Normal Terrace

11 01 2009


Beckingsale’s Passage = Normal Terrace

Normal Terrace is my all-time favourite Cheltenham street name. And before you ask, no, there’s no corresponding Abnormal Terrace or Freak Mews.

So how does a street get such a strange name? Well, I’m afraid the answer is quite ordinary. The lane runs through from the High Street to near the front of Gloucestershire  University’s Francis Close campus in Swindon Road. Back in 1849, long before it was a university, the campus was a teacher training college known as the Church of England Normal College. Now you might still be wondering why the heck it was called Normal College. But that, believe it or not, was then the normal name for a teacher-training college. It referred to the fact that its students were trained to teach within an established set of educational standards, known as “norms”.

The street name Normal Terrace came into use some time around 1874, but the lane was originally called Beckingsale’s Passage. The old name lingered for a long time even after the new one was introduced, as you can see on the map above, which dates from 1921.

Arguably the oldest part of Normal Terrace is its entrance onto the High Street, because there has always been a gap in the terrace here. Originally it just led into the back gardens of High Street buildings before the lane itself was formed. There were also a couple of cottages at its northern end, but nothing connecting the two until the 1830s. The first indication I can find of its existence as a lane is the 1834 map, where it goes right through to Swindon Road, but unnamed.

The southern entrance is through a shop which has for many years been Hardings electrical shop, a wonderful old-fashioned emporium which will be forever ingrained in the town’s social history.


High Street shop front of Harding’s Electronic Components, with the southern end of Normal Terrace going right through the building via a lopsided doorway.

And a short way down the passage it opens up onto one of the most delightfully unspoiled pockets of working-class 19th century Cheltenham, just yards from the busy High Street.


This mini-courtyard features a decorated old iron pillar holding the corner of the building up, and the original flagstone pavement. I’m not sure what it was originally built for, but it’s some kind of small commercial building. It still has an old wooden trapdoor over a cellar … right in front of a door, which must surely have precipitated a mishap or two over the last 170 years.

And the next thing you get to is this cottage. The back part is an extension on a much older building, but its roof garden is one of the summer highlights of Normal Terrace. This winter photo doesn’t do it justice, but all credit to the residents for the care they put into making it such a gorgeous spectacle in summer.


It would appear that Normal Terrace has been built only on its west side, for the most part. The east side appears to have had stretches of open ground along it separating it from the backs of houses in St Paul’s Street South (a notorious slum area in Victorian times, regenerated in the 1930s).

The west side however has several short terraces of cottages. These shown below were already built by 1834, though others are from the 1860s (thanks Polly, for the comment below). Notice the “speckled” chequerwork pattern of the brick, interspersing the red bricks with yellow ones. This pattern is a regular feature among Cheltenham’s “artisan” houses. The one on the right still has its original railings. Though quite what the point was of fencing in a front yard that’s barely big enough for a person to squeeze into …


So much for Normal Terrace. You may be wondering how it came by its original name, Beckingsale’s Passage. It took the name from a grocer’s shop in the High Street, and it was certainly called that by 1847. Beckingsale’s was a well known shop in its day, even featured in George Rowe’s illustrated guide to the town, and purveyor of the “celebrated Royal Cheltenham sausages”.

Just to confuse matters, there was another Beckingsale’s in the High Street from 1864 onwards, but that one was opposite the Plough Hotel and traded as a shirt manufacturer offering “outfits for India and the Colonies”, with not a sausage in sight.


Just in case you still don’t believe the lane is really called that …

All photos taken January 2009



12 responses

18 01 2009
Simon Galaxy

I love Normal Terrace too. Many years ago I was an advertising rep in Cheltenham and when I wasn’t harrassing shopkeepers I’d explore all the little back alleys off the Lower High Street. Normal Terrace was one of my favourites – especially that little corner with the cast-iron pillar (as shown in your photographs). I always thought it looked like it was something out of a Victorian timewarp. More recently I have visited Normal Terrace again, since one of my good friends has moved into a house down there.

16 07 2009

I am One of the lucky owners of one of the lovely cottages Which i Currently let .I am led to believe was built in 1865. Oddly enough my house is called Abnormal cottage. Many of these cottages have names, but don’t advertise the fact. The small row at the far end, was once owned by townsend bakers, which had many shops around the town including the lower high st.

In resent years the terrace underwent a face lift, where many of the cottages had the frontage returned to its original look (hence the windows). I am Also led to believe most if not all of the houses would of had iron railings in front of there poperty.

The houses That are set further back ( 8-9 ), was once a coaching inn.

The Terrace has seen many changes over the past few years, most notable the Colledge gaining universcity status. The terrace was once peaceful, where the neighbours would sit outside on a warm sunday afternoon and enjoy a glass of wine or two, we would all muck in and lend a hand if needed. There was once a real sence of community, which as been ruined by students drunken behaviour.

I would just like to finish on a positive note however, i do still think it is one of the prettiest terraces in cheltenham.

16 07 2009

Thank you Polly – I really appreciate your comment and the extra information you’ve given. Very interesting about the coaching inn and the Townsend bakers. I do understand the problem of drunken students – I used to live on the other side of the university, off St Paul’s Road, and we had problems there too. But it must be much worse for your street, as it is a direct route between the High Street pubs and the university. I agree though, Normal Terrace is one of Cheltenham’s loveliest hidden treasures.

20 09 2009
Chris Jensen Romer

I’m finding students are less of a problem since I have taken to standing around in the street at night smoking: apparently I am so scruffy I frighten them and they go the long way round. :)

I spoke to my lovely neighbour Chris this morning, and over our morning coffee she told me that when she was born in the street in 1923 the area from the grocers to the house with the lower garden roof was still called Beckingsale’ Passage, but the rest was then Normal Terrace, and it was only the old folk who referred even to that end as BP. She actually wondered if the name ever applied to this end, and suspected there must be another even earlier name for the whole street.

Anyway it’s a beautiful day here in Normal Terrace, and i have to go water the plants and take my neighbour out. One good thing about living down here is we have a real sense of community. Oh, and hi Polly, it’s your tenant, Christian!

21 09 2009

Thank you Christian, and please thank your neighbour for her recollections too … this kind of information from long-time residents is pricless and no amount of looking things up in books is going to match it!

15 04 2011
Sara Payne

I am interested in finding out about the history of 17 Normal Terrace, Cheltenham. According to the 1881 Census return, my grandfather, the stained glass artist Henry Payne was living there as a boy of 13, together with his mother, Elizabeth Rosina Payne, his stepfather William James Payne, a carpenter, and his sister Rosa. Rosa was married from there in 1888 to Charles Martin. By 1891 William and Elizabeth Rosina had moved to Worcester. Does anyone have information about the deeds of the house which might list ownership?

16 06 2011

I lived in 8/9 Normal Terrace from ’79 to ’85.
It had just been renavated by builders and knocked into one property from two.
Some time later, I had a damp proof course done, which is when we found solid Cotswold stone walls throughout.
I’d be surprised if it were a coaching in as we took all the plaster off (about 4″ or 5″ thick in places) and found no windows in any of the walls. Our thoughts were it must have been a barn.
However, there was at least one well under the front driveway, and another one in the garden that had a piece of ply wood over it under all the soil. Someone helping me lay it to lawn nearly fell down it!!
We were told that there were many other wells all along the road. Lots of stories about them.
8/9 was often called Ab or Sub … only right really.
yes we used to sit on the door step and watch the world go by. And one of our neighbours told me they’d paid £35 for their house in approx. 1930.
I was very proud to live in Normal Terrace.

25 07 2011

That’s brilliant Sheena, thanks very much for contributing all those details. It really helps build up a picture of the area.

22 09 2015

Researching my family tree I have found that my Great Grandfather, who was killed in WW1 was living at 1A Beckingsales Cottages, Normal Terrace. Can anyone throw any light on that address. Census 1911

29 01 2020
Suzy Melville

If anyone is still reading this, I am interested in finding out more about nos. 15, 16, and 17, They appear to have Victorian fronts with 1990s (?) additions to the back.

6 04 2020
Jessie Beckingsale

Hi – I am reading in CV lockdown :( But unfortunately have no useful info to share regarding Beckingsale Passage…only that I have found myself here whilst researching family history. I am originally a Beckingsale – with a ‘g’ & haven’t been to Cheltenham for years. Would love to visit when these hard times are over. Best wishes everyone – keep safe.

2 02 2021
Chris Jensen Romer

Well if you come back come have a coffee with us. I believe Beckingsales Passage took its name from Beckingsales shop which was probably owned by the family: the sign was recently uncovered and the family name is once again over the High Street, or was last time I was down there!

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