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Gloucester Docks &
the Sharpness Canal


Port of Gloucester

Detail from Letters Patent 1580 

     Gloucester was given the formal status of a port by letters patent from Queen Elizabeth I in 1580. From that time, the coastline of the Severn estuary north-east of the Aust/Beachley area came under the jurisdiction of a new custom house at Gloucester. This meant that vessels could trade directly between Gloucester and foreign ports without having to call in at Bristol custom house, which had previously been responsible for the area. Gloucester Corporation hoped to benefit from the new status because they collected dues on goods handled at Gloucester's riverside Quay. In practice, however, few foreign-going vessels were seen at the Quay because of the difficulties of navigating the shallow tidal stretch of the River Severn approaching the city.

     The opening of the Gloucester & Sharpness Canal in 1827 allowed ships to bypass the difficult stretch of river, and so considerable trade developed with foreign ports. To supervise this better, a new custom house was built in the docks area in 1845. After the new dock at Sharpness was opened in 1874 to accommodate the larger ships then in use, cargo handling activities gradually declined at Gloucester, and in due course customs administration moved to Sharpness. 

     The pilotage of vessels approaching the Sharpness entrance to the canal was originally administered from Bristol and by Trinity House - until a Gloucester Pilotage Board was formed in 1861. (More about Pilotage and Pilots) The provision of lights in the estuary came under the jurisdiction of the Gloucester Harbour Authority formed in 1890. Pilotage and lighting is now the responsibility of the Gloucester Harbour Trustees based at Sharpness.

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