a research resource from Stroud Local History Society
Research note by Wilf Merrett Copyright
First published in ‘A Millennium Miscellany’ in 2000 by Stroud Local History Society
Motorists avoiding Stroud town centre by using the so-called “rat-run” between Lansdown and Parliament Street are probably unaware of how much this area has changed in living memory.
Belle Vue Road, (that is the thoroughfare running from Church Street past the terrace as far as Leazes pitch) was, until the late 1950s a relatively quiet backwater despite being only a few minutes walk from the shops. Admittedly its peace was disturbed for short periods during the day by workers hurrying down to Holloway’s factory and by schoolboys meandering to the nearby council school, but otherwise traffic was light and children could play on the road in comparative safety.
Belle Vue Road was constructed c.1870 on land made available for development that had originally belonged to Mr. Joseph Grazebrook. This gentleman had previously built the long terrace of thirty workmen’s cottages that gave Brickrow (previously a continuation of Church Street) its name. The area was known as Ryeleaze and the 1885 Ordnance Survey map refers to these humble habitations as Ryeleaze Place. The open space to the rear currently occupied by Stroud Valley School was designated “fair ground”.
Unlike many local residential roads, Belle Vue was relatively wide with dual pavements on the hilly section, and a single pavement continuing beyond the terrace as far as Leazes pitch. A steep narrow road known as Ryeleaze Road linked Belle Vue with Tower Hill (Parliament Street), the flat section at the top being inexplicably called “The Market”.
Belle Vue Terrace was built by John Harper c.1878, the adjacent Garfield Villa a few years later and probably named after John Garfield an eminent American president who was assassinated in 1881. Priory House and Whelford House, two large semi detached houses on the opposite side of the road would also have been built during this period, the only other houses then standing being two old cottages subsequently replaced by “The Gables” and “Ryeleaze”, a small converted stable, still remaining just above Stroud Valley School.
The year 1884 saw the completion of Church Street (now Stroud Valley) Council School and caretaker’s house on the “fair
ground” site. Presided over by the much respected and feared Mr. Doxsey between 1910 and 1950, it produced some good sportsmen despite the absence of a playing field, and many pupils were introduced to the “joys” of gardening under the headmaster’s watchful eye whilst trimming the lawn or tending the vegetable patch behind the school.
Highfield Lodge, a substantial late Victorian residence approached by a sort of driveway on the brow of the hill was occupied for many years by Mr. H. North, the wellknown local chemist. Its appearance was not improved pre-war, when bay windows were added and roughcast covered its mellow brickwork. The adjacent pairs of semi detached houses known as Grange View Villas and Grove Villas were built c.1911 by Mr. Beavis, the Rodborough builder, and between these houses and Highfield Lodge a narrow pathway gave access to Tower House.
Tower House, a stone residence of some architectural merit, could also be reached from Tower Hill but strangely had no vehicular access. Its large garden stretched as far down as the old reservoir constructed in 1764 by Benjamin Grazebrook to provide the town with water from Gainey’s Well. Surrounded by houses and private land, few local residents knew of the existence of the reservoir. Tower House had once been occupied by Mr. Opie Rodway, a local draper and philanthropist. This gentleman, assisted by his loyal housekeeper Sarah Bonney, would often distribute food and other comforts to the needy in the poorer quarters of the town. He was also responsible for the erection of the People’s hall in Tower Hill, providing for the moral edification of the “lower orders”.
Tower House, like Highfield Lodge was demolished prior to the building of the Stroud Police Headquarters and Nos. 1 and 2 Grange View were similarly destroyed in the 1970’s for road improvements. I was particularly saddened by the loss of No.2 Grange View, as this had been my birthplace and home for the first 28 years of my life. The garden had contained a large studio erected by my father in 1923 enabling him to continue his photographic business on a part time basis. This building apparently contravened a restrictive covenant in the deeds prohibiting the erection of any building in the back garden over a certain height. Fortunately the matter was settled amicably, my father acknowledging his error by paying the owner of Belle Vue House (on whose land the 4 houses had been built) a token amount of 1s. per annum.
Belle Vue House, a handsome stone built and slated residence c.1830 was approached from the top of Ryeleaze Road by a tree lined driveway. Mrs. Bannister, the owner in my day, lived in some style with lady companion, maid and gardener handyman. She also owned a paddock between her garden and Belle Vue Road in which flocks of sheep spent their last days before being driven to Farrs Lane (off Nelson Street) for slaughter. I have often wondered why such a fine residence was built in close proximity to some of the least desirable slum property in the town! Sadly the house was not listed and a few years ago was demolished to make way for a small development of starter homes.
Belle Vue Terrace comprises 13 houses and now some 50 years later I can still remember the names of virtually all their occupants. Amongst them were several Salvationists and they together with their band would meet up in the road on Sunday mornings for a short service and hymn before marching to their citadel in Acre Street.
Priory House and Whelford House already referred to were originally identical, but the Gardners, proprietors of Priory House Nurseries nearby, had enhanced their property by adding a music room whilst the side entrance embellished with terra cotta lions afforded a glimpse of exotic palm trees and yuccas in the garden beyond. During the 1930’s the business passed to the son Alfred Gardner who lived at The Gables and whose activities included keeping a small herd of Guernsey cattle.
Standing at the end of the road looking across the steep hedge lined Leazes pitch you were immediately aware of the transition from the urban to the rural. Now the green fields and trees and that picturesque herd of cattle have succumbed to urban sprawl, and even The Gables has been replaced by an uncompromising brick development. I feel privileged to have lived for so many years in a road that really lived up to its name. I would rather not live there today!
A research note from the SLHS digital archive added Nov 2014. Copyright