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24 September 2014

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You are in: Gloucestershire > Coast > Point 1 - The Docks

Gloucester Docks

Point 1 - The Docks

Make your way through the old warehouses to look out over Gloucester Docks Main Basin. This famous port - the most inland in the UK - is busy with pleasure boats today, but try to imagine the bustling scene a hundred years ago...

Gloucester Docks

Warehouse at Gloucester Docks

Gloucester Docks main basin is the terminus of the 16 mile long Gloucester to Sharpness canal. The ship canal was opened in 1827 and was built to allow ships to bypass a difficult winding stretch of the river Severn, allowing Gloucester to become an inland port.

The main basin allowed large sea-going ships to offload their cargoes so they could be transported by barge on the River Severn up to the Midlands. When the canal was first opened it was the widest and deepest in England.

In its heyday the basin would have been extremely busy with ships - sailing ships, steam ships, barges, and narrowboats - carrying things like timber and grain. All around this area there would have been a hive of activity, with local saw mills, corn mills, workshops, rope makers, and sail makers.

Gloucester Docks oil painting by John Collier

Docks about 100 years ago(Gloucester City Museums)

After visiting Gloucester Docks Charles Dickens wrote "You will see, suddenly appearing, as if in a dream, long ranges of warehouses with cranes attached, endless intricacies of dock, miles of tramroad, wildernesses of timber in stacks, and huge, three-masted ships, wedged into little canals, floating with no apparent means of propulsion, and without a sail to bless themselves with."

The main basin became so busy in the 1840s that ships were forced to queue along the canal, waiting for a place to unload to become available.  An additional dock - Victoria Dock - was built to provide more quay space. This new dock - completed in 1849 -  is now overlooked by the car park to the east of the main basin.

The old warehouses surrounding the main basin were built between 1827 and 1873, and provided a place for corn to be stored. Nowadays the 15 remaining ones are used as offices, housing and shops, and in the case of Llanthony Warehouse, as the home of the National Waterways Museum.

The warehouses have been used for various films and TV dramas over the years, one of the most famous being "The Onedin Line" which was filmed here in the 1970s.

Dry Dock

Traditional skills carried out in the dry dock

Commercial traffic declined in the 20th century and had virtually ended in the 1980s. These days the basin is often busy with pleasure boat traffic, and the two original dry docks at the South Western corner of the main basin are probably busier than ever. These are two of the few dry docks in the UK, and both are almost continually in use. Here classic ships and pleasure boats come for repairs using traditional techniques.

Look and listen out for the hundreds of seagulls around the basin. Did you know that the only city in the UK to have more seagulls than Gloucester is Aberdeen? A survey carried out in 2004 found around 3000 breeding pairs in the city - roughly the same number as in coastal Cardiff.

The high numbers are because conditions here are perfect for the birds - there's a landfill sight nearby where they feed and the city's buildings provide ideal man-made "cliffs" for them to build their nests.

Make your way anti-clockwise around the main basin, heading towards the old warehouse that now houses the Antiques Centre, and the lock - known as Gloucester Lock.

last updated: 01/04/2008 at 11:24
created: 11/07/2005

You are in: Gloucestershire > Coast > Point 1 - The Docks

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