My last blog was a look at the Randwick Wap and the importance of culture and heritage on a place. This blog is a look at some of the history of the street where I live….a sort of setting the scene to the conversations we’ve been having recently….
Some background info
Today Bread Street is made up of just over 30 homes; a very varied mix of housing with both old and young people including all ages of children.
Ruscombe Farm at one end of Bread Street dates back to the fourteenth century. Beyond the farm are more homes in Primrose Hill and Ludlow Green where there used to be a pub. The pond at Ruscombe Farm is famous for being the site where a Wellington Bomber came down in 1943, sadly with the loss of all the crew. The farm is now more famous for it’s award winning Red Poll herd of cattle.
Paul Fisher writing in 1871 notes that for generations the people of this area "exhibited a very low type and a very degraded state of social and moral". 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.’
The people of Stroud helped raise money for local places of worship; Ruscombe got a chapel in 1802 and Bread Street got it’s own church in 1810. The church is no longer here and was replaced in the seventies by a row of 4 houses.
Paul Fisher also 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.’ He is right we are very fortunate indeed.
Bread Street Street Party
When I moved in to the street one of the neighbours, a colorful dentist, used to have a party in his garden and invite neighbours for food, fireworks and dancing. That stopped in 2007 when he emigrated. Conversations with neighbours about missing the party led to a few of us meeting in the pub. We talked about a party in the street that everyone could join.
In 2008 we had our first Street Party that saw 32 out of the 34 houses join in – it was affectionately referred to as the Bread Street Bap (a friendly rival to the 'Randwick Wap'). Although unlike the Wap that is open to anyone, we decided to keep invitations to residents only. The second party came in 2010 and we had slightly fewer homes but again over 80 people.
Everyone brought food and all helped, whether it was setting up bunting and tables, closing the road with hay bales, picking up an elderly ex-resident, organizing a treasure hunt for the children, entering the funny-shaped bread competition, contributing to a freecycle stall, chalk drawings on the pavement and more. At both events we had music from a couple of local bands and even managed to get the street dancing on the Green.
I loved the creativity of people. One woman started an Arts project with some left over chicken wire that was made into a person. All residents then wove strips of their own material into the wire. This ‘Bap Man’ as he was named by the kids, sat on the bench on the Green for a couple of months after the party.
At the second party police did roll up in flack jackets with tasers at 4pm in the afternoon; perhaps the nineteenth century reputation of Bread Street lives on?! Apparently they had lost records that the party was planned and had heard ‘riotous folk’ music was being played?!
Before the party so many people had said to me that they don’t know their neighbours. Afterwards there were lots of comments about how great it was to get to know each other better. One comment from an older woman sticks in my mind. She said she now felt safe in her home as she knew her neighbours. Yet this area is so not a crime hot spot. It was a powerful reminder to me about the impact of the ‘fear of crime’ and not feeling part of your community can have.
It is interesting now to look back on those parties with some understanding around Asset Based Community Development. How would I have had some of those conversations differently? Yes many people were connected more to where they live and their neighbours, but I suspect lots more would have been possible. What are the riches, gifts, connections and more that remain to be discovered?
Since the last party there has been an almost yearly larger fete on Whiteshill and Ruscombe Playing Fields. Bread Street residents have joined that and indeed, not that I like to brag, but we were the majority in the winning Tug O’ War team; both men’s and women’s teams!
Perhaps not surprisingly in a much larger event people tend to interact more with people they know. The larger fete was great but missed out on those connections with more immediate neighbours.
In April/May this year I picked Bread Street as one of the areas for me to canvas. Possibly a mistake in the eyes of my fellow canvassers, as while they did their 2 minute spiels on each doorstep, I’d stop for tea! It took several evenings to just get around Bread Street.
We’ve had eight houses that have changed occupants since the 2010 party, three in the last year of which two I’d not met. Nearly all the people I spoke to mentioned the possibility of getting together again as a street. Interestingly in conversations, similar to Maureen (see her ‘wearing hats…’ blog), I was also consciously trying to put a little distance away from my role as a ‘councillor’ or ‘action initiator’.
But more of those conversations in the next blog…
To see more of the history of Bread Street see one of the residents research at: http://www.historyjournal.co.uk/home/bread-stree