The 10th Gloucester History Festival - Necessity is the mother of invention

The 10th Gloucester History Festival - Necessity is the mother of invention

Plato’s observation summarises well the changes we’ve had to make for this year’s tenth anniversary of the Gloucester History Festival.

First a bit of context. Creating our first History Festival ten years ago, almost immediately after being elected MP, was one mad adventure I will never regret.

It came from a conviction that what’s most special about this amazing city is our Heritage - not a dry and dusty collection of stones and statues: but a living mix of humans and their beliefs, causes, achievements and follies for over more than a thousand years. 

How did, for example, a 9 year old boy crowned in Gloucester Cathedral (without a proper crown), in the middle of a hideous Civil War, survive, thrive and bring peace to the country - reigning as King for 60 years: and what lessons are there for today’s strife riven world? 

Then the 1643 siege of Gloucester, which is closer to the experiences of one of my constituents, who emerged from slaughter in Bosnia not that long ago, than the experience of most modern residents. What can we learn from him about resilience?

So I believe learning about the past, ancient and recent, shapes our understanding of our city, our place in the country and world: and what might be possible here in the future.

That was the approach that lay behind the beginning of the Festival - bringing together the already highly successful Civic Trust run Heritage Open Days, Alan Myatt’s just reinvented Gloucester Day with a new programme of Blackfriars Talks. Few remember now that the building was almost always closed under English Heritage’s stewardship, and in 2011 had only recently been taken over by the City Council on a long lease.



City Crier, Alan Myatt, with first Polish Mock Mayor of Barton Jaro Kubaszczyk
(Photo from Gloucester Day 2019, pre-social distancing)


Since then we’ve added, largely through Heather Forbes’s hard work and focus, a series of events under the banner of City Voices - separating out the more local and modern human history from the Blackfriars Talks and taking it to new levels: not least by holding events in masses of (less formal) venues.

We introduced music, drama, recordings, films, re-enactments, discussions, interviews and we haven’t been afraid to touch Brexit, immigration, BLM, statues and controversy - without any Festival political axe or position: just a belief in the core freedom of expression, and a History Festival as a place for brilliant speakers, whether famous or unheard of, to stimulate and entertain.

But this year has challenged our formats, as with everything else.

No live talks or discussions with audiences: and almost everything digital except the brilliant often outdoor exhibitions and installations, the almost all outdoor talks and walks & Heritage Open Day openings.



(Photo from 2019, pre-social distancing)


And yet at Gloucester Day yesterday we were able to make it fun and different, not least with three major outdoor announcements that link past and present:

  • Additional funding for our 1840s Railway Station, now totalling £6m 
  • The launch of the c£80m Kings Sq and new Forum development, echoing our Roman roots, with partners City Council & Reef (including a new hotel, high tech & high spec flats and offices for digital and cyber entrepreneurs)
  • The (re) discovery of the Carmelites’ Whitefriars Priory, under the lift shaft of the former not greatly lamented car park blot on Bruton Way

We may even have started a trend of announcing what is new and exciting from past and present alike every Gloucester Day.

There is much more to come over the next two weeks of the Festival - with a new exhibition of illuminated art starting today at Llanthony Secunda and over 100 new events, and 100 art installations all on our much beefed up website.

You can now book online (very fast) for the virtual talks (without limit and without cost) and for anything else (like the walks) - to hear speakers like Mary Beard, David Olusoga, Michael Wood, David Carpenter and our own President Janina Ramirez - and many other brilliant talks.



Richard with Janina Ramirez and Alice Roberts at Blackfriars in 2019
(Photo from Gloucester History Festival 2019, pre-social distancing)


17 is the magic figure this year: 17 Blackfriars talks, 17 tours, 17 family films of Lockdown, 17 walks... and it’s all entirely a coincidence.

So please click and book and walk or listen and be stimulated and entertained at our first digitalised festival - no brochures because of everything being last - and spread the word. I cannot think of a better programme at zero cost to residents and visitors.

Which leaves me with one plea. Thanks to our generous patrons, sponsors and grants, especially from the Lottery Fund, and unbelievable work from our tiny team and our new Manager Jacqui Grange, we’ve been able to do this for 2020. 

But no Festival charity can exist without revenue for long. So if you like what you see and hear, and value what is arguably the best History Festival in the country being in Gloucester, please do donate online (

Best regards



PS Let me know what you think of the Festival on!