Photos taken October 2008
For me personally, Malvern Road is the street that defines Cheltenham. Partly because it was the first street I got to know intimately. But also because it has so many exquisitely Cheltonian features. From street level you can’t actually see the Malverns, but ironically the vista from the top of the road gives a magnificent view of the Cotswolds.
The road was developed during the 1830s, the heyday of Cheltenham’s building boom. Its southern end appears on the 1834 map under its original name of Lansdown Terrace, named after the magnificent terrace of houses which was originally built there. The terrace name is not much used these days, but the mews lane running round the back of it is still called Lansdown Terrace Lane.
The most imposing building in the street is the striking Gothic Christ Church, which despite its immense height and immaculately chiselled features seems to have been built in only three years, from 1837-1840. The signpost above stands in front of the church on what is now an open forecourt but was originally enclosed by a fine set of railings (you can see the row of empty holes in the kerbstone running along underneath). Sadly these were removed for scrap in 1942 in an unfortunate and ultimately pointless drive to gather iron for wartime munitions.
These days Malvern Road runs all the way from Lansdown Crescent to Gloucester Road but the northern end (north of the church) was originally a separate street called Christ Church Terrace, and was still being marked as such on some maps as late as the 1920s. It comprises mostly terraced housing, much less grand than Malvern Road proper but still very respectable. Like many others in Cheltenham, the terraces originally had their own names, Christchurch Terrace and Christchurch Villas. The names are no longer used but survive on individual houses.
In the 1900s the Honeybourne Line railway was carved through the middle of this section of street, but at a lower level than the street itself so it passes underneath a road bridge so subtle you’d hardly notice it. The railway line is now disused and makes a nice footpath. There was originally a Malvern Road Station, set back some way from the road at the edge of the Ladies College playing fields. It’s long gone now but the approach road still exists.
Another interesting building in this part of the street is Highbridge, the beautiful green house in the photo below with its exquisite oriel window. This house, and its slightly more modest beige companion, were built in 1857 by a prestigious local stonemason called James Brown. He and his son William made the famous Caryatid statues in Montpellier, and also worked on carvings for the Houses of Parliament. Brown built the beige house to live in himself, while Highbridge was a showpiece to advertise his carving skills and was rented out to provide him with a regular income.
Don’t you just love doors-in-the-wall that don’t actually lead anywhere? This lovely feature belongs to Richmond House, just to the south of the church, and screens off its garden from the street.
And looking down, between the modern concrete kerb and the tarmac and yellow line, a relic still survives of the street’s original paving surface, made with flagstones and cobblestone setts. It must have been truly bum-numbing to drive over these in a horse-drawn carriage in the days before pneumatic tyres. Ouch.
Back in the days before Christ Church and its terraces were built, the 1834 map shows just a handful of existing houses in Malvern Road. These were Lansdown Court, Drake House (built by a chap called Sir Francis Drake – no, not that one – in 1832) and a strange Tudor-Gothic edifice called Aban Court. The picture shows Aban Court’s unassuming letterbox set into a whopping great arched and studded front door.
Under construction on the 1834 map was the vast and magnificent Lansdown Terrace which gives Malvern Road much of its character, designed and built by the well-known Cheltenham architect Robert Jearrad. This long row stretches right the way down the lower half of the street (shown in the photo below is the end-of-terrace at the north end) and has kept most of its original features. It was supposed to be longer though – a second terrace of 12 houses was planned but never built. In 1834 only the first few houses (and their accompanying mews buildings) had been built but it was mostly complete by 1840. The end house here, separated from the others by a passage and archway, is Regan House. It was supposed to be the first house in the second terrace, but in the event it was the only one built – which is why it has the passageway running alongside it (originally intended as an access route between the terraces) and, although you can’t really see them in this picture, on its left hand side it bears the architectural mouldings of its thwarted neighbour. It stood derelict and vandalised for many years, its windows broken and its stonework pitted by airgun pellets. Its restoration in the mid 1990s won it a civic award. The green wheely bins are not original but the woman walking up towards the archway gives some idea of the grand scale of these houses.
The arched passageway leads into Lansdown Terrace Lane, a very old street which has its own Cheltonia article.
North end of Lansdown Terrace, with Regan House on the left
And here is the view from just inside the passage, looking back towards Malvern Road. The house you can see here is Aban Court.
And that’s not the only interesting thing in the passageway. The wall of the first house in the terrace has some old graffiti, showing that wanton vandalism is far from being a modern phenomenon. The stonework here was covered by a plaque for many years (hence the holes around the edge) which has had the effect of preserving the folk etchings underneath.
Further down the street, another peephole. This time into the front garden of Lansdown Court, a pair of flamboyant Italianate villas which actually front onto neighbouring Lansdown Crescent.