Tanners Lane

8 11 2009

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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.

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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.

Tanners Lane

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.

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Elmhurst Cottage

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.

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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.

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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.

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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).





Doomed: The New Penny

9 02 2008

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Photos taken February 2008

It may not look very much, a scruffy old building awaiting demolition. But this is actually a very lovely old traditional pub which has stood on the corner of Gloucester Road and Millbrook Street since at least the early part of the 19th century. Underneath the boards and metal screens it still has its beautiful original mullioned windows. Inside there are many more original features.

Originally the New Inn, in its last incarnation the pub was known as the New Penny, named in 1970 to commemorate the switch to decimal currency. It wasn’t one of Cheltenham’s finest … it was noisy on Saturday nights and may have had one or two drug issues. But the building was full of character and still had an unspoiled rear yard and a mature walled garden with very old fruit trees. It’s been derelict since the middle of 2005 when the pub ceased trading and has since been allowed to fall into increasingly poor condition.

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The demolition proposal was submitted by Evans Jones Planning on behalf of RS Developments of Gloucester, whose intention is to build two blocks of flats on the site. As if Gloucester Road needs any more cram-’em-in hamster-cage flats. There’s some jolly marketing bilge on their website about the much needed “investment of capital” to “improve” the area, but no mention of where the occupants of 14 flats are going to park their cars at this already congested crossroads, or why it’s necessary to demolish a 200-year-old building, other than for the whiffy stink of cash.

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Gloucester Road has had a bad time with ugly redevelopment over the last five years. Maybe the town planners think that as the area has already been spoiled it doesn’t matter what else they slap up. Or maybe they’ve never bothered to visit the place and haven’t seen the fruits of their rubberstamping. The redevelopment of the Calcutta Inn site (just a few hundred yards from the New Penny) is an atrocious example of ugly, disproportionate planning. After demolishing the landmark curved Regency corner building with chequered bricks which had been a post office for many years before it was a pub, a grotesquely oversized white slab of modern concrete was rammed in against the end of the Victorian terrace, crammed with miniscule “luxury apartments” with tiny prison-like windows, rudely barging against a pair of cottages on its east side. An eyesore for the whole length of Gloucester Road due to its huge size and sore thumb design, it’s known locally as the Communist Block because it looks like it came from behind the Iron Curtain.

Just the other side of the New Penny, another landmark building, the former Gloucester Road school, was also lost to developers in 2003 despite a vigorous campaign to save it. At least in that instance they made an effort to replace it with housing which was in proportion to the site, but the loss of the original building (which was used as a Red Cross hospital in WW1, treating wounded soldiers straight from the front line) is in itself a blight on the area.

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A curlicue shadow cast by the iron bracket which formerly held the pub’s sign. Underneath the boards are the original square-paned mullions.

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Ceramic plaque built into the front wall of the pub to indicate that it served real ales from Cheltenham’s local brewery. West Country Ales was an amalgamation of the Stroud Brewery with the Cheltenham Brewery. Will this historic item of street furniture be saved?

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Old iron bracket supporting the brickwork on the back wall of one of the outbuildings. The bricks were hand made in those days, hence all the variations in colour.

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Round the back, photographed from Old Millbrook Terrace. Demolition work has already begun with the destruction of the original 1800s brick wall which formed the walled garden. A temporary mesh fence takes its place.

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The view through the mesh. This is the back of the pub with its courtyard and outbuildings. The upper storey of the larger one was originally a hayloft, and the smaller building may have been a stable.

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Wreckage of the walled garden. The wall is spread across the ground as hardcore. Only one of the gnarled old fruit trees is still standing. Gloucestershire was once a major apple growing area, but the loss of individual old trees like this have left many of the county’s native varieties at the point of extinction. I don’t suppose anybody knows whether this one is an endangered variety or not.

The New Penny could so easily have been renovated and cared for. Those who took the decision to destroy this characterful nugget of Cheltenham’s heritage should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.





Bristol to Birmingham railway

7 02 2008

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Photo taken July 2007

The Bristol to Birmingham railway line, photographed from Arle Road bridge looking south.

This is the only remaining railway in Cheltenham, the adjacent Honeybourne line having been closed in the 1960s. A century ago the town had five stations. Now it has one.

So, what’s in the pic? Well, the railway cuts straight through the middle of these playing fields (those spoilsport Victorian engineers) and at the far end you can see the houses of Alstone Lane and its level crossing. Sticking up on the left is a small industrial chimney, while the spire over on the right is St Mark’s church. The low bumps of the Cotswold hills fill the skyline. Yellow clumps of flowers at the side of the track are ragwort, and there are also often wild red poppies growing here which had gone to seed by the time this photo was taken. Also the obligatory stray Tesco’s trolley.

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Photo taken February 2008

It ain’t quite so pretty looking northbound. There are more Cotswolds in the far distance, but other than that it’s Cheltenham’s grotty industrial parks and a few bits of crap which have been chucked off the bridge. Lovely.