Places to explore when visiting Gloucester

PUBLISHED: 13:26 26 May 2020 | UPDATED: 13:26 26 May 2020

The impressive bells above GA Baker & Sons, Southgate Street (photo: Tracy Spiers)

The impressive bells above GA Baker & Sons, Southgate Street (photo: Tracy Spiers)

Tracy Spiers

A postcard from the city of Gloucester: explore the cathedral, museums and shops of our county city

We arrive in Gloucester in a shower of rain, not quite up to our middle as Dr Foster did in the famous nursery rhyme, but nevertheless, wet all the same. However, it’s not long before the sun decides to shine on us and in so doing, lights up the city’s most prominent and impressive landmark, Gloucester Cathedral in a glorious gold glow. There’s much to celebrate in Gloucester, from Beatrix Potter’s adorable illustrations, Humpty Dumpty, 200-year waterways history, Victorian warehouses, Cathedral cloisters and home to the Cherry & Whites. It’s not surprising its beautiful architecture has been chosen as the perfect film sets for a plethora of films either, including Harry Potter & The Philosopher’s Stone (2001), Mary Queen of Scots (2019) and Dr Who (various TV episodes.) Whilst we both claim to be ‘made’ in Stroud, my daughter and I were both born in Gloucester and we take pride in returning to our birthplace for a day trip out. TRACY SPIERS

We opt to travel by train and enjoy a more leisurely journey avoiding usual road traffic. I can’t help recalling a train excursion to Gloucester in the 1980s along with 700 fellow pupils for a cinema trip to watch Gandhi. The cinema is no longer there and instead is a pub. I was Rosie’s age at the time, yet it seems like yesterday.

Cooking on a Roman stove in the museum on Brunswick RoadCooking on a Roman stove in the museum on Brunswick Road

• I take her to see the Roman city gates which are exposed under a glass window by Boots chemist. Below is an underground chamber revealing the remains of defences and the Eastgate of the city, which dates back to Gloucester’s founding as a Roman fortress in around AD68. This is a gateway to 2,000 years of history and if we use our imagination we can be transported to ancient Gloucester looking at the front of a medieval tower. The base of a 13th-century tower and a Tudor horse-pool where wagons and livestock were washed have also been preserved.

We head to Gloucester Museum, which is free to the public, and on the way, admire a huge stone mural depicting life in Glevum (the Roman name for Gloucester) on the wall of the Eastgate Shopping Centre in Brunswick Road. Rosie and I can’t help but interact with the fighting Roman soldiers.

Gloucester CathedralGloucester Cathedral

• My passion for history grew in the Museum of Gloucester when my dad took me regularly as a young lass so I could try out all the museum quizzes. I loved finding out quirky facts and my inquisitive nature thrived on it. The layout looks a lot more modern than it did in the 1970s, but it still tells the story of the city’s origins and its journey from the Dark Ages through to recent history. A Roman kitchen playhouse and a medieval street are just some highlights.

• I rediscover facts I had forgotten, including the Bishop of Gloucester John Hooper being burnt alive at the stake in the 1550s and the Siege of Gloucester in 1640, as well as more cheerful snippets, including Robert Raikes starting up Britain’s first Sunday School in the 1780s. I set Rosie working at the Roman stove and we take note of a recipe of the day which involves stewed brains. Perhaps not one to try at home. As I grow older, I notice more and more items of my childhood are appearing in museums! I remember the Moreland & Sons Ltd sign years ago and enjoy looking at the familiar England’s Glory matchboxes. Matches used to be made in Gloucester from 1867 until 1976.

Gloucester DocksGloucester Docks

• With our first history lesson under our belt, we take a few leaflets from the Tourist Information Centre and go back out into the sunshine. Lesson two takes places at The House of the Tailor of Gloucester in College Court which is an exquisite museum and shop dedicated to the work of Beatrix Potter, who created The Tailor while she was visiting her cousin. Enthusiastic and friendly volunteers Kate Wilson and Helen Folliard, who are passionate about the author’s work are happy to answer our questions. “Beatrix’s birthplace was in London, but she had a cousin who lived in Haresfield and it is believed she found it a relief to have a break from her parents. The tailor’s house was where the Sword Pub is, but when she came to illustrate his house, she preferred the look of this shop,” says Kate. As an illustrator, I can appreciate her decision. Rosie and I look for our favourite characters, mine are still Peter Rabbit and Jemimah Puddleduck and I buy a keepsake key ring for Rosie with Peter and her name on. I am intrigued to know which on Kate likes best. “Most people tend to go for Peter Rabbit, but my favourites are Mrs Tiggy-Winkle or Jemimah. My husband calls me Mrs Tiggie Worry-Winkle!”

Eastgate Street, GloucesterEastgate Street, Gloucester

• As it is so close, Rosie and I walk into Gloucester Cathedral which is not only an amazing example of architecture – including detailed metalwork, brickwork, textiles and tiles – built for the glory of God, but has proved a stunning background for exhibitions and films. It is one of the country’s finest medieval buildings and is a burial place for royalty and notable historic characters including Edward II and Robert Curthose, eldest son of William the Conqueror. Cathedral tours which show visitors where the monks lived and where Harry Potter was filmed take place every day as do Crypt tours. My Harry Potter fan companion gives me her own tour and points out landmarks she recognises from the films. I particularly love the windows in the Thomas Chapel, created by artist Thomas Denny to mark the cathedral’s 900th anniversary in 1989. There’s something joyful and worshipful about them.

Helen Folliard and Kate Wilson, volunteers at The House of the Tailor of GloucesterHelen Folliard and Kate Wilson, volunteers at The House of the Tailor of Gloucester

• One important landmark to note is the former Folk Museum in Westgate Street which was due to reopen this spring as the Folk of Gloucester to promote the city’s story through its people and the events which took place here. Last autumn, Gloucester Civic Trust took over the building and there will now be a permanent exhibition all about the Civil War. The Siege of Gloucester in 1643, a turning point in history will be highlighted.

Remembering Moreland's Match FactoryRemembering Moreland's Match Factory

• Rosie and I leave the city centre for a moment to walk to Gloucester Docks. It’s where I met her dad on a blind date 25 years ago – a turning point in my own personal history! Today it looks very different with The Quays shopping centre and many of the dock and warehouse buildings looking preserved and lovingly restored. The National Waterways Museum at Llanthony Warehouse is well worth a visit and takes visitors on a ‘Journey Through Britain’ as well as celebrating the fascinating 200-year history of the docks and Gloucester & Sharpness Canal. It’s here where you can find out how the waterways shaped the lives of those who travelled and worked on them. From March until the end of October, there is also an opportunity to sail on the Queen Boadicea II for a 45-minute journey through the docks and almong the canal. The Soldiers of Gloucestershire Museum is also located at the historic docks at Custom House and is dedicated to the memory of all those who have served their country as Soldiers of Gloucestershire.

Robert Raikes' House, Southgate StreetRobert Raikes' House, Southgate Street

• Outside this museum, we notice a giant humpty sculpture, which featured in the 2015 Scrumpty Trail recognising the rugby scrum of Gloucester Rugby, the Cherry and Whites and Humpty Dumpty, the nickname of the siege gun used to knock down Gloucester’s ancient city walls. Rugby is an important part of Gloucester’s social life and I have interviewed many a player at Kingsholm, where the club completes in the Premiership and European Challenge Cup. As well as hosting the 2015 Rugby World Cup, Kingsholm is also a concert venue for famous musicians and bands. Don’t forget also The Guildhall in Gloucester is a great amenity. An impressive line-up of live music, comedy, theatre and film can be found in this beautiful grade II listed building.

Rosie with the mural on the side of Eastgate Shopping CentreRosie with the mural on the side of Eastgate Shopping Centre

• Before moving away from waterways, we find out about a popular event that should have taken place in May, notably The Dragon Boat Race at Gloucester Docks where spectators can expect to be entertained by the goings-on both in and out of the water. Up to 30 teams take to their 40ft long dragon boats and race for victory, with the winning team being presented with the prized Gloucester Dragon Boat Shield.

• Before I allow Rosie to have some retail therapy, I point out some other points of interest including the spectacular Baker’s Clock, above the jewellers GA Baker & Son, built in 1904. The bells are struck on the quarter hour by the figures of Old Father Time, John Bull and others representing Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Another statue of note is the Emperor Nerva, acknowledged as the founder of the city in around AD97. The equestrian statue was sculpted by the world-renowned Anthony Stones and cast at Pangolin’s foundry in Chalford.

The Emperor Nerva, founder of the city by sculptor Anthony StoneThe Emperor Nerva, founder of the city by sculptor Anthony Stone

• Forgive me, Gloucester, for not writing about all your attributes. But there is only so much you can cover in one visit. I do urge those reading this, do take time to look up and around you as you enter this fascinating city. Interestingly, if you enjoy finding out new information about a place that you visit often yet don’t really know much about, there is a free Walking Tour App with three self-guided walking tours around Gloucester city centre.

• I personally have a lot to thank Gloucester for – it is where I was born, met my husband and gave birth to four of my five daughters. It also fuelled my love for history and my inquisitive spirit that loves to find out about places. I encourage you, don’t let Gloucester’s history be a mystery – find out something new for yourself.

The House of the Tailor of GloucesterThe House of the Tailor of Gloucester

Websites / / / / / /

The Mariners' Chapel in the DocksThe Mariners' Chapel in the Docks

This stone head appears in the Harry Potter filmThis stone head appears in the Harry Potter film

The tomb of Edward II in Gloucester CathedralThe tomb of Edward II in Gloucester Cathedral

Gloucester map, by Katie B MorganGloucester map, by Katie B Morgan

Points of interest on Katie B Morgan’s map:

Sir Thomas Bell the Elder (1486-1566): Mayor of Gloucester and Tudor flat cap manufacturer. Ladybellegate Street is named after his wife Lady Joan Bell

Dr Who and Harry Potter: filmed in Gloucester

Henry III: Crowned with a gilded iron ring in 1216 in the Cathedral

Old faded sign: Boselli’s Ice Cream

Cotton Motorcycle Company: founded in Gloucester in 1918, and moved to Bolton 1978

Gouda: twinned with Gloucester

Kingsholm: home of Gloucester Rugby, founded in1873

The House of the Tailor of Gloucester: museum and shop dedicated to the work of Beatrix Potter

Bishop Hooper: Protestant martyr who died in Gloucester in 1555

Aethelflaed: Lady of the Mercians (870-918)

Dick Whittington: built by Richard Whittington, nephew of ‘the’ Dick Whittington

Pin: pin manufacturing at the Folk Museum

The New Inn: medieval galleried inn

Sword: The Sword Inn, previously called The Union. One half of the building was the original workshop of a tailor called John Pritchard, whose story inspired Beatrix Potter

The Pelican: said to be built with timbers from Sir Francis Drake’s ship, The Golden Hind

The Old Crown: possibly the office of Edward Massey during the siege of Gloucester in 1643

Man on horse near The Fountain: William III rode his horse upstairs to show his contempt for the Jacobite rebels who were meeting there

Bells, Old Father Time: One of the carved figures above GA Baker & Son, jewellers on Southgate Street

Star Wars filming: Jedi symbol on ladies’ bag

Robert Raikes the Elder (1690-1757): The “printer of Gloucester”

Robert Raikes (1741-1813): founder of the first Sunday school, in 1780

Blue Coat: Blue Coat Hospital

Matches: England’s Glory matches made by SJ Moreland and Sons, est 1867

Viewing Chamber: Where you can see Roman remains

FP: Fielding and Platt engineering firm.

St Mary de Lode: The first Christian church in Britain, built over the site of a Roman temple

The Gloster E.28/39: The first British jet aircraft

Double Gloucester Cheese: The cheese used for the famous cheese-rolling event on Cooper’s Hill

Walls Ice Cream: The factory is based in Gloucester

Scrooge: Based on famous miser, Jemmy Wood (1756-1836)

WE Henley (1849-1903): Poet, critic and editor born in Gloucester

Ivor Gurney (1890-1937): Composer and poet born in Gloucester

Flour: site of old flour mill, Priday, Metford and Company Limited

Gloucester Old Spot pigs: A popular rare breed

Tall Ships: Can be seen in Gloucester Docks

Beer bottle: Gloucester Brewery.

SS Wesley: Composer and organist

Stars and Stripes Flag: John Stafford Smith composed the American National Anthem

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