Eldorado Road

30 11 2008

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Photos taken November 2008

This is an L-shaped residential street taking in a chunk of land between Queen’s Road and Christ Church Road, round the back of Cypher’s Exotic Nursery. The first houses in Eldorado Road were built in 1894 and development continued up to about 1905. It remains today what it was then, a luxurious leafy street of large comfortable villas. Some are of Edwardian red brick, some are rendered, but all are beautiful and sturdily built. The adjoining Eldorado Crescent, a loop on the northern end of the road, was built at approximately the same time on what had previously been the fields of Christ Church Farm (now playing fields).

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Blue skies and Regency villas were meant for each other. Another fine house at the Christ Church Road end.

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A house called Coniston was the home of Dr and Mrs Layng whose son George was killed on the Somme in 1916.

The humblest building in Eldorado Road is a single-storey outbuilding which was formerly a vet’s surgery under the glorious name of Peter Chew Associates. Following Mr Chew’s retirement it was renamed Honeybourne, after the disused railway it backs onto. As its reputation and need for facilities grew it moved to much larger premises in nearby Overton Park Road.

There’s also a row of sturdy red brick villas backing onto the old Honeybourne railway line. Below is the porch of one of them, still with its original stained glass door and wooden eaves.

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At the Christ Church Road end is a house which looks significantly different from the others. Built of Cotswold stone and smattered with pointed gables, Normanhurst is a Victorian Gothic treasure dating from 1882. It actually fronts onto Christ Church Road but its side and garden runs along Eldorado Road. This building’s frontage is packed with carved curiosities but on this side the design is more restrained and the main features are a series of jack-in-the-green faces carved into the gables. They are all different; this one has the leaves sprouting out of his mouth (and eyebrows) in typical green man style but the others have leafy moustaches.

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Cheltenham autumn

22 11 2008

I always reckon Cheltenham looks its best in autumn. Here are seven reasons why.

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Queen’s Road

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Lansdown Parade

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Tivoli Road

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fallen sign, Queen’s Road

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Grafton Road

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Chapel Lane

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Christ Church, Malvern Road

Photos taken in October and November 2008





Regency backsides

16 11 2008

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Scruffy butt end of Montpellier Terrace. Photos taken October 2008

If you’ve ever gone down any of the mews lanes at the back of Cheltenham’s finest terraces you’ll know that Regency architecture has a shameful secret. The beautiful facades you see at the front don’t apply to the backs. In most cases the rear ends of these glamorous houses are little more than a scruffy expanse of brick and drainpipes. Here are some of my favourites.

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Lansdown Crescent, front

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Lansdown Crescent, back

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Wellington Square, front

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Wellington Square, back

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Columbia Place, Winchcombe Street, front

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Columbia Place, Winchcombe Street, back

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Lansdown Terrace, Malvern Road, front

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Lansdown Terrace, Malvern Road, back





Queen’s Road

13 11 2008

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Photos taken October and November 2008

Without wanting to offend anyone who lives there, I think it’s fair to say that Queen’s Road is a “mixed” area. Its slow piecemeal development over a century and a half have left it with a very eclectic mix of architechture, from lush villa to bland flat, along with (for a bit of contrast) a railway station. The road is also sliced off at the end by the now disused Great Western Railway line to Honeybourne, which it passes over on a bridge.

Queen’s Road owes its present form to Cheltenham Railway Station, which began life in 1840 as Lansdown Station. The Birmingham & Glos. Railway company made the road as a grand approach road to the station from the Lansdown estate, laid out with appropriate glamour and taste. It took on its residential form at the same time the station was built. It wasn’t entirely new however. The road was initially formed in the early 1800s as a railroad for horse-drawn trams, going up to the quarries on Leckhampton Hill and bringing building stone into the town. The tram road was an important route in the Regency period and the section which linked up Westal Green with the lower end of Gloucester Road was what became Queen’s Road. The fact that Victoria had been crowned a couple of years previously may have had something to do with the name.

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Osborne Villas were among the earliest houses in the street, in existence by 1853 at the Lansdown Road end. Much of the rest of the land failed to find a buyer for several decades. A large chunk on both sides of the road became the home of Cypher’s Exotic Nursery in 1868. A few years later in 1878 “several pretty villas” began to be put up on the north side of the road. More building followed in the 1880s, including Midland Terrace and Queen’s Villas near the station and Queen’s Buildings.

The gable on this cottage bears its date in art nouveau. This building was formerly a post office. Now it’s a chip shop.

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The residential roads off Queen’s Road are mostly later. Kensington Avenue and Glencairn Park Road didn’t exist until about 1900, when they were carved through land which was still heaped up with earth from the digging of the railway cuttings. Across the road, Eldorado Road was started a few years earlier, in 1894.

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There are a lot of very lovely turn-of-the-century villas in the road. The example above is Rose View, presumably so named because it looked out over Cypher’s Nursery at front and back. The nursery originally occupied five acres of land. It was founded by James Cypher and specialised in exotics, growing fancy flowers in its extensive village of glasshouses and exporting them all over the world. The 1881 census lists James Cypher as a “Master Nurseryman Employ’g 17 men & 9 Boys” and living in Queen’s Road.  The firm thrived for nearly a century but went out of business some time around 1960 and the land was sold off. The north side got a sensitive development of quirky houses but the south side got Queen’s Court, an extensive area of medium-rise flats built in 1964, followed by the 1970s Skillicorne Mews. This map from 1927 marks out Cypher’s Nursery.

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Other interesting residents in the 1881 census include John Drury, an Irish “Clergyman Without Cure Of Souls” (i.e. without his own parish), Joseph Bendall the Railway Station Master, and a Retired Pork Butcher living in Hope Villa.

The eastern end of Queen’s Road is adorned with the grandest villas, with this one below probably the finest of all. Scroll back up and compare it with the cottages in the top picture!

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Cheltenham Spa railway station

2 11 2008

Photos taken October 2008

Once upon a time there were railway stations at Lansdown, Malvern Road, the Lower High Street, Charlton Kings and Leckhampton, with an additional mini-station at Hunting Butts by the racecourse. Now there’s just the one, Lansdown. It’s not called Lansdown station any more, it’s been promoted to Cheltenham Spa station. And as Cheltenham’s only remaining station, it’s bloody inconvenient in being beyond reasonable walking distance from the town. But given that it was recently jeopardised by a threat to build a new combined Cheltenham and Gloucester station on greenbelt land between the two towns which is not convenient for anybody and would ludicrously make rail passengers dependent on road transport to get there, I suppose we ought to be grateful for it.

Queen Victoria doesn’t seem to have been all that grateful for it, according to a report in the Illustrated London News of 6th October 1849 of her exceedingly brief visit. They even printed an engraving of the happy scene as the royal train trundled through the hordes of cheering admirers.

The same spot 150 years later …

The Queen was on her way back from her famous tour of the Scottish Highlands, and made a number of stops en route. The ILN reported:

ARRIVAL AT CHELTENHAM

Cheltenham was the next important station through which the Royal party passed; and here the whole population of the place appeared to be on the railway, the embankments for more than a mile being densely crowded with spectators. There was no stoppage at this place, but, through the kindness of her Majesty, the train was allowed to proceed at a very moderate speed for some distance.

She was obliged to stop at Gloucester, however, where “the break of gauge rendered it necessary for her Majesty to alight from the carriage she had previously occupied”. This is because of the incompatibility of the railway tracks used by rival companies at that time. Gloucester was the meeting point of the Bristol and Gloucester Railway which ran on Brunel’s superior broad-gauge rails with the Gloucester and Birmingham Railway which used the cheaper narrow-gauge system. Anyone wanting to travel through Gloucester had to change trains because the broad-gauge trains couldn’t run on the narrower tracks. Within a few years economy prevailed over comfort, and now the whole UK rail network uses narrow-gauge.

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Cheltenham station was first opened on 24th June 1840. But not without protest. 

It seems churlish to criticise the Revd Francis Close when 170 years after his time the town is still burgeoning on his benevolence, but it has to be said the man was an evangelical wingnut. One of the many spoilsport measures he lobbied for was to keep Cheltenham unsullied by the railways. He tried to stop the railway being built, and after losing that fight he did manage to ban trains from stopping at Cheltenham on a Sunday. That byelaw was overturned a long time ago, though you wouldn’t know it from the current Sunday timetable.

Relatively little has changed since the 1840s. The original footbridge over the tracks has been replaced, and many of the old outbuildings and engine sheds have been demolished, but Cheltenham station has held on to a lot of its original features. The iron pillars with their decorative brackets are an attractive relic, now painted in this rather jolly pink, purple and white. It wasn’t an aesthetic choice, these colours are the corporate branding of First Great Western, the train company which runs the station. These brackets are old, but they’re not the original ones from the 1840 station. Some of the originals do survive … I’ll try to get a photo next time I’m passing that way.

In the background of the picture you can also see some of the station’s old gas lamps, many of which still survive (no longer gas powered, of course).

The main station building itself is a lovely Regency specimen designed by Samuel Whitfield Daukes, an esteemed architect responsible for many of Cheltenham’s fine villas. It originally had a spectacular stone portico at the front supported on a hefty row of Doric columns. Regrettably the powers in charge of the station in 1961 had it removed and replaced with the present boring wooden canopy. Eejits.

Only one half-column of the old portico survives, much weathered and chipped.

A final note on the station. It is one of the only instances of the town being known as Cheltenham Spa. Apparently the G.W.R. railway executives of yesteryear felt it conveyed a bit of glamour and the name has stuck to this day, much to the confusion of many rail passengers who don’t realise that the town isn’t actually called that.





Malvern Road

30 10 2008

Photos taken October 2008

For me personally, Malvern Road is the street that defines Cheltenham. Partly because it was the first street I got to know intimately. But also because it has so many exquisitely Cheltonian features. From street level you can’t actually see the Malverns, but ironically the vista from the top of the road gives a magnificent view of the Cotswolds.

The road was developed during the 1830s, the heyday of Cheltenham’s building boom. Its southern end appears on the 1834 map under its original name of Lansdown Terrace, named after the magnificent terrace of houses which was originally built there. The terrace name is not much used these days, but the mews lane running round the back of it is still called Lansdown Terrace Lane.

The most imposing building in the street is the striking Gothic Christ Church, which despite its immense height and immaculately chiselled features seems to have been built in only three years, from 1837-1840. The signpost above stands in front of the church on what is now an open forecourt but was originally enclosed by a fine set of railings (you can see the row of empty holes in the kerbstone running along underneath). Sadly these were removed for scrap in 1942 in an unfortunate and ultimately pointless drive to gather iron for wartime munitions.

These days Malvern Road runs all the way from Lansdown Crescent to Gloucester Road but the northern end (north of the church) was originally a separate street called Christ Church Terrace, and was still being marked as such on some maps as late as the 1920s. It comprises mostly terraced housing, much less grand than Malvern Road proper but still very respectable. Like many others in Cheltenham, the terraces originally had their own names, Christchurch Terrace and Christchurch Villas. The names are no longer used but survive on individual houses.

In the 1900s the Honeybourne Line railway was carved through the middle of this section of street, but at a lower level than the street itself so it passes underneath a road bridge so subtle you’d hardly notice it. The railway line is now disused and makes a nice footpath. There was originally a Malvern Road Station, set back some way from the road at the edge of the Ladies College playing fields. It’s long gone now but the approach road still exists.

Another interesting building in this part of the street is Highbridge, the beautiful green house in the photo below with its exquisite oriel window. This house, and its slightly more modest beige companion, were built in 1857 by a prestigious local stonemason called James Brown. He and his son William made the famous Caryatid statues in Montpellier, and also worked on carvings for the Houses of Parliament. Brown built the beige house to live in himself, while Highbridge was a showpiece to advertise his carving skills and was rented out to provide him with a regular income.

Don’t you just love doors-in-the-wall that don’t actually lead anywhere? This lovely feature belongs to Richmond House, just to the south of the church, and screens off its garden from the street.

And looking down, between the modern concrete kerb and the tarmac and yellow line, a relic still survives of the street’s original paving surface, made with flagstones and cobblestone setts. It must have been truly bum-numbing to drive over these in a horse-drawn carriage in the days before pneumatic tyres. Ouch.

Back in the days before Christ Church and its terraces were built, the 1834 map shows just a handful of existing houses in Malvern Road. These were Lansdown Court, Drake House (built by a chap called Sir Francis Drake – no, not that one – in 1832) and a strange Tudor-Gothic edifice called Aban Court. The picture shows Aban Court’s unassuming letterbox set into a whopping great arched and studded front door.

Under construction on the 1834 map was the vast and magnificent Lansdown Terrace which gives Malvern Road much of its character, designed and built by the well-known Cheltenham architect Robert Jearrad. This long row stretches right the way down the lower half of the street (shown in the photo below is the end-of-terrace at the north end) and has kept most of its original features. It was supposed to be longer though – a second terrace of 12 houses was planned but never built. In 1834 only the first few houses (and their accompanying mews buildings) had been built but it was mostly complete by 1840. The end house here, separated from the others by a passage and archway, is Regan House. It was supposed to be the first house in the second terrace, but in the event it was the only one built – which is why it has the passageway running alongside it (originally intended as an access route between the terraces) and, although you can’t really see them in this picture, on its left hand side it bears the architectural mouldings of its thwarted neighbour. It stood derelict and vandalised for many years, its windows broken and its stonework pitted by airgun pellets. Its restoration in the mid 1990s won it a civic award. The green wheely bins are not original but the woman walking up towards the archway gives some idea of the grand scale of these houses.

The arched passageway leads into Lansdown Terrace Lane, a very old street which has its own Cheltonia article.

North end of Lansdown Terrace, with Regan House on the left

And here is the view from just inside the passage, looking back towards Malvern Road. The house you can see here is Aban Court.

And that’s not the only interesting thing in the passageway. The wall of the first house in the terrace has some old graffiti, showing that wanton vandalism is far from being a modern phenomenon. The stonework here was covered by a plaque for many years (hence the holes around the edge) which has had the effect of preserving the folk etchings underneath.

Further down the street, another peephole. This time into the front garden of Lansdown Court, a pair of flamboyant Italianate villas which actually front onto neighbouring Lansdown Crescent.





Well Place

30 10 2008

Ah, Well Place. What a Cheltenhamesque name, conjuring up images of a line of Regency villas with a spa as its centrepiece. When I went there though, I found that the most interesting feature in the whole street was the sign that said Well Place. So here it is.

There was a time when Well Place might have been slightly more interesting. It did once have a spa in it, but it was a minor one, and relatively short-lived. It has a couple of intriguing looking Victorian walls, but whatever was originally enclosed by them has long since disappeared and been replaced by more recent housing, mostly luxury flats. This is an exclusive and expensive area to live, but the development is not exactly beautiful. The street runs diagonally between Douro Road and Christ Church Road, but it doesn’t match the beauty of either of them.

Well Place was a relatively late development in Cheltenham’s history. It doesn’t appear on the 1834 map, which shows the Lansdown area under development from the Crescent upwards. It appears in 1864, but unnamed.

The 1921 map (below) marks the location of the spa. It opened in 1857 under the name of Chadnor Villa Well, run by Miss Ann Webb. It was a saline well with an accompanying pump house, towards the north-west end of the street. On the map there’s also a confusing reference to “King’s Well” (the original King’s Well was a few streets away, in Overton Road). As far as I can tell the Well Place spa and pump house no longer exist.

There is a reference to a Well Place in Cheltenham in a deed of 1430. Its location is unknown but it’s most certainly unrelated to the present street.