Thursday, 4 October 2012

The Genius Loci of Stroud: Springs

If you are looking for the genius loci of Stroud, it has to involve water, and as water moves and flows in a constant reinvention of itself, it is a fitting initial symbol of Stroud and the Valleys. To understand the effect of water around us, locally, we have to have some basic understanding of our local geology: we can slice open our scarp to reveal the layers of rock and time, stretching from the heights of Minchinhampton down to the River Severn. I thank the Stroud Museum for giving me this sort of Ladybird understanding, with their excellent displays; I have had minimal interest in or understanding of geology before, but I do recommend a visit to Stroud Museum, if you are geologically illiterate, like me.
So, what did I discover? Well, on the top, we have Great OoLitic Limestone; dropping down to Rodborough, we find Fullers Earth Clay; then we drop down to Lower Inferior Oolite Limestone; then Cotswold Sands; then Upper Lias Clays (we are now at Stinchcombe, King’s Stanley and Wotton under Edge); we then get to the Maristone Platform and the Severn and Lower Lias Clays.
The springs that occur where limestone meets clay attracted early settlement, with wells subsequently dug away from the spring-line. This combination of rocks and clays has produced the history that will later follow, after our spring-line wander lust, in other ways too. The steep valleys caused by erosion have produced the fast flowing streams and the consequent cloth trade, with their quaint hill-climbing patterns of settlement. It is true to say, therefore, that our first search for our genius loci should involve some walking or cycling around the spring-line, writing and photographing the springs as we go. As Robert Macfarlane said in “The Old Ways, A Journey on Foot”, “This book could not have been written by sitting still. The relationship between paths, walking and the imagination is its subject, and much of its thinking was therefore done - was only possible – while on foot.” It will be the same for us – although we might well bike as well as walk, but just like Macfarlane, we might well have Edward Thomas and Flann O’Brien as company too.
Or, just like Rob Young, in “Electric Eden”, we might hear Caliban reminding us to
“Be not afeard. The isle is full of noises,
Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight, and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears; and sometimes voices,
That, if I then had wak’d after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again; and then, in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open and show riches
Ready to drop upon me, that, when I wak’d,
I cried to dream again.”
It would be good to declaim this by a spring’s harmonies when out walking, and then cup spring water in one’s hands, reminding ourselves, like Rob Young, of Blake, once more:
“Hold infinity in the palm of your hand And Eternity in an hour.”
And if the walk to a spring, once named or featured on an OS map reveals nothing of its issue, then we could speak two lines from John Clare:
“There once were springs, where daisies’ silver studs
Like sheets of snow on every pasture spread;”


  1. An interesting project. Springs and watercourses are completely central to Stroud's being, historically, so this mapping will be very interesting. Do you have a map to locate them yet?

    I'm doing something similar in plotting case studies of where streams have been lost from the landscape beneath urban development, and where they are being daylighted once more.

    I have done a lot of work on plotting the locations of springs in the Sheffield area for my research, and it is clear that the modern maps only provide a partial picture of spring locations.

    Springs activate and deactivate over time (I liken it to dormant volcanoes), due to the way in which the water recharging into the ground is altered by urban development, borehole abstractions, agricultural practices and just changes between wet and dry seasons/years/decades.

    I've found historical maps particularly useful for identifying historic stream locations in places that are now covered over by urban development, altered by agricultural drainage systems, or dormant springs. Stroud has the usual UK historical maps going back to 1880s at good scales, often updates every decade, and these might be very useful. It also has a number of very very old tithe and parish maps - including at the Gloucestershire Archives, and these may also be of interest. In many cases also, Sheffield has a few written historical accounts that have helped to locate them - I'm sure Stroud has examples you could find useful. My research has also relied on using street and place names to help locate lost springs.

    1. Thank you for this - very helpful and I'll certainly have a look at the daylighting website; fascinating. "Yes", on the map front - we have 1920 0.S. maps and also the excellent HMSO guide to The Wells and Springs of Gloucestershire (1928). More of this will follow in some postings towards the end of November - lists, locations and names of springs and so on. Thank you again for the informative guidance.