It will come as no surprise that Bread Street, Ruscombe has never achieved any historical prominence. It has been a street, like so many others that has made up the fabric of the life of Stroud, Gloucestershire and England.
BREAD STREET in the 1930s
It has not even been possible to discover why it was called Bread Street. It may have been named after the famous Bread Street in London, and it seems unlikely that there was ever a bakery on the street, although Walter Smith, a baker was a resident in 1894. There are some references to it being originally known as Broad Street, but this can not be confirmed.
We do have a better idea on the origin of the name of Ruscombe or Ruscomb. The valleys’ of the Stroud area were known as combs or hollows, with at the head of each springs which emerge from the Cotswold Sand.
Combe or Coomb is a term particular to the south-west to mean a short closed-in valley and is commonly used as the end of a place name, such as Ruscombe. It seems to have originated from the old English combe or cumb, which means hollow vessel and is similar to the Teutonic kumm or kumme. In Wales the word cwm in place names also means valley, as in Scotland cum is used in the same way.
The first part of the word Ruscombe comes from either hvis meaning brushwood, or Risc and old word meaning rush, which could have been used to describe the flow of the brook, rather than the pace of life at the time.
From the earliest time Ruscombe Farm has been at the centre of life in the village.
William in the Field, a burgess of Gloucester, granted land at Ruscombe to John of Monmouth, in 1363 the owner of Paganhill manor from 1346.
By 1494 the Monmouth estate, described as the manor of Paganhill, had passed to William Pawne, his wife Anne and their son William.
The portion of the estate called Ruscombe Farm was leased in 1532 to Richard Gardner. The original document notes that William Paune, leased Ruscum Farm to Richard Gardener, his son John and daughters Margaret and Isabel, with Gyles registered as the overseer.
On Richard’s death in 1548, the lease continued with his son Giles, to whom William Pawne sold the estate in 1574.
By 1585 Giles Gardner had, as it is termed, settled the estate on himself, his wife Jane, and his sons. It is assumed the eldest of whom, William, held the farm in 1626 and it was his son Giles who succeeded to the ownership of the 100 acres in 1628.
His daughter Mary died at the age of 35 on 8 March 1704 and is buried at Stonehouse.
It would be fascinating to know what the family thought and how they were affected by the crises of 1643 when Gloucester played a prominent part in the struggle between King Charles and his Parliament.
Surely the whole region would have been in an uproar as the Parliamentarians fortified the city and Charles I established his camp at Robinswood Hill, only to be driven off by the tenacity of the town’s inhabitants.
By 1655 Giles senior had been succeeded by his son Giles, a clothier, who lived there until he died in 1713 leaving the farm to his widow Elizabeth. She appears to have lived there for an extended period, only selling the property 22 years later to Henry Cooke of Paganhill and Noah Chandler of Randwick.
It would seem that Henry’s son Richard acquired full ownership of Ruscombe Farm as well as the Warners' manor of Paganhill. By 1842 he owned 330 acres which included Farmhill House, Ruscombe farm, and Stokenhill farm. Ruscombe farm was then the largest in the parish of Stroud consisting of 224 acres and a corn mill.
Ruscombe mill, which was the highest on Ruscombe Brook, certainly existed from 1439 and was included in the lease and final sale agreement in 1574. It is reported that it stood with a mill house, below the ‘great mill pond’ situated to the east of the farm. In 1648 it was leased to Daniel Gardner, a clothier and renewed to his son in 1677.
It is probable that this lease remained in the family as another Daniel Gardner was the leasee when he was declared bankrupt in 1728. Although it was exclusively a water corn mill or gristmill, it is possible that Daniel had been attempting to earn income by using in the cloth industry, as he was owed money by a clothier from Painswick, for the use of his fulling mill. By 1819 the mill had been demolished.
There must have been many people born in Ruscombe who have gone on to do great things and perform fine deeds. One of those was Joseph White who was born in a weaver’s cottage in the village in 1745. He was from a very poor background which makes his entry in 1765 to Wadham College, University of Oxford, a remarkable achievement. He gained his BA, MA, BD, and DD degrees and became Laudian Chair of Arabic after completing his studies in Syriac, Arabic, and Persian, and later in 1804 became the eminent Regius Professor of Hebrew at Oxford and Canon of Christ Church, Oxford. The cottage in which he was born fell into ruin, and was rebuilt by Edward Hogg.
The largest population within the Paganhill tithing area in the early 1800s, was to be found in the twin villages of Whiteshill and Ruscombe. The area of Whitehills was only given that name from around 1782, while Ruscombe had been a designated place from the 1400’s.
‘For many years and even generations’ Paul Fisher noted, ‘the populations of Whiteshill, Ruscombe and immediate neighbourhood, exhibited a very low type and a very degraded state of social and moral life’.
The area had the reputation of providing all the beggers seen around Stroud and it was assumed this poor state of affairs existed because the residents were too far away from the church in Stroud and ‘its civilising influence.’
Concern for the moral welfare of the inhabitants led to a group of Congregationalists or independents, under the Stroud minister, John Burder to register houses at Paganhill in 1799, Ruscombe in 1802, and at Bread Street in 1810.
An Independent chapel at Ruscombe was replaced by a new chapel near by in 1828 which had a congregation of around 200 to 300 in 1851. A Sunday School tradition was also encouraged and in 1934 a new Sunday school was built near the chapel.
In order to bring the inhabitants of the area into line the parish of Whiteshill was created in 1830 and then on 2nd February 1844 ‘the hamlets of Bread Street and Ruscombe, with part of Pakenhill’ were formed into an ecclesiastical parish, which was subsequently created as a civil parish in 1894.
A day school was started by the Congregationalists before 1847 at Ruscombe in the former Independent chapel. This had an attendance of about 100 pupils in 1870. This school was closed in 1887, when a new Board school opened at Whiteshill.
All these efforts meant that ‘the houses, with the habits of their occupants, now wear the usual appearance of comfort and respectability.’ (Fisher)
Some cottages, such as Rake End were built in the 17th and early 18th centuries, but the majority of the stone cottages were built during the end of the 18th and early part of the 19th centuries, by which time the population was around 1700 people. Some brick cottages were added in the early part of the last century and then during the 1970’s more modern council type houses.
In earlier times people who wanted to buy houses would approach the wealthier people in the village to provide the finance. There were no mortgage institutions. Families like the Clarks and the Smiths would provide these facilities.
There were one or two pubs in the village, one at Ludlow Green, opened in 1891 and closed in 1972/73. Everyone grew their own vegetables and often there would also be a few chickens and a pig or more. This was typical before and during the war years. The excess produce was sold at the market at the Painswick Inn at the bottom of Gloucester Street in Stroud.
Well known throughout the village was the aircraft crash that tragically occurred during World War II.
At 1756 hours on 29 January 1943, Wellington IC, W5705, of 21 O.T.U (Operational Training Unit) took off from Moreton-in-Marsh on a Nickelling, or leaflet dropping operation.
The weather was worse than forecast, but the 5 Wellingtons left to deliver leaflets around Nantes, in France. Only one reached the target, another dropped its load on St Brieuc and a third on Lamballe.
W5705, crewed by an all student crew seemed to have completed its task, but it would appear they sustained some damage from enemy action and crashed on the edge of Ruscombe pond in the early hours of the morning.
The crew of pilot James McCausland RCAF, aged 23 from Marysville. New Brunswick, Canada, RAFVR Sergeants George Ayres aged 28, wireless operator, Francis Palmer aged 19, air bomber, Frank Morgan aged 21, air gunner and Percy Farren, navigator, all died in the crash.
Lance Corporals Bert Hogg and Harry Smith, of Whiteshill and members of the Stroud Home Guard were on duty that morning and saw the crash. They reported it to the police and Hogg went to the scene. Lt A J Durn of the Home Guard was already at the site pulling out ammunition belts, aided by local residents, as other rounds exploded inside the buried part of the plane. The National Fire Service arrived and cordoned off the site.
It was clear there were no survivors and also that the aircraft was buried deep in the marshy bank. Because recovery of the bodies and all the wreckage took some time, US troops were stationed at the site as guards. They were warmly welcomed in the area and enjoyed the local hospitality when they were off duty from standing guard in the miserable weather.
On 31 January 1993 the Gloucestershire branch of the Royal Air Force Regiment Association, placed a memorial plaque in the Ruscombe Congregational Church
In 1871 Paul Fisher wrote ‘the views on this road and from the heights of Whiteshill, Randwick and the district in general, are such as can hardly be excelled for picturesque beauty and variety in any part of the kingdom.’ Without doubt that still applies today, and makes Bread Street and Ruscombe a gem in the treasure chest of the Cotswolds.
As is the nature of things there will be many people whom, I have not met who will have more information and corrections. Please use the Contact For if you would like to correct or update the information.
I have not included folklore or points that I have not been able to cross reference
A History of the County of Gloucester: Volume 11: Bisley and Longtree Hundreds (1976),
British Propaganda to France 1940-44, CWGC website, Page 34
Bomber Command Losses 1943, Page 29
W.R Chorley, Royal Air Force Bomber Command Losses of the Second World War (Leicester, 1992-2002)
Recollections of Stroud by Paul Hawkins Fisher, first published in
1871 and re-published Suttons 1986.