There were so many fashionable aristocrats in the early 19th century it’s difficult to know which one inspired the naming of Duke Street in the early 1820s. Maybe it was the Duke of Wellington whose name is liberally spattered across the Regency parts of town, or perhaps the Duke of Marlborough, given that the Marlborough Arms was the name of a local pub. But then pubs were once abundant in Duke Street too …
The Marlborough Arms stood on the corner between Duke Street and Prince’s Street, a mid-Victorian beerhouse belonging to the Cheltenham Original Brewery (that’s the one which is now converted into the Brewery shopping centre in Henrietta Street) and seems to have closed around the 1930s. It originally had a corner doorway on that blank wall at the front, but that has been bricked up. There’s a small stone ledge over the existing door on the Duke Street side but no obvious surviving pub features. It’s now a residential house.
Former Marlborough Arms pub
At 14 Duke Street (probably no.28 in the old numbering scheme), on the north side, you would once have found the Talbot Inn. One of its early landlords, in 1850, was John Maskelyne, very probably a relative of the famous illusionist John Nevil Maskelyne who was born in Cheltenham. The pub had a fairly broad frontage, probably 1820s vintage, with mullioned windows. One of the longest surviving Duke Street pubs, it continued trading right up until 1984, and after closure it was converted into three small houses (numbered 14, 14a and 14b). The conversion required some alteration of the frontage and you would never know there had ever been a pub there.
On the south side is 71 Duke Street (formerly no. 66), once a beerhouse which traded as the Duke’s Head from the 1830s until some time before the second world war. It too is now a private house. In its early days it was run by Richard Savory, who was also involved in building work in the street. It may have been him who built the pub.
The pink house in the middle was Richard Savory’s Duke’s Head beerhouse. It still has an interesting ground floor window, and a Victorian drainpipe! The left hand doorway is a passageway which probably once led to Savory’s Court.
Another pub which was in existence by 1859 and the only one still open today is the New Inn (one of two pubs in Cheltenham to have that name) on the corner of Duke Street and Hewlett Road. According to the excellent Gloucestershire pubs website it once had a ‘men only’ bar, which prevailed into the 1970s. It was originally tied to the old Carlton Brewery in neighbouring Carlton Street, which had been bought out by a Bristol-based brewery by the 1890s. In recent years it’s seen two new incarnations, the Pump and Optic and more recently the Fiery Angel.
Duke Street is one of Cheltenham’s older terraced streets of what is now usually called “artisan” housing. That’s the polite way of saying it used to be a rough old dump inhabited by the town’s poor but as the inherent value of Cheltenham real estate has lifted it out of slumhood the houses have been modernised and scrubbed up and become nice places to live.
For much of the 19th century the street was home to a profusion of laundry women and agricultural labourers. Some of the residents had colourful names. In the 1881 census there is Mary Onion, who worked as a ladies’ outfitter, and an elderly widowed lady called Philadelphia Taylor. While the Talbot Inn was home to Nellie Bowl, a milliner, whose father was the pub landlord. George Kibblewhite was a gardener, and Nathaniel Spratt a shopkeeper, and Annie Lapper made her living as a dressmaker. The best of the strange names though is the baker at no.2 who went by the name of William H. Cowmeadow.
Among the many washerwomen in the street in 1881 was widow Mary Barnett and her three unmarried daughters, who were all laundresses. They also had 3-year-old Florry Hooper in their care, who is simply listed as a “relative”. Say no more.
Despite its early origins Duke Street was a long time in the making and was patched together from the disjointed works of several unrelated builders. But that’s what makes this street so interesting … lots of diversity.
A diversity of building styles joined together. The wide panel on the front of the mauve house suggests it may once have been business premises.
Its origins go back to before 1820, as it appears on the Post Office map as a solitary road laid out across fields on the rural edges of town, just off the “Road from Hewlett’s”, with three cottages already built (completely separate and some distance apart) on the north side and further plots marked out ready for building. It predates most of the Fairview estate on the other side of Hewlett Road, which was then entirely agricultural land with only Sherborne Street and Sherborne Place under construction.
1820 map, showing Duke Street emerging from a very rural setting. The only other development at that time was a plant nursery, whose garden plots and long terrace of outbuildings is shown on the north side where Leighton Road is today. The little thin lane on the far left is what shortly afterwards became St Anne’s Terrace, and the tiny dotted footpath in the top left corner is All Saints Road!
From 1820 onwards several more cottages appeared, and work was still in progress 14 years later when Henry Merrett made his wondrous 1834 map. By then the street was laid out as a full terrace, loaded with numerous mini-courtyards and tiny cottages tucked away down alleyways. But even so a minority had actually been built, and it was not so much a terrace as several groups of 2, 3, 4 or 5 houses.
1834 map. Duke Street is still unfinished here (the darker blue shows the houses which were actually built by then, the lighter ones are just plots in progress) but the surrounding area is taking shape. The nursery had expanded (it survived well into the 20th century). Carlton Street was just starting to develop, with the Carlton Brewery shown here on the south side. All Saints Road was established and already had some terraced cottages built, along with a terrace called Jersey Place along Hewlett Road. On the left hand side you can see two other landmarks … St John’s church, built in 1827 and demolished in 1967, and St Ann’s Cottage, a large fine house in extensive gardens which still stands today but completely integrated among other houses in present day St Anne’s Road.
Most of the groups of cottages in Duke Street originally had their own names …
Thatch Cottage or Cottages are listed in the 1841 and 1881 census, occupied by a laundress called Maria Hamlett in the 1850s and a housepainter called Joseph Jewell in the 1880s. It seems to have been next door to the Talbot inn. There are no thatched cottages in the street today.
Woodbine Cottages were apparently between Carlton Street and the west end of Duke Street. They’re mentioned on the 1841 census and the 1855-7 Old Town Survey.
Halford’s Cottages, 3 houses on the south side between nos. 48 and 50, date back to at least 1844, when one of them was occupied by a carpenter called William Halford. I haven’t yet established whether he was related to the William Halford (also at one time a carpenter) who was Katherine Monson’s clerk of works and later took her in when she was broke.
Duke’s Head Cottages (3 houses) and Duke’s Court (2 houses) are on either side of the former Duke’s Head beerhouse at no. 71.
Cirencester Cottages was a row of 4 houses between nos. 69 and 73. All four were listed in a 1935 slum clearance programme.
Morgan’s Cottages (2 houses), Prince’s Cottages (3 houses) and Prince’s Place (a passage off the east end, behind Marlborough Place) are not referred to until the 1870s, by which time the terrace was fully joined up.
1921 plan of Duke Street, when the street was fully built and still had most of its courtyard housing. Notice how the higgledy piecemeal building of this street contrasts with the orderly rows in upmarket Leighton Road. The P.H. symbols show the locations of the New Inn (Fiery Angel) and the Talbot.
Like all Cheltenham’s poor areas the street was crammed with extra houses behind the existing ones. Although most of the rear courtyard housing has been demolished, you can often recognise their former sites by the gaps through the terrace, doorways and passages now incorporated into gardens but once giving access to tiny shadowy cottages.
Although they were sometimes named after residents, the courtyards were more usually named after the builders who put them up. Or both: Savory’s Court was a group of at least three houses built by the Duke’s Head landlord Richard Savory around 1838. In the 1841 census it’s called Savoury’s Yard. The yard is not there any more, demolished in early 20th century slum clearance. Another similar example is Teal’s Court, which has had a range of spelling variations (Teale’s Court, Tale’s Court, Teile’s Cottages) but is named after Thomas Teal, who was a local builder active in Cheltenham from the 1830s onwards. It consisted of 5 backyard houses accessed from the frontage of no. 56. In 1913 Cheltenham Borough Council condemned them as unfit for habitation.