Why was the name of this street changed from the quirky Six Chimneys Lane to the rather more pedestrian Arle Avenue? Believe it or not, it was the result of a residents’ petition in 1938. The new name was considered at that time to sound more respectable.
The majority of the houses in Arle Avenue date from this time, mostly classic 1930s suburban semis, and the road is now a cul-de-sac gently sloping down to a footbridge over the River Chelt (through traffic for pedestrians and bikes but not cars) and linking up with a small industrial estate and the bottom of Tesco’s car park. But Six Chimneys Lane (or its variants Six Chimnies or Six Chimney Lane) has a much longer history and predates much of the rest of Cheltenham.
The six chimneys in question belonged to a farmhouse. Though in size and status it was actually a bit grander than that. The Ordnance Survey map of 1921 (above) describes Six Chimney Farm as a manor house, using the italic type which denotes an antiquity. It shows a large house with a complex of other buildings on the east side of the lane (which was otherwise very sparsely inhabited) set in a large area of fields and allotments. The 1834 map shows “Six Chimnies Farm” in much the same form. The earliest map I have, 1806, shows most of the same buildings under the name of “Six Chimney House”, and the road at that time was called Alston Street. The mill is not marked on the 1806 map, so presumably the farm predates it. I’m not sure what happened to the manor house but presumably it was demolished some time in the 1930s when the street underwent most of its residential development.
One thing you don’t expect to see at the bottom of a 1930s residential street is a house like this:
This magnificent L-shaped dwelling is Lower Alstone House, built in about 1703 by Richard Hyett, gentleman. It’s clearly marked on the 1806 map (above) just above the river. He built it to live in himself, and it would initially have stood in quite an open rural area because most of the town of Cheltenham simply didn’t exist at that time. It’s a stone’s throw from the River Chelt and stood opposite the Lower Alstone Mill until the latter’s unfortunate demolition in 2006. Over the years the house fell on harder times, variously occupied by a potato merchant and a fellmonger, and perhaps its most unfortunate blight is a large modern industrial building inexplicably shoved in next to it … not helped by the very recent installation of a private car park on the other side. The house has been restored though, and is magnificently beautiful. It is Cheltenham’s only surviving Queen Anne period house.
Following the loss of the mill, the only other old building in Arle Avenue is the house which adjoined the mill, a grey pebbledashed Victorian dwelling. While not anywhere near as grand as Mr Hyett’s house or the lost Six Chimney manor, it does have some rather groovy fleur-de-lys decorative ironwork around its window and doors.