Charles Street (formerly Albert Street)

19 10 2009

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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Hope Street

15 11 2008

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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.

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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.

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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! 

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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.

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