The History of Nailsworth in Gloucestershire

The clock tower in Nailsworth
The clock tower war memorial in Nailsworth.

Here is a rundown of the history of Nailsworth.

This article is fairly long but hopefully interesting. I wrote it some years ago based on various documents held in the reference section of Stroud library.

During the 8th Century Nailsworth was known as Negelsleag and was one of the bounds of a Woodchester estate. Habitation was recorded in the later 12th century, with the chief settlement growing around the meeting place of the valleys.

The settlement by 1663 was large enough to be regarded as a hamlet, but remained in two distinct groups of houses. These were Lower Nailsworth located at the junction of the Avening and Horsley streams, while Upper Nailsworth was further south where the old Tetbury road crossed the Horsley stream.

Many of the place names around Nailsworth end in wood, such as Hazle Wood and Harley Wood. There is also a place called Frogmarsh.

The reason is that Nailsworth was situated in a deep and marshy valley, with forests of beech, ash, oak and sycamore thickly lining the hill sides.

The only roads were the old pack-horse tracks, some of which are still usable today. The Ladder, a very steep track up the side of the W being an example.

Other old tracks are Dark Lane and Hazelwood Lane. Dark lane has a reputation for being haunted. A ‘very tall man’ has been seen at the bottom on more than one occasion..

Hazelwood Lane on the other hand is nothing more than a stream bed that passes through Hazelwood. If you know Nailsworth, this lane comes out next to the Weighbridge pub, on the Avening side of it.

As Nailsworth was not on the main route to anywhere it remained very isolated.
Add to this the difficult terrain, passers by would tend to do just that – pass it by. The main A46 did not arrive until 1790.

Moving on to 1750 the size of Nailsworth slowly started to grow.

Nailsworth did not follow the route of many, farming whose methods had become much improved (the immediate terrain proving rather less than suitable).

Instead it concentrated on the industry that had started to become established in the town, that of cloth manufacture. By selecting ‘Cloth Mills’ from the main menu, you will see a list of links to articles about the many old mills in the area, most with photographs.

As the A46 to Stroud did not yet exist the mill owners had to get their supplies and the finished goods in and out of Nailsworth. There was no through road yet to Stroud so the journey was a long one.

In 1786, to get a ton of coal from the canal at Dudbridge to Nailsworth took a long and interesting route. It went up Selsley Hill, then along through North and South woodchester, down to Frogmarsh, then up again by Inchbrook to Forest Green and finally down Spring Hill. Some Journey!

Before 1780, if you had the money you could take a six horse heavy carriage if the weather was good!

Many coaches (horse drawn) ran between Stroud and London and Stroud and Bristol, but these generally by-passed Nailsworth as it was not within easy distance.

However some coaches did occasionally run between Bristol and Hampton (the old name for Minchinhampton) which would sometimes turn off to visit Nailsworth.

They would turn off the A46 at Tiltups End to follow the old track by Barton End to Shiptons Grave. They would then make the journey down through Hazel Wood to come out by the Weighbridge Inn.

I’ve ridden my mountain bike down this track, and it would be very interesting to do this in a stage coach! From here the coach would get to Hampton by heading up Iron Mills Hill, and then Well Hill. Iron Mills Hill looks as if it’s the road opposite the Weighbridge pub that is now called ‘New Road’.

Why is Shiptons Grave so named? History says it’s named after a local man whos grave lies at the crossroads of Tetbury Lane. He was executed for stealing sheep to provide for a starving family.

Setting the controls of the time machine to 1880 we find the population of Nailsworth to be just over 2000. Gas lighting had been installed in the streets, The George Inn that opened in 1761 was by now a well used coaching inn serving coaches from Bristol, Bath, Birmingham and Cheltenham had a stable block where the Memorial Clock now stands.

The town had a railway, the SNR (Stonehouse and Nailsworth Railway) which opened in 1867 with the station located at the end / start of the line near Egypt Mill. The photo shows the station in around 1988 which is now a private residence.

Nailsworth Railway Station in 1988


Nailsworth Railway Station in about 1988

A goods yard was located on a lower level to the station and is now part of Egypt Mills car park.

In 1892 on December 22nd a train failed to stop at the station, and crashing through the buffers dropped ten feet onto a pile of coal in the station yard.

Of the ten passengers, the only casualty was a broken leg.

At Dudbridge, the line had a branch that went to Stroud through what is now the Dudbridge housing estate. Stroud station is a fair bit higher than the line at Dudbridge so the final approach to Stroud involved a viaduct at Wallbridge, part of which is still standing and is home to a number of small businesses under its arches.

electronics repair services in Nailsworth

Nailsworth Timeline
1448 First evidence of the cloth industry. See the Iron Mills page for info on a medieval iron works here.

1500 Houses few and far between and made of rubble, timber or wattle and daub.

1761 The George Inn had opened.

1780 The Turnpike act granted Nailsworth permission to build the ‘W’.

1790 The A46 (as we now know it) was constructed. Pensile Road also ordered.

1805 Two fire engines acquired by subscription.

1819 Third fire engine added.

1820 The George at Newmarket pub was open.

1836 ‘Mechanics’ institute founded but folded within a few years.

1839 The Crown at Inchbrook pub was open. This has since closed and has been converted to housing.

1822 The road to Avening constructed.

1849 Mutual Improvement Society was founded.

1850 Isaac Hillier built a new road up the Newmarket valley to improve access to his bacon-curing factory.

1805 Subscription room built.

1867 The Railway was opened connecting Nailsworth to Stonehouse.

1876 Gas lighting installed in the streets.

1892 Nailsworth became a civil parish.

1894 Nailsworth U.D.C formed.

1895 Nailsworth became a ecclesiastical parish.

1910 Sewerage scheme added.

1911 The Stroud Water Co had connected half the houses to the mains water supply.

1915 Cinema opened.

1921 Council estate constructed at Park Road.

1923 Electricity arrives in the town.

1996 Wind turbine put up on Tinkley Lane (between Forest Green and Nympsfield).

2001 2nd September and the Old George Hotel is demolished after standing empty for many years.

2002 17th July and the Old George Hotel is rebuilt into homes and retail units.

2005 Old Hilliers factory is demolished, and new housing built along the Newmarket valley. New housing completed at the head of the cycle trail.

2007 New Football Stadium at Forest Green opens. New housing is also being built on the grounds of the old club. A couple of houses behind the Tesco Express are demolished to make way for retirement flats. The Village Inn reopens as a pub with its own micro brewery using water from its own well. The Longfords Mill housing complex has people living in the new houses.

August 07: McCarthy and Stone make a start on the retirement flats in town behind the Tesco Express. There seemed to be a fair bit of opposition to this development, but it got the green light.

2008 The Goldwater Springs phase 4 development by Egypt Mill for 13 flats gets turned down unanimously by Stroud District Council.

End of the timeline..

The land where the Tesco Express now stands once had a petrol station and car repair garage. The photo of the garage is below.

old petrol station in Nailsworth

Here are some snippets of information taken from a copy of an old Womens Institute document that was produced for a County Federation Competition during 1958/9. To see the whole thing Stroud library has a copy.

Nothing is in any particular order…

There were formerly twenty one Inns, of which seven were in the region of Market Street. It is small wonder therefore that there was much drunkenness. This was general throughout the country, as the Beer Act of 1830 allowed an unlimited number of public houses in any village.

That this presented a major problem is shown by the existence of the Detention cell for Drunks, and by the fact that in 1865 Hillers opened a reading room for their workers where various recreational facilities were provided in the hope that it might tempt the men away from the public houses.

This is now an industry of the past but it was one of the most important of the local ones through the 19th century, giving work to many local people.

It was founded by Joseph and Samuel Clissold, and became a model of its kind. About 1875 a Brewery expert when writing a book on Noted Brewerys came to visit it and described it in full. Here is some of it..

The Brewery occupied most of the space between the present Brewery Lane and the Bristol Road (presumably the building now called ‘Three Storeys’), and the visitor notes the great range of buildings: The malt receiving rooms, the mashing floor, the copper house, and the cooling loft, this with louvered windows and an open cooler of 18ft square and two refrigerators of the newest pattern.

‘The Noble fermenting room’ measured 60ft square with 11 tuns each holding 47 barrels, and the most impressive building on the premises was the great vat cellar, a lofty chamber of 60ft in length and containing 24 vats for maturing beer.

The water for the brewery was supplied by a deep well and a spring on the hillside yielding an inexhaustible supply of the finest water, and there were reservoirs at the top of Chestnut Hill.

There were two large yards where the great brewery drays could load, and here were the cask washing and bottling sheds and a range of stables for the powerful carthorses.

The firms maltings were a hundred yards away in Tetbury Lane and still exists as a furniture store. These had every new appliance for the screening of barley and malt. The document then goes on tell how wonderful the ales were etc etc.

and sausage making have long been a major industry in Nailsworth. In addition to Hilliers of Newmarket there is now a small bacon curing and sausage making factory close by Dunkirk Mills.

The Hillier connection with bacon goes far back in time, for in the 18th century a Thomas Hillier was a pig-killer on Bunting Hill. Issac Hillier began the present business in Newmarket in 1819, and its development was so rapid that it was christened ‘The Trade’.

By 1815 he had built practically all the buildings still in use, and was sending his cured bacon to London by horse-drawn vehicles. The number of men then employed was about 70.

An 1865 account gives a vivid picture of the factory at Newmarket.
150 pigs a week came from the farms around, and another 350 from the Bristol market, many of these were shipped from Ireland.

The pigs were sent by railway to Stonehouse, and then carted to Newmarket on four horsed wagons. Inside the building a host of white-smocked men were carrying through the various processes. Singeing was done by a jet of gas-air mixture, and the visitor described this as a striking piece of apparatus. The curing house was an enormous vault cut out of solid rock, and adjoining were two ice-houses storing 800 tons of ice.

Smoking was done in a two story building, the floor of which was an open iron lattice. The sides of bacon were hung in the top and a smouldering fire of sawdust and oaken billets was alight in the basement floor, three days and three nights bringing the process to perfection.

In the sausage room, loaves baked on the premises were amalgamated with the carefully spiced sausage meat, in a sausage machine which could produce 80lbs of material in Seven minutes. Another machine filled the skins.

Now (remember this is not now!) over 200 are employed and white overalls and white wellingtons when needed have succeeded the smocks. Slaughtering is far more humane and the number of pigs now dealt with weekly is between one and two thousand. From these about 60 tons of bacon and 25 tons of sausage are produced weekly, as well as pressed meats and thousands of dozens of pork pies.

As far as memories go back, the first Post Office in Nailsworth was in Market Street, next to the Clothiers Arms, and later for a time across the the street, and up to 1913 this was a Crown Office.

The first telephone exchange in about 1912 was near by. In 1913 the Post Office moved to its present site in Fountain Street, with the telephone exchange above. As regards wireless, the Stroud P.O. confirms people’s memories that the earliest licences for crystal sets would be issued about 1920, and the cost was then 10/-.

The Nailsworth Railway Co. was a private one, but the line was worked by the Midland.

The first Railway Bill allowed the line through Dudbridge to Stonehouse, and the second extended it to Stroud. When our railway was being discussed by a committee of the Midland officials, it was stated that ‘Nailsworth is a very important manufacturing town, and the line will prove of great advantage to the Midland Railway’.

The turning of the first sod of the new railway was the occasion of tremendous rejoicing in Nailsworth on February the 22nd 1864.

The two Nailsworth cannons! began firing before daybreak, and went on intermittently, till a late hour of the night. Houses and Mills were decorated most elaborately, with evergreen arches, mottos and flags some lit up at night by a large gas star which shone very beautifully.

The sod was turned ‘in the sight of thousands congregated in the road’ by our MP Mr Horsman, who was escorted in procession from the Subscription Rooms. There were speeches, and an official dinner ‘comprising every delicacy of the season’, for 120 gentleman of the district, no doubt the share-holders… and it goes on!

There were disappointing delays over the construction of the railway, and it was opened, with no further ceremony in February 1867.

The railway has since closed, and a cycle track now runs its course. Apparently there was a plan for the railway to continue on to Tetbury where an existing railway line connected Tetbury to Kemble and Cirencester. The main line to London also passes through Kemble.

The only thing left of the line at Tetbury is the old goods shed. This has been converted into an arts centre. The Tetbury Goods Shed Arts Centre and Cafe

Below is an E-Mail submission from Dennis Puffett in Australia, sent to me many years ago.
I once worked for Edgar Saunders at a Butcher Shop in Market Street.
We bought our stock at the Gloucester Market on Monday mornings and it was delivered to the Nailsworth Railway Station (by train) on the afternoon of the same day.

We had holding paddocks behind the shop and halfway up Spring Hill on the left (This was also an orchard). Whichever paddock we took them to involved driving them out of the railway yards and over the bridge. Driving sheep and cattle up the main street was then a regular feature, it’s a bit hard to imagine it happening these days.

Publications relating to Nailsworth (probably out of print)
The Nailsworth and Stroud Branch (compulsory reading), by Colin G Maggs is published by The Oakwood Press and contains lots of information and photographs on the old railway branch line between Nailsworth and Dudbridge.

It also has photographs of the link between Dudbridge and Stroud. An excellent book as the old branch line is now a cycle track / footpath, so it is still possible to trace the ‘iron road’ and visualise it as it once was. ISBN 0-85361-559-4

‘A Portrait of Nailsworth’, Revised Edition by the late Betty Mills. A truly excellent book that gives a detailed insight into the history (and social history) of Nailsworth. Items covered include the railway, education, the church, the wars, the George Hotel… the list goes on. Printed by a local printer, B.A. Hathaway.

‘The Stroudwater Riots of 1825’, is a small book compiled from historical records by John Loosley. It covers the general anger of the weavers as new machinery was introduced such as the flying shuttle that required one person instead of two to weave the broadcloth that the area is famous for.

As this is a general collection of records, it’s not a story as such, so some knowledge of the period will be required to fully understand what was happening. ISBN 0-9521149-0-9 Cost £3.80, 67 pages.