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The town of Gloucester began as a Roman dwelling, where around 49AD the Romans built forts to guard various river crossings. The town was built around a grid pattern, with a forum and the market place in the centre. This core layout still remains today. The Romans occupied Gloucester for over 4 centuries, and when they left, only a few farmers remained.
Gloucester was fairly abandoned for a century until the Anglo Saxons arrived in 577AD. They founded a monastery at Gloucester, and slowly the town began to repopulate, with the arrival of various merchants and craftsmen. Visitors also came to the town to see the newly interred remains of St Oswald, after they were bought to Gloucester in 907AD. In the 9th century the Saxons made Gloucester a burgh, and in 915AD, all the men of Gloucester gathered in the burgh to defeat an attack from the Danes.
In 1153, and as the town began to flourish, the church in which St Oswald's remains were enshrined was turned into a priory. And it was during the reign of Edward the Confessor that Gloucester was considered to be one of the three most important cities in England, as it was here that the king met the Great Council every year.
Following the Norman Conquest of 1066, William the Conqueror arrived in Gloucester in 1085 and ordered that the Domesday Book should be written, arguably the most comprehensive survey of England. With a growing population of around 3,500, Gloucester was now ranking 10th amongst the wealthiest towns of England.
In 1216, during the reign of the Plantagenet kings, the young nine-year-old Henry III was crowned at the St Peter’s Abbey (the only coronation of an English monarch to take place outside of Westminster). With the remains of King Edward II interred at St Peter’s Abbey in 1327, the town attracted even more pilgrims and bought great wealth to the city. Much of the wealth was spent on expanding and reconstructing St Peter’s Abbey, and from 1470 it became more like the Cathedral we know today.
In Medieval Gloucester the main industry was wool making, with many mills built for this purpose. Gloucester also enjoyed a thriving leather industry in Gloucester in the Middle Ages. As the city grew in stature, the docks began to take shape as the wool and leather goods were exported from Gloucester and wine started to be imported from France.
However, this prosperity did not continue into the 15th century, as a long period of economic depression began, seeing competition from other towns that were dealing in wool and leather.
In 1483 Richard III incorporated Gloucester and gave it a new charter. Now merchants had the right to elect a mayor and 12 aldermen.
Gloucester suffered particularly during the Tudor reign of Henry VIII, as the Dissolution of the Monasteries and the English Reformation affected many monasteries in the city. In fact, whilst Bloody Queen Mary was in power, she ordered the slaying of John Hooper, the city’s protestant bishop, who martyred in front of the Cathedral in 1555.
The city also played a part in the English Civil War, in which supporters of Charles II (the Cavaliers) were pitted against the Parliamentarians (the Roundheads). From 1642 to 1646, although most of the Southwest was loyal to the king, Gloucester was in favour of parliament. In 1643 a fierce battle ensued in which the king's army laid siege on Gloucester. This battle is still celebrated today on September 5th as Gloucester Day.
The 18th century saw the wool making industry dying out and a new prison built, on the old site of Gloucester castle. Pin making and bell founding began to flourish, and the city was the centre of many social reforms. Some of the most advanced prison reforms began in Gloucester, and the Sunday School movement was also started, by the editor of the Gloucester Journal.
At the start of the 19th century, the first dry dock was built, followed by several others and warehouses began springing up in the city centre.
Victorian times saw a series of modernisation with the implementation of gas street lighting, and the opening of a dispensary for the poor, where they could receive free medicines. In the 1850's and 1860s the first water supply was built, and following this a series of sewers were constructed. The Gloucester-Sharpness Canal was completed during this era, and helped to progress the fledgling timber industry in the city. Rail networks were established which saw increased growth and prosperity.
In the 20th century Gloucester continued its expansion by the introduction of aircraft manufacture, the expansion of railway stock, and the production of motorbikes. Although some of these industries failed to survive into the 21st century, certain areas have been restored, such as the docks, the King’s Quarter, and the Greater Blackfriars area.
Today’s Gloucester is a thriving county, full of historic reminders of the past, but continuing to thrive with an estimated population of over 117,000.
We have a number of beautiful Cotswold Cottages in the Gloucester area, including the popular nearby town of Bourton On The Water. If you are considering a self-catering holiday in the stunning English countryside, please get in touch today!
Photo of Worcester Cathedral by: Peter Broster