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High Orchard

High Orchard is the old name of the land now bounded by the Gloucester & Sharpness Canal, Llanthony Road, Bristol Road and St Ann Way. In medieval times, it was the 'high orchard' of the canons of nearby Llanthony Priory. In Victorian times, it was a cradle for Gloucester's industries. Now it includes the site of a new designer outlet shopping centre, and it has given its name to the new bridge carrying St Ann Way over the canal.

The Canal Frontage
        Following the opening of the canal, the development potential of the field known as High Orchard was recognised by Samuel Baker and Thomas Phillpotts, who built a quay wall along the canal frontage and then leased or sold off plots of land to local merchants. For more about the partners and how they had benefited from owning slaves in Jamaica, follow this link.
     The northern end of the quay was initially occupied by timber yards and a pair of semi-detached corn warehouses (now Pillar & Lucy House). A plot near the southern end was sold to the Birmingham & Gloucester Railway Co, and this later became the High Orchard Yard of the Midland Railway Co, initially with its own branch dock off the canal. The southernmost plot was sold to the Anti Dry Rot Co who set up a works to manufacture corrosive sublimate (mercuric chloride) used in a treatment for preserving timber.

Victorian Industries
        The land behind the canal-side timber yards provided ideal sites for new industries, together with housing for the workers, shops, half-a-dozen pubs and St Luke's church. In the 1840s, Price & Co built a steam saw mill, Charles Jones established a sail loft and James Brimmell set up a rope walk along the southern boundary of High Orchard. In the 1850s, further plots were taken up for the High Orchard iron works, John Cale's enamelled slate works and another saw mill started by Samuel Moreland (who later became famous for making matches). In the 1860s, Foster Brothers established an oil and cake mill on the site of the former Anti Dry Rot Works, Fielding and Platt developed the Atlas Ironworks and Belcher Gee & Co started another enamelled slate works. In the 1870s, the brothers G & W E Downing set up a malthouse, adding others in later years, and Collett & Co established a works for manufacturing chemicals. In the 1880s, King & Co opened a confectionery factory, and in the 1890s J A Matthews & Co established a huge furniture factory, the former sail loft was converted to a corn mill and J Sessions & Sons opened a large enamelled slate works.

Twentieth Century Industries
     By the beginning of the twentieth century, the former orchard had become largely covered by buildings, including some built on the former timber yards. Two of the main businesses were Fielding & Platt's Atlas engineering works, which later expanded to take over the site of St Luke's church, and Matthew's cabinet works on either side of High Orchard St. After the latter closed in 1935, part of the premises was occupied by the Gloucester Carpet Co.
     Other significant employers were Foster Brothers oil and cake mill, Downing's malthouses and Sessions enamelled state works, all on Bakers Quay, and the High Orchard iron works in Baker St. All of these were served by sidings from the Midland Railway Co's High Orchard goods yard. Over the years, however, these old industries found it increasingly difficult to compete with businesses elsewhere, and one by one they closed down.

     In recent years, the High Orchard area has become the site for the Gloucester Quays designer outlet shopping centre. Most of the former industrial buildings have been swept away, but some have been incorporated into the new centre.

For further information, see: Foster Bros Oil & Cake Mill, Downings Malthouses, Outlet Centre Progress

Sources: TNA RAIL 829 minute books; Glos Arch D3117/2536-40; IN 11 Industrial Gloucestershire; Rate books; Suppl 56th Rep Chamb of Commerce; OS maps; trade directories.

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