified in the latter half of the 19th century. Amongst the most notable changes were the conversion of grain storage to flour-milling, the establishment of the Gloucester Wagon Company in 1860, the founding of Moreland's matchmaking business with its famous "England's Glory" trademark in 1867, the expansion of Fielding & Platt in the late 1860s and the establishment of petroleum imports in the 1870s.

Other Key Commercial Activities

Interior view showing room with wood floor, wood roof beams and a stone chimney breast, lined with museum exhibits
Pin factory at the Folk Museum

Outside of the docks, Gloucester's once dominant pin-making industry had collapsed by the mid-19th century.

Improvements to the road network benefitted Gloucester's markets at the expense of the city's smaller neighbours, such as Newent. It had also initially benefitted the city's coaching businesses, still largely operated from city inns, but in the 1820s Cheltenham, at the time more populous than its city neighbour, began to eclipse Gloucester as a centre for road transport. Coach travel ended completely with the arrival of the railways in the mid-19th century.

Long, elegant three-storey, white-stuccoed terrace
Beaufort House on Spa Road, orig. 1818

Gloucester also vied with Cheltenham as a social centre with the development in the early 19th century of a spa resort around today's Spa Road and Montpellier. Gloucester Spa's initial popularity in the early 1820s was compromised by the proximity of docks-based industry and the city spa was soon overshadowed by its neighbour. In 1860 the Gloucester Spa Company transferred its properties to the city, leaving Gloucester Park as its legacy.

Economic growth nationally after the Napoleonic Wars and locally as a result of the docks development benefitted Gloucester's retail and banking sectors. The city's rapid expansion made the building trade one of Gloucester's largest employers in the mid-19th century and also bolstered the local brick-making industry.


Street view of entrance to Southgate Street pedestrian zone, with low-rise shops lining the corner with Parliament Street and the modernist, steel, black-ribbed sculpture of St. Kyneburg Tower centre-foreground
South Gate, until 1835 the approx. city limit

Other than the re-fronting of medieval timber-framed properties with brick and the clearance from the streets of obstacles to traffic in the 18th century, Gloucester at the beginning of the 19th century looked largely as it did after the suburbs immediately outside the Roman/medieval walls were torched during the siege of Gloucester in 1643.

The city boundary enclosed the same 680-acre (275-hectare) area inside and, to the north and west, immediately outside the Roman/medieval walls that it had since at least 1370. The southern and eastern boundaries were still largely along the lines of those walls. The northern boundary enclosed a short length of London Road and parts of Kingsholm and today's St. Oswald's Retail Park.

Sunset view of River Severn flooding quay in foreground and Alney Island, immediately to the west of the city centre, in background
Flooding Severn inundating Alney Island

The north-west corner lay on a point midway along Over causeway and the western boundary ran more or less in a straight line down Alney Island to where Castlemeads car park sits today.

The Severn flood plain north and west of Gloucester ensured that when the city started expanding in the 19th century the majority of the land it acquired would lie to the south and east.

Early Expansion

Line of three-storey terracing initially of exposed brick then rendered in cream and light blue
Early-19th century terracing on Bristol Road

The first significant changes to the cityscape occurred in the first decades of the 19th century with the industrialisation of the area around the new docks.

At the same time Gloucester Spa transformed a poor area of seven houses just outside the city's southern boundary in 1816 into a fashionable area of 160 houses by 1831. The spa development also prompted the development in the 1820s of neighbouring Brunswick Square and new housing along the Bristol road down to the recently laid Stroud turnpike.

Line of three storey terraces with basements, initially in brick then rendered in cream and light blue
1820s terracing along Worcester St.

The construction of Worcester Street in 1822 to relieve the medievally narrow Hare Lane as the main route north out of the city was quickly followed by new housing lining most of its length. Nearby, the construction of several hundred working-class houses on Monkleighton grounds, north of Alvin Street between Worcester Street and London Road, was started in the 1820s.

These early developments north of the city centre made up a substantial proportion of Gloucester's increase in housing from 1,500 in 1811 to some 2,100 in 1831. As the urbanisation of Monkleighton continued in the 1830s, the process of transforming the hamlet of Barton Street outside the city limit to the east into a suburb began.

In 1835 Gloucester underwent the first of several boundary changes with an expansion to the south and east that brought the docks' main basin and High Orchard, the spa development, the future Gloucester Park and the strip of land inside today's Trier Way and up to the London Road within the city limits.

Roof top view of street lined with humble, brightly-painted, two-storey terraces
1850s-vintage St. Mark St. Kingsholm

The transformation of the Kingsholm area from hamlets to suburb began in the 1850s. The development of this area, the location north of the city centre of the first Roman fort some 1,800 years previously, has over the years unearthed more than 1,500 Roman burials.

On the opposite side of the city, the spread of industrialisation south from the docks in the 1840s was followed the next decade by new housing in the Bristol Road area (for example the terracing of Alma Place). The same process was repeated east of Bristol Road and north of Stroud Road in the 1860s and 1870s when the establishment of the Gloucester wagon works and Moreland's match factory prompted more new housing in the area. Farther south, Tuffley Avenue appeared in 1874 and housing development in that area reached the lower slopes of Robinswood Hill.

Fog lifting on an early morning view of crematorium surrounded by gravestones with a couple of leafless trees growing from the cemetery lawn
Tredworth Road Cemetery

The continued development of the Barton area in the 1850s resulted in the fashionable inner Barton Street becoming less fashionable and new housing extending farther from the city along Barton Street.

South of Barton, the gradual urbanisation of Tredworth began in the 1850s, and included a mix of terracing, semi-detached housing and villas (an area known as California was described in 1871 as "a strange mixture of neat villas, fragrant pigsties, and Newtown shanties.") The opening of Tredworth Road Cemetery in 1857 prompted the closure of the old graveyards at St. Catherine's (originally