The Growth of Gloucester, 1820-1851: Tradition and innovation in a county town


This study examines the extent to which innovative forces altered Gloucester's character in the period 1820-1851, a time of accelerating change. The analysis is developed at three inter-related levels: the town itself, its regional functions and its more distant relationships.
Some comparisons with other middle ranking county towns contribute to the assessment of Gloucester's experience. The growth of Cheltenham and the Gloucester Berkeley Canal were major factors.
The opening chapters consider firstly the town's sphere of influence and wider regional connections, its main physical features and development and lastly, the growth of its population and the character of its occupational structure. The next four chapters are concerned with key sectors of the urban economy, beginning with the markets and inns. Then follow the more dynamic sectors which comprised the retailers of the central shopping area, mercantile and related interests dependent on shipping and lastly that of the professions, in particular law, medicine and banking. The eighth chapter establishes the relationship between these sectors, the urban population more generally and the city corporation, and the influence of its traditions.
The 1851 Census Enumerators' Returns and the leading local newspaper were the principal documentary sources for the study, extensively amplified by local directories and municipal records. Much additional material came from wills and probate valuations, parish and business records.
While occupational patterns and institutional functions changed slowly, the most vigorous growth occurred in mercantile activity. This was the main catalyst for developments in industry, railway construction and banking. Newcomers to the town were prominent among leading promoters. The greater economic strength more than compensated for losses to Cheltenham. It enhanced the city's regional importance, developed closer ties with Birmingham and enlarged its distant connections in this country and abroad.




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Christmas, Evelyn A., “The Growth of Gloucester, 1820-1851: Tradition and innovation in a county town,” Centre for Regional and Local History Theses and Papers, accessed March 30, 2023,