Updated: Aug 21
Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe, landscape architect and town planner, butcher of historic Gloucester or pragmatic preservationist?
In 1961 Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe, having been engaged as a consultant by Gloucester Corporation (which in 1974 became Gloucester City Council), produced his Comprehensive Plan for the Central Area of the City of Gloucester. Jellicoe's design became the basis on which the Corporation completed a major redevelopment of the city centre between 1966 and 1974. Central to Jellicoe's vision for Gloucester were the shopping precincts of King's Square, completed 1972, and Eastgate Shopping Centre, completed 1974.
The City Centre Conservation Area plan of 2007 describes Eastgate and Northgate Streets and the quadrant between them as having "been adversely affected by 20th century development including the construction of two shopping malls (the Eastgate Shopping Centre and King's Square)." Comments that regularly follow the posting on social media of old photos showing pre-redevelopment central Gloucester are a good deal more strident in their condemnation of the 1960s redevelopment and the impact it had on the city's historic character.
The canvas on which Jellicoe drew his design was complicated by nearly 2,000 years of ad-hoc development. Gloucester's main streets – the four gates – have their origins in the 1st-century Roman legionary fort and later colonia of Glevum, on which the city is built. The rest of the street plan still shows evidence of the Saxon repopulation of Gloucester in the 9th or 10th century, some five centuries after the Romans left Glevum to ruin when they abandoned Britain; Hare Lane, St. Aldate Street, Berkeley Street and Marylone, for example, are all likely Saxon in origin. Jellicoe described the architecture that lined the city's streets as primarily medieval.
Explosive growth that started in the early 18th century had shifted the city demographic considerably. In 1835 Gloucester experienced its first significant boundary extension since at least 1370, expanding its territory for the first time beyond the footprint substantially established eight centuries or so previously during the Saxon and Norman periods. In 1967 the city boundary was extended for the sixth time, representing a twelve-fold increase in the territory occupied by Gloucester since 1835, from 680 acres (275 hectares) to more than 8,200 acres (approx. 3,300 hectares). Between 1831 and 1961 Gloucester's population increased nearly six-fold, from 12,000 to 70,000.
Within the confines of the old city, residential areas became densely built up, resulting in unsanitary slums that Gloucester Corporation was increasingly compelled to clear by the Housing Acts of 1909 (which effectively marked the birth of town planning in the UK) and 1930. As new residential suburbs were established outside the old city – built initially by private speculators and joined from 1919 by Corporation-built council housing estates – the city centre became increasingly depopulated; by 1914 it was almost entirely commercial.
The city-centre streets were being gradually transformed by piecemeal redevelopment, such as the new branch of the National Provincial Bank (today NatWest) on Eastgate Street, built 1889 on a site previously occupied by the townhouse of county gentry. Three years later the Bluecoat School (Sir Thomas Rich's), which had in one form or another occupied the site next to the bank since 1666, was replaced by a new Guildhall.
A substantial change to the city centre came in the late 1920s/early 1930s, when sub-standard housing and shops in the north-east quadrant were demolished to make way for The Oxbode, Bon Marché department store (later Debenhams) and King's Square bus station and car park development.
The changing nature of the city centre was reflected in the fate of St. Michael's Church at the very centre on The Cross. The church was first established in the mid-12th century, though its tower was built in the mid-15th century and the main body had been completely rebuilt in 1851 to allow the widening of Eastgate Street. With its congregation dwindling in the 20th century, St. Michael's was closed at the beginning of the Second World War and, in 1956, all but the tower demolished to make way for new shops.
Nevertheless, the character of the city centre was still significantly influenced by its historical development of small, ground-floor shops with owner dwellings above, complete with back gardens that were now an uneconomic use of valuable land. It was a square half-mile that had come, Jellicoe wrote, "under greater pressure in regard to space (and therefore to land values) than at any time in its history. Within this area, now to be defined by a ring road, are crowded all the ancient and modern elements of a considerable city."
The inner ring road marked the area within which Jellicoe worked. The road had already been planned, though the first section, Bruton Way between London Road and Station Road, was not completed until 1962. The need for such a road betrayed another major factor in Jellicoe's design: congestion caused by the post-war explosion in vehicular traffic.
Vehicle ownership and use increased dramatically after the Second World War. Between 1951 and 1965 car ownership rose from 14% of households to 40%. Over the same period people began travelling farther, and were increasingly doing so by car rather than bus or coach. Transport by car doubled in the decade 1952–1962 and overtook transport by bus or coach in the late 1950s.
Jellicoe regarded through traffic as the main cause of city-centre congestion, accounting for three out of every four vehicles on city-centre roads during peak hour. He did not conduct a forensic traffic analysis, but from a count of 3,000 'standing' vehicles on a Thursday morning in May 1961, he concluded the centre was approaching saturation.
Jellicoe was pragmatic in the face of modern progress. He accepted the historic city could not accommodate "the impact of modern traffic and large scale commercial development without some compromise." But his objective was for a plan in which 20th-century development was "a continuity of history, rather than a break," one that tended to "draw out and emphasize the qualities that in the past made Gloucester one of the famous cities of the world." He proposed, for example, a new east gate into the Cathedral precinct, approached via public space created by the demolition of buildings on the west side of Northgate Street between the junctions with St. John's Lane and Hare Lane. The proposal would open up a view of the Cathedral from St. Aldate Street and was, as far as Jellicoe was concerned, "the most important single development under this plan."
The basic framework of Jellicoe's plan was the existing shopping routes along the four gate streets and the precincts already established to a large extent by those four gates in each of the quadrants: Cathedral in the north-west; commercial and entertainment centred on King's Square in the north-east; civic centre and education in the south-east; and shire buildings and industry in the south-west.
Jellicoe took as his starting point a design for pedestrian flow around the city, around which he planned the flow of vehicular traffic. His design called for the two new pedestrian shopping precincts at King's Square and Greyfriars (i.e. today's Eastgate Shopping Centre), with service roads that would help ease congestion on the main streets by allowing back-of-premises deliveries to shops. King Street and Queen Street would be pedestrianised as part of a new pedestrian Via Sacra from St. Mary de Lode, via the Cathedral, King's Square and Greyfriars, to Blackfriars.
The plan did not envisage closing the four gate streets to vehicles (pedestrianisation would not come to these streets until the 1990s). Jellicoe believed "uncomfortably bustling trading streets" was a convenient way of deterring from the centre vehicles that had no business there and thought "a reasonable congestion within the city at all times is acceptable and even desirable in creating a sense of activity..." His plan relied largely on the ring road to keep through traffic out of the centre, though he did propose making Eastgate and Westgate Streets one-way. The plan also routed vehicles approaching from the south up Ladybellegate Street to allow the entrance to Southgate Street to be closed to traffic and made into a ceremonial area. To accommodate shoppers' vehicles in the city centre he planned multi-storey car parks in each quadrant except the north-west.
Jellicoe worked largely with the existing street pattern. He proposed changes to the inner ring road, an extension of Worcester Street eastwards to join Market Parade, and occasional road widening and works of a minor nature. Public thoroughfares within the inner ring would otherwise largely retain their existing pattern.
A significant exception was Bell Lane, a narrow thoroughfare first recorded as Travel Lane in 1160 that ran south of and parallel with Eastgate Street. The southern side of the lane had long been regarded as uneconomically used land that could be more efficiently used for central area shopping. The western end on Southgate Street, which had been widened in 1864, and the eastern end on Brunswick Road were to be retained as service roads for deliveries, but the middle section would disappear under the new Eastgate shopping precinct.
As well as the two pedestrian shopping precincts Jellicoe proposed several other significant redevelopments.
To the north, both sides of Worcester Street were to be redeveloped into shops, offices and garages.
The triangle north of St. Aldate Street was to be an area of significant redevelopment around the Regal cinema which, having only recently been built, was to be retained. New shops would replace the existing street front either side of the cinema along St. Aldate Street. To the west of the cinema the shops would be part of a new shopping arcade with, on the north side, shops built along Northgate Street. North of the proposed extension of Worcester Street would be a multi-storey car park above shops. This block would also include a new conference hall with restaurant, roof-top terrace and space for entertainment.
As part of the King's Square redevelopment, Jellicoe proposed replacing the buildings in the north-west corner of the block occupied by the Bon Marché, the east-side extension of which had already been planned. In the south-east corner of King's Square Jellicoe suggested a new 84-room hotel of at least ten floors with underground car parking accessed from The Oxbode. Buildings lining the east side of King's Square were to be redeveloped as shops, a new shopping mall was to be cut through to Clarence Street and New Inn Lane was to be extended through to Clarence Street.
In the south-east quadrant, allocated by Jellicoe to the civic quarter, what was then largely open ground opposite the library along with St. Michael's Square to the south of that ground were to be redeveloped into a civic plaza with new offices for the Gloucester Corporation. Elsewhere in this quadrant, Jellicoe proposed new multi-storey car parks, offices/showrooms and a new College of Art building. South of the ruins of Greyfriars, housing along Priory Place, a playground area and other buildings were to be redeveloped as a new extension of the Technical College, behind the then existing college building along Brunswick Road.
Part of the proposed Technical College extension included a new building that bridged Southgate Street, where today's pedestrian zone begins, into the south-west quadrant. That quarter, allocated by Jellicoe to Shire Hall premises and industry, was to be the location of new multi-storey car parks each side of Longsmith Street. The existing Shire Hall on Westgate Street was to be extended on the west side and to the rear across Bearland/Quay Street, onto land then occupied mostly by the 19th-century militia barracks.
Buildings of Particular Historical Interest
The compromise Jellicoe spoke of is evident in the disappearance of Bell Lane, the most radical change proposed in his plan (though Castle Lane, the northern approach to the long since demolished 12th-century Gloucester Castle, was also not to survive the Shire Hall extension envisaged by Jellicoe, while the medieval Dog Lane between King Street and Clarence Street would be transformed into a service lane). Attendant with the loss of Bell Lane was the demolition of two listed buildings there: no. 6 and no. 14 (the White Hart pub). Today's Northend Vaults pub on Northgate Street, an originally late-16th/early-17th century building listed grade II in 1952, was also to be sacrificed in the proposed extension of Worcester Street.
Jellicoe's plan, however, shows a concern to preserve buildings of particular historic interest wherever possible. A note in the Gloucestershire Archives online catalogue for the Architect and Estate Manager records 1923–1991 begins, "Jellicoe's original plan, which was widely respected as being in sympathy with the historical buildings which still remained in the city centre..."
In Jellicoe's design there was still a place for the Bell Hotel – a 16th-century inn on Southgate Street which was one of Gloucester's pre-eminent inns in the 19th century – and it's 18th-century neighbour. No. 12 Queen Street, an 18th-century house, was to be retained as a "foil to [the] Conservative Club". The late-18th century Eastgate House at nos. 47 and 49 Eastgate Street, opposite today's Boots, was to be kept. On Westgate Street, where comprehensive redevelopment to modernise housing in the Archdeacon Street area had already been planned by the Gloucester Corporation, Jellicoe's plan indicates the early 18th-century Eagle House – colloquially known as the Duke of Norfolk's House and the location of Gloucester's first spa resort in the late-18th century (and which Jellico considered would warrant the highest grade I listing if it was properly maintained) – was to survive, as was its 18th-century neighbour, the White Swan pub.
The Gloucestershire Archives catalogue note ends by stating Jellicoe's plan "...was later modified (some would say compromised) for several reasons including the different concerns of the development company involved." None of the historic properties detailed above, all of which were listed buildings, survived the redevelopment.
From Plan to Reality
After the bulldozers had completed their work in 1974, the detail of the resulting redevelopment differed quite significantly from Jellicoe's design. Eastgate Shopping Centre turned out much larger than Jellicoe had proposed, extending farther west to Southgate Street to swallow up the Bell Hotel and its neighbour. The limited redevelopment proposed by Jellicoe of the block between King's Square and Clarence Street became total redevelopment which resulted in the loss of Eastgate House and the entire (albeit unlisted) street front on the west side of Clarence Street.
Some of Jellicoe's design never saw the light of day. Amongst these were the ten-storey hotel in King's Square, which actually became a much-derided two-storey retail unit, and the grand east entrance to the Cathedral precinct, the partial completion of which did not include the redevelopment of buildings on Northgate Street into a public space. The largest of Jellicoe's proposals that never made it out of the design stage was the civic plaza that would have obliterated St. Michael's Square off Brunswick Road (the Corporation's successor, Gloucester City Council, would pioneer the regeneration of the docks area by purchasing four warehouses there and renovating them as council offices in the mid-1980s).
The failure to realise elements of Jellicoe's plan had fortunate consequences in terms of the city's heritage. Not only did the listed, late-16th/early-17th century Northend Vaults receive a stay of execution when the proposed extension of Worcester Street failed to materialise, practically all the 19th-century properties lining the west side of Worcester Street slated for redevelopment in Jellicoe's plan became listed buildings in 1973. Several buildings – mainly of 18th- and 19th-century origin but with one originally built in the late-16th or early-17th century – either side of Southgate Street at the beginning of today's pedestrian zone that would have been lost to redevelopment were listed in 1998; so too was the originally 15th-century merchant's house on Northgate Street, opposite Hare Lane, that would have disappeared under the redevelopment of the St. Aldate Street triangle.
Although not listed, the buildings and open space of the St. Michael's Square area are now protected by their positive designation in Gloucester City Council's Eastgate & St. Michael's Conservation Area plan produced 2007. Similarly, the unlisted late-18th century properties built for furniture maker Edwin Lea on the north side of St. Aldate Street, properties adjoining Debenhams on Northgate Street and buildings on Southgate Street, all scheduled for redevelopment in Jellicoe's plan, are now protected as positive buildings in the City Centre Conservation Area plan.
Jellicoe was engaged by Gloucester Corporation as a town planner, not an architect. Other than suggesting building heights, the detailed design of new buildings to be constructed as a result of redevelopment was not in his remit. He did, however, consider it essential to recognise that Gloucester's long history had resulted in a city marked by great individuality, as opposed to the uniformity that characterised the townscape in Cheltenham (a product of rapid, spa-driven growth over a considerably shorter time period), and offered guidance on the architectural character of the redevelopment.
For the four gate streets, his advice was, "No change in character. Retain sense of individual and small scale buildings. Avoid continuous flat horizontal facades. Where a multiple store will occupy more than one existing frontage, as in Eastgate Street, it is suggested that the grid plan might give variety where it strikes the curve of the street."
How closely his advice was followed in the final result is perhaps a matter of opinion. Jellicoe himself was certainly less than impressed with some of the architects' drawings he saw. He thought the design of the building on the corner of Eastgate and Clarence Streets was "dull", regarded a building constructed early in the redevelopment next to the Regal in King's Square as "not an auspicious beginning...a good example of how not to reconstruct existing cities," and was "shocked by the crudeness" of a building in the Bruton Way bus station development.
Jellicoe's plan for Gloucester was clearly not the piecemeal transformation seen in the city centre by the late-19th century. But, at least in terms of buildings considered of particular historic importance at the time, it stopped short of the "civic vandalism" of the mid and late 18th century that swept from the gate streets many a historic structure obstructing the increasing amount of wheeled traffic in the city.
The plan was, perhaps, the next logical step following on from the carving out of King's Square in the late 1920s/early 1930s, one that sought to address Gloucester's deficiencies in the face of post-war 20th-century progress with the minimum practicable impact on the city's historic character. Jellicoe had, according to a special report on Gloucester published in The Times in 1972, "grasped immediately the essential diversity of the city and his plan is an inspired attempt to emphasize the organic growth of the centre by drawing attention to buildings of different periods while integrating them into areas of extensive renewal."
Two years after Jellicoe published his plan, Gloucester Corporation published its own plan detailing how it intended to translate Jellicoe's design into reality (which will be the subject of the next blog post). The Corporation's plan went into much greater detail than did Jellicoe about congestion in the city centre and forecast a large increase in retail demand that does not correlate well with the small increase in retail floorspace envisaged by Jellicoe, which may help explain why the end result was more radical than Jellicoe's aspiration for a continuity of history.
A Comprehensive Plan for the Central Area of the City of Gloucester, G.A. Jellicoe, 1961, available from Gloucestershire Archives (ref GMS 143)
City Centre Conservation Area, Gloucester City Council, 2007
Gloucester, 1835-1985: Topography, Victoria County History, 1988, ed. N.M. Herbert
Anglo-Saxon Gloucester: c.680 - 1066, Victoria County History, 1988, ed. N.M. Herbert
Gloucester: Churches and chapels, Victoria County History, 1988, ed. N.M. Herbert
The birth of town planning, UK Parliament
Council housing, UK Parliament
Social Trends 40, Chapter 12: Transport, Office for National Statistics, 2010
Comprehensive Development Area No. 3: The King's Square/Eastgate Area, Gloucester Corporation, 1963, available from Gloucestershire Archives (ref GBR/L2/9/1/5)
Jellicoe Collection 1961–1973, Gloucestershire Archives (ref GBR/L2/9/1/3)
Architect and Estate Manager records 1923–1991, Gloucestershire Archives
Gloucester: Street names, Victoria County History, 1988, ed. N.M. Herbert
Historic Gloucester, The History Press, 2017, Philip Moss
Eastgate & St. Michael's Conservation Area, Gloucester City Council, 2007
Gloucester: Special Report, The Times, 12/5/1972, from a photocopy in the General Development: Central Area 1961–1975 collection at Gloucestershire Archives (ref GBR/L2/9/1/1)