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.

1921 map

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.





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.