Gloucester is a very historic city and, therefore, has many a ghostly tale attached to it – don’t take my word for it, ask the resident Ghost Lady, Lyn Cinderey, who spends much of her time either seeking them out or offering tours to talk about them. Unfortunately, however, this is not what I am referring to in the title of today’s blog.
No, what I am getting at is more in line with the sentiments of the excellent 1981 song of that name by The Specials: “This town is coming like a ghost town.”
This is by no means a novel complaint; it has been aired many times before. Once night falls, Gloucester’s streets seem to empty. As an example, on Friday night I went into town to sample the excellent beer festival put on at the New Inn. As I walked through the gate streets it was depressingly quiet, with only the occasional figure to be glimpsed flitting ghost-like through the gloom, with their muted voices carried tentatively on the stygian evening air as tumble weed blew silently through the deserted streets. Okay, there was no actual tumble weed, but you get the picture.
The question is, why? Unlike in the aforementioned Specials song, all the clubs have not been closed down – although admittedly they have all moved out to the east of the city. In the centre though there are some excellent pubs which cater to pretty much all tastes. So why are there not hordes of people transiting from one pub to the next to enjoy their varied hospitality?
To be fair, this is pretty much the case in Eastgate Street, where the ‘night time economy’ flourishes. But this only really appeals to people in their twenties – they’re doing their bit for the economy, but where are the more sophisticated and mature drinkers who would better enjoy the pleasures of the New Inn, the Cross Keys, the Café Rene or the Pig Inn the City? The strange thing is, even when these pubs are busy, the streets aren’t – it’s weird.
And what makes it more weird is that in recent years the city centre has become increasingly populated. The Citizen is full of concerned Gloucesterians railing against the docks and city centre being turned into a housing estate. The latest outcry has been caused by plans to build apartments and houses on the site of the old Gloscat building as part of the Greyfriars development, but this is just the latest in a long line of such developments: any time anything closes down it becomes apartments quicker than you can say “didn’t this used to be a pub?”
I am a bit conflicted by this increased population of the city centre. On the one hand, it pains me to see pubs being turned into apartments (RIP the excellent Black Swan) and buildings of architectural merit such as Gloscat falling to the bulldozer to make way for bland modern boxes. It also seems wrong to shift the balance of the centre away from the retail and business use that brings people into the city. On the other hand, one of the complaints about the post-war slum clearances was that it moved all of the people out of the centre leaving it soulless. You can’t have it both ways.
What we have at the moment though seems to be the worst of all worlds – lots of apartments, but nobody venturing from them to increase the vibrancy of the city. The docks is now a huge housing estate and I had hoped that this would result in it becoming a cosmopolitan hub of activity as the relatively well-off inhabitants thronged the surrounding areas to use the bars and restaurants; yet when I was in town on Monday night the Whitesmiths Arms was closed and my friend and I were the only ones drinking in the Tall Ship… Okay, it was a Monday night, but surely not everyone spends their life in front of Eastenders!