Upper Eastgate Street
Eastgate Street is one of the four cardinal streets of Gloucester, first laid down by the Romans when they established a fort in the 1st century on the site of the future city.
The Roman defences were rebuilt following the Norman Conquest of 1066, and in the mid-13th century the east gate was rebuilt into a substantial bastioned structure. In the late Middle Ages the east gate was one of the five official entrances to Gloucester, manned by porters and at which tolls were collected. It accommodated a prison in 1485 which, in 1560, housed female prisoners and, from 1613, was used as the bridewell (house of correction). During the siege of Gloucester in 1643, the main Royalist engineering effort was engaged in mining operations against the east gate.
Until 1275 Eastgate Street was the Jewish quarter and known as Jews or Jewry Street. The name Eastgate Street appears in the records in 1473, though the name Ailesgate Street is also mentioned in 1330 and 1709. Initially the least favoured of the four gates, Eastgate Street became established as an important commercial route in the early-16th century following the development of the Stroud Valley cloth industry. As a result, the parish of St. Michael, to which the street belonged, became one of the wealthiest, second only to St. Nicholas on Westgate Street.
The Church of St. Michael had been built on The Cross, where the four gate streets meet, by the mid-12th century. There is evidence to suggest the church was rebuilt in the 14th century, and the tower was added between 1455 and 1472.
A barley market that once stood close to the east gate was in 1655 replaced by a new market building in the middle of the street, half-way between gate and The Cross, and in 1737 country gardeners were allocated space on the street to sell their produce. In 1666 Sir Thomas Rich donated a house on Eastgate Street for use as the school that took his name (and was also known as the Bluecoat Hospital).
In the 18th century Gloucester enjoyed a brief period as a social centre for county gentry, and the Crawley-Boevey family of Flaxley maintained an old gabled house on Eastgate Street. The city's hostelries profited from its popularity, and by the 1720s the Saracen's Head on Eastgate Street boasted stabling for sixty horses.
Prompted by an increase in wheeled transport, obstacles to traffic were removed from the gate streets in the mid-18th century. This led in 1786 to the construction of a new market hall on Eastgate Street and the dismantling of the medieval east gate in 1778.
Eastgate Street became one of the busiest parts of the city in the mid-19th century following the opening of Eastgate railway station in the early 1840s. The street was widened at The Cross by the rebuild on a different alignment of all but the tower of St. Michael's Church, which was re-consecrated in 1851. Another change to the streetscape came in 1856 with the rebuilding of Eastgate Market.
Gloucester became an important regional banking centre in the 19th century, resulting in the construction on Eastgate Street of neighbouring branches for National Provincial Bank in 1889, built on the site of the Crawley-Boevey house, and Lloyds Bank in 1898. On the other side of the National Provincial building, the Guildhall was built 1892 on the site of Sir Thomas Rich's School, which had moved to the former Crypt school in Barton Street three years previously.
Eastgate Street was transformed by extensive 20th-century redevelopment. Large stores began to replace the historic buildings along the street in the inter-war period. The expansion of the Co-op store on the corner of Eastgate Street and Brunswick Road resulted in the demolition of densely packed terraced housing on Queen Street, amongst which was the birth-place of Gloucester composer and war-poet Ivor Gurney.
St. Michael's Church was closed early in the Second World War and, due to a declining congregation, all but the tower demolished to make way for shops in 1956. Between 1966 and 1974 the construction of the expansive new Eastgate Shopping Centre resulted in the demolition of a large part of the historic Eastgate Street area. The development replaced the 19th century market, converted historic Bell Lane into a car park ramp and transformed Queen Street into the covered passage of today's Queen's Way. The construction of Boots the Chemist on the site of the Co-op in 1980 gave the city a modern-day street-level view in the Eastgate Viewing Chamber down on the archaeological remains of the 11th-century east gate, 13th-century bastion and 16th-century horse pool set into the Roman ditch but destroyed the archaeological remains of the Roman wall below on the rest of the site. Tours of the chamber by the Museum of Gloucester allow a closer view, including the remains of the Roman wall not visible from the street.
Little of the street's historic heritage survives today, and there are just six listed structures and a scheduled monument between gate and The Cross compared to the twenty-seven listed sites along upper Westgate Street. On the south side, St. Michael's Tower is now the headquarters of the Gloucester Civic Trust, and the 19th-century Eastgate Market portico still stands as the entrance to Eastgate Shopping Centre, albeit relocated farther down the street from its original location during the construction of the centre.
On the north side of the street there is a cluster of four listed sites. The Guildhall remained a Council office until 1985, when the Council moved to offices in the Docks and the building was sold to the Cheltenham and Gloucester Building Society. It is today a branch of the TSB and home to the Gloucester Guildhall arts venue. Next door, the National Provincial Bank is now a branch of that bank's successor, Nat West. The red-stone Lloyds still stands, and its neighbour, no. 17, was originally built in the late-18th century as a shop and dwelling and is currently home to a branch of Body Shop.
(Grades shown in brackets)
1245822 (II*) – St. Michael's Tower – Mid-15th century tower belonging to the former Church of St. Michael
1245821 (II) – Eastgate Shopping Centre entrance portico – Built 1856 and originally the entrance to Eastgate Market
1271663 (II) – Guildhall – Built 1892 as Council offices, now bank and arts venue
1271662 (II) – Nat West Bank – Built 1889 for National Provincial Bank
1271661 (II) – Lloyds Bank – Built 1898
1271660 (II) – No. 17 Eastgate Street – Late-18th century shop/flat
1002075 (Scheduled Monument) – Archaeological remains in the Eastgate Chamber
Historic England listings
A History of the County of Gloucester: Volume 4, the City of Gloucester, Victoria County History, 1988:
Gloucester & Newbury, 1643: The Turning Point of the Civil War, Pen & Sword Publishing, Jon Day, 2007
All images copyright @EyesShadowed, except 1841 streetscape, originally published 1841 in Historical, Pictorial, and Topographical Illustrations of Glos., Som., Wilts., and Mon.