Stroud Civic Society’s News – occasional news items and reports on events.

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The latest in modern construction techniques comes to Stroud

The exterior view. Photo by Bill Hicks – click to enlarge

If you have travelled along Cainscross Road during the past couple of months, you may have been intrigued by the sight of a tall crane lifting elaborate pieces of timber, as if part of a giant jigsaw. At first a timber skeleton has emerged and then walls have been raised of clean, precise wood, appearing almost like flower petals. A team of skilled workmen have been assembling these shapes and gradually a building has formed before us. And what a structure, almost organic in form with complex shapes intersecting.

The Stroud Civic Society visit took place just after the last timber panels had been secured and at the invitation of the Christian Community. Our party was able to go inside the Church and see the crystallised form. We were privileged to be introduced to the building by the Architect Nick Pople and the Structural Engineer David Tasker. They explained that the choice of timber for the main construction was based on the versatility of the material, the finish and acoustic properties which will resonate sound. While the wood itself is a carbon capture and will reduce or counteract the carbon content of the building.

The interior, showing the roof from below. Photo by Bill Hicks – click to enlarge

The sensation of the design is uplifting. Twenty or more visitors, all with yellow high viz jackets and safety helmets, entered the main space. All eyes were drawn upwards by the form of the walls, which are faceted to imply pillars, defined by the intersecting planes of the walls. Above these planes branch out almost as the underside of a Gothic fan vault. The ceiling gains a dynamic as a result of the intersecting planes which intensify towards the Apse where the altar will be placed. The five-sided window openings are high up and take up the pattern of the faceting, as the window heads fit into the pitch of the roof vaults. The windows will be glazed with white glass.

This building uses a new wood building technology called Cross Laminated Timber, a form of plywood, writ large, 15cm thick or more. Each panel has been calculated and drawn in the office of the architect and checked by the engineer before the information is sent to Munich in Germany. There, the measurements are translated into panels with exact angles to intersect with its neighbour, each numbered and then shipped to Stroud. The building team assembling them come from Ireland from where they travel to sites wherever this system is to be used. The degree of precision is astonishing. Most joint lines and junctions are only a few millimetres wide. All the fixings are invisible, being on the outer shell. It has been a daunting task for the builders because they are handling the internal finished surface at the structural stage, where conventional construction would be overlaid with finishes such as plaster. All the electrical sockets and lighting have to be pre-determined and fed from the back of the structure. The chapel is tall and is surrounded by a range of single storey rooms which will have sedum roofs. So from the road, the chapel will appear to stand above the surrounding podium. The exterior will reflect the shape of the interior. The roof will have cedar shingles and the exterior walls covered with an insulation and render.

The Civic Society and those who attended the site visit are grateful to the Christian Community for allowing us this glimpse of the building. This was a special moment in time just before the finishing stages when the bones beneath the skin are visible.

Particular thanks to Paul Abel and Tim Alloway for the site arrangements. We look forward to visiting the completed building which is to be consecrated in October. We are sure that it will add to the architectural interest of Stroud.

Gloucester Cathedral Green – and New Leaf landscape design

The Society enjoyed a fascinating and well-attended talk on Thursday 24th January by Andrew King of New Leaf Studio on landscape design for urban spaces.

Plan showing concentric circles, ellipse, spiral. (click to enlarge)

He gave an in-depth account of the design process behind Gloucester Cathedral Green—the new public space in front of the cathedral that has transformed the cathedral’s setting and now offers a welcoming green oasis in the centre of the city where previously were just acres of tarmac and serried ranks of parked cars

Andrew explained the evolution of the final design based of a series of concentric circles intersecting with an ellipse and a spiral (see plan). These formal geometries are disrupted by a diagonal path to the south porch providing a direct pedestrian route to the cathedral from College Court.

Cathedral Green from south west showing 1085 Domesday Book stone. (click to enlarge)

The spiral is described by a beautifully detailed limestone wall incorporating benches and prominent stone blocks inscribed with accounts of milestones in the cathedral’s long and tumultuous history. This wall encloses a bed of herbaceous drift planting and culminates in the centre with a circular stone platform designed to feature an ever-changing display of artworks—like the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square.

Tactile paving for the visually impaired has been beautifully and unobtrusively incorporated in the design—so different from the crude concrete ‘tram lines’ that disfigure the floor of the new ‘Transport Hub’ bus station nearby.

Andrew described the complex considerations and consultations that informed the evolution of the final design and the various difficulties encountered during its implementation. He also talked in less detail about two schemes in Bristol—Champion Square at Cabot Circus and Brunswick Cemetery.

Cathedral Green close-up with benches and encircling wall. (click to enlarge)

The talk was a real eye-opener—and the result at Gloucester is a triumph. If finally offers a fitting setting for this architectural jewel in Gloucester’s crown.

Whether you heard the talk or not, do make a point of going to see Gloucester Cathedral Green. This is an outstanding scheme, imaginative, elegant, practical, well thought-out and beautifully executed—particularly if you remember what went before. It makes one further despair about the shabby shambles of Stroud’s broken, disfigured, ruined streetscape.

Strawberry Hill Christmas visit account #2

We have had two accounts sent in about our Christmas trip to Strawberry Hill.  This is the second – by David Austin:

A wonderful day out, one could say fantastic.

Pic by David Austin

We were transported by an excellent guide into the 1760’s and a Gothic illusion, a confection of trompe l’oeil and gilded papier-mâché . Strawberry Hill Gothic became a term for an architectural style, but the house is very much in the character of a stage setting , a sequence of rooms each designed to impart a stunning impression and surprise.

Walpole invented the word Serendipity to describe the unforeseen effects of lighting, coloured glass and strong colour effects that arise for example as the sunlight shines through a lancet window of blue and golden glass and strikes the plane of a green wall and angle of ceiling.

The house was a twenty year labour of love and perseverance by Horace Walpole, which in his later stages became grandiose verging on bling in the deep red walls and gilded fan vaulted ceiling and mirrored surfaces of the Gallery. The special exhibition created with enormous curating skill has assembled 147 pieces out of over one thousand pictures, miniatures and artefacts that Walpole collected and crammed into his house. Those items retrieved through record from the 1843 dispersal sale, have furnished the rooms to give some sense of how the house would have felt if one was among the thousands who visited Strawberry Hill House and were so impressed in the late eighteenth century.

Strawberry Hill Christmas visit account #1

We have had two accounts sent in about our Christmas trip to Strawberry Hill.  This is the first – by Sue Houseago:

On Tuesday, December 11th, Stroud Civic Society left Stratford Park to travel to Twickenham. This was our Chairwoman, Juliet Shipman’s choice of the Society’s Christmas outing – to visit the ‘Lost Treasures of Strawberry Hill.’

View from a distance. Pic by Gordon Horner.

Our first glimpse of Horace Walpole’s Gothic Revival Villa with its gleaming white turrets, windows, steeples and Rapunzel’s tower was pure fairytale. The fantasy continued as we entered, the hall since walls and staircases are covered in carved limewood shapes appearing as if woven up two flights of limewood stairs.

Pic by David Jones

Between 1749 and 1790 Walpole created his cascade of contrary effects; for example, glancing back from a shadowy room at the Crimson Gallery with its gilded filigree fan vault ceiling it appeared in the sunlight to be dripping gold. Splendidly hung paintings led us from Reynold’s portrayal of Walpole’s nieces seen as the three Graces ripe for marriage to Hillard’s Portrait Miniature of Sir Francis Drake.

Our super-informed guide explained that Walpole had chosen many of his treasures for their histories – an exquisite gilded lantern clock had belonging to Anne Boleyn before her beheading, when it made its way to Strawberry Hill, where Queen Victoria noticing it on a visit carried it off with her. “There it is again”, our guide rubbed her hands, “back where Walpole hung it”. Grinling Gibbon’s bizarre carved cravat, together with a locket wisp of Mary Tudor’s hair cut when her tomb was opened in 1784, show the sheer breadth and wonder of these extraordinary treasures. house.

The Oceanides in Carrara marble. Pic by Jane Rowe

After a jolly lunch we went our separate ways, my way, with a friend was to walk in the sun along the river to Twickenham, where after a visit to the Museum and Eel Pie Island, we came across a spectacle that had surely escaped from Strawberry Hill. A gleaming white Carrara marble cascade appeared – Venus, hair flowing, appeared riding a pair of prancing horses high above seven nubile naked women whose vigorous poses, all reflected in the fountain was a shock equal to a Strawberry Hill treasure.

This apparition, created by late 19th century sculptor Oscar Andreoni, provided, with a re-visit to Walpole’s house and gardens, a perfect and grand finale to a superb Civic Society Christmas outing.

Brimscombe Port Consultation; short notice, limited time for responses

Stroud District Council have just announced a consultation on the development of Brimscombe Port, the former canal basin that has long been filled in and used for light industry. The canal restoration plans envisage the site being re-excavated and becoming a attractive mixed use waterside site.

This is an ambitious project with many challenges. SDC’s published statement so far says (dates emphasised in bold):

Local residents are invited to give their views on the proposals prior to a planning application being submitted in the New Year for the necessary infrastructure including the canal basin and new access road and to establish the outline redevelopment proposals.

The project is particularly challenging as it involves engineering a new canal basin, river crossing, culverts and new roads.

Residents will have the chance to speak to the development’s engineer, architect, and council officers at the event between 3- 6.30pm on Thursday 13 December, in the West Suite of the listed Port Mill building in the centre of the port. The plans will also be available to be viewed during open times at The Ship Inn, Brimscombe until 20 December.

Brimscombe Port is a former inland port dating back to the 1780s which became redundant after the era of the canals as a mode of transport came to an end. It was filled in during the 1960s and developed as an industrial site, and was earmarked as in need of significant regeneration by Stroud District Council.

Due to the high infrastructure costs, the scheme requires public funding. The council was successful in securing £2m from Homes England in 2015 which kickstarted work to bring the development forward. This has now been match funded by Stroud District Council. Together, these contributions will enable the council to select a developer partner to create a unique waterside attraction.

SDC have given very little notice of this and this display period is not long – but there will also be a paper consultation available from from 13th December onwards. It is not yet clear when the consultation finishes so if you have views it may be best to make them known as soon as possible.

Further background information is available at

Swinhay House (Heritage Open Day) – volunteers needed!

We are pleased to announce that this year’s Heritage Open Day will be held at Swinhay House near Wotton-under-Edge (by kind permission of Sir David McMurtry).

For more details see our initial announcement here:

Sir David McMurtry new home Swinhay House
Copyright Photos by Les Wilson tel 07966 155 905

We need your help!  As you can imagine this is going to be a sizeable operation and for the first time we will be serving teas.

Volunteers will be needed to help with parking, stewarding and serving teas. So do let us know if you can help!

Volunteering will guarantee you admission to Swinhay House as entry to the house and gardens is only with pre-booked tickets. All tickets will be available to the general public on a first come, first served basis.

To volunteer please email or phone 01453 751751

Your society needs your help to make this event a success!

Full details will be circulated at a later date.

Car parking charges – new proposals from SDC

As members may be aware Stroud District Council have carried out a Car Parking Review for the district and are proposing to introduce car parking charges in Dursley, Nailsworth, Wotton-under-Edge and, in Stroud, at Stratford Park and change some existing charges.

There is a consultation period running from the 16th June to the 29th July  aimed at seeking the views of the local community.  Details of the proposals can be found on

The full list of car parks affected is:

Dursley: Bus Station Car Park, Castle Street Car Park, Parsonage Street Car Park, May Lane Car Park, Water Street Car Park

Stroud: Church Street Car Park, Stratford Park Car Park

Nailsworth: Comrades Car Park, Newmarket Car Park, Old Market East Car Park, Old Market Layby Car Park, Old Market West Long Stay Car Park, Old Market West Short Stay Car Park

Wotton-under-Edge: Potters Pond Car Park, The Chipping Long Stay Car Park, The Chipping Short Stay Car Park

The proposals don’t appear to have been given much forethought and if you think they will affect you, you can give your comments by clicking the Consultation tab on the SDC page link and completing the on-line form.  The proposed charges at Stratford Park will certainly affect those who leave their car there whilst picking up a coach for an all-day outing or are visiting the Museum.


New look for Merrywalks?

The developer taking over the Merrywalks Shopping centre in Stroud has announced ambitious plans for the site, which is currently half-empty.

It’s too early for us to be able to comment yet, but there is a consultation about their proposals on site this week  – Friday 1st June at the King Street entrance to Merrywalks from 12noon-6pm.

Some background information here:

Hard hat tour of Stroud Congregational Church restoration

On Saturday 28 April eight members of Stroud Civic Society were given a hard hat tour of Stroud Congregational Church, led by Darren and Richard of Splitlath Building, a firm which specialises in restoring historic structures.

(Click any picture to enlarge it)

The Grade II* Listed Building is being restored and made safe using grant aid from the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Gloucestershire Historic Churches Trust.

Some history: Designed by Charles Baker of Painswick, the building’s foundation stone was laid by Samuel Marling on 8 June 1835 and opened on the 27 September 1837.  Further galleries were added in the 1850s and and three apse window openings were sealed to accommodate the organ loft.  In 1889 other chapel windows were re-glazed in coloured glass, and in 1919 the pews were altered, electric lighting fitted and a First World War memorial tablet erected.  Further renovation and repair work took place in 1870, 1875, 1888, 1897 and 1929.  In recent years a lift has been installed, the cupola replaced, the church hall refurbished and a stair lift installed in the stair tower.

Our tour and the ongoing restoration works: We had been instructed to wear walking shoes and wear gloves, and, after we had been dressed in our PPE – personal protective equipment – of hard hats and hi-viz jackets, the eight of us were taken outside to the rear of the building, where Darren and Richard explained that Splitlath had been contracted to take out eight old windows and refit eight new ones, as well as checking for blown stonework and pointing.

As they carried out their work, they passed on to the architect any items they discovered which they felt needed or would need attention, but could themselves only carry out the work they had been contracted for as set out in the specification.

The windows taken out had been made from soft wood, much of which was rotten, and were being replaced by Entandrophragma cylindricum, commonly known as Sapele, a hard wood from a tree native to tropical Africa.  Hard wood has been chosen for these very large windows in order to cut down on future maintenance.

We climbed up the first ladder attached to the scaffolding and stood by the first window we came to.  It was explained to us that what we had thought was one window was in fact four sections bolted together, each of which was lifted in position by a hoist.  If the window had been one entire window it would have required a crane to lift it.  Each window mirrors another window of coloured glass on the inside of the building, thus effectively creating a secondary glazed window.

After the sections are bolted together to make the one window, the glass is inserted, putty and glazing tape added, and then, 10 days later, the glazing bars are painted;  the ten day wait is to  ensure that the putty is hard enough to take the paint without any problems.  At the back of the sections joins, there is a strip of plyboard to stop any damage should there be penetration by rain at some future date.

We climbed further ladders to the top of the building, almost level with the lantern on top of the cupola.  At this level we could touch the plastic guttering and look at the ugly and very heavy interlocking concrete roof tiles, which have replaced what was probably a much lighter-weight slate roof. It is obvious that there is damage to the felt and there has been some water staining to the stone.

Once we returned to ground level, we went inside the building to see the work Splitlath have carried out to the rotunda staircase which is a staircase entrance to the chapel from Bedford Street. They have replastered the wall and added a new stair rail to parts.

From the stair turret we went into the chapel, which is an incredible part of the building.  Please can I impress upon members of the Society, and their friends, if they have never seen this chapel, please make an effort to do so.  It is a Stroud jewel.

At the end of the tour we went downstairs to the church hall where Kay, the caretaker and other members of the congregation were waiting to serve us tea, coffee and biscuits, and to get us to fill in the inevitable feedback form.

The whole event was a superb tour and we can’t thank Darren and Richard enough for giving up their Saturday afternoon, as well as thanking the members of the congregation who were kindness personified.  They are trying to get the building known to the people of Stroud.  The light and airy church hall is a really good location for talks and suchlike and, besides being well equipped, is very reasonably priced for hire; there is a further small room, the Jubilee Room which contains a small kitchen and which is suitable for smaller meetings, again very reasonably priced for hire.

Pat Harper

“The Fight for Beauty: Our Path to a Better Future”

An inspiring talk was given to Stroud Civic Society on Thursday 5th April by Dame Fiona Reynolds: ”The Fight for Beauty: Our Path to a Better Future”

Juliet Shipman, Chairwoman of the Stroud Civic Society, secured yet another fine venue that entailed Members and friends driving beside banks of primroses, newly ploughed fields and greening trees before walking across to Syde Manor’s Tythe Barn.

Under the roof of this splendidly converted barn our speaker began her passionate defence of the word ‘Beauty’. After a career working for the countryside it was a word never used by politicians or planners, whose talk is of biodiversity, ecosystem services, natural capital and sustainable development – all words that centre on economy and measured values.

An extract from Geoffrey Chaucer’s celebration of Spring in England

Yet the notion of ‘beauty’ is recognised, Dame Fiona added, as endemic to humankind’s well being from Geoffrey Chaucer’s celebration of Spring in ‘Engelond’: ‘Whan that Aprile with his shoures sweet [in] the younge sonne’, to John Ruskin writing of ‘the real meaning of the word Beautiful [as] turn[ing] the human soul from gazing upon itself.’ Indeed Ruskin’s vision, as our Speaker, Director General of The National Trust until 2012, added, was part of the latter’s Act which was established to preserve ‘lands…( including buildings) of beauty or historical interest.’

London Going out of Town or the March of Bricks and Mortar, 1829

Dame Fiona moved us on to sympathise with George Cruikshank’s etchings entitled ‘London Going out of Town or the March of Bricks and Mortar’ (1829). However, it was a woman, Octavia Hill, who had inspired her most. Appalled by the sight of ragged children in London she started teaching children, and walking them out in the countryside to look for beauty. Ideas about protecting the countryside, keeping homes healthy and building for the future burgeoned until the First World War put a stop to them.

The Preservation of Rural England, 1926

However, battles continued to be fought, for example Patrick Abercrombe’s pamphlet ‘The Preservation of Rural England’ sparked the creation of The Council for the Preservation of Rural England in 1926, which vowed to protect England from ‘the lack of planning and the poor quality of much of what was built.’ The National Trust too feared the replacing of ‘Old Beauty’ with ‘modern ugliness’.

Sadly, Dame Fiona felt that from ‘then on the road was pretty much downhill’. However, she felt Michael Gove’s recent calls for views on a plastic bottle deposit return scheme were hopeful. Awful though, were her lists of hedge and common insect losses. Battles over coast lines, mayhem caused by roads which follow the cheapest route regardless of sites of special scientific interest or local needs. ‘No-one cares’, she added, it’s all driven by money which means planning is the most important policy we have. However, it is not about saying ‘No!’, but she has fought for years to oppose the idea that the default answer is ‘Yes!’ ‘That’s awful, she added, there needs to be a balance; we want intelligent planning.’ Cambridge, Dame Fiona feels, shows urban flats can be beautiful. Newcastle city centre too and more locally Cirencester. GDP must not be the Holy Grail. Dame Fiona drew her talk to a close with mention of her pamphlet ’50 things to do before you’re 11 3/4′ adding that children only care about what they experience and habits are engrained by the age of 7.

Guided by Juliet Shipman, many questions followed,, showing that Dame Fiona’s fire had seriously inflamed her audience. Tim Mars while thanking her taking a near quote from Wilde said he ‘felt like a man lying in the gutter looking at the stars’, I suspect many of us shared his feeling.