Railing finials: urns

11 11 2009

18th century urn

St George’s Place. This is one of Cheltenham’s oldest railing finials, probably made around 1795. It’s tall and ornate, patterned with beading and leaves and topped with a small pineapple (the detail is slightly worn on this example). It belongs to Athelney House, which is one of a terrace of four built in this street in the late 18th century. One of the other houses in the terrace was occupied by Dr Jenner, the smallpox vaccination pioneer. His house was demolished in the 1960s and rebuilt in 1994 with replica railings.

18th century urn

St George’s Place. Another in the same terrace, also dating from around 1795. At first glance it looks similar to the one above, but it’s actually quite a different design.

Royal Crescent urn

Royal Crescent. Another early urn, from about 1810. Its beautiful condition belies its age. The railings in Royal Crescent are know to have been supplied by a Worcester ironmonger called John Bradley. It’s unlikely that he made the urns himself though, as he didn’t set up his own foundry until several years later.

Crescent Place urn

Crescent Place. This patterned urn was made some time before 1820.

Crescent Place urn

Crescent Place. As was this plain one, on the house next door.

Montpellier Terrace plain urn

Montpellier Terrace. Most of the houses in this street were built in the 1820s, although some are slightly earlier. There are several different urn designs to be found along this stretch of road, and this is probably one of the older ones.

Montpellier Terrace urn

Montpellier Terrace. This is an unusual urn design for Cheltenham, accompanied here by some nice fleur de lys rail heads.

Marshall urn, Lansdown Parade

Lansdown Parade. This, on the other hand, is a design you will find in many places in Cheltenham. It’s a Marshall urn, cast locally by the firm R.E. & C. Marshall and appearing on many sets of railings from the 1810s onwards – this one was probably made as late as 1838. These urns are easy to spot because they are ‘badged’ – they feature the name ‘Marshall’ around one side and ‘Cheltenham’ on the other.

Marshall urn, Oxford Parade

Oxford Parade. Here’s another Marshall urn, showing the ‘Cheltenham’ badge on the other side. This one was made in about 1817.

Wheeler urn, Bath Road

Bath Road. Another ‘badged’ urn, this time bearing the name of W. Wheeler and dating from some time in the 1820s. There are quite a lot of Wheeler urns in Cheltenham from around this period, and ironwork expert Amina Chatwin has identified three different designs, although they are superfically quite similar. But next to nothing is known about W. Wheeler, or how his urns came to be so widely used in Cheltenham.

As always, “Cheltenham’s Ornamental Ironwork” by Amina Chatwin has been an invaluable source for this post.

Tanners Lane

8 11 2009


Tanners Lane is one of those places which has been around for centuries but you could live in Cheltenham all your life and never know of its existence. Partly because it’s far enough out of town to be off the edge of most older maps, but also because there’s practically nothing there. It does, however, have a history.

Imagine, if you will, a time when Hester’s Way was just fields around a farmhouse and Princess Elizabeth Way was completely non-existent. Arle was a self-contained village distinctly separate from Cheltenham. A few yards to the south of the village, Alstone Lane led westward from the hamlet of Alstone, but as the area was just open fields it didn’t go anywhere in particular, just fizzled out into an unmade footpath, eventually joining up with Village Road just below the village of Arle. This section of footpath was called Tanners Lane.

The name goes back to at least 1776 when it was marked on an enclosure map as Tanhouse Lane. Which suggests it was probably named after the local tanning industry which was quite big in Alstone, having its heyday during the 17th century.

In the 1930s, when Brooklyn Road was developed, most of the footpath was built up and formalised into what is now Orchard Way. The big change however came in 1951, when Princess Elizabeth Way sheered the village of Arle in half down the middle, and the development of the Hester’s Way housing estate began on a large scale. The (undeveloped) western end of Orchard Way was sliced off, and retained its original name of Tanners Lane.

Here’s what the area looked like in the 1920s, before PE Way and before the housing estates.


1927 map. It’s not easy to equate this with the present road layout because it has drastically changed. Village Road is the vertical one running down past the left hand side of Arle village – it’s now hemmed in by residential streets, but here it was very isolated and rural. Alstone Lane goes as far as Brooklyn Road (as it still does today) and then turns into a footpath as far as Village Road. This footpath was originally Tanners Lane. The whole area shown on this map is now densely built up. PE Way now slices right through the village of Arle and cuts through both the footpaths shown here.

It also slices through Arle Road, which originally went right through Arle village but is now a dead end where it meets PE Way. The dogleg curve shown on this map is still there, but is now a cul-de-sac, and Arle Road’s former western end is now Kingsmead Road. The brook shown here running from east to west across the lower part of the map is a tributory of the River Chelt – it is now almost entirely culverted and built over.

Tanners Lane

The junction where Orchard Way (foreground) is cut off from Tanners Lane (where the bollards are) by Princess Elizabeth Way. Originally the ancient line of this road just carried on uninterrupted to where those three terraced cottages are, where it then joins up with Village Road. If you’re at all familiar with this stretch of road you can probably guess how long I had to stand here to get a picture without any cars in it.

So Tanners Lane, once a footpath across the fields, is now a strangely misplaced relic, a stump separated from its original course, and isolated in what otherwise appears to be a modern housing estate. It still isn’t much more than a footpath as it isn’t properly surfaced, and it only has a couple of houses on one side … the other side butting up against the wall of a 1960s church. This cottage (which looks to me like a modern one in Victorian style) is about all there is to see in the lane.


Elmhurst Cottage

Although Hester’s Way is synonymous with a housing estate begun in the early 1950s, the name goes back a lot further than this. It was originally an enclosure name for an area of fields which included a farm, known as Hester’s Way since the early 1800s but going back to at least 1714 when it was known as Hayster’s Way. There was a plan to develop a ‘beautiful’ housing scheme there as far back as the 1860s, and a few preliminary roads were laid down, but nothing came of it and the fields remained untouched for the best part of the next century.

Many of the old cottages of Arle village were demolished under compulsory purchase orders when the estate was built, but there are a few incongruous survivors. Including Tanner’s Cottages, a terrace of three small 19th century houses, with a smaller but very pretty adjoining one called Box Cottage, which front onto Village Road at the corner of Tanners Lane, all with long front gardens. Presumably the cottages were named after the lane, but it’s also been noted that there was a Tanner family living in the area in the early 19th century.


Tanner’s Cottages, a Victorian oasis left intact among the post-war estates.

Tanners Lane also lends its name to a nearby residential development off Orchard Way, called Tanner’s Road (spelt with an apostrophe) which dates from around 1939.

Graffiti gallery 2

6 11 2009

The second instalment in an occasional series documenting Cheltenham’s ephemeral street daubings.

Malvern Road, old graffiti

Malvern Road. This well preserved set of antique scratchings can be found in the passageway leading off Malvern Road into Lansdown Terrace Lane. They were hidden behind a metal plate for some years, which has helped to preserve them from subsequent layers of rendering. Here on the cornerstone of one of Cheltenham’s most precious architectural landmarks, two centuries’ worth of bored socialites made use of the carvable properties of Cotswold stone before they invented Twitter.


Clarence Street. A somewhat more modern interpretation of vernacular art, on the window of the former C&G offices in Clarence Street.


Oxford Passage. A shark looks rather surprised to find itself on the door of a Victorian workshop.


Gloucester Road. Continuing the fish theme, this little beauty is inexplicably pasted onto a BT junction box outside Travis Perkins’ yard on the busy Gloucester Road (thanks to Anna for spotting it).


Gloucester Road. And lo and behold, further up the street I was pleased to find a companion piece by the same artist, hereafter known as the “Gloucester Road fish dauber”. This one is gracing the boarded-up doorway of a derelict public toilet.

Whitecross Square

2 11 2009


It seems to be a little quirk of Cheltenham streetnames that most of the places called Something Square are not actually Squares at all. This is true of Whitecross Square, which is decidedly unsquare and is in fact merely street-shaped. In most other instances there was an original intention to create a square, thwarted in mid-build by lack of funds or changes of circumstance. In the case of Whitecross Square however, there is no obvious evidence that it was ever intended to be anything other than what it is – a short cul-de-sac. It’s hidden away off the narrow northern end of Naunton Lane.

The 1834 map shows the area of Naunton Lane and Thirlestaine Road in undeveloped form, mostly fields and market gardens with only a few houses. Whitecross Square was apparently not in existence then, although the short row just above the “Pit” may be the start of it. By the time of the 1841 census however, the street was very much in existence and fully occupied, so it must have been built between those two dates. The References section of the map covers up a lot of the surrounding area.


1834 map. The road “from Leckhampton” is the Old Bath Road. Park House is shown already built on what is now Thirlestaine Road.


1883 map, with the houses of Whitecross Square marked in red. By this time a lot of the familiar houses and streets were in place. Naunton Park is also marked here, but it isn’t quite the same area as the present day public park, which was opened later, in 1893.

The name Whitecross perpetuates an old field name in the Naunton tithing. There is a reference in a local newspaper to White Cross Field in 1809, but where the name originally came from is not clear.


Whitecross Square is in an expensive and prestigious part of Cheltenham, but it didn’t start out that way. The 1841 census shows that the street’s early residents were tradespeople and it was very much a working class area. Gardeners, shoemakers, brickmakers and bricklayers, plasterers and masons, carpenters and painters made up the population, presumably making their living from the huge surge in building work going on around Cheltenham at that time. Many of the wives worked as laundresses, which was among the lowest occupations available to women and usually an indicator of relative poverty.


The vicinity of Whitecross Square is apparently also the source of the Westal Brook, a small stream which once marked the boundary between Cheltenham and Leckhampton but is now mostly culverted.


New Penny: update

25 10 2009

A year or two back I wrote a piece called Doomed: The New Penny. This is an update on the site’s redevelopment.

BEFORE: Georgian pub building, not looking its best here with its sash windows boarded up, but whose original walled courtyard retained a beautifully preserved stable block and hayloft within a mature orchard garden.

AFTER: Plastic-clad toytown flat-pack junk architecture with tight-arse Lego windows and nauseously disjointed elevations, completely out of kilter with the early Victorian terrace it adjoins.




Architectural curiosities: Priory Street

23 10 2009

At a first glance you probably wouldn’t notice anything unusual on this rather lovely 1830s terrace of four houses in Priory Street on the corner of Hewlett Place. Look closely at some of the details though, and it obviously wasn’t finished off in quite the way it was intended. Whether it’s the result of different builders and owners applying their own tastes and style decisions, or whether it’s simply a case of the development running out of money, remains a mystery – it could of course be a bit of both.


These are the first two houses in the terrace. The obvious difference is in the windows. The first house has three bays in the upper storey while its neighbour only has two, and the two tall thin windows on the ground floor are substituted next door for an altogether more ostentatious single one, although they are similar in style. More subtly, the second house has fewer glazing bars in the window over the door, and its front railings, although matching those of the first house, are lacking in the delicate curvaceous scrolls in between the rails. Otherwise the houses are designed to match. They both have panelled giant pilasters (i.e. decorative fake columns which span both storeys) topped with capitals, each decorated with a very pretty anthemion motif. Except – whoopsies – the capital on the left hand side is missing. Maybe it was always absent, but it’s probably more likely that it fell off at some point. Above each of the capitals is another panel with a wreath design … except that the one in the middle is blank – not sure whether or not it was meant to be like that.

If you look at the top of the houses they have a carved ornamental bit on top of the parapet. Not easy to see the detail in the photo above, so here is an enlargement (zoomed in from the same photo).


On the first house we have a panelled tablet and a beautifully delicate scroll carved with acanthus leaves. But …


On the second house – erm … no carving. The basic scroll shape is there, but it’s blank and still waiting to be carved. The cornice underneath is also simplified.

An even more striking example of the unfinished carving on the second house is right there on the ground floor window. You can’t see it too well in the main photo above, but when you zoom in …


The main part of the window is beautifully finished off with carved wreaths and a pair of scroll console brackets … lovingly detailed with acanthus leaves. But the scroll ornament on the top is blank – still in its “ready-to-carve” stage.

This kind of unfinished detail is usually a matter of running out of money, and that’s certainly the impression here when you move on to the other half of the terrace …


Although the design is the same across the whole terrace, there is a very obvious move to economise on these third and fourth houses. The panelled pilasters are gone – replaced with a very plain, narrow and simple pilaster with no capitals and no decorative panels. They also have the same ‘unfinished’ roof ornament seen on house two … blank scroll outlines with no carving. The railings are simpler too, and lack the ornamental finials seen on the first two houses. Not everything is compromised though … they still have the ornate ground floor windows, and a variation in the front door, which is inside an arched recess.

These four houses were most likely built in the late 1830s. Their site is shown on the 1834 map as a mere plot of grass, but interestingly the map shows the rest of Priory Street laid out for the building of another longer terrace which was never completed. Only the central and end pairs of houses were built by 1834, and the rest of the plot remained vacant until well into the 20th century.

Just as an aside, the pilaster capitals with the anthemion design appear to be absolutely identical to the ones that occur on Thatcher’s Tea Room at the bottom of Montpellier Street, way over on the other side of the town centre.


Priory Street, left and Thatcher’s Tea Room, right.

I assume they were both pre-cast, from a commercial pattern. It’s not just the anthemion design that’s the same either … the giant panelled pilasters are also exactly the same.

Charles Street (formerly Albert Street)

19 10 2009


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.


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!


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.


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.