Babylon before its fall

A recently identified survey of Babylon has been found in the Cathedral Library Archives which throws new light on the area as it existed in the early nineteenth century. This is in the form of an architectural survey of 1830 undertaken by John Collingwood, Architect, probably carried out before the decision was taken for the whole area to be cleared thus exposing the thirteenth century infirmary ruins that we see today.  The plan is drawn "upside down" ie with North to the bottom

Plan of Babylon, Glocuester 1830

Almost no depictions of Babylon exist, but it was buiilt in the remains of the Monastic Infirmary.  The infirmary was built very close to the convent (monastery) wall which appears to have been moved southward as the present line of the wall overlies the north aisle of the ruin. Today there is easy access to Pitt Street; however in medieval times the wall was continuous and Pitt Street did not then exist.  In 1447 the Abbey had entered into an agreement with the town that there should be no breach in the convent wall since this wall was part of the town defences. This agreement persisted into the Early Modern period but ceased to have relevance when Charles the Second ordered the demolition of the city walls as retribution for the siege of Gloucester in 1643. The opening to Pitt Street was made in 1673.

By this time several tenements had been built in the area of the infirmary and probably incorporated the old infirmary walls. These buildings were used as accommodation for clergy and for employees of the cathedral. The buildings were haphazardly arranged and functioned on two floor levels. The ground level rooms were known as the Firmary and the upper part and “chambers over” were known collectively as Babylon.  Babylon has been described as being "congeries of squalid little dwellings occupied by lay clerks, bedesmen and sundry poor widows in pokey and wretched rooms". The Firmary beneath was similarly subdivided.

There is no obvious explanation for the name Babylon except that it may have been an erudite allusion to the Hebrew Scriptures Book of Genesis to mean confusion (Wikipedia).

Article researched by Jeremy Barnes, Cathedral Guide and Library Volunteer

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