..... village history
The earliest known history in the area dates back to Neolithic times, as evidenced by the barrows or burial mounds scattered around. At The Camp, to the north of the village are two Neolithic mounds, mostly destroyed, one originally 130ft by 90ft, the other 150ft by 74ft. Nearby, skeletons have been found, but are believed to be from a Danish camp in the area. Of these ancient earthworks, little remains, as is the case with one at Througham, which was 100ft by 50ft, and 5ft high. At Nash End, to the south, lies Money Tump, whose curious name is probably derived from 'mynydd y twmp', meaning highland of the tump.
Evidence of Saxon occupation can be found in the local place names, such as Lypiatt, derived from 'hlyp' meaning to leap, and 'geat' or 'yat', meaning gate. The name therefore refers to a gate in a park over which deer can leap, but which is too high for other animals to enter. A church has existed in Bisley since Saxon times.
The Romans left their mark on Bisley: in the Church, whilst restoration was being undertaken in 1862, Roman altars were found in the walls, one inscribed by Juventinus. These are now in the British Museum. The site on which the Church stands is believed to be the site of worship in Roman times. When the road to Chalford was constructed in 1866, across Bisley Common - a piece of ancient common land between Bisley, Eastcombe and Chalford - another mound was found. This contained roman pottery, four altars, two stone weights, a copper coin, and animal bones. At the Scrubs, two Roman anaglyphs were found during quarry works in 1800.
As we have seen, the Normans made a significant impression on the area. By this time, Bisley or Bisledge as it was known at the time, was fairly thriving, as can be gleaned from the Domesday Book reference. There were 3 manors in Bisley - Overcourt ('maner superius'), where the de Bisley family lived (they would have taken their name from Bisley, not the other way round), Jaynes Court ('maner inferius') home of the Mortimers, and Stokesend, where the Mansion now stands at Paulmead.
Bisley Hundred was created in a time when Bisley was the most important settlement in the area. In 680, Theodore, Archbishop of Canterbury, created parishes based on the large Saxon estates of the period. The Hundreds were based on these, and the Bisley Hundred incorporates Stroud, Painswick, Miserden, Edgworth, Winstone, Sapperton, Frampton Mansell. Bisley Church was therefore more important than that of Stroud, the latter not becoming a distinct parish in its own right until 1360.
The Stroud area is famous for, and derived its wealth from, the wool trade. By this time, Bisley's own importance had waned, and it relied strongly on the trade which was centred around the many mills which had sprung up in the valleys. Unfortunately, when the wool trade declined in Stroud, it took a great toll in Bisley.
In 1815, there was a decline due to the ending of the war with France, which saw a sharp drop in the demand for cloth for uniforms. The trade survived, and by 1826, out of a population of 6000, 2000 were fully employed and 450 half-employed in it. But the arrival of mill machinery in 1838 brought an abrupt end to the cottage weaving industry, with disastrous consequences. An old saying mentions 'Beggarly Bisley', and the old response to the question 'Where do you come from?' was 'Bisley, God help us!'
As a result of the decline in the wool trade, a darkness fell on Bisley, resulting in emigration to the New World. Here is some information from a correspondent, Pete Smith, in Australia:
Matthew and Mary Ann Tyler and their family were sponsored by the Bisley Parish to migrate to Australia under the terms and conditions of the Poor Law Amendment Act. Two daughters, Martha and Maria, died on the voyage to Australia.
The"Layton", a barque of 513 tons built at Lancaster in 1814, left Bristol carrying 121 adults and 110 children, touched at the Cape of Good Hope and arrived at Sydney on 19 January 1838, exactly one week before the 50th anniversary of the founding of the colony. The voyage was rendered horrendous by an outbreak of the measles immediately after leaving the British Channel, which caused the death of one adult and 68 children, including 17 of the 42 from Bisley. The surviving passengers were delayed off Pinchgut Island (Sydney) for a day and were then accommodated at the Immigrants Barracks at the corner of Bent and Phillip Streets, Sydney.
Conditions in Bisley prior to Matthew's Poor Law emigration were described thus:-
'Bisley 1836 -some 40% of the 5500 Parishioners were unemployed and 1 in 7 houses stood empty. The distress was a product of the Industrial Revolution. At the end of the 18th century, and more rapidly in the early 19th century, the clothier and his small warehouse and mill employing spinners and weavers in their own houses was replaced by the cloth Manufacturer who introduced the factory system and finishing machinery. This caused the bankruptcy of most clothiers and large scale poverty in cloth-making villages such as Bisley'.
The Rector of Bisley, Rev Thomas Keble sent out a printed Circular to all his Rate Payers in his parish and raised 67 pounds 18/4d by 16 Jan 1837. "The attention of benevolent persons is requested to the present conditions of the Weavers and others in Chalford and its Neighbourhood, including the most populous parts of the Parish of Bisley.
In consequence of the failure of work since the autumn of last year, the resources of very many families are entirely exhausted, and almost all are suffering extreme Privations. In numberless instances parents have been compelled to part with necessary furniture and clothing, to provide a meal for their children; and though benevolent persons have rendered some aid, still it is certain and can be proved, if required, that many pass whole days without food, and that some hundreds of individuals (including children) have not sufficient to support them from day to day, are at this moment half famished".
Bisley developed where it is because of the old roads that ran across the country, and basically met here. The main road from Stroud to Cirencester has had more than one route, and at one time this ran from Stroud High St, up Silver Street and the Hill, through Bisley, and across Oakridge Common to Water Lane, the Bathurst Estate, and then onto Cirencester. The road from Painswick to Cirencester joined this one at Stancombe, and the old toll house can be seen there.
Then in 1751, the road from Stroud via Rodborough and Minchinhampton was opened, and the old road via Bisley stopped being the main route, though the road at the back of the village still bears the name Old London Road. An ancient trackway - Calfway- runs through Bisley, from the Througham direction, and on to France Lynch and Chalford, all the way through Wiltshire, and then to Southampton. This track was believed to be the route used to export Welsh cattle to the continent.