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

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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.

A Pictorial Journey of a Selection of Gloucestershire’s Most Crafted Medieval Churches – known and unknown

A report on our event  in Cirencester Church on 7th March, when Dr Steven Blake presented his talk on Gloucestershire’s Medieval Churches.

Cirencester Parish Church, founded around 1120, made a perfect backcloth for Dr Blake’s talk. As members of the Civic Society and visitors entered the church, eyes swept the huge space, over to the magnificent organ and on up to the fan vaulting. One couldn’t help wondering, as the warm all-round glow of underfloor heating greeted us on an icy evening, what the clothier financiers and churchgoers originally in charge of this fine medieval town church would think. Dr Blake drew gasps from his 21st century audience when he added that maintaining this magical building now costs £8,500 a day!

The tympanum at Ruardean (click the picture for more info – courtesy of Philip Wilkinson’s blog)

We settled quickly with a comforting glass of wine, as our speaker’s first slide sprang up – a church near the west bank of the Severn 12th century Staunton Church, one of many less familiar churches that would appear, crystal clear on the church’s large screen. Next came Pauntley and Ruardean – the latter with its wonderful Tympanum carving of St George and the Dragon on the south door. Another tympanum, this time showing the tree of life, at Dymock, and many more wonderful sculptures in the area were, Dr Blake, noted, ample proof of a Cotswold school of sculpture, most probably with Dymock at its centre.

Wall paintings at Kempley Church – click the picture for more info from English Heritage

This idea of an an artistic centre in the Cotswolds seemed increasingly likely as we moved on to marvel at nearby 12th century Kempley Church with its 13th century tower, and its stunning 12th and 14th century wall paintings. Dr Blake then moved on to the glorious churches of the Cotswold high plateau and river vales. Outstanding for Dr Blake was Elkstone Church’s Norman corbel table with its carved heads, centaur and griffin and its font carved with virtues and vices. All treasures indeed.

Part of the corbel table at Elkstone church, click the picture for more info from Great English Churches.

One of the demons in the stained-glass at Fairford – click the picture for more information from Wikipedia

These glorious depictions of scenes from the bible, represent, as Dr Blake called them, the poor man’s Bible for largely illiterate people. Even today, how better illustrate the ideas, say behind Christopher Marlowe’s play ”Doctor Faustus”, than to show students an illustration from Fairford Church’s medieval windows of a hideous Demon with evil glowing eyes, torn, twisted teeth and bloody gums, with terrified people falling into hell! All these rich images reveal a rich feast of largely anonymous artists’ work, offered most notably to the glory of God.

Dr Blake moved us on to wonderful visions of churches and their striking towers, all points of navigation in the landscape. Owlpen Church and Manor appeared in a painterly image of buildings encased in striking stretches of carved topiary green. Very similar was Lasborough Manor and St. Mary’s Church, also surrounded on every side by green woodlands.

After questions had been invited and answered, Tim Mars chose to make a dignified ascent heavenward to give his vote of thanks from the medieval pulpit, very fittingly a rare and finely-worked wine glass design, to much humorous applause.

We left carrying Dr Blake’s list of favourite medieval churches. Many of us, no doubt, already set on visiting one or two of those tucked away, as yet, undiscovered treasures.

And we all agreed that our Chairwoman Juliet Shipman had excelled herself in organising the event.

Fone Revive shopfront success!

Back in July we reported on the shop front controversy in Stroud High Street, where Fone Revive had erected a new shop front inappropriate to the Conservation Area, without permission. They had applied for retrospective planning permission but this was turned down.  You can read our views on this on our news posting here:

The good news is that Fone Revive have now removed the inappropriate frontage and have re-used the original shop front that was hidden behind.  You can see before and after pictures below:

Before (new shop front put up without planning permission):

After (following refusal of retrospective planning permission, so now using the original design again):