Arle Avenue (Six Chimneys Lane)

26 10 2008

1921 map

Why was the name of this street changed from the quirky Six Chimneys Lane to the rather more pedestrian Arle Avenue? Believe it or not, it was the result of a residents’ petition in 1938. The new name was considered at that time to sound more respectable.

The majority of the houses in Arle Avenue date from this time, mostly classic 1930s suburban semis, and the road is now a cul-de-sac gently sloping down to a footbridge over the River Chelt (through traffic for pedestrians and bikes but not cars) and linking up with a small industrial estate and the bottom of Tesco’s car park. But Six Chimneys Lane (or its variants Six Chimnies or Six Chimney Lane) has a much longer history and predates much of the rest of Cheltenham.

The six chimneys in question belonged to a farmhouse. Though in size and status it was actually a bit grander than that. The Ordnance Survey map of 1921 (above) describes Six Chimney Farm as a manor house, using the italic type which denotes an antiquity. It shows a large house with a complex of other buildings on the east side of the lane (which was otherwise very sparsely inhabited) set in a large area of fields and allotments. The 1834 map shows “Six Chimnies Farm” in much the same form. The earliest map I have, 1806, shows most of the same buildings under the name of “Six Chimney House”, and the road at that time was called Alston Street. The mill is not marked on the 1806 map, so presumably the farm predates it. I’m not sure what happened to the manor house but presumably it was demolished some time in the 1930s when the street underwent most of its residential development.

1806 map

One thing you don’t expect to see at the bottom of a 1930s residential street is a house like this:

This magnificent L-shaped dwelling is Lower Alstone House, built in about 1703 by Richard Hyett, gentleman. It’s clearly marked on the 1806 map (above) just above the river. He built it to live in himself, and it would initially have stood in quite an open rural area because most of the town of Cheltenham simply didn’t exist at that time. It’s a stone’s throw from the River Chelt and stood opposite the Lower Alstone Mill until the latter’s unfortunate demolition in 2006. Over the years the house fell on harder times, variously occupied by a potato merchant and a fellmonger, and perhaps its most unfortunate blight is a large modern industrial building inexplicably shoved in next to it … not helped by the very recent installation of a private car park on the other side. The house has been restored though, and is magnificently beautiful. It is Cheltenham’s only surviving Queen Anne period house.

Following the loss of the mill, the only other old building in Arle Avenue is the house which adjoined the mill, a grey pebbledashed Victorian dwelling. While not anywhere near as grand as Mr Hyett’s house or the lost Six Chimney manor, it does have some rather groovy fleur-de-lys decorative ironwork around its window and doors.

Lower Mill Street

25 10 2008

Photos taken February 2008

At one time a through-road, but now bricked up and closed off at its north end, Lower Mill Street is a narrow L-shaped lane which links Gloucester Road (opposite the Honeybourne Way junction) with Tewkesbury Road, taking in a 90 degree bend along the way. It’s a low-lying area and prone to flooding. It’s also suffered a bewildering flurry of name changes. Largely free of buildings, apart from the tall brick walls of the gas works which mostly survive, its one solitary surviving Victorian house stands in the upper section of the street as part of the premises of a scrapyard. It is they who proclaim themselves OPEN in the above pic. The lower leg of the street is now regarded as part of neighbouring Arle Avenue.


At the Gloucester Road end, the uninhabited and largely untrafficked roadway runs alongside the wooded banks of the River Chelt in what was, until 2006, one of Cheltenham’s pockets of unspoiled character where you could stand and listen to the rushing of the water under the canopy of trees and really get a sense for what the town was like 200 years ago. This tiny unassuming street is older than most of the town. It’s been tentatively identified as “Green Street” mentioned in 1733, and maybe in 1605 as le greene Laine. The new flood defence works (seen above at top left) which were probably necessary, resulted in this area getting a very ugly municipal make-over, which wasn’t. The scruffy old bollarded road bridge, although unglamorous and floodprone, had more character than the urine-stained brick, concrete and mass-produced railings which replaced it (and which still flooded during the inundations of 2007). Much much worse, the flood defence works involved the demolition of Alstone Lower Mill from which Lower Mill Street gets its name.

The mill stood on the river bank at the bottom of Arle Avenue (originally called Six Chimney Lane). I’m not sure how long ago the first mill was installed, or whether the recently demolished one was the only one. It was Victorian and doesn’t appear on the 1806 map.


1806 map (orientation is weird – south west at the top)

Don’t be confused by the odd orientation of the 1806 map. The road marked “to Gloucester” in the lower right corner is not Gloucester Road, it’s present day Tewkesbury Road. That was the main way to Gloucester at the time because there was no Gloucester Road! So Lower Mill Street is the solitary road you see here linking with the hamlet of Alston across the fields. Present day Gloucester Road runs parallel to this road. In 1818 the green fields became the town gas works and the area was soon named Gas Green.

The upper part of the street was called Coach Road during the 19th century and was packed with labourers’ cottages. It gets a special mention in the 1841 census, where the enumerator reported that much of the population was displaced, particularly “Labourers employed in excavating railways &c. who have removed in consequence of no employment.” Estimating the absent men to number about a hundred, he added “The calculation is made with reference to that part of the Enumerator’s district known as the ‘Coach road Gas Green’.” He also noted that 14 males and 6 females from the neighbourhood were known to have emigrated in the past 6 months.

By the 1850s Coach Road had been renamed Gas Lane. And then somewhere along the line it became Lower Mill Street. Most of the housing disappeared when the gas works expanded.


1921 map (orientation normal, north is up)

The 1921 map shows a few houses left amid the industrial stuff which sprung up in the 19th century, the most obvious being the gas works with its three large round gasometers. The lower one still survives today, converted into a sportswear shop, of all things. Lower Mill Street was by that time intersected by railway tracks which connected the gas works with the Bristol to Birmingham main line.

The photo above shows the Chelt running alongside Lower Mill Street, looking back towards Gloucester Road, where an old brick bridge carries the river under the road. Dumping of litter on the banks has always been a problem here (photo is discreetly cropped).