The History of Stonehouse

History of Stonehouse
The High Street

Stonehouse appears in William the Conqueror’s Domesday Book of 1086 under its Old English name “Stanhus” – so called, it is believed, because the Manor House was built of stone rather than the usual wattle and daub. Stonehouse Court now stands at the Manor House site next to St Cyr’s Church by the Stroudwater Canal and the River Frome.

In medieval times the Manor lands included a great deer park, a vineyard, and the manor corn mill at Lower Mill. Upper Mill also probably existed in 1086, and later became a cloth mill, joined by several others including Bond’s Mill. These mills continue today as commercial centres.

St Cyr’s Church is one of the oldest buildings in Stonehouse, the tower dating from the 14th century.The churchyard contains an impressive array of 17th and 18th century monuments

The woollen industry was important to Stonehouse people, first as producers of wool and later as experts in textiles. The small mills of the 17th and 18th century supported work at home for the growing population of the village, later changing to a factory system. As the textile industry declined, Stonehouse remained a thriving place as smaller businesses of every type took over.

Stonehouse is in an ideal position for trade having a river, canal and railway close at hand. The Stonehouse Brick and Tile Company was established in 1890, gradually slicing away one side of Doverow Hill, and remained an important employer for some 70 years. The Second World War brought the engineering companies, Hoffmann’s and Sperry Gyroscope, which heralded a new modern industrial estate, based at the western edge of the town, now near the M5 motorway.

Despite the growth of industry, Stonehouse remains an attractive rural town close to beautiful countryside. Its wide High Street contains a number of historic buildings from old coaching inns to the Post Office built of local brick in 1933. It is but a few minutes’ walk to experience the delights of rivers, woods and hills surrounding our historic town.

To find out more about the history of Stonehouse and some of the walks around the area, visit the Stonehouse History Group website

The High Street

Stonehouse possibly has pre-Roman origins on and around the site of Stonehouse Court and St Cyr’s Church. The manor of Stanhus is mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086. The High Street was part of an ancient route from the Thames valley to the River Severn. The medieval village developed along this road to create today’s High Street, running up the east side of the main manor farm and park. 

In 1558 there were about a dozen houses along the road from Regent Street to the railway bridge, all with some land, and enjoying a broad roadside manorial green. Remains of these old buildings can be seen in the Old Thatched Cottage (No 1 High Street), the Old Dairy (Apsley House), the High Street Medical Centre (the old Crown and Anchor Hotel), the Tudor Tandoori, sites at 40 and 42-48 High Street, the Fishing Shop, and the predecessor of the Old Vicarage in Quietways. Some more cottages were added before 1600, forerunners of the Woolpack Inn and of houses near the War Memorial Green.

The earliest photograph of Stonehouse that we have shows the Tudor House in 1864

A similar view of the Tudor House (now Tudor Tandoori) in 2015

In the seventeenth century Orchard House was built, and new houses appeared by the Green nearby, and next to both the Crown and Anchor and Apsley House.

In 1683 a right to hold a fair was granted, perhaps centred on a ‘fairs barn’ on the site of the later Globe Inn, built in 1806. By 1765, the fairs were being held on 1 May and 10 October and cattle and cheese were the main items sold.

The War Memorial Green c1925 showing the Globe Inn behind

During the eighteenth century the manor allowed some building on the Green at the side of the street, such as the sites of Barnard Parade and the Post Office, and the row from the bottom of Queen’s Road to Lloyds Bank. Some gaps between older buildings were filled, and the future Woolpack Inn grew from a barn into a waggoning base and butchers’ premises. A school opened at Orchard House in 1775, relocated in Elm Road in1832 (now Stonehouse Park Infant School). The High Street had been turnpiked in 1726, and in about 1780 the Bath Coach began to run through Stonehouse, leading to a coaching inn developing at the Crown and Anchor, complete with assembly rooms.

Upper High Street c1900 showing Orchard House to the centre right and 19th century buildings beyond

In 1809 the manor began to sell pieces of the green outright, including the sites of Park House and its neighbours as far as the railway bridge. Barclays Bank, and all the buildings between Tudor Tandoori and the Woolpack, first appeared in about 1820 to 1830. In 1845 the GWR railway line was opened and houses between the Globe and the Square, and on the site of Bridge Garage, were removed to make space for the railway bridge which carries the line over the road.

The Congregational Chapel was built in 1827 on the west side of the Street. It was destroyed by fire in 1967 and replaced by three shops which have been occupied by a range of services from banks to hairdressers. Some of the old grave stones remain in the Rest Garden behind the shops. In 1866 a Church of England institute with a reading-room, lecture hall, library, and meeting-room was opened in the High Street near the Tudor House.

Two impressive public buildings stand out. The old Police Station and Petty Sessional Court, built in 1890 in the centre of town, now houses a guitar shop and communications company. The Post Office, built from Stonehouse bricks in 1933, was bought by the Town Council in 2003. Postal services remain in one half of the building, with the sorting office converted into a Town Hall.

The cloth industry was the main employer from the 15th to the 19th centuries, but Stonehouse has always been home to butchers, bakers, and a variety of other trades and crafts. Records show that in 1299 a smith, carpenter, cooper, and shoemaker were working in Stonehouse. In 1840 there were two blacksmith’s shops near the Woolpack Inn. By 1856 there were four shoemakers. In the 20th century there was still a blacksmith, carpenter and shoemaker in the village.

In Victorian times there were wheelwrights, and a cabinet-maker. There were candle-makers, tailors, cloth merchants and drapers, watchmakers and clockmakers and a tinplate worker. There were thatchers and masons: a local mason worked on the rebuilding of St Cyr’s Church in 1854. Withies for basket-making were grown in several places in the parish in 1840, and there were basketmakers until c.1906. Brewing beer was a popular trade and there were two malt-houses in the main street in 1840. From the 14 pubs in Stonehouse in1901, the only two remaining, The Woolpack and The Globe, are at either end of High Street.

 In 1906 a former malt-house at Apsley House was bought by a dairy company which designed new types of cheeses and hoped to promote the eating of cheese as a substitute for meat. This became the Severn Valley Dairy, which served the town until 1975. In about 1920 C.L. Smith set up the Severn Valley Fruit Company making bottled fruits and jams which stayed in business until the middle of the 20th century. Hillier’s Bacon Curing Co was in a shop in the centre of town. The first Co-op opened in 1886 and remained an important part of the town until this day, taking over an old garage in the centre of town in 1971.

A busy High Street c1900. The Co-op on the left, Gardiner’s Cycle Works (later to become Gardiner’s garage) and the Tudor House in the centre

By the turn of the 20th century the Parish Council had taken over the care of the greens. Old shops were demolished between the Globe and the Crown and Anchor and the willow tree planted in 1921. The War Memorial was dedicated in 1919. In later years the wall around the Green was built and the memorial stone commemorating 50 years of peace 1945 -1995 was put in place. Trees were planted along the edges of the roads and kerbs put in. A town clock was donated by Fred Rowbotham and placed by the Police Station (later moved in front of the Post Office). In 2000 the Millennium Stone was erected in the centre of High Street to represent both the history of the town and a doorway to the new Millennium.

Central High Street 1950s. The garage was demolished in 1971 for a new co-op building

The High Street we see today

 The latter half of the 20th century saw the rise of the takeaway food outlet with three fish and chip shops and later Indian, Chinese, pizzas, kebabs and many more different foods available. Different cafes and restaurants have come and gone, some with juke boxes and slot machines, the latest with awnings and tables on the street. Charity shops are also a relatively new innovation with at least four along the street.

The High Street still retains a wide range of businesses even though the traditional craftsmen are harder to find. We still have the butcher, the baker and the greengrocer. You can still find all types of homewares and electrical goods including computers. There are doctors, dentists, opticians, hairdressers and beauticians. We have a specialist fishing shop and a bike shop.

The 21st century has seen developments in the road system with traffic calming measures put in place to try to cope with the growing number of cars and lorries travelling through the town. Extra parking spaces on the street have been created in addition to the main car park. New trees and flower beds have been planted. Great efforts have been made to make High Street an attractive place to visit, with the town being awarded a silver medal in Britain in Bloom 2015.

Special thanks goes to Vicki Walker and the Stonehouse History Group for providing the content for this section of our website. You can find out more about the history of Stonehouse by going to the Stonehouse History Group’s website 

Green Spaces

Oldends Lane Playing Field

History: In the 1930s there were three separate fields located between the two railway lines next to Oldends Lane. One small field had already been bought by the National Playing Fields Association. During WW2 this was taken over by the Gloucestershire War Agricultural Committee. After the war this land was leased to the council for a playing field. In the 1960s the council bought another large field (previously owned by J.C.C. Kimmins) and finally the last small field to combine into Oldends Lane Playing Field.

Laburnum Recreation Ground

History: In 1919 the Parish Council wanted to acquire a field to serve as a recreation ground for the people of Stonehouse as a Memorial for the First World War. The Laburnum Field was bought by Mr J.C.C. Kimmins, owner of Kimmins Mill, and donated to the Parish. He requested that public subscriptions should be collected to pay for its adaptation to a recreation ground and that the Parish Council should pay for its upkeep in the future. A trust was set up for this purpose. Later on the Council asked Mr Kimmins if he wanted any particular name for the Field but he declined the offer.

Stonehouse Football Club used to play there before Oldends Lane Football Ground was opened. All manner of fetes and shows have been held there during the past 100 years including Horticultural Shows, It’s a Knockout, Fancy Dress Competitions and the Summer Jolly.

Community Centre

History: In 1941/42 a British Restaurant was built in the corner of the Laburnum Recreation Ground (at the Co-Op end). In 1943 the Council was told that a recreational centre was to be built for war workers at the other end of the field, and the land was commandeered by the Government for that purpose. What is now known as the Community Centre was opened there on September 9th 1944. In 1946 a parish meeting had authorised the Council to take over the old recreational centre and, on December 14th, Stonehouse became the first Parish Council in the country to run a Community Centre. Overseeing activities at the Centre made great demands on the Council members and their clerk, leaving little time to pursue other matters. So in August 1948 the Council handed over control of the Community Centre to a Community Association.