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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Two of the ministers removed after the Restoration, Daniel Capel (d. 1679), who was rector of Shipton Moyne, and William Becket, who was curate of Compton Abdale, settled in Stroud; (fn. 1) they were possibly encouraged to do so by the tradition of nonconformity which is evident there from 1576. (fn. 2) Becket was said to be a minister at Stroud in 1690 (fn. 3) and presumably served the Presbyterian community which was the earliest dissenting group to build a chapel in the town and which, adopting the Congregational (or Independent) system, remained the most flourishing group in the 19th century. The Wesleyan Methodists built a chapel in 1763, and during the early 19th century nonconformity expanded and diversified with the arrival of the Baptists and Primitive Methodists and the extension of the Congregationalists into the outlying parts of the parish; between 1799 and 1844 35 meetingplaces in the parish were registered for worship. (fn. 4) Stroud was also a centre for the establishment of the nonconformist sects in the surrounding parishes: a Stroud minister registered a house in Bisley parish in 1814, (fn. 5) another registered houses at Miserden, Painswick, and Sheepscombe, in 1816 and 1817, (fn. 6) and the Congregational minister registered houses at Birdlip and Cranham in 1820. (fn. 7) Nonconformity continued to flourish in the town in the late 19th century; c. 1890 it was said that the Sunday schools of the six main chapels had a total attendance of over 1,400. (fn. 8)
In the late 17th century Presbyterians met in a barn in Silver Street, evidently that belonging to Robert Viner which was licensed for worship in 1689. A Presbyterian meeting-house, later known as the Old Meeting, was built c. 1705 in the street which became known as Chapel Street; it had a resident minister from 1713 (fn. 9) and in 1735 there were said to be 100 members in the meeting (fn. 10) but it only had 52 members in 1742. (fn. 11) Houses in Stroud registered for worship in 1732 and 1734 and one at Quarhouse registered in 1741 were perhaps used by associated groups of Presbyterians. (fn. 12) In the early 19th century the meeting, which adopted the Congregational system, rapidly increased in size under the active ministry from 1811 of John Burder: the chapel was enlarged in 1813 and additional places of worship in the town were registered in 1826 and 1833. (fn. 13) In 1835, when the Old Meeting had c. 210 members, the building of a large new chapel in Bedford Street was begun; it was opened in 1837 and thereafter the worshippers at the new chapel and the Old Meeting formed separate churches, each with its own minister. (fn. 14) In 1851 congregations of c. 500 were claimed for each chapel. (fn. 15) In 1970 the two congregations were formed into a single church with a membership of c. 100 and the Old Meeting ceased to be used. (fn. 16) It is a rectangular stone building which was remodelled in Romanesque style in 1844, largely at the expense of Samuel Marling, a prominent member of the church. (fn. 17) The Bedford Street chapel, which was designed by Charles Baker, (fn. 18) has an imposing street front in classical style; at the north-east corner a circular porch gives access to the Sunday school rooms on the ground floor and the chapel above.
Groups of Congregationalists under the Stroud minister, John Burder, registered houses at Thrupp in 1817, 1828, and 1834 and at Bowbridge in 1842; the two last were to be shared with the Baptists. (fn. 19) Congregationalists (or Independents) were also established in the western division of the parish in the early 19th century and it was probably that group that registered houses at Paganhill in 1799, at Ruscombe in 1802, and at Bread Street in 1810. (fn. 20) An Independent chapel at Ruscombe was replaced by a new chapel near by in 1828 (fn. 21) which had congregations of 200-300 in 1851. (fn. 22) For several years the minister's salary was paid by Henry Wyatt of Farmhill Park (d. 1847), who also supported the schools attached to the chapel. (fn. 23) Burder registered a house at Paganhill in 1825, (fn. 24) and an Independent chapel was built in the village in 1835 and had congregations of up to 50 in 1851. (fn. 25) It was presumably the chapel north-west of the road junction in the main village which William Holmes owned with the adjoining smith's shop in 1842; (fn. 26) from 1869, however, that chapel was used by Baptists. (fn. 27)
John Wesley preached at Stroud in 1742 and 1744, and between 1746 and 1753 he made several visits to a community of his followers at Wallbridge. (fn. 28) In 1763 the Wesleyans built a chapel on the west side of Acre Street, (fn. 29) and from 1765 until his death in 1791 Wesley visited Stroud in March each year to preach at the chapel. (fn. 30) In 1851 the chapel had congregations of 300-400. (fn. 31) Until the early 19th century the Sunday services were timed so as not to conflict with those at the parish church and many of the church congregation also attended the chapel. (fn. 32) In 1876 a new Wesleyan chapel was built in Castle Street and by 1891 the old chapel, a polygonal stone building, was occupied by the Salvation Army (fn. 33) which retained it in 1971. The Stroud Methodist church had an adult membership of c. 80 in 1971, and the chapel in Castle Street, a large stone building in the classical style, had Sunday morning congregations of c. 50. (fn. 34) George Whitefield preached at Stroud several times between 1739 and 1742, (fn. 35) but those inhabitants who favoured his brand of Methodism were evidently served by the near-by Rodborough Tabernacle. A preaching-room was being supported by William Dallaway of Brimscombe Mill at his death in 1776, when he left it for the use of a fortnightly lecture by a Methodist. (fn. 36)
Four hundred Baptists were recorded at 'Stroudwater' c. 1715, (fn. 37) an enumeration that, if correct, is likely to have included several surrounding parishes as well as Stroud. No later record of the sect has been found before 1824 when the Baptists under their minister, Henry Hawkins, built a chapel in John Street. (fn. 38) Congregations of 500 and more were claimed for it in 1851. (fn. 39) In 1971 it had a congregation of c. 100. (fn. 40) For some years after 1894 another Baptist group met in a former Unitarian church in Lansdown. (fn. 41) From 1869 there was a Baptist chapel in the small building in Paganhill village mentioned above. It was replaced in 1965 by a new chapel south of Farmhill House, which had congregations of 50-100 in 1971. (fn. 42)
The Primitive Methodists, who had a meeting in the town by 1825, (fn. 43) built a chapel on the north side of Parliament Street in 1836. In 1851 it had a congregation of c. 200. (fn. 44) After the Methodist Union in 1932 the Primitive Methodists joined with the Wesleyans to form the Stroud Methodist church. (fn. 45) The chapel in Parliament Street later became the Playhouse theatre.
A Plymouth Brethren room was opened in Acre Street in 1852; (fn. 46) by 1882 there was another room at the north end of Bath Street, (fn. 47) and by 1897 there was a Brethren chapel at Thrupp. (fn. 48) A Unitarian church was built on the south side of Lansdown in 1876 (fn. 49) and, as mentioned above, was afterwards used by Baptists; later used successively as a cinema and as the headquarters of the Liberal association, in 1971 the building housed a school of dancing. (fn. 50) Christian Scientists were established in London Road by 1922, and from c. 1932 they occupied the Gothic stone building on the south-east side of Lansdown (fn. 51) which was built as a temperance hall in 1879. (fn. 52) A branch of the Church of the Latter Day Saints occupied Godolphin House on the south side of Nelson Street before its demolition in 1958, (fn. 53) and subsequently a new church was built there.
The Roman Catholic church and convent at Beeches Green in the ancient parish of Painswick are treated above under that parish. (fn. 54)