Origins

Gloucester cattle are an ancient breed, numerous in the Severn Vale as early as the 13th century. They were valued for their milk (for Double Gloucester cheese), their beef, and for providing strong draught oxen.

However in the last two centuries, the introduction of other breeds and the development of intensive farming techniques, led to a dramatic reduction in numbers so that by 1972 only one herd remained.

Fortunately at its dispersal sale, a group of buyers determined that the breed should survive. The Gloucester Cattle Society was revived and since then, cattle numbers have increased from near extinction to over 700 registered females.

The Gloucester breed is strikingly beautiful. The body is dark mahogany with black head and legs. A white stripe passes from the small of the back over the tail and down over the udder, covering the belly. The picture is completed with mid-length, up-sweeping horns, which are white, tipped with black. In relation to modern breeds it is medium in size, being larger than a Guernsey and smaller than an Ayrshire.

By the late thirteenth century Gloucestershire was already producing large quantities of high quality cheese, and cattle complying with the general description of the breed were numerous.

By 1500 the city of Gloucester had a thriving cattle market as well as a cheese and butter fair. Demand for Gloucester cheese continued to increase until well into the eighteenth century. It was very popular in London and in the New England colonies. Gloucester cattle were to be found from Devon and Glamorgan to Essex, and it was in Berkeley in 1786 that Sir Edward Jenner took the first anti-smallpox serum from a Gloucester cow called Blossom. Her skin is still preserved.

During the eighteenth century the population declined, due to disease, and was replaced by Bakewell's 'improved' Longhorns. This breed was in turn ousted by the Shorthorn breed during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries and this new arrival also took its toll on the Gloucester population.

At the turn of the twentieth century the breed passed through a bottle neck of only two major breeders but, following a major sale at Badminton in 1896, there was a new wave of interest in the breed culminating in the formation of the Gloucester Cattle Society in 1919. The first herd book contained 130 animals in fourteen herds and by 1925 the numbers had risen to over 300 in over twenty five herds. However, this rather promising growth was cut short two years later by an outbreak of foot and mouth disease in Gloucestershire and the surrounding counties. The population was reduced to 177 animals and continued to fall as the depression took hold. By 1930 only 142 animals remained in only four herds. The largest of these, at Badminton, was dispersed in 1950 after prolonged problems with in-breeding, which had resulted in chronic infertility. Colonel Elwes' herd was dispersed in the same year leaving only fifty registered cows in two herds.

The Hon. Ralph Bathurst built his herd up to 148 animals which were dispersed after his death in 1965. Twelve of these animals survived to be registered in the new Society Herd Book in 1975.

Eric Dowdeswell maintained his old family herd at Wick Court until his death in 1968. His sisters, Ella and Alex, carried on but dispersed the herd in 1972 with the fear that this would be the end of their beautiful breed.

However, the enthusiasts in rare breed conservation and Gloucestershire tradition and history, gathered at the sale and were able to save every breeding female. Under the guidance of Charles Martell a new Society of breeders was formed and 70 animals were registered to some twenty breeders. By 1981 the numbers had risen to 165 registered animals with ten bulls standing at A.I.

A correspondent made the sad observation in 1959 that "The Old Gloucestershire breed has been a-dying for so long that its very tenacity of life leads one to hope, against all the evidence, that it may eventually survive".

The Gloucester could be a useful general purpose breed again if given a fair chance to prove itself with the backing of a large number of pedigree herds. At the very least the Gloucester breed of cattle is an irreplaceable part of our living heritage which must be preserved at all costs for future generations.

Gloucester cattle are an irreplaceable part of our heritage, help us preserve them for future generations, join the Gloucester Cattle Society.

Breed and Society History

Late 13th century

Cattle complying with the general description of the breed are numerous and Gloucestershire is already producing large quantities of high quality cheese.

By 1500

The city of Gloucester has a thriving cattle market as well as a cheese and butter fair.

16th to early 18th centuries

Demand for Gloucester cheese continues to increase until well into the 18th century. It proves very popular in London and in the New England colonies in America.

Gloucester-type cattle are found from Devon and Glamorgan to Essex.

Mid 18th century

The pinnacle of Gloucestershire's fame as a dairy county is reached and the breed looks forward to a prosperous future, only to be confounded by a double disaster that made the Gloucester rare within fifty years.

1745-56

The great rinderpest epidemic is only one of a series of 'cattle plagues', but this outbreak stands apart due to its severity and length. The disease arrives in Gloucestershire in 1748 and all markets are stopped.

The greatest effect of this national calamity is the reduction in cattle breeding on an unprecedented scale. Some areas turn completely to arable farming.

After previous epidemics, numbers slowly increased back to normal through natural increase, but this time there was an alternative - the Longhorn - which started to be bred widely, due to favourable pricing and its more beefy characteristics.

1796

Sir Edward Jenner takes the first anti-smallpox serum from a Gloucester cow called 'Blossom', hence the word ‘vaccination’ from the Latin vacca: a cow.

Blossom’s hide was later given to St. George’s Hospital in London by Jenner’s family, where it is still preserved in the Medical School Library.

1805

The first reference to the Gloucester breed as such is made in the records of the Badminton herd, probably the greatest Gloucester herd of all time.

1884

The Gloucester Dairy School and the Gloucester Dairy Association are established following a three day National Cheese Conference in Gloucester.

The conference was called for by Dr. Francis Bond of Gloucester, who went on to achieve considerable success with his cheeses. Particularly successful were his 'Gloucester Roundels' that were, "designed...for the purpose of encouraging a large consumption of cheese, a too-much neglected article of diet, and also for promoting the special Gloucestershire industry of cheese-making."

1896

Although the breed passes through a bottle neck of only two major breeders, after a successful sale at Badminton on 14th October 1896 there is a new wave of interest in the breed. This is the first significant sale for 44 years and several new herds are established as a result.

1909

Publicity for the breed increases in the years following the Badminton sale and the Duke of Beaufort takes some Gloucesters to the 1909 Royal Show at Gloucester. The show succeeded in getting the breed official recognition.

1919

After two major sales at Fretherne and Hardwicke, a whole new generation of enthusiastic Gloucester breeders emerges and the Gloucester Cattle Society is formed. The first herd book contains 130 animals in fourteen herds.

1925

Numbers rise to over 300 animals in over 25 herds.

1927

An outbreak of foot and mouth disease in Gloucestershire cuts short the promising growth of the last few years. The population reduces to 177 animals and continues to fall as the depression takes hold.

1930

Only 142 animals remain in just 4 herds.

1936

Gloucester Dairy School 1936 - butter is being churned on the left and Double Gloucester cheese is being made on the right.

1950

The largest Gloucester herd, at Badminton, is dispersed after prolonged problems with in-breeding that had resulted in chronic infertility. Colonel Elwes' herd is also dispersed, leaving only 50 registered cows in just 2 herds.

1959

A correspondent makes the sad observation that, "The Old Gloucestershire breed has been a-dying for so long that its very tenacity of life leads one to hope, against all the evidence, that it may eventually survive."

1965

Having built his Ciceter herd up to 148 animals, The Honourable Ralph Bathurst dies.

1968

Eric Dowdeswell maintained his old family herd at Wick Court until his death this year. His sisters, Ella and Alex, carry on the herd until their dispersal in 1972.

1972

With the dispersal sale of the Wick Court herd, it is feared that the end of the beautiful breed is nigh. However, enthusiasts in rare breed conservation and Gloucestershire tradition and history gather and are able to save every breeding female from the Wick Court herd.

1973

On the initiative of Charles Martell, a new Society of breeders is formed and the Herd Book is re-established with some 70 animals registered to about twenty breeders.

1974

Classes for Gloucesters appear at the Three Counties Show for the first time at a major show for 38 years. They have been shown there ever since.

1975

Twelve of the animals in the Bathurst herd of 1965 survive to be registered and appear in the re-formed Society's first Herd Book, printed this year.

1981

Numbers rise to 165 registered animals.

1994

This is a year of celebration - marking 75 years since the formation of the original Gloucester Cattle Society and 21 years since the society's reformation. A variety of activities is arranged during the year. Adam Stout's book, 'The Old Gloucester' is updated and reprinted. A special byre effect in cattle lines is created at the Three Counties Show by Clifford Freeman for an impressive turnout of show cattle. An exhibition of archive material in the Gloucester Folk Museum, including paintings and photographs, is brought together by Paul Weaver.

1996

Although pedigree information had been computerised in the mid 1980's, a computer programme is now developed to access all pedigree and mismarking information back to 1973, providing valuable information for breeding decisions not previously available.

1998

Crucial to breed's future, the branding and marketing of the high quality Old Gloucester Beef are initiated.

2000

The first year of the new millennium sees Gloucesters enjoy probably their greatest numbers for 200 years, with over 700 registered females. Excellent show cattle demonstrate real improvements in breed type. Milking herds and cheese makers do well and the market for Old Gloucester Beef continues to grow steadily.

2001

A national outbreak of foot and mouth disease threatens the breed again and Gloucester cattle breeders and Society members are desperately worried that all their hard work and commitment to building the breed back up might be destroyed. Although a number of herds are very close to outbreaks, only a few Gloucesters are lost and the breed is spared.

A new book is launched, "Tales of Gloucesters - the Rescue of a Cattle Breed", recording the history and progress the breed has made in the last quarter of the 20th century. Its launch at this difficult time emphasises the confidence that Gloucester Cattle Society members and supporters have for the future of the breed, in otherwise depressing farming circumstances.

2003

Cattle Society represent breed at Terra Madre in Turin. Gloucester Cattle become presidium of ‘Slow Food’with beef and cheese

2006

T.B takes its toll on breed

2007

Ingenty DNA have been investigating DNA profiles on sample animals. Old Gloucester cattle placed as Category 3. vunerable

Sir Edward Jenner