At one time a through-road, but now bricked up and closed off at its north end, Lower Mill Street is a narrow L-shaped lane which links Gloucester Road (opposite the Honeybourne Way junction) with Tewkesbury Road, taking in a 90 degree bend along the way. It’s a low-lying area and prone to flooding. It’s also suffered a bewildering flurry of name changes. Largely free of buildings, apart from the tall brick walls of the gas works which mostly survive, its one solitary surviving Victorian house stands in the upper section of the street as part of the premises of a scrapyard. It is they who proclaim themselves OPEN in the above pic. The lower leg of the street is now regarded as part of neighbouring Arle Avenue.
At the Gloucester Road end, the uninhabited and largely untrafficked roadway runs alongside the wooded banks of the River Chelt in what was, until 2006, one of Cheltenham’s pockets of unspoiled character where you could stand and listen to the rushing of the water under the canopy of trees and really get a sense for what the town was like 200 years ago. This tiny unassuming street is older than most of the town. It’s been tentatively identified as “Green Street” mentioned in 1733, and maybe in 1605 as le greene Laine. The new flood defence works (seen above at top left) which were probably necessary, resulted in this area getting a very ugly municipal make-over, which wasn’t. The scruffy old bollarded road bridge, although unglamorous and floodprone, had more character than the urine-stained brick, concrete and mass-produced railings which replaced it (and which still flooded during the inundations of 2007). Much much worse, the flood defence works involved the demolition of Alstone Lower Mill from which Lower Mill Street gets its name.
The mill stood on the river bank at the bottom of Arle Avenue (originally called Six Chimney Lane). I’m not sure how long ago the first mill was installed, or whether the recently demolished one was the only one. It was Victorian and doesn’t appear on the 1806 map.
1806 map (orientation is weird – south west at the top)
Don’t be confused by the odd orientation of the 1806 map. The road marked “to Gloucester” in the lower right corner is not Gloucester Road, it’s present day Tewkesbury Road. That was the main way to Gloucester at the time because there was no Gloucester Road! So Lower Mill Street is the solitary road you see here linking with the hamlet of Alston across the fields. Present day Gloucester Road runs parallel to this road. In 1818 the green fields became the town gas works and the area was soon named Gas Green.
The upper part of the street was called Coach Road during the 19th century and was packed with labourers’ cottages. It gets a special mention in the 1841 census, where the enumerator reported that much of the population was displaced, particularly “Labourers employed in excavating railways &c. who have removed in consequence of no employment.” Estimating the absent men to number about a hundred, he added “The calculation is made with reference to that part of the Enumerator’s district known as the ‘Coach road Gas Green’.” He also noted that 14 males and 6 females from the neighbourhood were known to have emigrated in the past 6 months.
By the 1850s Coach Road had been renamed Gas Lane. And then somewhere along the line it became Lower Mill Street. Most of the housing disappeared when the gas works expanded.
1921 map (orientation normal, north is up)
The 1921 map shows a few houses left amid the industrial stuff which sprung up in the 19th century, the most obvious being the gas works with its three large round gasometers. The lower one still survives today, converted into a sportswear shop, of all things. Lower Mill Street was by that time intersected by railway tracks which connected the gas works with the Bristol to Birmingham main line.
The photo above shows the Chelt running alongside Lower Mill Street, looking back towards Gloucester Road, where an old brick bridge carries the river under the road. Dumping of litter on the banks has always been a problem here (photo is discreetly cropped).