An introduction to the history of Gloucester

The city of Gloucester has a fascinating history dating back to Roman times.

A skeleton displayed in Gloucester museum

The small English city of Gloucester is justifiably proud of its long history. In the centre of town  information boards give details of historical events and attractive modern mosaics on the pavements add a flavour of the past.

When we visited in early September they were celebrating Gloucester day which marks the end of the siege of Gloucester during the civil war and many people were in costume.

Gloucester  is situated at the head of the Severn Estuary which separates South West England from South Wales. It was founded by the Romans  for retired soldiers about 50 A.D and known as colonius Nervia Glevenis. There was a Roman camp at nearby Cirencester.

In London we found a piece of Roman wall in a car park. In Gloucester we found part of the town wall in a furniture store among the sofas. I was surprised to learn that it was one of the oldest bits of masonry in England.

Part of a Roman wall in a furniture store in Gloucester
This was hidden among the sofas

There is a viewing area near the East Gate shopping centre where you can see other Roman remains. My top photograph shows the skeleton of a Roman woman.

Anglo Saxon Gloucester

After the Romans left, Gloucester seems to have declined in importance.  King Alfred’s daughter Aelflaed who married Aethelred of Mercia and was known as the lady of Mercia founded a church close by in about 900 A.D. She stole  the bones of St. Oswald one of her father’s favourite saints and placed them in the church. The centre of the town is still laid out in a grid pattern and many of the roads still have their old names such as East gate and West Gate.

Gloucester cathedral and the middle ages

Gloucester cathedral which was started in the Norman period is beautiful. It became famous as a pilgrimage place after Edward II who was murdered in Berkely castle nearby was buried there. Nine year old Henry III was also crowned there. The only time a coronation of a monarch has taken place outside London.

We visited the cathedral and loved the beautiful cloisters. Unusually sections of the cloisters contain stained glass which reflects vibrant splashes of colour on the stone work. The Gloucester cathedral cloisters are a favourite location for film makers and have been used in the Harry Potter films and also for Sherlock and Wolf Hall. I can also personally recommend the Monk’s table cafeteria which had a fine selection of cakes. Also look out for unusual gargoyles.

The beautiful cloisters
The cloisters Image by Graham Hobster from Pixabay

The cathedral close had a lovely display of late summer flowers.

Late summer flowers in the cathedral close.

Gloucester during the Tudors and Stuarts

Gloucester was a prosperous city at the end of the middle ages.  However during the religious turmoil of the Tudor monarchy both catholics and protestants suffered.  Catholic priests were martyred by being hung drawn and quartered and John Hooper the protestant bishop was martyred by being burnt at the stake outside the cathedral.

The bishop of Gloucester John Hooper is depicted sitting on his throne #Gloucester cathedral #Bishop John Hooper
Bishop John Hooper memorial outside the cathedral

During the English civil war Gloucester supported the parliamentarians unlike most of South West England which was Royalist. The town was besieged in 1643 but did not surrender. Every year Gloucester holds a parade at the beginning of September to celebrate the relief of the siege. We enjoyed seeing the townsfolks dressed in colourful costumes.

A man in red coat and sash riding a bicycle
Getting to the parade by bicycle

I can’t leave the cathedral area without mentioning Beatrix Potter. She wrote a very famous book “the tailor of Gloucester” based on a local legend.

Peter rabit in the window of the Beatrix Potter centre.

Modern Gloucester and the Port

Large boats coming up the Severn estuary can only reach as far as Gloucester which meant that Gloucester became an important trading centre for the midlands. Trade increased rapidly with the industrial revolution and the growth of towns like Birmingham. The size of the warehouses at the port attest to the amount of trade that was happening.

Redbrick warehouses line the docks #Gloucester
Some of the warehouses

Many of the warehouses have been converted into flats and the area has many attractive bars and restaurants. It is also home to the national waterways museum.

I hope you enjoyed my virtual tour of Gloucester as much as I enjoyed visiting it in person. If you want to find out more here are a couple of sites I recommend.

Gloucester cathedral

Visit Gloucester  

As always I love to read your comments.

Author: Anne Fraser

Hi, I am Anne, I am a retired nurse from Bristol in South West England. I am married with five grown up children, four boys and a girl , a grandson and a cat. I like History, travel and reading. I hope to connect with other people with similar interests.

11 thoughts on “An introduction to the history of Gloucester”

  1. I enjoy learning some of the history of Gloucester through, you, Anne. You were very observant and aware of some of the walls and Roman remains. I love all of the photos! Like you say, Anne, a virtual tour:)

  2. Oh wow I don’t think I’ve visited Gloucester before, but it looks beautiful! The cathedral really stands out and the architecture is seriously impressive 🙂

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