The big idea

Every city has history, but, let’s face it, some simply have more than others. And Gloucester fits into that category. Many of its buildings are among the finest examples of their type anywhere, and the converted warehouses at the Victorian docks are both a beautiful backdrop and absolutely unique.
 
As such, it’s been a popular location for filming over the years, with many TV shows and films shot here. Indeed, while here you may find yourself doing a double-take – ‘I’m sure I’ve seen that before’ – as you stroll around this very rewarding city.
And it’s not just as a filming location that Gloucester is famous, it’s also been the inspiration for several of the country’s most famous literary characters – perhaps unsurprising as this city was home to one of the most important books produced in England, the Domesday Book.
 
So, if you like a good yarn, and want to experience some of the finest historic jewels in the country, make sure Gloucester is on your ‘to do’ list.
 

Historical sayings

Gloucester is often acknowledged as one of the top 10 historical cities in the country, but it’s the breadth of history that marks it out as a city to experience. ‘Scratch Gloucestershire and find Rome’, is one of a number of well-known sayings about the area. Indeed, the original fort built at nearby Kingsholm was one of the largest Roman buildings in the whole of the country and the city itself was one of only four across the land granted special Colonia status, which was reserved only for the top cities.
 
‘As sure as God’s in Gloucester’ is another old proverb about the city; and for religious history Gloucester takes some beating. Christianity was accepted in AD170 by the British nation under Good King Lucius, who built St. Mary de Lode in Gloucester before dying in the city. And legend has it that a tree in one of the city’s churchyards was descended from the one on which betrayer Judas Iscariot hanged himself.
 
The stunning cathedral houses the earliest still-surviving perpendicular window in the UK; the country’s only surviving Mediaeval bell (the Great Peter – staggeringly loud!); potentially the largest mediaeval window in England (about the size of a tennis court), and probably the finest fan-vaulted lavatorium in existence.
 
And let’s not forget the 13th-century Blackfriars Dominican Friary, acknowledged as the most complete example of a Dominican house in Europe, as well as one of the most complete monastic archives in existence.
Gloucester was also home to one Robert Raikes who, convinced that religious education would benefit the poor, founded the Sunday School Movement in the 18thcentury.
 
But if Royal history is more your thing, Gloucester occupies a unique position. Perhaps its geographical importance, on the route into Wales, is why the city has always been a favoured royal residence, especially the Palace at Kingsholm and the castle. Oh, and it’s the only city outside Westminster where an English monarch has been crowned.
 
Throw in the finest example of a mediaeval galleried inn in Britain and best timber-framed building left in England and it’s clear this place has a special history.
 

Modern tales

As touched upon above, Gloucester has been used as a location for many well-known TV programmes and films. Most recently, the cathedral’s cloisters stood in for parts of the Hogwarts School in the Harry Potter films, and both Vanity Fair and Martin Chuzzlewit have filmed in and around the city. The good Doctor Who has roamed the streets, and further back in time the docks provided dramatic backdrops to that Sunday-night stalwart The Onedin Line.
 
But it’s not just TV and films that are brought to life in this city. Another well-known Potter is associated with Gloucester, as it is the home of Beatrix, the famous children’s author. The character of Scrooge, in Dicken’s A Christmas Carol, was inspired by the banker Jemmy Wood of the Old Gloucester Bank. And the famous nursery rhyme Humpty Dumpty was inspired by the attempts to batter the city walls into submission during the English civil war’s siege of Gloucester (and we have even mentioned a Dr Foster who once came here...)
 

The essence

Spellbinding
 

How it can make you feel/ who it’s for

Gloucester is one of those cities that can make you really feel English history- and in that respect it’s an absorbing city. Unsurprisingly, it’s also great for anybody with a creative or indeed literary bent. If you’ve got a book in you, then Gloucester may well help it come out.
 
So, it’s perfect for families, film buffs and writers of all shapes and sizes. But with those docks it’s also wonderful for anyone who simply wants to kick back and relax on the water.

History

The Romans, not long after arriving in England in AD43, were pretty keen on conquering Wales, and Gloucester – originally known as Glevum (meaning ‘bright’, probably after the massive white walls of the fort) – was an ideal place to build a fortress given it was one of the easiest places from which to bridge the River Severn, the longest river in Britain.
 
Fast forward to the 9thcentury and Aethelflaed, daughter of King Alfred the Great, arrived in Gloucester and promptly founded a minster. She then, in response to those threatening Danes, fortified the town into a burhor military stronghold, and the streets were re-laid within the Roman walls. And in Norman times work started on the abbey to transform it into the cathedral it is today.
 
Henry III was crowned King at the cathedral in 1216, and the Dominican order of monks arrived in the 13thcentury. At about this time, the city was gaining a reputation for ironworking, and bell-founding specifically. So, towards the end of the Middle Ages, Gloucester was both an important military city and a royal city, and in 1483 the town, in recognition of its importance, became a county in its own right. In 1580, Gloucester’s importance was boosted even further when Queen Elizabeth I gave the city port status.
 
Things weren’t so easy however during the English Civil War, as Gloucester refused to surrender to the King’s forces and was left as the only Parliamentarian garrison between Bristol and Lancashire. Subsequently, the city made Oliver Cromwell their High Steward.
 
In the 18thcentury, fashionable gardens were laid in the city, and Robert Raikes founded the Sunday School Movement; however, the layout was pretty much still medieval – with ancient boundaries and fields within a few hundred yards of the centre. Bell-founding continued to flourish (it’s said that many belfries in England contain at least one bell from the city) and the city gained a national reputation for pin making.
 
However, within a generation the population grew seven-fold and those fields were swallowed up as the opening of the canal and then the railways provided a massive boom to the city.
The canal trade rocketed, with the timber trade being vast: it’s said that the only continent not to trade with Gloucester was Antarctica. And in 1827, the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal opened for business as the longest and deepest canal in Britain.
 
During the 20thcentury, Gloucester’s industries continued to grow and diversify- for example during World War II the city became famous for the production of aircraft- continuing the tradition of a practical city driven by industry.

How to experience Gloucester

Why not start a visit to Gloucester down by the historic docks? Here’s where you’ll find the shiny new Gloucester Quays designer outlet alongside the Gloucester and Sharpness canal. You’ll also find the Gloucester Antiques Centre, one of the largest and longest-established antique centres in the country, with over 100 individual and specialised dealers.
 
And while browsing around the docks, which encompass a water area of more than 14 acres, make sure you pop into the Waterways Museum, housed in the Llanthony Warehouse; it really brings the waterways story to life. There’s also a number of boat trips from here, including themed trips such as blues or sunset in which to explore the waterways. On the other side of the docks you’ll find Custom House, home of the Soldiers of Gloucestershire Museum, which has displays and collections that tell the story of the famous ‘Glosters’.
 
From here, cross the road and head into the city centre by cutting up Ladybellegate Street. Part way up on the left you’ll see Blackfriars Friary; make sure you check out the magnificent timbered roof. Turn right at the top of the road and you’re at the bottom of Southgate Street. On the left as you walk up the road is Robert Raikes’ House, where the man himself grew up. It’s one of the oldest buildings in the city and is now a recently refurbished (albeit sympathetically) pub. Inside you’ll find articles and pictures about one of Gloucester’s famous sons.
 
Opposite here is a little church called St Mary de Crypt. This was where, according to legend, a tree stood that descended from the one on which Judas Iscariot hanged himself: the tree’s no longer here but there is a charming stone Storytelling Bench celebrating the story of Gloucester (how very apt!).
 
Further up Southgate Street, on the corner with Eastgate Street, stop and admire St Michael’s Tower, built over 500 years ago on the site of a previous church and now home to the Gloucester Civic Trust.
 
On Eastgate Street itself, in the gallery under Boots, you can see part of the original Roman East Gate, which was part of the gates erected to defend the fortress, and the Roman city wall. Double back to St Michael’s Tower and turn right onto Northgate Street. Here you’ll find The New Inn, the most historically impressive pub in the city, and described as ‘the best example of a medieval galleried inn in the country’.North Gate was originally the main entrance to the city from the north and east. 
 
Completing the cross shape layout, head along Westgate Street: at number 22 is the original home of Gloucester Old Bank; and at number 26 is Colonel Massie’s House (you’ll need to squeeze down a small lane and look up to see the original house, described as ‘the finest urban timber-framed building in Britain’).
 
Further along, cut through St Michael’s Gate into the Close and the Cathedral. Just before the gate you’ll come across the House of the Tailor of Gloucester, famous from Beatrix Potter’s The Tailor of Gloucester and now home to a rather charming museum and shop where you can inspire the kids with tales of Peter Rabbit, Benjamin Bunny and Mrs Tiggy-winkle. 
 
Then head into the Cathedral itself. Rated one of the seven most beautiful in the world, it won’t take you long to work out why. First gaze up at the magnificent 225 ft tower, which dominates the city; then check out the sheer scale of the columns inside.
And as well as the Great South window, check out the Great East window, currently vying with York Minster for the title of the largest medieval window in England.
 
But best of all, wait until you see the cloisters, with their spectacular fan-vaulted ceilings, they’re stunning and most people will instantly recognise then from the Harry Potter films. And if you look closely you’ll see some newer gargoyles in the south aisle wall, one of which is Aslan, the lion from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
 
From the cathedral, head further down Westgate Street, passing the Folk Museum – one of the earliest of its type in the country (set over three floors and well worth a visit; you’ll be surprised by how much they pack into the Tudor-fronted building) – and turn up St Mary’s Square; here you’ll find the ornate Bishop Hoopers Monument, and behind that, St Mary de Lode church (pop in, there’s a very rare organ in here, upon which Handel once played). Up from here on the left are the remains of St Oswald’s Priory, the oldest standing building in the city, which dates right back to AD890 when Queen Aethelflaed founded the minster.
 
Finally, to really experience Gloucester, you need to head north out of the centre on the Kingsholm Road until you get to the city’s beloved Gloucester RFC. To experience the home crowd at a Cherry and Whites match is a tale all by itself.

When to visit

City pics

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