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Article by Martin Clarke

Wotton-under-Edge Civic Society was formed early in 1967, the same year as the Civic Amenities Act, following the insensitive replacement of a historic shop front a by a bland expanse of plate glass. It is a registered charity (no 281203), its objectives being:

(a) to encourage high standards of architecture and town planning in Wotton-under-Edge

(b) to stimulate public interest in and care for the beauty, history and character of the area of the town and its surroundings.

(c) to encourage the preservation, development and improvement of features of general public amenity or historic interest.

(d) to pursue these ends by means of meetings, exhibitions, lectures, publications, and promotion of schemes of a charitable nature.

Today it is administered by five trustees but currently has two vacancies to fill. It holds an annual general meeting for all members. In the past it has also had a programme of meetings during the winter months, and it is planned to restart these.

Information on planning applications made to the District Council is sent by email to all members. Responses to applications considered to be damaging to the town or its environment are then sent to the planning department of Stroud District Council. In recent times this has had to be limited to major applications, including the current application for development in Old Town. We will also support applications that enhance the town.

The Society carried out a survey of trees being lost in the town through Dutch Elm Disease. The maps produced were used in a travelling exhibition by Gloucestershire County Council. It has also planted trees in and around the town.

When Tapscott Court was being built in 1978, the Civic Society was commissioned by Stroud District Council’s Chief Planning Officer, Stewart Cypher to carry out a tree planting scheme as Stroud did not have the resources to do it. Mr Cypher said that without this the “landscaping” would have consisted of “just a few miserable daffodils”.  The planting scheme was designed by the County Council’s landscape architect, Anna Jones.

Also in 1978, the Society published a Town Trail leaflet, a walking route around the town pointing out buildings of historic interest and changes that have taken place over the years. It was based on the route being used for guided walks around the town by members of the Society. A third, revised, edition was published in 1993. A booklet, the Millennium Trail, (now available from the Heritage Centre) has a similar role, accompanied by a set of numbered brass plaques let into footways around the town on behalf of the Society. The Society is currently looking at Berkeley’s highly successful Jenner trail.

When the Tolsey was being sold and there was a threat of it becoming a fast-food outlet or having another undesirable use, with the potential purchaser not willing to state his intentions for the building, The Society raised funds, hoping to outbid him. Whilst the attempt did not succeed as the bids to purchase it grew, concerns over the future use of the building have not materialised. Following the wishes of donors on how the money raised should be used, some paid for tree planting and the rest put in a building fund available to give modest grants to buildings of historic interest in the town.

A few years’ ago, the Society opposed a proposed housing development at Holywell. The intention was also to access the site by demolishing a house in Court Orchard. The application failed.

The Society was unfortunately divided over the proposed development of land south of Symn Lane for a car park and housing, despite the site being in the AONB and outside the town’s settlement boundary. We support the efforts of the Town’s Community Land Trust to purchase the land at Brown’s Piece and have pledged funding towards it.

Now the Civic Society wishes to expand membership – only £10 a year will give you a voice in how Wotton’s future is shaped. Please register your interest by email at martin@clarkeconsult.org or phone 07850 278494.