Gloucester: Public buildings

Pages 248-251

A History of the County of Gloucester: Volume 4, the City of Gloucester. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1988.

This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.


In this section


BOOTHALL. (fn. 1)

A building on the south side of Westgate Street, in the block between Berkeley Street and Upper Quay Lane, was the original seat of the government of the town as well as playing an important role in its commercial life. A building on or near the site was recorded as the guildhall in 1192 when the burgesses were licensed to use it for buying and selling, (fn. 2) and the Boothall was named in 1216. (fn. 3) A lease of land at the site c. 1230, granted on behalf of the guild merchant, suggests that separate parts of the same group of buildings were then known as the guildhall and the Boothall (fn. 4) but later the two names were used indiscriminately until the term guildhall lapsed altogether in the late Middle Ages. Described as 'the Boothall of the community of the town of Gloucester' in 1349, (fn. 5) the building was used for the sittings of the hundred court (fn. 6) and as a market hall; it was apparently the principal leather market in 1273, (fn. 7) and by 1396 wool was sold there and weighed on the official weighing beams. (fn. 8) In 1455, and apparently by the early 14th century, the buildings included an inn. (fn. 9)

In 1529 the corporation decided to rebuild the Boothall, using £80 of a bequest made to the town by Thomas Gloucester (d. 1447) for loans to tradesmen; the sum was to be repaid over the succeeding years out of the rents of the site and the profits of the weighing beams. The rebuilding was evidently completed before 1536. (fn. 10) Later the Boothall and the Boothall inn were granted on long leases by the corporation, which reserved the use of the main hall for sittings of the hundred court and the city assizes and quarter sessions and the use of a great chamber called the election chamber for the election of the city officers at Michaelmas (and perhaps also for the election of the M.P.s). By 1558, and perhaps from much earlier, the Boothall was also being used as the shire hall for Gloucestershire, the county assizes and quarter sessions being held there. (fn. 11) A new place for the sale of yarn was apparently provided in the building in the mid 1580s, (fn. 12) and work carried out in the years 1593–4 involved the building of a 'new hall'. (fn. 13) In 1607 the Boothall was to be rebuilt and enlarged and separate courtrooms created so that the assize courts for city and county could sit at the same time without disturbing each other. (fn. 14) In 1613 the rooms used for official purposes were the great hall and the election chamber, both described as newly built, and two other chambers, one used by the grand jury. The chambers, entered from a gallery, (fn. 15) apparently formed an upper storey at one end of the great hall, which occupied the full height of the building, its roof supported by a double row of wooden posts. (fn. 16) The south end of the hall was rebuilt in brick in 1761 following a fire, (fn. 17) but the rest of the building remained of close-studded timber-frame construction. (fn. 18) The Boothall inn, occupying the street frontage of the site, (fn. 19) was also a basically timber-framed building, but in the 18th century, apparently in the years 1742–3, it was refaced as seven bays with a central pediment, containing the city arms. (fn. 20)

From the mid 16th century the Boothall was used by visiting companies of players, (fn. 21) and concerts, plays, and performances by travelling showmen were regularly staged there in the 18th century and the early 19th. (fn. 22) The hall continued to house the wool and leather markets until at least the 18th century. (fn. 23) As courtrooms, however, the Boothall was found increasingly inadequate; by the 1770s the city quarter sessions had been moved to the Tolsey (fn. 24) and in the early years of the 19th century some of the business of the county sessions was done at the King's Head inn on the other side of Westgate Street. (fn. 25) The Boothall finally lost its role as a seat of justice in 1816 with the opening of the new Shire Hall on an adjoining site. The old hall was later used as a coach house and stables for the Boothall hotel, (fn. 26) and, following its sale by the corporation in 1868, it housed at various times a music hall, skating rink, theatre, and cinema. (fn. 27) It was largely rebuilt c. 1850 (fn. 28) and again, following a fire, in the mid 1870s, (fn. 29) though sections of timber-framed walling survived the rebuildings. (fn. 30) The hall and the Boothall hotel were demolished in 1957 (fn. 31) and the site was later incorporated in the extended Shire Hall.


The Shire Hall, east of the Boothall extending from Westgate Street through to Bearland, was begun in 1815 and opened the following year. (fn. 32) The cost was met by a county rate and the building was vested in the county magistrates but, as the city assizes and quarter sessions were also to use the new courtrooms, the corporation was made responsible for buying the houses that had to be cleared from the site. (fn. 33) The new building was designed by Robert Smirke. The front part, opening on Westgate Street by a tall Ionic portico said to be inspired by the temple on the river Ilissus in Greece, included a grand jury room, the office of the clerk of the peace (who had previously occupied a nearby house), and a large public room which was used for concerts during the Three Choirs festival. The rear part of the building comprised two semicircular courtrooms linked by offices and retiring rooms for the judges and counsel. (fn. 34) The front part was internally remodelled in 1896 to provide a county council chamber and new offices for the clerk of the peace, county treasurer, and county surveyor, and a substantial addition was made on its east side in the years 1909–11. (fn. 35) Various temporary buildings were put up on the west side of the Shire Hall after 1938. (fn. 36) During the early 1960s the front part of the original building was rebuilt except for the portico (fn. 37) and the whole complex was massively enlarged by blocks of offices added on the west side and extending over Bearland to connect with another new block which incorporated the county police headquarters. In the early 1970s another block was built south of Quay Street on the site of the old county militia barracks.


A building which stood on the south-west corner of the Cross was presumably in use for town business by 1455 when it was owned and occupied by the stewards. (fn. 38) It was mentioned by the name Tolsey in 1507 in a context which suggests that it was the place where property deeds were filed. (fn. 39) It was rebuilt in the mid 1560s (fn. 40) and again in 1603. By the latter date it had become the venue for the meetings of the common council; (fn. 41) in 1509 and until at least 1594 the council held its meetings in a room at the east gate. (fn. 42)

In 1622 a new room was made in the Tolsey as an office for the town clerk who had previously worked from an adjoining building. (fn. 43) In 1648 there was a major rebuilding of the Tolsey when All Saints' church, which adjoined its north side, was incorporated within it. The upper floor of the new building was used for the council chamber and the ground floor for the sheriffs' court. (fn. 44) The former, in which sash windows were inserted in 1724, was jettied out over a colonnade and surmounted by a wooden balustrade. (fn. 45)

The Tolsey was rebuilt in 1751 as a two-storeyed classical building of brick with stone dressings, having a parapet surmounted by urns and, over the main front to Westgate Street, a pediment with a carving of the city arms and insignia. (fn. 46) By the later 19th century the building had become unsuitable for the increasingly complex city administration; by 1889 the town clerk and other city officers were housed in part of the nearby corn exchange, (fn. 47) and traffic noise from the streets was disturbing the councillors' meetings. (fn. 48) In 1892 the Tolsey was replaced by the new Guildhall. Sold by the corporation the following year, it was demolished and new premises for the Wilts and Dorset Banking Co. built on the site. (fn. 49) From 1843 until its sale part of the Tolsey had been used as the city post office. (fn. 50)


The new city hall, named the Guildhall, was begun in 1890 and opened in 1892 on the site on the north side of Eastgate Street formerly occupied by Sir Thomas Rich's school. The building was designed by G. H. Hunt. It extended back from Eastgate Street, on which it had a stone front in Renaissance style, as far as New Inn Lane and included offices for the town clerk, accountant, surveyor, and other officials on the ground floor and council chamber, committee rooms, mayor's parlour, and public hall on the first floor. (fn. 51) It remained in use for council meetings and as the chief executive's offices until 1985 when the council sold it to the Cheltenham and Gloucester Building Society and began moving its headquarters to a converted warehouse at the docks. Most of the city council administration was then housed in two modern office blocks, the planning and environmental departments in Spa Road and the treasurer's and housing departments on the north side of Barton Street.


A cross stood at the main crossroads in the centre of Gloucester by the mid 13th century. (fn. 52) In 1455, when it was known as the high cross, it was depicted as a structure with an octagonal plan and two storeys, surmounted by a spire; the upper storey had crocketed niches. The lower storey had by then been adapted as a conduit for the water supply brought by pipes from Robins Wood Hill. (fn. 53) The cross is said variously to have been rebuilt in the reigns of Henry VII and Henry VIII. (fn. 54) In 1635 it was repaired and railed off at the instigation of Bishop Godfrey Goodman who gave £20 towards the cost, and it was repaired and regilded in 1694 and 1712. (fn. 55) It was depicted in 1750 as a substantial structure, rising to over 34 ft. in height, with a lower storey of blind crocketed arches, an upper storey of eight crocketed niches containing statues of sovereigns, and an elaborate top stage with castellations and pennants. Apart from the top stage, the cross appears to have been mainly 14th-century work, though the details of the two lower storeys are difficult to reconcile with sketches made in 1455. (fn. 56) The statues on the cross were listed c. 1710 as those of King John, Henry III and Eleanor his queen, Edward III, Richard II, Richard III, Elizabeth I, and Charles I. (fn. 57) The original statue of the last sovereign, removed from the cross in 1650 or 1651 after some soldiers had defaced it, had been replaced by a new one at the Restoration. (fn. 58) The choice of John, Henry III, Richard II, and Richard III was presumably dictated by the charters of liberties granted by those kings, and of Queen Eleanor by her tenure of the lordship of the borough during her widowhood. The cross was demolished in 1751 as part of measures taken for clearing obstructions from the streets. (fn. 59)

Other medieval crosses in the town included one with a stepped plinth which stood by St. Kyneburgh's chapel at the south gate in 1455, (fn. 60) one recorded from the 13th century in the Island below St. Bartholomew's Hospital, (fn. 61) and one, mentioned in 1370, marking the borough boundary in the middle of Over causeway. (fn. 62) The cross by St. Kyneburgh had been removed by 1551, and in 1550 or 1551 two other crosses, at Alvin gate and at one of the abbey gates, were pulled down. (fn. 63) In 1647 a cross in the cathedral close, evidently a fairly large one, was demolished. (fn. 64)


A structure known as the King's Board which stood in the middle of Westgate Street above Holy Trinity church was, according to tradition, given to the town by Richard II (fn. 65) and on architectural grounds can be assigned to that period; the earliest documentary record found is in 1455. (fn. 66) The small size of the structure has led to the suggestion that its original function was as a preaching cross (fn. 67) but by the 1580s it was used as a butter market. (fn. 68) In 1693 its top was altered to accommodate a cistern for storing water pumped up from the Severn by the new water works built at Westgate bridge. (fn. 69) The King's Board was taken down under the improvement Act of 1750 (fn. 70) and re-erected in the ornamental garden of the Hyett family on the castle grounds. When the site was taken for building the new county gaol in the 1780s the King's Board was moved to the garden of a house in Barton Street, from which it was moved by W. P. Price to the grounds of Tibberton Court in the mid 19th century. (fn. 71) In 1937 it was brought back and placed in the public gardens at Hillfield in London Road. (fn. 72)

The King's Board is decagonal on plan, having five bays of open arcading, the spandrels of the arches being carved with scenes from the life of Christ. (fn. 73) Effigies of heraldic beasts on the parapet and a pyramidal roof, surmounted by a cross, were taken down to make way for the cistern in 1693 (fn. 74) and it is possible that further alterations to the form of the structure occurred during the later removals and reconstructions.


An elaborately carved conduit was put up in Southgate Street in 1636 at the cost of John Scriven and supplied with water from the Robins Wood Hill pipe. (fn. 75) It was taken down in 1784 or 1785 and moved to a garden in Dog Lane on the east side of the city. In the 1830s when that area was developed as the new Clarence Street it was moved by Edmund Hopkinson to the grounds of his house, Edgeworth Manor. (fn. 76) It was returned to Gloucester at the same time as the King's Board in 1937 and placed in the Hillfield gardens. (fn. 77)

Scriven's Conduit is an open octagonal structure in a mixture of Gothic and classical styles, having carved medallions, depicting the resources of the Vale of Gloucester, on the entablature. The top, which may not be original, as it is said to have been rebuilt in 1705, (fn. 78) comprises an ogee-shaped open canopy, the finial carved with allegorical figures, one representing the river Severn.


Several statues of sovereigns once adorned the main streets of the city. A statue of Charles II was set up in a niche on the north end of the wheat market house in Southgate Street in 1661 or 1662. (fn. 79) After the demolition of the market house in the 1780s, it was moved to the garden of a house at Chaxhill, Westbury-on-Severn. (fn. 80) In 1960 it was returned to Gloucester, damaged and badly weathered, and was set up in a new housing estate south of St. Mary's Square. (fn. 81) In 1686 the Catholic mayor John Hill set up a statue of James II on the conduit by Holy Trinity church, but after the Revolution of 1688 it was broken up and thrown into the Severn by soldiers quartered in the town. (fn. 82) In 1711 or 1712 a statue of Queen Anne, carved by John Ricketts, was put up near the top of Southgate Street. (fn. 83) About 1780 it was moved to the grounds of Paddock House, north of the later Pitt Street, and in 1839 to College Green. (fn. 84) In 1865 it was moved to the park at the Spa, (fn. 85) where it remained, much weathered, in 1986. A statue of George I in Roman dress, also by Ricketts, was put up in Westgate Street in 1720 and was moved to Eastgate Street near the barley market house in 1766; (fn. 86) its later history has not been traced.

In 1826 the place outside St. Mary's gateway where Bishop Hooper was burnt at the stake in 1555 was marked by a monument in the form of a small tomb, put up at the cost of J. R. Cleland of Rathgael House, co. Down. (fn. 87) A more substantial monument, paid for by public subscription, was begun in 1861 and completed in 1863. Designed by Medland and Maberly, it has an effigy of the bishop by Edward Thornhill (fn. 88) under a crocketed and pinnacled canopy. A statue of Robert Raikes, a replica of one on the Thames embankment in London, was set up in the park in 1930 to mark the third golden jubilee of the Sunday School movement. (fn. 89)


  • 1. This article was written in 1982 and revised in 1986.
  • 2. Pipe R. 1192 (P.R.S. N S ii), 285.
  • 3. Rot. Litt. Claus. (Rec. Com.), i. 283.
  • 4. Glouc. Corp. Rec. p. 122.
  • 5. Ibid. p. 346.
  • 6. Ibid. p. 14; Glouc. Cath. Libr., Reg. Abb. Froucester B, p. 341; Glouc. Rental, 1455, 47.
  • 7. G.B.R., G 8/1.
  • 8. Ibid. C 9/2 B 2/1, ff. 13v.–14.
  • 9. Glouc. Rental, 1455, 47.
  • 10. G.B.R., B 2/1, ff. 14, 218v., 222v., 236; and for Gloucester's bequest, Glouc. Corp. Rec. p. 398.
  • 11. G.B.R., B 2/2, ff. 114–115v., 138–139v.; B 3/1, f. 201.
  • 12. Ibid. F 4/3, f. 233.
  • 13. Ibid. ff. 293v.–295v.
  • 14. Ibid. B 3/1, f. 220v.
  • 15. Ibid. f. 248 and v.; J 3/1, ff. 66v.–67.
  • 16. Ibid. J 4/12, no. 2; Counsel, Glouc. 169; Illustrated Lond. News, 23 Jan. 1847.
  • 17. G.B.R., B 3/11, f. 20; cf. Glos. R.O., GPS 154/468.
  • 18. Sketch in Illustrated Lond. News, 23 Jan. 1847, reproduced above, Plate 37.
  • 19. Causton, Map of Glouc. (1843).
  • 20. Glos. R.O., GPS 154/467; G.B.R., B 3/9, f. 464; F 4/9, pp. 374–5, 393; above, Plate 14.
  • 21. T. Hannam-Clark, Drama in Glos. (1928), 41–2.
  • 22. Glouc. Jnl. 10 Nov. 1766; 19 Dec. 1768; 23 Mar. 1789; 29 Dec. 1806.
  • 23. Ibid. 9 Apr. 1722; 19 June 1750; 24 Oct. 1752.
  • 24. Rudder, Glos. 89.
  • 25. Glouc. Jnl. 30 Sept. 1811.
  • 26. Illustrated Lond. News, 23 Jan. 1847.
  • 27. Hannam-Clark, Drama in Glos. 110; Glos. R.O., DC/F 24.
  • 28. Power's Glouc. Handbk. (1848), 90, says it had been rebuilt, but Bd. of Health Map (1852), shows only parts of the bldg. standing.
  • 29. Glouc. Jnl. 30 May 1874; 15 Jan., 30 May 1876.
  • 30. Glos. R.O., GPS 154/468–9; Hannam-Clark, Drama in Glos. 107.
  • 31. Glouc. Jnl. 18 May 1957. The arms from the hotel pediment, restored and regilded, were placed on a new bldg. at the entrance of Three Cocks Lane in 1961: plaque on bldg.
  • 32. Glouc. Jnl. 19 June 1815; 19 Aug. 1816.
  • 33. Glos. Shire Hall Act, 54 Geo. III, c. 175 (Local and Personal).
  • 34. Glouc. Jnl. 19 Aug. 1816; 22 Sept. 1817; Counsel, Glouc. 169–71; cf. Bd. of Health Map (1852).
  • 35. Glos. R.O., DC/F 6/1; Kelly's Dir. Glos. (1939), 183.
  • 36. Glos. R.O., DC/F 24–30; cf. Glouc., a Pictorial Rec. (John Jennings Ltd., n.d.), 40.
  • 37. Cf. Glouc. Jnl. 7 July 1962.
  • 38. Glouc. Rental, 1455, 3.
  • 39. G.B.R., G 10/1, p. 350.
  • 40. Ibid. F 4/3, ff. 114, 119, 122v.
  • 41. Ibid. B 3/1, ff. 196v., 198v.
  • 42. Ibid. J 5/3, 5; F 4/3, ff. 234 and v., 308v.; cf. ibid. J 3/1, ff. 79v.–80.
  • 43. Ibid. B 3/1, ff. 438v., 485v., 488v.
  • 44. Ibid. 2, pp. 459–60, 464; Trans. B.G.A.S. xix. 152–3.
  • 45. Glos. Colln. prints GL 20. 6, reproduced above, Plate 36; G.B.R., B 3/9, f. 167v.
  • 46. G.B.R., B 3/10, ff. 147v.–148, 154 and v.; Glos. Colln. prints GL 7. 25, reproduced above, Plate 38. The carpenter Wm. Roberts, who was paid for the work, may also have been the architect: G.B.R., F 4/10, ff. 249, 293.
  • 47. Kelly's Dir. Glos. (1889), 783.
  • 48. Glouc. Jnl. 16 July 1892.
  • 49. Trans. B.G.A.S. xix. 152–3; Kelly's Dir. Glos. (1894), 167.
  • 50. G.B.R., B 4/1/6, pp. 107, 334; Causton, Map of Glouc. (1843); Glouc. Jnl. 28 Nov. 1891.
  • 51. Glouc. Jnl. 16 July 1892.
  • 52. Glouc. Corp. Rec. p. 207.
  • 53. Glouc. Rental, 1455, sketches; below, Public Services, water supply.
  • 54. Bodl. MS. Top. Glouc. c. 3, f. 18; Rudder, Glos. 88.
  • 55. C. H. Dancey, 'High Cross at Glouc.', Trans. B.G.A.S. xxiv. 299–301, 306–7.
  • 56. Glos. Colln. prints GL 20.6 (reproduced above, Plate 36), a print from a drawing made by Thos. Ricketts at the request of the Soc. of Antiquaries before the demolition of the cross: Glouc. Jnl. 5 Nov. 1751. Trans. B.G.A.S. xxiv. 303–4, suggests that the statues and some of the apparent medieval work shown in 1750 came from the cross in College Green demolished in the 1640s and supports the theory by the fact that the accounts for the 1635 work do not mention any statues; but those accounts appear to relate mainly to the addition of railings, a new plinth, and new water cocks, suggesting that the main part of the structure was left substantially untouched.
  • 57. Atkyns, Glos. 190.
  • 58. G.B.R., F 4/5, f. 436v.; 6, pp. 367–8. Mr. Baldwin who carved the new statue and that of Chas. II put up soon afterwards was presumably Steph. Baldwin: Gunnis, Dict. of Brit. Sculptors, 36.
  • 59. G.B.R., B 3/10, f. 160; Glouc. Jnl. 5 Nov. 1751.
  • 60. Glouc. Rental, 1455, 19, and sketch no. 7.
  • 61. Ibid. 27, 57; P.R.O., C 115/K 1/6681, f. 94.
  • 62. Hist. & Cart. Mon. Glouc. (Rolls Ser.), iii. 257.
  • 63. G.B.R., F 4/3, f. 29v.
  • 64. Ibid. 5, ff. 341 and v., 347; B 3/2, p. 397.
  • 65. Bodl. MS. Top. Glouc. c. 3, f. 14.
  • 66. Glouc. Rental, 1455, 35.
  • 67. M. H. Medland, 'So-called King's Board at Tibberton Court', Trans. B.G.A.S. xxvi. 342–3.
  • 68. G.B.R., F 4/3, f. 238.
  • 69. Below, Public Services, water supply.
  • 70. Glouc. Improvement Act, 23 Geo. II, c. 15.
  • 71. Trans. B.G.A.S. xxvi. 339.
  • 72. Glouc. Corp. Mins. (1936–7), pp. 1855, 2022.
  • 73. Above, Plate 39.
  • 74. Bodl. MS. Top. Glouc. c. 3, f. 214 and v.
  • 75. G.B.R., B 3/2, p. 39.
  • 76. H. Medland, 'Scriven's Conduit', Trans. B.G.A.S. xiii. 242.
  • 77. Glouc. Corp. Mins. (1936–7), pp. 1851, 2022.
  • 78. Bodl. MS. Top. Glouc. c. 3, f. 41v.
  • 79. G.B.R., B 3/3, pp. 162, 222; F 4/6, p. 446.
  • 80. Cf. Glos. Colln. NR 1.4.
  • 81. Plaque on plinth.
  • 82. Bodl. MS. Top. Glouc. c. 3, f. 40 and v.; G.B.R., F 4/7, p. 425.
  • 83. G.B.R., F 4/8, p. 103; Rudder, Glos. 86.
  • 84. Gent. Mag. (1839) pt. i, 631.
  • 85. G.B.R., B 4/9/1, min. 12 June 1865.
  • 86. Ibid. B 3/9, ff. 73, 84v.; 11, f. 78v.; B. Martin, Natural Hist. of Eng. (1759), 354.
  • 87. Glouc. Jnl. 21 Sept. 1861 (suppl.); illustrated in Glos. Colln. prints GL 55.33.
  • 88. Glouc. Jnl. 21 Sept. 1861; 14 Feb. 1863.
  • 89. Ibid. 4 Oct. 1930.