Stroud is probably the least-commercial corner of the Cotswolds and the Bohemian charm of her steep streets and café culture offer a welcome alternative to those endless picture-perfect villages. A national newspaper once called the town 'The tatty end of the Cotswolds' to which the mayor staunchly replied 'It's a higgledy piggeldy collection of people and I find that's part of the attraction of the place. There's a great diversity and a willingness to embrace a broad range of ideas.'
The landscape around the town has defined much of its character and history. Nestling below the western escarpment of the Cotswold Hills, the town lies at the meeting point of five valleys. Probably because of its unique geography Stroud was the capital of the Cotswold woollen industry. Sheep would have grazed on the hills above the town, supplying fleeces to be woven into wool in one of over one hundred and fifty textile mills powered by the small streams rushing down the five valleys. Six of these mills survive, with one specialising in making the green baize cloth used to cover snooker tables. Further reminders of the town's prosperity during the Industrial Revolution are Stroud's two canal networks, the Stroudwater Navigation and the Thames and Severn Canal. Both fell into disrepair during the twentieth century and are currently being restored as a leisure facility with the help of a multi-million pound lottery grant.
Originally part of the parish of Bisley, Stroud emerged as a district in the 13th century. The town was named after a piece of marshy ground called La Strode at the confluence of Slad Brook and the River Frome. Although the name was first recorded in 1221 the church was not built until 1279. The rectors of Bisley gave Stroud parochial rights in 1304 and this is traditionally thought of as the year the town was born.
Interesting buildings in Stroud include the Old Town Hall, which dates from 1594, and the neo-classical Subscription Rooms. The Rooms provide a venue for local entertainment and the monthly vintage fashion, textile and accessories fair. This year (2008) they will also play host to Stroud's first international textile festival. The Tourist Information Centre is also housed in the Subscription Rooms.
Stroud enjoys a reputation for forward-thinking environmental awareness. It was here that Britain's first ever organic café opened its doors and it is here that Ecotricity, one of Britain's largest renewable energy providers, has its headquarters. Britain's first purpose-built co-housing community was built in Stroud and an award-winning farmer's market takes place every Saturday at Cornhill.
On the outskirts of the town is Stratford Park, once the grounds of a small stately home and now a large recreational area with dozens of huge trees, a duck pond, indoor and outdoor swimming pools and the Museum in the Park which explores the history and culture of the Stroud valleys.