Over Christmas I went for a walk around Gloucester docks with a friend who was visiting for the week. My friend, Andy, comes from Gloucester but moved away some years ago and, like me, is a keen amateur photographer. What he wanted to see, therefore, was not the new Quays development, but the old derelict warehouses.
The continuing development of the Docks and Quays is undoubtedly to be encouraged. The buildings and warehouses lining the canal are very impressive and it is a shame to see them falling into dereliction and decay; clearly bringing them back into use is a much better option.
However, part of me is less enthusiastic about this.
As you look along Baker’s Quay from the new bridge over St Ann’s Way, these derelict warehouses have a certain charm. They are evocative of a former age, when the area was less genteel; when Gloucester Docks were a thriving, working, industrial area.
They are also extremely photogenic.
It was this view that Andy had seen on a brief visit some weeks earlier and which had impressed him enough to ensure that when he returned for Christmas he brought his camera bag with him.
As it turns out we were extremely lucky. When we arrived the heavens opened, forcing us to retreat into the Quays for a coffee, but after a while the rain went away and was replaced by a bright, low sun, which beautifully picked out the detail of the decaying buildings and provided a dramatic back light.
The two main warehouses in question are Fosters Brothers Oil & Cake Mill and Downings Malthouses. Here’s a very brief history of them, but for more information see Hugh Conway-Jones’ excellent web site
Fosters Brothers Oil & Cake Mill
This is the warehouse nearest St Ann’s Way. It was built in 1862 and is an impressive six storey warehouse with a gabled wooden structure attached to the front, overhanging the quay supported by pillars.
It was built by brothers, Tomas and Richard Foster as an oilseed crushing mill. The Foster family continued to manage it until 1945.
The mill was closed in the 1950s and used by West Midlands Farmers as a distribution depot
These buildings are further along Baker’s Quay towards Llanthony Bridge and have a very impressive pillared frontage facing the docks.
These are actually later additions: Malthouses No 3 & 4, built in 1901. The original malthouses were on the other side of Merchant’s Road and are linked by a bridge. They were established in 1876 by brothers George and William Downing.
The original No 1 Malthouse was mostly demolished in the 1950s and replaced by an unattractive concrete building, but the No2 Warehouse next to it, built in 1895, is still intact.
The business closed around 1980 and, again, the buildings were used by West Midlands Farmers for storage.
According to a new video from Peel, exciting things are planned for the near future as they look to develop these remaining warehouses (although as I understand it they don’t own them yet, but I may be wrong).
The ever expanding regeneration of the Docks is a great boon for the city and I am all in favour of it, but once regeneration takes place, no matter how tasteful and sympathetic it is, the evocative air generated by these old warehouses will be lost, so make the most of it.