A History of the County of Gloucester: Volume 4, the City of Gloucester. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1988.
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Social and Cultural Life
For most of the 18th century, until that function was reduced by the rise of the London season and the growth of the neighbouring resort of Cheltenham, Gloucester had some importance as a social centre for the county gentry. A few of the lesser county families maintained houses in the city, among them the Crawley-Boeveys of Flaxley, who had an old, gabled house in Eastgate Street, (fn. 1) and the Hyetts, who retained Marybone House in Bearland after they built a country residence at Painswick. (fn. 2) Most of those houses in the lower Westgate Street area which were later thought to have been the town houses of gentry families (fn. 3) were, however, probably never used as more than short-term lodgings by that class.
The main annual event which drew the county gentry to the city was a race meeting held in September, coinciding every third year with the music meeting of the three choirs of Gloucester, Hereford, and Worcester. During race week, assemblies, balls, and ordinaries were held at the principal inns, while the music meeting, which by the 1730s had begun to attract leading soloists from London, included evening concerts in the great hall of the Boothall as well as the choral services held in the cathedral. (fn. 4) Regular assemblies for the gentry and leading citizens took place throughout the year: in 1724 they were held at the Tolsey twice a month in winter and once a month in summer, and in 1744 they were held weekly at the Bell inn between October and March. (fn. 5) The leading city inns staged events to suit various tastes: advertised at the Bell in the spring of 1743 were a ball for the assizes, an inter-county cockfight between Shropshire and Monmouthshire, and a course of lectures on philosophy. (fn. 6) In the mid 1740s a society of 'gentlemen florists and gardeners' held its meetings and competitions at one of the inns. (fn. 7) The Boothall was used for performances by travelling showmen and theatre companies. (fn. 8) In 1763 a permanent theatre was fitted up in a building in Barton Street. (fn. 9) Samuel Ryley, its manager in 1784, (fn. 10) described it as 'a melancholy, inconvenient place, which, when filled, would not hold more than thirty-five pounds'. (fn. 11) Soon afterwards the building of a new theatre in St. Mary's Square was begun, but it was apparently never used for that purpose. (fn. 12) In 1791 John Boles Watson, who ran theatres in Cheltenham and several other towns, built a theatre on the north side of upper Westgate Street. (fn. 13)
During the first half of the period five or six of the city's inns seem to have been of equal importance as social centres. They included the King's Head, in Westgate Street below the entrance to Three Cocks Lane, (fn. 14) which was generally chosen by the city corporation for its nomination dinner in the 1720s and 1730s; (fn. 15) the Boothall inn, fronting the county hall in Westgate Street, which also enjoyed the corporation's patronage later in the 18th century; (fn. 16) the Bell, on the east side of Southgate Street; (fn. 17) the Golden Heart, in Southgate Street, which was among the inns where social events in connexion with the races were held in the 1730s; (fn. 18) and the White Swan, in upper Northgate Street. (fn. 19) In 1791 the White Hart and the Ram, both in Southgate Street, the Lower George, in lower Westgate Street, and the Fleece, in upper Westgate Street, also ranked among the chief inns of the city. (fn. 20)
By the start of the 19th century, however, two inns, the Bell and the King's Head, had achieved a pre-eminent position. (fn. 21) The latter was by then the established venue for all corporation dinners (fn. 22) and was also used by the county magistrates. (fn. 23) The business rivalry between the two inns was heightened at election times when the Bell was the headquarters of the Tories and the King's Head of the corporation-backed Whig interest; (fn. 24) rival county political societies, a Pitt Club established by the Tories in 1814 and a Constitutional Whig Club established in 1816, held their annual meetings and dinners at the inns. (fn. 25) The landlords of the two inns were usually men of substance. Giles Greenaway, who kept the King's Head from 1758 until 1776 or 1777, (fn. 26) bought the manor of Little Barrington in 1779 (fn. 27) and later acted as agent to the duke of Norfolk; (fn. 28) in 1789 he became a city alderman. (fn. 29) John Phillpotts, who kept the Bell from 1782 to 1791, was able to educate his sons for the professions: William became bishop of Exeter and John became a successful barrister and M.P. for Gloucester. (fn. 30)
Among inns of middle rank, occupying main-street sites but not major social or coaching (fn. 31) centres, were the Black Dog, the Black Spread Eagle, and the Horse and Groom, all in lower Northgate Street, the Greyhound and the Saracen's Head in Eastgate Street, the New Inn in Northgate Street, and the Talbot in Southgate Street. (fn. 32) Of those, the Spread Eagle, benefiting from the opening of the new cattle market nearby, joined the ranks of the leading inns at the close of the period; it was much improved by the corporation, which bought it in 1824, (fn. 33) and in the early 1830s it was the principal saleroom for the city. (fn. 34) The lesser public houses of the city were particularly numerous in the Island and around the quay, where such old-established houses as the Ship, the Star, and the Anchor benefited from the river trade and were often kept by men involved in it. (fn. 35) The total number of licensed houses in Gloucester rose rapidly from 66 in 1720 to 129 in 1747; (fn. 36) the magistrates then fixed a maximum limit of 90 (fn. 37) and in the later 18th century and the early 19th the number was kept at c. 70. (fn. 38) A directory of 1822 distinguished 12 as inns, the rest being classed as taverns and public houses. (fn. 39)
Among the functions of the lesser public houses was as the meeting places of the friendly societies which had begun to appear in the city by 1775. (fn. 40) Five societies registered their rules in 1794 under a recent Act, (fn. 41) and by 1804 the city had 10 (three exclusively for women) with a total of 767 members. (fn. 42) The societies were still well supported in 1821 when their Whitsun processions and dinners were a notable event in the city year. (fn. 43) A savings bank was established in the city in 1818. (fn. 44)
Besides its inns, the city had five or six coffee houses in the later 18th century and the early 19th. (fn. 45) In 1802 the leading coffee house was at the Upper George in Westgate Street, where newspapers and a billiard table were provided. (fn. 46) In 1809 two new reading rooms, one with a circulating library, were opened in the city, (fn. 47) and a subscribing library was established in 1818. (fn. 48) Among clubs and societies in the city at the close of the period, a cricket club existed in 1816, (fn. 49) a horticultural society was founded in 1828, (fn. 50) and a natural history society, founded in 1829, organized lectures and supported a museum and library. (fn. 51) The Gloucester Commercial Rooms, founded by local merchants in 1831, maintained a library and reading room. (fn. 52)
In the later part of the period efforts were made to develop that most important requirement of an inland social resort, medicinal springs. The first spring apparently exploited in Gloucester was one in the garden of Eagle Hall (later Old Spa House) in lower Westgate Street. (fn. 53) In 1788 the lessee of the house, Thomas Lewis, a corn factor, built a pump room and opened the garden to subscribers, but the spa seems to have enjoyed only a brief popularity. (fn. 54) More significantly for Gloucester's development, springs were discovered in 1814 in Rigney Stile grounds on the south side of the city. The owner, Sir James Jelf, sank wells, built a pump room with hot and cold baths, and laid out walks. The spa was opened to subscribers in 1815. (fn. 55) Shortly afterwards Jelf was made bankrupt, but the potential importance of the spa to the city was already evident (fn. 56) and a group of shareholders raided £6,500 to buy it. They added to the amenities, sold off the adjoining land for building, (fn. 57) and in 1818 built a hotel. (fn. 58) The spa was at its most popular in the 1820s. (fn. 59) Lodgings in the new terraces built in the vicinity were taken by visitors, (fn. 60) some of them encouraged by John Baron, a physician at the Gloucester Infirmary, who recommended the waters for their iodine content. (fn. 61) Between 1826 and 1828 the spa company was able to lease the spa for £450 a year. A decline in its popularity was evident by 1829 when a new lessee agreed to take it at £350 a year for two years and £370 a year for five years after that; by 1835, partly as a result of the cholera epidemic of 1832, both he and the lessee of the Spa hotel were in financial difficulties. (fn. 62) Another resort frequented at the same period was Blenheim Gardens (renamed Vauxhall Gardens c. 1832) in outer Barton Street. (fn. 63) It was opened in 1812 by James Kimber as a bowling green and tea garden and staged events such as balls, pigeon-shooting matches, and, in its first years, firework displays to celebrate Peninsular War victories. (fn. 64)
Gloucester's spa and other social attractions were, however, increasingly overshadowed by the growth of the fashionable health resort only a few miles distant. Cheltenham, described by the Revd. Thomas Fosbrooke in 1819 as 'a very shouldering, unpleasant neighbour', (fn. 65) had matched Gloucester in population by 1811 and outstripped it by 1821. (fn. 66) The relative position of the two places as social centres was indicated in 1819 by the announcement by a new manager that Gloucester's theatre would open 'for an occasional night during the present Cheltenham season'. (fn. 67) The two most celebrated visitors during the period were seen in Gloucester only because they happened to be staying at Cheltenham: George III came in 1788 and was shown over the cathedral, the infirmary, the new county gaol, and a pin factory, (fn. 68) and in 1816 the duke of Wellington was given the freedom of the city, dined with the corporation at the King's Head, and laid the foundation stone of a new National school. (fn. 69)
Gloucester's race meeting, which from the mid 1740s appears to have been held only in the years when the music meeting was in the city, was discontinued in 1793 (fn. 70) and not revived again until 1826. (fn. 71) The music meeting continued, however, to attract the local gentry in large numbers. In 1817, when the evening concerts were first held in the new Shire Hall, a Bow Street runner was employed to control the crowds, (fn. 72) and the meeting of 1823 was attended by numerous parties from Cheltenham. The next Gloucester meeting, in 1826, was equally crowded. (fn. 73) William Cobbett, who happened to arrive in the city during it, found he would 'run a risk of having no bed if I did not bow very low and pay very high' and continued on his way, making some predictably trenchant comments about such gatherings. (fn. 74)
In the religious life of Gloucester during the period the most notable development was the contribution made to the Sunday School movement. The Sunday schools started in the city in 1780 by the printer Robert Raikes and Thomas Stock, curate of St. John the Baptist and master of the College school, though certainly not the first, proved to be the most influential: the publicity given to the venture by Raikes through his newspaper, the Gloucester Journal, was the main impetus for the spread of the movement. Raikes's brand of Christian philanthropy, which was also directed towards the reform of the county gaol and to the general encouragement of charity, (fn. 75) was possibly not as unusual as might seem in the general climate of the 18th-century city, where the Gloucester Infirmary, supported from 1755 by subscriptions of the county gentry and leading citizens, (fn. 76) was an object of civic pride (fn. 77) and where collections for the relief of the poor in times of hardship met with a ready response. (fn. 78) Individual citizens were also concerned that adequate church services should be maintained. One of the parishes that had lost its church in the 17th century, St. Aldate, was provided with a new one, opened in 1756, as a result of a private benefaction. At the same period a number of citizens, including Richard Elly (d. 1755) and John Blanch (d. 1756), gave substantial endowments for sermons or additional services or else to augment the meagre incomes of the benefices. (fn. 79)
Among parish incumbents of the period Thomas Stock, who gave self-effacing and devoted service at St. John the Baptist from 1787 to 1803, (fn. 80) was perhaps as typical as the more worldly Thomas Rudge, rector of St. Michael 1784–1825 and archdeacon of Gloucester, who for 15 years was also master of the Crypt school, then effectively a private boarding school, and followed antiquarian and agricultural interests. (fn. 81) Though incumbents of the city churches often held livings in the surrounding countryside, (fn. 82) usually they seem to have resided in Gloucester, where the total complement of clergy, including the cathedral contingent and others who chose to reside in the city, was c. 30 in the 18th century. (fn. 83) The cathedral clergy of the period included some notable figures, such as Bishop Martin Benson, a popular and conscientious diocesan from 1735 to 1752, and Josiah Tucker, dean 1758–99, who was widely known for his writings on politics and economy. (fn. 84) In the more relaxed religious climate of the 18th century, however, the close was less directly involved in the life of the city than it had been in the 17th century.
The evangelical movement in the established church was already well represented among Gloucester citizens in 1812, when a branch of the British and Foreign Bible Society was formed, (fn. 85) and it gained much impetus after the appointment of Henry Ryder as bishop of Gloucester in 1815. Ryder was active in promoting lectures in the city churches and he took the lead in founding a National school in 1816 and a penitentiary for reforming prostitutes, (fn. 86) the Magdalen Asylum in a house in St. Mary's Square, in 1821. (fn. 87) His influence presumably also lay behind the formation of a Sunday observance society, which in 1817 was attempting to get city employers to pay their workers on Friday rather than Saturday night; payment on Saturday was thought to lead to shops opening on Sunday and to low attendance at services, following heavy drinking on Saturday night. (fn. 88) In 1818 the society was said to have almost put a stop to traffic on Sundays, even extending its objections to the use of velocipedes. (fn. 89) The provision of more church accommodation for the poor was also discussed at the period, (fn. 90) but in the event the first new church built in the 19th century was a proprietary church for the wealthy inhabitants of the Spa, opened in 1823. (fn. 91) A later bishop of Gloucester, James Monk, was active in similar fields, lending his support to a dispensary opened in 1831 (fn. 92) and to a local branch of a national temperance society established in 1832. (fn. 93) Following the cholera epidemic of 1832 he formed a society for improving the condition of the poor. (fn. 94) Among evangelical clergy of the city at the period was the hymn writer John Kempthorne, a protégé of Bishop Ryder. Kempthorne, who held curacies before becoming rector of St. Michael's parish in 1826, preached against fairs and other public entertainments. (fn. 95)
Nonconformity was not a major element in the life of the city during the period. In 1735 a total of 220 members, less than in several much smaller towns of the county, (fn. 96) was recorded for the three groups then established in the city. The most significant group was the Independents, under their minister Thomas Cole. Cole allied himself with George Whitefield, a native of Gloucester, who preached and established a following in the city in the late 1730s and early 1740s. The Countess of Huntingdon's Connexion and the Wesleyans built chapels in 1788, and in the early 19th century nonconformity was further expanded by the arrival of new groups and the growth of existing ones. (fn. 97) Roman Catholics established a mission in the city c. 1789. (fn. 98)
The life of the city during the period is reflected most comprehensively in the columns of the Gloucester Journal newspaper, which was begun in 1722 by Robert Raikes and William Dicey, who were already partners in a Northampton newspaper. Raikes, who carried on the paper alone from 1725 was succeeded at his death in 1757 by his son Robert, who, though using the paper to further his philanthropic aims, was a practical and successful businessman. (fn. 99) He sold the paper in 1802 to David Walker, printer of the Hereford Journal. (fn. 100) The Gloucester Journal acquired a wide circulation in the 18th century, extending into several adjoining counties and far into South Wales. (fn. 101) Within Gloucestershire it had no effective rival during the century, though at least two other papers were published in Gloucester for short periods: they were the Gloucester Gazette and South Wales Advertizer of 1782–4 and the Gloucester Gazette, published by John Selwyn Pytt from 1788 until 1796 or later. Of several other papers published in the early 19th century, the most successful was the Gloucester Herald which appeared from 1801 until 1828. The most enduring competitor of the Gloucester Journal, however, proved to be the Gloucestershire Chronicle started in 1833; it was backed by supporters of the Tory party, the Journal under David Walker and his two sons Alexander and David Mowbray Walker, (fn. 102) all of whom served as city aldermen, having become attached to the Whig interest. (fn. 103)
One of the earliest Gloucester men to take a serious interest in the city's history was the Revd. Richard Furney, who was master of the Crypt school in 1720 when the city corporation employed him to reorganize its archives. His detailed compilation on the city was used, largely unaltered, by Samuel Rudder in his county history of 1779. Histories of the city by the Revd. Thomas Rudge and the Revd. Thomas Fosbrooke, published in 1811 and 1819 respectively, were of a conventional antiquarian type, concerned mainly with the Roman and medieval periods and the Civil War events. Some rather more mundane detail was provided by the solicitor George Worrall Counsel in a short history published in 1829; (fn. 104) Counsel's anxiety to stress the orderly and efficient government of the city and its favourable economic prospects presumably reflected the fact that he was then its leading property developer. (fn. 105)