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Secret underworld of Gloucester to become tourist attraction

By citizenmike  |  Posted: March 07, 2014

  • City archaeologist Andrew Armstrong with the Roman wall from 300AD

  • The entrance in King's Walk shopping centre

  • Going down into the King's Bastion chamber

  • Citizen reporter Mike Wilkinson in the King's Bastion chamber

  • The 13C medieval bastion

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HIDDEN under the streets of Gloucester, 2,000 years of history is about to be unearthed.

Thousands of people walk through the King’s Walk shopping centre every day but many do not even realise that underneath lies the King’s Bastion chamber.

In the chamber lies an incredible glimpse into the past – part of the city’s Roman wall from 300AD and a medieval bastion used for defending the city.

But for more than a decade the chamber has been a flooded, dark pit that has been open to nobody – until now.

Ambitious plans to turn the chamber into a tourist attraction are being unveiled in the Citizen today.

A pump has extracted almost a foot of water from the chamber, which sits below ground level. Electric lights have been installed and a dehumidifier is working its magic in the humid underground room. They are the first steps to opening the chamber up for special events, such as the Open Heritage Days.

But there is a longer term ambition of turning it into one of the city’s major tourist attractions and that will begin with the installation of new, permanent lighting and display boards to allow visitors to interpret the remains.

City archaeologist Andrew Armstrong said: “What you see down here is absolutely gobsmacking. Here lies the remains of Roman wall from 300AD, which extends beyond the chamber and is mostly intact.

“Some people will remember being able to go in here during the 1970s but since then it has remained closed to the public so there are many people who don’t even realise it exists.

VIDEO: City archaeologist Andrew Armstrong goes into the King's Bastion chamber

“In the medium term we would like to get it open for one-off events, but in the long term we need to look at how we can improve the access arrangements to open it on a permanent basis.”

The entrance currently lies under a silver plaque in the middle of the floor in the King’s Walk shopping centre, in front of Superdrug and Claire’s Accessories.

Councillor Paul James, leader of the city council, said: “We have some fantastic Roman heritage in the city, but we don’t always make the most of it.

“I can remember, as a child growing up in the city, going down into the King’s Bastion. But now thousands of people must go along King’s Walk every day without realising what is underneath it.

“When we have completed the works at Eastgate Chamber, outside Boots, we should move on to the next project. Having the King’s Bastion open and accessible to the public again would be another great example of bringing our history alive.”

The Roman wall extends beyond the chamber in two directions – heading toward King’s Square, veering to the Cathedral and, in the other direction, running along Brunswick Road and toward Parliament Street. The route can still be followed by looking out for the ‘via sacra’ signs – the term coming from the name of the main street in ancient Rome.

KEY FACTS ON THE KING’S BASTION CHAMBER

-Excavated in 1969 prior to King’s Square redevelopment, which found remains of a Roman fortress.

-The earliest remains were a turf, sand and clay rampart resting on timber strapping, which survived for 1,900 years.

-It was later turned into a wall made from Cotswold limestone, thought to be from the Painswick area.

-The wall was reused during the Saxon period of the 8th and 9th centuries.

-During the medieval period in the 13th century, the walls were repaired and improved. Large D-shape towers were added as a defence for the city.

-The site was redesigned to make it publicly accessible from 1975 until the mid-1990s when it closed to the public.

LIFE AND TIMES OF GLEVUM

- The King’s Bastion is the site of a Roman fortress. At the end of the 1C AD the fortress was decommissioned and the space was used as the location for a new city, specifically a ‘Colonia’ – a settlement for retiring soldiers which was granted particular legal and taxation privileges.

- These first citizens created impressive public buildings as well as sizeable town houses. They converted the fortress rampart into a proper wall spanning 2km in length and four metres tall – this was probably done for reasons of civic pride as well defence. The later Roman period was often uncertain and occasionally violent.

- The walls were re-used in the 8th and 9th centuries when Gloucester became an important Saxon city.

- During the medieval period the walls were extensively repaired and improved with new defence towers being added.

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9 comments

  • jas37  |  March 10 2014, 9:56PM

    Kay, I suspect Paul James' comment was relevant to the fact that some Gloucester residents often complained that the City Council spent far too much money on the Quays and Docks, even though the Council didn't spend any money on the Quays and appear to consider the Docks purely as a place that their Offices are sited.

  • Kay_Powell  |  March 09 2014, 11:38PM

    Jas, perhaps they weren't press releases, but simply various quotations from members of the council. So many people had made the claim about the Quays that last June Paul James had to state: "We are not ignoring Gloucester city for Quays."

    |   -19
  • jas37  |  March 09 2014, 10:17PM

    Kay, I intended to add that the Council does not select what Businesses open in Gloucester. We don't live in a Communist State.

  • jas37  |  March 09 2014, 10:14PM

    Kay, What Press releases have the Council produced about the Quays? (can't say I can recall one)

  • Kay_Powell  |  March 09 2014, 7:24PM

    Jas, I read what they say in press releases. I could have added that they want to increase the café culture, despite the fact that there are already absolutely loads of cafés in Gloucester. I prefer a good mix of building uses, including offices. There is more to life than shopping and drinking coffee.

    |   -23
  • jas37  |  March 08 2014, 10:03PM

    Kay-Powell, Can you elaborate on how you came to the conclusion that the Council have some sort of obsession with the Quays and Shopping? ( I agree with the fact that more should be made of our Roman Heritage, even though I can not make any sense of the rest of your comment)

  • Glos_Lad34  |  March 08 2014, 5:42PM

    Glad that they're making it an attraction, mind you I've never seen this side of Gloucester yet?

  • xlitho  |  March 08 2014, 12:31AM

    About time!

  • Kay_Powell  |  March 07 2014, 4:19PM

    YES YES YES! That's exactly what we should be promoting. Most people are sick and tired of the council's obsession with the Quays and shopping. Our Roman heritage is something that few other cities can beat, and none are in this region.

    |   -17

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