19th Century Gloucester

In 1800 the City boundaries had not really expanded past those of the middle ages. By 1852 Gloucester had suburbs extending a considerable distance and it’s population was six times that of 100 years ago.

New industries were at least partly responsible for this increase and they in turn were promoted by the new canals and railways.

The hazards of Navigation to Gloucester were a disadvantage to the city and although many canals linked to the Severn by the eighteenth century the stretch below Gloucester was only passable for a few days on the spring tides .A proposal was made in 1792 to build a canal between Sharpness and Gloucester. This was completed in 1827. The main imports were timber and corn. Later more warehouses were added to the thriving docks and a mariners chapel ( still there today ) was built for the sailors. Railway links allowed the transport of goods to and from the docks and a second dock ( Victoria ) was built. The canal boats had always been pulled by horse, but by 1860 steam tugs were starting to take over.

During the 1870s the docks at Sharpness were improved and at first this provided extra trade to Gloucester, but as docks at Avonmouth and Portishead were opened,trade started to decline.The outbreak of war in 1914 was an even worse disaster for the docks and the decline continued into the 1980s. Today the docks are a pleasant place to shop or look around the many museums .

Two Railway companies ( Midlands Railway & the Great Western Railway ) met at Gloucester in the 1840’s . These companies used different gauges and so passengers had to change trains . Obviously the railways contributed greatly to the growth of the city and also created many new industries. The Gloucester Railway carriage and Wagon Company became world famous . By 1871 they employed a twentieth of the cities working population.

The iron foundries and timber trade were also extremely important to the city and pin making was a major industry. You can see pin making machines in the Folk Museum in Westgate St.

Gloucester’s commercial life was also flourishing. The Gloucester old bank ( founded 1716 ) was still in business at Westgate St. in the 19th century and was run by James ( Jemmy ) Wood. He was a local millionaire who served as an Alderman and twice as sheriff. He was notoriously mean, and even more notorious for his scruffy appearance. Legend has it that one day, while visiting his property in the country, he took a turnip. He was caught by one of the farmers bailiffs who whipped him first for stealing, and then again for lying when he claimed to be the owner.

The spa at Gloucester was also contributing to the growing prosperity. A spring was discovered in 1814 and the Gloucester Spa Company formed. A pump room was built and a row of magnificent houses which can still be seen in Spa road. A new church, Christ Church was built in Brunswick Road

Probably the most famous of Gloucester’s entertainment’s was the Three Choirs Festival. It was complaints of the narrowness of the street leading to the Cathedral porch that led to the east side of the street being demolished and a new range of buildings being set back to provide a wide avenue.

The legal profession was also important. In the nineteenth century a new Shire Hall was built by Robert Smirke, designer of the British Museum, with new courts.

In 1835 the Municipal Corporation Act reformed Gloucester’s constitution. All citizens of at least 3 years standing now had the right to elect councillors. One of the most pressing problems for the new corporation was the water supply and by the 1830s there were pipes bringing water from Robinswood Hill to the city.Piping of water directly to houses did not start until the late 1800s.

Sanitation also improved out of all recognition in the nineteenth century. In the 18th century, outside closets were the main provision, and even the wealthy used chamber pots. Jemmy Wood recorded in his diary that one day his cat fell into the closet and suffocated.Chamber pots had to be emptied into a tub which was collected every night by the night soil men.

By this time it was well known that such conditions led to disease and in 1848 a new public health act was passes making it mandatory for each house to have  a proper sanitary arrangement,  either an ash pit or privy or a water closet. In the late 1800s a system of brick built sewers was beginning to be built. At this point it was possible for water closets to become common and for public conveniences to be built.

The first public bath was opened in Gloucester in 1886.