Kew Place is a small but very pretty and unspoiled street off the Bath Road, between Thirlestaine House (part of Cheltenham College) and the Bath Road shops. It leads through to another little street called Clare Place, which is also full of historic character, and between them they form an L-shaped cul-de-sac, so it seems appropriate to look at their history together. Both have changed their names since they were built – Kew Place was originally the name of a courtyard round the back, and the street itself was known as Clare Parade, while Clare Place went by the charming name of Bean Street.
Kew Place is the earlier of the two streets and is shown (unnamed) on the 1820 map with a couple of houses already built. It was originally much longer and was probably laid down as part of the Thirlestaine House estate, part of a small grid of access roads running around the back of its gardens and eventually joining up with Thirlestaine Road. Only the south side of the street has housing in it – the north side is occupied entirely by the high brick wall around Thirlestaine House, which ends in a little castellated keep (pictured above). Originally the road carried on past this point and ran past another large fine house called Clare Villa.
1820 map, with a couple of additional labels. South is at the top on this map! The grand house marked with a letter ‘g’ is Thirlestaine House, now part of Cheltenham College, and the road along the bottom marked as ‘Charlton to Westall’ is Thirlestaine Road. Clare Place was not yet formed, but a pair of cottages had already been built there – and these still exist. Kew Place, which now only goes as far as the junction with Clare Place, ran all the way down past Clare Villa before bending round to the left to join up with the main road. A couple of pairs of cottages were already built at the top of Kew Place by then, along with a couple of courtyards, plus what looks like a cottage at the junction with Bath Road, which had gone by 1834. There was some development along the Bath Road by this time but much of it was still fields, including some still laid out in medieval strips.
1834 map. This map is orientated the other way up from the map above, and shows how much the area changed in 14 years. It shows Kew Place under its old name of Clare Parade and Clare Place under its original name of Bean Street. The housing in Kew Place had by now expanded into a terrace, built right up to the junction with Bath Road and replacing the cottage shown there on the earlier map. The open courtyards had become more enclosed and filled in with housing and outbuildings, reached through a passageway. It was this passageway and the houses behind it which were originally named Kew Place. The passageway still exists but the housing has probably since been cleared. Clare Place (Bean Street) is shown here fully built with a terrace of cottages on its west side, and that’s largely how it remains today as the east side is occupied by another high brick wall. It ended in a cul-de-sac at the edge of a field, and although the field has since been built on, Clare Place remains a no through road in its original form.
This cobbled passageway is the original Kew Place, once leading to a cluster of cottages at the back. The house to the left of this picture is one of the earliest in the street, built by 1820. The one to the right is a little later, built some time between 1820 and 1834.
Thirlestaine House and Clare Villa are also clearly marked on the 1834 map, but the street and garden layout had apparently changed a fair bit since 1820, with the road past Clare Villa now being a private drive and no longer linking up with Thirlestaine Road. Now, if you’re familiar with Cheltenham you might be wondering why Thirlestaine Road is marked as Sandford Road on this map. Well, that’s what it was originally called. And before you say “but Sandford Road is the next one along!” – yup, that’s right. There were two Sandford Roads, running parallel to each other. It was very very confusing, even after attempts to rename them as Upper and Lower, so the southerly one was eventually renamed Thirlestaine Road. Also marked (and actively under construction) on this map is Clare Terrace, now known as Clare Street. This area has seen a lot of name changes!
Bean Street was a short-lived name … it had already been renamed Clare Place by the time of the 1844 directory, although the old name lingered on some later maps. Clare Parade lasted many more decades, with Kew Place used only as the name of the courtyard until the end of the 19th century, when the name was applied to the whole street and the courtyard became Kew Place Court.
I think it’s fair to say that Kew Place is a very pleasant area today … the houses are well looked after and it’s in a desirable part of town. But that hasn’t always been the case. The houses were originally built for skilled but low-paid tradespeople, and life for them would have been tough and uncompromising. A glance through the 1841 census shows that the early residents included a tailor, stonemason, a brick maker, a coach trimmer, and a couple of laundry women. The rear courtyard was home to Samuel Stone, post boy (despite the ‘boy’ designation, he was actually 30) and an assortment of servants and labourers. By 1935 the condition of the street was poor enough that numbers 1 to 5 were listed in a slum clearance schedule, though I don’t know exactly where these were, or whether it referred to the courtyard or the main street.
These cottages down the bottom end of Kew Place are the most recent – built after 1834. The one on the left, set back from the others, is a little earlier.
One of the things I find most interesting in Kew Place (but maybe it’s just me) is that it retains most of its original flagstone pavement. Not only is it infinitely more beautiful than the usual concrete paving you find all over Cheltenham but it bears all the contours and wear marks of 190 years’ worth of feet and weather that have passed over it. And as is often the case with historic pavements, it bears its own pavement treasure. You could be forgiven for trampling over this circular grille (below) without even noticing it but it is a fantastic example of a very early coalhole. There are two of these still surviving, and they are outside the two oldest cottages in the street, which most likely dates them to before 1820. Coalholes of that age are very rare. They are both identical, so I think it very likely that they are the original coalhole covers installed when the houses were first built. What makes them very special is that they are not cast iron plates from a foundry – they are hand-wrought. You can see that each individual bar in the grille has been fashioned by hand, and riveted and beaten onto the outer ring. It’s most likely that they were made by a local blacksmith. They both have a concrete infill, but I’m pretty sure this has been added later and they were originally open grilles … which would of course have made conditions rather wet and grimy in the coal cellar below. In my article on The Joy of Coalholes I suggested that the hand-beaten coalplates of 1819 vintage which survive in Berkeley Place were probably the oldest in Cheltenham … but these could possibly be even older.
Pre-1820 coalhole in Kew Place. The flat central bar is probably a later repair, but all the other bars are original – hand-crafted by a blacksmith.
Moving round the corner into Clare Place, we find another pretty terraced street with a row of cottages on one side and a long imposing brick wall on the other. The street is presumably named after Clare Villa immediately to the east, which is now part of Cheltenham College Junior School and hidden behind the wall.
These cottages were also built in the 1820s or early 1830s for working-class craftsmen and tradespeople, but probably built all in one phase rather than the piecemeal development in Kew Place.
Clare Place (Bean Street)
All, that is, except for a cluster of cottages on the corner between the two streets, which predate 1820 and were probably originally known as Clare Cottages or Clare Villa Cottages. They do stand out from the rest of the terrace as they are kind of chunkier and are set right up against the pavement rather than set back behind front courtyards like the rest of the terrace. You can see them on the 1820 map above, standing on their own before the street itself was even formed. There may originally have been more cottages in this part of the street – three were listed in the 1930s slum clearance schedule.
The oldest cottages in the street, shown on the 1820 map before the rest of the street was built. It appears to be all one house now, but I’m pretty sure it was originally a pair of smaller ones.
One more little detail before we leave this interesting pair of streets … one of the cottages in or off Clare Place is said to have a Regency-period grotto in its garden (an underground summerhouse or tunnel) but I don’t know where this is.