Friday 17th January 2020
Radical Stroud Walk
The Descent of the the Toadsmoor Valley:
From Bisley Church to Brimscombe Port
(and thence via the canal towpath to Stroud)
Approximately 4 miles. Mostly footpaths. Some styles and steep descents. Certain to be very muddy in places. Allow four hours. Bring food for your lunchtime repast. Optional stop for refreshments toward the end of the walk at Stroud Brewery
Directions to the start
Take the 8B bus from Stroud Merriwalks (stand k) at 10:10. Alight outside The Stirrup Cup, Bisley at 10:44 (scheduled arrival time). The walk will begin from this point at 10:50.
Brief guide to the context
This is not intended to be an exhaustive list. On our walks we typically encounter many serendipitous points of interest and discussion.
Bisley is very rich in history, tradition and legend. There are ancient barrows, and significant Roman and Saxon remains in the area. Many of the houses date from the 16th and 17 centuries. Made rich by the wool trade, Bisley suffered economic decline in the 1800s and in 1837, 68 parishioners were given support by the vicar of All Saints to emigrate to new lives in Australia. We will visit the church to discuss this historical event. We will also consider the story of The Bisley Boy (suggesting that Elizabeth 1st was not Elizabeth 1st but was a replaced by a man); the burial of John Davies “ye black” in 1603; the tradition of dressing the impressive wells of Bisley; how Bisley lost its commons and “who stole the donkey’s dinner”.
We will then descend the steep, narrow and seemingly remote Toadsmoor valley via footpaths. Maps reveal that the tree cover of once coppiced woodland in the upper valley has hardly changed in the last 200 years. However, the remains of several mills (of various types) are evident below the fishponds in the lower valley, revealing the industrial legacy of the area.
We will cross the main road at the mouth of the valley and walk past the site of many stick, umbrella and tool handle manufacturing works that occupied the valley floor from the 1850s until the 1920s. In nearby Chalford, one such “stick works”, Dangerford & Co, employed more than 1000 people during the late 1800s.
Finally, we will head west along the canal towpath, past Stroud Brewery and back to Stroud.
Texts used on the walk or written during and after the walk now follow
The colours of Stroud’s spectrum are
not what they seem:
Vote Red: Get Green.
And this you know is true:
Vote Green: Get Blue.
It’s not some fictive story:
Vote Green: Get Tory.
So keep it real and serene:
Vote Red: Get Green.
The roots of Socialism’s environmentalism go way back: Thomas Spence, for example, who thought enclosure and what we call now call factory farming should be replaced by ‘People’s Farms’.
John Thelwall – ‘that Jacobin fox’, ‘the most dangerous man in Britain’ – associate of Coleridge and Wordsworth, who stayed here in the summer of 1797. His studied observations of ‘Nature’ would foreground working people too. It wasn’t just the cult of the picturesque and the sublime for him.
The Chartists, too, had a programme that involved a back to the land strand. They saw the environmental degradation caused by unbridled capitalism, industrialisation and urbanisation. Let’s not forget the 5,000 who met on Selsley Common in 1839.
Then, of course, we have William Morris. Visit Selsley Church to remind yourself of his influence! And sit and reflect on the long history of Socialism’s embrace of environmentalism. Then read the below!
Circles without Class Ceilings
Why can prehistory be so entrancing?
Why do some people find prehistory so entrancing?
Why do they become so spellbound
When walking by, let’s say, a long barrow?
How do they become so transported in time and space?
What’s it all about?
Is it because a standing stone, a circle,
A tumulus, barrow, or whatever,
Demonstrates the fragility of knowledge,
The equivocal nature of understanding,
In a sense, the ‘negative capability’ of John Keats:
Being conscious, simultaneously,
Of knowing and yet not knowing?
The recognition that sometimes any presumption
Of understanding the meaning of an edifice,
Can only be speculative
(Despite the accumulation of evidence and artefacts,
Despite measurement, mensuration and comparison,
Despite a commitment to the rigours of empiricism),
And a reflection of who we are in the here and now –
Or can Homo sapiens merely develop
A restricted trope of meanings, recognizable
And familiar, across time and space …
So some speculations are bound to be valid …
Or is signification, itself, a trope of modernity?
Nature and Nurture:
How circumscribed are we by time and space?
And how universal are we across the same?
What do these structures reveal and indicate
About what is quintessentially human?
So, prehistoric structures,
In an a priori, apostrophizing, manner,
The manner of an innocent wonderer,
As yet unread on the subject,
I question your meaning:
What were you for?
As the traffic rumbles past on Cotswold roads,
It’s hard to hear the chip of stone on flint,
Or the croak of corvids with their blood-drip beaks,
Or the breaking of the bones of a skeleton,
Or smell the rotting flesh on the capstone,
Or taste the ashes of the dead on the nightfall wind,
Or see the blood red sunset behind the silver river
Or the standing stone’s silhouette,
But try hard on a winter’s afternoon,
And you might just slip down a wormhole of time,
To rituals of death and memory,
And recognize the prehistoric past
For what it is and was:
Not something primitive and alien,
But something shared.
Did you get bored in your history lessons?
Endless facts and dates.
A dreary litany.
Prehistoric Britain …
The Romans …
Those Anglo-Saxons and those Vikings …
Then came the Normans …
WELL HERE’S A NEW APPROACH
A RADICAL RETHINK
Questioning what we were taught and why
What did the great unwashed have to say?
A four-week course presented by
Stuart Butler and the Stroud Learners’ Circle
The Exchange, Brick Row
Wednesday November 6 th : Prehistoric Gloucestershire – why are we fascinated by prehistory? What can we find? Where?
Wednesday November 13 th : What have the Romans ever done for us? A local probe and a national question.
Wednesday November 20 th : The imprint of the Anglo-Saxons and the Vikings upon the county landscape.
Wednesday November 27 th : Domesday Gloucestershire, feudal Gloucestershire, the landscape and the Peasants’ Revolt
Booking essential – only £30 for the entire course.
Contact Gail Snyman to book at 01453 765955
or by email email@example.com
A Pedestrian Excursion Through Several Parts of England and Wales
John Thelwall’s account of his rambles
Between the years of the naval mutinies
of 1797 and the 1801 Peace of Amiens:
‘The cottages in general, are small, wretched and dirty. Some of them are built of brick, others are plastered and may exhibit nothing but miserable mud walls, equally naked without and within. They are wretchedly and scantily furnished; and few have even the advantage of a bit of garden. To complete the catalogue of misery, there is a workhouse in the parish, in which a number of deserted infants are consigned to captivity and incessant application…’
And even though Citizen John was being pursued,
Followed and shadowed by spies,
With consequent anxiety,
Thelwall could still write that …
‘The vivacity of conversation made the miles pass unheeded under our feet. We canvassed various subjects of literature and criticism, the state of morals and the existing institutions of society. We lamented the condition of our fellow-beings, and formed Utopian plans of retirement and colonisations. On one subject, and only one, we essentially differed – America. I cannot look towards that country with all the sanguine expectations so frequently cherished. I think I discover in it much of the old leaven. Its avidity for commercial aggrandisement augurs but ill even for the present generation; and I tremble at the consequences which the enormous appropriation of land may entail upon posterity.’read more