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Gloucester Docks &
the Sharpness Canal


The Custom House at Gloucester

     The Custom House in Commercial Road was completed in 1845 to a design by Sidney Smirke (brother of the better known Robert Smirke). It was needed because the existing office in Bearland was inconveniently placed and was no longer adequate for the amount of business being transacted.

The Custom House in Commercial RoadConstruction
     The Canal Company agreed to sell the site in February 1843, but it took over a year to complete the legal formalities. Eventually, contractors Thomas Haines & Son were given permission to start work in April 1844, and in spite of a late decision to face the walls with Painswick stone instead of brick, the building was roofed by October. During December, arrangements were made to insure the building, and authority was given for employing a person to light fires and to attend to the same. Meanwhile work continued on the inside, including an alteration of the door between the Comptroller's office and the Long Room where the clerks were to work. The final payment to the contractor in September 1845 brought the total cost to £4556. In addition, the Canal Company was paid £567 for the land, and the Treasury authorised £657 to be spent on fittings and furniture for the offices.

Customs Officers
     The building was occupied by the Collector of Customs and his staff, who were mainly responsible for recording cargoes brought to Gloucester from foreign ports and for collecting the customs duty payable on those goods. Some clerks undertook the registration of locally owned vessels on behalf of the Board of Trade and maintained service records of the masters and crews who served in these vessels. During the 19th century, part of the building was lived in by one of the customs officers. Although the handling of foreign cargoes mainly moved to Sharpness, the Gloucester custom house continued as an administrative office until the late 1970s.

The Soldiers of Gloucestershire MuseumA New Role
     After the customs staff moved out, the building took on a new role as the headquarters of the Gloucestershire Regiment, including the regimental museum which was opened in 1980 by HRH Duke of Gloucester, Colonel-in-Chief of the regiment. Initially the entrance to the museum was from Commercial Road, but in view of the redevelopment of the docks for leisure and following a public appeal, the museum was reorganised and reopened in 1990 with an entrance at what had been the back of the original building. For more information about the museum, click here.

Main sources: PRO CUST 31/169-188, CUST 42/65 and RAIL 829/8-9; Citizen 30 Oct 1980, 25 Jun 1990. 

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