Stroud

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Stroud is a market town and civil parish in the county of Gloucestershire, England. It is the main town in Stroud District.

Situated below the western escarpment of the Cotswold Hills at the meeting point of the Five Valleys, the town is noted for its steep streets and cafe culture. The Cotswold Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty surrounds the town, and the Cotswold Way path passes by it to the west. The Harefield Beacon & Standish Wood and Woodchester Park NT countryside properties are close by.

Although not formally part of the town, the parishes of Rodborough and Cainscross lie adjacent to Stroud and are often considered part of it.

Stroud acts as a centre for surrounding villages and small market towns including Amberley, Bisley, Chalford, Dudbridge, Dursley, Minchinhampton, Nailsworth, Oakridge, Painswick, Sheepscombe, Slad, Stonehouse, Thrupp and Woodchester.

Stroud is known for its involvement in the Industrial Revolution. It was a cloth town; woollen mills were powered by the small rivers which surge through the five valleys, and supplied by Cotswold sheep which grazed on the hills above. Particularly noteworthy was the production of military uniforms in the colour Stroudwater Scarlet. The area was made home by a sizable Huguenot community in the 17th century, fleeing persecution in Catholic France, followed by a significant Jewish presence in the 19th century, linked to the tailoring and cloth industries.

Stroud was an industrial and trading location in the nineteenth century, and so needed transport links. It first had a canal network in the form of the Stroudwater Navigation and the Thames & Severn Canal, both of which survived until the early 20th century. It is now planned to restore these canals as a leisure facility by a partnership of Stroud District Council and the Cotswold Canals Trust with a multi-million pound Lottery grant. Stroud railway station (on the Gloucester–Swindon the Golden Valley Line) was designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

Though there is much evidence of early historic settlement and transport, Stroud parish was originally part of Bisley, and only began to emerge as a distinct unit by the 13th century, taking its name from the marshy ground at the confluence of the Slad Brook and the River Frome called “La Strode” and was first recorded in 1221. The church was built by 1279, and it was assigned parochial rights by the rectors of Bisley in 1304, often cited as the date of Stroud’s foundation.

Historic buildings and places of interest in the area include the neolithic long barrows (Uley Long Barrow) at Uley, Selsley Common and Nympsfield to the west; Roman era remains at Frocester, West Hill near Uley, and Woodchester; the medieval buildings at Beverston Castle; and the outstanding Tudor houses at Newark Park and Owlpen Manor. Woodchester Mansion is a masterpiece of the Gothic Revival by local architect Benjamin Bucknall.

From 1837 to 1841, Stroud’s MP was Lord John Russell of the Whig party who was later to become Prime Minister. Russell was an important politician, responsible for passing acts of parliament such as the Public Health Act of 1848, but he is mainly remembered as one of the chief architects of the Reform Act 1867. This act, also known as the Second Reform Act, gave the vote to every urban male householder, not just those of considerable means. This resulted in the electorate being increased by 1.5 million voters. Lord Russell is remembered in the town by two street names, John Street and Russell Street, as well as in the name of the Lord John public house.

Stroud has a significant artistic community that dates back to the early part of the twentieth century. Jasper Conran called Stroud ‘the Covent Garden of the Cotswolds’, the Daily Telegraph referred to it as ‘the artistic equivalent of bookish Hay-on-Wye’ while the London Evening Standard likened the town to ‘Notting Hill with wellies’.

The town was one of the birthplaces of the Organic food movement and was home to Britain’s first fully organic café, Woodruffs. The Biodynamic Agricultural Association is based in the town. For many years Stroud has hosted a fringe festival on the second weekend in September. A new committee took over in early 2009 and now runs the fringe on the first weekend in September each year, to coincide with the Stroud Festival Fortnight, including the walking and food festivals. The town also hosts an annual Vintage Fashion, Textile and Accessories Festival, and the fifth annual International Textile Festival was held in May 2010. This is the U.K’s only festival to celebrate the diverse culture of textiles.

The Stroudwater Textile Trust was founded in 1999 to link the past and present of textiles in the Five Valleys and to manage the opening of several mills in which historic textile machinery, including a working waterwheel, has been restored and is demonstrated. The Trust has produced a DVD, Rivers of Cloth, using archive film and interviews to be released in early 2011 and a photographic survey of surviving woollen mills is being undertaken for a book, Wool and Water, to be published in 2012.

Stroud has a strong community of independent shops and cafés, which provide the mainstay of the retail experience in the town. Alongside this, the town centre has witnessed two controversial developments in the form of a new cinema (which replaced the bus station) and a branch of McDonald’s which, when plans were unveiled in 2004, came against opposition from locals. The success of small businesses has, in recent years, caused a number of national retail chains to open outlets in the town.

The Subscription Rooms in the heart of the town centre provides a venue for a wide variety of entertainment and also houses the local Tourist Information Centre. There is also a small theatre, the Cotswold Playhouse, which is home to the amateur Cotswold Players; it occasionally plays host to visiting professional companies.

On the fringes of the town are Stratford Park, originally the park of a small local weaver, now home to a leisure centre with an indoor and outdoor swimming pool, and the Museum in the Park, a museum of the history and culture of the Stroud valleys.

Stroud citizens have a history of protest going back to the Stroudwater Riots of 1825. In the late 1970s Stroud Campaign Against The Ringroad prevented Gloucestershire County Council’s attempt to introduce new traffic plans. A few years later Stroud District Council tried to demolish 18th century buildings in the town centre. Stroud High Street Action Group, with some rooftop protests and a high court judgement, demonstrated against this. The restored buildings are now a feature of the High Street. After a short occupation a compromise was reached in the demolition of buildings in Cornhill with many being saved, including one identified as a medieval house. This campaign led to the formation of the Stroud Preservation Trust. which has been instrumental in saving many of the town’s oldest buildings like Withey’s house, the Brunel Goods Shed and the Hill Paul building.

Stroud Save The Trees Campaign came to national prominence in August 1989 when Stroud District Council tried to implement a road-widening scheme by a midnight raid on thirteen trees it wished to fell within the perimeter of Stratford Park. However local people got wind of the ‘secret’ and were there first to protect the trees. After a stand-off that lasted till dawn the police called off the operation on the grounds of public safety. The following year instead of road-widening the first ‘traffic calming’ in the county was installed. The trees remain to this day.

A few years later Stroud District Council planned to fell the only mature tree in the town centre – the hornbeam on the Subscription rooms forecourt. A quickly mobilised citizenry persuaded them otherwise and the hornbeam survived.

In 2000 Stroud District Council gave permission for the Victorian landmark Hill Paul building to be demolished. After thwarting demolition, local activists formed a company and sold enough shares at £500 each to take an option on the building, which they passed on to a local developer. The building has now been restored and converted into apartments.

The Save Stroud Hospitals Taskforce has been campaigning since spring 2006 against a range of cuts to health services in and around Stroud, with thousands of people taking part in street demonstrations. Stroud Maternity Hospital was saved in September 2006.

The Uplands Post Office branch in Stroud was one of 26 in the county to shut as part of a nationwide programme to cut losses. Following local opposition, the Post Office agreed to talks with civic chiefs to look at how it could reopen. The town council agreed to provide £10,000 of funding for the service in 2008 and up to £25,000 for 2009. In November 2008 it was confirmed that Stroud has become only the second place in Britain to save one of its Post Offices.

However, despite the protests, Tesco opened a store near Stratford park in 1989, McDonald’s built a fast food restaurant at Rowcroft in 2005 and soon after, the bus station was replaced with a cinema.

In September 2010 the BNP scrapped plans to move their national media centre to Stroud after protests by local residents.

In February 2012 NHS managers agreed to halt plans for Stroud General Hospital to be run by a social enterprise after local residents mounted a legal challenge in the High Court.

There is still a small textile industry (the green baize cloth used to cover snooker tables and the cloth covering championship tennis balls is made here), but today, the town functions primarily as a centre for light engineering and small-scale manufacturing, and a provider of services for the surrounding villages.

The Stroud and Swindon Building Society has its headquarters here. Stroud is also home to the headquarters of the renewable energy provider Ecotricity and is a Fairtrade Town.

In September 2009, the Stroud Pound Co-operative launched the Stroud Pound as an attempt to reinforce the local economy and encourage more local production. The currency’s design follows that of the Chiemgauer, in being backed on a one-for-one basis by the national currency, having a charge for redemption which is donated to local charities, and including a system of demurrage to encourage rapid circulation.

A farmers’ market, launched by Jasper Conran and Isabella Blow on 3 July 1999, takes place every Saturday at the Cornhill market. It was nominated for the national Farmers’ Market of the Year in 2001 and won it in 2007. It also won the Cotswold Life magazine award for the best farmers’ market in Gloucestershire in 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2010. The market featured in an episode of BBC TV’s The Hairy Bikers’ Food Tour of Britain in September 2009, and won the Best Food Market award at the BBC Food & Farming Awards 2010. It is certified by FARMA.

In addition to the farmers’ market there is a smaller market held in The Shambles, an area adjacent to the steep High Street. John Wesley preached from a butcher’s block in The Shambles on 26 June 1742. opposite one of the oldest existing buildings in Stroud, the Old Town Hall. Originally called the Market-house, this was built in 1594 and is still in occasional use today.

The town is also served by First Great Western trains from Stroud railway station, with frequent services to Gloucester, Cheltenham, Swindon, Reading and London. The railway link was established in 1845. Up to then, Stroud had its own time which was set by a sundial at the top of Gloucester Street. There was also an observatory across the road from the hospital where now is a car park. As Stroud time was roughly 9 minutes behind GMT and people kept missing the train, a railway clock was put up in 1858 at the bottom of High Street. It was later moved across King Street to the top of Gloucester Street. The clock fell into disrepair over the years. It was finally saved by Captain Michael Maltin, who restored the clock in 1984 and found a new home for it in the Stroud library.

The A46 road links Stroud to Gloucester in the north and Bath to the south, with the A419 connecting Stroud to Cirencester in one direction and the M5 motorway at Junction 13 in the other.

Stroud was connected to the canal system when the Stroudwater Navigation opened in 1779. It then became part of a through canal route from Bristol to London when the Thames and Severn Canal added a route over the Cotswolds in 1789. The canal closed in 1954 but the Cotswold Canals Trust is leading a project to reopen the entire length of the trans Cotswold route. A visitor centre and restored lock are located in the town.

Stroud Rugby Club, founded in 1873, play in the Western Counties North league. Their home ground is Fromehall Park, near the town centre.

Stroud Cricket Club is over 150 years old and plays its home games at Farmhill. The club has three senior teams with the first eleven playing its cricket in the South West Premier league.

Stroud is a parlimentary constituency.  Stroud Town Council is comprised 18 councillors.

In March 2008, a community radio station, Stroud FM, was launched in the town, broadcasting 24 hours a day on 107.9FM. The station, staffed by volunteers and funded by donations, focuses on local news and music, but also plays national and international music. Both BBC Radio Gloucestershire and Heart (Gloucester) have dedicated FM transmitters serving the town.

There are three local newspapers covering the town, the daily Gloucester Citizen and the Weekly Stroud Life published by Gloucestershire Media (part of the Northcliffe Group) and the Stroud News & Journal and is published by Newsquest Media (Southern) Limited, part of the American Gannett Company.

Stroud Life launched in 2008 is now the weekly market leader with a circulation of 15225 against 12,226 for the Stroud News and Journal. The Stroud News and Journal was formed by a merger in 1959 of the Stroud Journal (started in 1854 as a Liberal supporting Newspaper) and the Stroud News (started in 1867 and generally supported Conservative and Unionist interests).

Stroud is twinned with Saint-Ismier, Isère, France; Stroud, Oklahoma, USA; Duderstadt, Lower Saxony, Germany; and Stroud, New South Wales, Australia.

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