Olio Lane

21 09 2009


Photos taken September 2009

This idyllic little lane is proving quite elusive to research, so if anybody has any information to contribute I’d be pleased to have it. In fact, the more I try to research it, the more confused I get.

Olio Lane is a very small lane off St Luke’s Road – so small, in fact, that you could very easily walk past it without noticing it or assume it was a private driveway. Its entrance is at the side of a very pretty Victorian shop at the end of the terrace in St Luke’s Road, which was until recent years occupied by a wonderful second-hand bookshop, Michael Rayner Books. Although the shop itself is quite tiny, it was stuffed to the rafters with books and Michael Rayner was absolutely passionate about them. I really miss that shop, as it was such a pleasant and friendly place to browse – many of the books I rely on to research this website were bought from there. The beautifully preserved Victorian shopfront has a strip of stained glass along the top of its window and the most striking feature inside is a huge arched wooden Gothic door which leads through into the garden. The cream-coloured wall in the photo below is the garden wall behind the shop.


The name ‘olio’ means a hotchpotch or miscellany, which is what this lane is in every sense. It has no housing on its east side, only the back gardens of houses in St Luke’s Road and College Road, while on its west side it has a row of five Victorian brick cottages called Olio Cottages, and beyond that, set back in its railing-rimmed garden, a solitary house called Olio Villa. After that it fizzles away into greenery. The tarmac blends almost seamlessly into an earthy footpath with a high Victorian wall on either side, lush with undergrowth, and if you follow it for its entire length it brings you out on the busy Sandford Road opposite Cheltenham College chapel. This is another of Cheltenham’s secret timewarp places … a rustic relic preserved untouched within the urban centre.

Olio Cottages, as you can see in the picture above, are beautifully bedecked with flowers in summer, for which they’ve won an award.


Olio Villa. While I’m not an authority on architecture, this beautiful cottage looks stylistically older than its neighbours – early 1800s perhaps. Its attractive and finely wrought iron railings also beg to be dated to a bygone age – in short, the whole thing is like stepping into a timewarp to the pre-Regency period. But not only is it absent from all the 19th century maps I have, it doesn’t appear on the meticulously detailed Ordnance Survey of 1921 either. So is it a more recent building done in an antiquated style? Or an old cottage that has slipped through the cartographic floorboards?


1921 map – the terrace of five – Olio Cottages – are marked here in red. Beside them, the site of Olio Villa is shown as the back garden of a property on the main Bath Road – and no villa. The map also shows two more very small buildings further down the lane, possibly cottages or outbuildings for the big houses on the Bath Road.

Within the St Luke’s area generally, little has changed since this map was made. Except in College Road, where the large house Cheltondale is gone and its site is now occupied by the hospital A&E department.

The decoratively eccentric shape of St Luke’s Road is inspired by the old field boundary, which stands out on the early maps for its unusual sequence of three sharp curves, one of which is retained in the way St Luke’s Road curves around the church. Another of them is preserved in the line of St Luke’s Place, where it bends towards its junction with Sandford Street. It’s possible that Olio Lane follows the line of an old footpath which originally led all the way up to Barrett’s Mill, and of which St Luke’s Place is also a part.



13 responses

27 09 2009
Chris Jensen Romer

I’m terribly sorry to hear Michael Rayner Books has closed. I have not had the spare money, (or perhaps more importantly the shelving space) to buy many books for some time, but his shop was wonderful. Great little piece on a lane i know well – frustrating so little to be found on it!

3 10 2009

I’m very much in the same boat – an obsessive book-buying habit in my youth has left me without the cash or the space to keep trawling the second hand bookshops – but Michael Rayner’s was the best. Such a friendly chap too. I used to go in there a lot when I lived on that side of town.

There is probably lots of interesting information out there about Olio Lane … I just have to get off my backside and research it a bit better!

24 11 2009
Maggie Rayner

The terraceof six cottages on the ‘bookshop’ side of Olio Lane was originally called Ortago Terrace – I have not checked an old Kelly’s but I should think it’s in there somewhere. On the outside wall of the shop there is a small circular window which gives a perfect view of the church clock from inside the shop. The Gothic door at the back of the shop was rescued from Abbeyholme (originally Westholme), the house built for himself by the architect John Middleton in Overton Park Road.
I’m pleased to say the bookshop is now used as a bookbinding studio, so there’s a bit of continuity there.

24 11 2009

Thank you so much Maggie, that’s wonderful information – fascinating and priceless. I’m glad the Abbeyholme door has found a good home and it’s good to know that the the bookshop lives on in spirit.

24 06 2010

came upon this site by chance,very interesting.Does anyone know of any info about a Reay family that lived in no.4 Olio cottage .

21 08 2011

I was led to this page whilst looking for another reference and may be able to assist annmari with her question from last year. Number 4 Olio Cottages was home to my mother’s grandparents for many years and where we also lived until the early 1960s. I don’t know what her interest is but if there are any means of putting her in touch with me I shall be pleased to try to answer any questions about the Reay family she may have.

21 08 2011

Thank you for your kind offer Stephen. I have passed on the details to the email address I have for her.

28 08 2011

Thank you Rebsie. Annmari has contacted me and we have exchanged some information about the Reays that was new to both of us. Maggie’s reference to the terrace of five Olio Cottages as originally being called Ortago Terrace was something I had never heard before and a friend of mine has checked it with a Cheltenham directory of 1904. Ortago Terrace did exist but is the the six houses on the south side of St Luke’s Road between Olio Lane and St Luke’s Court which contains the bookbinding studio. In 1904 the shop was the premises of Messrs H Millard & Sons (Builders and House Decorators). At the time we lived at Olio Cottages the local builder was a Mr Percy Millard who lived in a house on the west curve of St Luke’s Road opposite the church. His rear entrance led onto Olio Lane and the short lane to his builder’s yard was opposite running between 5 Olio Cottages and Olio Villa. The site of the yard now appears to be covered by the St Luke’s Court development which also replaced a high, blank brick wall which ran along the back of the gardens of Olio Cottages and rather dominated them..

6 11 2011
Sarah Scott

Hi, My great, great, great great grandparents lived in 3 Olio Cottages in 1881. They were a family of 6. Henry Peck was the Coachman, his son was a groom, the eldest daughter a dressmaker and the younger daughter a school teacher. I don’t know how long they lived there but if anyone else knows more i’d love to hear it.

23 01 2017
Howard Marshall.

As Maggie says the terrace of 6 cottages between nos 1 & 11 used to be called Otago Terrace. I was going to have a cast iron plaque made to put on the wall outside my house at no 7. However I could never find out the correct spelling for Otago or as Maggie spells it Ortago.

26 01 2017
Stephen Eldridge

Here’s a reference to Otago Terrace, St Luke’s Road, from the London Gazette of 3rd March 1933 which Howard may find helpful re the spelling of the name of this terrace and there are others recorded on Google. I see from a quick search that there is another Ortago Terrace in Bath of about the same period and that the name seems to originate from New Zealand but I haven’t tried to find why it should appear on terraced houses in Cheltenham and Bath.

MILLARD, Percival Edward, 6, Otago Terrace,
St. Luke’s Road, Cheltenham, in the county
of Gloucester, BUILDER and DECORATOR,
carrying on business under the name or style
of ” H. MILLARD & SONS.”
No. of Matter—2 of 1933.
Date of First Meeting—March 13, 1933.
3 p.m.
Place—The County Court Offices, Cheltenham.
Date of Public Examination—April 27, 1933.
10.30 a.m.
Place—The Court House, Cheltenham.

Regards, Stephen

26 01 2017
Stephen Eldridge

Sorry, the second reference to the houses in Bath should also have read ‘Otago Terrace’. S.

3 07 2017
Peter Emery

I lived at 5 Olio Cottages from 1986 to 1991. It’s not quite true that there are no buildings on the East side of Olio Lane. There is a small bungalow built in the garden of one of the houses on St.Lukes Road which is accessed via Olio Lane. It was built around the time I moved in, and was rented to a couple of girls, one of whom I ended up marrying, so she had to move her stuff all of 50 yards to come and live with me.

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