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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The parish of Nailsworth, 4 miles south of Stroud, was created in 1892 out of parts of the ancient parishes of Avening, Horsley, and Minchinhampton, (fn. 1) but the area then included had long been distinct and populous, owing its individuality chiefly to the establishment of the cloth industry and the growth of religious nonconformity. The new parish, comprising 1,598 a., (fn. 2) is regular in shape; the boundaries were fixed mainly on roads or tracks but on the north the old Avening-Woodchester boundary on the Inch brook was adopted. The parish took in the northwest tongue of Avening parish, including the north end of Nailsworth town and the hamlets of Upper and Lower Forestgreen and Windsoredge; the north part of Horsley, including the south end of Nailsworth town and the hamlets of Shortwood, Newmarket, and Rockness; and the south-west corner of Minchinhampton, including the hamlet of Watledge.
The deep valleys formed by the Horsley stream, the Miry brook flowing down the Newmarket valley, the Avening stream, and the Nailsworth stream, in which the others combine, provide the dominant feature of the landscape; between the valleys the land rises to over 600 ft. in places. The valleys are formed by the Upper Lias, overlaid as the land rises by strata of the Inferior Oolite, fuller's earth, and the Great Oolite. (fn. 3) Beech woods still cloak much of the southern slopes of the Inch brook valley and the northern slopes of the Miry brook valley. In the former area, which was taken into Woodchester park, the woodland is evidently the vestiges of the wood called Windsoredge, which was recorded on Avening manor from the later 12th century (fn. 4) and had its separate woodward in 1330; (fn. 5) in 1542 it was a beech wood, estimated at 160 a. (fn. 6)
Before the late 18th century communication with neighbouring centres and within the parish itself was difficult, depending on rough hillside tracks. The main through route was apparently that from the Woodchester valley to Tetbury; (fn. 7) it came down to the valley floor at Inchbrook, climbed the hillside and ran along by Forestgreen, descended by Chestnut Hill to cross the Horsley stream, and continued by way of Windsorash and Chavenage. (fn. 8) A branch from Forestgreen down Spring Hill linked with the road to Minchinhampton and the old road to Avening through Hazel wood. (fn. 9) The local road system was revolutionized by the Act of 1780 which created the road from Tiltups End through Nailsworth and along the valley bottom to Dudbridge as part of a new Bath-Gloucester route. (fn. 10) Under the same Act a road, known locally as the 'W', was built from the new Bath road up to Box, and the Nailsworth- Minchinhampton road through Ball's Green was turnpiked. (fn. 11) Further improvements were made in 1800 with the turnpiking of the road from Nailsworth through Horsley towards Dursley and Bristol, (fn. 12) and in 1822 by the building of a new road along the valley bottom to Avening. (fn. 13) A new road up the Newmarket valley was built by Isaac Hillier c. 1850 to improve access to his bacon-curing factory. (fn. 14)
The road improvements of the late 18th and early 19th centuries ended the comparative isolation of Nailsworth. In 1830 Bristol, Bath, Birmingham, and Cheltenham coaches called daily at the George inn, and the town was also served by a branch coach for London. (fn. 15) The railway from the Midland line at Stonehouse to Nailsworth was opened in 1867 (fn. 16) with a station north of the town near Egypt Mill. It was built by an independent company formed by local businessmen, but the Midland Railway Co., which took many of the shares at the outset, absorbed it in 1878. (fn. 17) Hopes of extending the line through to Tetbury and beyond were never realized, (fn. 18) and the branch was closed in 1966, having carried only goods traffic since 1947. (fn. 19)
The chief settlement of the parish grew up at the meeting-place of the valleys. The first element of the name occurs in 'Negelsleag', which was one of the bounds of a Woodchester estate in the 8th century, (fn. 20) and a habitation was recorded at Nailsworth in the later 12th century. (fn. 21) By 1663 the settlement was large enough to be described as a hamlet or street (fn. 22) but it long remained in two distinct groups of houses, Lower Nailsworth around the junction of the Avening and Horsley streams, and Upper Nailsworth further south, where the old Tetbury road crossed the Horsley stream. (fn. 23)
Lower Nailsworth contained a medieval chapel of ease adjoining Bannut Tree House. (fn. 24) The oldest part of Bannut Tree House is the small north-east wing which may be of the 16th century; a new range was added on the south-west, probably in the 17th century, and was lengthened in the early 19th. The chapel in the garden, which was being used as a stable in the late 18th century, (fn. 25) retains some medieval features, but other features, including 14thcentury window tracery said to have come from the old Horsley church and pieces of stained glass, were added in the 19th century. (fn. 26) In the same part of the town there are some 17th-century houses in George Street by which the road from Minchinhampton entered; the George inn, from which the street was named, had opened by 1761. (fn. 27) Spring Hill, running up the other side of the valley to the old Woodchester road, was the site of most of the larger houses of the town. Spring Hill Court is a substantial house with mullioned and transomed windows and a pedimented doorcase, bearing the date 1680 and initials which are probably for members of the Small family. The original staircase and some original doors survive inside, but most of the interior was refitted c. 1830 and further alterations and additions made in the late 19th century. Spring Hill House, below, has an early-18th-century front with a balustraded parapet and hooded doorcase, and retains some of its original panelling inside, while Upper House, opposite, is an early-18th-century house in the gabled, vernacular style, but with sash windows. The Lawn, further down Spring Hill, was enlarged and refronted c. 1800, apparently by the architect Nathaniel Dyer (d. 1833), who was buried in the garden. (fn. 28)
The settlement at Upper Nailsworth includes a number of 17th-century cottages in Market Street, at the bottom of the road to Shortwood, and on Chestnut Hill where the late-17th-century Friends' meeting-house survives. Stokes Croft, at the bottom of Chestnut Hill, has a gabled, early-18th-century front but the house probably incorporates a smaller, 17th-century house. Some 17th- and 18th-century panelling and an early-18th-century staircase survive inside. The Britannia inn near by is a long 17th- or early-18th-century range.
The growth of Nailsworth into a small, compact town was stimulated by the new Bath road of 1780. An episcopal chapel was built on the new road, between Upper and Lower Nailsworth, in 1794 (fn. 29) and attracted some housing around it, and at the same period new houses were built around the junction of the Bath road and the Horsley road. During the 19th century there was considerable new building and rebuilding within the two old groupings, but they remained distinct until the late years of the century when Fountain Street, as the main Bath road between them became known, was built up in brick. (fn. 30) The early 20th century saw some further expansion of the town along the Horsley and Newmarket roads, and a council estate was built at Park Road on the east side of the town in 1921. (fn. 31)
Most of the population of the Nailsworth area lived outside the town in cottage weaving settlements straggling along the valley sides on a network of narrow lanes and paths. Windsoredge and Upper and Lower Forestgreen occupy the west side of the valley of the Nailsworth stream and Watledge the east side; the valley of the Miry brook has Newmarket on the north and Shortwood on the south; and a smaller settlement, Rockness, climbs the west side of the valley of the Horsley stream. The cottages in those hamlets are mainly of the 18th century, although Windsoredge, at least, had some cottages by the mid 17th century, (fn. 32) and Upper Forestgreen and Shortwood, which had nonconformist chapels from 1688 and 1715 respectively, (fn. 33) apparently began to develop within the 17th century. In the 20th century much new building took place in the Forestgreen area, including ribbon development along Northfield Road in the early years of the century and a large council housing estate built south of Upper Forestgreen in the 1930s. In the 1960s and early 1970s modern houses and bungalows were put up among the old cottages in the hamlets, particularly at Shortwood.
There are few large houses in the outlying hamlets. Newmarket Court, on the north side of the Newmarket road, the home of Isaac Hillier, the bacon-curer, in the 19th century, was demolished to make way for his firm's new packing factory c. 1969. (fn. 34) Newmarket House, built in the early 19th century on the site of cottages, was the home of the Newmans, a family of wool-merchants, from 1877, (fn. 35) and the Nodes at the west end of the valley was built in the mid 19th century but incorporates the walling of an earlier house. There was apparently a big house at Dunkirk Manor, north of Watledge by 1770, (fn. 36) but it was rebuilt about 1800, probably by John Cooper, owner of the mill below. (fn. 37) It formed three sides of a court, with the principal rooms on the west front, and additional rooms, partly infilling the courtyard, were added in the late 19th century. A garden-house adjoining has an ornate front of the late 18th century; the principal room, later sub-divided, was on the upper floor and its Venetian window gave wide views over the valleys.
Some indication of the growth of population in what became Nailsworth parish is given at the beginning of the 18th century when the part lying within Avening was said to contain 60 houses and the part within Horsley 40 houses. (fn. 38) In 1891, when the new parish was treated as already constituted, it had a population of 2,993, rising slowly to 3,148 by 1921; there was a slight fall in the 1920s but afterwards the population rose again, to 3,522 by 1951 and 3,634 by 1961. (fn. 39)
The provision of public services for the town was delayed by its situation straddling the boundary between two parishes, and early measures were on a voluntary basis. Two fire-engines were acquired by subscription in 1805 (fn. 40) and a third was added in 1819; in 1892 the local voluntary force maintained five engines at points close to the mills. (fn. 41) Attempts to establish a local board of health for the Nailsworth district in 1853 were apparently unsuccessful, but by the 1880s the town had a sanitary committee financed by public subscription. The committee organized scavenging and street cleaning until the formation of the Nailsworth U.D.C. in 1894. (fn. 42) The council carried out a sewerage scheme between 1908 and 1910. (fn. 43) Water-supply, by the Stroud Water Co., had been piped to about half the houses within the urban district by 1911, (fn. 44) gas lighting was installed in the streets in 1876, and electricity was brought to the town c. 1923. (fn. 45) A fund for providing medicines was established in 1850. (fn. 46)
Apart from the George inn, the early inns in the town were the Crown, recorded from 1785, (fn. 47) and the Clothiers' Arms and the King's Head, both recorded from 1820; (fn. 48) all three stood in Market Street and remained open in the 1950s, (fn. 49) but only the Crown survived in 1973, when it and the George and the Britannia were the only public houses remaining in the town. Among the public houses in the outlying hamlets in 1973, the Crown at Inchbrook had opened by 1839 (fn. 50) and the George at Newmarket by 1820. (fn. 51) Among several that closed in the mid 20th century (fn. 52) were the Shears at Watledge, recorded from 1804, (fn. 53) the Star at Forestgreen, recorded from 1839, (fn. 54) and the Rising Sun, which stood near the Nodes in 1839 but was transferred to Shortwood c. 1870. (fn. 55)
Nailsworth had a friendly society by 1769 and a number of others succeeded it, including one for women formed in 1823 in association with the episcopal chapel (fn. 56) and one affiliated to Shortwood Baptist chapel, formed in 1824. (fn. 57) Some of the principal inhabitants formed the Society for Philosophical Experiments in 1819 and it met for lectures until at least 1830. (fn. 58) About 1836 a mechanics' institute was founded at Nailsworth but within a few years it was defunct from lack of support. (fn. 59) In 1849, however, the Mutual Improvement Society, later the Nailsworth Literary and Mechanics' Institute, was founded. (fn. 60) Shortwood chapel supported a lecture society from the late 19th century until the Second World War. (fn. 61) A less usual society, founded in 1821 through the efforts of a leading Quaker, Anthony Fewster, was the Nailsworth branch of the national society 'for promoting permanent and universal peace'. (fn. 62) A savings bank was founded c. 1838. (fn. 63)
In 1852 a subscription room was built on the east side of the Bath road to house the Mechanics' Institute and to be the general social centre for the town; (fn. 64) it became a cinema in 1915, (fn. 65) and from 1960 housed the Nailsworth boys' club. (fn. 66) Local activities in the late 19th century included a choral society, founded by 1864. (fn. 67) The Town Hall, the former Methodist chapel in Bristol Road, was the centre for social activities after 1947 when it was bought by the U.D.C. (fn. 68) By 1889 there was a lending library run by the church, and in 1928 Nailsworth was given a branch of the county library. (fn. 69) New premises for the library, opened in 1973 by the old cattle-market, incorporated a room for general social and cultural functions. (fn. 70)
The poet W. H. Davies (d. 1940) lived in later life at a cottage in Nailsworth. (fn. 71)