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
Thanks to Robin Treefellow for the following poem written after our walk.
Bisley Water Laughing Toadsmore
From Bisley’s rushing springhead
under the church: splashing, gurgling and giddy.
The water disgorged out the Victorian facade praising
the Creator in pedantic script.
Like a dam in a Welsh valley
the conceit of men to try tame the waters’ flow!
The Bisley spring regimented into its own moulded spout,
as if the reverend who had it built were
trying to educate water into behaving itself.
But in 2020 the water laughs
long away down Toadsmore,
swirling in transgressive script
through the sunk valleys,
brimful out Bismore Bridge.
Beech trees ascend,
while streams descend,
Toadsmore goes walking.
A silvery cask,
the valley is liquid.
There now follows some text on the Bisley emigration and that is followed by some thoughts on ‘Ye Black’ buried at Bisley in 1603.
My emigrant’s passage started in Bisley
Along a snowdropped Sunday footpath to the church;
The service had just ended –
I sauntered in through the open door,
And there to my surprise, in a glass case,
Lay a nineteenth century list of parish accounts,
With an italicised card:
‘cost to the Parish of Bisley of ‘emigrating’ 68 persons from the parish’,
Together with a bible open to the fronts-piece:
‘The Bible which was presented by the Reverend Thomas Keble who was the Vicar of Bisley when they and 66 others emigrated to Sydney, Australia in August 1837 [The Bible has been rebound].
Two other information cards lay partially hidden beneath the bible, I could pick out a few words, however:
‘hoped they might have a more prosperous life. They were equipped with clothes, transport and food to Bristol and Thomas Keble also presented each family with a Bible and a Prayer Book.’
Prologue the First: Mr Ricardo
CONSIDERED AS A MEANS OF RELIEF
IN THE PRESENT DISTRESSED
CONDITION OF THE POOR
BY DAVID RICARDO, ESQ.
PRINTED BY J.P. BRISLEY
Price One Penny each, or Five Shillings per Hundred.
The distress of the Poor at all times forms a strong claim upon our sympathy and compassion – and though in some cases it may be brought on by their own idleness and improvidence, and therefore require the application of strong measures to check its growth … like a parent who chastises his child … But in the present condition of the Poor in this Neighbourhood … we have to encounter all the difficulties of a failing trade, and our inability to substitute any other means of independent labour … their patience and resignation is urging on their more influential neighbours to make efforts to assist them.
The question is, – what is the best means of affording them effectual relief? …In the first instance, a Subscription was proposed, and the Rev. Thos. Keble, with that spirit of kindness and benevolence which characterize all his proceedings … raised a considerable sum among his own immediate friends; but it is quite clear that a sum of money thus raised could never be sufficiently large to meet the emergency of the case – and besides, it would only meet half the evil, for the question is, not to provide the poor with bread by the hand of Private Charity, but to devise some means by which they may earn it for themselves.
This proved to be the case – the Funds raised were found to be inadequate … shortly after, the first attempt was made to introduce a more sound and effectual system of Relief. A ship was sent to Bristol, and a portion of the unemployed Labourers were invited to go to another country … but from an indisposition to engage in anything new, and from a general misapprehension … this attempt did not meet with all the success it deserved; still, some families availed themselves of the offer, and the accounts they have sent home of their prosperous condition in New South Wales have tended to dispel the natural prejudices which all must feel against a country of which they know nothing. All parties agree to the relief occasioned by the departure of the few that went – and if at any future time Emigration should be conducted on a larger scale, we must still look back to this first Attempt, as the step from which all our further efforts have sprung.
About this time, Her Majesty at the suggestion of the House of Commons sent down a Commissioner to enquire into the distressed state of the Neighbourhood, and to see if any means could be devised to alleviate it. The Commissioner came down, and gave the fullest and most patient attention to the subject: he enquired of all classes … and the result was … with our failing Trade … the only means likely to give us real relief, was Emigration …
application was again made to Government to facilitate Emigration … but the engagements already formed prevented them from giving us a ship this year – however,–they showed their good will by requesting Mr. Marshall, the private Agent of the Colonial Government to come down, who has offered a passage to 205 persons; they hold out to us the hope of further and more effectual assistance next year, and there is every reason to hope, that Emigration may be carried on to a larger extent.
The following is a brief account of the nature of the assistance offered by Government …The expense of the Passage of a man and his wife to Sydney … is £35, but this sum is not raised by a Tax on us, but is supplied by the Funds, which the Colonial Government has raised by the Sale of Lands in Australia. It is of importance to bear this in mind … the Colonial Government very reasonably claims the right to itself of refusing to convey persons who would not be serviceable to them – the Government tells us, “all that you have to do for your Emigrants is to provide them with proper clothes and to put them on board the Ship …”
The quantity of Clothing required for each Passenger is, besides a Bible and if possible a Prayer Book, 12 shirts or shifts, 2 flannel petticoats (for females,) 12 pair of dark stockings, 3 towels, and such other articles of dress as are essential to cleanliness, health, and comfort; also a knife and fork, table and tea-spoons, peter or tin plate, tin pots, comb, soap, &c.
These articles are very expensive … it will often happen that a man may sell all his household goods, and yet not be able to raise a fund sufficient to provide them: if no fund were raised to assist … the poor man must linger on here … while the outlay of 30s. would convey him to a land of plenty …
The means of providing the Funds … are by a Rate upon the Parish. By a recent law, Parishes are allowed to borrow any Sum not exceeding half the Rates of the Parish for the purpose of Emigration, and to repay it in five years … this Neighbourhood is but one vast Family, and if we were to take away a portion of the more active and put them in a situation to fend for themselves, the bread that supported them is still left behind, and will be divided among those who remain … in the shape of an increase of Wages …
No! These are not the evils of Emigration … Expense … Clothing …Landlord … Tenant. A thousand other little interested considerations cross our thoughts and influence our minds, while we overlook the real and great objection to sending our Emigrants abroad – the sending them to a place where there is no Church Establishment regularly formed, and where they will often be placed in situations such, that they will not have the opportunity of having the blessed truths of the Gospel brought home to them. – But the eye of the Lord is in every place … if in the conscientious discharge of the duties committed to us, we should provide some of our neighbours with the means of going to New South Wales, I feel convinced that He will follow them there; – we shall in the mean time be looking upon that Country as the Land of our relations and friends … it must be our unceasing endeavour to send to them all the advantages of Religious Worship we enjoy at home.
Gatcombe, 15th Nov. 1838.
For the consideration of Persons desirous to Emigrate
- Large Families of young Children will in no case be taken at the expense of the Colonies. Young married people with families just coming on are the most eligible.
- Each Applicant should be provided with Testimonials of his Character signed by the Clergyman of his Parish, or the Minister of that religious persuasion to which he belongs, and the respectable persons who may know him. Character is of great use.
- Each Applicant should be provided with proper Certificates of his Health and the Health of his Family.
- No woman would be received on board, who is so far advanced in a state of pregnancy, as to render it probable that she might be confined before the termination of the voyage.
- None would be received on board, unless they have been previously vaccinated or had the Small Pox. Persons having families would do well to look to this, and get their Children vaccinated at once.
- Linen made up of Calico of inferior quality may be had at the Market House School, Minchinhampton. Shirts, price 1s 3d. Shifts, 11d. and other Articles in the same proportion.
There is still room for a few young married persons of good character and not having large families of young children, by the ship Roxburgh Castle, on 28th December next. The fullest information on all subjects connected with Emigration may be obtained by applying at Gatcombe, on Monday and Tuesday in any week, between the hours of nine and ten.
J. P. Brisley Stroudwater Printing Office.
How does ‘Ye Black’ buried at Bisley in 1603 fit into all this?
That terse parish record entry:
‘John Davies, ye Black, buried 22November 1603 Bisley’,
Can blow your mind when you pass the village,
Cycling to Oakridge and Sapperton,
On the trail of the Mason-Dixon line,
Africa, and America,
And the sugar plantations
In the West Indies;
It’s high up, Bisley,
The wind blows cold, the rain sweeps in,
The snow can settle,
And ‘vapours rolling down a valley
Make a lonely scene more lonesome’;
So how do we rescue you, John Davies,
‘From the enormous condescension of posterity’?
How do we recreate your life to give voice to you?
These questions might be rhetorical,
They might be existential and ontological –
What was your real name?
Why John Davies?
How did you end up in Bisley?
Where were you born?
How long was your life in Bisley?
Did the weather quickly kill you?
Had you no immunity against the common cold, flu and so on?
Could you speak English?
Did the locals point at you, laugh and mock?
Were you a slave?
A fashion accessory?
Were you baptised into the Christian faith?
Were you buried in consecrated ground?
Did you cry yourself to sleep?
How did your mind cope with this exile?
And with this stolen identity and stolen self?
Did you die of melancholy?
Was death a blessed release?
How can we memorialise you?
‘John Davies, ye Black, buried 22November 1603 Bisley’,