The Archaeology of Gloucester
Founded as a Roman fortress in the 60’s AD Gloucester was established as a ‘Colonia’ (a settlement for military veterans) in the late 1st or early 2nd century. The City thrived between the 2nd and 4th centuries and archaeologists have found evidence of large public buildings, substantial town houses and imposing city walls. Evidence for ‘dark age’ (5th – 6th century) Gloucester is sparse and difficult to interpret. It seems likely that the city was wholly or partly deserted although some settlement may have continued around the forum (in the city centre) and in the west of the city. In the late 7th century Gloucester lay within the Anglo-Saxon sub-kingdom of the Hwicce (essentially part of Mercia). Historic records suggest that the Priory of St Peter (the modern Cathedral) was founded at this time.
By about AD 900 Gloucester appears to have been re-established as an urban centre, a new street pattern was created and St. Oswald’s Minster was established in the north-west of the city. The Minster appears to have been founded on the instructions of Aethelred (earl of Mercia) and his wife Aethelflaed (the daughter of Alfred the Great) and may well have been their burial place. During this period Gloucester was essentially the capital city of English Mercia (as opposed to that controlled by the Danes).
The relative importance of Gloucester declined during the course of the 10th and 11th centuries. After the Norman conquest a ‘motte and bailey’ castle was built in the south west corner of the city – a later stone castle was then built where the prison now stands.
Gloucester came to prominence again during the English Civil War – when the city, which had sided with Parliament successfully held out against a siege by Royalist forces under the direct command of Charles I. The siege (10 August – 5 September 1643) is seen by many historians as a key turning point in the war and one which contributed greatly to a parliamentarian victory.
Given such a history it’s unsurprising that the city has a rich archaeological heritage, containing remains of national and international importance. As well as Roman and medieval remains archaeologists have found evidence of earlier settlement. Remains from the Neolithic period have been recovered from the City centre and Iron Age settlement has been identified in the Kingsholm area and elsewhere.
The City Archaeologist
The City Archaeologist has a number of responsibilities:
The Gloucester City Historic Environment Record (HER): the City Archaeologist maintains the HER, which is a database of all known archaeological sites and monuments in the district. The HER is available for enquires from the general public and academics but its main function is to help inform the planning process. Anyone wishing to search the HER should contact the City Archaeologist.
Planning Advice: the City Archaeologist advises the City Council on the potential impact of new development proposals on archaeological remains. The City Archaeologist also comments on pre-application enquiries.
Monuments: The City Archaeologist monitors the condition of scheduled monuments within the city. If you have noted any damage to a monument or you have any concerns please contact the City Archaeologist.
There are 26 Scheduled Monuments (SMs) in Gloucester. Many of these structures and sites of national significance are owned by the City Council. You can download a map of SMs in Gloucester here.
The City Council has in its care one of the largest groups of historic monuments in the care of any local authority.
These include a number of sites of recognised national importance, many completely buried, others of which parts may still be seen. Scheduled Ancient Monuments include the City East Gate and Llanthony Secunda Priory. Listed monuments include statues of Queen Anne and Robert Raikes in the Park, and King Charles II.
One of our more unusual monuments is Our Lady's Well, or Lady Well, at Hempsted, where tradition claims that Mary the mother of Christ set foot in England, and discovered a spring of fresh water - which flows to this day.
If you require further information regarding any of Gloucester’s historic monuments please contact the City Archaeologist:
Andrew Armstrong - City Archaeologist
tel no 01452 396346