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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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).
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 St. Oswald's Priory) and St. Mary de Lode, and the lay cemetery at Gloucester Cathedral.
The improvement of the city's water supply from new reservoirs at Great Witcombe in the late 1850s prompted new development along Ermin Street, the modern incarnation of the Roman road east out of Gloucester to Cirencester. The hamlet of Wotton, to the east of the city centre, became a middle-class suburb (the location of Hillfield House, built c.1867 for a local timber merchant). A new alms house, today's Gloucester Charities care home complex, replaced the ancient hospitals of St. Margaret and St. Mary Magdalen on London Road. The area of Wotton between London Road and Denmark Road was built up in the 1860s and 1870s.
Development in Barnwood, Wotton's neighbouring parish along Ermin Street to the east, was stalled by the opening of Barnwood House Hospital in 1860. Today's suburb of Longlevens, north-east of Kingsholm, was in 1851 an outlying hamlet comprising an inn and several cottages which began expanding west towards the hamlet of Longford the next decade.
In 1874 the city boundary was extended again in an arc bounded by today's Estcourt Road to the north, the line of the Wotton brook and then the railway to the west, and a line south of and paralleling Linden Road to the south. The change brought within the city limits Kingsholm, Wotton, Barton, Tredworth, the Bristol Road area south of the docks and, across the canal, Llanthony.
From the 1870s the urban sprawl began reaching for Saintbridge and Coney Hill, across the railway from and to the south-east of Barton and Tredworth. Post-recession economic revival in the 1880s quickened the pace of development in and around Gloucester during the final decades of the 19th century. Between 1889 and 1899 the city alone grew by 27 streets, nearly 1,800 houses and over 200 shops and factories, and the village of Hucclecote, to the east of Barnwood, began a transformation into dormitory town.
Developments in the city centre in the 19th century included the demolition of the Ram Inn on Northgate Street, a new portico to the Eastgate market (still standing today, though not in the original location), the rebuilding and re-fronting of older properties, the appearance of new hotels, the building up of the north side of St. Aldate Street with workshops for furniture maker Edwin Lea (whose name still adorns those buildings today), and the loss of extensive gardens in fashionable Bearland to new buildings.
In 1900 another boundary change extended the city outwards from the southern half of the previous boundary, bringing parts of Saintbridge, Coney Hill south of today's Metz Way, White City, the northern part of Tuffley, Linden and the strip of Hempsted lining the west bank of the canal within the city limits.
The docks became increasingly unsuitable for commercial operations in the 20th century. Petroleum storage and distribution became established in the 1920s around Monk Meadow dock. In the old docks area, grain warehouses were being taken over by builders' merchants or simply abandoned.
After the Second World War facilities south of Llanthony Bridge were improved, but the old docks continued to decline as an industrial area. The primacy of road transport resulted in the dismantling of the docks railways in the 1960s, a decade which also saw the closure of the Gloucester Wagon Works. The Morelands match factory followed the wagon works into history the following decade. Warehouses were increasingly abandoned, and those lining the west quay were demolished in 1966. Many of the docks' smaller buildings followed suit in the late 1970s.
Surviving facilities were used as sets in 1970s historical films and TV dramas, and pleasure craft began to supplant commercial shipping as the main docks users. Old warehouses were repurposed for other uses: an antiques centre (from 1979); a packaging museum (1984); and a waterways museum (1988). The mid-19th century customs house became home to the Soldiers of Gloucestershire Museum in 1985.
The regeneration of the old docks into today's commercial, residential and leisure area began in earnest in 1985 with the refurbishment of North Warehouse into offices for Gloucester City Council. In 2007 a new campus was opened by Gloucestershire College on the site of the rail yard at Llanthony, and High Orchard was transformed into the Quays shopping centre in 2009.
Reminders of the old docks and canal can be seen today in the timber merchants that still line the canal above Hempsted Bridge, the derelict Midland Rail transit shed and Downings Malthouse extension at Bakers Quay, and the dry docks in the south-west corner of the main basin, still being used by T. Nielsen & Company for the purposes for which they were built in the early/mid 19th century.
Early 20th-Century Redevelopment
By the early-20th century the appearance of the city centre, particularly along Eastgate Street, had been transformed by re-fronting, new shopfronts and the appearance in the late 19th century of classically designed banks, a cluster of which still stand next to the Guildhall (another new addition at the time) on Eastgate Street.
In the inter-war years development in the city centre was driven by commerce, mostly in Northgate and Eastgate Streets where larger stores were located. Several old city lanes disappeared, particularly around the area of Northgate Street where, in 1929, Oxbode, King's Square and the large Bon Marche store (today's ailing Debenham's) appeared, with square initially laid down as car park and bus station.
Clearance of slums began sporadically in 1909 and accelerated in the 1930s, prompting a significant decline in the inner city population. No area of the historic city centre escaped unscathed, though Archdeacon Street, the Island, Hare Lane, St. Catherine Street, Quay Street and lower Southgate Street were all particularly affected.
Amongst the casualties was no. 43 St. Catherine Street, a historic building on the corner of Park Street which housed Robert Raikes's first Sunday School for girls in Gloucester in the late 18th century. Another loss was the birthplace of Ivor Gurney, composer and war-poet, whose cramped family home on Queen Street stood atop the buried remains of the Roman wall until it was demolished in 1931 to make room for a Co-op store.
Intervention by the High Sheriff of Gloucestershire saved the early-16th century, timber-framed Raven Centre from demolition during major clearances along Hare Lane. Other historic survivors are the former 15th-century merchant's house and it's 17th-century neighbour on Westgate Street, which in 1933 began their careers as the Folk Museum.
Between 1919 and 1939 some 2,100 new houses were built in and around Gloucester. New estates appeared in Linden, Tuffley and Tredworth, and new housing was built in the Saintbridge, Kingsholm and Coney Hill areas. The city boundary expanded again in 1935, bringing Oxtalls, parts of Barnwood, more of Coney Hill and Saintbridge, Robinswood Hill, Tuffley and Podsmead into the city limits.
Suburbs continued to spread beyond those limits, particularly at Longlevens, and outlying settlements such as Longford, the rest of Barnwood, Hucclecote and Hempsted were becoming increasingly urban.
The post-war years witnessed vast changes in both city centre (where continued slum clearances were followed by wholesale redevelopment) and suburbs. The recently established King's Square was redeveloped as a new pedestrian shopping precinct between the 1960s and 1980s.
More destructive was the development of Eastgate Shopping Centre in the 1960s and 1970s, which tore down large swathes of the historic centre. Amongst the losses were the archaeological remains of the Roman wall, dug up during the transformation of Queen Street into the covered Queen's Way as part of the construction of Boots the Chemists. The partial subterranean remains of the medieval east gate bastion can be seen today at the Eastgate Viewing Chamber outside Boots.
On the edge of the city centre, lower Westgate Street below the Church of St. Nicholas, Archdeacon Street and St. Mary's Square were cleared for new housing. The tightly packed, early 18th-century housing north of Alvin Street was replaced by today's council flats, maisonettes and, in 1963, Clapham Court tower block. Land along the bypass at St. Oswald's, Eastern Avenue and Cole Avenue was developed for industrial use.
New council-housing estates in the suburbs had by 1963 resulted in 487 new houses at Podsmead, 779 at Lower Tuffley, 380 at Elmbridge and 1,717 at Matson. Privately built housing continued the increasing urbanisation of satellite settlements outside the city, particularly at Longlevens, Barnwood and Hucclecote.
Boundaries grew again in 1951 and 1967, extending the city out to the west channel of the Severn, the A40 to the north and the A417 to the north-east, the M5 motorway to the east, and the northern edge of Quedgeley and Kingsway to the south. The changes brought the rest of Barnwood, most of Hucclecote and today's Grange ward into the city limits.
Urbanisation of the rural area west of the M5 now within city limits began in 1971 with the Heron Park Estate (1,000 new houses), followed in 1980 by Abbeydale (some 3,500 new houses) and then Abbeymead. A further boundary extension in 1991 brought Quedgeley and Kingsway inside the city limits.
Until the opening of the Severn Bridge between Bristol and Chepstow in 1966, Gloucester remained the lowest point at which the Severn was bridged, a distinction the city had held since the Romans arrived some 1,900 years previously.
To ease city-centre congestion caused by through traffic, construction was begun on a ring road in the early 1930s. By 1938 vehicles travelling to and from South Wales were skirting the city centre along St. Oswald's Road, Estcourt Road (the length of which was also developed for residential properties) and Eastern Avenue. The bypass was completed in 1959 when Cole Avenue was opened.
Congestion was further eased around the city centre by the construction of the inner ring road, which included Bruton Way, the widening of the road along the Quay (which finally ending the quay's long career as a working port facility) and, in the 1980s, part of the former Tuffley loop railway line (today's Trier Way) round Gloucester Park.
Traffic problems were further eased in the city in the 1960s and 1970s by the opening of the Severn Bridge, the completion in 1971 of the M5 motorway and the replacement of Over causeway with a new western approach with new bridges over the east channel of the Severn at Westgate (the construction of which destroyed the archaeological remains of the original, medieval bridge).
A History of the County of Gloucester: Volume 4, the City of Gloucester, Victoria County History, 1988:
How Gloucestershire population has boomed since 1991..., Gloucestershire Live, July 2020
Gloucester Docks and the Sharpness Canal: Past and Present, Hugh Conway-Jones
Which Phillpotts was the Slaveowner?, Peter Wingfield-Digby, University College of London, 2015