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Gloucester Guildhall

The new city hall, named the Guildhall, was begun in 1890 and opened in 1892 on the site on the north side of Eastgate Street formerly occupied by Sir Thomas Rich’s school.

The building was designed by G. H. Hunt. It extended back from Eastgate Street, on which it had a stone front in Renaissance style, as far as New Inn Lane and included offices for the town clerk, accountant, surveyor, and other officials on the ground floor and council chamber, committee rooms, mayor’s parlour, and public hall on the first floor. (fn. 51)

It remained in use for council meetings and as the chief executive’s offices until 1985 when the council sold it to the Cheltenham and Gloucester Building Society and began moving its headquarters to a converted warehouse at the docks. Most of the city council administration was then housed in two modern office blocks, the planning and environmental departments in Spa Road and the treasurer’s and housing departments on the north side of Barton Street.

From: ‘Gloucester: Public buildings’, A History of the County of Gloucester: Volume 4: The City of Gloucester (1988), pp. 248-51. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.asp?compid=42305. Date accessed: 07 July 2007.

Sir Thomas Rich was born in Gloucester in 1601 as the entry in the Baptismal Register of St. John’s, Northgate shows. He was sent to school in London and after studying at the newly founded Wadham College, Oxford, worked in the city of London in the wine importing trade. He bought the manor of Sonning, near Reading, and became MP for Reading. He was created a baronet by Charles II.

In his will of 1666 he left his Gloucester house in Eastgate and £6000 to establish a school in Gloucester for twenty poor boys. The money was mainly invested in farm land and the rent was to pay for the running of the school. The school was opened in 1668 one year after Sir Thomas Rich’s death.

He was buried in the parish church at Sonning and his ornate tomb may be seen under the church tower.

The school, known as the Blue Coat Hospital, was to be run on the lines of Christ’s Hospital and a master and matron were appointed to teach and care for the boys.

The school is shown in the Kip engraving of Gloucester of 1712 close to the Barley Market that stood in Eastgate Street.

One of the key features of the bequest was that money was provided for apprenticeships once the boys had left school so good employment was guaranteed and this meant that the school was always full. When the master was out from the school the boys were supervised by the oldest boy who was known as the Observator.

The traditional Blue Coat uniform was worn. This consisted of a navy blue drugget coat, yellow stockings, leather belt, white collar and tabs and each boy wore a numbered silver medallion. We possess several of these medallions and photographs of boys in this uniform.

The school continued to use the Rich house until 1807 when new school buildings were erected on the same site. We have paintings of both the interior and frontage of these buildings.

In 1882 the name of the school was changed from the Blue Coat Hospital to Sir Thomas Rich’s School and the old uniform was abandoned for one initially requiring only a cap and the Rich crest for a badge. By now the school had increased in size to a hundred boys, some coming in from the surrounding villages, and three masters. So larger premises were needed and the school moved in 1889 to Barton Street. On the old site the Guild Hall was built.

Gloucester Guildhall in Eastgate Street (next door to the C&G Building Society) is the county’s liveliest, most diverse venue, boasting two cinema screens, a concert hall, theatre, galleries, workshops and delightful café-bar.

Up to 200,000 people visit the venue each year to be entertained by fantastic new live music, comedy, theatre and dance. Many of the acts who cut their teeth at the Guildhall are now major household names.

The Guildhall’s unique cinema is housed in the sumptuous oak-panelled former council chamber, and its diverse mix of classic films, arthouse releases and big screen blockbusters is the most exciting in the county.

The venue also stages hundreds of workshops every year, from Jazzjive to breakdancing, Tai Chi to arts and crafts, and has a year-round programme of cutting edge new art and photography exhibitions.

The Guildhall’s café-bar is a laid-back and peaceful haven just a step away from the hustle and bustle of Eastgate Street, offering fresh, home-made vegetarian lunches and specialist teas and coffees from all across the globe.

To find out what’s on log on to www.gloucester.gov.uk/events

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