This page is an attempt to pull together information about some of the people who shaped the history of Cheltenham. Not necessarily the illustrious and the famous … there are plenty of books about them already. But the characters who made up the life and architecture of the 19th century town.
It’s very much a work-in-progress, just based on my own notes and updated as I go along. Starting with the builders and the patrons who financed them. Scroll down for a list of architects. Most of the information here is gleaned from my trawls through James Hodsdon’s fantastic Cheltenham gazetteer.
BUILDERS & SPECULATORS
John Barnard – clerk of the parish at St Mary’s church, with a sideline in property speculation. Between 1819 and 1825 he built Barnard’s Row, nine tiny cottages in an alley between Knapp Road and New Street. They lasted a century before succumbing to slum clearance.
Edward Billings – builder involved in the completion of Columbia Place in Winchcombe Street.
Thomas Billings – a solicitor, and the original developer of The Park estate. He bought the land in 1831, an area of fields in the parish of Leckhampton. His ambitious plan revolved around a large pear-shaped drive with a crescent of detached villas in the centre, and a zoological and botanical garden and pleasure ground. By 1839 the whole thing had gone pear-shaped and Billings was forced to sell up to architect Samuel Whitfield Daukes, who completed the development according to his own plans.
Thomas Blizard – what a great name! A builder involved in the development of St Paul’s around the 1840s.
Thomas Broomfield – active Cheltenham builder of the mid-19th century. Among his contributions are some of the houses in the long terrace in Rodney Road.
James Brown – a stonemason of great repute, who built a pair of semi-detached houses in Malvern Road in 1857; one to live in and the other to rent out. The rented one, Highbridge, has a spectacular Gothic bay window intended to show off his carving skills. Brown and his son William Giles Brown made many stone features in the town, notably the famous caryatid statues in Montpellier Walk, and the long-gone Turkish Baths in Oriel Road. They were also hired for jobs outside the town, including some work on the Houses of Parliament. I would like to know if they had anything to do with the incredible Gothic carve-fest which is Normanhurst just round the corner in Christ Church Road.
Thomas Burges – around 1790 built a set of four houses called St George’s Place, which eventually gave their name to the whole of the street.
Robert Capper – (1768-1851) a wealthy local landowner and magistrate who lived at Marle Hill House (now demolished) above Pittville Park. He was a Calvinist and built the beautiful Portland Chapel in North Place in 1816. He appointed a minister, Thomas Snow, who promptly barred Capper from his own chapel by refusing to give communion to anyone who hadn’t been baptised there. In retaliation Capper refused to pay Snow’s salary, and Snow was forced to retreat to his own home and hold services there instead. Three years later Capper donated the chapel to the Countess of Huntingdon’s Connection. The building still stands but has had various commercial uses in recent years which would have Thomas Snow spinning in his grave, including a trendy fitness club.
Edward Cope – busy builder in the Pittville area in the 1830s and 40s, having bought up some of the assets of financially-teetering Joseph Pitt. Among the developments he built were Pittville Circus and Pittville Circus Road, a fine house called East Hayes and a couple of houses in Selkirk Street. He lived in a house called Sinclair Villa, somewhere in the vicinity of Pittville Circus.
Robert Cox – built the workers’ cottages in Rutland Street between 1806 and 1810. They were never very salubrious and a large part of the street was demolished in the 1930s and the name changed, so it’s now part of Brunswick Street.
James Creed – built some houses off Winchcombe Street in 1835-6, known as Winchcombe Terrace and now approximately the site of Blockbuster Video. He had his own premises in this part of the street too. George Rowe’s 1850 town guide lists him as an “extensive Plumber and Builder” and adds dryly that “the immense rolls of sheet lead, constantly lying within Mr Creed’s railings, are the best proof of the extent of his business.” It’s worth pointing out that “plumber” had a different meaning in the 19th century, being a person who works with lead (from the Latin “plumbum”) which was widely used as a roofing material at that time. The practice of making water pipes out of lead resulted in the term being applied to people who fix water pipes.
John Denne – not a builder but a clockmaker, based in the High Street. He made and erected the town clock in 1828, largely at his own expense as the attempt to fund it by public subscription was underwhelming. The clock was a major feature on the High Street for 130 years, sadly lost when its decaying support beam was considered ‘uneconomical’ to repair in 1958. He also installed other public clocks such as those on St Paul’s, St James’ and St John’s churches.
George Dover – a local builder, based in Tivoli Place in the 1840s. He built some of the nice villas in Douro Road.
Benjamin Fagg – builder not of houses but of stables. Around 1831 he built Fagg’s Mews in St George’s Place, which most likely “survives” today as the derelict heap bearing the name of the Cheltenham Shopfitting Company, slowly reaching the point of collapse and now held together with wire mesh. It was once a large livery stables, one of several in the town built or run by Benjamin Fagg.
James Fisher – in 1820 he bought an area of land from the Earl of Suffolk, on what had once been part of Galipot Farm. With the help of young local architect Edward Jenkins, he created the beautiful Suffolk Square estate, plus the eastern side of what became Lypiatt Road. He also donated a plot of land in the Square for the building of a church: St James’s. In 1835 he moved on to a somewhat smaller project in Fairview, laying out School Lane (now gone and replaced by Fairview Close), Victoria Place and the eastern end of Fairview Road (which was originally called Victoria Street, renamed to avoid confusion with the one in St Paul’s).
William Flatcher – originator of the Fairview estate. Flatcher was a farmer who built a biggish house called Fair View Cottage in 1804, which stood just to the right of the All Saints School building in Fairview Road. It was fairly isolated at that time in a very rural area. He recognised a business opportunity in the many semi-skilled working people who were moving to Cheltenham to service the needs of the rich, and built a number of streets of low-cost cottages for them to live in, making land available to other developers too and giving rise to a whole network of streets. Development began in 1806 and continued through the 1820s. He built Fairview Street (originally Fairview Crescent) between 1823 and 1826, designed by Francis Rawlings.
Charles Hale – appointed surveyor of highways in Cheltenham around 1846, one of his first projects was the repair and realignment of the old ‘Gallows Lane’ which had become little more than an impassable ditch and communal drain – his efforts being such a huge improvement that it was renamed in his honour – Hales Road. He also had his hand in some property speculation, and is named on the building certificates for some of the houses in Rodney Terrace, Rodney Road.
Samuel Harward – co-founder of the Sherborne Spa with Thomas Henney. The grand terrace of houses in the Promenade, now the town’s muncipal offices, was originally called Harward’s Buildings, named after him.
Thomas Henney – along with Samuel Harward, founder of the Sherborne Spa. We have them to thank for the existence of the Promenade, which they initially created as a fancy walkway to their spa on the site of the Queen’s Hotel.
Valentine Hosking – built some houses in or off Fairview Street in 1827, known as Prospect Place.
Joseph Hughes – a butcher born in Winchcombe in about 1783. By 1824 he had bought a house and a plot of land on Prestbury Road, which he demolished and set about replacing with a new development, Portland Square. The 1825 credit crunch left him in serious trouble, however, and he went bust in 1827. The unfinished Portland Square development was sold off in small plots, and Hughes’ original plans went down the toilet. The central garden area was built over, the square ceased to be a square and the top half of it was renamed Albert Place.
Thomas Hughes – in 1784 built the first of the three Assembly Rooms (none of which survive) on the corner of the High Street and Rodney Road, now the site of Lloyds Bank.
Robert Hughes – son of Thomas Hughes, built Rodney Lodge in Rodney Road just behind his father’s Assembly Rooms. Still a very remarkable building, its grounds originally covered 3 acres down to the River Chelt, and the terrace in Rodney Road had to be built set back from the road in order to avoid spoiling the view!
Thomas Hunt – a “builder of Cheltenham”, according to his grave vault in Jenner Gardens.
Richard Hyett – around 1700 he built himself a delightful home called Alstone House in Six Chimneys Lane, now Arle Avenue. At that time the vast majority of present-day Cheltenham didn’t exist; the hamlet of Alstone was completely rural and the house would have been in the middle of nowhere. It’s still there, and now one of Cheltenham’s oldest houses.
On the 1806 map a house is shown on the edge of Evesham Road as “Hyett’s, now Pitt’s”. The Hyett in question is unlikely to have been the same one who built Alstone House as it was a century later, but it was most likely a relative.
F. E. Jenkins – Leckhampton based builder responsible for Fairfield Road.
Richard Keightly – described in a local newspaper in 1847 as a “respectable builder of this town”, Keightly was the speculator responsible for much of Lypiatt Terrace in Lypiatt Road. It’s possible that he designed the spectacular Italianate terrace himself. He certainly laid out the land into building plots and built at least four of the houses.
Jonathan Lea – donated the plot of land in St George’s Street which allowed the Wesleyan Methodist chapel to be built in 1849 (now converted for residential use).
Edward Leighton – builder responsible for Leighton Road, and a row of cottages around St James’s Square whose whereabouts is now uncertain.
William Henry Mason – a tailor by trade, bought up a pair of building plots in Portland Square from the bankrupt Joseph Hughes and built two houses in 1833, one to live in and one to rent out.
William Moles – built at least some of the cottages on Grove Street (now demolished in slum clearance) known as Cumberland Buildings.
Katherine Monson – Cheltenham’s most unconventional builder, being a woman and a member of the aristocracy. The Hon. Katherine Monson was born on 12 September 1754, the second of eight children of the 2nd Baron Monson of Burton in Lincolnshire. She moved to Cheltenham while in her 20s and spent most of her life here, remaining unmarried. Her enthusiasm for property apparently started when she built herself a house, Monson Villa, in Northfield in St Margaret’s Road in the late 18th century. The villa was demolished in the 1960s and its site became the ugly Whitbread tower block, itself demolished in 2006 and replaced by an even more ugly NCP car park (what were the town planners thinking?) By 1805 Katherine had bought the plot of land adjacent to her villa, where she built herself a much larger house, St Margaret’s. That isn’t there any more either: it was bombed in 1940 after serving for many years as the ticket office of the Black & White coach company. Buying up yet another plot of adjacent land, she built St Margaret’s Terrace (pictured above) in 1820, a grand row of six houses which still stand today on the corner of North Place. Not just a financial speculator, Katherine took a practical hands-on approach and personally supervised all her building projects. In total she is thought to have built at least 17 houses in Cheltenham, still taking an active role on-site even when she was well into her 60s.
In December 1825 came the severe credit crunch and banking collapse which ruined a great many property speculators, including Katherine Monson. She was declared bankrupt in 1828, by which time she was into her 70s. She fled to France to escape her creditors, returning a few years later to lodge with William Halford, her former clerk of works, who lived in North Place just up the road from the houses she built. She is listed on the 1841 census, living in the Halford family home along with two other ladies of senior age. She died in 1843, aged 89, and is buried in the Halford vault in Holy Trinity churchyard. Her grave can still be found, set into the ground at the southern end of the churchyard. Monson Avenue is named after her.
William Morgan – builder, employed to construct Lansdown Terrace in Malvern Road.
Richard Pate – an early benefactor to the town who founded an almshouse in the High Street opposite Rodney Road in 1578. His enduring legacy also thrives in Pate’s Grammar School, founded 1586.
Joseph Pitt – probably Cheltenham’s best known speculator, since he modestly named his elaborate estate after himself. He was born in Little Witcombe in 1759 and started humbly enough; as a boy he was hired to hold gentlemen’s horses for a penny a time. A Cirencester lawyer thought he looked intelligent and took him on as a trainee. From there Pitt worked his way up to become a private banker, and bought up a great deal of land in Cheltenham from about 1800 onwards, along with investments in other Gloucestershire towns. One of his first major projects was the Royal Crescent, designed by Bath architect Charles Harcourt Masters, and begun in 1805. Shortly after that he was involved in the development of Cambray Place. He had also got hold of about 100 acres of land north of the town at the 1801 ‘inclosures’, which he set aside for the creation of a ‘new town’ of 600 houses when he felt the time was right. Pittville duly kicked off in 1824, designed by gifted local architect John Forbes and built to the highest standards. Pitt timed it badly … work had barely begun when the 1825 credit crunch knocked the wind out of the project’s sails and although the estate is a national treasure its development lurched from crisis to crisis. Far from being a new town, only 20 houses had been built by 1830. Over the next three decades the number increased to about 200, but Joseph Pitt didn’t get the benefit of them – he died in 1842 with debts of over £150,000.
J J Rowland – built the Tudor Gothic styled Arle Court in 1858.
Richard Savory – the landlord of the Duke’s Head pub in Duke Street, now no. 71. Richard was involved in building a number of houses in Duke Street, including Savory’s Court, for which he was issued with building certificates in 1838. He’s listed on the 1841 census as the pub landlord. His son Frederick appears on the 1881 census as landlord of the Bell Inn in Bath Road.
Henry Skillicorne – a retired Bristolian sea captain, created the first spa in Cheltenham in 1738 by building a small canopy of brick arches over a saline-chalybeate well inherited from his father-in-law William Mason, adding a simple and plain pump room.
William Skillicorne – son of Henry, who took over the Old Well on his father’s death in 1763 and added a kind of assembly room, the Long Room. His interest in the spa was less than his father’s and he leased it out to William Miller of London, who oversaw its running and development.
Joseph Sly – most likely a local maltster with a sideline in property development. Two cottages in the Cambray area behind no. 94 High Street were originally called Sly’s Cottages and were among a group of properties sold by Joseph Sly in 1824.
Thomas Smith – a local banker. In 1811 he built the ‘new’ Pate’s Almshouse in Albion Street, which still survives today and bears a stone tablet with its name and date, a pleasantly proportioned late Georgian building now looking a bit odd squidged up against a large 1930s cinema. The building was part of a bargain Smith struck with an Oxford college who owned the delapidated original almshouse in the High Street, built 250 years earlier by Richard Pate as a home for six elderly poor people and endowed with a chapel, orchard and private gardens. Smith bought the site for £250 and immediately flogged it for £2000. The new almshouse was provided as a condition of the purchase, but it was a raw deal for the poor of the parish … a much smaller plot and lacking the chapel, orchard and gardens. If I ever decide to set up a new category for Cheltenham Arseholes, Thomas Smith will be the first to be included.
William Swain – began the development of Queen’s Parade at the top of Bayshill Road in 1839, but went bust in 1846 and the terrace was left without its end house for 140 years, finally completed in the 1980s.
Thomas Teal – born c.1793, builder of Teal’s Court in Duke Street during the 1830s.
Henry Thompson – a Liverpool banker and an important developer of the very early 19th century, responsible for laying out most of Montpellier. His efforts started in 1801 when he bought 400 acres of land from the Revd Delabere. He built Hygeia House (called Vittoria House from 1813) in Vittoria Walk as a home for himself with a spa on site (the house still stands today), and a salts manufactory for extracting minerals from spa water, which survives as the Playhouse Theatre in Bath Road, built around 1806. The project grew rapidly and he laid out a great many beautiful walks and rides, including Montpellier Gardens, and built a lot of fine villas to go with it. In 1808 he opened a new spa near the top end of Montpellier to replace the one in his house, initially a wooden chalet, but replaced with a stone building in 1817, now known as the Rotunda (the dome is a slightly later addition). He also built Montpellier Gardens with an avenue of trees towards the town centre. After his death his son Pearson took over the development of the estate.
Pearson Thompson – son of Henry, born around 1796 and only about 25 when he inherited his father’s estate, which he continued to develop with great enthusiasm and generous budgets. He commissioned the famous architect J B Papworth for several projects, firstly to add the dome of the Rotunda at Montpellier Spa and then for the design and layout of the Lansdown area. Pearson Thompson’s estate was the first development in Cheltenham to have a purpose built sewerage system, although his properties also had a reputation for being “damp and unwholesome”. Although the Montpellier enterprise was hugely successful in the boom years of the early 19th century when spas were in their heyday, it didn’t survive the 1825 credit crunch, and he was forced to scale back and eventually sell off his developments to the Jearrad brothers in 1830. At that time he had just begun work on Lansdown Crescent, designed by Papworth, and had only built one house. The Jearrads completed it in a simpler and cheaper style, although it’s still a pretty impressive crescent.
Pearson Thompson was a Barrister of Law as well as a property developer. The grandiose Hatherley Court was most likely built for him in 1833 but he was only able to live there for a few years. The 1841 census shows him at age 45 still residing at Hatherley Court with his wife Dorothy (44) and children Pearson Scott (18), Ann Catherine (17) and Mary Ann (14), along with five domestic servants. However he was forced to sell it later the same year and move into a more modest dwelling in his former Lansdown estate due to financial troubles. Among his contemporaries it seems he was widely disliked; the Cheltenham Looker-On describes him in 1850 as “not very popular among his fellow townsmen” and he had a reputation for dodgy-dealing, impropriety with his clients’ money and selfish pursuit of his own interests. He emigrated to Australia in 1849 in an attempt to revive his fortunes, and died in 1872.
Thomas Thompson – as far as I’m aware unrelated to Henry and Pearson Thompson. This chap was an entrepreneur with business interests in South America, particularly Colombia, where he had a lucrative salt refinery. He decided to invest in a pretty terrace of ornate townhouses in Winchcombe Street, called Columbia Place. They were built between 1824 and 1826 and are still a major feature of the street today.
Urch & Seabright – a local furniture-maker firm, built two terraces of cottages in Fairview for their employees in the 1830s, called Providence Square. A couple of the cottages have survived despite slum clearance schemes.
Richard Ware – revered nurseryman of his day, responsible for the layout and planting of Pittville’s walks and rides, and the 1830 Botanic Garden in Wellington Square. He also ran the Imperial Nursery which once occupied the whole of Imperial Gardens.
Charles Winstone – builder active in Fairview, who built Winstonian Road in the 1890s in defiance of the Borough Council, who had not approved the plans. Winstone himself was living in All Saints Terrace in the 1890s, and was dead by the turn of the century.
H R Abraham – a London architect who designed the Anglo-Norman Bayshill Unitarian Chapel in 1842.
Ewen Christian – architect of St Matthew’s church.
Samuel Whitfield Daukes – a renowned architect in his day, associated with other towns as well as Cheltenham and working in many different styles. While he lived in Cheltenham he designed the college building now known as Francis Close Hall, the main building at Cheltenham railway station (right), St Peter’s church, and a Tudor-Gothic mansion for himself, now demolished, called Tudor Lodge. In 1839 he bought the flailing Park development from Thomas Billings and finished it in his own style, which included the beautiful Italianate villa on the very tip of the teardrop and many others around the Park perimeter.
John Forbes – born in about 1790 and most famously the designer of the Pittville Pump Room, one of Cheltenham’s most enduring landmarks, and much of the early development of Pittville. He was also responsible for St Paul’s church (right) and the Beehive pub in Montpellier Villas, and possibly some more houses in Montpellier and Imperial Square. An exceptionally gifted architect, he trained at the Royal Academy Schools from 1815 and came to Cheltenham to work for Joseph Pitt during the 1820s, also attempting some property speculation of his own. Unfortunately the late 1820s turned out to be a disastrous time to take on large mortgages, and he rapidly got into serious debt. In 1834 he was caught trying to pay off a creditor with a fake bill of exchange on which he’d forged someone else’s signature. A harsh sentence of transportation for life was imposed on him at the subsequent trial, but the public gave him a great deal of support and campaigned for clemency, and so he ended up serving a two year spell in Gloucester Gaol instead. His career never recovered, however, and nobody seems to know what happened to him after 1838.
Charles Hansom – architect of St Gregory’s church.
Joseph Hall – not an architect, but a borough engineer. His imaginative design contributions to the town include the 1894 Italianate electricity substation in Clarence Street, built of red brick but modelled on the 15th century Florentine palace Palazzo Strozzi (!) and the 1893 Neptune Fountain in the Promenade, modelled on the Trevi Fountain in Rome. He also came up with the unusual and beautifully crafted Dragon & Onion street lamps, which were once a distinctive feature of the town and now survive only in a handful of places.
Charles Harcourt Masters – much better known as an architect of Georgian Bath, in the early 1800s he was commissioned by Joseph Pitt to design Cheltenham’s first major Regency development, the Royal Crescent.
Healing & Overbury – Tewkesbury based firm, designed the 1937 reinvention of St Paul’s Street South.
D J Humphris – designed Cheltenham General Hospital in Sandford Road.
William Jay – designed Columbia Place for Thomas Thompson.
Charles Jearrad – less involved in Cheltenham than his brother Robert …
Robert Jearrad – very well known architect of the Regency era who made a big mark on the town in the 1830s and 40s, working in partnership with his brother Charles who was mostly based in London. He bought up the Lansdown development (Lansdown Terrace pictured right) from Pearson Thompson and completed it to his own revised design. He and his brother Charles created the Montpellier Arcade, built in 1831 and still surviving as a remarkably unspoiled pre-Victorian shopping arcade, and many other important landmarks such as Christ Church and the Queen’s Hotel. The 1841 census shows Robert, then in his late 50s, living in a grand house called Westall at the southern end of Lansdown Crescent. The site later became the Lansdown Hotel (still there, despite endless name changes). Robert Jearrad was a public-spirited individual and in 1839 donated his time and expertise free of charge for the development of Cheltenham’s first General Hospital and Dispensary at Normandy House in the Lower High Street. He also invented a washing-machine in 1849 specifically for use in hospitals and workhouses, which could sterilise 64 towels in four minutes, was economical to run, and was very effective in reducing the spread of contagious diseases. It proved incredibly valuable in London institutions for sterilising the clothes of people suffering in the cholera epidemic. Jearrad died in 1861.
Edward Jenkins – a local architect whose main legacy is the Suffolk Square estate. From 1820 and into the 1830s he designed all the fine houses in the square (except Suffolk House itself, which was older) and the villas on the east side of Lypiatt Road. He also designed most of St James’s church, but either resigned or was taken off the job in 1830 and the church was finished by the much more famous J B Papworth. Another of Jenkins’ treasures is Oriel Lodge in Oriel Road, built in 1823 for Charles Timins and set within beautiful gardens, still there today but glumly boxed in by hideous insensitive infill. Jenkins eloped with Charlotte Balfour in 1826.
W H Knight – designed Dean Close School, and the 1839 synagogue in Synagogue Lane, off St James’ Square.
Frank Matcham – better known for his work in London, he designed the Everyman Theatre building in Regent Street around 1891.
Henry Merrett – architect and surveyor, whose greatest achievement is probably the 1834 map of Cheltenham, from which much of the research on this site is derived. During the time he made the map he was living in Albert Place.
John Middleton – renowned architect who designed a lot of buildings in Cheltenham, including his own house, Abbeyholme (now demolished) in Overton Road. Fond of big slabby rusticated building stone, he was responsible for five churches including the church of St Philip & St James off Bath Road, and the Delancey Hospital of the 1870s. He also built extensions to Cheltenham College and the Ladies College.
Samuel Onley – designed some nice houses in the town, including the fine terraces of Bayshill Road, around the 1840s.
Frederick Ordish – architect of St Luke’s church.
John Buonarotti Papworth – very famous architect, whose biggest contribution to Cheltenham is his inspiration to other architects, as he set the blueprint for the typical Cheltenham villa. Many of the commissions he received for buildings in Cheltenham never came to fruition, and among those that did there have been lamentable losses. These include an 1824 house called Rosehill near the racecourse (senselessly demolished in the 1990s to make way for a Gulf Oil office building, the company’s second act of architectural vandalism in the town), St John’s church in Berkeley Street in 1827 (demolished, rebuilt, then obliterated in 1967 for widening of the ring road) and a fine villa on the corner of Suffolk Road and Park Place which still stands but has the most godawful concrete and glass office block shunted up its rear end, courtesy of NatWest Bank. Papworth did a lot of work for Pearson Thompson and initially designed the Lansdown estate, including Lansdown Crescent where only one house was built to his specifications before the development ran out of cash and was sold up to the Jearrad brothers, who scrubbed the plans. That one house has since been demolished.
However there is one very important survivor of Papworth’s work: the dome on the Rotunda building in Montpellier.
Rowland Paul – designed the 1831 chapel in the Winston Churchill Memorial Gardens.
Francis Rawlings – engineer who designed the housing in Fairview Street. He is buried in Jenner Gardens, where his gravestone describes him as “Surveyor of this town” (died 1836 aged 63).
Edward Smith – designed the Cheltenham Chapel in St George’s Square, built 1808-09.
Robert Stokes – architect of Pittville during the 1830s, replacing John Forbes.
George Allen Underwood – designed Holy Trinity church in Portland Street and the Masonic Hall on the corner of Albion Street, and was also responsible for the basic structure of the Rotunda spa building in Montpellier (minus the dome, which was added later). His career was short as he met with an early death. His biggest achievement was most likely the layout of the Promenade (attributed to him), and he is thought to have designed the fabulous terrace which later became the municipal offices.