Gloucester: Bridges, gates and walls

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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'Gloucester: Bridges, gates and walls', A History of the County of Gloucester: Volume 4, the City of Gloucester, (London, 1988), pp. 242-245. British History Online [accessed 24 June 2024].

. "Gloucester: Bridges, gates and walls", in A History of the County of Gloucester: Volume 4, the City of Gloucester, (London, 1988) 242-245. British History Online, accessed June 24, 2024,

. "Gloucester: Bridges, gates and walls", A History of the County of Gloucester: Volume 4, the City of Gloucester, (London, 1988). 242-245. British History Online. Web. 24 June 2024,

In this section


BRIDGES. (fn. 1)

The main road out of Gloucester towards the west was carried across three branches of the river Severn and low-lying meadow by a series of bridges and a long causeway. The bridges and causeway evidently existed in some form by 1086 when Highnam manor at the western end was included in a hundred called 'Tolangebriges'. (fn. 2) 'Gloucester bridge' was a landmark in the perambulation of the Forest of Dean before Henry II's reign. (fn. 3) The history of Over bridge, spanning the western branch of the river, is given in another volume, (fn. 4) and a bridge across the eastern branch giving access to Gloucester castle is mentioned below. (fn. 5)

The easternmost branch of the river, known as the Old or Little Severn (fn. 6) and, later, Dockham ditch, (fn. 7) was crossed by the Foreign bridge. The name of the bridge, though not found recorded before 1493, (fn. 8) presumably derived from an early period when the Old Severn marked the western limit of the town's liberties. The bridge, which was repaired by the corporation out of the communal funds, (fn. 9) had seven stone arches c. 1540 (fn. 10) and at the beginning of the 18th century was a substantial structure with cutwaters. (fn. 11) As a result of the filling in of the northern part of the Old Severn before the early 17th century (fn. 12) the volume of water under the bridge was much reduced and most of the arches rendered unnecessary; by the 1820s several had been built over and hidden from view. (fn. 13) Dockham ditch was culverted below the bridge in 1825 (fn. 14) and north of the bridge the channel was filled in in 1853 as part of a programme of sanitary improvements in the city. (fn. 15) Further down Westgate Street beyond St. Bartholomew's Hospital a smaller bridge, of one or two arches, called Cole bridge, carried the road across Cole brook, a watercourse which drained the meadows. (fn. 16) It was demolished in the late 18th century or the early 19th. (fn. 17)

Westgate bridge, or the west bridge, crossed the central branch of the Severn at the western limit of the town. In 1355 it was stated that a chaplain called Nicholas Walred began building the bridge in Henry II's reign and that a house established nearby as lodgings for the workmen and for the care of the sick was the origin of St. Bartholomew's Hospital; (fn. 18) that record presumably related to a rebuilding, perhaps the building of the first stone structure. The brothers of St. Bartholomew's assumed responsibility for the upkeep of the bridge. They were described as the wardens and preachers of Gloucester bridge in 1221, (fn. 19) though at the same time the incumbent of St. Nicholas's church claimed the custody of the bridge; (fn. 20) if there was any dispute over the matter it was presumably resolved a few years later when the church was granted to the hospital. In 1264 Henry III gave four oaks to the hospital for the repair of the bridge, which had been broken down, presumably in the recent fighting in the town, (fn. 21) and the brothers were collecting alms for its repair in 1266. (fn. 22) In the late 1280s the archbishop of York granted an indulgence for those aiding further repairs, the brothers because of their poverty undertaking to use their own labour. (fn. 23) In 1456 a grant of protection was made on behalf of four representatives of the hospital who were journeying through the country seeking alms for repairs. (fn. 24) Walter Bridgeward, who lived in a house adjoining the bridge in 1451, was presumably employed by the hospital to supervise the works. (fn. 25)

By the beginning of the 16th century, however, the burgess community, for whose prosperity the bridge was vital, had accepted the greater part of the burden of repairing Westgate bridge. In 1505 the mayor and burgesses, in support of their claim to levy tolls on passing trows, said that they owned the bridge and were responsible for the repairs, having spent 300 marks on it during the previous three years. (fn. 26) The work on the bridge, and on Over causeway beyond it, was also aided at that period by bequests of money from many individual burgesses, (fn. 27) and there were more substantial endowments from some eminent inhabitants. Alderman John Capel (d. 1505) left his lease of White Barn farm at Kingsholm, from 10 years after his death, to the care of two burgesses chosen by the mayor, who were to use the profits to buy stone for the bridge; the labour was to be provided by the hospital and any surplus funds were to be used on stone for the Foreign bridge and the quay. (fn. 28) Joan Cooke charged the endowment she made in 1540 for the Crypt school with £5 a year for repairs to the bridge and Over causeway, (fn. 29) and Thomas Bell and his wife Joan in 1542 assigned property to the corporation from after their deaths, to be used initially for repairing the bridge and causeway. (fn. 30) Full legal responsibility for the bridge (if it had not assumed it earlier) would have passed to the corporation when it took control of St. Bartholomew's Hospital in the 1560s. (fn. 31)

Westgate bridge was described as having four arches in 1447, (fn. 32) as a great bridge of freestone, arched and embowed, in 1505, (fn. 33) and as having five great arches c. 1540. (fn. 34) Part of the bridge was taken down and replaced by a drawbridge at the time of the siege of 1643, (fn. 35) and in 1727 it comprised two arches spanned with brick and stone and two spanned with planks of timber. (fn. 36) Later in the 18th century, when the bridge and the west gate leading on to it formed a favourite subject for artists, only one of the irregularly built arches was formed of timber. (fn. 37) Work on the bridge was a regular item of corporation expenditure in the 17th and 18th centuries. (fn. 38) Floods and ice often caused damage in the winter months, and in its disputes with the trowmen over tolls the corporation claimed that hooking and grappling in order to haul boats through the arches was another regular cause of damage. (fn. 39) A capstan for hauling boats through was installed at the bridge in 1569 or 1570 (fn. 40) and was still in use in the 1720s. (fn. 41)

In 1806 an Act of Parliament empowered commissioners, including the full corporation, to levy tolls for rebuilding the bridge. (fn. 42) The work was carried out between 1813 and 1816 (fn. 43) while traffic was diverted over a temporary wooden bridge built alongside. The new bridge, a single arch of stone, was designed by Robert Smirke, the commissioners having decided to employ an eminent architect rather than an engineer in the belief that 'the scientific principles, approved and acted upon by the ancient masters of architecture, and which have stood the test of ages' were the only ones to be relied on. (fn. 44) The tolls let for about £2,000 a year and the commissioners' expenditure would have been recouped within a few years had they not decided to go on to rebuild Over causeway, a decision that was challenged unsuccessfully in the courts. The continuance of the tolls caused much annoyance locally, culminating in the destruction of the tollhouse by a mob in September 1827. Workmen engaged on rebuilding Over bridge, who had to cross Westgate bridge on their way to and from work, began the disturbance but they were joined by many other people, instigated, it was said, by some of the 'more respectable' townspeople. After detachments of troops had been called in to restore order, the commissioners agreed to end the tolls on foot passengers within a few weeks and all other tolls by the end of 1828. (fn. 45) Responsibility for repair of the bridge then reverted to the corporation, (fn. 46) which from 1859 until 1910 received £80 a year in aid of the maintenance of the bridge and causeway, paid in respect of Joan Cooke's bequest out of the Crypt school endowment. (fn. 47) In 1941 the arch of Westgate bridge was demolished and a steel Bailey bridge laid on the abutments. (fn. 48) That was replaced in the early 1970s by a pair of steel and concrete structures as part of a new western approach road.

Over causeway ran for c. 1,000 yd. across the meadows of Alney Island between Westgate bridge and Over bridge. By the 1540s (fn. 49) it was pierced at intervals by a series of double or single arches which allowed for the passage of water during the flooding by the river in winter. In the early 18th century there were about 17 arches in the whole length of the causeway. (fn. 50) The corporation repaired the eastern half which lay within the city boundary and had some responsibility for the other half through its administration of Joan Cooke's bequest, which applied to the whole length. (fn. 51) Responsibility for the western half was assumed in 1726 by the new Gloucester and Hereford turnpike trust. An Act of 1776 gave powers for raising and widening the causeway; the floods sometimes rose over the roadway, which on the arches was wide enough only for single-line traffic. (fn. 52) The Gloucester and Hereford trustees paid for widening and repairing seven arches and rebuilding two others in 1778, and in 1793, when a further scheme of improvement was under discussion, their half of the causeway was 12 ft. 6 in. in width and the corporation's half only 9 ft. 6 in. (fn. 53) In the early 1820s the causeway was described as ruinous and dangerous and in the years 1823–4 the Westgate bridge commissioners rebuilt the whole length with brick arches and parapet walls; (fn. 54) trees were planted along it at the corporation's expense. (fn. 55) In the early 1970s a new raised roadway was constructed on the western side of the city, based for part of its length on the existing causeway but leaving it to cross the western branch of the Severn by a new bridge upstream from Over bridge. (fn. 56)


The inner defences of medieval Gloucester were based to a considerable extent on those of the Roman town; the walls enclosing the eastern half of the town rested on the remains of the Roman walls. On the south side the defences were continued westwards to the Severn by those of Gloucester castle and on the north side by the precinct walls of Gloucester Abbey and St. Oswald's Priory. The north wall of the abbey precinct was probably rebuilt further north in the early 13th century, (fn. 57) and whether it was the town wall or belonged to the abbey was in some doubt before 1447 when the burgess community released their claim to it, the abbey undertaking to repair it and promising not to make any new entrances in it. (fn. 58) In the inner circuit of defences there were six town gates. The road from Painswick and the Barton Street suburb entered by the east gate, or Ailes gate; (fn. 59) the Bristol road entered by the south gate; the road from Wales and Hereford entered across Westgate bridge through the west gate, which stood at the east end of the bridge; Water Street entered by the blind gate, so called by 1447, (fn. 60) at the north-west corner of the abbey precinct; the London road entered by the north gate; and Brook Street entered by the postern gate at the north-east corner of the walls. The walls around the eastern half of the town had an outer moat. Between the postern gate and the north gate the moat was provided by the southern branch of the river Twyver, and water diverted from the Twyver filled the ditch along the east and south walls. The ditch along the east wall was known as Goose ditch. (fn. 61)

On the north side of the town there were two outer gates built on the north branch of the Twyver at the limits of ancient suburbs. Alvin gate stood on the Tewkesbury road at the north end of Hare Lane and the outer north gate stood in the London road. No evidence has been found of there having been any additional defences apart from the Twyver to defend that outer area.

Archaeological evidence suggests that the town's defensive system was rebuilt soon after the Norman Conquest, the new work being based partly on the Roman defences, which may have been maintained in late Saxon times. (fn. 62) The documentary evidence for the defences begins in the next century; the north and south gates were mentioned in the 1140s (fn. 63) and Alvin gate in 1181. (fn. 64) Murage for the upkeep of the walls and gates was granted at intervals between 1226 and the early 15th century, and the mid 13th century with grants in 1250, 1260, and 1265 (fn. 65) saw a major programme of improvements. Excavation has shown that a substantial new east gate and a bastion in the wall north of the east gate were provided at that period, (fn. 66) and the postern gate at the north-east corner of the walls was apparently built c. 1250. (fn. 67) The southern half of the east wall was probably given similar defensive works at the same period, for a postern at the south end and a tower between it and the east gate were mentioned in 1509. (fn. 68) In 1266 or 1267 the burgesses, on the king's orders, enlarged the south ditch of the town, demolishing several houses in the process. (fn. 69) Much repair work was done at the end of the century under a murage grant of 1298. (fn. 70) In April 1360, when measures were being taken in response to the fear of French invasion, the walls were reported to be in a neglected state and the townspeople were ordered to repair them; when peace was made with France they left the work unfinished and a further order was made two months later. (fn. 71) The south ditch was further enlarged in 1377 when French raids on the English coast caused alarm. (fn. 72)

In the late Middle Ages five of the town gates — the east, south, west, outer north, and Alvin gates — were the official entrances for such purposes as collecting tolls and were manned by porters. (fn. 73) The inner north gate housed the main prison of the town by 1502. (fn. 74) In 1590 a gaoler's lodging was built on the east side of it, partly financed with 20 marks given by Richard Pate (d. 1588) for repairing the gates. (fn. 75) Two gates were in use as prisons in 1485; (fn. 76) the other one was probably the east gate, which housed women prisoners in 1560. (fn. 77) From at least 1613 until its demolition in the late 18th century the east gate was used as the bridewell, or house of correction. (fn. 78) The rooms in the various gates were also used in the late 16th century as meeting places for some of the trade companies. (fn. 79)

The gates were regularly repaired and maintained during the earlier 17th century. (fn. 80) During the siege of the city by the royalist army in 1643 the gates and walls provided the inner ring of defences. They were masked by an elaborate system of outer defensive works and strengthened against artillery fire by earth ramparts, (fn. 81) while as an additional defence on the north-west side the low-lying land of Little Meadow and Meanham was flooded. (fn. 82) Other modifications to the ancient defences at the time of the siege probably included the drawbridges at the main gates, recorded in the late 1640s. (fn. 83) Alvin gate was apparently destroyed during the siege, (fn. 84) and the south gate, battered by cannon shot, later collapsed and was rebuilt in 1644 with the inscription: 'A City Assaulted by Man, but Saved by God'. (fn. 85) In 1671 the royalist mayor Henry Fowler removed that inscription and placed the royal arms over the gate. (fn. 86) Great breaches were made in the walls under an order for slighting in 1662 and the wooden doors were taken down from the gates, most of them being given to Worcester city. (fn. 87)

As the 18th century progressed the gates were found to be obstacles to traffic. The east gate was taken down in 1778 (fn. 88) and the north, outer north, and south gates were removed under an improvement Act of 1781. (fn. 89) The west gate, a substantial structure with four corner turrets, (fn. 90) was removed in 1805 or 1806 in preparation for the rebuilding of Westgate bridge. (fn. 91) The blind gate still stood in 1724 (fn. 92) but in 1783 was said to have been pulled down many years previously. (fn. 93) Substantial parts of the city walls, mainly in the south-east quarter, remained until the late 19th century. (fn. 94) The sections enclosing Friars Orchard on the east and south were maintained by the owners of that property under a 100-year lease granted by the corporation in 1785, (fn. 95) and in 1888, when it conveyed Friars Orchard as the site of the Crypt school, the corporation insisted on the preservation of the wall as an object of historic interest. (fn. 96) Another section of the east wall in Constitution Walk and a section of the north wall near St. Aldate's church were still kept in repair by the corporation in the 1820s; (fn. 97) substantial remains at the former site were removed or obscured in the late 19th century when the science and art school and library were built. (fn. 98) In 1982 no part of the walls remained visible but substantial footings survived underground or in cellars. (fn. 99) The foundations of the east gate, excavated in the 1970s, (fn. 100) and those of the bastion north of it, first uncovered in 1873, (fn. 101) were preserved in viewing chambers.


  • 1. This article was written in 1982.
  • 2. Dom. Bk. (Rec. Com.), i. 165v.
  • 3. Close R. 1227–31, 99.
  • 4. V.C.H. Glos. x. 15–16.
  • 5. Below, Glouc. Castle.
  • 6. Hist. & Cart. Mon. Glouc. (Rolls Ser.), iii. 257; Glouc. Cath. Libr., Reg. Abb. Malvern, ii, f. 8v.; G.B.R., J 4/12, nos. 13, 125; Counsel, Glouc. 68, 153.
  • 7. G.B.R., F 4/3, f. 302v.; Causton, Map of Glouc. (1843).
  • 8. G.B.R., F 4/2.
  • 9. Ibid. 2; 3, f. 134.
  • 10. Leland, Itin. ed. Toulmin Smith, ii. 57–8.
  • 11. Atkyns, Glos. plate at pp. 82–3, detail reproduced above, Fig. 7.
  • 12. Below, Outlying Hamlets, intro.
  • 13. Counsel, Glouc. 68, 153.
  • 14. Rep. Com. Mun. Corp. 67; G.B.R., J 3/13, p. 452; J 4/12, nos. 7–8.
  • 15. G.B.R., N 2/1/1, p. 741.
  • 16. Leland, Itin. ed. Toulmin Smith, ii. 58; G.B.R., F 4/5, f. 398; J 3/16, ff. 4, 80; J 5/2.
  • 17. Rudder, Glos. 88; Fosbrooke, Glouc. 66.
  • 18. Cal. Inq. Misc. iii, p. 80.
  • 19. Pat. R. 1216–25, 320.
  • 20. Hist. & Cart. Mon. Glouc. i. 321–2.
  • 21. Close R. 1264–8, 9.
  • 22. Cal. Pat. 1258–66, 595.
  • 23. Reg. Romeyn, i (Surtees Soc. cxxiii), p. 10.
  • 24. Cal. Pat. 1452–61, 289.
  • 25. Glouc. Corp. Rec. p. 398.
  • 26. Select Cases in Star Chamber, i (Selden Soc. xvi), 211–12.
  • 27. e.g. Hockaday Abs. ccxiii, 1534; ccxvi, 1506, 1528; ccxix, 1522; ccxx, 1488, 1490, 1492.
  • 28. G.B.R., B 2/1, ff. 237v.–8; cf. ibid. f. 26v.
  • 29. Austin, Crypt Sch. 154–5.
  • 30. G.B.R., B 2/2, ff. 24v.–26v.
  • 31. V.C.H. Glos. ii. 121.
  • 32. Cal. Pat. 1446–52, 71.
  • 33. Select Cases in Star Chamber, i (Selden Soc. xvi), 211.
  • 34. Leland, Itin. ed. Toulmin Smith, ii. 58.
  • 35. G.B.R., B 3/2, pp. 317–18.
  • 36. P.R.O., E 134/1 Geo. II Hil./4.
  • 37. e.g. Glos. Colln. prints GL 5.2, 4, 8; above, Plate 41.
  • 38. G.B.R., F 4/5–14.
  • 39. Select Cases in Star Chamber, i (Selden Soc. xvi), 212; P.R.O., E 134/4 Wm. and Mary Mich./50.
  • 40. G.B.R., F 4/3, ff. 130v., 134.
  • 41. Ibid. 8, p. 493.
  • 42. Westgate Bridge Act, 46 Geo. III, c. 45 (Local and Personal).
  • 43. Glouc. Jnl. 1 Feb. 1813; 10 June 1816.
  • 44. Glos. R.O., D 204/4/1; and for an illustration, G.B.R., L 6/30/20.
  • 45. Glos. R.O., D 204/4/1; Glouc. Jnl. 29 Sept., 6 Oct. 1827.
  • 46. Westgate Bridge Act, 46 Geo. III, c. 45 (Local and Personal), s. 49.
  • 47. Glos. R.O., D 3270/19679, pp. 59–60; Glos. Colln. NF 17.18, 21; NQ 17.2; in 1910 the payment was diverted to support an exhibition at the sch.
  • 48. Glouc. Municipal Year Bk. (1964–5), 76.
  • 49. Leland, Itin. ed. Toulmin Smith, ii. 58.
  • 50. Glos. Colln. prints GL 90.2; Glos. R.O., A 154/83, print of 1734, detail reproduced above, Plate 40.
  • 51. G.B.R., F 4/3, f. 30; 5, ff. 19v., 47v., 103.
  • 52. Maisemore Bridge and Glouc. Improvement Act, 17 Geo. III, c. 68.
  • 53. Glos. R.O., D 204/2/4.
  • 54. Ibid. 4/1.
  • 55. G.B.R., F 4/15, pp. 621, 625.
  • 56. Over bridge, closed to traffic, was preserved.
  • 57. Below, Glouc. Cath. and Close.
  • 58. G.B.R., B 2/1, f. 198.
  • 59. Glouc. Corp. Rec. p. 83; G.B.R., B 2/1, f. 121; for the gates, cf. above, Figs. 4–5.
  • 60. G.B.R., B 2/1, f. 198.
  • 61. Glouc. Corp. Rec. p. 130; G.B.R., F 4/3, f. 24v.
  • 62. C. Heighway, E. and N. Gates of Glouc. (Western Arch. Trust, 1983), 5.
  • 63. Camd. Misc. xxii, pp. 14–15; P.R.O., C 115/K 1/6681, f. 76v.
  • 64. Glouc. Cath. Libr., Reg. Abb. Froucester B, p. 200.
  • 65. Pat. R. 1225–32, 61, 479; Cal. Pat. 1232–47, 110, 225; 1247–58, 73; 1258–66, 67, 428; 1292–1301, 352; 1301–7, 68; 1307–13, 497; 1343–5, 563; 1358–61, 178; 1367–70, 188; G.B.R., F 2/3–4.
  • 66. Heighway, E. and N. Gates of Glouc. 6.
  • 67. A deed refers to the 'new east gate' adjoining land in St. Aldate's parish: Glouc. Corp. Rec. p. 209.
  • 68. G.B.R., J 5/3.
  • 69. Close R. 1264–8, 343, 414; P.R.O., C 115/K 2/6685, f. 10v.
  • 70. G.B.R., F 2/1; Cal. Pat. 1291–1301, 352.
  • 71. Cal. Close, 1360–4, 25, 43.
  • 72. P.R.O., C 115/K 2/6685, f. 12v.
  • 73. Above, Medieval Glouc., regulation of trade and ind.; Austin, Crypt Sch. 155. G.B.R., J 5/3 confirms that of the two N. gates it was the outer one that was manned.
  • 74. G.B.R., G 10/1, p. 4.
  • 75. Ibid. B 3/1, f. 124v.; G 12/1, f. 269.
  • 76. Hockaday Abs. cciii, 1485.
  • 77. G.B.R., F 4/3, f. 83.
  • 78. Ibid. B 3/1, f. 246v.; 2, p. 41; 12, ff. 104v.–105v.
  • 79. e.g. ibid. F 4/3, ff. 284, 302.
  • 80. Ibid. 5, passim.
  • 81. Bibliotheca Glos. ii. 42–3, 214; cf. Cal. S.P. Dom. 1661–2, 447.
  • 82. Fosbrooke, Glouc. 71.
  • 83. G.B.R., F 4/5, ff. 367, 406v.–407, 434v.–435.
  • 84. Fosbrooke, Glouc. 71; cf. Glos. R.O., D 327, p. 147.
  • 85. G.B.R., F 4/5, ff. 237, 242v.; Rudder, Glos. 87.
  • 86. G.B.R., B 3/3, pp. 195, 478; 6, note at end; Cal. S.P. Dom. 1671, 419.
  • 87. Cal. S.P. Dom. 1661–2, 424, 447; Rudder, Glos. 88.
  • 88. G.B.R., B 3/11, ff. 228, 245.
  • 89. Glouc. Gaol and Improvement Act, 21 Geo. III, c. 74: G.B.R., F 4/13, pp. 50, 100.
  • 90. Glos. Colln. prints GL 5.2, 8, 12; above, Plate 41.
  • 91. G.B.R., F 4/14, p. 507.
  • 92. Ibid. B 3/9, f. 159.
  • 93. Ibid. F 4/13, p. 100;
  • 94. Cf. Rudder, Glos. 87; Clarke, Archit. Hist. of Glouc. 24.
  • 95. G.B.R., J 3/11, p. 403; Glos. R.O., D 3270/C 133, C 142.
  • 96. Glos. R.O., D 3270/19655, pp. 418, 427–8.
  • 97. G.B.R., F 4/15, p. 625; B 4/1/4, f. 24v.
  • 98. Glouc. Jnl. 29 Apr. 1870; Trans. B.G.A.S. liii, plate facing p. 272.
  • 99. Cf. Trans. B.G.A.S. liii. 267–84; lxxxvi. 5–9.
  • 100. Heighway, E. and N. Gates of Glouc.
  • 101. Trans. B.G.A.S. i. 153–5; liii. 273.