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Restalls of Bisley: Charting the Restall Family History

Bisley ParishBisley Common

Bisley parish, part of the hundred of the same name, is situated south of Cheltenham, east of Stroud and west of Cirencester. Its southern boundary is defined by four distinct parallel markers - the river Frome which flows into the Severn, the Thames and Severn canal (1789), the Stroud to Cirencester road (turnpiked 1814), and a branch line of the GWR (1845). If in some small way Bisley town can be said to have been bypassed by the canal, then by the improved east to west road connections, the death knell was the railway. A further loss of importance was caused by the rapid expansion of Chalford which had completely overtaken Bisley in size and significance by the latter part of the eighteenth century

The steep sided hillsides producing fast flowing streams allowed for water to be used in the production of woollen cloth. Water-powered mills were established for the initial cleaning of the wool before it was given out for spinning prior to weaving, and finally for the all important process of fulling the cloth. The increasing numbers engaged in all branches of the woollen industry led to numerous dwellings being built on the hill slopes above Chalford which gave it a very alpine appearance. The hamlets created by this development included Oakridge, Oakridge Lynch, Chalford Hill, Bussage and Eastcombe. Chalford became a separate ecclesiastical parish in 1842 and a new civil parish in 1894. The arable land lay mainly in the central and northern parts of the parish. Much of this land was used for the growing of corn whilst the substantial commons was given over to the pasturing of sheep.

The fortunes of the woollen industry were cyclical with reports of depression being recorded as early as 1664, starving unemployed weavers in 1691, serious decline in 1726 - 8 and again in 1801 - 4. Strikes broke out with rioting at Chalford on 6 June 1825 and the national decline in trade caused severe distress which prevailed until the end of 1826. That year out of a working population of 6,000 some 2,000 were unemployed and a further 400 in part-time work.

In 1828 there was another strike and, yet another the following year which totally exhausted the funds of the Weavers’ Union and left it discredited in the eyes of both members and employers.

On the whole trade improved generally from 1826 to 1836 but from then on it was downhill. The cost of poor law relief was 887 in 1776, 1869 in 1803, and 2769 in 1813. The depressions of the late 1820s saw a return to annual expenditure in excess of 2000 which was more than its larger neighbour Stroud.

These high rates of relief, common throughout the country, was the catalyst for the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834. As consequence of this Act the Stroud Union was formed in 1836 which comprised the 15 parishes of Avening, Bisley, Cranham, Horsley, Minchinhampton, Miserden, Painswick, Pitchcombe, Randwick, Rodborough, Kings Stanley, Leonard Stanley, Stonehouse, Stroud and Woodchester. The personal contact between the contributors to the poor rate and the genuine needy had gone forever.

Thomas Hall, a churchwarden of All Saints, Bisley and a Guardian of Stroud Union, wrote to the Assistant Poor Law Commissioner in 1836 to say that ‘our clothiers at Chalford being almost at a standstill, will suffer the greatest possible privations’ and asked if ‘the woollen trade was indeed flourishing in Manchester, or at any other place’. We can assume that some form of assisted emigration was being considered, and indeed 18 persons left Bisley in March 1837 for Mr Marshall’s flax factory in Shrewsbury. The PLC had established offices in Leeds and Manchester to fill vacancies from the unemployed in the south. That same month Thomas Keble (Vicar of Bisley, 1827 - 1873) wrote to the PLC of plans to send 16 or 17 families to Canada, but the government agent failed to charter a ship and it was decided to hold off until the following year. On 8 September 1837 13 families, some 68 persons in all, left Bristol bound this time not for Canada but Australia. The cost to the parish was just under 300 but clearly that was thought to be value for money and cheaper than poor law relief. In all 152 people (68 Australia, 66 Shrewsbury and 18 to Yorkshire) were emigrated by the parish between 1837 - 8. As far as we know no Restalls were involved. Many of course left by their own means but remarkably vast numbers stayed on to live a life of poverty.

Bisley’s population (the whole parish) was 4227 in 1801, which was the date of first national head count, 5339 in 1841 which represented a decline of 10% on 1831 and a further 10 % in 1851 (4801). Nationally the growth rates for England and Wales were 18% 1821, 16% 1831, 14% 1841and 13% for 1851. We were already beginning to see the effects of depopulation and with the decline of the woollen industry, new forms of industry were appearing such as the manufacture of silk which had employed 23 in 1841 and 345 in 1851, a large proportion of whom worked in France Lynch in just two factories. Bone button manufacturing, which first made an appearance in 1851, had 81 workers, and centred mainly in the south western corner of the parish. The manufacture of ferrules for umbrellas, first seen in 1851, may well have been the beginnings of Dangerfield’s walking stick business at Chalford which was to become in the next few years one of the largest and most successful of its kind in the employees on its books.

Restall Occupations

‘The Restall family seemed to combine husbandry and weaving to the end of the century [sixteenth].’
Mary Rudd,
Historical Records of Bisley

The first Restall will we have is that of Richard, buried 9 April 1550, who describes himself as a ‘weever’. The next is that of Edward, buried 6 February 1596, who bequeaths two looms, ewes and lambs to relations and friends.

In Matthias Restall’s will of 4 June 1707 he is described as a ‘broadweaver’, but clearly a successful one for he leaves both land and property. Then Giles, Broad Weaver, Bisley, buried 20 July 1714, who left a shilling each to his father, Brother John and Sisters Mary and Sarah. Balance to his loving wife.

Well before the end of the eighteenth century the Restall connection with the woollen trade had ended. In its place we find farmer, licensed victualler, butcher, mason, shoemaker, bookseller, servant, glove maker, land agent, builder’s merchant, solicitor and timber merchant.

November 2005

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