St James is a popular street patron in Cheltenham. He has a Square, a Street, a Place and at one time had a railway station. In fact he had two Places – there was formerly a street or terrace of that name in what is now Ambrose Street. Other related street and house names have existed over the years, such as St James’s Parade (part of the Square), St James’s Passage (off the High Street), and St James’s Terrace (in Suffolk Parade). An advert for a new house for sale in 1809 even makes reference to a St James’s Village, though it’s not entirely clear where this refers to – most likely the development around St James’s Square, which, in true Cheltenham style, was never actually completed as a square. Even more confusingly, many of the streets under St James’s patronage are in completely different parts of town … although the two main ones began development around the same time, in the very early 1800s. St James’s Church was built in Suffolk Square in the late 1820s.
Why St James? Well there was a tradition that Cheltenham’s annual fair was held on St James’s Day. But it’s more likely that the name came from another fashionable Regency development elsewhere … possibly Bath, where a St James’s Square was built in the 1790s.
St James’s Place is one of the lesser known streets of that name, probably named after the church, tucked away as a tiny offshoot from Great Norwood Street running through to Painswick Road and quietly preserving a great deal of 19th century character in the beautiful area between Montpellier and Leckhampton formerly known as South Town. It’s one of the streets in Cheltenham which has changed so little you can quite easily imagine what it must have been like 150 years ago.
The street itself is small and narrow, its streetscape mostly consisting of a terrace of smallish townhouses (above) built in the 1840s on the south side of the street, on the site of a Regency-period timber yard. This terrace was constructed in an L-shape along two sides of the timber yard, one side of it fronting onto Painswick Road. It’s likely that the name St James’s Place originally belonged to the terrace (both sides of it) rather than the actual street. Only numbers 1-7 are still given their original name and numbers, the others (8-14) being re-numbered as part of Painswick Road.
The north side of St James’s Place is mainly occupied by a high red-brick perimeter wall. The wall is the surviving relic of a very fine house called Casino, and originally marked the boundary of its large garden. Casino House was built around 1824 as a private dwelling but by 1830 had become a boys’ school run by William Childe, and a decade later was a girls’ school run by the Misses Langdon. It was It was unfortunately demolished in the 1930s and replaced by several more modest houses. It gives its name to Casino Place, the tiny service lane which crosses through St James’s Place at right angles. There is still a section of the pavement in St James’s Place at the entrance to Casino Place where the original cobblestones have been preserved (see the article on Casino Place for pictures).
1834 map. St James’s Place is shown here, unnamed, between ‘Painswick Lawn’ and Great Norwood Street, with the thin line of Casino Place crossing over it. A timber yard occupies the south west section where the main terrace of housing now stands – most likely serving the huge building boom taking place in the area at the time. In St James’s Place itself, a solitary dwelling or pair of dwellings stands on the junction with lower Casino Place but it is otherwise undeveloped. The map indicates that Great Norwood Street was very much a work-in-progress at the time, with its west side laid out as a terrace but only a few houses actually built and its east side mostly still fields. Also shown here is the old ‘Rail Road’ – a horse-drawn tram line – which was used to transport Cotswold stone from the quarries on Leckhampton Hill to a depot at the top end of Gloucester Road. The line it follows here is present day Andover Road.
The exact origin of St James’s Place is difficult to pinpoint, as it seems to have started out as an access road without much in the way of housing. The 1806 map shows the whole South Town area as open fields with no development at all. During the 1820s Painswick Road (then known as Painswick Lawn) and Great Norwood Street were laid out and the line of St James’s Place established between the two … and it was probably around this time that it acquired its first building – Casino Cottage – which is the only dwelling listed there on the 1841 census. By the time of the 1855 Old Town Survey there were 14 houses listed in the street, though of course half of these were round the corner and now part of Painswick Road.
As far as I can work out, the white house with the bay windows and plants trained up the front is Casino Cottage, the earliest building in the street which predates the other houses pictured here. The entrance to the lower section of Casino Place can be seen running along the side of it. It was originally a pair of cottages, and was probably built in the 1820s around the same time as its opulent neighbour Casino House, whose garden wall it overlooks. The tall buff coloured house on the left presents its butt end here … it fronts onto Great Norwood Street and its site is shown as an empty building plot on the 1834 map above. Only just visible in this photo is a small relic of an old sign painted onto its upper wall.
Detail of the old painted brickwork peeping through the rendering. Presumably the word in its entirety is ‘Norwood’.