Stroud is a small town in the Cotswolds. It has a local population of around 20,000 but the district contains close to 100,000 people. The town itself is set in the five valleys, along the river Frome (sometimes pronounced Froom), which although called a river is never wider than a few meters and is really more of a stream. The name “Stroud” means “Marshy land”, so presumably in times past it was a boggy, swampy area, although very little of this remains.
Stroud is in fact only the primary town in a large district of smaller parishes and villages, the entire area is approximately 175 square miles, containing the Five Valleys and all the surrounding hills. Principle areas include Rodborough (where I used to live), Selsley, Chalford, Dursley, Randwick, Bussage, Bisle, and Tetbury. The distance from Stroud itself ranges from 1 to 6 miles. Painswick is a slight exception since it is almost big enough to be a town in it’s own right but is about five miles away.
Stroud became a parish 703 years ago (1304), before that it was still part of the Bisle parish, however, parishioners were having trouble getting babies to the church for their Christening. It was because of this that Stroud was granted full Parish status.
Sometime in the 19th century certain “up and coming” towns were given special status, they were allowed to vote in two MPs to parliament, (this law has since been revoked). Towns included Manchester, Stoke-on-Trent and Stroud. Both Manchester and Stoke-on-Trent are now very large towns (in fact Manchester is a large city). However, due to the decline of the wool trade – upon which Stroud's wealth was built, it never lost the feel of a small country town.
Until recently, Stroud Town itself has a very dilapidated feel to it. There were pitifully few chain brands and, with nearby Cheltenham and Gloucester sucking much of the commerce away, relatively few independent places lasted long. In recent years however, the town has improved massively. Thanks to a council backed rejuvenation project new shops are opening all the time, including both brand names and independent places. An interesting example of the prevailing archetype is found at the top of the High Street. On the left is a modern Costa Coffee place, complete with sofas, art deco, and outside shaded seating. On the right, is the independent organic cafe Woodruff's – the sort of place where you can enter and ask for "a coffee" without having to recite a fifty-word list of instructions. On a summer's day both will be packed, the customers eyeing each other across the street with good natured rivalry. Another example of Stroud's recent improvements is the new central multiplex cinema, which although architecturally questionable, at least provides an incentive to stay in the town, rather than heading out to Gloucester to see a film.
Stroud is the sort of town that is attractive to couples wanting to settle down and as such it has a large and vibrant youth culture. Ranging from the chavs (or Casher's Green Massive as they would prefer you call them... I'll say no more) to a large collection of goths, emos and other alternative types. Even the adults are a strange mix of hippies and Tories. The atmosphere has led to a slightly continental street culture, helped along by the vast number of places to eat, indeed one person once said “I have never been to a town before in which the number of cafés is larger than the number of shops”. Whether this is true or not, Stroud does have a surprising amount, ranging from a Burger Star franchise, to a huge selection of chippies and takeaways to the ever growing collection of so-called gastro-pubs to small tea-shops and mini-restaurants scattered throughout the centre.
Just outside the shopping district there is Stratford Park, a large area of woodland and field, containing tennis courts, a playground, a museum and a leisure centre complete with a 1930s unheated outdoor pool, which despite being absolutely freezing, is the main social spot throughout the summer.
As for night life, Stroud is similar to almost any small town in the country. There are a number of pubs in the centre, and many more scattered around the district – something to cater to everyone, whether you want an old traditional country pub, or somewhere more central and modern. A couple of places also host live music. At any time there are between one and three clubs, open on various nights of the week and attracting various crowds, from rock nights at Riga to Drum and Bass at the Warehouse. However, since there is only a small student population, the age range tends towards 25s and over (with some under aged kids thrown in). There are also good links to Gloucester and Cheltenham which have a more city-ish feel to them.
Stroud is reasonably easy to get to, being well connected to both London, Paddington and Gloucester stations, the latter providing links to almost anywhere from Glasgow to Birmingham right down to Penzance. It is also just off the M5 at junction 13.