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The History of Gloucester

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The Romans chose the location of modern day Gloucester as a place to build a fort because the mighty River Severn could be crossed there, the first place heading up stream from the sea where it was practicable given the technology of the day. The fort was built in AD69 to guard the river crossing at Kingsholm, it subsequently formed the basis for a town laid out in a grid pattern by the Romans around AD75. Glevum, as it was known, became a thriving urban centre with civic buildings, shops, workshops and homes lining the metalled streets. When the Romans left Britain in 407AD the town, like so many others in the former principate, was abandoned.

The local Britons were driven from the area by the Saxons who defeated them in Battle of Deorham in 577. The Saxons recognised the strategic and economic benefits of the site the Romans had chosen for their fort and established a town and abbey there. The abbey of St Peter was established in 681 by Ethelred and the Saxon King often took residence in there. Gloucester was a made a burgh, one of a number of towns fortified by the Saxons in an attempt to defend the country against the Danes. Gloucester was the mustering point in 915 when the men of Gloucestershire gathered to meet, and defeat, the Danes in battle.

After King Harold was killed by William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, Gloucester soon fell into Norman hands. Indeed, it was while he was at Gloucester for Christmas of 1085 that he ordered that the Domesday Book be written to record and catalogue the English taxable population and itís wealth. In 1155 Gloucester was granted its first charter by King Henry II , thereby giving it the same liberties as previously bestowed upon London and Winchester . This was soon followed by a second charter issued by Henry, this time granting free passage on the River Severn. The first charter was later confirmed by Richard the First in 1194 and his brother, King John , who extended the citizensí privileges by granting them a charter that gave them toll free passage throughout his kingdom. During the medieval period, the economy of Gloucester depended on the trade in Cotswold wool which was processed there. Other exports from Gloucester included leather goods
such as gloves and shoes. Iron, which was usually fashioned into tools or weapons, was also an economic mainstay. The town was hit by a massive fire which led to the banning of thatched roofs in 1223. Jews were often persecuted in England during these times. Gloucester and Bristol banished jewish people in 1275 following false claims that had previously arisen in 1268 that they were engaged in ritual murder. The body of King Edward II was laid to rest at St Peters Abbey 1327. This brought a constant stream of visitors, and thus income, to Gloucester.

During the reign of the Tudors and Stuarts Gloucester enjoyed more charters, including one that made the city itself a county. This charter, granted by King Richard II in 1483, meant that Gloucester merchants could now elect a mayor and 12 aldermen. This charter was confirmed in 1489 and 1510 and subsequent charters were issued by Queen Elizabeth I and King James I . Gloucester had been in decline during this era, despite the numerous charters. Its dominant position in the local wool trade had been broken by rival towns and the end of the wars with Wales meant it lost its strategic importance.

The abbey church was made into a cathedral in 1541 when Gloucester was given a bishop. The Cathedral has a Norman nucleus upon which almost every style of Gothic architecture has been overlaid. The cathedralís long and slow development over the years from its original foundation as a Saxon church have ensured it is a veritable treat of architectural styles. The south port, built in Perpendicular style, features a fan-vaulted roof. The crypt is one of four apsidal crypts in England and the decorated east window is filled with medieval stained glass. William the conquerorís son is interred their in a shrine of coloured bog oak. Robert Curthose, the eldest son of King William, was a great benefactor of the abbey.

Gloucester was a busy place during the Civil War and the inhabitants suffered greatly as the city was frequently the site of battle or siege. The city walls were demolished by King Charles I , despite the city erecting a statue in his honour in 1662. Gloucesterís once rich position in the wool trade had been completely lost by the 18th century and the city instead depended on the manufacture of pins as its main source of income. Gloucesterís position on the navigable section of the River Severn had always meant it could trade as a port. The coming of the canals linked it to Sharpness in1827 and timber from Scandinavia was brought into Gloucester along this link. When the railway came to Gloucester in 1840 it heralded a new industry in the manufacture of carriages for the fast expanding rail network.

The 19th century was one of rapid growth for Gloucester, the population boomed from 17,500 in 1851 to 47,000 by the end of the century. The 20th century saw the continuation of the railway stock manufacturing business, with aircraft and farm machinery also a feature of the cityís industrial base. Latterly manufacturing has declined, banking and insurance have largely taken their place as the cityís key sources of employment.

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