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
Remembering Allen Davenport
‘I was born May 1st, 1775, in the small and obscure village of Ewen … somewhat more than a mile from the source of the Thames, on the banks of which stream stands the cottage where I was born … I was never in any school … I had to get the very alphabet by catching a letter at a time as best I could from other children, who had learnt them at school … The next grand object I had in view was to acquire the art of penmanship …’
‘If there were no parks or pleasure grounds, the whole face of the country would present to the eye cornfields, meadows, gardens, plantations of all kinds of fruit trees etc., all to the highest state of cultivation.’
A government spy’s report of Allen’s words after Peterloo: ‘The Yoemanry had murdered our fellow Countrymen but had we in our own Defence shot even one or two of them it would have been called Murder and Rebellion, but [we] will put up with it no longer … we may loose a few lives in the onset yet what is the army compared to the Mass of the Country who are laboring under the yoke of Despotism … these Yoemanry are but few compared with us and it only wants the People to make up their minds as one Man for it is better to Die fighting in the cause of Liberty and freedom than be starved by our Oppressors.’read more
‘When vapours rolling down a valley
Made a lonely scene more lonesome’,
Wrote Wordsworth in The Prelude –
Well, we weren’t lonely, a group of ten
Walking through early morning mists and fog,
Discussing enclosure of Oakridge common land,
A death-threatening letter for the squire,
Demeaning shouts of ‘Who stole the donkey’s dinner?’
Loud following him on his daily rounds
Past Lilyhorn Farm and Bournes Green.
A watery sun shone vaporous
As we stopped at a spectral crossroads,
Cogitating upon the Roman villa,
Down in the nearby fields of Bakers Farm,
Then processing Neolithic track-ways,
Past a field of sheep and hidden long barrow,
The sun now silvering the streams that run
Down to the Frome and thence to the Severn.
A Swindon Town Remembrance Pilgrimage
We must have numbered a football team,
Umbrellas unfurled at the cenotaph,
Where we spoke of Walter Tull and Spurs,
And Swindon Town and Northampton Town
Footballers who fell in the Great War –
The rain providing a suitably melancholy backdrop,
As we made our hilltop climb to Christ Church,
A welcoming peal rather than a knell
Resonating across the Old Town sky,
While we gathered, inside, by the war memorial,
Inscribing George Bathe’s name on a remembrance cross,
George Bathe, STFC, KIA 1915,
A memento mori for all to share,
Carried by George’s great-nephew, Phil,
Before we made our blue plaque way to Radnor Street,
To talk of Freddie Wheatcroft, star Swindon striker,
Killed in Action,
And Alfred Williams, the Railway Poet,
And the writer Edward Thomas who loved Swindon so much,
Killed in Action.
FOR THE LOVE OF A CHARTIST
STROUD THEATRE FESTIVAL
Chartism was a working class movement of the 1830s and 40s that wanted to establish democracy in the country, at a time when only the aristocracy and middle class men had the vote.
It was based upon 6 points: the secret ballot so there could be no intimidation; payment of MPs so that working people could stand; same-size constituencies to prevent the old rural aristocracy lording it over the new industrial towns; ending the ownership of property rule to become an MP, so that working people could stand; votes for all men over 21 (there were Chartist groups in favour of votes for women even back then, however); annual parliaments so that governments would keep their promises.
All but one of these is now the law, of course, but you could easily end up in prison in Chartist times for supporting these ideas … lose your freedom, your job and home for wanting a democratic government…
It’s time to remember these freedom-fighters, and rescue them from what EP Thompson called, ‘the enormous condescension of posterity’.
And so this show – our counter-heritage rescuing of two special working people from the enormous condescension of posterity: George Shell of Newport and Charlotte-Alice Bingham of Stroud.
Chip Shop Hop
A group of us gathered at the corner Bath Road and Frome Park Road, initially in search of the legendary Rodborough Chip Machine
We then flexibly followed the score from walkwalkwalk – thanks to Clare Qualmann, Gail Burton and Serena Korda – (see at the end), so as to be part of a worldwide chip shop exploration. Our chip shop heritage pilgrimage took us from Bath Road to Cainscross, to Cashes Green to the High Street, to Simpsons, to Nelson Street and so to sunset and bed.
We had a lovely time chatting with staff in all the shops and explained our quest, emphasizing that this was not, as Deb Roberts put it, anything to do with ‘Chip Advisor’. Robin Treefellow wrote a poem especially for the occasion, which he performed in two different locations, once outside a cloth mill and once, natch, outside a chip shop.
Chips are not from Hell
they come from Heaven Highest
chips are winged angels
flying with greasy wings
coated in sparkling salt
into our contentious world
where they relieve our tearful cries
for help is here
the chips, the excellent and goodly chips
we partake of their ambrosia
soaked in vinegar
stubbled in salt
hot and rewarding between the teeth
as we swallow
the chip carries us up to the golden light
in the knowledge our troubles have passed
O, heavenly chips!
Sanctus, Sanctus, Excelsus
It was May the 12th, 2018,
Synchronised walking was happening all over the globe
Via a shared urban score:
‘Cities tend to start in the middle and spread outwards, thinning as they go…
a familiar phenomenology … in the middle of things.
But where is that exactly, and how can we be sure?
…you are unlikely to encounter a sign telling you that you have arrived.
This is, of course, one of the surest indications …
that you are back in the middle of things:
the signs pointing the way will have dried up.’
But we were in the country,
Far away from the City of London;
How could we see, hear, touch, taste and smell
The space-time of a city, out here in the shires,
Far away from Jeremy Corbyn and the TUC Rally,
Far away from William Blake and London:read more