Stonehouse History Group

Welcome to the web site for Stonehouse History Group

- promoting  interest in the History of Stonehouse & the locality.

The museum in Weston-super-Mare used to have on display the tooth of a mammoth found in gravel beds near Stonehouse in Gloucestershire.

The location was shown as Newtown on the Stonehouse to Eastington Road. It is a strange thought that hairy elephants roamed about the area some 10,000 years ago, apparently in considerable numbers and accompanied, so bones in the gravel beds reveal, by the Woolly Rhinoceros, Ox, Horse: Red Deer and Pig.

These gravel deposits also show that the little River Frome, idling along in the valley bottom, was once a much larger stream.

When the houses on the Park Estate were built in the 1950's sand and gravel was dug out in order to lay their foundations, an indication that centuries ago the site was the margin of the River Frome.

The position of the old gravel pits (now filled in) at Cainscross, near the bottom of Beards Lane, Stroud, showed that the river once occupied the whole valley, approximately up to the line of the main road from Stonehouse to Stroud.


There are more recent alluvial deposits in the valley, such as those near the site of the old Stroud Gas Works where the leg bone of a late Stone Age man was found, thought to be about 4,000 years old Most of our earlier ancestors kept to the higher ground. in the locality as evidenced by the pit dwellings of Selsley Hill and Hetty Pegler's Tump, the long barrow near the Stroud to Uley road, and the fortifications around Haresfield Beacon.

But history goes back much farther than the gravel deposits. When the Stonehouse Brick & Tile Co. Ltd. commenced operation in 1890 it inevitably started to despoil the local landscape. Over the following 60 years a great slice of the hillside was removed and people standing on the hills near Cinderford could look across the vale and see a golden gash in the Cotswold chain. It was unsightly, and in those days there were no industrial planning regulations to ensure that proper restoration of the landscape took place. When production ceased and the Parish Council discussed the area from a planning point of view it was surprised and pleased to find that the Nature Conservancy considered the clay face to be of high geological interest, and learned that students from schools and universities, as well as experts from the British Museum often came to Stonehouse to study it.

It asked why, and this was the answer: The quarry face exposes lower Jurassic rocks deposited on the sea bed approximately 180 million years ago. The Lower Lias, the clays used for brick making, shows an important sequence of clays with minor sandstones and limestones. Comparison of the details of this sequence with other exposures, notably at Robinswood Hill, enables geologists to identify an unconformity, a gap in the sequence of the rocks, which provides important evidence of earth movements at this time

The fossils in the rocks are important in dating the age of this earth movement. The Marlstone at the top of the face is of Middle Lias Age and is richly fossiliferous. It is especially important for very minute fossils which can only be seen under a microscope These are of considerable educational value.

In 1975 it was planned to build about 135 houses on the old Brickworks site. But the central clay bank was to remain, with an embankment of about 10 ft. high at a distance of 10 yards from the base of the cliff. This would contain boulders that might roll down and students would be able to search them or fossils. As vegetation appeared on the sides of the face it might be possible in later years to organise a nature trail in the area.

So 180 million years ago the site of Stonehouse was under a deep sea. The mud on the sea bed became pressed down to form clay and the shells of the marine life become cemented into the stones. From the base of the hill to the limestone quarry on the top of Doverow there are five layers of the Jurassic period lower Lias clay, marlstone, upper Lias clay, Midford sand, and the quarry of inferior oolite, probably last used in 1854 for the rebuilding of the parish church. The stones would be taken down Dark or Lovers Lane and past Willow Farm on their way to the site. The trace of Midford sand used to be seen on the right-hand side of the entrance to the quarry, being particularly exposed between the roots of an old tree which eventually succumbed to the gales in the early 1970's.

It is interesting to think that the rocks and the clay formed beneath the sea so long ago have provided the building materials for modem man to fashion into homes, farms, mills, shops and churches. Man's activities today are often shaped by the whims of nature millions of years in the past. Similarly the little stream the Frome, though much reduced in size from the large river that laid down the gravel beds along the valley's edge, provided for centuries the waterpower that kept the mill wheels turning, and many of the old mill buildings are still used to house the modem industries.

That local stone was being used for building about a thousand years ago was shown by the name of the village in the Domesday Book of 1086. "Stanhus" indicated that there was a stone house in the area in the days when most buildings were of wattle-and-daub. It probably stood on the site of the present manor house, near the parish church which still has traces of original Norman stonework which have been dated as not later than 1100 AD. Domesday Book also revealed that Stanhus possessed two Mills. It IS probable that one of them was near the site of the present Paper and Bag Mills, worked by the waters of the Frome.

BY J. H. A. ANDERSON  - 1975

The other was almost certainly near the old Brush Works; this mill was given to Gloucester Abbey by William the Conqueror's cousin William D'Ow, and the water to power it flowed through a channel dug from the main arm of the river at Ryeford: It is likely that the digging was done by the monks of Gloucester in the eleventh century,. The main branch of the river was referred to as the Banty Ditch in old documents, "banty" being a name for the stickle­back. The portion dug by the monks was known as the Yare. The lords of Stonehouse manor had several fisheries in the' Frome, mentioned in deeds from 1610 onwards.

Also according to Domesday there was a noteworthy vineyard, thought to have been near the manor house where the railway embankment now stands. The grape had been introduced into Britain by the Romans but had not generally flourished. Some twenty bunches were seen growing in a garden in Stonehouse in 1975 and prompted the thought that with the vine, if not with any other part of life, the wheel of history had turned full circle. Although it cannot be proved, grapes may well have been grown on the slopes of  Doverow  Hill and the fields now called the Verney Fields might originally have been a vinery

A lot has been written about the manor and church by two historians of the parish, Charles Liser Smith and H. E. Hawker, both now dead. Copies of their notes can be found in the local library so it is not proposed to dwell on those two important buildings. Instead, let us try to outline the probable development of the village. Oldends Lane is correctly named; it was one of the oldest roads, being thought to be part of an ancient trackway leading from the salt marshes of the Severn to Awre. It ran through Eastington to Oldends Farm, thence up Oldends Lane and Woodcock Lane (then called Greenstreet, a name recently revived in that area by the Parish Council) and so up towards Westrip and into the interior of the country.

It has been suggested that there was a Celtic word  "hoel" meaning a way or path, so that this part would be known as the “hoel end" of the parish; later being corrupted to Oldend. At the bottom,of Woodcock Lane there was a hamlet for hundreds of years. The oldest parts of villages arc near watercourses; this one still comes from springs near Glen Farm in Woodcock Lane. It used to be visible by the cottage near the first bend in the Lane, then flowed as an open ditch near Sheppard’s Row at the lop of Oldends Lane, and thence down the length of the Lane. Now mostly culverted, it often caused flooding in the lower parts of Oldends Lane in rainy weather. Not so long ago there were local people who could remember the women doing their washing in this stream near Sheppard's Row.

Because of its mills a settlement also grew up in the Bridge End of the parish, where there was a bridge over the river; ancient roads arc mentioned in that area from 1490 onwards. In 1677 it was a packhorse bridge and the men of' Stonehouse were ordered to widen it to take wagons. Bridgend House was built near it by one of the Clutterbuck family of clothiers in 1691.

In addition to the Oldend and the Bridgend there was the Hayward's end. Here again a stream came down from the hill and passed between Haywardsend House and what is now Wycliffe College. So we are gradually building up a picture of a manor house with the river  and its mills at the back, a park (which at one time contained 130 deer) in front of it, whilst around the edges of its lands small hamlets were, springing up at the sides of watercourses flowing from Doverow Hill. What is now the High Street was largely village green and contained very few dwellings. The old road at the front of the houses known as The Reddings was Cann Lane and apparently contained Stephen's Grave. The Reddings themselves probably derived their name from the fact that the Riding Fields were in the vicinity. It has been suggested that Horsemarling was a corruption of Horse Armoury, but this may not be a correct assumption.

Some of the old roads have now become footpaths; Glen Road ran from Glen Farm at the top of Woodcock Lane across where Cotswold Green now stands, and continued as Glen Road over what are now Verney and Burdett Roads.. It joined Pyrcroft Road opposite Wycliffe College chapel. Pyrcroft Road then took the route of the modern Pearcroft Road, being the old way to Stroud via the top of Browns Lane.

What is known as Regent Street was then Cross lane, runnlng at its lower end between high banks. It was called this because the cross roads at the bottom were known as Stonehouse Cross, and the lane itself continued to Bridgend after crossing the Stroud to Eastington road, itself believed to have been constructed in the 17th century.

The Woolpack Inn was the coaching.. hostelry for Stonehouse and it was because of the difficulties experienced by the Bath coach in negotiating the 90 degree turn at the bottom of Cross Lane that the cutting was made from the Woolpack over Pyrcroft-Road to what is now called the Trough junction. Because the Bath coach used it, Bath Road superseded the name Pyrcroft Road over that part of the way. incidentally when what was known as ‘Mullins' Store was built around 1870 the first owner facetiousjy put a board on his shop marked "Regent Street", presumably referring to the famous London shopping centre. It amused the people and before long, Cross Lane as it was built up; changed into Regent Street!

A river crossing is mentioned at Ryeford in 1340 and a mill, was there round about 1500 A D. The Victoria County History states that the two main roads were turnpiked in 1726; there was apparently a toll-house in Cann Lane another on the comer of Ryeford.

There is a theory that Ryeford is named after the French "ford de roi", the king's ford, being the route taken  by the Mercian  kings when they visited Kings Stanley, but this idea is at variance with A. H. Smith's "Place Names of Gloucestershire" which defines it as "the ford across which the rye harvest was carried".

The centre of Stonehouse was largely manorial waste. or village green. It is recorded that In 1803 there were only nine houses between Oldends Lane and Cross Lane. We can guess which they were, and all but one are still standing. First, the limber framed cottage near Greenstreet, then Hill View House (early 17th century), the Globe Inn, Orchard House (early 17th century), The Elms now demolishsd to make way for the car park), Tudor House (possibly 16th century), Apsley House (that is, the old dairy; 17th century and formerly a malthouse), the Woolpack Inn (17th century) and, probably the oldest of them all, Queen Anne Cottage (previously Trotmans Farm).

As one thinks of the position of these buildings one can imagine how wide the village greens were. In 1810 the lord of the manor, Thomas White, sold part of the greens for building land and our modem High Street began to develop. One of the first plots was Park House (where Mr. Rowbotham lives) and over the next fifty years or so it became in turn a brickworks, a brewery, a pub (the Railway Inn) and a doctor's surgery. To show how historians can easily be misled it could be assumed that its name, Park House, came from its proximity to the manor park; documents show, however, that it was probably because at one time it was mortgaged to four brothers named Park.

In the early history of Stonehouse its income was mainly from agriculture and we are told that it was largely pasture land. However, clothing became the majn industry in the 16th century and in 1608 there were 29 people in the cloth trade, 10 in agriculture, and 17following other pursuits. Clothmaking remained the main industry until early in the 20th century and its decline then saw the mills adapted for other purposes, and it is largely because of this fact that Stonehouse had a diversity of industry which served it in good stead through the economic depression of the 1930's. Records tell us that in 1299 Stonehouse possessed a smith, a carpenter, a cooper and a shoemaker. In 1491 it had a butcher, a thatcher and several brewers, and weavers have been recorded since 1540.

There were two masons, two butchers and three bakers in 1608. In 1840 there was a candle manufactory, while 1856 records two watchmakers and a clockmaker in the parish. Over the centuries stone and gravel has been quarried, while clay fields have appeared in several places and there is little doubt that a number of houses are likely to have been built of bricks made from clay found on the site. During the second world war the advent of Hoffman's and Sperry's established the village as an industrial centre; this meant the introduction of many more houses and services and in ten years Stonehouse grew from a rural village into a small industrial town.

The growth was partly due to good communications. The canal was started in 1775 and opened in 1779. Two main roads passed through the parish and eventually there were three railway stations, Bristol Road in 1844, Burdett Road in 1845 and the Nailsworth branch line in 1867. When the motorway came within a mile of the parish 100 years later the future of the area as an industrial centre was assured.

If statistics arc studied it has to be remembered that for much of its history the parish or Stonehouse included Westrip , part of  Randwick, Ebley, and parts of Cainscross and Dudbridge. However in 1894 when our system of local government came into being, the parish Cainscross was formed taking the eastern end of Stonehouse, while some houses were transferred to Randwick. In that reorganisation Stonehouse lost 598 houses containing a population of 2,389 and the local county councillor hailed it as a wise move that would save people a lot of rate money. In retrospect it probably had the reverse effect, and Stonehouse would have been a powerful place in local government now if it kept its original boundaries.

But when it is noted that in 1838 Stonehouse had 33 public houses and beerhouses the larger area must be kept in mind. By 1891 the number had fallen to 21 and in recent years there has been a gradual reduction in the number of pubs. Now there are seven, but there are some off licences and two licensed clubs as well. This is a striking example of the modern tendency to centralise everything and in very recent times it has needed great public pressure to save the Crown and Anchor from demolition.

What sort of place has Stonehouse been to live in? Because the two mills mentioned in Domesday are still industrial sites it can be assumed that there has always been some employment available and this would have a steadying effect upon the social history of the neighbourhood. Although legend maintains that a battle was fought in the park during the Wars of the Roses, there is no historical basis for the story.

It is known that the Royalists and Puritans fought a few miles away during the Civil War, but there is no indication that Stonehouse was directly involved, in spite of a story that the hayloft of the old farm which is now the Spa Inn at Oldends was used as a hiding place for soldiers from one of the contesting armies. There were those people who offended against the community or the church; one was William Ellyottes, a butcher, who in 1572 was arraigned for selling meat at service time and absenting himself often from church.

To Be Continued........