Corpus Street

15 10 2009

corpusstreet1

Photos taken September 2009

Corpus Street is a quiet cul-de-sac off the busy A40 London Road and although only one side survives in its original form it’s a lovely example of a Regency-era artisan street.

The origins of Corpus Street – and its name – go back to a time when large areas of land in Cheltenham were held and administered by Corpus Christi College, Oxford. The area of land to the south of London Road was known as Kinsham Close, which later morphed into Keynsham, a name which is still prevalent in that part of Cheltenham today. It was part of the charity estate bequeathed by Richard Pate, whose beneficence is still apparent in the town some 400 years after his death. Pate left substantial land holdings in the care of Corpus Christi College, from which he had graduated, and they were responsible for its administration for several centuries.

Some time around 1818, the Corpus Christi College records note that “3 houses are begun at the front of Keynsham Close and the lessee proposes to have a street down the centre with small houses on each side and 3 on the east side to correspond with the 3 on the west side”.

These ‘3 houses’ are Oxford Villas, a beautiful Regency mini-terrace which fronts onto London Road and remains one of the special attractions in this part of Cheltenham. Their frontages have been distinctive in recent years for having been painted a dark grey-green and their ironwork a contrasting white – you can see a bit of them in the photo above. Each house has an exquisitely lacy and delicate wrought iron veranda with a tented hood. The houses are set back from the road with long front gardens bounded by wrought iron railings. The railing finials bear the name of Marshall, made by the local foundry R.E.& C. Marshall … perhaps Marshall’s made the verandas too.

The proposed second group of three on the east side were never built, their intended plot being taken up by a large villa instead. But the “street down the centre” is what became Corpus Street. The 1820 map shows the newly built Oxford Villas … Corpus Street didn’t yet exist but its line is visible as a strip along the left hand side of the terrace.

1820map_oxfordvillas

1820 map. Two confusing things about this map – one, it’s upside down and has south at the top. Secondly, the main road shown here was originally part of the High Street, but is now part of London Road instead (the point at which the High Street ends and London Road begins was changed in 1954). I’ve added a label to show where Oxford Villas are, newly built in the field known as Keynsham Close. The whole area was still very lightly developed at this time, but familar names already present include Oxford Parade (then only part built), Oxford Street (also part built and not yet meeting up with the main road) and Keynsham Bank (a group of houses now demolished but the name survives). Just opposite Oxford Villas and to the right is the large detached house known as The Priory, as yet unencumbered by any adjoining houses or streets.

The top section of Corpus Street is entirely taken up with the sides and backs of the houses fronting onto London Road. Because Oxford Villas have such long front gardens, and also fairly generous rear gardens, they dominate a large chunk and the houses of Corpus Street itself don’t begin until some way down the street.

corpusstreet3

The rear of Oxford Villas viewed from Corpus Street; walled gardens and a very attractive lunette window with a fanlight (rems of).

The layout and building of Corpus Street is thought to have begun in 1820 or thereabouts, continuing through until at least 1826, and comprised two terraces of ‘small houses’. In the early stages of development it was called Corpus Christi Street, but was soon settled in its shorter form. It’s possible that the bricks used to build the houses were dug and fired on site, as there is a reference in the Corpus Christi records to Keynsham Close being used as a brickfield in 1818. They are typical of Georgian artisan houses; compact and solid and sturdy with the six-paned sash windows typical of the period (some of which have been replaced with bigger panes over the years) and a cellar underneath. They would have been home to skilled tradespeople, whose lives would have been very different from those who lived in the villas along London Road. In the 1841 census, for example, Corpus Street was inhabited by a range of dressmakers, tanners, smiths, builders, laundresses, hairdressers and cooks, while the end house of Oxford Villas was the home of a surgeon who kept two servants.

Decades later, the second house from the left in the picture below was the home of Arthur Phillips, an employee of the Cheltenham Original Brewery who joined up to fight in the First World War and was killed in the 3rd Battle of Ypres in 1917. His neighbour across the street, George Organ, met the same fate a year later in 1918; he had been a pony-carriage owner in the years before the war, running a ‘taxi’ type service in the town with his two carriages.

corpusstreet2

I’m curious about the dips in the pavement in front of each door … you normally only see this where there is a vehicle access, so I’m not sure why it was done here, but it seems to follow the line of the original pavement which still shows through the tarmac in places. There are also some slight differences in detail between the houses, which suggests that they may not have all been built by the same builder, but parcelled up into lots which were sold off separately (a common practice at the time). An overall design was adhered to but small details varied. For example most, but not all, have a lunette panel above the front door, some of which are glazed and others left blank. This one has a beautifully ornate fanlight.

corpusstreet5

At one time there was a beerhouse at 5 Corpus Street called the Oxford Arms, belonging to the Cheltenham Original Brewery. It is known to have been there in the 1870s and was still there in 1926, but was demolished along with the rest of the western side of the street shortly afterwards.

In its original form, Corpus Street had terraces on both sides. The western one was slightly longer and also, if the 1834 map is any indication, had some houses which were bigger. There was a detached house in its own grounds at the far end, leading through into market gardens and fields. The 1841 census seems to show this house (assuming the ordering of the properties is consecutive, which is a bit of an assumption with the 1841 census) as Sandford Lodge, where a governess presided over four pupils. Most of the houses on both sides originally backed onto fields behind their rear gardens, but this changed as the surrounding area got more built up.

1834map_corpusst

1834 map. If you look at this one in conjunction with the 1820 map (which is the opposite way up) you can see that the development of this area was still proceeding quite slowly. Apart from Corpus Street, and the completion of Oxford Parade across the road, there wasn’t a lot of difference. The line running down the left hand side is the River Chelt, and the large field beyond it is what is now Sandford Park.

By the early 1920s the field behind the west side of the street was occupied by a large Drug Manufactory extending right down to the River Chelt, and some time after this the entire western side of Corpus Street was demolished to make way for light industrial buildings, which is a very great shame. These buildings have since been swept away and replaced with modern housing, including a new cul-de-sac, which is reasonably sympathetic with the style of the street even if it’s no substitute for what is lost. The east side remains intact and beautifully kept … but then these former working class houses are now expensive and desirable!

corpusstreet4

The far end of the terrace on the east side. The cream coloured house was originally the end of the terrace and the land next to it remained a field well into the 20th century. It’s now built up with more recent housing set back from the rest of the terrace, just visible here on the right.

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2 responses

6 11 2009
Daniel

Thank you for a truly excellent article on the assemblage of architectural styles on display in Cheltenham. I found it informative, wonderfully illustrated with marvelous photographs, yet written in a manner that the lay-person can comprehend and enjoy. The article serves to delineate between the antiquitous and the more modern elements of local architecture, showing the would-be observer where to look and how to discern between these influences. The whole website is a credit to the town in that it serves to explicate its uniquely hybridized composition and history. I hope to visit and see these things for myself in the near future.

26 01 2017
Jeff Ellis

Thank you for your article. I was raised at 21 Corpus Street. Which was about 2nd or 3rd in on the left as it is now. I remember the smell in summer from the UCAL drug factory which was right opposite our house, and indeed the stable that was there as well. Many memories brought back here.

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