Monday, 29 June 2015

Stroud's Genius Loci Revisited: Springs and Streams

When I started this blog some three years ago, we also set up a website involving a collaborative approach to ‘Mapping the Local Landscape, Literature, People and History’. We started off in this vein, with a vaguely psychogeographical approach, looking at springs, streams, rivers and their impact upon our Five Valley social history. We were searching for Stroud’s genius loci.

Re-imagining the landscape’s mapping,
Envisioning an old-new cartography:
Erasing the blue of the motorways,
The red and yellow of roads and thoroughfares,
The lines of footpaths, byways, bridleways,
All those pale blue significations
Which denote tourist amenities,
Ignoring those black lines of railway tracks,
Cuttings, embankments, viaducts, tunnels,
The red squares and circles of railway stations,
Along the so-called permanent way,
Bus stations, power lines and pylons,
Radio masts, television masts,
Churches, chimneys, towns, boundary lines,
An alphabet of abbreviation,
And even symbols of antiquity
Are all immaterial to our search
For thin blue lines issuing from nowhere,
Where William Blake sees the universe,
In tumbling drops of iridescent water.

What euphony is there in the vowels and the consonants
Which mark our landscape with their litany.
What secrets of etymology and topography are revealed
When we tramp the land rather than drive the road,
When we disconnect the sat-nav and navigate
By the tracks that connect our ancient springs?
Cherington Springs, Seven Springs, Toadsmoor Brook,
Blanche’s Bank, Baker’s Pool, Frogmarsh Lane,
Snakeshole, Puckshole, Derryhay,
Tankard’s Spring, Dimmel’s Dale, Hell Corner,
Be-Thankful Fountain, The Combs, Severn Waters,
Well Hill Spring, Bubblewell, Troublewell,
The Bubbler, the Blackgutter, Spriggs Well,
Springfield, Springhill, Bulls Bank Common,
Sweetwater Spring, Stanfields Spring, Millbottom,
St. Tabatha’s Well, Cud Well, Gainey’s Well,
Then Verney Spring and Ram Pitch Spring,
Farmhill Well, Double Spout and Turner’s Spring.
Every name a history, every spring a name:
Reclaim the names and etch them on your maps,
Keep the traces of the past as lapidary reminders,
Of otherwise forgotten traces of sense.
Underneath the Pavements, the Beach!

This approach has led to an eclectic gathering of writing in this blog, which is quite the idea, but I thought this a good moment to refer back to our initial focus as a group of walkers, writers and musers: walking rivers from their spring sources to their confluences. We have walked the Slad Brook as part of the Laurie Lee Festival; walked the Frome from Climperwell Springs to the Severn and I have just walked the Painswick Stream from Many Well Springs to the Stroudwater Canal.
There are records of these walks scattered through the blog, and it is a pastime that I heartily recommend. There is a thrill in discovering these spring sources: and a map, together with Jennifer Tann’s ‘Wool and Water’, will enable you to locate the sites of past, forgotten cloth mills. There is a consequently satisfying fusion of natural and radical history, as you walk, talk and re-imagine.
We intend to walk more of these streams, brooks and tributaries in a desultory fashion over the coming months. This rural approach will be counter-balanced by postings on urban Stroud, with the presentation of an alternative heritage trail for the town.
But for the nonce, here is a record of walking the Painswick Stream from source at Many Well Springs to its confluence with the Stroudwater. I caught the ‘bus to Cranham Corner and then made my way along Buckholt Road, and so into the woods on the spring-search. I then walked to Painswick , to Brookhouse  Mill, taking about three hours or so and thence back to Stroud on the bus.
1.    Buckholt Road used to be called Sanatorium Road – I have a recollection that George Orwell was there for a time.
2.   Many Well Springs is named Emmanuel Springs on the 1887 OS map.
3.   The dependable springs and limestone riverbed meant the stream powered 30 odd mills and it was nicknamed ‘the never failing stream’.
4.   Gustav Holst put In the Bleak Midwinter to music after walking in the woods, before returning to the Black Horse.
5.    Look for Woodside Farm, Cranham Mill, Mill Lane, Tocknells Court, Damsells Mill and Brookhouse Mill.
6.   The next day took me back to Painswick and down to the stream at Brookhouse Mill (after a detour to the Quaker Meeting House and the 17th century burial ground at Dell Farm).
7.   Look for Painswick Mill, King’s Mill, Skinner’s Mill Farm and Sheephouse.
8.   The valley gets a bit A46 noisy, so I made my way from Sheephouse to Wick Street, and walked into town with beautiful views opening up all around Stroud.
9.   Then descend to Stratford Park (and think about the name ‘Salmon Springs’), and pick up the stream again; follow it past Tescos, over the Cainscross Road at the bridge and thence to the canal.
10.   Jennifer Tann’s book lists all the names and grid references of the vanished mills – my favourite being Zacharia Powell’s Mill, SO 874099:
‘This was a small mill driven by the waters of a spring which enters the Painswick stream … owned and occupied by Zacharia Powell in the early 1820s … for auction in 1837 … reputed to have been demolished in the 1860s.’
It’s an invaluable book.

Friday, 26 June 2015

A Radical Deconstruction of Stroud’s Historical Heritage Information Boards: Part Two

A Radical Deconstruction of Stroud’s Historical Heritage Information Boards: Part Two
Part Two: What do these boards portray? A synopsis

1. We’ll start with the information board near Merrywalks car park:
 ‘Enjoy the welcoming atmosphere of this unique town and its countryside setting. Once famous for its woollen industry, the creative spirit has not been lost.’ ‘Bank Gardens is the perfect place to unwind.’ ‘The town has exciting festivals and events each year as well as a variety of street entertainment.’ ‘Six miles of the beautiful Cotswold Canals. A great place to walk, relax and explore.’
2. The Subscription Rooms: ‘Built in 1833 by public subscription.’
3. Withey’s Yard? ‘Specialist shops and cafes.’
4. Farmers’ Market? ‘The popular showcase for local produce and crafts.’
5. THE OLD GEORGE? ‘Was for many years the principal Hostelry in the Town – a most important place in days of yore! Here the Magistrates & the various societies of the day held their meetings, here balls, assemblies & public and private convivial gatherings, brought together troops of pleasant people, and here many a ‘bon vivant’ caroused and many a weary traveller rested.’ Paul Hawkins Fisher Esq – NOTES AND RECOLLECTIONS OF STROUD – 1871
6. The Shambles?  ‘Here is Stroud’s market, traditionally a place of plenty. But in 1766 it was the focus for bread riots by hungry Stroud cloth workers who couldn’t afford the price of a loaf. These rioters were severely put down by the Sheriff of Gloucestershire and his ‘javelin’ men – and the ringleaders hanged … ‘  We then move on to the narrative of ‘Alexander Ball … luckily for posterity … he went on to become one of Nelson’s bravest and most talented naval officers, Sir JA Ball, who captured Malta and defended it against a French siege – achievements celebrated by Coleridge …’Architectural details follow (including a reference to the Arts and Crafts movement), with facts about ownership of land and so on, until we get to a few court records, including  ‘1570 Joyce Meredyn did penance at the Friday market for being an unmarried mother’. There is blue plaque in the Shambles, too: John Canton FRS 1718 – 1772 Physicist ATTENDED THE SCHOOL FORMERLY HELD IN THIS BUILDING
7. St Lawrence’s Church: ‘Welcome to the Stroud History Trail. By following the 12 numbered boards, you will visit important landmarks and discover fascinating facts that help make Stroud unique.’ This board recounts the tale of what is believed to be the last duellist to die of wounds in Britain, together with some religious history.
8. Rowcroft and Russell Street: We are told that Laurie Lee ‘was not suited to office work’ here; we are told about ‘a wealthy merchant’, ‘chartered accountants’, ‘fashionable houses for the growing middle classes’ and Rowcroft’s ‘banking tradition’. We are told of Stroud’s MP Lord John Russell, who became Home Secretary and Prime Minister. There is no mention of his inveterate opposition, both locally and nationally, to the democratic movement of Chartism (more of that later). The virtues of Tory paternalist MP, George Holloway, are extolled: ‘who vastly improved the lives of ordinary cloth workers ‘. ‘Traditionally, employees in the clothing trade would work up to 20 hours a day for little pay.’ There is no mention of Holloway’s furious opposition to the collectivism of the co-operative movement (more of that later).
9. The Cross: ‘In days gone by, The Cross was the scene of many a celebration. Guy Fawkes’ night … rolling of tar barrels … Here a bull was once baited, and drunks laid by the heels in the stocks.’ What else? A fortune-teller was put in the pillory; a chandler melted fat for candles. But no mention of Colonel Wolfe billeted nearby during 18th century riots (more of that later), but the wool trade is ‘commemorated in the form of the ram sculpture’.
10. Middle High Street: ‘Many a carriage would have pulled up here over the years, for this is where The George Inn, Stroud’s main coaching inn, once stood … The present Swann Inn was partly built in the stables.’ Picturesque details follow about ballooning (1785) and stalls for the pig market: ‘Once, when the town crier rang his bell to make an announcement, pigs … leapt out of their stall and galloped off home, much to the astonishment of onlookers.’
11. Kendrick Street: It’s hard to imagine that this street was an orchard in the mid-19th century where the founder of Methodism John Wesley once preached to a large open-air congregation … John Miles, a 19th century watchmaker … had a clock with the figure of a little black boy who would sound a bell on the hour with a club … Kendrick Street opened in 1872 … Much of the money needed to build it was provided by Stroud MP and businessman George Holloway, the driving force behind the development. He owned all the east side – the finish and proportions of these shops reflect the high point of prosperity of Victorian Stroud and of Holloway himself.’
‘And think you her husband will vote for the man who calls it fair
To pay her four shillings a dozen for shirts
And for breeches two pence the pair?
No! No! No!'
'In fact Holloway was known for his excellent employee conditions.’
12. Lansdowne: ‘The 1871 census showed that comfortably-off tradesmen and middle class families were living in the few newly-built houses in Lansdowne … a shortcut by workers from the expanding suburbs in nearby Uplands to the new town centre factories making ready-made clothes’. ‘Opposite the library is the handsome former school of Science and Art, with its busts of eminent Victorians’. ‘The library contains one of Stroud’s most historic relics: the Town Time clock’. ‘Thank you for following the Stroud History Trail. You can learn more about the town’s past by visiting the Museum in the Park in Stratford Park. To discover how interesting and vibrant Stroud is today, do take time to explore … ‘
13. The Station: ‘In the mid-19th Century the quiet and still air of the Stroud Valleys was rent by a blast of steam and a shrill engine whistle; the Great Western Railway had arrived.’ References to the Imperial Hotel follow, and also the Hill Paul building: ‘when it was threatened with demolition by a development company in 2000, local protestors lay in the way of bulldozers in a successful campaign to save it’. ‘The tree is an American beech which has apparently survived from the garden that was there before the arrival of the railway.’
14. The Brunel Goods Shed: ‘is probably the only local Stone Goods Shed to survive from Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s designs … In 1966 the Goods Depot at the Goods Shed was closed by British Rail, making ten men redundant. Steel formed early 20th century extensions and the signal box … were demolished in 1976. Fred Webb was the last signalman … the Brunel Goods Shed opened as a vibrant arts and events centre in 2011.’
15. The statue of George Holloway: ‘He was the founder of the mid-Gloucester working men’s Conservative Association Benefit Society and represented this division in Parliament from 1886 to 1892. For nearly forty years he took a leading part in every political and social movement for the welfare of Stroud. This statue was erected by the members of the above society and other admirers MDCCCXCIV’

Now let’s write an alternative heritage trail and, EP Thompson-like, rescue the lives of lower class women and men from ‘the enormous condescension of posterity’.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Walking the River Frome from Source to Confluence with the Severn

From the source of the Frome to its confluence with the Severn
November 2013 – Midsummer’s Day 2015

“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”

T. S. Eliot

From Climperwell Springs to Miserden
From Miserden to Edgeworth
From Edgeworth to Sapperton
From Sapperton to Rodborough
From Rodborough to Ebley
From Ebley to Eastington
From Eastington to Framilode

“For there we have the confluence of two springs, determined by the shape and content of sky and landscape, dropping down to Caudle Green. Here on a delicately balanced watershed, on the finest of lines, gravity's scales of justice direct some water west via the Frome, to the Severn and the Bristol Channel; other droplets drift eastwards via the Churn to Cricklade, then on to the Great Wen and the English Channel. Conjoined droplets of water, slipping apart to opposite points of the compass, yet still conjoined by history and language: the Celtic 'fra', denoting a 'brisk' river; the Celtic 'chwern', indicating a 'swift' flow.”

“When I saw Framilode first she was a blowy Severn tidy place under azure sky…Adventure stirring the blood like thunder, With the never forgotten soft beauty of the Frome, One evening when elver-lights made the river like a stall-road to see …”

Ivor Gurney

We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”

T.S. Eliot