We had a weekend away recently and passing near to Gloucester on our way back decided to drop into the city and make a return visit to its historic docks. We had not been there for about 30 years and even then it was at the start of a rebirth. A few of the old dockside warehouses had been restored and given a new lease of life. We had gone specifically to see the “Opie Collection” which was an amazing collection of old packets and packaging. we were wondering how the development had fared and if it had an air of rebirth and vibrancy such as developments at Cardiff Dock and Merseyside’s Albert Dock had managed to achieve.
Trying to park was not easy – they hadn’t got that right! And the road signs all around were dreadful but we did manage to park and found our way to the dock area. It was definitely worth the effort. It seemed at first glance to be lively and well-used with little sign of the dereliction that curses most dock areas. On the walk from the car park to the docks I spotted these red poppies bursting with colour and energy through a crack in the pavement. They glowed against the black fence. I loved the image of nature breaking through the concrete and adding a touch of softness to the rigidity of man-made structures.
As we entered the docks themselves after a short walk we were instantly amazed by the lively feel of the place. New life had been given to dereliction and what once were working docks and warehouses had been given a second chance to burgeon as leisure, retail and new homes.
As usual in these reborn docks plenty of coffee shops beckoned. In the evening there are also plenty of restaurants to entice the evening visitors.
While we turn to restaurant and cafe for refreshment today, in times gone by when the docks were places of strenuous often dangerous labours the dockworkers and bargemen would have turned to religion so all of the larger docks provided a chapel. Gloucester was no exception.
The craft that moor here now are are barges converted for leisure and pleasure and the odd tourist boats offering regular trips. It was hard to imagine the noise and constant movement of barges and their cargoes that must have moved through here every moment of every day when the docks were fully working.
A favourite building of us both is the new Gloucester College of Art which sat in its blue and white crispness as a compliment to the blue of the sky and the white of the slowly passing clouds. When seen through the original dockland warehouses the college presented hope for the future.
Signs of its bustling past remained and had been lovingly restored as sculptural memorials to its past and to the men and women who toiled there. They have a beauty all of their own.
New pieces of sculpture commissioned as tributes to the docks’ past sit alongside the remnants of its earlier industriousness. Some thrusting into the air indicating power while others subtly placed where feet trod and the occasional eyes fell to spot them.
The lift bridge was still toiling away lifting the road to allow water craft to enter or exit the docks. Where once the bridge would have lifted to give passage to working barges now the vessels passing below are pleasure craft manned by weekend sailors or tourists on trips along the waterway.
After dropping into a retail centre for coffee we wandered into an area of the docklands still undeveloped and this area presented a stark contrast to the newness we had been enjoying before. They seem to be patiently waiting their turn for fresh breath to be breathed into them them as thoughtless vandals paint graffiti on their doors and throw bricks through their windows.
This final trio of photos illustrates the sharp division between the developed and the symbols of the past.
As we took the path back to the car we stopped to get a close up look at this sculpture shooting skyward when we noticed a fingerpost directing us to the cathedral and, as we had never visited it, we naturally followed its invitation. We were impressed enough with a quick view of the outside to think we must come back for another visit.