The ancient village of Bisley is situated in the English county of Gloucestershire, nestled high in the hills, in the heart of the Cotswolds. It is 7½ miles from Cirencester and 9 miles from Gloucester.
It is an enchanting village which still retains much of its history and beauty. It has some first-rate buildings, and as with many English villages, is steeped in its own peculiar folklore.
Bisley has a fine church, All Saints, with a fascinating history which in part dates back to the 13th and 14th centuries, and there are several Restall gravestones in the churchyard. The church was restored in the neo-classical style in the 19th century, and it was during this restoration that Roman altars were found in the walls of the church. These are now in the British Museum, but it is commonly accepted that the church was built on a former Roman site of worship.
It lists amongst its more unusual architectural features, what is believed to be the last standing external ‘Poor Souls Light’ in England. This medieval stone edifice, which is hexagonal in shape, can be found in thechurchyard of All Saints church. It is believed to have been built to accommodate alms for the poor, and would have also housed a lantern, hence its name. However, a local nickname for this structure, ‘The Bone House’, leads us to believe that another possible use for this slightly peculiar building was to act as a cover for a bone store.
The village also has a fully renovated, 19th century, stone built, two-cell gaol or ‘Lock Up’(built by William Restall) which is just along from what is now The Bear Inn; an impressive looking building with columned front, which was originally the court house and assembly rooms. This building has Tudor origins but with Jacobean and Georgian additions, and has been an inn since the 18th century. Another interesting feature is a group of five water chutes at one end of the village, which have since been converted into wells.
In more recent times, many of Bisley’s residents were employed in the wool trade. This trade supported a strong cottage industry of weavers who benefited from the many mills which were being built in and around the Stroud area in the early 19th century. However, with the arrival of mill machinery in the late 1830s, this industry saw a rapid decline, leading to many villagers being forced to move out in an effort to find work; with many emigrating to Australia.