The local woollen cloth industry evolved throughout the period between the Middle Ages and the nineteenth century. Initially beside the streams small fulling mills pounded the broadcloth woven by the handloom weavers. Their houses were scattered on the hillsides above. The sites of over 150 mills have been identified, two of them still produce high quality cloth.
Mill buildings still remain - many are now protexted as 'listed', but converted to new uses, including housing, workshops, offices, restaurants etc. Even the District Council Offices are housed in Ebley Mill and the building has become something of a 'flagship' since receiving accolades for its sensitive conversion. Former mills survive at:
Chalford (Golden) Valley
Kingswood near Wotton-under-Edge.
Historic towns such as Dursley, Minchinhampton, Painswick and Wotton under Edge prospered in the early centuries but were overtaken by Chalford, Nailsworth and Stroud as industrial centres. The former offer a superb ‘upstairs-downstairs’ snapshot of the period … blending modest terraced weavers’ cottages with the grand houses of the wealthy. Nailsworth and Stroud grew into towns in their own right.
At its height the industry attracted iron foundries supplying machinery to the mills. This resulted in the invention of the rotary lawnmower, inspired by a machine that crops the surface of the cloth into the perfect smoothness required of a snooker cloth. Decline attracted other industries into the empty mills so once silk was processed here, pins were made and Chalford boasted the largest walking stick factory in the world.
Dick Whittington owned an estate here but it was later clothiers who built the attractive houses that are scattered in the towns and villages and endowed beautiful ‘wool’ churches. The last, Selsley Church was built, on the instruction of Sir Samuel Stephens Marling, in the style of an Austrian church he much admired – and the stained glass windows were the first ever ecclesiastical commission carried out by William Morris and his colleagues.
For more information on the textile industry visit the Stroudwater Textile Trust website; for industrial archaeology in the Stroud District, visit the GSIA website or, for details about the Stroudwater Navigation & Thames Severn Canal, and the work of the Cotswolds Canal Trust
For a flavour of Stroud's past, present and future visit the Digital Stroud Website.