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.