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Gloucestershire’s Stone Stiles: An Update

Farmer by Stone Wall

This is an update on last September’s post about a project opens in a new window to record all the stone stiles in Gloucestershire. Peter Wilson reports a “fantastic” response. More about that below and keep reading to find out about a special role for Stinchcombe.

Surprises

Three things have surprised Peter:

  • the enthusiastic support (over 120 contributors)
  • the extraordinary number of stone stiles already reported (over 400)
  • the discovery of many stiles tossed aside or where there is no longer a path

Types of Stile Reported

So far there are few step stiles, more squeeze stiles than anticipated, but an abundance of slab stiles. This ties in with findings in Stinchcombe where we’ve found one squeeze stile, five slab stiles and no step stiles at all. Peter reasons that slab stiles were the best at preventing those Cotswold sheep from roaming. They are also a tricky or even impossible obstacle for some walkers! As a result, alternative access through boundary walls and hedges exists in many places. It would be a great shame if that led to these historical landscape features being abandoned.

example of a step stile
An example of a step stile (not in Stinchcombe)
A step stile on Park Lane, Stancombe Park, Stinchcombe
A step stile on Park Lane, Stancombe Park, Stinchcombe
A disused slab stile in Stinchcombe parish, near Snitend Bridge
A disused slab stile in Stinchcombe parish, near Snitend Bridge

Getting Recognition for Stone Stiles

Like it or loathe it, Brexit is changing farming support. In future, public money will support farmers who deliver public benefits. This is the perfect time to emphasise the historic landscape value of stiles. Stone stiles, along with stone walls, also provide an important wildlife habitat. Furthermore, learning about them can stimulate an interest in the countryside.

But … this integral part of the landscape is unprotected and barely mentioned in the Countryside Stewardship Scheme opens in a new window. Peter has secured the support of Siobhan Baillie MP opens in a new window, who is taking up the matter with Defra opens in a new window. Others involved in the project are contacting their own MPs. The aim is to get stone stiles recognised in Defra’s planning processes and ideally within the stewardship schemes.

Stinchcombe’s Stone Stiles

There could be more to find – are you still looking?

Peter is especially keen that people keep an eye out for disused stone stiles. They may highlight lost rights of way that it is not too late to restore. Two Gloucestershire rambling clubs are now publicising the project.

Remember, disused stone stiles are usually near the modern path rather than actually on it. No need to stray from the path though – all those found have been visible from a public right of way.

The two maps show the locations of the six stiles already identified in our parish. I am most grateful to Gloucestershire Archives opens in a new window and Know Your Place opens in a new window for permission to use screenshots from the Know Your Place digitial mapping project. If you haven’t explored the maps at Know Your Place Gloucestershire opens in a new window you have a treat in store.

Know Your Place screenshot of north Stinchcombe with stone stiles marked
Know Your Place screenshot of north Stinchcombe – stone stiles marked with red crosses
(with the kind permission of Gloucestershire Archives and Know Your Place)
Know Your Place screenshot of south Stinchcombe with stone stiles marked
Know Your Place screenshot of south Stinchcombe – stone stiles marked with red crosses
(With the kind permission of Gloucestershire Archives and Know Your Place)

A Special Role for Stinchcombe

Stinchcombe History Society opens in a new window has been asked to pilot the next phase of the project – collection of information for the proposed interactive App. The App will combine OS map recording with a detailed record for each stile. The plan is for the pilot to take place in only one parish in the whole of Gloucestershire. We are honoured and very excited to be chosen.

What is more, as you can see from the brief below, the pilot has the potential to be a real community effort. If you’re a keen photographer, walker, map reader, local historian, archaeologist or geologist WE WANT YOU!

The Brief for the Pilot

  1. Add up to four photographs of each stile and its landscape in an agreed format.
  2. Identify the type of stone in any adjacent stone wall, possible source, any signs of re-use, and age since quarried/sited
  3. Identify type of stile, type and source of stile stone used and any signs of reuse.
  4. Relate the site to the nearest known ancient burial site(s) and considering whether this is the source of the stone.
  5. Try to determine the date of the stile and adjacent wall (often after a Land Enclosure Act).
  6. Note and investigate any changes made to the stile.
  7. Verify the OS co-ordinates.
  8. Note the right of way, if applicable, on which the stile is located.
  9. Describe the condition of stile and pathway and how it used or bypassed, including suitability for people with disabilities.
  10. For disused stiles, seek out any knowledge of the former pathway.
  11. Create in partnership with others succinct, informative notes in a format suitable for addition to the App, together with appropriate photographs.

Contact

If you would like to get involved with the pilot, please contact Kath.

Any further stone stiles you find in the parish can be reported to Peter using the form you can download here opens in a new window. If you prefer, I can fill the form in, crediting you as the finder.

Kath Hudson

Clingre Lane a stone step stile standing in front of a wire fence with the roots of a tree to its right

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