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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Growth of the Town and Outlying Settlements, p. 104. Manors and Other Estates, p. 111. Economic History: Agriculture, p. 119; Mills and the Cloth Industry, p. 120; Other Industry and Trade, p. 130; Markets and Fairs, p. 132. Social Life, p. 132. Local Government and Public Services, p. 134. Churches, p. 136. Nonconformity, p. 140. Jews, p. 141. Education, p. 141. Charities for the Poor, p. 144.
The Town of Stroud, the centre of the industrial and former cloth-producing region of mid Gloucestershire, lies near the western edge of the Cotswolds at the meeting-point of five valleys formed by the river Frome and its tributaries. Tenurially and ecclesiastically Stroud parish was once part of Bisley, but its emergence as a distinct unit had begun by the 13th century when the fees held from the lord of Bisley included the manors of Over and Nether Lypiatt in the principal, eastern portion of the later Stroud parish and the manor of Paganhill in a detached western portion. The bounds of those manors were evidently adopted as the rough limits for the area to be served by the church at Stroud when it was assigned parochial rights by the rectors of Bisley in 1304. The church, which had no endowment of tithes, continued to be regarded as a chapel to Bisley until the early 18th century when the finances of the living were finally placed on a sound footing, and, although the region served by the church apparently received the organs of parish government in the 16th century, until the mid 17th it was still often described as part of the parish of Bisley or as 'the limitation of Stroud within the parish of Bisley'. (fn. 1)
Although the most ancient habitations of the parish were at the manor-houses of Over and Nether Lypiatt and at Paganhill, the parish took its name from the settlement which grew up by the Frome in an outlying part of the manor of Over Lypiatt but at the centre of important local routes of communication. The settlement was first recorded in 1221 as 'la Strode', a name which apparently referred to a piece of marshy ground at the confluence of the Frome and the Slad brook, (fn. 2) although the earliest houses of the town were evidently built on the welldrained slope at the end of the ridge which lies between the two streams. The name Stroudwater, besides being used as an alternative name for the river Frome and to designate the whole of the Stroud Valley region, was also sometimes applied to the town. (fn. 3) By 1248 the settlement at Stroud was accorded the status of a vill (fn. 4) and by 1279 it had the church which became the ecclesiastical centre of the parish in 1304. In 1477 10 houses at Stroud, held from Over Lypiatt manor, were recorded. (fn. 5)
From the 16th century the town developed fairly rapidly and, on the evidence of the houses of the older part of the town, the later 17th century in particular was a time of growth. By the beginning of the 17th century Stroud was the site of a market and fair. The production of woollen cloth centred on the mills along the streams which formed its boundaries was by then the dominant industry of the parish, but Stroud town also became the commercial and social centre for the wider clothproducing region of the surrounding valleys. It was described in 1714 as 'the metropolitical town . . . for the clothing trade' (fn. 6) and in 1757 as 'a sort of capital of the clothing villages', (fn. 7) and its name became synonymous with high-quality richly-dyed broadcloth. Improved road communications and the canals, which had linked Stroud to the Severn in 1779 and to the Thames in 1789, stimulated the growth of the town in the early 19th century, and the coming of the railway in 1845 produced further development. During the 19th century the town roughly doubled in extent, new broad streets of brick being grafted upon the old Cotswold town with its steep streets and gabled stone houses. Its position as the focus of an important industrial region was recognized in 1832 when it was made the centre of a parliamentary borough. The cloth industry had lost its dominance in the parish by the end of the 19th century but the adaptation of the mills to a variety of light industrial purposes maintained the growth of population during the 20th century.
The ancient parish of Stroud covered 3,990 a. and lay in two main divisions. (fn. 8) The larger, eastern part, which contained Stroud town, the hamlets of Thrupp and Bourne, and part of the hamlet of Brimscombe, formed roughly a diamond shape and was bounded on the south-west by the river Frome, on the north-west by the Slad brook, on the northeast by a small tributary of the Slad brook and by field boundaries, and on the south-east by the Toadsmoor brook. That division comprised three ancient tithings: Nether Lypiatt lay in the south; Over Lypiatt lay in the centre extending from the eastern corner to the western and having as part of its boundary with Nether Lypiatt the small stream, formerly called the Lime brook, (fn. 9) which flows into the Frome at Bowbridge; and Steanbridge tithing lay in the north-west. Over and Nether Lypiatt tithings originated as manors but the origin of Steanbridge tithing is obscure; the name was originally applied to an important crossing-point on the Slad brook a short way above Stroud parish, but by the 16th century the name Steanbridge Slade was being used to designate the whole valley of the Slad brook below the bridge. (fn. 10)
The smaller, western division of the parish, divided from the eastern by a long southern arm of Painswick parish, was known as Paganhill tithing and contained the villages or hamlets of Paganhill, Ruscombe, and Whiteshill, and part of the hamlet of Dudbridge. It was bounded on the south by the Frome, on the east by the Painswick stream, on part of the north-east by a tributary of the Painswick stream, and on part of the west by the lower course of the Ruscombe brook, known variously as the Cuckold's, Woosley's, or Ozel brook. (fn. 11) Various smaller detached parts of Stroud parish lay in the area of confused boundaries that adjoined Paganhill tithing on the west (fn. 12) and several detached parts of Randwick and Standish were islanded within Paganhill tithing. Two pieces of Standish lay at Ruscombe and one or both evidently represented the house and land there which were assigned to the vicar of Standish in 1348. (fn. 13) There were also small detached parts of Stroud, of which the origin is unexplained, adjoining the bridge at Steanbridge on the boundary between Painswick and Bisley, and at Newtown on the boundary between Stonehouse and Eastington. (fn. 14)
During the rationalization of the boundaries in the area west of Paganhill tithing in 1882 two detached parts of Stroud were transferred to Randwick, and Stroud absorbed three parts of Randwick and four parts of Standish; in 1884 four parts of Stroud were transferred to Stonehouse. Also in 1882 the detached part at Steanbridge was absorbed by Bisley. (fn. 15) In 1894 Stroud parish was dismembered: the civil parish of Thrupp, which in 1901 had a population of 1,294, was created out of the southern part of the eastern division, and the north-eastern part of that division, with a population of 274 in 1901, was transferred to Bisley to form the parish of Bisley-with-Lypiatt; most of the northern area of the western division of the old Stroud parish was included in the new civil parish of Whiteshill, which had a population of 1,327 in 1901, and two smaller areas were transferred to Randwick and to the new civil parish of Cainscross; the remnant of Stroud parish together with Uplands, a new civil parish created from the southern arm of Painswick, became the Stroud urban district. (fn. 16) In 1936 the urban district was extended to cover the area of most concentrated housing and industrial development around Stroud town by the inclusion of large parts of Cainscross and Rodborough and parts of Bisleywith-Lypiatt, King's Stanley, Painswick, Thrupp, and Whiteshill. (fn. 17) This account deals with the ancient parish of Stroud as it existed before 1882, with the exception that the settlement at Dudbridge in the south-west corner of the parish is dealt with wholly under Rodborough.
In 1327 13 people were assessed for tax in Over Lypiatt (with which was included Tunley in Bisley), 8 in Lower Lypiatt, and 12 in Paganhill. (fn. 18) In 1381 there were 36 taxpayers in Over Lypiatt with Tunley, 32 in Lower Lypiatt, and 22 in Steanbridge; the return for Paganhill is illegible. (fn. 19) In 1551 there were c. 850 communicants in Stroud parish (fn. 20) and in 1563 the population was estimated at 130 households. (fn. 21) It was estimated at 600 families in 1650 (fn. 22) and at c. 3,000 inhabitants in 750 houses c. 1710. (fn. 23) In 1756 the population of Stroud town was enumerated at 2,024 people. The whole parish contained c. 4,000 people in the 1770s, (fn. 24) and in 1801 it had a population of 5,422. There was then a steady rise in population to 8,680 by 1841 and 11,519 by 1891. The dismemberment of the parish in 1894 left it with a population of 7,673, and in 1931 the urban district, including Uplands, had a population of 8,364. The enlargement of the urban district in 1936 and building development gave it a population of 17,468 by 1961. The population of Whiteshill civil parish rose from 1,327 in 1901 to 1,364 in 1921, subsequently falling to 1,182 by 1961, and during the first 60 years of the 20th century the population of Thrupp civil parish rose from 1,294 to 1,650. (fn. 25)
The eastern division of the parish is formed by an irregular spur of land surmounted by level or fairly gently sloping ground at 700-850 ft. from which steep slopes fall away to the streams on three sides. The valley bottoms lie on the Upper Lias which is overlaid successively on the hill slopes by the Inferior Oolite and a narrow band of fuller's earth, and the high ground on top of the spur is formed by the Great Oolite. (fn. 26) There were some open fields on the high ground in the north of the eastern division (fn. 27) but along the hill slopes was a more or less continuous belt of woodland, the total area of wood in that division covering 493 a. in 1842. (fn. 28) The woodland on the south-western and western slopes had been considerably diminished by 1971, but thick woods remained in the Toadsmoor valley in the south-east and at Proud Grove, recorded in 1639 as Proute Grove, (fn. 29) and Abbey wood in the north-west. Swift's hill in the north of the division, covering 24 a. in 1842, (fn. 30) remained a piece of open common land in 1971. The park around Lypiatt Park house may be a feature of great antiquity, for the name Lypiatt, recorded from 1220, derives from a deerleap in an enclosure fence. (fn. 31) The park had certainly been created by the early 17th century, and in 1725 comprised 100 a. confined within a wall. (fn. 32) It was grazed by deer in 1819. (fn. 33) Park wood on the southwestern slopes near Thrupp marks the position of a park which once belonged to the lords of Nether Lypiatt. (fn. 34)
The western division of the parish, Paganhill tithing, also lies on steeply sloping land, rising from the Frome to almost 800 ft.; the Ruscombe brook forms a deep central coomb. The lower part of the tithing lies on marlstone which is overlaid as the ground rises by the Upper Lias and a small patch of the Inferior Oolite. (fn. 35) The woodland of the tithing, mainly in Ruscombe wood in the north, covered 71 a. in 1842. (fn. 36)
In 1971 the position of Stroud at the centre of a network of road communications along the surrounding valleys appeared to be one of the most obvious factors in the town's development, but it was not a factor which operated to any great extent before the early 19th century when the existing roads, some of the most important of which ran across the hills, were replaced by new roads built along the valleys. At an earlier date the steepness of the roads discouraged much through traffic. (fn. 37)
The most important ancient route affecting the growth of Stroud town was apparently that which came down the hill from Bisley and, curving round on what became the main street of the town, crossed the Slad brook at Badbrook and the Painswick stream at Stratford to run to Paganhill village. The crossing at Badbrook was by a ford with stepping-stones for foot passengers until 1784 when a stone bridge was built for horses and carriages; a small wooden bridge for pedestrians was built soon afterwards. (fn. 38) The crossing at Stratford had acquired that name by 1306, (fn. 39) and a bridge had replaced the ford there by 1522. (fn. 40) From Paganhill, where it appears to have once formed a cross-roads with an ancient trackway from Bath to Gloucester by way of Woodchester, Dudbridge, and Randwick, (fn. 41) the road may originally have continued westwards through Westrip to join the ancient route called Greenstreet running across Stonehouse parish towards the Severn; (fn. 42) but if that was so all traces of its course between Paganhill village and Cashe's Green have long since disappeared. Instead the main road through the village made a sharp southward turn to Cainscross (fn. 43) and so along the valley to Stonehouse to join routes to Gloucester and Bristol. Another road of some importance left it at Cainscross, crossed the Frome at Dudbridge, and forked at Selsley for Dursley and for Nailsworth. The Paganhill road was turnpiked west of Stratford in 1726 (fn. 44) and remained one of the most important serving Stroud town until the early 19th century. Another important road branched northwards from the Paganhill road at Stratford on the line of Wick Street and linked the town with Painswick and Gloucester. (fn. 45) It was also turnpiked under the Act of 1726 and was placed under a separate trust in 1778, (fn. 46) but owing to its steepness it remained an unsatisfactory road, and at the beginning of the 19th century wheeled traffic between Stroud and Gloucester usually took the longer route by way of Paganhill, Cainscross, and Stonehouse. (fn. 47)
Until the early 19th century travellers from Stroud to London often went up to Bisley to join the old Bisley-Cirencester road, but an alternative route by Wallbridge, Rodborough hill, and Minchinhampton common, (fn. 48) was turnpiked in 1752 (fn. 49) and thereafter was the more favoured Cirencester and London route. There was a bridge over the Frome at Wallbridge by 1527. (fn. 50) The route out of the south-east corner of the town along the Frome valley was of only local importance before the early 19th century. It ran by Bowbridge Lane down to the river at Bowbridge and then turned up the hill again by Gunhouse Lane to Thrupp hamlet; (fn. 51) from Thrupp it ran along the hillside by Thrupp Lane and Bourne Lane through Far Thrupp, Bourne, and Blackness, coming down to the river again at Chalford. (fn. 52) From it minor access roads led southwestwards down to the mills on the river, some continuing over to Rodborough and Minchinhampton. One of them crossed the river at Bowbridge, where the arched bridge which gave the hamlet its name had been built by 1655, (fn. 53) and climbed the steep hill opposite to provide another link between Stroud town and the London turnpike; (fn. 54) others crossed at Brimscombe and at Bourne where there were bridges by 1608. (fn. 55)
A route which was apparently once of some local importance crossed the north of the larger division of the parish, running by the track past Ferris Court and by Daw's Lane to meet the ancient Painswick- Cirencester road at Catswood Lane. Bismore bridge, which was repaired in 1697, carried the road across the Toadsmoor brook, (fn. 56) and it was presumably the 'way under Ferris Court' which c. 1516 was said to belong to the lord of Over Lypiatt alone and only to others by licence. (fn. 57) The road evidently then ran close to Lypiatt Park house and left the park by its 'middle entrance', recorded in 1823 (fn. 58) and still marked by a gate in the park wall in 1971. Daw's Lane was named as a road to Gloucester c. 1819, (fn. 59) and, although the Act which turnpiked the BisleyStroud road in 1823 gave powers for its discontinuation, (fn. 60) it was still marked as a route to Painswick in 1842; (fn. 61) in 1971 it survived only as an overgrown field path. Another disused route branching out of the Ferris Court track down through Toadsmoor woods was marked as a road to London c. 1819 (fn. 62) and presumably connected with the road down the Toadsmoor valley to the new London road. (fn. 63) The lane connecting Lypiatt Park with the two other ancient manor-houses of Middle and Nether Lypiatt was evidently a route of some antiquity, and a number of paths and tracks ran westwards from it to link Nether Lypiatt with Stroud town and the scattered cottages lying in between. Of those the track which ran by the settlement called the Heavens to meet Bowbridge Lane at a place called Crease Gate, and a branch from it to Thrupp, were recorded c. 1690. (fn. 64) Slad Lane running north-east from Stroud town to the farmsteads and mills at the Vatch was also a route of some local importance before 1800, for there was no road up the valley bottom to Slad. (fn. 65)
The earliest of a series of road improvements for the region, the making of the new Bath road along the Nailsworth valley to Dudbridge in 1780, (fn. 66) affected Stroud only indirectly by increasing the importance of the route through Paganhill; but in 1800 a new road built from the Bath road at Lightpill through the town and up the Slad valley put Stroud on the main Bath to Cheltenham route. (fn. 67) An even more significant improvement in 1814 was the building of a new road out of the south part of the town along the Frome valley through Chalford to Cirencester; the new road, which was more direct and passed some 300 yards lower down the hillside than the old road to Chalford, also replaced the route through Minchinhampton as the main road to Cirencester and London. (fn. 68) In 1818 a new turnpike built up the valley of the Painswick stream past Pitchcombe replaced Wick Street as the main road to Gloucester. (fn. 69) In 1823 the Stroud-Bisley road was turnpiked and a new more southerly course built between the east side of the town and a point south of Kilminster Farm. (fn. 70) Finally in 1825 a new road built between the south side of the town and Cainscross by-passed the old turnpike through Paganhill village; at the same time an old road from the east end of the town by Bowbridge Lane into Rodborough was made a turnpike. (fn. 71)
The first London stagecoach service from the town was apparently the Stroudwater Flying coach, established in 1769, making the journey three times a week through Cirencester and Oxford. (fn. 72) It remained the only London coach until the early 19th century when various companies in succession or in competition maintained the service. One company formed by local subscribers in 1807 had failed by 1809. Another London coach established in 1817 had branch-coaches to Dursley and to Gloucester. By 1806 a Bristol coach had also been started, (fn. 73) and by 1830 there were daily services to London, Bath, Birmingham, Bristol, Gloucester, and Cheltenham. (fn. 74) The carriers, particularly those who transported the locally produced cloth for sale in London, were of more importance to the economy of Stroud; in the late 18th and early 19th centuries the chief routes were served by carriers based in Rodborough by the old London turnpike, (fn. 75) but in 1763 Daniel Ballard was running stage-waggons to Gloucester and Bristol from his headquarters in King Street. (fn. 76) In 1821 a number of inhabitants of the town were employed in road transport, namely 2 coachmen, 5 ostlers, 4 carriers, a haulier, and 4 chaise-drivers. (fn. 77)
A long-planned scheme to link the Thames and the Severn by a navigation through the Stroud Valley was realized in the late 18th century in two stages, the Stroudwater canal from the Severn as far as Stroud, and the Thames and Severn canal from Stroud to the Thames. An Act for a Stroudwater navigation by improving the existing river Frome was passed in 1730 but, mainly because of the opposition of millowners along the river, the scheme failed and a revival of the scheme in 1759, when it was planned to avoid the millowners' objections by dispensing with locks and transhipping the cargoes at each mill-weir, was also unsuccessful. The plan was finally realized between 1775 and 1779 when a new canal was built alongside the river from Framilode on the Severn to Wallbridge at Stroud; (fn. 78) at the latter was a small basin and wharf and the company agent's house, a building of stone with a pediment and flanking wings designed by William Franklin in 1797. (fn. 79) The link with the Thames was completed between 1783 and 1789 by the building of the Thames and Severn canal from Wallbridge to Lechlade. At Brimscombe an inland port was constructed for the transference of cargoes from the Severn trows to the Thames barges, and a building by the basin, put up by Thomas Cook in 1789, housed the company offices, agent's dwelling, and warehouses. (fn. 80) At Bourne, a little way above, the company, which initially did its own carrying, established a boat-building yard, and the company's lessees, who from before 1870 were members of the Gardiner family, continued to build barges there until c. 1920. (fn. 81) There was also a wharf and warehouses immediately south of Stroud town. (fn. 82) In 1821 the inhabitants of the larger division of Stroud parish who gained a livelihood from the canals were 9 bargemen, a barge-owner, 5 wharfingers, a waterman, a shipwright, a ship's carpenter, and 2 boat-builders. (fn. 83)
The canal system did not, as was hoped, become an important national artery for commerce, its main use being the supply of coal to the industrial region of the Stroud Valley. It was inevitably severely hit by the arrival of the railway in the 1840s, and did little business afterwards. In 1910 the Thames and Severn canal was taken over by the Gloucestershire county council which carried out a programme of reconstruction, but the canal proved no more profitable and the upper part, above Chalford, was abandoned in 1927, and the lower part in 1933. (fn. 84) The Stroudwater canal carried no commercial cargo after 1941 and was abandoned in 1954. (fn. 85) The basin at Brimscombe and a short length of the Thames and Severn canal on either side were sold to the adjoining factories during the 1950s and 1960s and filled, and the company building was demolished in 1966; (fn. 86) the remainder of the course of the canals adjoining Stroud parish survived, though mainly in a derelict state, in 1971.
The Great Western railway line between Swindon and Gloucester, following the Stroud Valley, was opened in 1845; (fn. 87) there was a station on the south of Stroud town and another, called Brimscombe station, at Bourne, and there were halts at Downfield (at Paganhill), Bowbridge, Ham Mill, and Brimscombe Bridge. (fn. 88) The Midland railway was brought to Stroud in 1886 by a short branch from the Nailsworth line to a station just south of the Great Western station. (fn. 89) The Midland line was closed for passenger traffic in 1947 and closed entirely in 1966. (fn. 90) Brimscombe station and the halts on the Great Western line were closed in 1964 (fn. 91) and the goods depot at Stroud in 1967, (fn. 92) but Stroud remained one of the stops for passenger trains from Cheltenham and Gloucester to London in 1971.
Among natives of Stroud who have achieved prominence are the Revd. Joseph White (1745- 1814), the son of a Ruscombe weaver, who became a noted orientalist and theologian, (fn. 93) Sir George Nayler (1764?-1831), herald and genealogist, who was the son of a Stroud surgeon, and John Canton (1718-72), an early experimenter with electricity. (fn. 94) Two early-19th-century inventors who worked in the parish, John Lewis and Edwin Budding, are mentioned below. (fn. 95) Among those who played a prominent part in the affairs of the town in the 19th century were Sebastian Stewart Dickinson (d. 1878) of Brownshill House, Painswick, (fn. 96) and George Holloway, a clothing manufacturer and promoter of benefit societies, who was also M.P. for Mid Gloucestershire from 1886 until his death in 1892; Holloway is commemorated by a statue, sculpted by T. R. Essex, which was erected in the town at Rowcroft in 1894. (fn. 97) Paul Hawkins Fisher, who died in 1873 at the age of 94, had two years earlier published Notes and Recollections of Stroud in which he combined documentary research with personal reminiscences reaching back into the 18th century. (fn. 98)
Few events of more than local significance have occurred at Stroud. Lypiatt Park house, then owned by John Throckmorton, is connected with the Gunpowder Plot by a cryptic note addressed by Lord Mounteagle to Robert Catesby at Lypiatt, (fn. 99) and in the early 18th century a room in the house was known as the Plot Room from its supposed use by the conspirators. (fn. 100) In February 1643 the parliamentary forces at Gloucester had an outgarrison at Lypiatt Park, (fn. 101) and at the end of 1644 the house was once more garrisoned and a party of horse and dragoons sent to Stroud. On New Year's Day of 1645 royalist troops under Sir Jacob Astley captured and burned Lypiatt Park house, (fn. 102) whose owner, John Stephens, was temporarily granted part of Astley's estates in 1647 in compensation for the damage. (fn. 103) At some time during the war, probably in 1644, soldiers and prisoners were quartered in Stroud church. (fn. 104) In 1659 several parishioners were involved in Massey's preparations for a royalist rising at Gloucester; they included William Warner of Paganhill, who borrowed £300 to advance the project, and Thomas Freame of Nether Lypiatt. (fn. 105) In 1756, when a depression in the cloth industry led to much discontent and disorder among the local weavers, a group of clothiers who had come to Stroud to negotiate on wages were besieged in a house by an angry mob, (fn. 106) and during the strike of 1825 the streets of the town were again thronged by rioting weavers when the ringleaders in an incident at Vatch Mill were being brought before the magistrates. (fn. 107) In 1824 a traditional 5th of November celebration at the Cross in the town degenerated into a violent riot. (fn. 108) A duel between two army officers in which one received fatal injuries excited much interest in 1807. (fn. 109) George III and Queen Charlotte passed through Stroud in August 1788 on their way from Cheltenham to Woodchester. (fn. 110) Some of the incidents and personalities of the town were satirized in the 18th century in occasional pieces known as The Chronicles and Lamentations of Gotham, a device which was adopted in the later 19th century for the purpose of electoral squibs. (fn. 111)