Photos taken November 2008
How does an unobtrusive service lane round the back end of Montpellier get a name like Casino Place? And for that matter, how many people walk past it every day without noticing it’s there?
Casino Place appears, unnamed, on the 1834 map. It goes from Suffolk Road through to the bottom end of Andover Road in that part of Cheltenham formerly known as South Town. It runs parallel to Great Norwood Street on one side and Painswick Road on the other. Another small road, St James’ Place, slices through at right angles to join up these two streets and cuts Casino Place in two.
Detail from Merrett’s map of 1834.
As you can see, the area was still largely unbuilt. The terraces in Great Norwood Street were just starting to go up, while Painswick Road/Lawn was still a route through the fields and graced with a timber yard. St James’ Place was unnamed and only had one dwelling in it, Casino Cottage. The black line you can see running down the road on the left (that’s Andover Road, by the way) is the old railtrack from the quarries on Leckhampton Hill. The little thin terrace to the left of that is Providence Cottages, some of which still survive today.
Let’s start at the top end. The northern entrance to Casino Place has no pretensions of glamour despite its proximity to many exceptionally beautiful streets. In fact the lane is down the side of a humble pair of Victorian cottages on Suffolk Road which are currently (end of 2008) home to a derelict launderette.
Back in 1824, when this area was still mostly undeveloped, two fine villas were built in the top part of Painswick Road (or Painswick Lawn as it was called then) on its eastern side. (See map above.) One was Painswick Lawn House on the corner plot butting onto Suffolk Road, and the second, much larger one, was named Casino House. When newly built it was advertised as a “very elegant villa with 14 rooms” and was set in a capacious garden with a red brick boundary wall. The service lane running along the back was named Casino Place. One image (below) survives of Casino, showing it to be a slabby imposing edifice with minimal ornamentation, though its interior seems to have been opulent – it had a geometrical staircase built of Bath stone and the entrance hall had marble inset floors. Its original owner was William Whitehead, but it didn’t remain a private home; by 1830 it was in use as a boys’ school run by William Childe. At the time of the 1841 census it was the home of Sarah Langdon, a woman in her early 60s of independent means, who was running it as a school for young ladies. Susanna and Ann Langdon (presumably her daughters) were schoolmistresses and there were sixteen resident pupils, all girls, aged mostly 14 and 15, plus three female servants. Painswick Lawn House next door was also a ladies’ school at this time but it’s unclear in the census whether the two were connected. The Misses Langdon clearly made an impression on the area because a whole street was named after them in the 1890s, Langdon Road just the other side of the Norwood Arms roundabout. Susanna and another schoolmistress sister, Margaret, were still living in Cheltenham in 1881 in a high class lodging house beside the Belle Vue Hotel in the High Street. They never married.
By the time of the 1881 census, Casino had been renamed Haldon House. It was still a school, now run by Charles Pratt Haward, whose occupation is given as “Prof of Singing (Musician)”. His wife Lucy was a schoolmistress and the house was also occupied by a gaggle of governesses, three servants and eight boarding pupils, all young boys.
Casino, from an 1826 engraving (Griffith’s New Historical Description of Cheltenham) when it was newly built. What is most striking here is that the surrounding area is completely undeveloped. The unmade road in the foreground is presumably Painswick Road, with Great Norwood Street approximately corresponding to the line of trees behind the house, and a perfect uninterrupted vista towards Leckhampton Hill. The scene is utterly unrecognisable today.
Sadly Casino isn’t there any more; it was demolished in the 1930s and its gardens built on, but the original perimeter wall still survives (with one remaining stone pier at the front entrance), and so does one of its outbuildings in Casino Place, now known as Holden’s Cottage.
This is all that survives of Casino House, the garden wall and a solitary mews cottage.
In the 1841 census it’s not clear how many cottages there were in Casino Place because the name wasn’t in use at that point. It lists a dwelling at the “back of Casino House” occupied by a plasterer called Samuel Hulbert and his three daughters, which may be the cottage shown above.
Below is another view from further down where Casino Place opens onto St James’ Place, a tiny delight of a street which retains its original cottages in all their Regency splendour. The ivy-clad perimeter wall of Casino House runs along the side of St James’ Place and the original cobblestones also survive in the driveway opening. The top part of Casino Place is only partially tarmacked and remains one of the few places in suburban Cheltenham where you can still get your feet muddy after it’s been raining.
In St James’ Place can be found Casino Cottages, which are older than the rest of the street.
Which brings us to the lower section of Casino Place.
I haven’t been able to confirm this, but I suspect the lower section was originally called Painswick Place. The 1841 census refers to it by that name and lists two dwellings there, which matches what appears on the 1834 map.
You can see on the 1834 map that one side of the lane was occupied by a timber yard, probably servicing the various building projects in the area. The two cottages were on the other side, directly opposite. In the 1841 census one cottage was uninhabited and the other was home to a sawyer, Thomas Hart, who was presumably employed in the yard.
By 1855 there were 10 cottages in the row and by 1881 it had risen to 18. The census for that year shows a selection of low-paid workers living in them, no doubt in a great deal more poverty than would be seen on the fashionable streets either side, or even just round the corner in St James’ Place. They included Mary Heylott, a laundress (somebody had to wash the linen of the wealthy, and this job was generally done by older widowed women like Mary), John Baldwyn the gardener and a domestic servant called Elizabeth Greatorex. There were also carters and fly drivers, dressmakers, a few farm labourers and an unemployed nurse. Numbers 7 and 8 were uninhabited.
Numbers 1-10 were included in a slum clearance programme in 1936 and demolished. However, parts of some of the ground floor frontages still remain if you look closely and have been adapted into garages and outbuildings.
The lower section of Casino Place. The area to the left, in front of the red wall, is where the timber yard originally was. The garages here have been made out of the shells of old cottages, and you can still see the old narrow pavement running down both sides.
A few features still survive as a reminder that these were once people’s homes. Like this old window. The block of stone to the right of the drainpipe has an inscription on it, no longer legible, and the remains of a number 1.
With thanks to Gillian Kelly for friendship and additional research.