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Gloucester in 1838

GLOUCESTER, or GLOCESTER, locally within the hundreds of Dunston and King's Barton, and the capital of the county to which it gives name : 104 miles, direct distance, west-north-west from London.

It is pleasantly situated upon a gentle eminence which rises on the eastern bank of the river Severn, about a mile above the confluence of the two channels into which that river is divided by the island of Alney, and about 40 miles above its junction with the Bristol Channel.

The origin of this city is generally attributed to the Britons, by whom it was called ‘Caer Gloew,’ which, according to Camden, is derived from the British ‘Caer Gloyii iis,’ or 'the city of the pure stream' but according to other authorities, from ‘Gloew,’ the name of the chief or original founder. Shortly after the invasion of the country under the Emperor Claudius, A.D. 44, the city became subjected to the Romans, who established a colony here as a check upon the Silures, or inhabitants of South Wales, and called it Colonia Glevum. Numerous Roman antiquities, consisting of burial-urns, coins, &c., together with a statera, or Roman steelyard have been discovered at various times, particularly in the suburb of King's Holm, which is accordingly supposed to have been the more immediate site of the Roman settlement.

The city continued in the possession of the Romans up to the period of their leaving the island. It subsequently surrendered to the West-Saxons about the year 577, and by them was called Gleau-Cester, whence its present name is derived. About the year 680, Wulpher, son of King Penda, founded the monastery of St. Peter, and so far improved the city, that at the commencement of the eighth century, according to Bede, it was considered 'one of the noblest of the kingdom.' It however repeatedly suffered from fire and from the ravages of the Danes, and in 1087 was almost wholly destroyed during the contest between William Rufus and the adherents of his brother Robert. In 1263 it was the scene of many battles between Henry III and the Barons, whom he had offended by appointing a foreigner to the office of Constable of Glocester Castle. In 1641-2 it espoused the cause of the parliament, and bid defiance to the king with an army of 30,000 men, in consequence of which the ancient walls of the city were totally destroyed shortly after Restoration.

Gloucester has been represented in parliament since the 23rd year of the reign of Edward I, and now returns two members.

At a very early period the city was formed into a county by itself. Numerous charters have been granted by the kings of England, from Henry II downwards ; but the last and governing charter is that of Charles II, dated 1673. Under the Municipal Corporation Act, the city has six aldermen and eighteen councillors, and is divided into three wards. The average revenue of the corporation, as determined in 1832, is £4,496, and its expenditure £4,180. There are but two courts, that of quarter-sessions and a court-leet.

The main streets of the city are at right angles to one another; but although lighted with gas, they are ill-paved. The water for the supply of the inhabitants is partly drawn from the Severn, and partly from springs situated near Robin Hood's Hill, about two miles distant from the town.

Of the public buildings, the cathedral, dedicated to St. Peter, is particularly deserving of notice, not merely on account of its great antiquity and acknowledged beauty, but also because it contains so many perfect specimens of the various styles of architecture which characterized the different periods in which the several portions were erected. The most ancient parts are the crypt, the chapels surrounding the choir, and the lower part of the nave, built between 1058 and 1089, the south aisle and transept in 1310-1330, the cloisters in 1351-1390, and the chapel of our lady towards the close of the fifteenth century. The fine Gothic tower, surmounted by four pinnacles of the most delicate workmanship, is of somewhat more recent date.

Speaking of the choir of this cathedral, it is remarked in the Transactions of the Society of Antiquarians, that 'the great elevation of the vault, the richness of the design, the elaborate tracery which covers the walls, and the vast expanse of the eastern window, render it an almost unrivalled specimen of the florid style of architecture.' Among the numerous monuments in the interior are those of Robert, son of William the Conqueror, who, together with his brother Richard, was interred here ; that of the unfortunate Edward II, of white alabaster ; and that of Robert Raikes, the founder of Sunday-schools.

Although suffragan bishops of Gloucester are mentioned as early as 1223, it does not appear that the city was erected into a bishopric with a dean and chapter until 1541 in the reign of Henry VIII. There are in all, eight benefices ; one in the patronage of the bishop, of the annual net value of £154 ; one, before the Municipal Act, in that of the corporation, value £116 ; two in the gift of the dean and chapter, value £34 and £284 ; three in the patronage of the crown, value £127, £113, and £231 ; and one vested in trustees, value £135.

The town-hall, wherein the courts of sessions are held, is a fine building with a portico of Ionic columns, erected by Robert Smirke in 1814. The county gaol occupies the site of the ancient castle, described by Camden, and consists of a penitentiary, bridewell, and sheriff’s prison. It was completed in 1791, at an expense of £34,873, and is said to be a very appropriate building. Not so the city gaol, which is very old, admits of no classification, and is otherwise inadequate to the necessities of the town.

Previous to 1821 the cattle-markets were held in the open streets, to the great annoyance of the public. This has since been remedied by the corporation, who have erected a very commodious market at an expense of more than £10,000. The market-days are Wednesday and Saturday ; fairs, 5th April 5th July, 28th September, and 28th November, for horses, cattle, &c., and particularly for cheese.

There are two stone bridges, each of a single arch over the two channels of the Severn. These are connected by a paved road, called Over's Causeway, which extends through the rich pasture land of Alney island.

The manufactures of Gloucester were formerly much more extensive than at the present time. That of pin-making, in particular, was once carried on upon so large a scale, that it is said the amount of this article conveyed in one year to the metropolis alone exceeded in value £20,000. The town however is in a flourishing state, is surrounded by a large and most fertile district, and is rapidly advancing in competition with Bristol. It has a water communication with most parts of the kingdom, and the improvements in the navigation of the Severn, by the completion of the Gloucester and Berkeley canal, have added considerably to its foreign and domestic commerce.

According to the population returns for 1831, the city, consisting of the parishes of the Holy Trinity, Saints Aldate, John the Baptist, Mary de Crypt, Nicholas, and Owen, together with parts of the parishes of Saints Michael, Catharine, and Mary de Lode contained 11,933 inhabitants.

There are three schools viz. the college school, the blue-coat, and the free grammar school of St. Mary de Crypt. The crypt school was founded by dame Joan Cook, in the thirty-first year of the reign of Henry VIII, and is endowed with two exhibitions of value £50 per annum each, and tenable during eight years, for the maintenance of two scholars at Pembroke College, Oxford. The college school was founded by Henry VIII, and has long enjoyed considerable reputation as a classical seminary. It under the direction of a master and usher, and is held in an apartment over the audit-room at the extremity of the north transept of the cathedral. The blue-coat school was founded in 1666, by Sir Thomas Rich, and is under the superintendence of the corporation, who appoint a master and matron, with an annual salary of 400 guineas, out of which they have to support and educate twenty boys. There are also a national school, established in 1817, a school on the Lancasterian system, founded in 1813, besides several Sunday-schools. Among the many benevolent institutions are several hospitals of ancient foundation, the county infirmary, supported by voluntary donations, and a lunatic asylum. The poor-rates amount annually to about £4,000.