Gloucester Hams GLAF Visit

Gloucester Hams GLAF Visit

Proposed Site Visit by GLAF                                                        

Location: Gloucester Vale and the Water Meadow ‘Hams’

Western boundary of Gloucester City

Purpose: To review the popularity and amenity conditions of this historically important river valley landscape, with consideration to maintaining and enhancing/encouraging its rural attraction. The site in mind is located from Lower Westgate Street and by the Westgate bridge over the Severn moving along footpaths toward the Docklands and area of Llanthony Priory relics.

These meadows have an important role, both as a lung to the population and to their ecological position. Historically, they provided considerable sustenance to the Crown, castle and religious institutions previously settled at Gloucester. The ‘common’ ham of the burgesses (townsmen) of the city was essential for grazing their cattle and would have formed, for horses, an equivalent of the car parking of today.

It is most important for the upkeep of the grasslands of these meadows that they are mown and preferably grazed by cattle to prevent scrub and deterioration. Meadows with their permanent grass and herbage historically had greater surface value than pasture and even marginally more than arable land. They would provide early abundance for hay (winter fodder) and grazing for cattle over the summer months. Their settled nature is a haven for fauna and flora.

A Potted history of Gloucester

After the Roman garrison left Gloucester for Wales, the city gradually fell into decline. In 877 a raiding army of Danish Vikings settled for eight months before moving on. Aethelflaed, the daughter of Alfred the Great (whose town it was) rebuilt its defences in the format of a fortified burh (borough) with additional walls and strong gates north, south, east and west. The burgage plots of the burh, each in long narrow strips of approx. one acre, had buildings of up to three stories facing the streets. Animals and orchards to the rear with alleys for access. Cattle and horses were taken to the Common Ham for grazing over the summer months via lower Westgate Street.

After the requirements of the king and castle, the Church and the various religious institutions were allocated specific ham meadows. For example, we have Castle Meads, Archdeacon Ham, and past references to titles including Priest-ham, Nun-ham, Port-ham, Mean-ham, Sud-ham, Wal-ham and Common Ham. They were each strictly controlled and have interesting histories. Initially Priest-ham and Nun-ham were given to St Peters Abbey by the manor of Abbots Barton c750 it then gets a little complicated with agreements between the Crown, Castle/sheriff, Abbey of St Peter, Llanthony Secunda Priory and the Greyfriars etc.

Following the Dissolution and later the Siege (after which the walls, and independence were dismantled)  the old religious institutions were disbanded and much of the meadowland came under the controls of the Sheriff and the Corporation of the City. The reforms created by the Municipal Corporations Act 1835 caused further difficulties with the burgesses only having shared ownership in the commons. In 1877, the Burgesses claimed that they, and not the Council had succeeded to the commoning rights granted in 1518.

In 1891, the Burgesses sued the Council for encroaching on their privileges. Finally, under the Gloucester Corporation Act of 1894 the Council took powers (exercised in 1899) to buy out the burgesses’ rights and to turn the meadows into public recreation spaces and pleasure grounds. It may be questionable as to whether they have been entirely well turned to that use!

With its close proximity to the densely populated city, can we possibly enhance public awareness and encourage greater use with safe enjoyment of this valuable and interesting rural thoroughfare?

Alan Shelley 8 June 2019

See Area Map:

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