Last weekend I joined the Pub History Society on a tour around the pubs of Gloucester. I blogged about it here.
Although the purpose of the day was to visit historic pubs, the Society members were also interested in historic buildings more generally, so we thought it would be a nice idea to take them into Maverdine Lane to see Colonel Massies’ House, which has been described as the finest and largest urban timber-framed building in Britain.
Unfortunately, the entrance to the alleyway was locked.
However, as luck would have it, the building’s owner, Chance Malone, happened by and offered to take us on a tour of the building. This was probably the highlight of the day, despite the lack of beer.
Colonel Massies House is at 26 Westgate Street and is best known as the Gloucestershire Seed Warehouse as it was owned by Winfield and Sons, seed merchants. However, the shop closed in 1989 and it has more recently been used as Bookends bookshop.
From the outside there isn’t much to see because, like many of the buildings in Westgate Street, it has a plain early nineteenth century facade.
However, behind that is a sixteenth century, four-storey merchant’s house.
The reason that it is known as Colonel Massie’s House is that it is claimed that Massie used it as his headquarters during the Siege of Gloucester in 1643; a claim 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.’
And that description was pretty accurate until recently.
I actually had a tour around the building a few years ago as part of the Heritage Open Days. At that time, although the lower floors were used by the bookshop, the upper floors were in a terrible state. They were full of rubbish, in a poor state of repair and blighted by pigeons.
Since then, however, things seem to have improved.
The new owner, property developer Chance Malone, who also owns the old Citizen Offices in St John’s Lane, bought the Grade I listed building from the council for the princely sum of one pound.
He stepped in to provide a home for the Gloucester Antiques Centre when they were evicted from their previous location in the Quays around Christmas. This renovation looks really good, and there are plans to extend into other parts of the building. I will be returning for a closer look very soon.
There are also plans to move the Tourist information Office into the building.
The tour took us beyond the bottom two floors used by the antique centre. The floors above are sound and, as you ascend, the building steps out above Maverdine Alley below.
The 500 year old leaded glass windows are still intact and, once at the top of the building, you can open them using the original iron catches and easily reach out to touch the roof of the building next door.
There are still signs of the old Winfield’s days: there are hatches in the ceilings on each floor and an old engine at the top that once served as a lift to bring the seeds to the upper floors. On the upper levels the wooden roof beams and the old timber frame walls are visible. Here and there are fireplaces from different periods. You also get some superb views of the city and the Cathedral.
It was a fascinating tour and a great opportunity to see one of the city’s fine old buildings – it is fantastic to see that it is being looked after and brought back into use.