Gloucester is one of the remaining signs of Roman occupation in England. The Romans built a fort to secure crossing of the River Severn at Kingsholm. Unlike other towns, Gloucester was not abandoned when Roman soldiers moved out of Britain. When the Roman soldiers left the fort, the entire site became a town full of retired soldiers and their families. Life at the small town went on quietly until it was taken over by the Saxons in a fierce battle against the Celts in 577AD.
The town’s fortunes started rising in the 7th Century, after the Saxons had established a monastery in the town and it had become a favorite of merchants. In the 9th century, Gloucester joined the ranks of the Saxonian fortified towns or ‘burghs’. Men would gather in the burgh in the event of a Danish attack, in order to fight off the enemy. On one such occasion in 1915, the Gloucestershire folk defeated the Danes.
Pilgrimage was very common in the 9th century and many people would travel long distances to visit the graves of saints. Someone brought the remains of St Oswald to a church in Gloucester and this led to many people coming into the town to pray to the saint. Visitors would spend money on food and accommodation in the town.
The importance of Gloucester multiplied greatly in the 12th and 13th centuries because of the numerous wars involving the English and the Welsh. There was a wooden castle in the town with an army garrison, which became a good market place for the people’s agricultural produce and other goods. Gloucester got is charter in 1155. The towns’ people got the rights to elect their own town clerk and a number of council members.
Industrially, Gloucester was largely a wool town. Wool was brought in from the Cotswolds in its raw format and woven before being fulled and dyed. In addition, the town had a thriving leather industry. Many leather items including shoes, gloves and caps were made in the town and transported to other areas. There was also a large iron foundry where various tools and weapons were made. The town traded heavily with France and imported a lot of wine while exporting grain and textile made from the wool. There was also large-scale fishing on the River Severn.
A huge fire burnt a great part of Gloucester in 1223 leading to a ban on thatched roofs that were common at the time. In the same century, all Jews were chased out of Gloucester after wrongly being accused of ritual murder. In 1231 and 1239 Grey friars (Franciscan) and Blackfriars (Dominican) arrived.