A guide to the vibrant, bohemian town of Stroud
- Credit: Anna Bailey
Anna Bailey visits the Cotswold town where you’re more than likely to find the likes of artists, farmers and second-home owners sharing a pint in the local boozer
Tucked away amid the rolling hills, with its many golden stone buildings, higgledy-piggledy streets, and stunning views across the Five Valleys, you might be forgiven for thinking Stroud just another quaint Cotswold town. Certainly it carries all the hallmarks that make our little country towns and villages so beloved, but take a closer look and you’ll find that Stroud is home to a vibrant, diverse community, too busy to stand still so that they don’t get in the way of tourists’ photos, and unafraid of compromising their picturesque Cotswold status with things that people actually need, like a big chain supermarket or a multi-story car park. In Stroud, more than anywhere else in the Cotswolds, you’ll find those classic artistic types rubbing shoulders with salt-of-the-earth farmers at the market, those London-second-home folks drinking coffee the next table over from first generation immigrants. It is perhaps this seamless blending of peoples that has shaped Stroud’s bohemian identity in recent years, and made it the perfect place for so many independent traders and events to put down roots.
Nowhere is this better exhibited than in the famous Stroud Farmers’ Market. Based in the Cornhill Market Place, the award-winning market runs from 9am-2pm every Saturday, and is one of the largest and most popular in the country. Although it began as recently as 1999, when you’re squeezing through the throngs, listening to chatter in various accents and languages, engulfed by the smells of fresh bread and artisan spices, it’s not hard to imagine a medieval market as old as the town itself. Cotswold towns were essentially founded on wool, so keep the spirit going and have a look at the gorgeous fleeces, clothing and handmade woodworks of Sheep ‘n’ Chic. Grab a sweet snack from Pippin Doughnuts or Whittals fudge stand, or try something completely different from Girish & Son and their delicious vegan Indian food. No market trip would be complete without picking up a fresh loaf of bread, and there’s nowhere quite like Stroud’s very own Salt Bakehouse. If you miss them on market day, you can always find their little bakery on Union Street, open from Wednesday to Saturday.
If it’s food you’re after, a visit to Woodruffs should definitely be on your to-do list. Located on the High Street, this organic café caters its locally sourced menu to everyone, regardless of dietary requirements. Whether you’re stopping in for breakfast, lunch, or just a spot of tea, you’ll be able to find creative gluten-free, dairy-free, wheat-free and sugar-free options without having to compromise on taste.
Here in the West Country we can always appreciate a good pint, and Stroud is no exception. The Stroud Brewery has been creating delicious organic beers since 2006, and invites visitors to sample their variety of available beers, as well as other locally brewed drinks, at the Stroud Brewery Tap. This laid-back bar also boasts live music and fresh sourdough pizza, as well as several vegan-friendly beer options, and really is a must for anyone’s Stroud visit.
Of course it’s not just food and drink that benefits from the independent scene in Stroud. Take a stroll around the town’s pedestrian centre, and you’ll come across a wealth of places offering vintage clothing, old records, quirky gifts, and the much loved Stroud Bookshop on the High Street: the only independent bookstore in town. As well as stocking new bestsellers and favourite classics, the Stroud Bookshop also sells the works of local authors (of which Stroud has many). While you’re there, be sure to pick up a copy of Good On Paper, the independent magazine that promotes Stroud’s creative community.
Staying on the High Street, you won’t want to miss Sandra and David Ireland’s dazzling vintage store Time After Time. Chosen as one of the Sunday Telegraph’s 50 Best British Vintage Boutiques, this two-story treasure-trove is an incomparable collection of retro clothing, jewellery and accessories from as far back as the 1860s. Then wander down to Kendrick Street and peruse the vinyls in the Trading Post, an independent record store that’s been open since 1977, or get lost amid the bohemian clothes and incense smells of Caroline Ractliffe’s Intrigue of Stroud, and its unique sister shop Mosaic across the street.
Stroud is a town that likes to invest in community, and fewer independent businesses demonstrate this better than Clare Honeyfield’s Made In Stroud. From its early days as a market stall to a shop with over 100 suppliers, this Kendrick Street staple offers some of the finest handmade goods, food and drink the local creatives have to offer. The environmentally conscious can enjoy a guilt-free shopping spree here too, since the shop has only ever used paper bags for packaging, and seven years ago they banned palm oil from all their products; they also have a wonderful range of ethical clothing and cruelty-free soaps. Bespoke reading lamps made from copper pipes, beeswax and soy candles, bottle cap earrings with Frida Kahlo’s face on them – you’ll only find it at Made In Stroud.
You can see the community’s dedication to showcasing local talent in its number of independent public art galleries. As well as hosting a fantastic antiques store, the Malthouse Collective offers space for artists and sculptors to hold exhibitions. Up-and-coming creators can also find support from Stroud Valley Arts (SVA), which provides low-cost studio space for local artists, and also organises a coffee meet-up every Friday from 11am-1pm, where the town’s artists can make connections, talk projects, and enjoy a bite to eat from John Street Café next door.
In the same manner as the Farmers’ Market, that genuine medieval energy permeates through the town’s traditions too. Anyone yearning for something a little different to while away the yawning January days should look no further than the town’s annual Wassail. Running from January 11-12, local performers will be donning their antlers, bells and face-paint for hours of music and mischief among the streets of Stroud. St Laurence Church will play host to a variety of Morris dancers, Mummer’s plays, and folk groups, and there will be refreshment on hand throughout the days to keep the Wassailing spirit going. Locals and friends are also invited to join the festivities in the Mid-Winter Revels. Dress in your finest medieval disguise, and head to the Stroud Subscription Rooms for ceilidh dancing, storytelling, comedy and ale for a 15th-century-inspired party like no other.
You can find further details about the Stroud Wassail, including the history surrounding the Mummer’s Play and the traditional Wassailing song, at stroudwassail.com.
Local artist Katie B Morgan designed this beautiful illustrated map of Stroud for January’s issue of Cotswold Life. See below the map for points of interest...
• Inventor of the lawn mower and adjustable spanner – Edwin Beard Budding
• Hearts coming out of the library book – romantic novelists Jilly Cooper and Katie Fforde
• Needle in Threadneedle Street – first sewing machine factory to have steam power.
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• Cotswold sheep
• Red cloth – Stroudwater scarlett: the cloth used for military uniforms.
• Perseverance narrow boat on the canal
• Redler lorry – Redler was one of Stroud’s longest established manufacturing firms
• Cider lorry going to Slad – Cider with Rosie, Laurie Lee
• Rev W Audrey, the author of Thomas the Tank Engine books, retired to Stroud
• Goose – a nod to nearby Slimbridge
• Cycling – Stroud is on the National Cycle network
• Brunel Goods Shed – Stroud Preservation Trust
• Hornbeam tree by the Subscriptions Room – Stroud Save the Trees campaign
• Teasel – the Stroud Pound
• Farmers’ market, launched by Jasper Conran and Isabella Blow on July 3, 1999
• John Street and Russell Street – Lord John Russell, Stroud MP who became Prime Minister passing acts such as Public Health Act 1848 and Reform Act 1867
• Cricket ball – Jack Russell, England Cricketer