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.

Charles Street (formerly Albert Street)

19 10 2009


This road in St Peter’s, in the area informally known as Lower Dockem, was originally part of Baker Street when it was first developed in the mid to late 1830s, but by the time of the 1841 census it had its own name – Albert Street.

Of course there were Albert Streets burgeoning all over the nation at that time, with Prince Albert and Queen Victoria recently having come to the throne – so many in fact that there were two in Cheltenham! The other Albert Street was only a few hundred yards up the road in St Paul’s. It’s not clear which of the two came first because they were built at pretty much the same time. Despite the huge potential for confusion, the two Albert Streets co-existed for over a century – until the St Peter’s one was renamed in 1953 – possibly named after Prince Charles.


Handmade ceramic butterfly frieze over a door in Charles Street

In the 1841 census, when the street was newly built, a large number of the residents were agricultural labourers, reflecting the still principally rural surroundings at that time. But there were also a few stone masons, painters and carpenters making use of the local building boom, plus the obligatory laundresses, who were most often widowed women. The census shows that most houses had only one family or household each, so at least overcrowding was not as bad here as in some of the other streets in Lower Dockem.

Though overcrowding is all relative. Charles Street has what must surely be the narrowest housefront in the whole of Cheltenham? If anyone spots a narrower one I’d like to hear about it!


That blue house is seriously tiny! The car outside gives it some perspective

Charles Street was part of a development which was originally conceived as a whole estate called Somers Town stretching westwards from Townsend Street. It’s marked as such on the 1834 map, when the streets were only tentatively laid out – but the name seems to have fizzled out and there are apparently no references to it after the late 1840s. It consisted of Russell Street, Russell Place, Cleveland Street and Charles (or Albert back then) Street.


1834 map. The lightly laid out plots of Somers Town were yet to form themselves into the streets we know today, though development was working its way west along Tewkesbury Road and northwards up Townsend Street (which was at one time quite literally the town’s end). It also shows that the grid of streets was conceived very much as a development on Tewkesbury Road, and didn’t connect up with Swindon Road to the north as it does now. However the expansion through to Swindon Road must have been part of the original development, and not added on later. Charles Street, still undeveloped on this map, is the one immediately to the west of Townsend Street. The terrace fronting onto Tewkesbury Road (shown here as Somers Place) was completely swept away during 20th century road widening.

There is a First World War tragedy associated with Charles Street. No. 24 was the home of Richard and Rosetta Mason whose three sons were all killed in the trenches. In peace time all three had worked for the Gloucestershire Echo. The eldest, Joe Mason, joined up early in the war and was sent home in 1915 after being gassed and wounded at Ypres. No sooner had he rejoined his battalion when he was wounded again. After a spell in hospital he was sent out to fight for a third time, and won the Military Medal in October 1917 for bravery. A month later he was killed during the Battle of Cambrai, aged only 26 and leaving behind a widow, Emily, and a child. The middle son Jack (real name Harold) also enlisted at the start of the war and was sent home after suffering a burned arm in the trenches in 1915. In March 1916 he was back in the front line trenches at Neuve Chapelle when he was hit by a trench mortar, and was buried in a nearby British cemetery. He was 22. The youngest son Dick (real name Frederick) was a messenger boy at the Gloucestershire Echo and aged only 18 when he was killed in August 1916 during a pointless and futile manoeuvre in the Battle of the Somme. He has no known grave.

Hope Street

15 11 2008


1834 map showing Stanhope Street in development, emerging out of the orchards and allotment gardens

Hope Street, or Stanhope Street to give it its original name, began life in the early 1820s with the enclosure and sale of numerous little parcels of formerly cultivated land north of Tewkesbury Road for the building of small houses. The map shows it still being built in the early 1830s and evolving alongside Waterloo Place (now Waterloo Street) and the cul-de-stump of Sun Street. These rows of straight parallel terraces springing up in this part of town, known informally as Dockem, were never intended for the town’s elite citizens, but rather to provide cheap lodgings for the low-skilled workers who serviced the wealthier residents. Servants, labourers and laundry women were crammed into these streets and in Stanhope Street itself could be found weavers, watch makers, gardeners, lamp lighters and bonnet makers.

The street may possibly have been named after Lady Hester Stanhope, a society celebrity of her day who visited Cheltenham in the early 1800s, but if so it wasn’t much of a tribute. Poverty hung over the street like a murky fog from the moment the first residents moved in, and stayed there until its destruction exactly a century later when its condition had become so atrocious it spurred the formation of a Slum Areas Clearance Committee, empowered to act under the Housing of the Working Classes Act 1890.

By 1925 the council was buying up the houses for compulsory demolition and within a few years the entire street had been razed and rebuilt with new terraces, more spacious and decently built. In 1928 the street was renamed Hope Street as a symbolic statement of its regeneration.


Today Hope Street remains one of Cheltenham’s less affluent areas but the terraces of 1920s houses have stood the test of time pretty well and it’s one of the nicer streets in Dockem. It’s now a quiet cul-de-sac, blocked off at the Tewkesbury Road end.


I can’t show you any pictures of the original Stanhope Street houses because there are none left. I’m not even sure what it looked like in relation to other streets in the area. But thanks to the 1841 census I can introduce you to some of its former residents. There was Edward Fryer the grocer, Mary Attwood the ironer, Ann Sparrow the plain sewer and Joseph Thomas the hawker. John Everiss the lamp lighter, Joseph Antill the umbrella maker, and a handful of Irish musicians such as Thomas O’Brion. Prospects for lowly workers were not good in Cheltenham in 1841 and many labourers were seriously struggling to find work. As pokey and dingy as the houses must have been, most of these people were living in tenancies within tenancies, multiple households crowded together in rooms sub-let by tenants who couldn’t afford to pay the rent by themselves. The street was barely fifteen years old but the overcrowding was already extreme.

Take the house occupied by hairdresser John Dukes. He shared it with 15 other people including Henry Sidney the confectioner, James Procter the book binder, John Fry the wool cutter, Edward Pedler the rat catcher, John Maeth the sailor, John Ieanbesta the musician (from “foreign parts”) and a servant called Elizabeth Pinegar. There were five separate households within this one house. That was not unusual either. A few doors away lived 23-year-old Stephen Shiel whose occupation was “climbing boy”, whatever that means. The house he lived in was occupied by 19 people comprising nine different households.

In the midst of all this was Charles Ashton, a bill sticker by trade, whose family had a house all to themselves! 


The original rear garden walls of the old houses are all that survive of Stanhope Street. Set against a vista of dumped settees is a pair of Victorian white cottages surviving in next door Waterloo Street.

The 1841 census is a fascinating glimpse of the demographic of this area. A high proportion of people living in the street (and in Dockem generally) were Irish.

In a masterstroke of practicality, a dual purpose pub and coal merchant traded on the western corner of Stanhope Street and Tewkesbury Road, under the name of the Elephant and Castle. It’s marked on the 1834 map above if you look closely, but the name isn’t very legible. It’s long gone now and no trace of its buildings and yard survive. There was another pub called the Barley Mow on the opposite side of the street, also fronting onto Tewkesbury Road. Both pubs were swept away for the widening of Tewkesbury Road. The regenerated Hope Street had instead a pub down at the opposite end, built in the 1960s or early 70s and facing onto Swindon Road. Changing name with optimistic regularity, from the Railway Inn to the Sportsman, its last incarnation was the Best Mate Inn, named after a well loved racehorse. At the end of 2008 it was for sale and very derelict.