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Stroud, NSW

Historic "company" town in the Karuah Valley - now preserved by the National Trust.

Stroud is a small, genuinely historic and picturesque village notable for its large number of convict-era buildings. It is nestled in the pleasant, green and rather English, Karuah Valley. The town is under National Trust classification. It was created in the 1820s and 1830s as a company town for the Australian Agricultural Company which means that much of it was planned and the most significant buildings were constructed by the company's convict workforce who made the bricks by hand. The appeal of the town is simple. Walk around and admire some of the oldest buildings in New South Wales.

Location

Stroud is located 216 km north of Sydney via the Pacific Motorway and Bucketts Way. It is 75 km north-east of Newcastle and 40 m above sea-level.

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Origin of Name

Robert Dawson, the first manager of the Australian Agricultural Company (AAC) named many of the towns in the area after places in the English county of Gloucestershire. He wrote of the area that it was "beautiful and picturesque, consisting of low undulating hills ... I thought at the time I had never beheld so sweet a spot ... Perpetually reminded of a gentleman's park and grounds ... The banks of the river on the left of us alternated between steep rocky sides and low meadows...[The] lively hue of the green hills, the unfed herbage around, and the blue tints of the mountains in the distance, furnished scenes of exquisite beauty". He named Stroud after the English town of the same name in Gloucestershire.   

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Things to See and Do

Heritage Walk
Many of Stroud's old buildings have been preserved and the whole town is under National Trust classification. The oldest are convict-built. As a company town which was planned rather than developed piecemeal it had, and retains, some unity of focus and character.
The simplest way to see it is to get a heritage walk brochure from the newsagency at the corner of Cowper Street (the main through-road) and Memorial Avenue. If it is not open there is a very easy alternative - there is a map outside the Court House - Historic Stroud - and it lists eight places of interest all of which are within easy walking distance (5 of the 8 are in Cowper Street). Each place has an excellent and detailed sign outside.

Stroud Gate
At the southern end of town, where Hinton Street meets The Bucketts Way, there was a town gate in a fence which encircled the settlement, partly for the defence of the sheep. At the time there was a 10.00 pm curfew due to concerns about Aborigines and convicts. Although it is no longer there, it is possible to imagine this as there is a replica gate in Stroud Park at the northern end of town.

1. Silo Hill
The hill, located at the end of Broadway Street (which runs off Cowper Street), was named after eight underground silos which were built by convicts in 1841 to store the AAC's grain and protect it from weevils and fly moths. The silos are still there and can be inspected. The silos are 6 metres deep and 5 metres wide, internally lined with hand made bricks, and bell-shaped. Collectively they were capable of storing 10,000 bushels of grain. Seven have been sealed off but one is open for inspection. You can climb down the metal ladder.
The two 60 pound (27 kg) cannons near the silos were made in England in 1855-1856, at the time of the Crimean War. They became part of the battery protecting Sydney Harbour in 1866 and, in 1882, were sent to Signal Hill (now Fort Scratchley) in Newcastle. By 1909 they had become obsolete and were transported by boat from Newcastle to Booral and then by bullock dray to their present site.

3. Quambi House
No one is sure when Quambi House was built. It was probably completed in the 1840s when it was used to house the local schoolmaster and the rooms were used to educate his classes. There was an earlier school, a timber slab building, which had been completed in 1831. The current building was known as Lady Parry's School. It became a grammar school when the state school was opened in the 1884 and it was converted into a private residence in 1900. It is now owned by the local council and is used as a museum by the Stroud & District Historical Society. It is open Sundays from 1.00 pm - 3.00 pm. Other times by appointment. Tel: (02) 4994 5400 or check out http://www.stroudhistoricalsociety.com.
Quambi is a two-storey house of sandstock brick with a hipped roof, shuttered and multi-paned windows, an impressive front door, painted semi-circular fanlights on the ground floor openings, brick arches, curved parapet brickwork to the kitchen annex (c.1860), a front porch supported by four classical columns, and cedar grates on both floors which are considered to be characteristic of the district. 

4. St John's Anglican Church
St John's Anglican Church, in Cowper Street, is a simple Gothic Revival church situated on the crest of a small rise. It was erected in 1833.  The church was built by convict labour under the direction of Thomas Laman. Laman's tombstone lies in the cemetery which surrounds the church, along with those of the murdered McAskells and the crew of the Carrington, a company schooner which foundered off the north head of Port Stephens in a gale on May 19, 1842. The memorial to the shipwreck victims is on the side of the church and reads: "To the memory of Joseph Woodlands and the crew of he A.A. Company's schooner Carrington who perished on the night of the 19th May 1842 when the vessel was wrecked in a terrible gale and was irrecoverably lost on the North Head of Port Stephens. This stone, as a tribute of respect, was erected at the expense of the company."
Another grave is that of Sarah White, the wife of J.C. White, AAC superintendent of flocks, and daughter of Robert Hoddle, the surveyor who laid out Melbourne. There is a legend that bushranger Captain Thunderbolt was married to a local girl in the church. 
St John's has as a small louvred belltower, lancet arched windows with simple timber tracery and an elliptical barrel-vault ceiling. The interior is largely unaltered and rich in cedar, including the stairway, doors, floor, altar, the interesting twin pulpits and the nicely carved benches. There is an old sundial on the grounds and a small carved stone in the porch from the Church of St Lawrence in Stroud, England. This carved piece of stone is said to be 600-700 years old.

The Anglican Rectory
On the northern side of St John's, on Cowper Street, is the Anglican rectory, a plain, single-storey building which features a large, open veranda with shuttered French windows and paired columns with classical motifs. It was built by convict labour in 1836 but was damaged by a severe fire in 1859 and largely rebuilt with further alterations in 1920. 

Parish Hall
On the southern side of the church is the parish hall (c.1860), a simple building of handmade bricks with stuccoed inner walls, a gabled iron roof and sash windows with semicircular brick arches. The central fireplace has a fluted cedar chimneypiece.

5. Court House
Located on Cowper Street, this is the town's second courthouse. The first was erected on this site in the 1840s by the AAC. The present building was completed in 1876 and remained in use until 1974. It originally contained the Police Station, cells, kitchens, bedrooms and stables. The police residence and cells were removed in the 1930s. 
The building now consists of the courtroom with jury box, prisoner's dock, bench and public area, together with the Magistrate's Room and side room for the Clerk of Petty Sessions. The courtroom contains the original cedar fittings, only the floor was replaced when renovations took place in 1988. There are photographs, records and historical material for sale. Of particular interest is the unsolved McAskell murders which were investigated here in 1878. The building now serves as an historical museum run by the Stroud & District Historical Society. It is open Sundays from 11.00 am - 1.00 pm. Other times by appointment. Tel: (02) 4994 5400 or check out http://www.stroudhistoricalsociety.com.

6. Post Office
The Stroud Post Office building on the corner of Erin and Cowper Streets was built in 1884 and is considered one of the most impressive in the Hunter region. It has cedar fittings and was restored in 1984. It was privately licensed in 1993.

7. Stroud House
Stroud House is a gracious building on Cowper Street, opposite the Post Office. It was erected by the AAC and probably designed by Thomas Laman for the commissioner, Sir Edward Parry. It started as a single-storey building in 1828 and was constructed by convict labour with convict-made bricks and lime cement. This formed the basis of the present cement-rendered two-storey building which was completed in 1832. It became the permanent home of Superintendent Blane in 1851. Further additions were made in 1873. The last AAC employee to live in the house was Company Surveyor Ogden in 1873. From 1873 it was used by the Bank of Australia. In 1926 it became, and still is, a private residence. The house has five bays with sash windows and three gabled dormer windows with timber barge boards. There are fine cedar fittings throughout and they have been kept in near-perfect condition. The convict servants' quarters were in the cellar and it was rumoured that the cellar was where the convicts who built the house lived during the building's construction. 

8. St Columbanus Catholic Church
Stroud's second-oldest church is St Columbanus (1859) on the corner of Mallon and Broadway Streets. A simple, plain church it has arched lancet windows and carved wooden bargeboards on the gables at the western end.

The Cottages
A number of the cottages on the western side of Cowper Street, between Broadway and Laman St, date from the 1830s and were built by convict labour for AAC employees.  It was this series of cottages which the Reverend John Dunmore Lang described in 1851 when he observed of Stroud that "[It] consists of a single street, the houses, which are principally neat cottages, being thrown back a considerable distance, on each side, from the line of the road, with flower gardens and shrubberies in front."

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Other Attractions in the Area

Alderley House
Alderley House is located at 2653 Bucketts Way halfway between Stroud and Booral. A long building with a veranda, timber columns, multi-paned windows and hipped roof it was built as a cottage for the AAC's farrier and his family with convict labour c.1831-32. A horse stable was located at the rear of the building. A kitchen, butcher and baker were situated at the front. Cobb and Co used it as a staging post and a legendary story suggests that bushranger Captain Thunderbolt, who had stolen horses at Monkerai, also rested them here. Today Alderley House is the site of the Alderley Creek Vineyard. Check out https://www.facebook.com/alderleycreekwines/ for more details.

A Short History of the Australian Agricultural Company (AAC) in Stroud
The Australian Agricultural Company (AAC) was incorporated in London in 1824. It was established by an Act of Parliament and a Royal Charter.
The reason: to produce fine quality wool for Britain. The Napoleonic Wars had demonstrated that Great Britain could not rely on wool from the continent. They needed to produce their own.
The proposed company was to have a nominal capital of £1,000,000 divided into 10,000 shares of £100 payable on call. For this a grant of 1,000,000 acres was to be allocated.
The shareholders: the Attorney-General and the Solicitor-General of England, twenty eight Members of Parliament, the Governor, Deputy Governor and eight of the directors of the Bank of England; the Chairman and Deputy-Chairman and five directors of the British East India Company, and other prominent English bankers and merchants. And, as the Stroud & District Historical Society so beautiful puts it, “everyone who was anyone in New South Wales”.
The company was given 1 million acres on the northern side of Port Stephens and the labour was primarily provided by convicts from Sydney and Newcastle. The initial area - 464,640 acres (1.88 million ha) stretched from Port Stephens to the Manning River and across to Gloucester. They were effectively a colony within a colony.
Robert Dawson was the first chief agent of the company, his duties were to select suitable workers and stock to take to Australia. He travelled from England in June, 1825 with 27 indentured servants (all of whom had been contracted for 7 years) officers and tradesmen, with their wives and families aboard two ships. Their main cargo was 720 French and Anglo merino sheep, 8 horned cattle and 7 horses.
When the ships arrived in Sydney in November 1825, the site of the 1 million acres had not been determined. Dawson had no experience of Australian conditions. The Colonial Committee recommended Port Stephens as a possible site so Dawson established the main settlement in January, 1826 at Carrington, Port Stephens.
Dawson explored the area north of Carrington. In November 1826 he decided on a site for an inland town. He chose a valley where the Karuah River and Mill Creek joined and he named the site “Stroud”. There were two reasons: it reminded him of the Cotswold countryside around Stroud in Gloucestershire and it was where most of the wool he hoped to produce would be sent. He described the valley at Stroud as "beautiful and picturesque, consisting of low undulating hills ... I thought at the time I had never behold so sweet a spot.”
The great experiment was short-lived.  The end of transportation in the 1840s and the goldrushes of the 1850s caused labour shortages for the company which was forced to import Chinese labourers. In addition, the sheep flocks suffered as Dawson had chosen inappropriate terrain; attempts to grow grain proved disappointing; the paddock fences were in a parlous state; and half the cattle and horses were astray, lost or stolen.  By the 1870s the inland estate was overrun with brumbies and 1500 were shot. 
By 1873 the dream of vast herds of merinos in the Stroud-Gloucester valley was over. It is a comment on the resilience of the Australian Agricultural Company that it still exists today. It has been listed on the Australian Stock Exchange since 2001, employs over 500 people, runs 24 cattle stations and manages over 500,000 cattle. Sheep mightn’t have been successful but the company has been remarkably resilient.

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History

* Prior to the arrival of Europeans the area around Stroud was home to the Woromi Aboriginal people.

* The  Australian Agricultural Company (AAC) was formed in London in 1824. 

* In 1826 the Karuah Valley was a portion of the original grant of 500,000 acres made to the Australian Agricultural Company (AAC) between the northern shore of Port Stephens and Taree. 

* Henry Dangar explored the district on behalf of the AAC in 1826. 

* Robert Dawson, the company's first superintendent, described the countryside around Stroud in 1826 as "beautiful and picturesque, consisting of low undulating hills ... I thought at the time I had never beheld so sweet a spot".

* Dawson chose a site for the town of Stroud as early as November 1826. 

* By 1827 farming had commenced in the Booral district, 8 km south of present-day Stroud.  

* In 1830 Dawson was replaced by arctic explorer, Sir Edward Parry, who built many of the town's early buildings.

* In 1831 a slab school house and a store were built in the town.

* Stroud House was completed in 1832. 

* In 1833 Sir Edward Parry built St John's Church.

* By 1836 Stroud housed most of the AAC's convict labour force of 400 and was functioning as the company's principal storage site. 

* In 1847 Dr C. Buchanan used ether as an anaesthetic for the first time in Australia at the Stroud Hospital. 

* In 1849 the first subdivision occurred with allotments sold to private buyers 

* People who had purchased land began to arrive from England in 1850. 

* In 1851 the Reverend John Dunmore Lang observed that "Stroud is decidedly one of the finest villages of inland towns in the colony". In that year Stroud became the official headquarters of the AAC.

* In 1853 Stroud was made a "public town".

* Coal was discovered north of Stroud in 1855.

* The lack of success of the local farmers saw most of their sheep being moved to Tamworth in 1856.

* Coal deposits were discovered on AAC land north of Stroud in 1855. 

* Pits were established in 1858 but, despite the quality of the find, the costs of extraction proved prohibitive.

* In 1858 all the AAC houses in Stroud were advertised for sale. 

* Stroud's first church, St John's Anglican Church, was consecrated in 1856.

* The Roman Catholic Church was established 1860-61. 

* The primary school at Booral was completed in 1865 and that at Stroud in 1882.

* The AAC withdrew from the Stroud district in 1873.

* The local Court House was replaced in 1877.

* The Presbyterian Church was completed in 1887.  

* The post office opened in 1884.

* The Baptist Church was completed in 1912.  

* In 1913 the railway arrived and the Central Hotel was built. 

* The last hotel in Booral closed in 1914. 

* In 1914 two substantial logging towns, Simsville and The Branch, were opened in the area around the operations of the Jarrah Timber Co.

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Visitor Information

There is no visitor information in Stroud. The nearest is the Gloucester Visitor Information Centre, 27 Denison Street, tel: (02) 6538 5252. It is open seven days. Monday to Friday 9.00 am - 4.30 pm, Saturday and Sunday 9.00 am - 3.00 pm.

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Useful Websites

There is useful information at the Visit Gloucester website. Check out http://www.visitgloucester.com.au/ for more information. For historical information check out http://www.stroudhistoricalsociety.com.

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