Today was my day for Gloucester. It’s about 14 miles away but took me a while because I was held up by road works a couple of times. With the help of my Sat Nav, I found a parking building quite close to the cathedral & headed down a very narrow lane towards the city centre. I couldn’t believe my luck, because the first thing I came across was the shop of Beatrix Potter’s “Tailor of Gloucester”. I thought I would have to go hunting for it.
It’s lovely & looks just like her drawings. I got talking to the lady in the shop, saying it must be a very pleasant place to work because it’s just full of Beatrix Potter stuff, & she told me the publisher wanted to close it down but the city of Gloucester put in some money & they all work as volunteers to keep it open.
For those of you who don’t know the story, it’s about a poor tailor who is making a fancy coat & waistcoat for the Mayor of Gloucester who is getting married on Christmas Day. He cuts out all the cloth, then goes home but he becomes ill & a group of little brown mice finish off the garments for him.
Apparently it’s based on a true story. The tailor wasn’t poor, he was quite rich but one night his apprentices finished off a garment for him & he put a sign in the window saying the fairies had done it. Beatrix Potter wanted to make the tailor poor so she put him in this little shop which was actually a fish shop at the time. Of course, I had to buy the book which has a special sticker showing it came from the real shop.
Then I went down the road to the cathedral & while I was looking around, trying to get my bearings, a lady came up to me & asked if I wanted a free guided tour. I never turn down that kind of opportunity & she took me over to a bloke with a red sash & said, he’s a guide. I asked if he wanted to wait & get a larger group but he was quite happy to give me a private tour, so off we went.
It was marvellous. We chatted about the other cathedrals I’d seen & compared them all so I learned a great deal. This cathedral, like many others, was started by William the Conqueror in 1072 on the site of an existing Benedictine monastery but has been modified many times over the centuries. The nave is very strongly Norman with massive round pillars & round arches. It originally had a wooden roof but that burned down & was replaced in 1242 by the stone vaulting that’s still there. You can still see the discolouration around the bottom of the stone pillars where the burning roof timbers fell.
Then, in 1327, King Edward II was murdered just down the road at Berkeley Castle & was buried here in Gloucester Cathedral. His son, Edward III built a very ornate tomb for him & had the whole east end of the church rebuilt in the perpendicular gothic style which was popular at the time. Even though Edward II wasn’t a very nice person & was a terrible king, because he was murdered his tomb became a place of pilgrimage which the monks encouraged because it brought wealth to the abbey.
At this time, in 1350, the great east window was built. It’s one of the most important windows in western Europe & is about the size of a tennis court. The colours are very subdued so it doesn’t photograph well but it takes up the whole east wall of the church. They say about ¾ of the glass is original, over 650 years old.
Then, along comes Henry VIII, but because Edward II was one of his ancestors he couldn’t destroy the church so he formed the diocese of Gloucester & made it into a cathedral. The monks were all sent away but the buildings have survived. The cloisters, which have the very first examples of fan-vaulting, dating from 1412, are in fantastic shape & several of the monastic buildings are still used by the King’s School.
However, Bishop Hooper, one of the first bishops was burned at the stake by Henry’s catholic daughter, Mary I so it wasn’t all plain sailing. It also had a close shave in 1643 when Oliver Cromwell wanted to pull it down because it was too fancy for his puritan taste but it was rescued by the city fathers. But it survived.
During World War II the entire east window was removed & put into storage in the crypt. But when the glass panels were brought out for reassembling in 1945, they found that all the paper labels had fallen off & all they had to go by was an old coloured postcard. It looks like they did a pretty good job although I don’t know how long it took.
I found a coffee shop in the cloisters & had a Pilgrim’s Pie. It’s made of hogget, lamb, onion, garlic, white beans, herbs & honey-roasted carrots. It was different but not one of my favourites.
When I finally came to leave the cathedral it was pelting down with rain & of course, I’d left my umbrella in the car. I had my good heavy coat on & couldn’t stand in the porch all afternoon, so decided I was just going to get wet. I hurried back to the car as fast as I could & did get pretty wet but no real damage.
My route out of town took me past the Gloucester Quays so I stopped for a short time to have a look around. It’s surprising that a city this far inland has such a big port. I could have spent longer there but it was cold & miserable - I’d had enough so it was time to go home.
I’ve just done a load of washing & the machine behaved itself tonight. Now I think a bowl of soup sounds good after my very substantial lunch.