Bad planning: how the Engineers got spannered

29 12 2008

newengineers

St Paul’s Road, on the corner of Brunswick Street. The Engineers Arms pub (above) stood here for over 100 years, its bay-windowed frontage surrounded by trees and its beer garden secluded behind high Victorian walls. This monstrous piece of shite is going up in its place.

uglyflats1

uglyflats2

How the pound signs must have lit up in the developers’ eyes when they got their chance to slap a cheapie block of flats up on this key corner site. But it’s turned out to be a bit of a white (and brown) elephant, standing abandoned and unfinished for some while. It has already had paint thrown over it, such is the contempt and disgust it inspires among local residents.

OK, so St Paul’s is not one of Cheltenham’s nicest places (I know, I used to live there) but it has always kept an authentically earthy 19th century character. That character has taken a hell of a bashing in the last decade, as amongst other things it’s lost its wedge-shaped Victorian malt house, countless tucked-away historic outbuildings (oh so tempting to cram a new house in those spaces) and its imposing old two-tone brick hospital and workhouse. It’s gained a rash of cheap hamster-cage houses, a block of plasticky student flats and a massive parking problem. The southern side now looks out over the butt end of an offensively ugly hotel and multi-storey car park, two unsightly zits which sprang up on the face of the 2006 Brewery redevelopment. Let’s face it, all the crappiest ideas that get shat out the arse end of town planning end up here. And I really think the selfish idiots who dump bad developments on areas where they don’t have to live should give St Paul’s a break now.

If I’d known the Engineers pub was under threat of redevelopment I’d have taken some more photographs of it. As it is, I never expected anyone would want to demolish it, and the side view along St Paul’s Road (at the top of the post) taken towards the end of 2003, when the pub had been derelict for more than a year, is the only one I have. Three months later, it looked like this:

engineerssite

The demolition was a pointless waste. The Engineers was a curious and characterful building. In some ways it looked like a typical residential house of the late 19th century, with bay windows top and bottom and a sloping roofline. But it had a ‘false entrance’, a blocky portal butting up to the pavement which formed a passage to the pub itself, which was set back within its gardens and almost totally obscured by trees.

The pub first opened as the Engineers Arms alehouse in or before 1891, possibly equipped with its own brewery and possibly incorporating parts of an older house, and it was run by the Cheltenham Original Brewery. The landlord back then was Benjamin Ratcliffe, who had handed over to Annie Matilda Walter by 1903, and then through the First World War and the 1920s it was run by Sidney and Emily Tibbles.

It’s always a bad sign when pubs start changing their names. In the 90s the Engineers Arms became the New Engineers for a few years, then briefly flailed as the New Ale House before whimpering out of business in 2002.

The tall Victorian brick wall with its old cast iron name plate was lost. So were all the trees. When it was demolished a network of large cellars was exposed underneath.

engineerscellar

Cellars under the Engineers Arms pub site, early 2004

engineersshaft

This shaft into the cellars was in the driveway into the pub’s courtyard. The hole is roughly 10 or 12ft deep and the passage below extends under the pavement. Photographed in 2004.

It’s interesting in view of a local rumour about underground passageways going under St Paul’s church, almost exactly on the opposite side of the road. Urban myths about subterranean passageways are common in most towns and there’s never been any real evidence that one exists here, but these things often have some basis in reality. The hidden cellars extended some way under the road towards the church. Maybe they add weight to the idea that there was a brewery on site, or maybe they belonged to the house which occupied the site before …

The Engineers itself replaced a Regency-era house, Hamilton Cottage. Don’t be fooled by the word “cottage” … it was a large and prestigious house and dated from the period when it was fashionable to call such things cottages. Hamilton Cottage is depicted very clearly (my label) on the 1820 map, which even details the layout of its extensive gardens.

It was probably built some time after 1806 and pre-dates St Paul’s church and much of the rest of St Paul’s, and was originally surrounded on three sides by fields. It was described in 1820 as being in “a retired airy part of town” – not a description you’d recognise today.

1820map_hamiltoncott

1820 map, showing Hamilton Cottage (the Engineers pub site) in a then almost empty St Paul’s Road, before the church was built. The only street in existence was the southern part of Brunswick Street, originally called Rutland Street. The small terraced houses here were built between 1806 and 1810. Also present but undeveloped is the line of St Paul’s Lane, and the turnpike road to Swindon. The house marked with a ‘g’ at the bottom of the map is 18th century Woodbine Cottage, later known as North Lodge and then Dunalley Lodge, which still survives today, sideways on to the road and well hemmed in by Victorian terraces so you’d hardly know it was there.

I don’t know when or why Hamilton Cottage bit the dust, but a Hamilton reference survives in the name of a Victorian terrace across the street, now part of St Paul’s Road but it still bears its old Hamilton Place nameplate.

uglynewbuilding

Photographed December 2008

And at the end of 2008, almost five years after the pub was obliterated, the site is still a mess. Boarded over with hardboard and plastic sheeting, and with bricks missing from around its unfinished windows, the new occupant of this site is a crass intrusion. Look how out of proportion it is to the Victorian terrace on the other side. The Engineers pub had a garden at the front and a courtyard at the back, but this clumsy slab butts right up to the boundary on all sides to squeeze as many units as possible into the available space. Its height is disproportionate and the styling cheap and thoughtless, flat-pack architecture from the bargain bin, and all the style of a Kit-Kat with the chocolate picked off. The front lower corner is built of bricks which don’t match the others, forming a discoloured patch. It isn’t even built yet and already it looks as though a generation of dog wee has soaked up into it. What an insult to the beautiful 1820s Greek Revival architecture it faces across the road. And to St Paul’s residents, who now have to walk past this shameless bulk on a daily basis. And in fact they have to walk on the other side of the road, because the pavement is swallowed up by a Portaloo and corrugated iron sheets, and pedestrians take their lives into their hands trying to get past it.

For gawd’s sake get shot of this junk and all its sorry ilk. Cheltenham deserves better.

With thanks to the Gloucestershire Pubs site for information about the pub history.

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8 responses

8 01 2009
Simon Galaxy

I recall going on a pub crawl in the late 1980s around some of the more dubious hostelries in Cheltenham. The Engineers’ Arms was one of them. It was actually quite a scary experience. There really was sawdust sprinkled on the floor, the barmaids were all heavily pregnant (and smoking) and I felt out of place not having a tattoo on my neck or face. No exaggeration…

8 01 2009
cheltonia

Haha … yeah, I can believe that actually. It did attract a pretty rough clientele among the primitive fringes of the biker fraternity and I must admit that during the time I lived in St Paul’s I was too scared to go in there.

I’m sure I remember going in a spit and sawdust pub in Montpellier in the late 80s, but I haven’t seen anything like that for years … it’s probably banned now under health and safety.

10 08 2010
Mim Nash

How very sad this is – my great grandfather was landlord of this pub and died there and I was hoping to take some photos on a forthcoming visit to Cheltenham. He was also landlord of the Coopers Inn which was badly damaged by fire in the 1900s and is now called The Vine I think.
Why can’t Cheltenham not take better care of these smaller old buildings? Is it just because they are pubs that the town planners think they can be ruined with unsympathetic development or knocked down to make way for ugly flats? Is this Cheltenham snootiness creeping in or what?

10 08 2010
cheltonia

It is very sad Mim, I completely agree with you. Even some of the fine Regency buildings are still disappearing and the smaller less prestigious ones have no protection at all. My main motivation for starting up this site was to try to encourage people to have some love and respect for the town’s heritage. Contrary to its reputation Cheltenham is not a snooty place at all – the problem is common-or-garden greed. Many of the developers who do this opportunist infill are not based in Cheltenham anyway so they don’t have to live with their ugly trash.

On a more positive note, the Vine in the High Street is still a lovely building. Have you looked at the Gloucestershire Pubs History website? The bloke who runs that is a real mine of information and if you search for the Engineers there are some wonderful old photos.

4 04 2012
hellomeaow

Dear Rebsie

Thank you very much for this information on the Engineers Arms. And the underground cellars! It makes me angry that people think of nothing, but only of their own benefit. Also it’s often the arrogant attitude that these people tend to believe that new ‘modern’ buildings will make the area ‘better’. What do they know about people who live next door?

By the way, I am a student doing a research around the area at the moment, and wanting to organise an alternative guided tour or some kind with local people. I got this idea after discovering the wonderful pub Adam and Eve on Townsend Street. The research is still in very early stage, and I like to develop my project by talking to people. So, I wondered if you would be interested in getting in touch with me at ss101ck@gold.ac.uk .

Apologise for putting this message on the comment section as I couldn’t find any other ways of contacting you directly.

Best Wishes

Chie

23 08 2012
jacquirodger

Creative Solutions is a Cheltenham based Arts & Media company, who do a lot of work with people and places that we think are special – generally not established ones! We may be doing some work in the St Pauls area soon and would love to make contact with you and some of the people who have commented on your blog. You can contact me by e mail or through get our details on http://www.creativesolutions.org.uk. Hope to hear from you soon

9 06 2015
Rachael

Hi,
I currently live in Brunswick Street, and have found all this information truly fascinating!! Thank you for putting all this up here for people to see!
Do you know if its possible to get access to any more old pictures of the area and if so, get prints of any of them?

Rachael

1 02 2016
A McP

Dear Cheltonia,
Every once in a while I come back to your site and mourn the loss of St Pauls – the area now is in full decline (actually, i think the decline is complete!)
There are no more infill plots to fill or rear gardens to rape. The corrupt Section 106 £’s have been consumed and spent elsewhere. Every little terrace that comes to market is bought by a “landlord” and turned into a HMO (hovel in multiple occupation)
Young couples have been priced out of the area and those of us who still live here face more traffic, more noise, more litter, more drunken revelry and vomit splashed pavements. St Pauls road is being turned into a main road which it is incapable of sustaining.
Each house that becomes student accommodation is one less lot of Council Tax paid, which leads to further reduced services – I mean, the most densely populated area in town has fortnightly bin / recycling collections.
I’m saddened by it but what to do?
Hope you are still around and thank you for this site.

A McP.

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