A History of the County of Gloucester: Volume 11, Bisley and Longtree Hundreds. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1976.
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Before the 19th century the social life of the town was centred on the inns, of which there were 22 in the parish in 1781, (fn. 1) most of them situated in or around High Street. On the south side of the street roughly opposite the Shambles were the George and the Swan, both recorded from 1654. The George was the chief inn of the town, (fn. 2) and was used in the 18th century for such functions as balls, concerts and assemblies, (fn. 3) meetings of the vestry and parish officers, (fn. 4) the deliberations of canal promoters or clothiers, (fn. 5) and the holding of petty sessions; (fn. 6) it was also the terminus of the London coaches. (fn. 7) It closed in 1819 when the proprietor, responding to the shift in the town's centre of gravity caused by the new Bath and London roads, moved his business to a building on the west side of King Street which had been the Kings Arms inn since 1801. That building, renamed the Royal George hotel, remained the principal hotel of Stroud (fn. 8) until c. 1870 when the Imperial hotel was built at the railway station; (fn. 9) the Royal George closed in 1916. (fn. 10) The Swan inn, near the old George in High Street, had closed by the early 19th century but by 1822 another inn with the same sign had opened near by on the east side of Union Street. (fn. 11) Higher up on the north side of the Cross were the White Hart recorded from 1708 and the King's Head recorded from 1769; the former, which had a large room used for public meetings and functions, closed in 1861. (fn. 12) The Butchers' Arms, recorded from 1781, was, as mentioned above, on the west side of the Shambles, (fn. 13) and further down High Street were the Marlborough Head, later the Bedford Arms, which had opened by 1766 and closed in 1854, (fn. 14) and the Greyhound, opposite the entrance to King Street, which had opened by 1781. (fn. 15)
On the north side of Nelson Street a house given for charitable uses by the Revd. William Johns in 1720 had opened as the Horse Shoes public house by 1752, but by 1826 was called the New George inn. (fn. 16) Lower down on the same side was the Red Lion recorded from 1753. (fn. 17) The Duke of York, recorded from 1801, stood on the south side of Nelson Street. (fn. 18) In Church Street the Lamb inn had opened by 1769, (fn. 19) and at the north end of King Street the Golden Heart had opened by 1764 (fn. 20) and the Chequers by 1781. (fn. 21) Most of the older inns of the town closed in the 19th century and, of those mentioned above, only the Greyhound and the new Swan inn remained open as public houses in 1971. Many others opened, however, in the newer parts of the town and in the outlying hamlets, and in 1891 there was a total of 92 licensed premises in the parish; most were then owned by the Stroud brewery or the Salmon's Spring brewery of Godsell & Sons, whose local rivalry was evidently one reason for the high number. (fn. 22)
In the 19th century several public meeting-places were opened, notably the Stroud Subscription Rooms built in 1833. The large assembly room on the first floor of that building was used for a variety of balls, lectures, and political meetings, and from 1835 the lower rooms housed a library and reading room. (fn. 23) From 1882 the lower rooms were occupied by a social club called the Stroud Club, (fn. 24) and from 1926 the club shared the rooms with the freemasons. (fn. 25) The Victoria Rooms, a public meetingplace near the Royal George in King Street, was built shortly before the Subscription Rooms in 1831, but failed to compete with them and was later converted into houses and shops. (fn. 26) The temperance hall built in Lansdown in 1879 was also used for meetings and lectures on general topics. (fn. 27) From 1869 lectures and meetings took place at Badbrook Hall on the west side of Gloucester Street under the aegis of the local Conservative association, (fn. 28) and in 1895-6 a new Conservative club was built on the south-east side of Rowcroft. A Liberal club with premises in Lansdown was formed in 1892. (fn. 29) Among various literary and scientific societies, some short lived, was the Stroud Athenaeum which was founded in 1847 and dissolved in 1853 to be succeeded by the Mutual Improvement Society, later the Stroud Institute. From 1863 the latter society had a lecture hall, reading room, and library, provided by its president S. S. Dickinson, in the old Golden Heart inn in King Street, and later it moved to premises in George Street. (fn. 30) A Natural History and Philosophical Society was established in 1876. (fn. 31)
The public and social activities of the town were stimulated by the creation of the Stroud parliamentary borough under the Reform Act of 1832; the borough returned two members and comprised Stroud and 12 surrounding parishes. (fn. 32) Lord John Russell was one of the members for the borough between 1835 and 1841 and Edward Horsman, who became Chief Secretary for Ireland, represented it between 1853 and 1868. The other members for the borough, which was usually held by the Liberals, were mainly men of local importance such as S. S. Dickinson who sat from 1868 to 1874, H. S. P. Winterbotham, the son of a Stroud banker, who sat from 1867 until his death in 1873 (fn. 33) and was one of the leaders of the nonconformists in the House, (fn. 34) and millowners of the Stanton family. (fn. 35) Much political passion was engendered in the borough by a succession of five elections - a by-election after the death of a sitting member, the general election, and three further elections following the unseating of members on petition- which took place in the course of 14 months in 1874-5. Under the Act of 1885 the borough was absorbed in the larger Stroud or Mid Gloucestershire division of the county. (fn. 36)
Between 1764 and 1833 seven friendly societies were started in the town; two of them, the Society of Clothworkers which met at the Golden Heart from 1764 and the Society of Woollen Cloth Weavers meeting at the Kings Head from 1816, were formed specifically for workers in the dominant local industry. (fn. 37) By 1815 518 inhabitants of the parish were members of friendly societies. (fn. 38) The Ancient Order of Foresters had a branch at Stroud from 1854 and the Odd Fellows from 1857. (fn. 39) In 1875 George Holloway, who as senior partner in a large clothing manufactory was the chief employer of labour in the town, established his Mid Gloucester Working Men's Benefit Society, which had attracted 3,500 members by 1888. (fn. 40) The society later became known as the Original Holloway Benefit Society, having become the parent of the Holloway societies established on the same principles in many other towns. (fn. 41) A Cooperative Society was formed in 1882 and had 603 members by 1886. (fn. 42)
A number of professional people recorded in the 18th century reflects the growth of Stroud as a local centre. An apothecary of the town died in 1710; (fn. 43) another was mentioned in 1733, (fn. 44) and an apothecary and a surgeon in 1773. (fn. 45) Attorneys were recorded in 1763 and 1775. (fn. 46) In 1821 the inhabitants included 4 surgeons, 3 doctors, 6 attorneys, 2 auctioneers, and a surveyor. (fn. 47) The first bank in the town was the Stroud Bank founded in 1779 by the partnership of James Winchcombe, Joseph Wathen, John Hollings, and James Dallaway, and later carried on by Benjamin (d. 1810) and Joseph Grazebrook. (fn. 48) The bank originally had premises in High Street but later moved to Rowcroft, and, having been acquired in 1838 by the Gloucestershire Banking Co., moved in 1859 to Rowcroft House. Another bank was carried on by Messrs. Martin, Mills, & Wilson at a house on the south side of High Street from 1809 until its closure in 1825, and the Gloucestershire Banking Co. opened another branch in 1834 at Bank House on the north side of High Street. (fn. 49) A bank started at Brimscombe Port in 1818 by Richard Miller, bargeowner and merchant, failed in 1822. (fn. 50)
A printer, F. Vigurs, was working in Stroud town by 1815, (fn. 51) and by 1820 J. P. Brisley had a press at a house at the Shambles (fn. 52) which was apparently the same that had been occupied by Daniel Hogg, bookseller and stationer, in 1773. (fn. 53) The first Stroud newspaper was the Monthly Observer, later the Free Press, which was published between 1848 and 1856. In 1854 F. W. Harmer started a weekly paper, the Stroud Journal, and in 1867 publication of another weekly, the Stroud News and Gloucestershire Advertizer, began; (fn. 54) the former was Liberal in political affiliation and the latter Conservative. (fn. 55) The two papers were amalgamated as the Stroud News and Journal in 1957. (fn. 56)
Plays to be performed at the New Theatre in Stroud were advertized in 1794, (fn. 57) and in 1799 John Boles Watson, the Cheltenham manager, and Robert Hoy were seeking a licence to stage performances in Stroud. (fn. 58) The theatre used in both instances was apparently a building on the south of High Street where a company performing in 1808 included the then unknown Edmund Kean, who married Mary Chambers, another member of the company, in Stroud church. (fn. 59) Later in the 19th century touring companies sometimes visited the Subscription Rooms, and the former temperance hall in Lansdown was being used for the same purpose in the 1920s. In 1913 the Empire Theatre was built on the south side of London Road, and from 1927 it was called the Palace Theatre and was also used as a cinema. (fn. 60) An amateur group, the Cotswold Players, was formed in 1912 (fn. 61) and in 1971 used the former Primitive Methodist chapel in Parliament Street as a theatre. The first cinema to open at Stroud was the Electric Photoplay House which functioned for a few years from c. 1910 in the former Unitarian chapel in Lansdown, (fn. 62) and by 1917 there was also the Stroud Picture House in King Street Parade; (fn. 63) the latter was apparently replaced by the Ritz which opened in the parade in 1939 and closed after a fire in 1961. (fn. 64) In 1971 only the cinema in London Road, then called the Classic, remained.
In 1888 a free library, which later became a branch of the county library, was opened in a building in Lansdown, (fn. 65) and it was extended in 1967 by a new building on the site of the old vicarage adjoining. (fn. 66) A museum, housed in the School of Science and Art building, was founded with a bequest from William Cowle (d. 1899), but was not established on a sound footing until 1929. (fn. 67) The Daisy Bank recreation ground at the end of Horns Road was given by Sir John Dorington in 1899, (fn. 68) and in 1930 Bank Gardens west of the church were given to the urban district by Ernest Winterbotham. (fn. 69) In 1936 the U.D.C. bought 56 a. of the grounds of Stratford Park and laid them out as a public park including a swimming pool and tennis courts. (fn. 70) The Stroud Choral Society was founded in or before 1835, being subsequently disbanded and re-formed in the late 19th century. (fn. 71) In 1971 it was one of three music societies in the town, where musical activity was stimulated by the establishment of an annual festival of music and literature in 1947. (fn. 72) An annual horticultural show was founded in 1932. (fn. 73)