Dereliction at the Docks

Fosters Brothers Oil & Cake Mill, Bakers Quay

Fosters Brothers Oil & Cake Mill, Bakers Quay

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

Baker's Quay

Looking down Bakers Quay from St Ann’s Way: Fosters Brothers Oil & Cake Mill is in the foreground with Downings Malthouse and Pillar Warehouse beyond

Fosters Brothers Oil & Cake Mill and Downings Malthouse

Same view as above, but zoomed in a little: Fosters Brothers Oil & Cake Mill and Downings Malthouse (note the two blocks of warehouses separated by Merchant’s Road)

Downings Malthouses

These buildings are further along Baker’s Quay towards Llanthony Bridge and have a very impressive pillared frontage facing the docks.

Downings Malthouse and Pillar Warehouse

Downings Malthouse, with Pillar Warehouse beyond

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.

Downings Malthouses on Merchant's Road

Downings No1 Malthouse on Merchant’s Road (right) with bridge linking to No 3 & 4 warehouses facing the canal.

Downings Malthouses on Merchant's Road

Looking at No 3&4 Malthouse with back to No1.

Downings Malthouses on Merchant's Road

No 2 Malthouse, looking in opposite direction to photos above

Bridge over Merchant's Road

Bridge over Merchant’s Road linking the buildings

The Future

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.

Sula Lightship and Downing Malthouses, Bakers Quay

Downings Malthouse with Sula Lightship in the foreground

Sula Lightship, Bakers Quay and bridge over St Ann's Way

Sula Lightship looking toward bridge over St Ann’s Way


About Darrel Kirby

I am what I am.
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5 Responses to Dereliction at the Docks

  1. Pingback: So That Was January 2014…. | Darrel Kirby's Blog

  2. Jim Rigby says:

    Darrell, my cousin Stuart Jay and I, often fished the canal between the pillars of the wooden overhang, back in the 50′s when we were teenagers. Just to the left of the pillars there is a gap in the wall, that is where the Sudbrook exits into the canal. It was one of the best spots to fish all the way to Llanthony bridge. We also used pellet air rifles to shoot rats in the malt houses.(Great Fun). Some of the barges that were moored along side the pillars, contained monkey nuts and sometimes raw chocolate. We would knock out the wedges that secured the tarps and retrieve handfuls of yummy stuff. The photo’s brought back to me so many memories of my youth,(Harry) Raggy Smalls junk yard was always a place we would watch the workers break all sorts scrap. I had forgotten so much of the area i was so familiar with. Both of us were apprentices at Fielding and Platt. I was born at 8 Philip Street in 1941 and Stuart was born at 59 Bristol Road in1942.
    I live in the USA and Stuart lives in Australia.
    Love your web site. Keep up the information on the changes to the areas people like Stu and me and all ex pats.

  3. Pingback: First day in Gloucester | jasmineblanchardglos

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