Charles Street (formerly Albert Street)

19 10 2009

charlesstreet1

This road in St Peter’s, in the area informally known as Lower Dockem, was originally part of Baker Street when it was first developed in the mid to late 1830s, but by the time of the 1841 census it had its own name – Albert Street.

Of course there were Albert Streets burgeoning all over the nation at that time, with Prince Albert and Queen Victoria recently having come to the throne – so many in fact that there were two in Cheltenham! The other Albert Street was only a few hundred yards up the road in St Paul’s. It’s not clear which of the two came first because they were built at pretty much the same time. Despite the huge potential for confusion, the two Albert Streets co-existed for over a century – until the St Peter’s one was renamed in 1953 – possibly named after Prince Charles.

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Handmade ceramic butterfly frieze over a door in Charles Street

In the 1841 census, when the street was newly built, a large number of the residents were agricultural labourers, reflecting the still principally rural surroundings at that time. But there were also a few stone masons, painters and carpenters making use of the local building boom, plus the obligatory laundresses, who were most often widowed women. The census shows that most houses had only one family or household each, so at least overcrowding was not as bad here as in some of the other streets in Lower Dockem.

Though overcrowding is all relative. Charles Street has what must surely be the narrowest housefront in the whole of Cheltenham? If anyone spots a narrower one I’d like to hear about it!

charlesstreet2

That blue house is seriously tiny! The car outside gives it some perspective

Charles Street was part of a development which was originally conceived as a whole estate called Somers Town stretching westwards from Townsend Street. It’s marked as such on the 1834 map, when the streets were only tentatively laid out – but the name seems to have fizzled out and there are apparently no references to it after the late 1840s. It consisted of Russell Street, Russell Place, Cleveland Street and Charles (or Albert back then) Street.

1834map_somerstown

1834 map. The lightly laid out plots of Somers Town were yet to form themselves into the streets we know today, though development was working its way west along Tewkesbury Road and northwards up Townsend Street (which was at one time quite literally the town’s end). It also shows that the grid of streets was conceived very much as a development on Tewkesbury Road, and didn’t connect up with Swindon Road to the north as it does now. However the expansion through to Swindon Road must have been part of the original development, and not added on later. Charles Street, still undeveloped on this map, is the one immediately to the west of Townsend Street. The terrace fronting onto Tewkesbury Road (shown here as Somers Place) was completely swept away during 20th century road widening.

There is a First World War tragedy associated with Charles Street. No. 24 was the home of Richard and Rosetta Mason whose three sons were all killed in the trenches. In peace time all three had worked for the Gloucestershire Echo. The eldest, Joe Mason, joined up early in the war and was sent home in 1915 after being gassed and wounded at Ypres. No sooner had he rejoined his battalion when he was wounded again. After a spell in hospital he was sent out to fight for a third time, and won the Military Medal in October 1917 for bravery. A month later he was killed during the Battle of Cambrai, aged only 26 and leaving behind a widow, Emily, and a child. The middle son Jack (real name Harold) also enlisted at the start of the war and was sent home after suffering a burned arm in the trenches in 1915. In March 1916 he was back in the front line trenches at Neuve Chapelle when he was hit by a trench mortar, and was buried in a nearby British cemetery. He was 22. The youngest son Dick (real name Frederick) was a messenger boy at the Gloucestershire Echo and aged only 18 when he was killed in August 1916 during a pointless and futile manoeuvre in the Battle of the Somme. He has no known grave.

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3 responses

1 02 2014
Helen Thorley

Hello! We lived in 10 Charles St., for 10 years. It’s not just the frontage that is narrow – the whole house was less than 7 feet wide. It was a lovely quirky little house.

4 02 2014
Rebsie

That’s fascinating Helen, thank you for your comment. Makes you wonder how it came to be built that way in the first place … whether there was demand for such a tiny house or whether somebody miscalculated the size of the plots, or perhaps it was supposed to be left as a passageway to the back yards and somebody ended up squeezing a house in there instead. Terraces were often built piecemeal by different builders, who didn’t always agree on the plans.

4 02 2014
Helen Thorley

My (unverified) understanding was that it was originally an alley through to some stables (?) – which was later turned into a small shop and then later again became our lovely little house.

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