Ask a Stroudie to name Stroud’s physical heart and they’ll likely nominate The Subscription Rooms. It’s been this way ever since the Subs opened in 1834.
Sir Paul McCartney might have his reasons for describing the Subs as “the worst venue the band ever played” – though the pennies that the crowd flung at The Beatles there in March 1962, during one of their first gigs outside Liverpool, must’ve been a handy tip – but Stroudies down the decades have taken the Subs to their hearts.
Though often regenerated, first in 1869 and frequently thereafter, and about to regenerate again in the hands of its new Trust, the Subs have stayed true to their original intent: “a place … for public meetings or assemblies”.
And from Isambard Kingdom Brunel pitching the building of the GWR to locals, to the war-time shows organised by Stroud’s answer to Vera Lynn, Elsie Chambers, the Subs have seen every conceivable assembly: election results announced from the balcony, grand dinners and balls, vaudeville and opera, circuses, bazaars and exhibitions, cookery classes and examinations.
Arguably, the Subs sparked our town’s social life, with people coming and going all hours of the day, causing jealousy all around.
“At Stroud they have beautiful rooms … for the purposes of the arts and literature as well as of public amusement whilst nothing of the kind exists either here or at Cheltenham.”
Gloucester Journal, 1842
It’s always taken a lot of dedicated Stroudies to make the Subs. The funds to build them on Kendrick’s Orchard were raised through subscriptions of £50 a share between 1832 and 1835: totalling almost £2.5 million in today’s money.
The foundation stone was laid in 1833, but it wasn’t until 1837 that the neo-classical Subs were fully fitted out, despite having been in use for three years.
The Subs have adapted constantly and dramatically. In 1836, a public library; in 1855, two cannons from Sebastopol; a hugely-popular billiard room; requisitioned for Air Ministry use during World War II.
Success has brought its own issues. The Subs gained their first resident manager in 1885, Harry Twitchett; by 1962, they needed more investment than their owners could manage, so came into public ownership with Stroud Urban District Council. Now The Stroud Subscription Rooms Trust and Stroud Town Council are the latest guardians of the Subs’ 185-year legacy as Stroud’s greatest, most eclectic and best-loved meeting place.
Dmytro Bojaniwskyj makes Stroud Community TV happen, is a Director of Transition Stroud and is the author of the gripping Auriga*COMMAND series of books.