History buffs of all ages will be able to take a trip back in time to find out more about the city’s maritime heritage at the Gloucester Tall Ships and Adventure Festival (May 25 to 27).
As well glorious ships and living history displays, festival ticket holders also gain free entry to the National Waterways Museum, Gloucester at the Docks which charts the incredible story of our local waterways and the many people who lived and worked on them.
Our Waterways: A potted history:
For thousands of years, the River Severn was used for trade and Gloucester was a vital crossing point for the Romans who settled in the city in around AD48. In 1580, Gloucester was given Royal Port status by Queen Elizabeth I but it wasn’t until the opening of the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal in 1827 that the city’s fortunes really changed.
It became a bustling inland port with seagoing ships sailing to the Docks with corn and timber from Europe and North America and wine and spirits arriving from France and Portugal.
In later years, as merchant ships became too large to travel down the canal and the increased use of the roads for cargo, the port was no longer seen as the vital transport hub it was once was and trade declined.
Now, thanks to considerable regeneration and investment, the waterfront has been given a second lease of life as a vibrant tourist and retail destination.
What can you see at the National Waterways Museum, Gloucester:
Run by the Canal & River Trust the National Waterways Museum,Gloucester was created to honour the area’s maritime heritage. It is housed in the historic Llanthony Warehouse which was built in 1873 and is one of many warehouses at the Docks which stand today as a testament to the crucial role Gloucester played as an inland port in the 19th Century.
Here we delve into the treasures to be found on a visit to the museum:
When you walk into the museum, you can’t help but be wowed by the rope replica exhibit of an 18th Century Severn Trow. This vessel was designed to navigate the River Severn with its shallow draft, meaning that the bottom of the boat didn’t drag along the river bed. Its open holds carried imports from Bristol up the river. When the wind dropped, gangs of men known as bow hauliers would help drag the boat along.
Locks are a frequent feature on canals, using gravity to move water through the gates allowing boats to be move up or down hills. On wide canals, lock keepers helped open and close the gates but on narrow routes, the crews did this themselves.
On evenings and Sundays, gates were locked to stop boats passing through without paying a toll.
A heavy padlock used to lock up dock gates on the canal is on display at the museum and it is thought to have been used later by the famous escapologist Harry Houdini in one of his stunts.
Diver’s suit and pump
Skilled teams were needed to keep canals in good condition. Divers wearing suits monitored and repaired underwater structures without the need to drain off millions of litres of water.
Cadbury’s and the canals
Most people know of Cadbury’s connection with Bournville near Birmingham but the links to the Severn are less well-known.
There was a Cadbury’s factory at Frampton on Severn which crushed cocoa beans, sugar and milk ton make a raw form of chocolate known as crumb. Sacks of crumb were taken by narrowboat to Bournville for refining.
After the First World War, the Cadbury family invested in the Severn & Canal Carrying Company to pay for new boats and barges to ensure the water route could remain viable with George Cadbury becoming chairman of the company in 1926.
Visitors to the museum can learn more about this slice of confectionary canal life at the museum and even get to sniff out the crumb in an original milk churn.
The museum is open daily 10am to 5pm. For more information visit canalrivertrust.org.uk/gloucester
Gloucester Tall Ships and Adventure Festival is taking place at the Docks between Saturday May 25 and Monday May 27. It will also feature superhero-style Jet Suit displays, wakeboarding and a 1,000ft-long zip wire.
Tickets for the festival are £10 and under-12s get in free when accompanying a ticket holder. The pass is valid for all three days and includes entry to the National Waterways Museum and also the Soldiers of Gloucestershire Museum.
For advance tickets, visit gloucestertallships.co.uk