My quest began at a Gloucester Civic Trust meeting in April at which Jason Smith talked about ways of promoting the city. Our local history society publishes a regular newsletter which includes a section on Gloucester’s namesakes and, during the meeting, someone referred to the Gloucester rose. I thought that that this would be an easy topic to research for the next newsletter. How wrong I was!
I began my search at Tourist Information where I soon discovered the staff had never heard of the rose. However, they were full of creative ideas which led me on a trail to the Civic Trust at St. Michael’s Tower, a florists, the cathedral and to the owner of a local gift shop who happened to be both a historian and a rose lover. At each port of call there was genuine interest but no information because in each case no one could recall hearing of it before.
After pounding the streets of Gloucester for a couple of hours, and then searching unsuccessfully for references online, I headed for Gloucestershire Archives. I didn’t hold much hope as I assumed the Archives mostly holds information about people and property rather than anything on a subject such as plants. However, I happened to visit when Sue Constance was staffing the enquiry desk. Remarkably, she remembered writing an index card for the City of Gloucester rose years ago; it had stuck in her mind because she loves roses. The index card led me to several articles which had been written about the rose in local newspapers, giving me all the background information I needed.
The City of Gloucester rose was bred by John Sanday (Roses) Ltd. based at Almondsbury. It began life as a seedling in 1963 and over the next seven years through experimentation and nurturing evolved into what was described as ‘an excellent garden rose’. John Sanday approached the city council about naming it after Gloucester because of the nostalgia he felt for the city and, looking for ways of promoting Gloucester, the council agreed. The colour ‘saffron yellow, shaded gold’ was chosen in 1968 by Alderman Ken Hyett, then Mayor of Gloucester (both Bath and Bristol already had red roses to their names). The rose was officially launched on 24th November 1970 and planted at Gloucester Park. It was then sold commercially throughout the 1970s. Unfortunately the rose then fell out of fashion until 1998 when The Citizen newspaper, looking for ways to celebrate the millennium, decided to find specimens from which to propagate new plants. The project was a great success. 500 plants were raised, some planted at Gloucester Park and others at Gloucestershire Royal Hospital, whilst the rest were sold to people who, like John Sanday, felt nostalgic about the city.
The detailed information I had found in the Archives encouraged me to think that there must be several City of Gloucester roses still growing locally. Sure enough, with the help of Radio Gloucestershire. several plants were eventually found in Abbeydale, Tuffley and Barnwood. Sadly, it seems there are no longer any growing in public places since the demise of the city parks department.
My quest gave the rose some much needed publicity which in turn has inspired those who own one to propagate it to ensure that it lives on for many years to come. The handful of rose lovers who have come forward know that they have a very special rose growing in their gardens.
Gloucester Local History Society