Street sign alphabet: C

20 09 2011

An occasional series celebrating the humble (and occasionally not so humble) street sign. Starting with the letter C. Well why not? There’s a lot of ’em.

Clarence Parade. Dating street name signs is always difficult, but I would guess this slender and understated nameplate belongs to the mid or late 19th century. Seen here on one of the earlier Regency terraces, where it fits in nicely with the wrought-iron verandah.

Cheltenham Chapel, Jenner Walk. Well, at least dating this one isn’t difficult. A more detailed history of the chapel can be found in the article about Jenner Gardens, but this V-cut hand-chiselled plaque remains one of the few of its kind in Cheltenham, and one of the earliest. (In 1809 most of the town hadn’t yet been built, and little existed beyond the High Street.) The lettering is a fairly standard style for this period but the bar on the letter A is strangely high up. The panel is a slightly odd shape … perhaps it originally had some kind of border around it.

Chapel Lane. Completely unrelated to Cheltenham Chapel above, this little gem is behind the Bethesda Chapel in the south part of town. An early Cheltenham nameplate in cast iron with deeply scalloped corners and clarendon-style letters.

Casino Place. This is one of the “classic” Cheltenham styles you see all over the place. The slim elegant plate is similar to the one above, but notice that the typeface is completely different – a self-confident sans-serif. A plastic drainpipe is courteously diverted to allow it pride of place. Named after a house called Casino (no longer extant), Casino Place has its own article.

Claremont House. An example of a painted name on a house in Montpellier Terrace (you may just be able to see in the picture that the stone has been painted with cream paint underneath the letters to give it a solid background). The balcony above is a very nice example of early wrought-ironwork, with which Montpellier Terrace is especially well endowed.

Clarence Square. A typical modern Cheltenham street sign. I’m glad the council has been sensitive enough to maintain the local style of white letters on a black background rather than the boring blue-on-fluorescent-white things which have become ubiquitous in recent years. And at least this one is metal – the recent move towards plastic nameplates has not been so good. But it still looks a bit “municipal” in this historic Pittville square.

Chester Walk. Discreetly nailed to the ashlar face at the back of the library, this is another of the confident sans-serif jobs which always seem to look good, even when in need of a lick of paint. Named after Colonel Berkeley’s gorgeous Chester House, once the centre of Regency social life but now demolished, this unassuming little lane is among Cheltenham’s most ancient streets; read about it here.

Christ Church Road. Now that’s a proper cast iron job. The spacing is a bit funny (look at the huge T in relation to the other letters) but it has character and the highly raised letters stand out from the background. The narrow sans-serif face is much lighter and plainer than the one above. I’m grateful to John who lives in Christ Church Road for pointing out that this older sign shows the correct naming of the street in three separate words, while a couple of newer replacement signs elsewhere in the street have incorrectly condensed it to “Christchurch” Road.

Cheltenham Magistrates Court, St George’s Road. I’ll be honest – I bloody hate this building, with its concrete fins and its depressing monospaced windows and anaemic railings, and all the more so because its nauseous bulk replaced a group of Victorian villas during the demolition frenzy of the late 1960s. But it’s a courthouse – it’s not designed to be loved. The recently replaced signage at the front has brought a kind of no-nonsense dignity to what is otherwise a hideous architectural own-goal.

Church Street. Another ugly one – but Cheltonia’s job is to show Cheltenham as it really is, not as the tourist brochures would have it. This probably dates from the 1960s when the office block it’s attached to was built. I’ll wager that many residents of Cheltenham will not have heard of Church Street let alone be able to give directions to it – and yet it’s one of the oldest and most central streets, and predates the Regency town by centuries. It’s the narrow lane which hugs the perimeter wall of the churchyard and is too discreet and unassuming to really be noticed by anybody. This street sign is lead grey, very small, partially obscured and tucked away inside an alley, apparently noticed only by people who like to throw kebabs and curry sauce at it.

Crescent Bakery, St George’s Place. The bakery itself has long given way to office space and a doctor’s surgery, but its attractive name panel still stands proudly emblazoned on its gable. The design successfully combines the pilasters and volutes of its Neoclassical neighbours (the building backs onto the gardens of Royal Crescent) with the more organic Art Nouveau typography of the building’s own time period.

County Court Road. This cast iron sign matches the one for Christ Church Road shown above – notice it has the same oversized letter T. No prizes for guessing how this street got its name though.

Cambray Place. One of the first streets to be developed when Cheltenham went Regency, the sign for Cambray Place is nevertheless of a kind you don’t see around that much. It’s quite small, and the high-relief letters are in a clarendon type. Similar to, but not the same as, the one in Chapel Lane. The Cambray name is an old one; it reflects the site of Cambray Meadow on which this street was built – part of Cambray Farm, which in turn was named after a local family going back many centuries.

Corpus Street. This is another distinctive style of street nameplate which is widely used in Cheltenham, representing the big, bold and beefy municipal tastes of the Victorian era. Made from heavy cast iron, it’s still got the local style of delicate scalloped corners but the lettering is done in a broad, in-yer-face slabserif. In this instance, “Corpus” is in a less bold weight than “Street”, for whatever reason. Named after Corpus Christi College in Oxford (who formerly owned the land) you can read more about Corpus Street here.

Cyprus Cottages. Groups of cottages in the 19th century were often given their own unique name, independent of the street they were in. Most of these names have fallen out of use but they can still be found. These cottages are in Alstone Lane, their name hand-chiselled and painted. The name probably commemorates Britain getting its colonial mitts on the administration of Cyprus in 1878.

Charles Street. Stylistically more like a car number plate than a street sign, this late 20th century example is quite elegant in its simplicity. No longer made of cast iron in this period, the letters are stamped into a softer metal. For more about this street, which was originally named Albert Street, see here.

College Lawn. Yes it’s our old familiar chirpy sans-serif again. Looking every bit as stylish on a set of railings as it does half way up a wall.

Carlton Street. Whoopsies.

Commercial Street. Another chunky Victorian job in slabserif typestyle, as seen on Corpus Street, but this time the letters are in a consistent weight. Commercial Street may seem an odd name for a street these days, the word having acquired a negative connotation, but during the Victorian era it would have had an aspirational ring to it as a street where trade could thrive.

Crescent Place. At first glance this slender and discreet nameplate looks like our usual sans-serif friend as seen on College Lawn above, but if you look at them both closely, the typeface is different. See how wide the letter L is in comparison with College Lawn. The E is very wide too, and looks quite disproportionate to the C next to it. This plate does, however, match the one on Clarence Parade at the very top of this article.

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New Penny: update

25 10 2009

A year or two back I wrote a piece called Doomed: The New Penny. This is an update on the site’s redevelopment.

BEFORE: Georgian pub building, not looking its best here with its sash windows boarded up, but whose original walled courtyard retained a beautifully preserved stable block and hayloft within a mature orchard garden.

AFTER: Plastic-clad toytown flat-pack junk architecture with tight-arse Lego windows and nauseously disjointed elevations, completely out of kilter with the early Victorian terrace it adjoins.

newpennysite09

Why?

WHY WHY WHY WHY WHY WHY WHY?!?






Arle Avenue (Six Chimneys Lane)

26 10 2008

1921 map

Why was the name of this street changed from the quirky Six Chimneys Lane to the rather more pedestrian Arle Avenue? Believe it or not, it was the result of a residents’ petition in 1938. The new name was considered at that time to sound more respectable.

The majority of the houses in Arle Avenue date from this time, mostly classic 1930s suburban semis, and the road is now a cul-de-sac gently sloping down to a footbridge over the River Chelt (through traffic for pedestrians and bikes but not cars) and linking up with a small industrial estate and the bottom of Tesco’s car park. But Six Chimneys Lane (or its variants Six Chimnies or Six Chimney Lane) has a much longer history and predates much of the rest of Cheltenham.

The six chimneys in question belonged to a farmhouse. Though in size and status it was actually a bit grander than that. The Ordnance Survey map of 1921 (above) describes Six Chimney Farm as a manor house, using the italic type which denotes an antiquity. It shows a large house with a complex of other buildings on the east side of the lane (which was otherwise very sparsely inhabited) set in a large area of fields and allotments. The 1834 map shows “Six Chimnies Farm” in much the same form. The earliest map I have, 1806, shows most of the same buildings under the name of “Six Chimney House”, and the road at that time was called Alston Street. The mill is not marked on the 1806 map, so presumably the farm predates it. I’m not sure what happened to the manor house but presumably it was demolished some time in the 1930s when the street underwent most of its residential development.

1806 map

One thing you don’t expect to see at the bottom of a 1930s residential street is a house like this:

This magnificent L-shaped dwelling is Lower Alstone House, built in about 1703 by Richard Hyett, gentleman. It’s clearly marked on the 1806 map (above) just above the river. He built it to live in himself, and it would initially have stood in quite an open rural area because most of the town of Cheltenham simply didn’t exist at that time. It’s a stone’s throw from the River Chelt and stood opposite the Lower Alstone Mill until the latter’s unfortunate demolition in 2006. Over the years the house fell on harder times, variously occupied by a potato merchant and a fellmonger, and perhaps its most unfortunate blight is a large modern industrial building inexplicably shoved in next to it … not helped by the very recent installation of a private car park on the other side. The house has been restored though, and is magnificently beautiful. It is Cheltenham’s only surviving Queen Anne period house.

Following the loss of the mill, the only other old building in Arle Avenue is the house which adjoined the mill, a grey pebbledashed Victorian dwelling. While not anywhere near as grand as Mr Hyett’s house or the lost Six Chimney manor, it does have some rather groovy fleur-de-lys decorative ironwork around its window and doors.





Lower Mill Street

25 10 2008


Photos taken February 2008

At one time a through-road, but now bricked up and closed off at its north end, Lower Mill Street is a narrow L-shaped lane which links Gloucester Road (opposite the Honeybourne Way junction) with Tewkesbury Road, taking in a 90 degree bend along the way. It’s a low-lying area and prone to flooding. It’s also suffered a bewildering flurry of name changes. Largely free of buildings, apart from the tall brick walls of the gas works which mostly survive, its one solitary surviving Victorian house stands in the upper section of the street as part of the premises of a scrapyard. It is they who proclaim themselves OPEN in the above pic. The lower leg of the street is now regarded as part of neighbouring Arle Avenue.

lowermillstreet1

At the Gloucester Road end, the uninhabited and largely untrafficked roadway runs alongside the wooded banks of the River Chelt in what was, until 2006, one of Cheltenham’s pockets of unspoiled character where you could stand and listen to the rushing of the water under the canopy of trees and really get a sense for what the town was like 200 years ago. This tiny unassuming street is older than most of the town. It’s been tentatively identified as “Green Street” mentioned in 1733, and maybe in 1605 as le greene Laine. The new flood defence works (seen above at top left) which were probably necessary, resulted in this area getting a very ugly municipal make-over, which wasn’t. The scruffy old bollarded road bridge, although unglamorous and floodprone, had more character than the urine-stained brick, concrete and mass-produced railings which replaced it (and which still flooded during the inundations of 2007). Much much worse, the flood defence works involved the demolition of Alstone Lower Mill from which Lower Mill Street gets its name.

The mill stood on the river bank at the bottom of Arle Avenue (originally called Six Chimney Lane). I’m not sure how long ago the first mill was installed, or whether the recently demolished one was the only one. It was Victorian and doesn’t appear on the 1806 map.

 

1806 map (orientation is weird – south west at the top)

Don’t be confused by the odd orientation of the 1806 map. The road marked “to Gloucester” in the lower right corner is not Gloucester Road, it’s present day Tewkesbury Road. That was the main way to Gloucester at the time because there was no Gloucester Road! So Lower Mill Street is the solitary road you see here linking with the hamlet of Alston across the fields. Present day Gloucester Road runs parallel to this road. In 1818 the green fields became the town gas works and the area was soon named Gas Green.

The upper part of the street was called Coach Road during the 19th century and was packed with labourers’ cottages. It gets a special mention in the 1841 census, where the enumerator reported that much of the population was displaced, particularly “Labourers employed in excavating railways &c. who have removed in consequence of no employment.” Estimating the absent men to number about a hundred, he added “The calculation is made with reference to that part of the Enumerator’s district known as the ‘Coach road Gas Green’.” He also noted that 14 males and 6 females from the neighbourhood were known to have emigrated in the past 6 months.

By the 1850s Coach Road had been renamed Gas Lane. And then somewhere along the line it became Lower Mill Street. Most of the housing disappeared when the gas works expanded.

 

1921 map (orientation normal, north is up)

The 1921 map shows a few houses left amid the industrial stuff which sprung up in the 19th century, the most obvious being the gas works with its three large round gasometers. The lower one still survives today, converted into a sportswear shop, of all things. Lower Mill Street was by that time intersected by railway tracks which connected the gas works with the Bristol to Birmingham main line.

The photo above shows the Chelt running alongside Lower Mill Street, looking back towards Gloucester Road, where an old brick bridge carries the river under the road. Dumping of litter on the banks has always been a problem here (photo is discreetly cropped).