I was interested to read in The Gloucester Citizen on Saturday (January 25) that a number of potential new venues have been identified for the Eastgate Market when it gets ousted from its current site to make way for TK Maxx (see here for an earlier blog on this topic).
From the article it seems that the market traders are being pretty reasonable and pragmatic about the need to move: although they would prefer to stay where they are, they can see the merits of having TK Maxx in the city. This seems to be a healthy approach and means that they can negotiate sensibly with the council.
The three venues suggested are: the old Marks & Spencer building in Northgate Street, the furniture shop in King’s Square and the Fleece Hotel complex in Westgate Street. They all have their pros and cons, but it is the last of these that most attracted my attention.
I think that moving the market to the old Fleece would be an excellent idea. This wonderful old building would provide an interesting and unique setting for the market and it would fit well into the independent ethos of Westgate Street. It could also drive more footfall into the street: without a large anchor store Westgate Street can be overlooked by shoppers, but if the market is as popular as people suggest, it will encourage people to that end of town. It would also be a good draw for tourists. Everyone’s a winner.
But the real reason that this idea intrigues me is that I can see history repeating itself – The Fleece has been here before.
Having been built by St Peter’s Abbey (now the Cathedral) in 1497, the Fleece Inn flourished for many years, but by 1770 it had fallen into disrepair. This was the only time in its long history that the Fleece was closed, until its final closure in October 2002.
On this earlier occasion, the Fleece was still owned by the Cathedral, and they had the same idea that the council have today: they tried to rent the ailing inn to the mayor and burgess of the city to make a market and shambles on the site.
At that time the city rejected the offer and a couple of years later the building was repaired and re-licensed. It is not beyond the realms of possibility that this could happen again this time, and the Fleece could re-open as a hotel, but the market seems like a good alternative.
If the market does take over the site, what better addition could there be than a re-opening of the Monk’s Retreat, the quirky and much-missed pub that was housed in the twelfth century undercroft beneath the inn. Often referred to as “The most curious bar in England”, this would also be a draw to locals and tourists alike whilst offering much needed refreshment to thirsty market shoppers.
For more information on the history of the Fleece and the Monk’s Retreat see The Fleece Hotel: A new Life for an Ancient Inn