siting of the warehouse was recommended by the eminent engineer
Thomas Telford, who was supervising the completion of the canal,
and the detailed design was provided by Bartin Haigh, a Liverpool
builder who had probably had experience of building dock warehouses
in his home town. Haigh proposed a row of three adjoining units
with five floors and with brick vaulted cellars underneath. The
Canal Company thought that two units would be sufficient, and to
save expense, they suggested building only three floors initially
and adding the other two later if necessary. However, Haigh recommended
building to the full height, and this was agreed.
Rees & Son of Gloucester put in a tender for £6600, and
a contract was signed on 18th May 1826. Within a month, it was found
that the ground was not as suitable as had been expected, and additional
work was required to lay large stone blocks to provide good foundations.
Possibly as a further consequence of the poor ground, it was decided
to lower the height of the building by one floor, and the contract
price was reduced by £820.
used for the walls probably came from the riverside brickworks at
Walham, and the stone sills and lintels came from Bath and the Forest
of Dean. The contract allowed free use of the basin for unloading
from boats, but some of the bricks had to brought by horse and cart
while water was drained out of the basin to allow completion of
the canal banks. The timber for the roof frames and the floors was
probably imported from the Baltic area, and the roof slates were
brought round the coast from North Wales. The cast-iron columns
supporting the floors most likely came from William Montague's foundry
near Westgate Bridge.
Rees and his men made good progress with the building work, and
by the end of the year, they installed a stone tablet near the top
of the wall bearing the inscription "The Glocester and Berkeley
Canal Company's Warehouses Erected by W. Rees and Son Ano. Dom.
1826". Work continued through the winter and was effectively
completed on schedule in February 1827. The Canal Company initially
objected to the hanging of the window shutters, but when Telford
was brought in to adjudicate, he ruled that they were sufficiently
near the description in the specification to be acceptable. Thus
the building was ready for the opening of the canal on 26th April
1827, and it no doubt provided a superb vantage point for a few
of the vast crowd who gathered to see the first two vessels come
to their moorings in the basin amid noisy celebrations.
Early Tenants for the Cellars
early tenants were mainly local men who realised the advantage of
importing direct to Gloucester, thereby cutting out the former need
for trans-shipment at Bristol where there were high port charges.
The brick vaulted cellars were of immediate interest to two firms
of wine importers, Messrs. Johnsons (later Johnsons and Tasker)
and Messrs. Saunders (later Martin and Washbourne). However, it
was found that the doors and windows did not meet the standard of
security required by the Customs for bonded stores, where imported
goods could be kept without paying duty, and so modifications were
carried out by the Canal Company. They also improved the rolling
ways at the entrances to the cellars. Unfortunately it was soon
found that in wet weather, the cellars suffered from flooding, and
after repeated complaints from the tenants, the Canal Company raised
the floor a few inches. One of the tenants then asked for a reduction
in rent as his storage space had been reduced, but the Canal Company
refused saying that the improved condition of the cellar compensated
for the loss of storage.
Early Tenants for the Main Floors
upper part of the building was designed so that individual floors
on each side of the central partition wall could be rented to different
merchants. There were two sets of boxed-in stairs with lockable
doors on all floors, so that each merchant only had access to his
own goods and to the hoisting winches that were installed in the
roof space over the loading doors. The early tenants were mainly
small corn merchants who started importing wheat, barley and oats
from Ireland and occasionally from Europe. These included Mr. Lucy,
Mr. Morris, Joseph Hobbs and James Lloyd.
early tenant was the firm of Price & Washbourne. They were primarily
timber merchants, but they also started importing corn, and they
were initially over-generous in paying labourers to do the unloading.
An old man later remembered "When they fust begind, they know'd
nought about it, and they gid at the rate of 9d per hundred bushels.
We did four-and-twenty hundred the very fust dee. This reet didun't
last more nor two dees, vor they zoon found out as this yur reet
wud niver do, and they drop't it. If thy had ah kipd on as they
begind, why two dees a wik wuld ha dun I capeetal".
1829, all the floors in the building were occupied and there was
a waiting list for space as it became available. Tenancies changed
quite frequently as each merchant's trade fluctuated, and there
was some unofficial sub-letting. To try to regularise matters, the
Canal Company gave all tenants formal notice to quit and proposed
to introduce higher rents. This was naturally resisted and eventually
a compromise was reached. In September 1833, it was agreed that
the rents would be £60 per annum for each cellar, £70
for each first floor and £65, £55 and £50
for the higher floors. The lower rents compensated for the additional
effort required when loading goods in and out of the higher floors.
few watches around in those days, and so the Canal Company set up
a bell on the south east corner of their warehouse to signal the
docker's starting and finishing times. The bell came from the full-rigged
ship Atlas, launched in 1812, that had made several voyages
out to India and China for the East India Company. As well as being
rung at regular times by the watchman on duty, it also served occasionally
as an alarm bell when there was a fire on board a ship or in a warehouse.
Tenants in the 1830s and 40s
the 1830s and 40s, the corn trade was expanding and was moving into
the hands of larger merchants, such as J & C Sturge from Birmingham,
Wait James & Co from Bristol and Phillpotts Lloyds & Co.
These firms had their own warehouses in the docks, but they still
used the Canal Company's building for additional space when required.
Another important tenant was Fox Sons & Co. It was during this
period that iron bars were installed in many of the lower window
openings so that the floors could be used as bonded stores.
Change to One Occupier in Each Half
the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846, there was a large increase
in corn imports, particularly from Europe and the Black Sea ports
around the mouth of the Danube. New corn merchants became established
and more warehouses were built. There was no longer a need to cater
for small merchants who only required one or two floors, and the
Canal Company was able to let each half of their building as a unit.
For many years, the western half was occupied by Thomas Robinson
& Co. and the eastern half by John Weston & Co., both firms
also having large warehouses elsewhere in the docks.
that John Weston had a small office in his part of the warehouse
as the Canal Company allowed him to have a stove with a chimney
of terra-cotta tubes passing outside the building. Then in 1873,
Weston built a single storey office adjoining the east end of the
warehouse, and this had the benefit of gas lighting as well as fireplaces.
A second floor was added in 1889. This extension obscured the name
"North Warehouse" that had been painted on the east wall
of the main building, and the sign was only revealed again when
the office was demolished in the 1980s.
Change to a Single Occupier
the early years of the 20th century, the western half of the warehouse
was used by G T Beard, who provided a storage service for corn merchants,
and the eastern half was used by the British Oil and Cake Mill Company
and then by Priday Metford & Co, who operated the nearby City
Flour Mills. Around 1920, Priday Metford took over the whole building
and for the first time made access ways through the partition wall.
In the eastern half they established an electric-powered mill for
producing stone ground wheat meal flour, and the western half was
used for sack cleaning and for storage. Also at this time, two of
the original hand operated winches were removed and replaced with
electric powered hoists. Each hoist was operated by a rope hanging
down outside the building, and these were obviously a temptation
to inquisitive passers by. On one occasion, a sack truck was lifted
right up to the pulley at the top of the hoist so that its protruding
handles displaced some of the tiles in the roof of the gable above.
New Uses for Cellars
brick-vaulted cellars of the warehouse had not always been used
fully since the early days as they were rather damp and liable to
flood occasionally. During the Second World War, they were brought
into use again to provide an air raid shelter and a rifle range
for the local Home Guard.
Building Shows its Age
Metford & Co continued using the whole building after the war,
but one day it was found that one of the roof trusses had rotted
right through and was only being supported on the sacks of flour
being stored there. Temporary repairs were carried out, but it was
clear that other woodwork was also at risk. All the roof trusses
and floor beams had been built into the walls, and over the years,
dampness had penetrated through the bricks and affected the wood.
At this stage, there was a proposal to demolish part of the building
in order to make space for constructing a second lock into the River
Severn, and because of this, Priday Metford gave up possession in
1962. In the event, the second lock did not get built, and the whole
warehouse remained standing. The upper floors were not now considered
safe, but the ground floor and cellars were used by builders merchants
etc until 1975.
Proposed Demolition Not Allowed
this time, the building had been listed as being of Special Architectural
and Historic Interest, and Gloucester City Council pressed for proper
repairs to be carried out. Some temporary repairs were done and
shoring was erected to support the front of the building, but in
1977 British Waterways applied for listed building consent for demolition.
They argued that their responsibility was to run the waterways,
not to restore uneconomic buildings, but following a Public Inquiry
in 1981, consent for demolition was refused.
building remained empty and continued to deteriorate until 1985,
when it was bought by Gloucester City Council for conversion into
their main offices. The contractors responsible for carrying out
the work were Longs of Bath. Most of the roof had to be replaced,
but the main timbers were retained wherever possible. Any woodwork
that had been affected by rot was cut away and replaced by short
metal girders. The former loading doors on each floor were replaced
by windows, and the brick vaulting of one of the cellars was destroyed
to allow the introduction of a lift shaft and staircase. This work
re-exposed the large stone blocks that had been used as foundations
and uncovered the original level of the cellar floor before it was
raised to reduce flooding. The two surviving hoisting winches were
preserved in the roof space.
A New Role
building was handed over to Gloucester City Council staff in July
1986. To complement the restoration, the Rotary Club of Gloucester
and Gloucester Civic Trust replaced the Atlas Bell which used to
hang on the corner of the warehouse. Later modifications converted
the upper floor of the building into a Civic Suite with Council
Chamber and Mayor's Parlour.
is mainly based on the minute books of the Canal Company (PRO RAIL
829). Other sources include the original plans and contract specification
(Glos.RO D2460), memories of an early corn porter (Glos. Extracts
Vol.4 p254-263), Poor Rate Books (Glos.RO), BWB evidence at the
Public Inquiry, and the memories of Messrs W.Ellis, H.Staite and