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’.

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