Lansdown Terrace Lane

21 08 2009

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Lansdown Terrace Lane is one of Cheltenham’s most precious treasures, and yet I’d bet thousands of people living in the town don’t even know it’s there. (Shown above – without its name – on the 1921 map.)

The lane owes its name to Lansdown Terrace, the grand row of 1830s houses which occupies one side of Malvern Road, and in its current form was created as a service lane for access to the backs of the houses. It runs the entire length of the back of the terrace, and contains many coach houses and mews cottages built to house the staff who looked after the residents’ horses and carriages. There is a decorative arch at either end, one small pedestrian-sized one and the other large enough for carriages. At the northern end, the lane turns at rightangles alongside a villa called Stoneleigh and connects up with Parabola Road.

But the lane goes back a lot further than the development of the terrace. It incorporates a section of an old road formerly known as Lads Lane. There are references to Lads Lane as far back as 1776, when it was a footpath which marked the boundary between Alstone and Sandford tithings. From 1781 onwards the path was an access route to Bays Hill House, then known as Fauconberg Lodge, which was used as royal lodgings during George III’s visit in 1788. This important house is long gone and its site is now occupied by Sidney Lodge in Overton Road.

Lads Lane appears on the 1806 map, but had by then been ‘shut up’.

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1806 map. As usual it is very hard to get your bearings here, as the whole of the Lansdown and Bayshill area was just fields back then – and the map’s peculiar south-west orientation doesn’t help. The map shows the grand royal lodging house “Bay’s Hill Lodge, late Lord Falconberg” (sic) which is long ago demolished but stood on the crest of Bayshill in present day Overton Road. The “Royal Spa” was a private spa built for King George’s visit, also long gone, although the road shown here is approximately on the site of present day Bayshill Road. The “New Well” in the lower left corner was short-lived and its site is now occupied by Montpellier roundabout and the Gordon lamp. Lansdown Crescent now occupies the field immediately above the New Well. “Lads Lane shut up” (what a charming thing to see on a map) was simply a footpath across the field from Montpellier to Bayshill, but it’s the line of this path which became Lansdown Terrace Lane, with Malvern Road forging a line across the field just above it. At bottom right is a loop of the River Chelt.

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The pictures are presented here in order, starting from the north end. The lane begins through this lovely pedestrian archway in Lansdown Terrace’s elegant frontage. Beautiful as it is, it’s entirely decorative and is just a short span of stone-faced brick to disguise an otherwise mundane alleyway between two houses. Lansdown Terrace was designed by the Jearrad brothers, who were very prominent Cheltenham architects in the Regency era. It was originally meant to comprise two sections of terrace with this alleyway in between them. In the event, only one house was ever built in the second section – and it does look rather strange on its own.

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View along the back of Lansdown Terrace towards the hills. Although the houses front onto Malvern Road, that’s actually the ridge of the Cotswolds you can see in the distance, not the Malverns. As is the norm with Regency architecture, the backs of the houses are nowhere near as attractive as the frontages (see my article Regency Backsides for more pictures) – kind of brown and scrubby with a muddle of asymmetrical windows and drainpipes. The whole of the west side of Lansdown Terrace Lane is occupied by these less than beautiful rear elevations, but on the east side are some gloriously quirky cottages and small townhouses which have retained a lot of their original character and ambience.

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Probably the most significant building in the lane is this coach house, from whose upper floor George Dowty started his engineering business in 1931 … it even has a little blue plaque.

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George Dowty was an employee of the Gloster Aircraft Company in the 1920s, and lived in a flat in Lansdown Terrace. He was a gifted engineer and his job was to improve the design of aircraft landing gear. When an order came in for his innovative new design of landing wheel, and the Gloster Aircraft Co was unable to supply the order, Dowty promptly resigned and set up his own business to build the wheels himself. He rented the upper floor of this cottage in the lane behind his flat and kitted it out with the necessary equipment. Within a very short time his business took off and had to move on to bigger premises, eventually becoming an international firm and a major local employer – but this cottage is where it all started.

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Back garden entrance to Evelyn Court. This name was given in 1918 to the section of Lansdown Terrace incorporating numbers 2 to 19. These houses were bought up by the Officers’ Families Association and converted into flats by P R Morley Horder, as charitable residences for the widows of officers killed in the First World War. The name ‘Evelyn’ was often given to housing provided for war widows. If it seems a bit extravagant to use a row of prestigious Regency houses as charitable homes, it’s partly a reflection of the change in fortunes Cheltenham went through in the early 20th century. Many of its grand houses were empty and abandoned around this period, and could be bought up for next to nothing. There’s also an element of the class system in play though. In WW1 officers were almost always from the privileged social classes, while the lower classes made up the ‘other ranks’, so the families of fallen officers were supplied with the kind of genteel housing they were accustomed to. Without wanting to downplay the value of the charitable work done to help officers’ widows, there was far more conspicuous suffering and hardship among the widows of ordinary soldiers in Cheltenham’s many clusters of slums.

In the intervening years, most if not all of the other houses in the terrace have been converted to flats. Long gone are the days when people could afford to buy and run a Regency townhouse in its entirety. It has, however, been lifted in its fortunes somewhat in the last century, and is once again the kind of prestigious and desirable area it was originally built to be. 

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Ever fancied having a Gothic window in your basement? Somebody did. A view through a back gate.

Despite being built as living quarters for staff, the whole street is a delight. I love this mews cottage with its eccentric porch and wonky drainpipes.

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Without doubt the most visually striking feature of Lansdown Terrace Lane is its archway at the southern end. This is a tall one, plenty big enough to allow coaches and carriages through. As with the rest of the architechture, the back is less glamorous and reveals its construction of plain brick, while the front …

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… is faced with beautiful Cotswold stone ashlar. This view shows the mews houses of Lansdown Terrace Lane through its lower entrance. The arch is part of the main Lansdown Terrace deign, and although it’s tucked away behind the houses it’s still visible from Malvern Road, so it is designed to present the same standard of opulence as the terrace itself.

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This is the end-of-terrace, where the mews lane meets up with Malvern Road. The elevation shown here is the side of the end house, and was the first house in the row to be built, adorned with a side porch. Porches on side elevations were a particular trademark of architect J B Papworth, and this one may indicate his involvement. Papworth was responsible for much of the initial design work in Lansdown, until the original developer ran out of money and the project was sold off to the Jearrad brothers. The Jearrads dumped Papworth but kept hold of his plans against his wishes, and may well have incorporated some of his ideas into their own design.





Windows on Cheltenham: Regency

28 12 2008

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St George’s Road

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Wellington Square, Pittville

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Oxford Parade, London Road

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Bayshill Road

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Back of building in the Lower High Street, from St Mary’s churchyard

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Suffolk Road





Little Bayshill Terrace

7 02 2008

Little Bayshill Terrace

Photos taken July 2007.

This is the far end of one of Cheltenham’s loveliest out-of-the-way streets, Little Bayshill Terrace, which can be found running inconspicuously round the back of St George’s Place from a footpath at the side of the Bayshill Inn. It’s thought to have been built around 1833 on land formerly known as Latheram Meadows. I wish I’d photographed it before the recent flood defence upgrade was done. The improved flood defences were, as it turned out, much needed, but it pains my heart to see how insensitively they’ve fecked up the character of the area in the process, replacing ramshackle Victorian walls and bridges with sterile municipal concrete and railings.

The blue house on the end is wonderful. It’s the stump end of a short terrace of 6 houses and the end wall is exquisitely curved. It’s not entirely clear from this picture (and impossible to photograph in its entirety) but the River Chelt runs right along the back of the whole terrace and round the side (where you can see the drainage pipes at street level).

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And here’s the back of the blue house, which has the river running right up against its walls. The owners have been very resourceful in making the most of a small garden.

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The curved end wall and the river flowing past the back of the terrace. A public footpath runs along on the left bank of the river, and the back gardens of some of the houses are reached by tiny individual bridges. The Chelt is very swollen and murky in this picture because it was taken just a few days after the 2007 floods.

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And some of the gardens are very pretty too!

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The opposite side of the street and another terrace of 6 houses. Notice how the end house is built on a foundation of Cotswold stone. There is a sharp meander in the river at this point, and more of the new flood defences. The backs of the houses to the right are the taller Regency buildings of St George’s Road.

Here’s what the area looked like in 1921. What worries me is the siting of the public urinal right over the spot where the river goes under the road. Hmm, no prizes for guessing where the wee ended up.