I was delighted to see recent news that the Antique Centre has been found a new home in Westgate Street, with plans to get it open before Christmas.
I am pleased on three fronts: it would have been a shame to lose the Antiques Centre; its move to Westgate Street will be a great boon to the area; and, perhaps best of all, it will be great to see its new home at 26 Westgate Street back in use.
It was unexpectedly announced early last month that the Antiques Centre was to close as they were being evicted by Peel Holdings. This brought on a sense of deja-vu from 2001, when developers Crest Nicholson ousted the Robert Opie Package Museum from its home in the Albert Warehouse. It seemed that once again Gloucester was going to lose an asset of tourist value.
To be fair, the announcement shouldn’t have been such a shock. Plans to turn the building into offices as part of a new business quarter were revealed back in December 2014, with the Antiques Centre slated to move upstairs in the Quays Shopping Centre. The council agreed to this back in March, when the Citizen reported “Gloucester Antiques Centre to Move from Home of 30 Years.”
Presumably the Citizen means the Docks in general when it refers to its “home of 30 Years”, because the Antiques Centre has actually only been in their current location in the old Matthews Furniture Warehouse since July 2009; before that they were in the Lock Warehouse on the Main Basin.
Their time in this new location has not been a particularly happy one, and the centre has closed and re-opened a number of times as it struggles to be profitable. Nonetheless, the timing of the announcement did seem to come as a shock and it does leave Peel Holdings looking like evil landlords kicking their poor tenants out onto the streets at Christmas.
Luckily a good Samaritan stepped in, in the shape of property developer Chance Malone who agreed to inject £45,000 to renovate the building at 26 Westgate Street for them to occupy. Eventually they will share the building with the Tourist Information Centre.
This is an excellent location: Westgate is, I think, the best of the gate streets, but it doesn’t get its fair share of footfall. People say that it needs an anchor store to draw people in, but its charm is largely based on the fact that it doesn’t have such a store.
Maybe the Antiques Centre plus the Tourist Information Centre will bring in tourists, drawing them from the nearby Cathedral. Whilst they are there, maybe they will also visit the boutique shops and the fantastic bars, restaurants and cafes that the street has to offer. It might be just the shot in the arm that Westgate Street needs.
And as for the building: where better to have an antique shop than a sixteenth century merchants house said to be the finest and largest urban timber-framed building in Britain.
From the front it doesn’t look like much. Most recently it was a cheap bookshop called Bookends and, before that, for many years, it was Winfield’s Seed Warehouse. It has fairly modern plate glass windows and, like most buildings in Westgate Street, it was given a plain facade in the eighteenth century. But take a walk down the narrow Maverdine Lane that runs alongside and look up.
Early on the building was home to Alderman John Brown and it is claimed that during the civil war it was the headquarters of Edward Massie, who in 1643 led the city in standing against King Charles I in the Siege of Gloucester, an important battle in the English Civil War. This claim is also made for the Crown Inn further down Westgate Street.
By the eighteenth century it was the hall of the Grocers’ Guild before going back into the hands of an eminent Gloucester worthy, this time Richard Webb, three times mayor of Gloucester in 1760, 1767 and 1782.
The building is sometimes referred to as the ‘Old Judges House’, dating back to the early nineteenth century when it was lodgings for Assize Judges. However, it was clearly not in the best of conditions at this time as one judge refused to stay there, referring to it as a ‘badly drained, ill-ventilated, foetid dog-hole.’
Sadly, until recently, that description wouldn’t have been inappropriate for its modern condition. When I took a tour around as part of the Heritage Open Days a few years back the upper floors were plagued with pigeons. Hopefully things are better now and bringing it back into use can only be a good thing.
So, let’s hope they get it open by Christmas – add an antique to your Christmas list and let’s make sure they do some good business over the festive period.
Details on 26 Westgate Street taken from the Story of Gloucester