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Gloucester Dock Buildings
Gloucester Docks, Gloucester, UK
Gloucester Dock Buildings
associated engineer
Not known
date  1826 onwards
UK era  Georgian  |  category  Building  |  reference  SO826183
ICE reference number  HEW 625
photo  © Philip Pankhurst and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
Although the city of Gloucester, on the bank of the River Severn, has been a river port since the Romans were in Britain, the main dock system we have today was constructed in the 19th century. Increasing import trade led to the construction of warehouses, mills and malthouses around the docks. The many surviving buildings are of heritage significance and the area has been redeveloped for commercial, cultural and leisure uses.
Port development at Gloucester between the 14th and 17th centuries is signalled by the local street name, The Quay. By the early 18th century, this street was lined with warehouses and other buildings. Post-Roman international trading started in 1791, with ships waiting on the Severn for the right tide conditions in order to enter the dock area. This stretch of the Severn is meandering and treacherous for shipping. The river is tidal up to some 27km north of the city.
A ship canal was needed, which would bypass a long stretch of the river. The Gloucester & Sharpness Canal was designed by Robert Mylne (1733-1811), and its construction was beset with disputes, rising costs and labour shortages. Originally planned to run from Gloucester to Berkeley, after six years only 8km had been completed. In 1816, the route was shortened and the river junction moved to Sharpness. Eventually, on 26th April 1827, the 26.5km canal opened, and was able to accommodate vessels up to 610 tonnes.
At Gloucester, work on the dock structures outstripped progress on the canal. The present day complex includes the Main Basin (completed 1812) and the Barge Arm (1824). A lock, 63.4m long and 7m wide, at the north west corner of the Main Basin connects the docks with the Severn. Lock House (SO826184), completed in 1826, a two-storey keeper’s cottage of rendered brick and roofed in slate, stands at the north end of the lock, facing its west side.
Further structures that form part of the present dock system include two dry docks measuring 34.4m by 9.75m (1834) and 50.3m by 11m (1851), Victoria Dock (1849) east of the Main Basin, and Monk Meadow Dock (1890) some 640m south of the main dock area, on the west side of the canal.
South of the Main Basin the canal was later widened for 2.4km to provide extra berthing facilities. In the second half of the 19th century, a second barge arm south of the dry docks was constructed and later infilled.
Around the docks stand groups of multi-storey warehouses and related industrial structures, mostly dating from the first half of the 19th century. However, the earliest constructed, a small warehouse on the Barge Arm, has unfortunately not survived (dem. circa 1827). They were buit to support the growing trade in imported grain resulting from the relaxation of Britain's Corn Laws in 1828, and the laws' eventual repeal in 1846. In this context, corn is any grain that can be milled into flour, including wheat, rye and barley.
The larger warehouses and other buildings follow a similar design — timber floors carried on rows of cast iron tubular columns, red brick walls (often with contrasting bands of paler bricks or blue engineering bricks), stone lintels and slate roofs, usually gabled. Some of the floor beams are believed to be up to 28m long. Each floor includes loading doors facing the docks, and manually operated hoists project from the roofs. Numerous small windows provide ventilation. Iron bars were fitted to the windows of the bonded warehouses.
The earliest extant is North Warehouse (SO827184, pictured above), constructed for the canal company between May 1826 and February 1827. It lies at the north end of the basin, a location recommended by Thomas Telford (1757-1834), who completed the canal after Mylne’s death. The warehouse was designed by Bartin Haigh and built by William Rees & Son. Three adjoining gabled sections of five storeys with lofts were planned, though only two units of four storeys were constructed. They sit on stone block foundations and include vaulted brick cellars. The building was tenanted as 10 units — eight storerooms for various merchants and two basements used initially by vintners as bonded stores.
After the repeal of the Corn Laws, the western half of North Warehouse was rented to Thomas Robinson & Co, followed by G.T. Beard in the early 20th century. In the same period, the eastern half was leased to John Weston & Co. They added a single storey office at the east end in 1873 (extended to two storeys in 1889, dem. 1980s). The British Oil & Cake Mill Company was the next tenant. Around 1920, Priday Metford & Co took over the whole building for the packing and storage of flour, and installed a small mill to produce wheatmeal flour. The cellars were not often used as they flooded from time to time, though they did serve as an air raid shelter and rifle range in World War II (1939-45).
In 1962, Priday Metford vacated the building, transferring their operations to Victoria Warehouse via a pneumatic pipeline. Further deterioration occurred and by 1975, North Warehouse was disused. British Waterways filed for demolition in 1977, which was refused following a public inquiry in 1981. In 1985-6, the warehouse was renovated and most of the roof replaced during its conversion into offices for Gloucester City Council.
Between 1829 and 1835, a row of nine three- and four-storey warehouses was constructed along the west side of the basin for various grain merchants. Some suffered differential settlement, perhaps resulting from being built on made ground where the river previously had a second channel. The four storey block at the north end of the row, supported on columns with its ground floor open to the quay, was destroyed by fire in 1917 and later demolished. The eight remaining structures were taken down in 1966.
A pair of warehouses (SO827182) parallel to the basin occupies the north corner of the Barge Arm entrance — Biddle (1830) and Shipton (1833). Biddle Warehouse was for bonded stores, designed by W. Franklin for miller John Biddle. Shipton was constructed for timber merchant James Shipton. Both originally had four storeys plus lofts, with a double height ground floor and large windows. Biddle was constructed with a hipped roof but Shipton was gabled. In 1864, foundation subsidence of the internal columns led Biddle to lease his warehouse to grain merchant John Weston & Co, subject to repairs being undertaken. Around this time, the hipped roof was changed to a gable. An extra floor was later inserted into the lower level of each building.
Lock Warehouse (SO826184), across the lock from North Warehouse, was constructed in 1834 for leading grain merchant Joseph Sturge (1793-1859) and his brother Charles Sturge (1801-88). The bonded warehouse is five storeys high, plus basement and loft, originally with the ground floor set above quay level. In 1877, all the floors were strengthened by the insertion of additional cast iron columns, and the ground floor was lowered. The roof was replaced following the 1917 fire, and around 1929 larger windows and a fire escape were installed. The building was used for the antiques trade between 1979 and 2009, and became a centre for local arts and crafts after April 2010.
Around 1838, Pillar Warehouse (SO826180), was built south of the basin at Baker’s Quay on the west side of Merchants’ Road. Later called Pillar & Lucy House, its four-storey semi-detached twin buildings sit perpendicular to the quay wall. They were designed as bonded warehouses by Samuel Whitfield Dawkes (or Daukes, 1811-80) — the northern one for Samuel Baker (c1794-1862), the southern one for Shipton. The three upper floors of the warehouse’s double-gabled west end overhang the quay, supported on a colonnade of seven large cast iron Doric columns. The ground floor has been converted for restaurant use, with offices on the upper storeys.
In 1840, two warehouses (SO827182) were constructed at right angles to the east side of the basin. Vinings Warehouse, south of the channel to Victoria Dock, was designed by Thomas Sandon Hack (1811-65) and built by William Wingate for Bristol grain merchant Charles Vining & Sons. Originally five storeys, the double height ground floor was used by an iron merchant but later divided into two levels. In the 20th century, the building was a grain store for the mill at Albert Warehouse (SO827182). It has an iron fire escape on the west gable. To the south of Vinings lies Reynolds Warehouse, also known as Double Reynolds or Sturge’s, a six storey bonded warehouse with double gable ends. It was designed by Dawkes and built by Rees & Son for J. & C. Sturge.
In 1846, a trio of six storey warehouses (SO827183) was completed perpendicular to the north east corner of the basin — named, south to north, Phillpotts, Kimberley and Herbert. Phillpotts Warehouse was designed in 1845 by local architect John Jaques, who may have designed the other two in the group, and was built for grain merchant Abraham H. Phillpotts by Wingate. Kimberley was constructed for Humphrey Brown (c1803-60), Liberal MP for Tewkesbury in 1847-57 and its mayor in 1854-5, and leased to grain merchant John P. Kimberley. Herbert was constructed for local solicitor Samuel Herbert, occupied initially by J. & C. Sturge, and from 1856 into the 20th century by grain merchant and artificial fertiliser manufacturer Thomas Robinson & Co.
The three warehouses were refurbished and linked by full-height glazed extensions in 1985. A glazed entrance portico and veranda was added to the west side of the amalgamated building, at the atrium level between Phillpotts and Kimberley, the basements and ground floors of which have been converted for commercial uses, with council office above. Herbert is also council offices.
In 1849, Victoria Warehouse (SO828183) was constructed as a bonded warehouse, at the north west corner of Victoria Dock, in line with Herbert Warehouse. The building is six storey plus basement and loft, and was designed probably by Jaques, and built by William Jones, for merchant William Partridge of Birmingham. An office block, a store and later a grain drying kiln (1896) were built around a yard on the north side (all now gone).
The warehouse was leased to Bristol grain merchant Wait James & Co until 1873, followed by Cadle & Co, Severn Ports Warehousing Co, Sidney Lane and finally Bristol grain merchant Turner Nott & Co, until 1926. It stood empty, and was then let to builder's merchant Sessions & Sons (1936-62), after which Priday Metford & Co used it to bag and store flour from the nearby City Flour Mills (until 1989, SO828184). In 1990, the warehouse was refurbished for office use.
Flour milling had moved from river valley locations to be nearer ports — a move from watermills to steam power. City Flour Mills is an early example of this trend. It was constructed for Joseph and Jonah Hadley in 1850, and is on the south side of Commercial Road. The mill building is four storeys plus loft, with loading doors to each floor. A separate two storey stone-built office stood to the west. The millstones and flour dressing machines were steam-powered.
By around 1854, a five storey building had been added to the west, consisting of a second mill parallel to the first and a warehouse perpendicular to the north end of the mill (completed c1854). To increase output, more machinery and two further steam engines were installed but the crankshaft of one of the engines fractured. It was sent to the manufacturer, W. Joyce & Co of Greenwich, as the model for a new one, was was returned some days later than anticipated. The Hadleys sued the carrier for loss of business while the mill was out action — a landmark court case that affects the test for consequential damages even today.
By 1860, the mill was operated by Joseph Reynolds and Henry Allen, who passed it on to their sons Vincent Reynolds and John Allen, with Francis Tring Pearce, in 1875. In 1883, a roller milling replaced the millstones. In 1886, the mill was taken over by Priday Metford & Co, and the descendants of its partners ran it until 1986. On 4th January 1888, fire caused the collapse of the floors in the building containing wheat cleaning machinery and two steam engines. It was rebuilt with grain silos and a large rooftop water tank (now dismantled). In the 1920s, a suction plant and overhead conveyor was installed to transfer bulk wheat from ships to the silos. In 1964, a concrete silo was constructed on the west side (since demolished). After a 1986 management buy-out, the mill was taken over by Dalgety plc in August 1993, and closed in March 1994.
Also on the west side of Victoria Dock is Albert Warehouse, south of the channel between the basin and the dock. Built in 1851 for Partridge by Joseph Moss, probably to Jaques’ design, it is six storey plus basement and loft. Albert was used by grain merchant W.C. Lucy & Co until 1869, when it was converted into a flour mill by James Reynolds. A steam engine house was constructed to the south and in 1882, roller milling machinery installed, making it the first mill in the docks to use rollers instead of grindstones. The mill closed in 1977 and the engine house was demolished. From 1984-2001, the ground floor housed the Robert Opie Museum of Advertising and Packaging.
The third building financed by Partridge was Britannia Warehouse (SO827183), built in 1861 north of the channel between the basin and Victoria Dock. It was let to Bristol grain merchant Henry Adams & Co, and in 1905 the lease passed to G.T. Beard. Grain storage ceased in the 1930s and the floors were rented separately. On 1st April 1987, the building was gutted by fire. It was demolished and rebuilt as offices in 1989, re-using many of the original bricks to clad a new structural frame.
In 1862, brothers Thomas Nelson Foster and Richard Gibbs Foster transferred their oilseed business to Gloucester following a fire in their Evesham premises. Foster Brothers Oil & Cake Mill (SO825178), on Baker's Quay north of St Ann Way, was designed by George Hunt (1826-1917) of Evesham and built by William Eassie & Co as a warehouse of five storeys plus loft, with a two storey mill to the rear. The gable end facing the quay was fronted by a full-width gabled timber structure supported on six quayside columns, which contained an oilseed elevator.
The mill was enlarged considerably in 1891-3, with a new single storey mill constructed south of the warehouse, which was extended eastwards to replace the original mill. Another parallel building was constructed to the east. Eight crushing machines with a total weekly capacity of 610 tonnes were powered by a 298kW Hicks Hargreaves steam engine. In 1892, part of the revetment quay wall collapsed, making the original elevator unstable. It was replaced by a corrugated iron structure to house the hoist, projecting further over the quay and supported on four cast iron columns.
In 1899, Fosters was one of 16 businesses to form British Oil & Cake Mills Ltd (BOCM). Further expansion took place in 1910, when a second mill and a deodorisation plant were constructed on the east of the site, increasing weekly capacity to 1,016 tonnes. From the 1920s, the mill also processed groundnuts and a storage facility for tanks of oil was built on the north side of Monk Meadow Dock (SO822175). BOCM closed the mill around 1955, as its batch processing had been superseded by continuous operation at a new facility in Avonmouth. The mill complex was sold to Midlands Farmers and used as a distribution depot until about 1987, after which it was disused and fell into disrepair.
To the south west of the basin, north of Llanthony Road, stands a small group of buildings. The first on the site was the six storey Great Western Warehouse (SO825181), constructed in 1863 for Partridge and sold to grain merchant William C. Lucy. By 1891 it had passed to the Fox family and later Bristol Steam Navigation Co. It was used until around 1930 for storing imported sugar, and later by a breakfast cereal manufacturer. In 1945, fire caused extensive damage. The upper floors were demolished and the remaining structure reroofed as a single storey building.
A sister building, Alexandra Warehouse (SO826182), just south of the dry docks, was constructed in 1870 by Moss for grain merchants and millers J.E. & S.H. Fox (incorp. as Fox Clinch & Co around 1889). A bonded warehouse of six storeys, basement and loft, its east gable faces the canal. Adjoining the west gable was an engine house (dem.). Its 9kW vertical steam engine powered a pair of grindstones milling cattle feed and drove hoist machinery. In 1875, the eaves were replaced by brick parapets following fire damage caused by sparks from the engine house chimney. From about 1900 to 1925, Bristol Steam Navigation Co stored sugar in the warehouse.
In 1888, a malthouse (SO825181) was constructed between the Alexandra and Great Western Warehouses. Known as Fox’s Malthouse or Alexandra Malthouse, it was designed by James Philip Moore for Fox Clinch & Co. Its west end is a gabled rectangular store of four storeys plus loft (ridge parallel to the canal) and its east end housed four kilns with wire drying floors in a barrel vaulted rectangular block, with twin steeply pitched hipped roofs (ridges at right angles to the canal). A sloping iron chute delivered barley to the malthouse from an upper floor of Great Western Warehouse, and the kiln machinery and hoists were rope-worked from the engine house adjoining Alexandra Warehouse. The brick building on the canal side of the malthouse was constructed to replace a timber shed used to store perishable goods.
From about 1900 to around 1930, Fox’s Malthouse was used for storing sugar and grain. Later it was adapted and occupied by R.F. Hamblin Joinery until the 1990s, after which the ground floor was used for storage until about 2010. In 2015, the Gloucester Brewing Company leased the malthouse for making beer.
The last large warehouse to be constructed at the docks was Llanthony Warehouse in 1873, on the south side of Barge Arm. It was designed by Capel N. Tripp (1844/5-83) for grain merchant Wait James & Co, which occupied the building until the 1920s. The warehouse has two parallel ranges of six storeys plus lofts, with the west gables facing the canal. In 1987 it was converted for use by the National Waterways Museum (opened 5th August 1988).
By the 1880s, the worldwide grain trade was undergoing great changes. Ever larger steamships and the spread of railways across grain-producing countries meant Britain could import huge quantities cheaply. Newer and bigger docks at Sharpness and Avonmouth began to eclipse those at Gloucester, which were designed to accommodate sailing ships. Nevertheless, the Gloucester Docks remained busy, with the movement of goods served by a network of railway sidings and loading platforms linking the warehouses.
Two transit sheds were constructed to store grain for onward rail transportation. The first (dem.) was built in 1866 for the canal company on the east side of Victoria Dock. The second, a single storey square shed (SO825179), was built in 1867 on Baker’s Quay for the Midland Railway Company, and survives in poor condition. Its frame is clad in corrugated iron, and consists of cast iron columns and wrought iron trusses that form two hipped ranges clad in slate.
The 19th century at Gloucester Docks drew to a close with the construction of a series of buildings for brothers George and William E. Downing, maltsters from Smethwick. The first Downing’s Malthouse No.1 (SO826179, dem. 1950s), was situated on the corner of Merchants' Road and Baker Street. Built in 1876 by Joseph Meredith to a design by Tripp, its twin ranges held a basement cistern for steeping grain and a germination area, plus three floors for bagging and storage with a kiln house along the east end.
In 1895, Malthouse No.2, designed by Walter Bryan Wood (1852-1926), was constructed by Gurney Brothers to the north, gable ends fronting Merchants’ Road. It's two similar ranges run parallel to the original malthouse, though one storey higher. No.2 was connected to No.1 by bridges at storage level. A taller range on the north side of No.2 housed a large malt kiln and a smaller barley drying kiln.
Downing Malthouses No.3 and No.4 were constructed between Merchants’ Road and Baker’s Quay in 1899-1901, again by Gurney Brothers to Wood’s design. Larger than the two earlier ones, they run parallel to the canal with the west side of the western malthouse supported on columns at the quayside. Each has a basement and four storeys plus lofts. A range along the north end of No.3 and No.4 housed double-floored kilns. A gas engine housed in a small building (dem.) between them powered the grain elevators and conveyors. A covered bridge and two covered walkways (dem.) over Merchants’ Road linked the two blocks of malthouses at the top floors.
From 1931, the malthouses were owned by Associated British Maltsters Ltd (ABM), though the Downing name was retained until 1972. Most of Malthouse No.1 was demolished in the early 1950s, and replaced by concrete silos. No.3 and No.4 were modernised at the same time, with new silos and malt drying equipment. The malting process became more automated in the 1970s, and by about 1980 operations here ceased. The malthouses were later sold to West Midlands Farmers and used for grain storage but now lie derelict (2017).
In addition to the warehouses, mills and malthouses, the Gloucester Docks had customs and office buildings, engine houses, workshops, a pumping station and a chapel. In 1831, the Dock Company Office (SO828184) was constructed to the north of the basin as offices and living accommodation for the canal company’s clerk, later becoming offices for the dock company. It is a two storey building with a front façade of pale stone, extended in 1854 and the 20th century, and overshadowed by City Flour Mills.
Custom House (SO828183), on the south side of Commercial Road, was constructed April 1844 - September 1845. It replaced an office in Bearland, north of the docks, which was unable to handle the volume of transactions. The new building was designed by Sydney Smirke (1798-1877) and built by Thomas Haines & Son on land purchased from the canal company.
The two storey building (plus basement) is constructed in ashlar Painswick stone for the north west and east elevations, and brick or the rear (south) wall. The slate roof is surrounded by cornicing and a coped parapet. In dock use until the late 1970s, it later served as the Gloucestershire Regiment’s headquarters and museum. Refurbishment works were carried out in 1985-90, and the entrance was moved to a new glazed extension at the rear so visitors could enter from the docks.
A Mariners' Chapel (SO827182) was constructed at the heart of the docks in 1848-9, funded by public subscription and private donations. Designed by Jaques in Early Pointed style, it is of coursed squared rubble stone with ashlar detailing. The side walls consist of five buttressed bays with one lancet window per bay. The west gable includes three and the east, four windows. The east gable also includes the entrance and a bellcote with one bell. The roof is of clay tiles with fishtail bands. The chapel remains in use (2017).
On 6th March 1968, the Gloucester Docks site was designated a conservation area by Gloucester City Council. The designated area was extended on 22nd February 1984. The surviving buildings described above are all Grade II listed.
Major regeneration of the dock area was underway into the 21st century. Warehouse spaces not used for commercial purposes have been converted for residential occupancy. The first project commenced in October 2001, at City Flour Mills, where residents moved in from January 2003 and the development was finished in summer 2004. Albert Warehouse was refitted between August 2002 and July 2003. Work on Vinings and Reynolds began in November 2003, and apartments were completed at Vinings in October 2004 and at Reynolds in January 2005, with a glazed atrium between the double gables of Reynolds. Biddle and Shipton were redeveloped between November 2005 and December 2006, with a glazed atrium linking the buildings.
In December 2016, funding was agreed for the redevelopment of the Fosters Mill site for residential use above ground floor retail. The new building, Provender House, is constructed on the footprint of the old mill and retains the (refurbished) 1890s gable ends and elevator building.
Bartin Haigh, Liverpool (North Warehouse)
W. Franklin, Stroud (Biddle, probably Shipton)
Samuel Whitfield Dawkes, Gloucester (Pillar, Reynolds)
Thomas Sandon Hack, Chichester (Vinings)
John Jaques, Gloucester (chapel, Phillpotts, probably Albert, Herbert, Kimberley, Victoria)
George Hunt, Evesham (Fosters Mill)
Capel N. Tripp, Gloucester (Llanthony, Downing’s No.1)
James Philip Moore, Gloucester (Fox’s)
Walter Bryan Wood, Gloucester (Downing’s No.2, No.3, No.4)
Sydney Smirke, London (Custom House)
William Rees & Son (North, Reynolds)
William Wingate (Vinings, Phillpotts)
William Jones (Victoria)
Joseph Moss (Albert, Alexandra)
William Eassie & Co. (Fosters Mill)
Joseph Meredith (Downing’s No.1)
Gurney Brothers (Downing’s No.2, No.3, No.4)
Thomas Haines & Son (Custom House)
Cast iron columns (Fox's): John M. Butt & Co
Cast iron strengthening (Lock Warehouse): William Savory & Son
Research: ECPK
Map of warehouses : http://www.gloucesterdocks.me.uk/gloucester/warehousemap.htm
reference sources   CEH W&W

Gloucester Dock Buildings