Upper Westgate Street

Introduction

Of the four streets that have survived from Gloucester’s Roman origins, Westgate Street is the most historic in terms of the number of listed properties located along it.

Today's largely pedestrianised street was shifted slightly north of its Roman antecedent in the post-Roman period and runs in a gently curving line from The Cross in the city centre, where the four ancient cardinal streets meet, down to the River Severn. It passes through the line of a long since dismantled Roman city wall – which ran close to the line of modern day Berkeley and College Streets – and crosses a now vanished channel of the River Severn (variously named Old or Little Severn) at a now buried Foreign Bridge, where today’s St. Oswald’s Road cuts the historic street in two. The far end of Westgate Street runs to the east channel of the Severn we know today, which it once crossed via a gated Westgate Bridge, where the modern-day bridges now span the river.

Westgate Street is home to fifty-six listed sites located on or just off it. This article covers the thirty found along the stretch running inside the original city walls, from the junction with Berkeley Street up to The Cross. The remainder of Westgate Street is covered in the Lower Westgate Street gallery.

A Brief History

The street was once the most prosperous in Gloucester, the centre of the city's commercial life. Real estate was so sought after that buildings occupied the centre of the street. However, in recent centuries the commercial centre of gravity in the city centre shifted eastwards, particularly as a result of the redevelopment first of King's Square in the 1920s/1930s and then markedly so with the development of modern shopping malls in the 1960s/1970s.

 

Westgate Street was left largely unscathed by the 20th century, leaving it the most historic of the four gates. More than half of the buildings along its upper length are listed. Ten of them are originally 17th-century and earlier timber-framed structures, though you would not know looking at them after the Georgian affinity for re-fronting in brick. Another three, possibly four, relatively modern properties retain elements of earlier, mainly 16th-century buildings in their structures.

The shift in commercial activity and consequent lack of investment has also left Westgate Street one of the most impoverished. In a count in the summer of 2021, nine of the gate streets' twenty-three empty shops were on Westgate Street (with Eastgate and Northgate counting six each and Southgate, perhaps because it is on the route up from the Docks, having only two). In places historic buildings on the street have become neglected to the point of ruin, none more so than the originally 16th-century No. 41.

The West Gate Cluster

The upper stretch of Westgate Street begins at the junction with Berkeley Street, laid down by the Saxons to run just outside the line of the Roman wall. That line, which was not accurately identified until the 1970s and is marked incorrectly too far to the west on older maps, is traced across Westgate Street in a line of black brick in the street paving between No. 56 on the north side, currently occupied by the Cavern, and Nos. 59 & 61 on the south. With Westgate Street having been shifted slightly north of the line followed by its Roman ancestor, the remains of the Roman west gate still lie beneath Nos. 1 & 3 Berkeley Street (which are actually part of No. 59 Westgate Street).

The Cavern, formerly the Lamprey Hotel, is flanked on the west by No. 58, the Westgate Street-facing end of a Victorian terrace built along College Street when that street was widened in 1890, and on the east by Nos. 52 & 54, formerly the Gloucester Services Club. All are listed grade II. Across the road, Nos. 59 & 61 were originally an early Georgian townhouse, now listed grade II*. Their neighbour, the grade-II listed No. 57, shares a similar history and style.

Next to the rather ornate early Georgian townhouses on the south side, the grade-II listed No. 55, originally built as early as the 15th century, is the first of the timber-framed houses we meet on our way up the street, though few people would recognise it as such; the Georgians contrived to make it look relatively plain when they re-fronted it in the 18th century.

The grade-II listed Fountain Inn – less prosaically known as No. 53 and hidden from the street behind the non-listed No. 51 – was first recorded in 1455, when it was called Savages Inn after its owner Sybilla Savage. In 1538 it was known as The Catherine Wheel, a name that lives on in the late 20th-century Catherine Wheel House next to the inn's entrance on Berkeley Street. It took on its current name in the 17th century, after Trinity Well (or Fountain), part of the public water supply which stood in the centre of Westgate Street. The present structure dates to a major rebuild in 1672, when the inn was converted to a then fashionable coffee house, though it retains elements of a 16th-century range.

The Sword Cluster

On the other side of No. 51, through which the Westgate entrance to The Fountain runs, there begins a cluster of five listed sites, starting with the grade-II* Nos. 47 & 49 (the latter currently occupied by Hooker & Eight, who kick a mean rugby ball in this excellent promo vid). Although the early-18th century structure we see today is relatively recent, it was possibly a conversion of a medieval merchant's large townhouse, the 13th-century cellar of which is still there.

Next up are the grade-II Nos. 43 & 45 (aka The Sword pub), which are both more examples of originally 16th-century properties. Once again, the timber-framing of these properties has been masked, in the case of No. 43 by render and at No. 45 by 18th-century re-fronting. The alteration to No. 45 has also masked a gabled front, as can be seen at its neighbour, with a flat roof-line which is actually just a wall on which the two outer windows have been painted. The properties are referred to in the Historic England listings by their former name of the Tailor House; No. 45 was the home and shop of the tailor John Pritchard, who was the inspiration for Beatrix Potter's The Tailor of Gloucester.

This cluster of listed buildings on the south side ends with the grade-II listed Nos. 41 & 39, two visibly different properties that, it is believed, were constructed as one in the 16th century. The very distressed looking No. 41 still shows some pedigree as a timber-framed building, whilst No. 39, which runs alongside the medieval Bull Lane (known as Gore Lane c.1260) was re-fronted and heightened in the early-19th century.

The North Side Desert and College Court

On the north side of the street around this point a presumably relatively modern stretch of ten properties, from No.50 to No. 32, have not yet earned any places in the Historic England listings. It can perhaps be only be a matter of time for the ornate No. 50, which between 1913 and 1927 served as the Palladium Picture Theatre, one of the centre's many cinemas. The theatrical tradition goes back even further at No. 32, which was occupied from 1791 by the Theatre Royal (later renamed Palace Theatre), where Charles Dickens once read excerpts from his works. The building was partly demolished after the theatre closed in 1922, and is at the time of writing one of the many empty premises on Westgate Street, its fading Poundstretcher shop fascia loudly advertising the street's fall from commercial grace.

An oasis in this barren stretch on the north side is provided by the medievally narrow College Court, known in 1333 as Craft's Lane, leading to the Cathedral precinct via St. Michael's gateAlthough Nos. 1/1a – 9, College Court (on the west side, all listed grade II), date to the 18th century, it's possible that they still retain elements of earlier properties dating to the 15th through 17th centuries. The last of them, No. 9 next to the 16th-century structure of St. Michael's Gate, was substantially remodelled in 1979 to represent the tailor's house illustrated in Beatrix Potter's story, and today houses the Beatrix Potter Museum and Shop.

The Maverdine Cluster

After passing on the south side of the street the grade-II* No. 33 (yet another re-fronted, originally c.15th-century timber-framed and jettied house) and No. 31 (a mid-18th century shop and dwelling, listed grade II), the listings desert on the north side ends at No. 30 (grade II). The provenance of this building is betrayed by the over-hanging first floor, a feature of the Tudor style whose days were numbered at the time of its construction early in the 17th century. It is another of upper Westgate Street's timber-framed properties, built towards the end of the period when this style was the fashion, and although it is rendered over rather than re-fronted like so many others, it has still lost the second-floor overhang it originally boasted.

The other side of its neighbour (No. 28, itself a grade-II listed 18th-century shop and dwelling) stands the first of upper Westgate Street's two grade-I listed buildings. The rather ordinary and scruffy looking No. 26, occupied today by the Antiques Centre, is described in the Historic England listing as "...one of the most substantial timber-framed merchants' houses to have survived in any English town." It began life in the late-15th century, though it has since then been significantly enlarged. As is so often the case for such venerable timber-framed buildings, the Georgians ripped out the front and replaced it with brick. It's true glory, though, can be viewed down Maverdine Lane, a medieval service alley which gave monks access to the abbey precinct wall (and so narrow it is impossible to get a decent photograph of the treasure that lines its west side). It is here, if you're lucky enough to find the door to the alley unlocked (or can persuade the wonderful people in the Antiques Centre to unlock it for you) that you can see the building still in all its original Tudor timber-framed and jettied splendour.

 

No. 26 once served as the Judges Lodgings, which has caused it to be incorrectly identified in many sources as the place where Colonel Massie established his headquarters in 1643 during the siege of Gloucester. In fact, in Massie's day, the judges lodged at a building that was later redeveloped into today's Old Crown, farther down on lower Westgate Street. Later writers simply read "Judges Lodgings" and missed the fact that between siege and writing the lodgings had moved to different premises.

 

In the 1960s, when No. 22 (on which plot once stood the premises of Gloucester Old Bank, run by Jemmy Wood, supposedly the inspiration for Dickens's Scrooge) was being redeveloped for a new Tesco (now a McDonalds), there was a suggestion that it be set back. This would have allowed a clearer view of the historic side of No. 26 should No. 24 ever be demolished. The suggestion was not followed through after Tesco objected, and anyway No. 24 is a historic 18th-century shop and dwelling that became listed itself (grade II) in 1973.

 

The Fleece

Heading on up towards The Cross, attention switches to the south side again with Nos. 19, 19A, 21 and 23, better known as The Fleece. The street facing property, with the small ground-floor shops of Nos. 19A, 21 and 23 and its upper storeys covered in the early-20th century with unconvincing fake timber-frame panelling, does little justice to the second of upper Westgate Street's grade I buildings. The bulk of the genuinely timber-framed, 15th-century property at No. 19 is located away from the street front, behind the non-listed No. 17 (currently occupied by the British Heart Foundation charity shop). Today's inn stands on part of a site once occupied by what must have been a huge merchant's house, extending as it did westwards to Bull Lane, first recorded in 1455 as a great tenement leased by Gloucester Abbey (today's Cathedral). When the property was redeveloped as an inn by the Abbey c.1500, it retained the earlier property's 12th-century cellar, and still does to this day. Much altered since its original construction, The Fleece has been severely neglected after its closure in 2004, but is currently undergoing renovations with a view to re-opening.

Top End

The top end of the street as it approaches The Cross is lined on both sides by listed buildings dating to the 18th and 19th centuries, all examples of the type of city-centre owner-occupied shops that proved so unsuitable for post-war shopping trends. Nos. 14 to 6 on the north side (excluding the non-listed No. 12, currently occupied by the Cornish Bakehouse) and Nos. 15 to 7 on the south side are mostly listed at grade II. The two exceptions are No. 14 (occupied until recently by A.G. Meek shoe store) and No. 6 (part of the Santander bank premises), which have earned II* listings, perhaps due to the fact that they both incorporate elements of earlier, 16th-century properties in their more modern structures (though so too does the grade II No. 8).   

The Ghosts of Buildings Past

As the top end of Westgate Street gives way to relatively modern (which is to say, 19th century and later), non-listed bank buildings (the Vodafone shop on the corner with Southgate Street was originally built c.1893 for the Wilts and Dorset Banking Co.), it's still worth lingering outside the very decidedly 20th-century HSBC bank building. Displayed in the window is a rare piece of Roman Gloucester in the form of the base of a huge Roman column found during the building's construction in 1971. Some twelve such columns have been unearthed along Westgate Street since the 1820s (including one found underpinning the floor of No. 30 during archaeological excavations in 1977). It is through the 'Westgate Colonnade' – two parallel lines of columns five metres high that were once part of monumental Roman public buildings – that the Saxons re-routed Westgate Street. The rest of the HSBC column, broken but still two metres high and nearly a metre in diameter, can now be viewed in the Museum of Gloucester on Brunswick Road.

Less ancient ghosts can be seen in black brick laid into the paving down much of the length of upper Westgate Street. These trace the outlines of medieval buildings that crowded the centre of the street until, having become obstacles to the increasing amount of wheeled traffic using the streets, the last of them were cleared away by the Improvement Acts in the latter half of the 18th century. Among the buildings that now exist only in outline (translation: I haven't been able to identify all of them) as we head back down Westgate Street from The Cross are:

  • All Saints Church, next to The Cross. The church was first recorded in the mid-12th century and incorporated 1648 into the Tolsey, the offices of the city council that once stood on the corner of Westgate and Southgate Streets (where today's Vodafone store now stands);

  • St. Mary de Grace, opposite the entrance to St. John's Lane (then called Grace Lane). This church, built by 1176, was demolished by 1655 after having been plundered for material for St. Michael's Church and being allowed to fall into disrepair;

  • The King's Board. First recorded in 1455 but according to tradition given to Gloucester by King Richard II the previous century, this structure was possibly used initially as a preaching cross. By the 1580s the large rectangular structure was being used as a butter market. It was dismantled as a result of the 1750 Improvement Act and spent many years in various locations before being installed 1937 in much altered form in Hillfield Gardens;

  • Holy Trinity Church opposite the entrance to Bull Lane. This church was built by 1176. All but the tower was demolished 1699, with the tower following the rest of the church into history as a result of the 1750 Improvement Act.

See also

A Street Through Time: Gloucester’s Westgate Street is one of the Blackfriars talks produced for the Gloucester History Festival 2020, in which city archaeologist Andrew Armstrong both talks and walks us through the history of the street, from its Roman origins to the present day.

In September 2020 it was announced that up to £1.9m in new funding has been allocated to Westgate Street as part of the Heritage Action Zone initiative delivered by Historic England. The Gloucester Cathedral Quarter High Street Heritage Action Zone will invest in Westgate Street to repair historic buildings and shopfronts and convert vacant upper floors for new uses. The project website – https://www.cathedralquartergloucester.uk/ – was launched March 2021.

For illustrations of how the much altered timber-framed buildings on Westgate Street originally looked, the book Gloucester: Recreating the Past by Gloucester Civic Trust veteran Philip Moss and City Archaeologist Andrew Armstrong is a must read. 

Sources

Listed Sites

(Grades shown in brackets)

  • 1245225 (II*) – Nos. 59 & 61 Westgate Street and 1 & 3 Berkeley Street – Shops and townhouse, c.1720

  • 1271938 (II) – No. 58 – Terrace of shops and offices that extends along College Street, built 1890 when College Street was widened

  • 1271937 (II) – No. 57 – Shop and townhouse, c.1720

  • 1271934 (II) – No. 56 – Early 19th-century shop and dwelling, formerly the Lamprey Hotel, currently occupied by the Cavern

  • 1271933 (II) – No. 55 – Timber-framed merchant's house, originally constructed possibly as early as the 15th century, re-fronted mid to late 18th century 

  • 1271931 (II) – Nos. 52 & 54 – Two shops and dwellings, c. 1870, formerly the Gloucester Services Club

  • 1271930 (II*) – Nos. 47 & 49 – Two shops and dwellings built early-18th century, possibly a conversion of a medieval merchant's large townhouse, the 13th-century cellar of which still survives

  • 1271929 (II) – No. 45  – Early 16th-century timber-framed shop and dwelling, with mid-18th century re-fronting that masks a gabled roof by a fake fourth storey with false windows painted on, now part of the Sword Inn

  • 1271928 (II) – No. 43 – Mid-16th century timber-framed shop and dwelling, now part of the Sword Inn

  • 1271592 (II) – Nos. 1/1a–9 College Court – Row of five 18th-century shops which may incorporate 15th–17th-century structures, No. 9 substantially remodelled 1979 as The House of the Tailor of Gloucester Beatrix Potter Museum and Shop  

  • 1271927 (II) – No. 41 – 16th-century timber-framed shop and dwelling

  • 1271926 (II) – No. 39 – 16th-century timber-framed shop and dwelling, possibly originally built with No. 39 as a single property, re-fronted and heightened early-19th century

  • 1271925 (II*) – No. 33 – Timber-framed, probably built 15th century, originally a merchant's house, re-fronted mid-18th century

  • 1271924 (II) – No. 31 – Mid-18th-century shop and dwelling

  • 1245454 (II) – No. 30 – Early-17th century merchant's house, one of the last-built timber-framed buildings in Goucester, originally jettied at the second storey

  • 1245453 (II) – No. 28 – Mid to late-18th century shop and dwelling, possibly incorporating earlier structure

  • 1245450 (I) – No. 26 – Late-15th century timber-framed shop and dwelling, significantly enlarged and remodelled in late-16th/early-17th century, re-fronted c.1815

  • 1245449 (II) – No. 24 – Early to mid-18th century shop and dwelling

  • 1245448 (II) – Fleece Hotel – 15th or 16th century timber-framed and brick inn, with imitation street-front timber-framing applied early-20th century
  • 1245447 (I) – Fleece Hotel – 15th-century timber-framed inn above a 12th-century cellar, set back from the street front behind the non-listed No. 17 with courtyard access from Westgate Street through a carriageway on the west side of No. 17

  • 1245446 (II) – No. 15 – Early 19th-century shops/dwellings with late 19th-century/early 20th-century alterations

  • 1245445 (II*) – No. 14 – Early to mid-18th century shop and dwelling which retains a late-16th century part timber-framed wing at rear

  • 1245444 (II) – No. 13 – Mid-18th century shop and dwelling

  • 1245443 (II) – No. 11 – Early-19th century shop and dwelling, east wall along Mercer's Alley contains a length of medieval rubble wall

  • 1245442 (II) – No. 10 – Late-18th century shop and dwelling which may incorporate elements of an earlier structure

  • 1245441 (II) – No. 9 – Early-19th century shop and dwelling flanking the east side of Mercer's Alley

  • 1245440 (II) – No. 8 – Early-19th century shop and dwelling incorporating elements of a 16th-century structure in rear wing

  • 1245439 (II) – No. 7 – Late-18th century shop and dwelling

  • 1245438 (II*) – No. 6 – Mid to late-18th century shop and dwelling incorporating earlier, possibly C16, structure in rear wing

Awaiting image

  • 1271932 (II) – Fountain Inn – Late-17th century coffee house, a rebuild of a hostelry first recorded in 1455 and which retains elements of a late-16th century range belonging to that earlier building

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