Olio Lane

21 09 2009


Photos taken September 2009

This idyllic little lane is proving quite elusive to research, so if anybody has any information to contribute I’d be pleased to have it. In fact, the more I try to research it, the more confused I get.

Olio Lane is a very small lane off St Luke’s Road – so small, in fact, that you could very easily walk past it without noticing it or assume it was a private driveway. Its entrance is at the side of a very pretty Victorian shop at the end of the terrace in St Luke’s Road, which was until recent years occupied by a wonderful second-hand bookshop, Michael Rayner Books. Although the shop itself is quite tiny, it was stuffed to the rafters with books and Michael Rayner was absolutely passionate about them. I really miss that shop, as it was such a pleasant and friendly place to browse – many of the books I rely on to research this website were bought from there. The beautifully preserved Victorian shopfront has a strip of stained glass along the top of its window and the most striking feature inside is a huge arched wooden Gothic door which leads through into the garden. The cream-coloured wall in the photo below is the garden wall behind the shop.


The name ‘olio’ means a hotchpotch or miscellany, which is what this lane is in every sense. It has no housing on its east side, only the back gardens of houses in St Luke’s Road and College Road, while on its west side it has a row of five Victorian brick cottages called Olio Cottages, and beyond that, set back in its railing-rimmed garden, a solitary house called Olio Villa. After that it fizzles away into greenery. The tarmac blends almost seamlessly into an earthy footpath with a high Victorian wall on either side, lush with undergrowth, and if you follow it for its entire length it brings you out on the busy Sandford Road opposite Cheltenham College chapel. This is another of Cheltenham’s secret timewarp places … a rustic relic preserved untouched within the urban centre.

Olio Cottages, as you can see in the picture above, are beautifully bedecked with flowers in summer, for which they’ve won an award.


Olio Villa. While I’m not an authority on architecture, this beautiful cottage looks stylistically older than its neighbours – early 1800s perhaps. Its attractive and finely wrought iron railings also beg to be dated to a bygone age – in short, the whole thing is like stepping into a timewarp to the pre-Regency period. But not only is it absent from all the 19th century maps I have, it doesn’t appear on the meticulously detailed Ordnance Survey of 1921 either. So is it a more recent building done in an antiquated style? Or an old cottage that has slipped through the cartographic floorboards?


1921 map – the terrace of five – Olio Cottages – are marked here in red. Beside them, the site of Olio Villa is shown as the back garden of a property on the main Bath Road – and no villa. The map also shows two more very small buildings further down the lane, possibly cottages or outbuildings for the big houses on the Bath Road.

Within the St Luke’s area generally, little has changed since this map was made. Except in College Road, where the large house Cheltondale is gone and its site is now occupied by the hospital A&E department.

The decoratively eccentric shape of St Luke’s Road is inspired by the old field boundary, which stands out on the early maps for its unusual sequence of three sharp curves, one of which is retained in the way St Luke’s Road curves around the church. Another of them is preserved in the line of St Luke’s Place, where it bends towards its junction with Sandford Street. It’s possible that Olio Lane follows the line of an old footpath which originally led all the way up to Barrett’s Mill, and of which St Luke’s Place is also a part.