19 Westgate Street in 1936. The Fleece hotel opened in 1497 as one of the three ‘Great Inns’ built by the Abbey of St Peter (now the Cathedral) to cater for pilgrims who came to Gloucester to visit the tomb of King Edward II after his grisly murder in Berkeley Castle. There is a medieval undercroft beneath the Fleece Hotel which once traded as the Monk’s Retreat. It was a unique bar, part of a 12th century Benedictine Monastery, and it was once described as ‘the most curious bar in England’. For a time in the 1960’s the Monks Retreat was converted into a pseudo-German bier Keller with beer served in lidded steins.
Gloucester Journal: June 13th, 1874: Ashes which fell from the pipes of men playing in the skittle alley caused the recent fire at the Fleece Hotel. The fire started in some straw and did £220 worth of damage.
Gloucester Journal: January 19th, 1878 – Fined 10s. Collett Newman, late landlord of the Fleece, was charged with riding furiously through the streets on Saturday evening. Sergeant Maggs deposed that defendant was riding up and down Westgate Street at a rate of about nine miles an hour, between eight and nine o’clock. There were several hundred people in the street. Defendant said he was trying out a horse to prove it was not lame. Fined 10s. and costs for the defence.
The Citizen: Tuesday, 2nd November 1982 – Former hotelier dies: Mr Cyril Rich, who ran the Fleece Hotel, Gloucester, for more than 30 years, died on Saturday, aged 74. Born in Okehampton, Devon, he took over the family business from his father, who had bought the Fleece in 1908. He ran it from 1938 until he retired in 1975. Mr Rich, who died at his home in Stroud Road, retained an interest in the hotel which is currently being run by his son Cedric.
Mr Rich, a keen chess player in his younger days, when he represented Cornwall, was also a Freemason for 50 years and a Rotarian for 30. He is survived by his wife Sheilah, son Cedric and daughter Celia, as well as four grandchildren. A funeral service will be held at Gloucester Cathedral on Friday, followed by cremation.
Guest celebrities at the Fleece Hotel included Gracie Fields, Kim Philby (the spy who defected to Russia), Lord Howe and Margaret Thatcher.
The Citizen, Monday 21st February 1983 – Assaulted City hotel manager: The manager of the Fleece Hotel, Gloucester, was threatened by a man with a broken beer mug after he refused to serve him a drink, Gloucester magistrates were told. When a man called Stephens was told that he would not be served, it was alleged, he pulled the manager, Mr Cedric Rich, onto the floor, with Mr Rich underneath. Mr Geoffrey Archer, prosecuting, said that Stephens had smashed a beer mug and with the remains of the glass in his hands made objectionable remarks to Mr Rich. Fortunately two men jumped on Stephens and wrenched the glass away from him. Mr Archer said: The manager suffered only a slight cut. The two men are worthy of commendation by acting so quickly and preventing the situation from getting worse.”
Stephens, from Aberthaw, Gwent, pleaded guilty to assault causing actual bodily harm, using threatening words and behaviour likely to cause a breach of the peace and criminal damage to the mug. In sentencing him the magistrates took account of his poor financial circumstances. He was fined a total of £30 for the assault; and £10 on each of the other two offences.
The Citizen, Wednesday 3rd April 1991- Advertisement Feature – The Fleece Hotel: Following a major fire which closed it down for ten weeks, one of Gloucester’s oldest inns, The Fleece Hotel in Westgate Street, is now fully refurbished and back to being one of the main meeting places in the city.
Five years after Columbus discovered America, the Fleece was providing accommodation to the many pilgrims who came to visit the shrine of the murdered King Edward II in Gloucester’s St Peters Abbey. Indeed, the hostelry was founded by the Abbey and by 1534 had achieved the status of ‘unnum magnum hospitium’, a great inn. It came into the ownership of the Dean and Chapter of Gloucester Cathedral after the Reformation. In 1775 it is recorded that the Dean, Dr Josiah Tucker, actually held the lease.
Situated on one of the main thoroughfares of Gloucester, and despite there being over 24 other inns in Westgate Street, The Fleece prospered and became a favourite place for city merchants and county people to meet. Today it is still one of Gloucester’s principle venues for every kind of gathering.
For three generations the Rich family have been running this hotel. Here they welcome every kind of organisation, and gathering, both business and social. The Westgate Suite, which was re-opened by Baroness Oppenhein-Barnes last week, is admirably suited for every kind of function from a business presentation to wedding receptions or dinner dances. The suite is self-contained with its own bar and food servery.
The Rich family are pleased to see their old friends returning and thank them for their loyalty after the recent problems caused by the fire. They wish to attract many more groups who could make use of this city centre location. The hotel has many attractions including its bars, one of which contains a handsome Queen Anne fireplace. There are other interesting features including a Roman Well and a stone-vaulted Norman cellar which is one of the oldest room in the county. The Monk’s Retreat is video-equipped and makes a splendid place for an out-of-the-usual party.
The Fleece offers 40 bedrooms and is now very much back in business. When next in the city centre make a point of calling in.
In the courtyard of the Fleece Hotel a large wisteria covered the building and flowered profusely in the second week of May. The plant had an abundant water supply as there was an underground Roman well in the yard. The newspaper cutting is from The Citizen, Monday 15th May 2000.
The Citizen, 7th August 2002 – Centuries of service to end at the Fleece: (by Hugh Worsnip) The Fleece Hotel is to close after more than 500 years’ service to the community in Gloucester. The last guests will leave the 40-bedroom hotel in mid-October and it will then remain a private house for the owners until the future of the Blackfriars redevelopment is more certain. Ten staff will be made redundant.
It is the end of an era for the Rich family, which has owned the ancient Grade-1 listed building off Westgate Street since 1908. Cedric and Barbara Rich, the proprietors for 29 years, made the shock announcement today.
Mr Rich’s mother, Sheilah, is still very much involved in the business. She said: “I came here in 1936. It was then a thriving commercial hotel, full of company representatives doing their rounds and there was a very lively atmosphere. All the local businessmen met here and we have had our fair share of celebrities. I remember Gracie Fields staying here when she was a big star, Chuter Ede, the Home Secretary, and Kim Philby, the spy who defected to Russia. More recently we had Lord Howe and Margaret Thatcher.”
Historical records indicate the hotel has only been closed once before in the last 500 years. That was in 1770 when it was “in disrepair” and offered by the Dean and Chapter to the city council for £150. The council rejected the offer and the hotel has been privately owned since 1799.
The Citizen, Tuesday 1st October 2002 – Fond final farewell at the Fleece: Fifty Old Cryptians gathered at The Fleece Hotel in Gloucester on Friday to have a last drink at the historic watering hole. Chairman, Mike Cass, presented a bouquet of flowers to Barbara Rich – who owns the pub with husband Cedric – to say thank you for the service provided to generations of Gloucestrians. The hotel has been used by hundreds of touring rugby teams which have come to Gloucester to play the Old Cryptians.
The Citizen, 19th October 2002 – Last orders at historic city inn: (by Phil Norris) The gate has finally closed on the Fleece Hotel, bringing to an end 500 years of Gloucester hospitality. As a symbolic gesture, the giant black gate at the Westgate Street entrance to the hotel was shut in front of staff past and present who had gathered to say farewell to the Fleece which has been a hotel since 1497.
The closure is a personal loss for many who worked there as much as it is a historical loss to the city. People who had not worked at the hotel for decades turned up because of the place the hotel held in their hearts. Lifelong friendships were made and marriages even began and were celebrated there over the centuries.
Owner Cedric Rich closed the gate on Thursday having run the place since 1982 when his father Cyril died. Cyril Rich had in turn taken over the hotel from his father Samuel Rich who started running it in 1908. It was a sad day for Cedric: “We had hoped to make the 100 years and keep it going for another five years, but we could not justify the expense. The last straw was the latest electrical inspection which would have meant completely re-wiring the hotel at a cost of £150,000. That is an investment we could not make with the threat of the Blackfriars redevelopment still hanging over us.”
The Citizen, 16th May 2003 – Hotel bought for key city scheme: The 500-year-old Fleece Hotel in Gloucester’s Westgate Street has been sold to a Government agency which specialises in city centre redevelopment. The one-acre site is a key part of the Blackfriars redevelopment planned to link the city centre and Cathedral to the Docks. The Fleece land provides an entrance from historic Westgate Street to the south-west quadrant of the city, which is ripe for regeneration.
The hotel, which opened in 1497, and is a Grade 1 listed building, closed last October after owners Cedric and Barbara Rich said they could not afford to modernise it to comply with the latest safety regulations with the the threat of redevelopment hanging over their heads. Now after prolonged negotiations, they have sold and moved out of the Fleece to a new home in Starcross, Devon. The freehold owners of the hotel are the Regional Development Agency (RDA).
The agency refused to say how much the taxpayers had invested in the site, but it is thought to be in the region of £3 million. The agency is buying up key sites in the city centre vital to any new Blackfriars redevelopment.
The Citizen, Monday 24th November 2003 – First steps to secure future of the Fleece: Work to secure the long-term future of the city’s historic Fleece Hotel is being undertaken by the South West Regional Development Agency. The agency has started wind proofing the building and making sure it is watertight, and is working to ensure the historic hotel does not deteriorate in condition while it stands empty.
The Citizen, 13th February 2008 – Fleece may be hostel: An historic hotel could be developed into a backpackers’ hostel. The Fleece Hotel in Gloucester will become the linchpin of the Blackfriars creative quarter – a new area designated for culture. The South West of England Regional Development Agency and Gloucester Heritage Urban Regeneration Company have started looking at ways to get the project off the ground. Work begins this month with a study to investigate how the 500-year-old hotel and its neighbouring buildings should be used.
The RDA, which bought the Fleece in 2003, expects the study to take up to six months. Possible uses for the complex could include a hotel, a backpackers’ hostel, workspace for arts and craft firms and small units for new businesses.
The Citizen, Friday 9th July 2010 – Historic hotel “at risk” register: One of Gloucester’s most historic buildings has been placed on the “Heritage at Risk” register. The Fleece Hotel in Westgate Street, which dates back to the 12th century, has been highlighted as “at risk” by English Heritage. It has been joined on the register by the gatehouse at Llanthony Priory in Llanthony Road.
The Citizen, 20th September 2011: Letters to the Editor, “my memories of the Fleece Hotel during the war”: I was born in the Jemmy Wood House which stood opposite the Fleece Hotel in Westgate Street and which had amazing cellars like the ones in the Monks Retreat, where as children, we played games in tunnels beneath or house. During the war, I was a fire-watcher in Gloucester Cathedral and on visiting the Crypt, saw the same tunnel and stonework. I often wondered if the Monks from the Monks Retreat had their own private walkway. The old home in Westgate Street was demolished in 1948 or 1949 and is now McDonalds. I wonder if any ghosts still remain in the cellars.
The Citizen, Friday 27th January 2012 – Demolishing the past: Parts of the historic Fleece Hotel in Gloucester could be demolished as the next stage of its revamp. A planning application is currently being submitted to allow developers to take down parts of the Westgate Street site which are not “historically significant.” The 500 year-old Grade-1 listed building has been placed on the “at risk” register by English Heritage because of its poor condition.
Gloucester City Council is currently undertaking a £350,000 development of the site after it purchased it last June for £250,000. The council hopes to sell it onto a developer in the next few years. David Cant, a chartered building surveyor said: “We are currently preparing an application for listed building consent to demolish a number of buildings constructed in the 20th century. This includes the ‘link bloc’ which was built in 1936, the ‘lavatory block’, built in 1919, and a car port canopy roof cover built approximately 50 years ago. All of these buildings have been deemed not historically significant to the site.”
The Citizen, 7th September 2013 – Historic Fleece Hotel goes on the market: Creaky doors into the crypt that is inside the historic Fleece Hotel have moved one step closer to being reopened. The “hidden jewel” of Gloucester was built in 1497 and served the city as a hotel for 500 years – but since 2002 it has been a derelict eyesore. Fresh hopes will emerge next week of a revival for the Grade-1 listed building when Gloucester City Council will put it on the market.
The complex, off Westgate Street, will be up for sale from October for six months if the council’s cabinet members give the thumbs-up to the plan next Wednesday. Any potential buyer can expect to spend up to £10million if they are to restore the building with care. The building has undergone extensive safety repairs since the council took it on in May 2011 from the South West of England Regional Development Agency. City council leader Paul James said: “We have done the job of protecting the very fabric of one of Gloucester’s most important properties. Now it is open to a number of possible different uses. It lends itself to residential, some retail and of course, what many people would love to see, a return to its long-standing use as a hotel and bar.”
The Citizen, 8th April 2014 – YMCA’s £12m hotel vision revealed: Five hundred years after it first opened, a plan to turn the Fleece Hotel into a hotel, boutique shops and a café-bar has emerged. The project, which will cost up to £12million, would transform the historic, abandoned Westgate Street site. YMCA wants to open a back-packers hotel. It would run the medieval undercroft, known as the Monk’s Retreat as a café-bar once again. The site would also feature a host of specialist shops, playing up to Westgate Street’s independent look and feel.
The YMCA’s Cheltenham and Gloucester branch is waiting to hear if its bid for funds to pull together a comprehensive plan has been successful or not. The announcement is thought to be imminent.
The Citizen, 15th April 2014 – Lead pipe theft suspect in hospital after roof fall: A suspected burglar was forced to make the call that got himself arrested after falling 40 feet off one of the city’s most iconic buildings. The 30-year-old from Gloucester was arrested after being whisked to hospital with a list of injuries including a broken pelvis, leg and nose. He had made a call to the ambulance service after falling off the roof of the Fleece Hotel in Westgate at 5.45am on Saturday. The suspected thief was then arrested after lead piping and music equipment was discovered nearby.
The former hotel and bar has been put on the market this month by Gloucester City Council in the hope of giving it a new lease of life after a decade of dereliction.
The Citizen, 26th November 2016 – Digging Inn to discover evidence of Medieval city: Archaeologists are hoping to reveal the history of the Fleece Hotel and what has lain undiscovered beneath it for generations. For the first time in its history, the building in Westgate Street is the subject of an archaeological dig. With the help of funding from First Local Enterprise Partnership and Gloucester City Council two trenches have been dug by Cotswold Archaeology. One is in the former garage just off Longsmith Street and the other is in the main yard which was the hotel car park next to Bull Lane.
City council archaeologist Andrew Armstrong said: “We have already discovered a large amount of medieval pottery.” In the first trench several rubbish pits were found, that would have been at the rear of the tavern. “We found a tankard, three onion bottles which were generally used for wine and a very large number of smoking pipes that would date between the 17th and 18th Century,” he said. “This would make sense as pipes were given away for free then. We also have the remains of a later structure from around 1840 and a building from the 17th Century. What is interesting is that when we first came across it we thought the building was quite late but it could be as early as the 15th Century which would be unusual.”
The Citizen, Thursday 26th October 2017 – 29-year-old admits setting fires in two pubs: A 29-year-old man has admitted the arson attack that caused extensive damage to the historic Fleece Hotel in Gloucester on 20th July this year . At Gloucester Crown Court on Friday 20th October the man, from Priory House, Greyfriars, also pleaded guilty to starting a fire at the Brunswick pub – both on the same date. The current estimate for the total amount of damage caused in the arsons is between £1 million and £2 million.
The Citizen, 11th January 2018 – Get on with it. Calls to take action on Fleece: Councillors have urged their leader to act quickly to secure the future of an arson-hit historic building. Gloucester City Council has been trying to find someone to fill the historic Fleece Hotel since it became empty 15 years ago. Council chiefs want to reach out to business and find a way to ensure the future of the Westgate Street building, which was damaged by fire last year. And members of the councils overview and scrutiny committee urged council leader Paul James (C, Longlevens) to make sure its future will be secured soon.
The Citizen, 19th September 2019 – ‘Game changer’. Developer takes on the revival of landmark hotel: The developer behind the restoration of some of Cheltenham’s most prestigious listed buildings is about to make its mark in Gloucester for the first time. It has been confirmed that design and construction company Dowdeswell Estates is the preferred bidder to transform one of the city centre’s most historic buildings, The Fleece Hotel in Westgate Street.
Dowdeswell’s founder and managing director Rod Jenner said: “After looking at the site two years ago, I could see not only the enormous potential of the site itself but also its pivotal role in the wider regeneration of the city.” He added, “After more than a year of going through the tender process, my team and I couldn’t be more thrilled that the council have bought into our concept and have put the trust in us to partner with them and design, develop and deliver what we think is a unique and landmark project.”
The Citizen, Thursday 7th January 2021 – Rising from the ashes: Gloucester’s iconic Fleece Hotel could be re-opened in stages as developers work on a plan to help it raise from the ashes. The boss of the company given the job of restoring the Grade 1 listed timber framed building says many people think its “bonkers” even considering opening a hotel in the current economic climate. But Rod Jenner, the managing director of Dowdeswell Estates, says he is looking forward beyond the coronavirus pandemic and might start with a food and drink outlet first. The Cheltenham-based company behind the restoration and interior designs of some of Cheltenham’s most prestigious listed buildings has partnered up with Gloucester City Council to save the 15th century building.
Gloucestershire Live (online), 28th June 2022:
Work on restoring the Fleece Hotel has stopped, according to the leader of the city council. But Councillor Richard Cook (C, Kingsway) said he expected it to resume soon.
It comes as the Dowdeswell Group, the building company working on the renovation for the council, has had one of its companies – Dowdeswell Estates Building Contractors Limited – go into liquidation.
The Dowdeswell Group, based in Cheltenham, has not responded to Gloucestershire Live’s queries about the matter but Mr Cook has. He told us he had not been aware of the liquidation but had no reason to believe that it would affect the renovation of the historic Fleece, which was massively damaged by fire in 2017.
He said: “We deal with the Dowdeswell Group and we’re still working with them on the Fleece. With that, there was a viability gap which we’ve hopefully filled.
“We’ve started to strip out some of the old stuff that shouldn’t be there so we can get to the old stuff that should be there, to see how viable the building is.”
He said the council had decided that work should stop because one of its officers had concerns about the health and safety of workers at the Westgate Street site. He said: “It’s an old building. It’s been unoccupied for 10 to 12 years, apart from by thousands of pigeons. There are some concerns about the structural viability of the building.”
By Carmelo Garcia – Local Democracy Reporter
There are concerns over the future of a stalled Gloucester city centre hotel revamp after it was revealed £6.3m has been redirected to another project.
The Fleece, a 15th-century timber-framed Westgate Street building, was in the process of being restored by Gloucester City Council last year
However, initial revamp plans for the site stalled and no detailed designs were forthcoming from the council’s preferred development partner Dowdeswell Group.
Last February, council chiefs said they were in talks with other firms which may have been interested in redeveloping it.
But now they reveal the initial £6.3m of Government funding for The Fleece has been reallocated to the University of Gloucestershire City Centre Campus and the Forge which is part of The Forum project.
Liberal Democrat group leader Jeremy Hilton (LD, Kingsholm and Wotton) asked for an update last week from the council’s Conservative leader Richard Cook (C, Kingsway).
“Could you confirm how much money was allocated to the Fleece Hotel regeneration project from the government’s Levelling Up scheme and how this funding has been allocated?”
Cllr Cook said the funding was due to be spent by March 31, this year and was based on the development of the site by Dowdeswell Group.
“As you know, that interest fell away in early 2023. It then became evident that we would be unable to secure a new partner and deliver on the commitments made to the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) in our Levelling Up bid in the time available.
“With the agreement of DLUHC, we have reallocated this funding to the University of Gloucestershire City Centre Campus and the Forge (part of the Forum).
“We are now working with a new potential partner for the development of the Fleece Hotel and I hope to bring a recommendation on that to cabinet in March.
“The council will make a contribution to the development of the Fleece and will seek grant funding to further support its development.”
Cllr Hilton told the meeting at North Warehouse on January 25 that nothing has happened with The Fleece Hotel and that it was another failure of the council’s leadership.
“The partner has been dismissed and now we learn £6.3m of Government grants set aside for the Fleece Hotel has been stolen from the [project] and spent elsewhere,” he said.
“Yet another failure of your administration, isn’t it? Has the City MP been told?”.
Cllr Cook replied: “Of course he knows.”
The Fleece Hotel is built over a stone undercroft dating to the late 1100s and has had additions including an 18th-century frontage. The building is on Historic England’s Heritage at Risk Register but repair work began last year with the longer term plan being to turn it into a much-needed boutique hotel in the historic heart of Gloucester.
The Citizen, Thursday 1st February 2024 – Fleece Hotel revamp £6.3m moved to another project: There are concerns over the future of a stalled Gloucester city hotel revamp after it was revealed £6.3 million of funding has been redirected to another project. The Fleece, a 15th-century timber-framed Westgate Street building, was in the process of being restored by Gloucester City Council last year.
However, initial revamp plans for the site stalled and no detailed designs were forthcoming from the council’s preferred partner Dowdeswell Group. Last February council chiefs said they were in talks with other firms that may have been interested in redeveloping it. But now they have revealed the initial £63m of government funding for The Fleece has been reallocated to the University of Gloucestershire City Centre Campus and the Forge, which is part of The Forum project.
Landlords / Owners at the Fleece Hotel include:
1830 Henry Haviland
1856 H. Heyden
1859 John Tandy
1870 John Niblett (died after a short but painful illness aged 30)
1870 (April) Joseph Clissold
1885 Frederick S. Cable
1893 S.J. Rich
1902 James Samuel King
1906 Albert F. Eberle
1908,1919 Samuel James Rich
1927 Major. W. Stoyle
1908 – 1982 Cyril Rich
1982-Oct 2002 Cedric and Barbara Rich