Some Town History

Here is a brief rundown of the history of Nailsworth (sounds like the title to a film). I have extracted the data from various sources as I am not 500 years old, and if I were 500 years old, my memory would be well past it. My ability to create a web page would also be in some doubt, as it is now...

Incidentally, if you missed them there are two maps of Nailsworth printed in 1884 in the maps section of the web site, while at the end of this text I have listed any publications that might be of interest.

During the 8th Century Nailsworth was known as Negelsleag and was one of the bounds of a Woodchester estate. Habitation was recorded in the later 12th century, with the chief settlement growing around the meeting place of the valleys. The settlement by 1663 was large enough to be regarded as a hamlet, but remained in two distinct groups of houses. These were Lower Nailsworth located at the junction of the Avening and Horsley streams, while Upper Nailsworth was further south where the old Tetbury road crossed the Horsley stream.

Today, on examination of many of the place names in and around Nailsworth, for example Hazel Wood, Harley Wood etc you would immediately notice the prevalence of the word 'Wood'. An exception to a name ending in wood is 'Frogmarsh' as in Frogmarsh Mill. My wise old friend from the 1500s tells me that there was a very good reason for these names, for it would seem that Nailsworth was situated in a deep and marshy valley, with forests of beech, ash, oak and sycamore thickly lining the hill sides.

If you went into the local estate agents and said 'I wish to buy a house of the finest quality' you would have been given the choice of a house made of rubble, timber or wattle-and-daub (mud and sticks). The only roads were the old pack-horse tracks, some of which are still usable today, The Ladder, up the side of the W being an example. Other old tracks are Dark Lane and Hazelwood Lane. Dark lane is now a proper road, although narrow and barred to motor vehicles it has a fine layer of the hard black stuff. It also has a a reputation for being haunted. A 'very tall man' has been seen at the bottom on more than one occasion... (If any readers have anything further to add to this send it in).

Hazelwood Lane on the other hand is nothing more than a stream bed that passes through the rather splendid Hazelwood. If you know Nailsworth, this lane comes out next to the Weighbridge pub.

As Nailsworth was not on the main route to anywhere it remained very isolated. Add to this the difficult terrain, and passers by would tend to do just that - pass it by. Remember, the main A46 to Bath did not arrive until 1790.

Moving on to 1750 the size of Nailsworth slowly started to grow. Nailsworth did not follow the route of many, farming whose methods had become much improved (the immediate terrain proving rather less than suitable). Instead it concentrated on the industry that had started to become established in the town, that of cloth manufacture. By selecting 'Old Mills' from the main menu, you will see a large list, most with photographs of many of the mills in this and nearby valleys. Now, remember that the A46 to Stroud did not exist yet, so the mill owners had to get their supplies and distribute the finished goods in and out of Nailsworth. There was no through road yet to Stroud so the journey was a long one. In 1786 to get a ton of coal from the canal at Dudbridge took a very interesting route, up Selsley Hill then along through North and South woodchester, down to Frogmarsh, then up again by Inchbrook to Forest Green and finally down Spring Hill. Some Journey.

Before 1780, if you had enough wealth you could take a six horse heavy carriage if the weather was good!

Many coaches (horse drawn) ran between Stroud and London and Stroud and Bristol, but these generally by-passed Nailsworth as it was not within easy distance. However some coaches did occasionally run between Bristol and Hampton which would sometimes turn off to visit Nailsworth. They would turn off the A46 at Tiltups End to follow the old track by Barton End to Shiptons Grave. They would then make the journey down through Hazel Wood to come out by the Weighbridge Inn. I have ridden my mountain bike down this track, and it would be very interesting to do this on a stage coach ! From here the coach would get to Hampton by heading up Iron Mills Hill, and then Well Hill. Iron Mills Hill looks as if it is the road opposite the Weighbridge that seems to be called 'New Road'.

A question, why is Shiptons Grave so named? Well, apparently it's named after a local man whos grave lies at the crossroads of Tetbury Lane. He was executed for stealing sheep to provide for a starving family.

Setting the controls of the time machine to 1880 we find the population of Nailsworth to be just over 2000. Gas lighting had been installed in the streets, The George Inn (opened in 1761), by now a well used Coaching Inn serving coaches from Bristol, Bath, Birmingham and Cheltenham had a stable block where the Memorial Clock now stands. The town had a railway, the SNR (Stonehouse and Nailsworth Railway) which opened in 1867 with the station located at the end/start of the line near Egypt Mill. A goods yard was located on a lower level to the station and formed part of the now Egypt Mill Hotel carpark.

In 1892, on December 22nd a train failed to stop at the station, and crashing through the buffers dropped ten feet onto a pile of coal in the station yard. Of the ten passengers, the only casualty was a broken leg. The image on the left shows a plate fixed to the embankment wall of the station at Dudbridge, Stroud showing the dates 1867 - 1969. Just beyond the station, in the Nailsworth direction (south) the line split to Nailsworth and Stroud. The Stroud section passing through the now Dudbridge housing estate. Part of the viaduct that linked it to Stroud station is still standing at Wallbridge, where small businesses have settled under its arches.

If anyone has any old photographs and or stories of the railway (and Nailsworth in general) and would like offer them for this web site, then please contact me using the email link on the left menu.

Full credit will always be given for any submitted material.

Nailsworth Timeline
1448 First evidence of the cloth industry
1500 Houses few and far between and made of rubble, timber or wattle and daub
1761 The George Inn had opened
1780 The Turnpike act granted Nailsworth permission to build the 'W'
1790 The A46 (as we now know it) was constructed
Pensile Road also ordered
1805 Two fire engines aquired by subscription
1819 Third fire engine added
1820 The george at Newmarket pub was open
1836 'Mechanics' institute founded but folded within a few years
1839 The Crown at Inchbrook pub was open
1822 The road to Avening constructed
1849 Mutual Improvement Society was founded
1850 Isaac Hillier built a new road up the Newmarket valley to improve access to his bacon-curing factory
1805 Subscription room built
1867 The Railway was opened connecting Nailsworth to Stonehouse
1876 Gas lighting installed in the streets
1892 Nailsworth became a civil parish
1894 Nailsworth U.D.C formed
1895 Nailsworth became a ecclesiastical parish
1910 Sewerage scheme added
1911 The Stroud Water Co had connected half the houses to the mains water supply
1915 Cinema opened
1921 Council estate constructed at Park Road
1923 Electricity arrives in the town
1996 Wind turbine arrives (just out of town)
2001 2nd September and the Old George Hotel is demolished after standing empty for many years
2002 17th July and the Old George Hotel is rebuilt into homes and retail units
2005 Old Hilliers factory is demolished, and new housing built along the Newmarket valley. New housing completed at the head of the cycle trail
2007 New Football Stadium at Forest Green opens. New housing is also being built on the grounds of the old club. A couple of houses behind the Tesco Express are demolished to make way for a large old peoples home. The Village Inn reopens as a pub with its own micro brewery using water from its own well. The Longfords Mill housing complex has people living in the new houses.

August 07: McCarthy and Stone make a start on the old peoples home in town behind the Tesco Express. There seemed to be a fair bit of opposition to this development, but it got the green light.

2008 The Goldwater Springs phase 4 development by Egypt Mill for 13 flats gets turned down unanimously by Stroud District Council.


Here are some snippets of information taken from a copy of an old Womens Institute document that was produced for a County Federation Competition during 1958/9. To see the whole thing Stroud library has a copy.

Nothing is in any particular order...

There were formerly twenty one Inns, of which seven were in the region of Market Street. It is small wonder therefore that there was much drunkenness. This was general throughout the country, as the Beer Act of 1830 allowed an unlimited number of public houses in any village. That this presented a major problem is shown by the existence of the Detention cell for Drunks, and by the fact that in 1865 Hillers opened a reading room for their workers, where various recreational facilities were provided, in the hope that it might tempt the men away from the public houses.

This is now an industry of the past, but it was one of the most important of the local ones through the 19th century, giving work to many local people. It was founded by Joseph and Samuel Clissold, and became a model of its kind. About 1875 a Brewery expert when writing a book on Noted Brewerys came to visit it and described it in full. Here is some of it...

The Brewery occupied most of the space between the present Brewery Lane and the Bristol Road, and the visitor notes the great range of buildings: The malt receiving rooms, the mashing floor, the copper house, and the cooling loft, this with louvred windows and an open cooler of 18ft square and two refrigerators of the newest pattern. 'The Noble fermenting room' measured 60ft square with 11 tuns each holding 47 barrels, and the most impressive building on the premises was the great vat cellar, a lofty chamber of 60ft in length and containing 24 vats for maturing beer. The water for the brewery was supplied by a deep well and a spring on the hillside yielding an inexhaustible supply of the finest water, and there were reservoirs at the top of Chestnut Hill. There were two large yards where the great brewery drays could load, and here were the cask washing and bottling sheds and a range of stables for the powerful carthorses. The firms maltings were a hundred yards away in Tetbury Lane and still exists as a furniture store. These had every new appliance for the screening of barley and malt. The document then goes on tell how wonderful the ales were etc etc.

and sausage making have long been a major industry in Nailsworth. In addition to Hilliers of Newmarket there is now a small bacon curing and sausage making factory close by Dunkirk Mills. The Hillier connection with bacon goes far back in time, for in the 18th century a Thomas Hillier was a pig-killer on Bunting Hill. Issac Hillier began the present business in Newmarket in 1819, and its development was so rapid that it was christened 'The Trade'. By 1815 he had built practically all the buildings still in use, and was sending his cured bacon to London by horse-drawn vehicles. The number of men then employed was about 70.

An 1865 account gives a vivid picture of the factory at Newmarket.
150 pigs a week came from the farms around, and another 350 from the Bristol market, many of these were shipped from Ireland. The pigs were sent by railway to Stonehouse, and then carted to Newmarket on four horsed wagons. Inside the building a host of white-smocked men were carrying through the various processes. Singeing was done by a jet of gas-air mixture, and the visitor described this as a striking piece of apparatus. The curing house was an enormous valt cut out of solid rock, and adjoining were two ice-houses storing 800 tons of ice.

Smoking was done in a two story building, the floor of which was an open iron lattice. The sides of bacon were hung in the top and a smouldering fire of sawdust and oaken billets was alight in the basement floor, three days and three nights bringing the process to perfection.

In the sausage room, loaves baked on the premises were amalgamated with the carefully spiced sausage meat, in a sausage machine which could produce 80lbs of material in Seven minutes. Another machine filled the skins.

Now (remember this is not now!) over 200 are employed and white overalls and white wellingtons when needed have succeeded the smocks. Slaughtering is far more humane and the number of pigs now dealt with weekly is between one and two thousand. From these about 60 tons of bacon and 25 tons of sausage are produced weekly, as well as pressed meats and thousands of dozens of pork pies.

As far as memories go back, the first Post Office here was in Market Street, next to the Clothiers Arms, and later for a time across the the street, and up to 1913 this was a Crown Office. The first telephone exchange, about 1912 was near by. In 1913 the Post Office moved to its present site in Fountain Street, with the telephone exchange above. As regards wireless, the Stroud P.O. confirms people's memories that the earliest licences for crystal sets would be issued about 1920, and the cost was then 10/-.

The Nailsworth Railway Co. was a private one, but the line was worked by the Midland. The first Railway Bill allowed the line through Dudbridge to Stonehouse, and the second extended it to Stroud. When our railway was being discussed by a committee of the Midland officials, it was stated that 'Nailsworth is a very important manufacturing town, and the line will prove of great advantage to the Midland Railway'.

The turning of the first sod of the new railway was the occasion of tremendous rejoicing in Nailsworth, on February the 22nd 1864. The two Nailsworth cannons! began firing before daybreak, and went on intermittently, till a late hour of the night. Houses and Mills were decorated most elaborately, with evergreen arches, mottos and flags some lit up at night by a large gas star which shone very beautifully. The sod was turned 'in the sight of thousands congregated in the road' by our MP Mr Horsman, who was escorted in procession from the Subscription Rooms. There were speaches, and an official dinner 'comprising every delicacy of the season', for 120 gentleman of the district, no doubt the share-holders... and it goes on!

There were disappointing delays over the construction of the railway, and it was opened, with no further ceremony in February 1867. The railway has since closed, and a cycle track now runs its course.

An E-Mail submission from Dennis Puffett (Australia)
I once worked for Edgar Saunders at a Butcher Shop in Market Street.
We bought our stock at the Gloucester Market on Monday mornings and it was delivered to the Nailsworth Railway Station (by train) on the afternoon of the same day.
We had holding paddocks behind the shop and halfway up Spring Hill on the left (This was also an orchard). Whichever paddock we took them to involved driving them out of the railway yards and over the bridge. Driving sheep and cattle up the main street was then a regular feature, it's a bit hard to imagine it happening these days.

Read how Nailsworth got its Christmas dinner in 1962. An E-Mail submission.

Publications relating to the area:
The Nailsworth and Stroud Branch (compulsory reading), by Colin G Maggs is published by The Oakwood Press and contains lots of information and photographs on the old railway branch line between Nailsworth and Dudbridge. It also has photographs of the link between Dudbridge and Stroud. An excellent book as the old branch line is now a cycle track / footpath, so it is still possible to trace the 'iron road' and visualise it as it once was. ISBN 0-85361-559-4

'A Portrait of Nailsworth', Revised Edition by Betty Mills. A truly excellent book that gives a detailed insight into the history (and social history) of Nailsworth. Items covered include the railway, education, the church, the wars, the George Hotel... the list goes on. Printed by a local printer, B.A. Hathaway.

'The Stroudwater Riots of 1825', is a small book compiled from historical records by John Loosley. It covers the general anger of the weavers as new machinery was introduced such as the flying shuttle that required one person instead of two to weave the broadcloth that the area is famous for. As this is a general collection of records, it's not a story as such, so some knowelege of the period will be required to fully understand what was happening. ISBN 0-9521149-0-9 Cost £3.80, 67 pages.

If you know of any local books that should be displayed here then please contact the site using the email link on the left hand side menu. Also, if you have any old photos of Nailsworth then please contact me. I'm sure that many of you ex-pats around the world must have some old pictures stashed away somewhere!

Sources: Longtree Hundred
Nailsworth from 1500 to 1900
Stroud and the five valleys in old photographs. ISBN 0 86299 015 7.

Disclaimer: This history information is as accurate as possible, but I cannot be held responsible for any inaccurate information! 

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