Priors Alley and Nailors Square

by Steve Goodchild
Priors Alley area in 1885
Priors Alley area in 1885

Henry Prior was a wealthy hosier. He was described as a friend of John Wesley, who stayed with him on his visits to Tewkesbury. His residence was not the ‘front house’ of the alley in Tolsey Lane which bears his name, but a large prestigious house in Church Street. Prior’s Alley contained eight small cottages which were occupied by stocking knitters, each with a knitting frame in the kitchen, all rented from Mr Prior. He left Tewkesbury and his stocking knitting business, retiring to fashionable Bath, where he died in 1852, aged 100.

Priors Alley was quiet and uneventful. It terminated at a length of mooring on the Mill Avon, a short, secluded length between what are now Riverside House and the Riverside Café’s ‘gazebo’. The seclusion made it a magnet for children, but the river was sometimes the scene of tragedies, unfortunately. The alley didn’t go through the bureaucratic process of official closure, with clearance and demolition notices. The whole alley was bought by stone mason Thomas Collins as his building contracting business expanded. When tenants left, their cottages were put to use as store rooms or workshops. As the business modernised, they were demolished and replaced by better facilities.

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Collins and Godfrey site in the 1930s
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Priors Alley Entrance
Priors Alley EntranceClick Image
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Collins entered into partnership with William Cullis, and had become by far the biggest employer in town, being responsible for a large and prestigious portfolio of building projects, as varied as the Methodist Church and Healing’s Mill, as well as a great deal of work on the Abbey. When Cullis left to start a new business in Hereford Collins looked to his nephew, and works manager, Francis Godfrey. Expansion continued, and the company of Collins and Godfrey was well regarded as a contractor on a national scale. It survived the deaths of Thomas Collins, in 1900, and Francis Godfrey in 1912. Francis Godfrey’s son managed the business until his own death in 1941, after which it was sold to James Miller of Edinburgh, later becoming Miller Homes. They left their Tolsey Lane premises after building a lot of houses in Newtown.

The next occupier was Shakespeare International Marine. Bill Shakespeare took over the buildings in 1958/59 to build his iconic record-breaking power boats. The company thrived on Bill’s innovation, and brought considerable activity to the area until tragedy struck. On October 23 1971 he was killed on Lake Windermere whilst practicing for the British Grand Prix. The company he had built up went into decline and ten years later moved out of Tewkesbury completely, leaving the premises empty and neglected until 1986, when planning consent was given to build the four blocks which now occupy the area; Priors, Nailers, Collins and Shakespeare Courts. The development preserves the line of Prior’s Alley, albeit with a road bisecting it. The new alley section is in a very different style to the old, but not in a bad way. It is a quiet and pleasant reminder of the alley line.

The vista today is very different to the industrial past, and it is difficult to picture the stocking makers, nail makers, masons and boat builders who in turn occupied the space. But they deserve to be remembered. 

Census Data 1841-1891

Priors Alley
1861 Ref-RG9/1807
William Whitehead; Head; Married; Male; 60; Framework Cotton Knitter; Born Tewkesbury Glos.
Henrietta Whitehead; Wife; Married; Female; 43; Born Tewkesbury Glos.
Henry Whitehead; Son; Single; Male; 20; Agricultural Labourer; Born Deerhurst Glos.
Thomas Whitehead; Son; Single; Male; 18; Labourer At Manure Factory; Born Deerhurst Glos.
George Whitehead; Son; Male; 13; Agricultural Labourer; Born Deerhurst Glos.
Rosetta Whitehead; Daughter; Female; 12; Scholar; Born Deerhurst Glos.
Nathaniel Whitehead; Son; Male; 9; Scholar; Born Deerhurst Glos.
Lervis Whitehead; Son; Male; 7; Scholar; Born Deerhurst Glos.
Henrietta Whitehead; Daughter; Female; 6; Scholar; Born Deerhurst Glos.
Dan Whitehead; Son; Male; 4; Scholar; Born Deerhurst Glos.
Priors Alley
1861 Ref-RG9/1807
Eliza Smith; Head; Widow; Female; 33; Launderess; Born Gloucester.
Ellen Smith; Daughter; Female; 13; Employed At Silk Factory; Born Gloucester.
Maria Smith; Daughter; Female; 7; Scholar; Born Gloucester.
Charles Smith; Son; Male; 3; Scholar; Born Tewkesbury Glos.
Mary Ann Smith; Daughter; Female; 1; Born Tewkesbury Glos.
  • Lodger Listed As Schedule 161
Priors Alley
1861 Ref-RG9/1807
Joseph Sallis; Lodger; Married; Male; 20; Waterman; Born Deerhurst Glos.
Susan Sallis; Wife; Married; Female; 19; Born Newent Glos.
  • See Schedule 160
Priors Alley
1861 Ref-RG9/1807
William Summers; Head; Married; Male; 52; Stonemason; Born Twyning Glos.
Eliza Summers; Wife; Married; Female; 36; Framework Cotton Knitter; Born Tewkesbury Glos.
Sarah Ann Summers; Daughter; Female; 1; Born Tewkesbury Glos.
Priors Alley
1861 Ref-RG9/1807
James Mayall; Head; Married; Male; 51; Agricultural Labourer; Born Winchcombe Glos.
Sarah Mayall; Wife; Married; Female; 50; Charwoman; Born Tewkesbury Glos.
Thomas Mayall; Son; Male; 16; Errand Boy; Born Tewkesbury Glos.
James Mayall; Son; Male; 14; Errand Boy; Born Tewkesbury Glos.
John Mayall; Son; Male; 10; Scholar; Born Tewkesbury Glos.
1 Priors Alley
1871 Ref- RG10/2679
Henry Jones; Head; Married; Male; 40; Labourer; Born Forthampton Glos.
Louisa Jones; Wife; Married; Female; 39; Seamstress; Born Tewkesbury Glos.
Thomas Jones; Son; Single; Male; 20; Labourer; Born Tewkesbury Glos.
Robert Jones; Son; Single; Male; 15; Boatman; Born Tewkesbury Glos.
Henry Jones; Son; Single; Male; 13; Finisher At Shoe Factory; Born Tewkesbury Glos.
M? A. Jones; Daughter; Single; Female; 11; Scholar; Born Tewkesbury Glos.
Walter Jones; Son; Single; Male; 5; Scholar; Born Tewkesbury Glos.
George Jones; Son; Single; Male; 1yr 6months; Born Tewkesbury Glos.
2 Priors Alley
1871 Ref- RG10/2679
Edward Parrott; Head; Married; Male; 39; Boatman; Born Tewkesbury Glos.
Mary A. Parrott; Wife; Married; Female; 31; Seamstress; Born Tewkesbury Glos.
William Parrott; Son; Single; Male; 12; Scholar; Born Tewkesbury Glos.
Charles Parrott; Son; Single; Male; 9; Scholar; Born Tewkesbury Glos.
Ann Parrott; Daughter; Single; Female; 7; Scholar; Born Tewkesbury Glos.
3 Priors Alley
1871 Ref- RG10/2679
Samuel Barnes; Head; Married; Male; 54; Labourer; Born Tewkesbury Glos.
Sarah Barnes; Wife; Married; Female; 59; Washerwoman; Born Tewkesbury Glos.
John Mayall; Son; Single; Male; 19; Boatman; Born Tewkesbury Glos.
Number of records found: 8

Print Version


Sunday 23-Jun-2024   by: John
I think the Hosier's house was what became the Girls' High School in Church Street - now sadly derelict. I also think Miller homes built the houses in Pyke Road and our late member, Gordon Baker, was a carpenter there, during the terrible winter of 1963

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