Gloucester is a small cathedral city based on the banks of the river Severn in the west of England. It has existed as a town/city for 2000 years although evidence has been found that the first inhabitants settled in the area in 3500 BC. It was called Caer Glow, or splendid city, by the Celts and Glevum by the Romans.
It first gained importance in AD43 when the Romans settled in the city, building a fortress in Kingsholm, and the Romans kept control of the city until AD577 when it was regained by the Saxons. It had strategic importance for the Romans and the Saxons because it was in a convenient position to keep an eye on the marauding Welsh on the other side of the river. The Romans left a big imprint on the city. There are 30 Roman Villa remains in Gloucestershire. Dig down beneath any of the modern buildings in the city centre and you are likely to find Roman remains of some kind. In the Eastgate Precinct there is a viewing gallery for the Roman hydrocausts and mosaics that were found when the pedestrianised shopping area was being created.
Many monarchs have visited Gloucester and at one point it was England's second city after London. It was the site where the Doomsday Book was ordered by William The Conqueror. Henry III and Lady Jane Gray were both crowned in Gloucester, although only Henry's crowning was confirmed and officially recognised in London. It was the site of parliament between 1043 and 1062 and again in 1378. It has its own martyr, Bishop John Hooper, who stood in defiance of the catholic Mary Tudor and was burned at the stake. Local legend has it that Mary came to watch the burning secretly and that her face can still be seen from the window where she watched. Gloucester was also a Cromwellian stronghold and it was this that caused Gloucester's first set-back in History for, when Charles II was crowned in 1661, the city of Gloucester had most of its lands confiscated as punishment.
Gloucester has always had a heavy religious presence. Its oldest church, St Mary de Lode, was built on Roman foundations and is presumed to be one of the earliest known sites of christian worship. The oldest standing building in Gloucester is St Oswald's Priory that was dedicated to the martyred King of Northumbria. There was a dominican friary at Blackfriars, a franciscan friary at Greyfriars and there is still an existing monastary at nearby Prinknash Abbey. St John's church was founded by Athelstan in AD931. The cathedral is a worthy reason to visit Gloucester. It stands tall above the city and is a beautiful building. It is the resting place of Edward II and also contains the largest known Medieval stained glass window in Britain. The window is big enough to play tennis on and is a memorial to the battle of Crecy.
Gloucester's importance faded in Georgian times when Cheltenham became much more fashionable but it regained a lot of its stature during the Victorian era when it became a major port because of the Gloucester-Sharpness canal. This was the gateway for waterborne traffic to and from the Midlands and as the canal fed into the Severn which has the highest tide in the world, there was easy access to all the major shipping routes.
There have been many famous faces from Gloucester. Well, actually there have been many famous faces from Gloucestershire but Gloucester itself has only 3 claims to fame.
1. From the nursery rhyme:
Dr Foster went to Gloucester
In a shower of rain.
He stepped in a puddle
Right up to his middle
And said I'll never go there again!
2. Dick Whittington was a Gloucester lad born in 1350. Most people think he was fictional but he was real and did become Lord Mayor of London.
3. Fred West, murderer of countless women and children lived at 25 Cromwell Street.
So basically there are three famous people from Gloucester, all of them are dead and the only one people know isn't fictional was a mass murderer.
Gloucester likes to think it is famous for many things and, in the past, it has been but, to be brutally honest, it has not been important since the transport infrastructure in England made canals redundant. It is an interesting place to visit and has lots of points of interest which have been mentioned above but it is not a place to live unless you are retired. I have the feeling that Gloucester was always reluctantly famous. The inhabitants would have been just as happy if none of the historical events ever took place. They certainly give the feeling that they have never liked change. Almost all of the old pubs, rather than chain franchises like Weatherspoons, are frequented by locals whose families have drunk there for generations. It is not that outsiders and the modern world are not tolerated, they just aren't welcomed with open arms.
I have lived in Gloucester for almost 9 years and knew almost nothing about its history until I went researching for this article. The few bits I did know were not mentioned in any of the books or sites I found and are probably forgotton by most of the inhabitants now. For instance, under Gloucester is a maze of tunnels, most of them blocked, that link the friaries, pubs and cathedral so the priests and monks could travel freely without being seen. A cynic would say it was so they could drink a lot but you have to remember we are talking of a time where priests and monks did drink, could marry and were often just educated men who were second sons and therefore would inherit no land. I know of at least three haunted pubs in Gloucester, The Dick Whittington/Black Cat which was an aldermaston's house, The Fleece Inn which was a staging post and The Inner Court which has had half of the rooms unused for centuries because of the hauntings. A friend once organised a ghost tour around these places and other dryer but still haunted sites and it was one of the most interesting evenings I have spent. The stories surrounding these hauntings are truly creepy but require you to be in the places for you to get the full effect.
On the one hand Gloucester is encouraging growth and new residents but, on the other, it is discouraging the very same because it does not provide the infrastructure or facilities to support these incomers. It has ended up being the residential area of Cheltenham, which is far too expensive to live in but has all the nice shops, restaurants and pubs. Until Gloucester accepts it has a history but stops living in it, it will never regain its previous stature.