Gloucester (pronounced 'Gloster') is a city in south-west England, close to the Welsh border. In 1991 it had a population of 106,526. Traditionally Gloucester has been the county town of Gloucestershire.
It is located on the left (east) bank of the river Severn, 114 miles west-north-west of London. It is sheltered by the Cotswolds on the east, while the Malvern Hills and the Forest of Dean rise prominently to the west and north-west.
Gloucester is a port, linked via the Gloucester and Sharpness shipping canal to the Severn estuary, allowing larger ships to reach the docks than would be possible on the tidal reaches of the river itself. The wharves, warehouses and the docks themselves fell into considerable disrepair until the 1980s, at which point they were renovated and form a public open space for the city's residents. Some warehouses now house the National Waterways Museum and the "Pack Age" museum, others were converted into luxury residential apartments, shops and bars.
Attached to the deanery is the Norman prior's chapel. In St Mary's Square outside the Abbey gate, Bishop Hooper suffered martyrdom under Queen Mary in 1555.
Many quaint gabled and timbered houses survive from earlier periods of the city's history. At the point of intersection of the four principal streets stood the Tolsey or town hall, replaced by a modern building in 1894. None of the old public buildings is left but the New Inn in Northgate Street is a beautiful timbered house, strong and massive, with external galleries and courtyards; it was built in 1450 for the pilgrims to Edward II.'s shrine, by Abbot Sebroke, and a traditional subterranean passage leads to the cathedral.
There are a large number of churches and in the past there were also many dissenting chapels. It may have been the old proverb, "as sure as God's in Gloucester," which provoked Oliver Cromwell to declare that the city had "more churches than godliness." The first Sunday school in England was held in Gloucester, founded by Robert Raikes in 1780. Four churches are of special interest:
There are three endowed schools: the College school, refounded by Henry VIII of England as part of the cathedral establishment; the school of St Mary de Crypt, founded by Dame Joan Cooke in the same reign; and Sir Thomas Rich's Blue Coat Hospital for boys (1666). At the Crypt school the famous preacher George Whitefield (1714-1770) was educated, and he preached his first sermon in the church.
The noteworthy modern buildings include the museum and school of art and science, the county gaol (on the site of a Saxon and Norman castle), the Shire Hall and the Whitefield memorial church. A park in the south of the city contains a spa, a chalybeate spring having been discovered in 1814. West of this, across the canal, are the remains (a gateway and some walls) of Llanthony Priory, a cell of the mother abbey in the vale of Ewyas, Monmouthshire, which in the reign of Edward IV became the secondary establishment.
The traditional existence of a British settlement at Gloucester (Caer Glow, Gleawecastre, Gleucestre) is not confirmed by any direct evidence, but Gloucester was the Roman municipality or colonia of Glevum, founded in the reign of Nerva. Parts of the walls can be traced, and many remains and coins have been found, though inscriptions are scarce. Evidence for some civic life after the end of Roman Britain includes the mention in the Historia Brittonum that Vortigern's grandfather ruled Gloucester, and that the Battle of Deorham in 577 resulted in Wessex controlling Gloucester.
Its situation on a navigable river, and the foundation in 681 of the abbey of St Peter by Æthelred favoured the growth of the town; and before the Norman Conquest of England, Gloucester was a borough governed by a portreeve, with a castle which was frequently a royal residence, and a mint.
The first overlord, Earl Godwine, was succeeded nearly a century later by Robert of Gloucester. King Henry II granted the first charter in 1155 which gave the burgesses the same liberties as the citizens of London and Winchester, and a second charter of Henry II gave them freedom of passage on the Severn. The first charter was confirmed in 1194 by Richard I of England. The privileges of the borough were greatly extended by the charter of John (1200) which gave freedom from toll throughout the kingdom and from pleading outside the borough.
Subsequent charters were numerous. Gloucester was incorporated by King Richard III in 1483, the town being made a county in itself. This charter was confirmed in 1489 and 1510, and other charters of incorporation were received by Gloucester from Queen Elizabeth I and King James I
Until the construction of the Severn Bridge in 1966, Gloucester was the lowest crossing point on the river. A road bridge built by Thomas Telford in 1829 at Over still stands, notable for its very flat arch construction, but its fragility and narrow width means it is no longer used for traffic, and since 1974 has been paralleled by a modern road bridge.