Welcome to Stroud Local History Society
BIRTH OF A SOCIETY
by Alan Morley, formerly Divisional Librarian, Stroud – published by SLHS in 2000 in the Millennium Project, “A Millennium Miscellany” – a collection of articles written by Stroud Local History Society members
There is nothing new about local history societies. The only surprise was that in 1984 Stroud did not have one. There were others interested in Stroud, such as the Civic Society, the Museum Association and the Stroud Preservation Trust, but local history? No one had ever got round to it.
This was surprising for there was certainly enough interest. Any talk arranged at the Stroud Library that had a local history flavour was bound to be good “box office”. Neighbouring towns and villages often had flourishing societies, but appeared to be somewhat insular. There seemed to be a need, not only to do something for Stroud, but, also, to extend it to the Stroud district as a whole.
The time was ripe. There had just been a minor reorganisation at the Stroud Library, during which we had moved an underused Teenage Library and had shifted into the room that was now available for the Local Collection, previously housed in the Reference Library. Funds were found to buy a microfilm reader and gradually, penny pinchingly, the purchase was begun of the early Stroud newspapers on microfilm.
Having an attractive local studies room, it seemed criminal not to exploit it, and so the Stroud Library Local History Society (as it was then named) was conceived. There was a two-fold aim, first to foster an interest in the area’s local history and to add to the material on it. More important, it was hoped that members would be encouraged to work actively on projects concerning the locality. Whether they were proposed by the new society’s committee or were individual research seemed immaterial.
On 13 December, 1984, a meeting was held in the Stroud Library of those who might be interested. Over sixty people came, while thirty more had filled in slips saying that they liked the idea but were unable to attend on that particular night. It was a heady start. Those who attended promised unanimous support and nearly all joined before they left that night. That, together with the promises received, gave an initial membership of ninety plus.
The Society’s first chairman was Mrs Betty Mills (later, of course, its President), and, after a few words of welcome from her, I tentatively outlined what I hoped the society would be and do. I had brought with me a “mascot” – a stuffed woolly toy lamb. I explained that, as wool was the basis for the district’s prosperity, a sheep logo would be most appropriate and, when I had seen “Larry” on an RSPCA gift stall outside the Sub rooms only that lunchtime, it had seemed a good omen. It was, though I have no idea what happened to “Larry” after that. He must have become the Society’s first casualty!
I assumed that the new society would be based on the Stroud library and its local resources and, although part of its programme would be a series of talks and visits to sites of historical interest, it was hoped that members would also give their time and expertise in working on local projects.
In summing up, Mrs Mills made the same point, saying “If the Society is only a passive one where members only attend lectures, then it will die.”
It was always intended that the society should be run by its membership and not by “the library” and I felt it to be excellently served by its first committee, which was Betty Mills as chairman, myself as secretary and Jack Burr as hon. treasurer. In addition, there were Maureen Anderson, Jim Fawlk and Joan Tucker. Lionel Walrond represented the Museum Association and Peter Griffin the Mid. Glos. Technical College. I am happy to see several of those names among the present membership.
The first three events, all of which were very well attended, were Miss Pat Pinnell, headteacher of Sapperton Primary school, who, with the help of her pupils, had researched the history of their village. She subsequently wrote an excellent book* about it. Stanley Gardiner and Lionel Padin gave one of their enormously popular slides shows. It was among their last and we called it “Almost a Swan Song”. The third was a members’ evening, showing how home computers could be used in local history projects. 14 years ago that was innovative and something of a novelty for most of us!
Outdoor meetings in the first year included house history with Lionel Walrond taking us over an old cottage that was being restored and a visit to Bagendon Iron Age fort with Dr John Bestwick as expert guide.
At the end of 1986 I took early retirement, which coincided with a major reorganisation in the Gloucestershire County Library, and, in 1987, I moved to Trowbridge and my active association with the Society ended, although I am still a member and take a keen interest in all that it does. I make no apology for the fact that the society was born under the aegis of the County Library and I am grateful for the support that I received from Bernard Stradling, who was then County Librarian. To have started such a society from scratch with no initial “home”, funding, publicity or resources would have been a daunting task indeed and I am glad that the Society’s relationship with the library remains a cordial one.
But, as Jack Burr, who was treasurer, discovered, the financial “straightjacket” imposed by local government audit became too restrictive and he tells me that he breathed a sigh of relief when the committee decided to break away from the control of its library “parent” and hold its meetings in the Old Town Hall. It survived and has gone from strength to strength.
I will always be proud that I was the Society’s “man midwife” and that it has grown into a healthy adolescent.
*”Miss Pinnell”. A Village Heritage. Alan Sutton, 1986