Tanners Lane is one of those places which has been around for centuries but you could live in Cheltenham all your life and never know of its existence. Partly because it’s far enough out of town to be off the edge of most older maps, but also because there’s practically nothing there. It does, however, have a history.
Imagine, if you will, a time when Hester’s Way was just fields around a farmhouse and Princess Elizabeth Way was completely non-existent. Arle was a self-contained village distinctly separate from Cheltenham. A few yards to the south of the village, Alstone Lane led westward from the hamlet of Alstone, but as the area was just open fields it didn’t go anywhere in particular, just fizzled out into an unmade footpath, eventually joining up with Village Road just below the village of Arle. This section of footpath was called Tanners Lane.
The name goes back to at least 1776 when it was marked on an enclosure map as Tanhouse Lane. Which suggests it was probably named after the local tanning industry which was quite big in Alstone, having its heyday during the 17th century.
In the 1930s, when Brooklyn Road was developed, most of the footpath was built up and formalised into what is now Orchard Way. The big change however came in 1951, when Princess Elizabeth Way sheered the village of Arle in half down the middle, and the development of the Hester’s Way housing estate began on a large scale. The (undeveloped) western end of Orchard Way was sliced off, and retained its original name of Tanners Lane.
Here’s what the area looked like in the 1920s, before PE Way and before the housing estates.
1927 map. It’s not easy to equate this with the present road layout because it has drastically changed. Village Road is the vertical one running down past the left hand side of Arle village – it’s now hemmed in by residential streets, but here it was very isolated and rural. Alstone Lane goes as far as Brooklyn Road (as it still does today) and then turns into a footpath as far as Village Road. This footpath was originally Tanners Lane. The whole area shown on this map is now densely built up. PE Way now slices right through the village of Arle and cuts through both the footpaths shown here.
It also slices through Arle Road, which originally went right through Arle village but is now a dead end where it meets PE Way. The dogleg curve shown on this map is still there, but is now a cul-de-sac, and Arle Road’s former western end is now Kingsmead Road. The brook shown here running from east to west across the lower part of the map is a tributory of the River Chelt – it is now almost entirely culverted and built over.
The junction where Orchard Way (foreground) is cut off from Tanners Lane (where the bollards are) by Princess Elizabeth Way. Originally the ancient line of this road just carried on uninterrupted to where those three terraced cottages are, where it then joins up with Village Road. If you’re at all familiar with this stretch of road you can probably guess how long I had to stand here to get a picture without any cars in it.
So Tanners Lane, once a footpath across the fields, is now a strangely misplaced relic, a stump separated from its original course, and isolated in what otherwise appears to be a modern housing estate. It still isn’t much more than a footpath as it isn’t properly surfaced, and it only has a couple of houses on one side … the other side butting up against the wall of a 1960s church. This cottage (which looks to me like a modern one in Victorian style) is about all there is to see in the lane.
Although Hester’s Way is synonymous with a housing estate begun in the early 1950s, the name goes back a lot further than this. It was originally an enclosure name for an area of fields which included a farm, known as Hester’s Way since the early 1800s but going back to at least 1714 when it was known as Hayster’s Way. There was a plan to develop a ‘beautiful’ housing scheme there as far back as the 1860s, and a few preliminary roads were laid down, but nothing came of it and the fields remained untouched for the best part of the next century.
Many of the old cottages of Arle village were demolished under compulsory purchase orders when the estate was built, but there are a few incongruous survivors. Including Tanner’s Cottages, a terrace of three small 19th century houses, with a smaller but very pretty adjoining one called Box Cottage, which front onto Village Road at the corner of Tanners Lane, all with long front gardens. Presumably the cottages were named after the lane, but it’s also been noted that there was a Tanner family living in the area in the early 19th century.
Tanner’s Cottages, a Victorian oasis left intact among the post-war estates.
Tanners Lane also lends its name to a nearby residential development off Orchard Way, called Tanner’s Road (spelt with an apostrophe) which dates from around 1939.