Gloucester, 1640-60: Population and economic development

Pages 95-98

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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The Civil War had a significant effect on Gloucester's population. The number of inhabitants was substantially increased by the presence between 1642 and 1652 of a garrison which at its peak probably had over 1,500 men. (fn. 1) The garrison not only enlarged the population by a quarter but altered the sex ratios in the community, with a higher proportion of men. During the early 1640s there was also an influx of other outsiders, including protestant refugees from Ireland, and puritan gentry, farmers, and others fleeing from the advancing royalist forces in the west; (fn. 2) in the spring of 1643 a contingent of Tewkesbury parliamentarians decamped to Gloucester. (fn. 3) More people came to the city as a refuge from the military destruction and dislocation in the countryside. (fn. 4) Less willing, over 1,500 royalist prisoners were confined there during March 1643. (fn. 5) Moving in the opposite direction was a smaller outflow of royalist sympathisers in search of districts under the king's control. (fn. 6)

Mortality may have been quite high in the 1640s, though the parish register evidence is fragmentary. The siege itself caused limited casualties with only c. 50 people killed. (fn. 7) There were, however, outbreaks of disease in 1641 and, more seriously, in 1645–6. (fn. 8) In 1646 Gloucester's town clerk spoke of 'so great a change in this place by reason of sicknesses'. (fn. 9) At St. Nicholas burials were then running at three or four times the normal rate. (fn. 10) During the 1650s Gloucester was apparently free of epidemics, but the population may well have declined with the departure of the garrison and the return to the countryside of many of the earlier refugees. During the war years 1642–4 there was a marked decline in the number of apprentices registered in the city, but with the advent of peace the figure returned to its normal level, and throughout the period the pattern of apprenticeship migration to the city remained broadly the same. (fn. 11)

Economic Development

Gloucester's rather fragile economy experienced further setbacks as a result of the war. In 1646 the city assessed the losses in goods and property due to the siege at over £28,000. (fn. 12) A few years later it was said that business there was dead. (fn. 13) In 1652 the report was that 'the trade of this city has been this last year under some eclipse', and shortly before the Restoration the mayor and aldermen complained to the Committee of Safety in London of 'the great decay of trading here' and the proliferation of the poor. (fn. 14) A number of wealthy royalist tradesmen left the city before and during the siege, depressing business, though some later returned. (fn. 15) At the same time, there is evidence that several puritan leaders suffered badly from the heavy burdens imposed by the war. (fn. 16)

Not all sectors of the economy were adversely affected. Pinmaking seems to have expanded; by the 1650s there were several important manufacturers. (fn. 17) Common brewers supplied the needs of the large garrison. (fn. 18) Broadcloth weaving finally disappeared, but the corporation made further attempts to introduce the new draperies to the city. (fn. 19) From the mid 1640s the corporation also encouraged the establishment of brickmaking at the Common (or Town) Ham on Alney Island. (fn. 20) However, if industrial activity was improving, marketing, one of the pillars of Gloucester's economy, was in difficulty, particularly during the early 1640s. Before and during the siege there were controls on the movement of grain and in August 1643 the king established a rival market at Matson. (fn. 21) Afterwards Gloucester's trade with the hinterland was disrupted because of continuing royalist activity. (fn. 22) Once parliament recovered Bristol the malt trade revived but with the bad harvests of the late 1640s the magistrates strictly regulated shipments of corn to allay popular unrest. (fn. 23) In the longer run, commercial activity at Gloucester may well have been reduced by the economic difficulties of the inshire, which suffered military despoilment, and by the presence up to 1653 of the garrison, which deterred farmers and others from coming to the city. (fn. 24)

Those providing services likewise suffered. No assizes were held at Gloucester between 1642 and 1646 and the church courts more or less ceased to function after 1641, with a consequent diminution in the flow of litigants, witnesses, and others to the city. (fn. 25) Traffic was also discouraged by military dislocation. In any case, following the siege Gloucester was not one of the most attractive or appealing towns for the visitor. Many of the churches and other public buildings had been damaged by the royalist bombardment. The bowling green at the Long Butts, a fashionable amenity, was destroyed, (fn. 26) while large tracts of the suburbs had been laid waste. Moreover, as one citizen asserted in the 1650s, 'many of the gentry are much cooled in their affections to this city, because it has so constantly adhered unto … the parliament'; he saw that as one of the prime causes of Gloucester's decline. (fn. 27) The hostility of the gentry was exacerbated by fresh clashes over the inshire. (fn. 28)

The war brought some benefits. There was an influx of new men setting up in trade. (fn. 29) The number of freemen admitted roughly doubled in the late 1640s, with a third of them outsiders. (fn. 30) Some others set up in trade by right of having served in the parliamentary armies. (fn. 31) Over the period the trade companies saw a decline in their regulatory functions and became mainly restricted to social activities. (fn. 32) A more open urban economy was starting to evolve.

Social Problems

The war severely aggravated Gloucester's social difficulties. The influx of refugees swelled the ranks of the local poor. Those people made homeless by the firing of the suburbs in 1643 had to be maintained and found new accommodation. (fn. 33) The epidemic of the years 1645–6 caused serious distress, (fn. 34) while high food prices followed the bad harvests of the years 1647–9. (fn. 35) Together with those short-term problems, the depressed state of the urban economy generated more unemployment and underemployment. In August 1643 the poor rate had to be doubled in all the parishes. (fn. 36) Five years later the common council stressed the increase of poor people within the city. (fn. 37) During the 1650s there were repeated references to the growth of poverty. (fn. 38)

Gloucester's ability to cope with those difficulties was not aided by the state of the city's almshouses, which were so heavily in debt in 1641 that they were unable to pay their inmates. (fn. 39) The plight of the almshouses was compounded by the fall in their rental income because of the war. (fn. 40) In the late 1640s there was some attempt to revitalize them and expand their activities, (fn. 41) but the main burden of the poor during the Revolution was undoubtedly borne by the parishes. In St. Aldate's parish in the early 1640s the number of ratepayers more than doubled. (fn. 42) Statutory relief became more effective after the union of parishes in 1648, which brought about the amalgamation of poorer areas like St. Aldate's with wealthier districts like St. Michael's parish: overseers were supervising the combined parishes by 1652. (fn. 43) In addition the inhabitants of the inshire were obliged by the bench to contribute generously towards city poor relief. (fn. 44) As well as statutory relief, there were other schemes for aiding and controlling the needy. In 1643 some of the poor were set to work on the fortifications. (fn. 45) Municipal foodstocks were operating in the early 1640s, but not later. (fn. 46) A provost marshal was reappointed in 1651 to drive out vagrants and in subsequent years parish authorities imposed swingeing fines on those inhabitants harbouring newcomers. (fn. 47) As in the past, there was also rigorous regulation of alehouses, the usual haunt of poor migrants and jobless labourers. (fn. 48)


  • 1. Trans. B.G.A.S. lxvii. 84.
  • 2. G.B.R., F 4/5, f. 175v.; B 3/2, p. 209; Letters of the Lady Brilliana Harley, ed. T. T. Lewis (Camd. Soc. [1st ser.], lviii), 198.
  • 3. Bibliotheca Glos. ii, p. xxxiii.
  • 4. Dorney, Certain Speeches, 27.
  • 5. Bibliotheca Glos. ii, p. xxxvii.
  • 6. P.R.O., C 6/192/25; C 6/8/136.
  • 7. Bibliotheca Glos. i. 56, 227, 279.
  • 8. G.B.R., G 3/SO 2, ff. 22v., 23v., 36; F 4/5, f. 318v.
  • 9. Dorney, Certain Speeches, 23.
  • 10. Glos. R.O., P 154/15/IN 1/1.
  • 11. G.B.R., C 10/1–2.
  • 12. Hist. MSS. Com. 27, Glouc. Corp. pp. 511–12.
  • 13. P.R.O., C 6/8/42.
  • 14. Dorney, Certain Speeches, 79; Hist. MSS. Com. 27, Glouc. Corp. p. 517.
  • 15. P.R.O., C 6/8/136.
  • 16. Ibid. C 5/404/236; C 6/131/219.
  • 17. Ibid. C 5/179/35.
  • 18. Ibid. C 6/8/42.
  • 19. G.B.R., B 3/2, p. 316; F 4/5, f. 351.
  • 20. Trans. B.G.A.S. xcviii. 174.
  • 21. G.B.R., G 3/SO 2, f. 29; Harrison, 'Royalist Organization', 87.
  • 22. Bibliotheca Glos. i. 70.
  • 23. G.B.R., G 3/SO 5.
  • 24. Trans. B.G.A.S. lxvii. iii n.; Hist. MSS. Com. 27, Glouc. Corp. p. 508.
  • 25. Trans. B.G.A.S. lxvii. 100.
  • 26. P.R.O., C 5/7/60.
  • 27. Dorney, Certain Speeches, 80.
  • 28. Below, city govt. and politics.
  • 29. Dorney, Certain Speeches, 27.
  • 30. G.B.R., B 3/2, passim.
  • 31. Ibid. G 3/SO 2, f. 72.
  • 32. Glos. Colln. 28652, no. 18; 29334.
  • 33. G.B.R., G 3/SO 2, f. 35.
  • 34. Ibid. f. 36.
  • 35. Ibid. f. 56; ibid. SO 4–5.
  • 36. Ibid. B 3/2, p. 273.
  • 37. Ibid. p. 479.
  • 38. Ibid. 3, p. 61; Hist. MSS. Com. 27, Glouc. Corp. p. 517.
  • 39. Trans. B.G.A.S. lxvii. 104.
  • 40. Ibid. 104–5.
  • 41. G.B.R., B 3/2, p. 479.
  • 42. Glos. R.O., P 154/6/OV 1/16–21.
  • 43. Ibid. 14/OV 2/1.
  • 44. G.B.R., G 3/SO 6, ff. 29v.–31v.; SO 5.
  • 45. Trans. B.G.A.S. lxvii. 81.
  • 46. G.B.R., B 3/2, p. 275.
  • 47. Ibid. G 3/SO 5; Glos. R.O., P 154/14/OV 2/1.
  • 48. G.B.R., G 3/SO 2, f. 67, et passim; SO 5.