Black and white photo of steam boats at Gloucester Docks
Architecture Listed places

5 Things you didn’t know about Gloucester

Well known for it's Gothic Cathedral and picturesque surroundings, Gloucester has a rich history of industry and trade.

Well known for its Gothic Cathedral and picturesque surroundings, Gloucester has a rich history of industry and trade.

Gloucester Civic Trust take us through 5 historical happenings that may come as a surprise:

1. Gloucester was once a spa

Spa Pum Room - Gloucester
Spa Pum Room – Gloucester as it was via The Gloucester Civic Trust

Mineral springs were discovered in Gloucester 1814 and the Gloucester Spa Company was duly formed to capitalise on the fashion for taking to the waters. The Spa Pump Room was built in 1815 and the water was declared to be full of health-giving properties.

The land around the spa was laid out with walks and attracted so many visitors that several hotels were built nearby, as well as a number of elegant Georgian houses.

Brunswick Square, Brunswick Road and Spa Road became very fashionable places to live up until the Railway was built to join the docks with the main line, filling the air with smoke and soot. Soon all the visitors left and by 1860 the Spa building was offered to the Council. The elegant building with its veranda and parapet fell into disrepair and was eventually demolished in 1960.

2. Hat manufacturing was big business

Blackfriars Priory, Gloucester © Historic England Archive DP137869

Following the dissolution of the monasteries (1536-41), Thomas Bell and his wife Joan purchased Blackfriars priory for £240. The church was transformed into a private house and the rest of the Monastery into a cap factory, employing over 300 people. Income from the cap trade made Bell the wealthiest citizen of Gloucester – helped by a decree issued by Queen Elizabeth I that everyone who attended church must wear a hat.

Blackfriars is now one of the most complete surviving Dominican friaries in England. It now hosts one of the largest history festivals in the UK.

3. Gloucester made toys that travelled the world

An original Ludo board game
An original Ludo board game. Micha L. Rieservia Wikimedia Commons

Roberts Brothers made toys and games from the 1890s in the Glevum Works on Upton Street. The range of their products was immense, and they were exported across the world. The most common items were games, with ludo, snakes and ladders and dominoes amongst their greatest production. They also made dolls and soft toys and patented what was the first version of a game which became known as Subbuteo. They were taken over by Chad Valley, and then closed down in 1956.

4. Gloucester was home to a real life Ebenezer Scrooge

An 1828 painting of Gloucester Old Bank
An 1828 painting of the bank by J.R. Orton after a print by George Rowe of Cheltenham. The figure in the doorway is almost certainly intended to be Jemmy Wood. In the collection of Gloucester City Museum & Art Gallery, via Wikimedia Commons

Jemmy Wood inherited the Gloucester City Old Bank in 1802 and ran it from the corner of a draper’s shop in a medieval building in Westgate Street. Set up by Jemmy’s grandfather in 1716, it was said to be one of the oldest private banks in Britain. Jemmy is reputed to be the basis of Charles Dickens’ fictional character Ebenezer Scrooge, as he was a miser and once thought to be the wealthiest man in England, leaving £900,000 when he died in 1836.

5. Gloucester has the most inland port in Britain

Steam boats moored at Gloucester docks c 1925 c Historic England AA53_10346
Steam boats moored at Gloucester docks circa 1925 © Historic England AA53_10346

Fifteen Victorian Warehouses surround the Gloucester Docks and were once filled with vast quantities of wheat, oats, barley and maize from Ireland, Northern Europe, the Mediterranean and the Black Sea.

Tall ships were able to sail via the Gloucester and Berkeley Canal, bringing goods from all around the world. They were then filled up again with exports, like salt from Stoke Prior and Droitwich, and taken to Ireland and the Continent.


Gloucester docks, Gloucestershire. c Historic England AA024867
Gloucester docks, Gloucestershire. © Historic England AA024867

Now the area around the river and canal is filled with moorings for small and large sailing ships and many canal boats. The docks, once a busy port for goods, have been regenerated for leisure activities, with restaurants and shops and are a big draw for tourists, especially when the Tall Ships Festival takes place. Thousands flock to this historic port to see and explore all the Tall Ships on show as well as watch exciting water-based entertainment. It is still an important part of the city of Gloucester but features different sorts of industry and trade.

Written by Sue Smith, Gloucester Civic Trust


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What are the places associated with what we’ve made, where we buy and sell, or where we connect with the rest of the world?

This month, in our quest to coreate a list of 100 places that tell England’s story, we’re talking about Industry, Trade and Commerce. Nominate now


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Irreplaceable: A History of England in 100 Places is sponsored by specialist insurer, Ecclesiastical.


Further Reading


4 comments on “5 Things you didn’t know about Gloucester

  1. Gloucester Cathedral is Norman – with later Perpendicular and Gothic additions.

  2. Wow! I will have to return now I feel I know so much more about Gloucester! Thank you!

  3. John Ridgway

    The Iris and the Mayflower were the main tugs on the canal in the 50’/60’s pulling all the lighters mostly fuel oil for Regent Oil good picture of The Iris brought back some memories

  4. Alan Grove

    We have enjoyed our first 6 months in Gloucester. So under-rated and the History Festival is a must event.

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