Updated on 27 April, 2012 and reproduced on realson.co.uk
A Parish at the End of the Cotswolds
The ancient road from Cirencester to Stroud runs along the top of the western end of the Cotswold Hills. To the south, the green almost level fields stretch away whereas to the north the land drops away sharply down to the beautiful Chalford valley. Just past the picturesque village of Minchinhampton lies a crossroads known as Tom Long’s Post, reputedly the gallows or gibbet of a local highwayman. To one side lie Amberly and Nailsworth, to the other Brimscombe. Straight ahead however continues to the very edge of the escarpment and the Parish of Rodborough, where I grew up.
Rodborough is situated on the site of an ancient settlement1 on the outskirts of Stroud, the main town of the district. For the most part it is comprised of winding roads draped across Rodborough Hill, middle-class housing estates and, at its summit, the eighteenth century folly of Rodborough Fort, behind which lies a square mile or so of common land. The views from the common are spectacular. The land slopes down from an altitude of 180 meters, through the Golden Valley all the way to the River Severn. In the distance, the Black Mountains of Wales can be seen shrouded in mist on the horizon.
The main housing estates are built around the older farmsteads of Spillman’s Court, Stringer’s Farm (also spelled St Ringer’s Farm on some older documents and gravestones), with most development occurring during the early industrial revolution when the wool trade was thriving. Since the decline of industry, the parish has become primarily residential, the residents largely being employed in Stroud itself or else in Cheltenham or Gloucester which are within easy driving distance. The main housing estates date from the late nineteenth to mid twentieth centuries but there are still some houses older houses here and there dating back as early as the 1600s. There are a few small businesses, corner shops and the like scattered here and there, and the accountants Randal and Payne occupy the particularly beautiful Tudor-style mansion of Rodborough Court on Walkley Hill.
The community is served by two Primary Schools, Rodborough and Gastrells, the latter of which I attended. It is perhaps notable for its unusual design, being literally built into the side of the hill.2 There are also two churches, the 16th century Church of St Mary Magdelyn, which became Rodborough’s Parish Church in 18403 and Rodborough Tabernacle founded as a non-conformist congregation in the eighteenth century and now a part of the United Reformed Church.4
There is, naturally, a scattering of pubs, including the almost inaccessible King’s Head, which perches on the edge of the steep Bowl Hill overlooking Woodchester. The Bear of Rodborough is also notable; opened in 1751, it served the old turnpike road to Cirencester and was one of only two ale houses permitted to remain open in the parish after a temperance campaign in 1788.5 It is allegedly named after the bear baiting which took place nearby and they possess a stuffed grizzly bear which sometimes stands outside the entrance on summer evenings.
The time to visit Rodborough is in the late summer when the sun’s setting. There is a smell of grass in the air, the light is bright and golden, and you can watch the shadows of the Randwick Hill gradually lengthening over Stroud far below as the sun sinks. By night, hundreds of villages and towns are blazes of streetlights stretching like constellations into the distance.
1 http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=19118 provides a reasonably extensive history of the parish.
2 I think of it as being new and modern but it occurs to me that the building actually now approaching its twentieth anniversary! It was opened in July 1992 by the children’s author Dick King Smith.
5op. cit. n.1