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.

Kew Place and Clare Place

27 11 2009

Kew Place is a small but very pretty and unspoiled street off the Bath Road, between Thirlestaine House (part of Cheltenham College) and the Bath Road shops. It leads through to another little street called Clare Place, which is also full of historic character, and between them they form an L-shaped cul-de-sac, so it seems appropriate to look at their history together. Both have changed their names since they were built – Kew Place was originally the name of a courtyard round the back, and the street itself was known as Clare Parade, while Clare Place went by the charming name of Bean Street.

Kew Place is the earlier of the two streets and is shown (unnamed) on the 1820 map with a couple of houses already built. It was originally much longer and was probably laid down as part of the Thirlestaine House estate, part of a small grid of access roads running around the back of its gardens and eventually joining up with Thirlestaine Road. Only the south side of the street has housing in it – the north side is occupied entirely by the high brick wall around Thirlestaine House, which ends in a little castellated keep (pictured above). Originally the road carried on past this point and ran past another large fine house called Clare Villa.

1820 map, with a couple of additional labels. South is at the top on this map! The grand house marked with a letter ‘g’ is Thirlestaine House, now part of Cheltenham College, and the road along the bottom marked as ‘Charlton to Westall’ is Thirlestaine Road. Clare Place was not yet formed, but a pair of cottages had already been built there – and these still exist. Kew Place, which now only goes as far as the junction with Clare Place, ran all the way down past Clare Villa before bending round to the left to join up with the main road. A couple of pairs of cottages were already built at the top of Kew Place by then, along with a couple of courtyards, plus what looks like a cottage at the junction with Bath Road, which had gone by 1834. There was some development along the Bath Road by this time but much of it was still fields, including some still laid out in medieval strips.

1834 map. This map is orientated the other way up from the map above, and shows how much the area changed in 14 years. It shows Kew Place under its old name of Clare Parade and Clare Place under its original name of Bean Street. The housing in Kew Place had by now expanded into a terrace, built right up to the junction with Bath Road and replacing the cottage shown there on the earlier map. The open courtyards had become more enclosed and filled in with housing and outbuildings, reached through a passageway. It was this passageway and the houses behind it which were originally named Kew Place. The passageway still exists but the housing has probably since been cleared. Clare Place (Bean Street) is shown here fully built with a terrace of cottages on its west side, and that’s largely how it remains today as the east side is occupied by another high brick wall. It ended in a cul-de-sac at the edge of a field, and although the field has since been built on, Clare Place remains a no through road in its original form.

This cobbled passageway is the original Kew Place, once leading to a cluster of cottages at the back. The house to the left of this picture is one of the earliest in the street, built by 1820. The one to the right is a little later, built some time between 1820 and 1834.

Thirlestaine House and Clare Villa are also clearly marked on the 1834 map, but the street and garden layout had apparently changed a fair bit since 1820, with the road past Clare Villa now being a private drive and no longer linking up with Thirlestaine Road. Now, if you’re familiar with Cheltenham you might be wondering why Thirlestaine Road is marked as Sandford Road on this map. Well, that’s what it was originally called. And before you say “but Sandford Road is the next one along!” – yup, that’s right. There were two Sandford Roads, running parallel to each other. It was very very confusing, even after attempts to rename them as Upper and Lower, so the southerly one was eventually renamed Thirlestaine Road. Also marked (and actively under construction) on this map is Clare Terrace, now known as Clare Street. This area has seen a lot of name changes!

Bean Street was a short-lived name … it had already been renamed Clare Place by the time of the 1844 directory, although the old name lingered on some later maps. Clare Parade lasted many more decades, with Kew Place used only as the name of the courtyard until the end of the 19th century, when the name was applied to the whole street and the courtyard became Kew Place Court.

I think it’s fair to say that Kew Place is a very pleasant area today … the houses are well looked after and it’s in a desirable part of town. But that hasn’t always been the case. The houses were originally built for skilled but low-paid tradespeople, and life for them would have been tough and uncompromising. A glance through the 1841 census shows that the early residents included a tailor, stonemason, a brick maker, a coach trimmer, and a couple of laundry women. The rear courtyard was home to Samuel Stone, post boy (despite the ‘boy’ designation, he was actually 30) and an assortment of servants and labourers. By 1935 the condition of the street was poor enough that numbers 1 to 5 were listed in a slum clearance schedule, though I don’t know exactly where these were, or whether it referred to the courtyard or the main street.

These cottages down the bottom end of Kew Place are the most recent – built after 1834. The one on the left, set back from the others, is a little earlier.

One of the things I find most interesting in Kew Place (but maybe it’s just me) is that it retains most of its original flagstone pavement. Not only is it infinitely more beautiful than the usual concrete paving you find all over Cheltenham but it bears all the contours and wear marks of 190 years’ worth of feet and weather that have passed over it. And as is often the case with historic pavements, it bears its own pavement treasure. You could be forgiven for trampling over this circular grille (below) without even noticing it but it is a fantastic example of a very early coalhole. There are two of these still surviving, and they are outside the two oldest cottages in the street, which most likely dates them to before 1820. Coalholes of that age are very rare. They are both identical, so I think it very likely that they are the original coalhole covers installed when the houses were first built. What makes them very special is that they are not cast iron plates from a foundry – they are hand-wrought. You can see that each individual bar in the grille has been fashioned by hand, and riveted and beaten onto the outer ring. It’s most likely that they were made by a local blacksmith. They both have a concrete infill, but I’m pretty sure this has been added later and they were originally open grilles … which would of course have made conditions rather wet and grimy in the coal cellar below. In my article on The Joy of Coalholes I suggested that the hand-beaten coalplates of 1819 vintage which survive in Berkeley Place were probably the oldest in Cheltenham … but these could possibly be even older.

Pre-1820 coalhole in Kew Place. The flat central bar is probably a later repair, but all the other bars are original – hand-crafted by a blacksmith.

Moving round the corner into Clare Place, we find another pretty terraced street with a row of cottages on one side and a long imposing brick wall on the other. The street is presumably named after Clare Villa immediately to the east, which is now part of Cheltenham College Junior School and hidden behind the wall.

These cottages were also built in the 1820s or early 1830s for working-class craftsmen and tradespeople, but probably built all in one phase rather than the piecemeal development in Kew Place.

Clare Place (Bean Street)

All, that is, except for a cluster of cottages on the corner between the two streets, which predate 1820 and were probably originally known as Clare Cottages or Clare Villa Cottages. They do stand out from the rest of the terrace as they are kind of chunkier and are set right up against the pavement rather than set back behind front courtyards like the rest of the terrace. You can see them on the 1820 map above, standing on their own before the street itself was even formed. There may originally have been more cottages in this part of the street – three were listed in the 1930s slum clearance schedule.

The oldest cottages in the street, shown on the 1820 map before the rest of the street was built. It appears to be all one house now, but I’m pretty sure it was originally a pair of smaller ones.

One more little detail before we leave this interesting pair of streets … one of the cottages in or off Clare Place is said to have a Regency-period grotto in its garden (an underground summerhouse or tunnel) but I don’t know where this is.

St James’s Place

5 09 2009


St James is a popular street patron in Cheltenham. He has a Square, a Street, a Place and at one time had a railway station. In fact he had two Places – there was formerly a street or terrace of that name in what is now Ambrose Street. Other related street and house names have existed over the years, such as St James’s Parade (part of the Square), St James’s Passage (off the High Street), and St James’s Terrace (in Suffolk Parade). An advert for a new house for sale in 1809 even makes reference to a St James’s Village, though it’s not entirely clear where this refers to – most likely the development around St James’s Square, which, in true Cheltenham style, was never actually completed as a square. Even more confusingly, many of the streets under St James’s patronage are in completely different parts of town … although the two main ones began development around the same time, in the very early 1800s. St James’s Church was built in Suffolk Square in the late 1820s.

Why St James? Well there was a tradition that Cheltenham’s annual fair was held on St James’s Day. But it’s more likely that the name came from another fashionable Regency development elsewhere … possibly Bath, where a St James’s Square was built in the 1790s.

St James’s Place is one of the lesser known streets of that name, probably named after the church, tucked away as a tiny offshoot from Great Norwood Street running through to Painswick Road and quietly preserving a great deal of 19th century character in the beautiful area between Montpellier and Leckhampton formerly known as South Town. It’s one of the streets in Cheltenham which has changed so little you can quite easily imagine what it must have been like 150 years ago.


The street itself is small and narrow, its streetscape mostly consisting of a terrace of smallish townhouses (above) built in the 1840s on the south side of the street, on the site of a Regency-period timber yard. This terrace was constructed in an L-shape along two sides of the timber yard, one side of it fronting onto Painswick Road. It’s likely that the name St James’s Place originally belonged to the terrace (both sides of it) rather than the actual street. Only numbers 1-7 are still given their original name and numbers, the others (8-14) being re-numbered as part of Painswick Road.

The north side of St James’s Place is mainly occupied by a high red-brick perimeter wall. The wall is the surviving relic of a very fine house called Casino, and originally marked the boundary of its large garden. Casino House was built around 1824 as a private dwelling but by 1830 had become a boys’ school run by William Childe, and a decade later was a girls’ school run by the Misses Langdon. It was It was unfortunately demolished in the 1930s and replaced by several more modest houses. It gives its name to Casino Place, the tiny service lane which crosses through St James’s Place at right angles. There is still a section of the pavement in St James’s Place at the entrance to Casino Place where the original cobblestones have been preserved (see the article on Casino Place for pictures).


1834 map. St James’s Place is shown here, unnamed, between ‘Painswick Lawn’ and Great Norwood Street, with the thin line of Casino Place crossing over it. A timber yard occupies the south west section where the main terrace of housing now stands – most likely serving the huge building boom taking place in the area at the time. In St James’s Place itself, a solitary dwelling or pair of dwellings stands on the junction with lower Casino Place but it is otherwise undeveloped. The map indicates that Great Norwood Street was very much a work-in-progress at the time, with its west side laid out as a terrace but only a few houses actually built and its east side mostly still fields. Also shown here is the old ‘Rail Road’ – a horse-drawn tram line – which was used to transport Cotswold stone from the quarries on Leckhampton Hill to a depot at the top end of Gloucester Road. The line it follows here is present day Andover Road.

The exact origin of St James’s Place is difficult to pinpoint, as it seems to have started out as an access road without much in the way of housing. The 1806 map shows the whole South Town area as open fields with no development at all. During the 1820s Painswick Road (then known as Painswick Lawn) and Great Norwood Street were laid out and the line of St James’s Place established between the two … and it was probably around this time that it acquired its first building – Casino Cottage – which is the only dwelling listed there on the 1841 census. By the time of the 1855 Old Town Survey there were 14 houses listed in the street, though of course half of these were round the corner and now part of Painswick Road.


As far as I can work out, the white house with the bay windows and plants trained up the front is Casino Cottage, the earliest building in the street which predates the other houses pictured here. The entrance to the lower section of Casino Place can be seen running along the side of it. It was originally a pair of cottages, and was probably built in the 1820s around the same time as its opulent neighbour Casino House, whose garden wall it overlooks. The tall buff coloured house on the left presents its butt end here … it fronts onto Great Norwood Street and its site is shown as an empty building plot on the 1834 map above. Only just visible in this photo is a small relic of an old sign painted onto its upper wall.




Detail of the old painted brickwork peeping through the rendering. Presumably the word in its entirety is ‘Norwood’.

Casino Place

19 11 2008


Photos taken November 2008

How does an unobtrusive service lane round the back end of Montpellier get a name like Casino Place? And for that matter, how many people walk past it every day without noticing it’s there?

Casino Place appears, unnamed, on the 1834 map. It goes from Suffolk Road through to the bottom end of Andover Road in that part of Cheltenham formerly known as South Town. It runs parallel to Great Norwood Street on one side and Painswick Road on the other. Another small road, St James’ Place, slices through at right angles to join up these two streets and cuts Casino Place in two.


Detail from Merrett’s map of 1834.

As you can see, the area was still largely unbuilt. The terraces in Great Norwood Street were just starting to go up, while Painswick Road/Lawn was still a route through the fields and graced with a timber yard. St James’ Place was unnamed and only had one dwelling in it, Casino Cottage. The black line you can see running down the road on the left (that’s Andover Road, by the way) is the old railtrack from the quarries on Leckhampton Hill. The little thin terrace to the left of that is Providence Cottages, some of which still survive today.

Let’s start at the top end. The northern entrance to Casino Place has no pretensions of glamour despite its proximity to many exceptionally beautiful streets. In fact the lane is down the side of a humble pair of Victorian cottages on Suffolk Road which are currently (end of 2008) home to a derelict launderette.


Back in 1824, when this area was still mostly undeveloped, two fine villas were built in the top part of Painswick Road (or Painswick Lawn as it was called then) on its eastern side. (See map above.) One was Painswick Lawn House on the corner plot butting onto Suffolk Road, and the second, much larger one, was named Casino House. When newly built it was advertised as a “very elegant villa with 14 rooms” and was set in a capacious garden with a red brick boundary wall. The service lane running along the back was named Casino Place. One image (below) survives of Casino, showing it to be a slabby imposing edifice with minimal ornamentation, though its interior seems to have been opulent – it had a geometrical staircase built of Bath stone and the entrance hall had marble inset floors. Its original owner was William Whitehead, but it didn’t remain a private home; by 1830 it was in use as a boys’ school run by William Childe. At the time of the 1841 census it was the home of Sarah Langdon, a woman in her early 60s of independent means, who was running it as a school for young ladies. Susanna and Ann Langdon (presumably her daughters) were schoolmistresses and there were sixteen resident pupils, all girls, aged mostly 14 and 15, plus three female servants. Painswick Lawn House next door was also a ladies’ school at this time but it’s unclear in the census whether the two were connected. The Misses Langdon clearly made an impression on the area because a whole street was named after them in the 1890s, Langdon Road just the other side of the Norwood Arms roundabout. Susanna and another schoolmistress sister, Margaret, were still living in Cheltenham in 1881 in a high class lodging house beside the Belle Vue Hotel in the High Street. They never married.

By the time of the 1881 census, Casino had been renamed Haldon House. It was still a school, now run by Charles Pratt Haward, whose occupation is given as “Prof of Singing (Musician)”. His wife Lucy was a schoolmistress and the house was also occupied by a gaggle of governesses, three servants and eight boarding pupils, all young boys.


Casino, from an 1826 engraving (Griffith’s New Historical Description of Cheltenham) when it was newly built. What is most striking here is that the surrounding area is completely undeveloped. The unmade road in the foreground is presumably Painswick Road, with Great Norwood Street approximately corresponding to the line of trees behind the house, and a perfect uninterrupted vista towards Leckhampton Hill. The scene is utterly unrecognisable today.

Sadly Casino isn’t there any more; it was demolished in the 1930s and its gardens built on, but the original perimeter wall still survives (with one remaining stone pier at the front entrance), and so does one of its outbuildings in Casino Place, now known as Holden’s Cottage.


This is all that survives of Casino House, the garden wall and a solitary mews cottage.

In the 1841 census it’s not clear how many cottages there were in Casino Place because the name wasn’t in use at that point. It lists a dwelling at the “back of Casino House” occupied by a plasterer called Samuel Hulbert and his three daughters, which may be the cottage shown above.

Below is another view from further down where Casino Place opens onto St James’ Place, a tiny delight of a street which retains its original cottages in all their Regency splendour. The ivy-clad perimeter wall of Casino House runs along the side of St James’ Place and the original cobblestones also survive in the driveway opening. The top part of Casino Place is only partially tarmacked and remains one of the few places in suburban Cheltenham where you can still get your feet muddy after it’s been raining.


In St James’ Place can be found Casino Cottages, which are older than the rest of the street.

Which brings us to the lower section of Casino Place.

I haven’t been able to confirm this, but I suspect the lower section was originally called Painswick Place. The 1841 census refers to it by that name and lists two dwellings there, which matches what appears on the 1834 map.

You can see on the 1834 map that one side of the lane was occupied by a timber yard, probably servicing the various building projects in the area. The two cottages were on the other side, directly opposite. In the 1841 census one cottage was uninhabited and the other was home to a sawyer, Thomas Hart, who was presumably employed in the yard.


By 1855 there were 10 cottages in the row and by 1881 it had risen to 18. The census for that year shows a selection of low-paid workers living in them, no doubt in a great deal more poverty than would be seen on the fashionable streets either side, or even just round the corner in St James’ Place. They included Mary Heylott, a laundress (somebody had to wash the linen of the wealthy, and this job was generally done by older widowed women like Mary), John Baldwyn the gardener and a domestic servant called Elizabeth Greatorex. There were also carters and fly drivers, dressmakers, a few farm labourers and an unemployed nurse. Numbers 7 and 8 were uninhabited.

Numbers 1-10 were included in a slum clearance programme in 1936 and demolished. However, parts of some of the ground floor frontages still remain if you look closely and have been adapted into garages and outbuildings.


The lower section of Casino Place. The area to the left, in front of the red wall, is where the timber yard originally was. The garages here have been made out of the shells of old cottages, and you can still see the old narrow pavement running down both sides.

A few features still survive as a reminder that these were once people’s homes. Like this old window. The block of stone to the right of the drainpipe has an inscription on it, no longer legible, and the remains of a number 1.


With thanks to Gillian Kelly for friendship and additional research.