Street sign alphabet: C

20 09 2011

An occasional series celebrating the humble (and occasionally not so humble) street sign. Starting with the letter C. Well why not? There’s a lot of ’em.

Clarence Parade. Dating street name signs is always difficult, but I would guess this slender and understated nameplate belongs to the mid or late 19th century. Seen here on one of the earlier Regency terraces, where it fits in nicely with the wrought-iron verandah.

Cheltenham Chapel, Jenner Walk. Well, at least dating this one isn’t difficult. A more detailed history of the chapel can be found in the article about Jenner Gardens, but this V-cut hand-chiselled plaque remains one of the few of its kind in Cheltenham, and one of the earliest. (In 1809 most of the town hadn’t yet been built, and little existed beyond the High Street.) The lettering is a fairly standard style for this period but the bar on the letter A is strangely high up. The panel is a slightly odd shape … perhaps it originally had some kind of border around it.

Chapel Lane. Completely unrelated to Cheltenham Chapel above, this little gem is behind the Bethesda Chapel in the south part of town. An early Cheltenham nameplate in cast iron with deeply scalloped corners and clarendon-style letters.

Casino Place. This is one of the “classic” Cheltenham styles you see all over the place. The slim elegant plate is similar to the one above, but notice that the typeface is completely different – a self-confident sans-serif. A plastic drainpipe is courteously diverted to allow it pride of place. Named after a house called Casino (no longer extant), Casino Place has its own article.

Claremont House. An example of a painted name on a house in Montpellier Terrace (you may just be able to see in the picture that the stone has been painted with cream paint underneath the letters to give it a solid background). The balcony above is a very nice example of early wrought-ironwork, with which Montpellier Terrace is especially well endowed.

Clarence Square. A typical modern Cheltenham street sign. I’m glad the council has been sensitive enough to maintain the local style of white letters on a black background rather than the boring blue-on-fluorescent-white things which have become ubiquitous in recent years. And at least this one is metal – the recent move towards plastic nameplates has not been so good. But it still looks a bit “municipal” in this historic Pittville square.

Chester Walk. Discreetly nailed to the ashlar face at the back of the library, this is another of the confident sans-serif jobs which always seem to look good, even when in need of a lick of paint. Named after Colonel Berkeley’s gorgeous Chester House, once the centre of Regency social life but now demolished, this unassuming little lane is among Cheltenham’s most ancient streets; read about it here.

Christ Church Road. Now that’s a proper cast iron job. The spacing is a bit funny (look at the huge T in relation to the other letters) but it has character and the highly raised letters stand out from the background. The narrow sans-serif face is much lighter and plainer than the one above. I’m grateful to John who lives in Christ Church Road for pointing out that this older sign shows the correct naming of the street in three separate words, while a couple of newer replacement signs elsewhere in the street have incorrectly condensed it to “Christchurch” Road.

Cheltenham Magistrates Court, St George’s Road. I’ll be honest – I bloody hate this building, with its concrete fins and its depressing monospaced windows and anaemic railings, and all the more so because its nauseous bulk replaced a group of Victorian villas during the demolition frenzy of the late 1960s. But it’s a courthouse – it’s not designed to be loved. The recently replaced signage at the front has brought a kind of no-nonsense dignity to what is otherwise a hideous architectural own-goal.

Church Street. Another ugly one – but Cheltonia’s job is to show Cheltenham as it really is, not as the tourist brochures would have it. This probably dates from the 1960s when the office block it’s attached to was built. I’ll wager that many residents of Cheltenham will not have heard of Church Street let alone be able to give directions to it – and yet it’s one of the oldest and most central streets, and predates the Regency town by centuries. It’s the narrow lane which hugs the perimeter wall of the churchyard and is too discreet and unassuming to really be noticed by anybody. This street sign is lead grey, very small, partially obscured and tucked away inside an alley, apparently noticed only by people who like to throw kebabs and curry sauce at it.

Crescent Bakery, St George’s Place. The bakery itself has long given way to office space and a doctor’s surgery, but its attractive name panel still stands proudly emblazoned on its gable. The design successfully combines the pilasters and volutes of its Neoclassical neighbours (the building backs onto the gardens of Royal Crescent) with the more organic Art Nouveau typography of the building’s own time period.

County Court Road. This cast iron sign matches the one for Christ Church Road shown above – notice it has the same oversized letter T. No prizes for guessing how this street got its name though.

Cambray Place. One of the first streets to be developed when Cheltenham went Regency, the sign for Cambray Place is nevertheless of a kind you don’t see around that much. It’s quite small, and the high-relief letters are in a clarendon type. Similar to, but not the same as, the one in Chapel Lane. The Cambray name is an old one; it reflects the site of Cambray Meadow on which this street was built – part of Cambray Farm, which in turn was named after a local family going back many centuries.

Corpus Street. This is another distinctive style of street nameplate which is widely used in Cheltenham, representing the big, bold and beefy municipal tastes of the Victorian era. Made from heavy cast iron, it’s still got the local style of delicate scalloped corners but the lettering is done in a broad, in-yer-face slabserif. In this instance, “Corpus” is in a less bold weight than “Street”, for whatever reason. Named after Corpus Christi College in Oxford (who formerly owned the land) you can read more about Corpus Street here.

Cyprus Cottages. Groups of cottages in the 19th century were often given their own unique name, independent of the street they were in. Most of these names have fallen out of use but they can still be found. These cottages are in Alstone Lane, their name hand-chiselled and painted. The name probably commemorates Britain getting its colonial mitts on the administration of Cyprus in 1878.

Charles Street. Stylistically more like a car number plate than a street sign, this late 20th century example is quite elegant in its simplicity. No longer made of cast iron in this period, the letters are stamped into a softer metal. For more about this street, which was originally named Albert Street, see here.

College Lawn. Yes it’s our old familiar chirpy sans-serif again. Looking every bit as stylish on a set of railings as it does half way up a wall.

Carlton Street. Whoopsies.

Commercial Street. Another chunky Victorian job in slabserif typestyle, as seen on Corpus Street, but this time the letters are in a consistent weight. Commercial Street may seem an odd name for a street these days, the word having acquired a negative connotation, but during the Victorian era it would have had an aspirational ring to it as a street where trade could thrive.

Crescent Place. At first glance this slender and discreet nameplate looks like our usual sans-serif friend as seen on College Lawn above, but if you look at them both closely, the typeface is different. See how wide the letter L is in comparison with College Lawn. The E is very wide too, and looks quite disproportionate to the C next to it. This plate does, however, match the one on Clarence Parade at the very top of this article.

Duke Street

7 01 2009


There were so many fashionable aristocrats in the early 19th century it’s difficult to know which one inspired the naming of Duke Street in the early 1820s. Maybe it was the Duke of Wellington whose name is liberally spattered across the Regency parts of town, or perhaps the Duke of Marlborough, given that the Marlborough Arms was the name of a local pub. But then pubs were once abundant in Duke Street too …

The Marlborough Arms stood on the corner between Duke Street and Prince’s Street, a mid-Victorian beerhouse belonging to the Cheltenham Original Brewery (that’s the one which is now converted into the Brewery shopping centre in Henrietta Street) and seems to have closed around the 1930s. It originally had a corner doorway on that blank wall at the front, but that has been bricked up. There’s a small stone ledge over the existing door on the Duke Street side but no obvious surviving pub features. It’s now a residential house.


Former Marlborough Arms pub

At 14 Duke Street (probably no.28 in the old numbering scheme), on the north side, you would once have found the Talbot Inn. One of its early landlords, in 1850, was John Maskelyne, very probably a relative of the famous illusionist John Nevil Maskelyne who was born in Cheltenham. The pub had a fairly broad frontage, probably 1820s vintage, with mullioned windows. One of the longest surviving Duke Street pubs, it continued trading right up until 1984, and after closure it was converted into three small houses (numbered 14, 14a and 14b). The conversion required some alteration of the frontage and you would never know there had ever been a pub there.

On the south side is 71 Duke Street (formerly no. 66), once a beerhouse which traded as the Duke’s Head from the 1830s until some time before the second world war. It too is now a private house. In its early days it was run by Richard Savory, who was also involved in building work in the street. It may have been him who built the pub.


The pink house in the middle was Richard Savory’s Duke’s Head beerhouse. It still has an interesting ground floor window, and a Victorian drainpipe! The left hand doorway is a passageway which probably once led to Savory’s Court.

Another pub which was in existence by 1859 and the only one still open today is the New Inn (one of two pubs in Cheltenham to have that name) on the corner of Duke Street and Hewlett Road. According to the excellent Gloucestershire pubs website it once had a ‘men only’ bar, which prevailed into the 1970s. It was originally tied to the old Carlton Brewery in neighbouring Carlton Street, which had been bought out by a Bristol-based brewery by the 1890s. In recent years it’s seen two new incarnations, the Pump and Optic and more recently the Fiery Angel.


Duke Street is one of Cheltenham’s older terraced streets of what is now usually called “artisan” housing. That’s the polite way of saying it used to be a rough old dump inhabited by the town’s poor but as the inherent value of Cheltenham real estate has lifted it out of slumhood the houses have been modernised and scrubbed up and become nice places to live.

For much of the 19th century the street was home to a profusion of laundry women and agricultural labourers. Some of the residents had colourful names. In the 1881 census there is Mary Onion, who worked as a ladies’ outfitter, and an elderly widowed lady called Philadelphia Taylor. While the Talbot Inn was home to Nellie Bowl, a milliner, whose father was the pub landlord. George Kibblewhite was a gardener, and Nathaniel Spratt a shopkeeper, and Annie Lapper made her living as a dressmaker. The best of the strange names though is the baker at no.2 who went by the name of William H. Cowmeadow.

Among the many washerwomen in the street in 1881 was widow Mary Barnett and her three unmarried daughters, who were all laundresses. They also had 3-year-old Florry Hooper in their care, who is simply listed as a “relative”. Say no more.

Despite its early origins Duke Street was a long time in the making and was patched together from the disjointed works of several unrelated builders. But that’s what makes this street so interesting … lots of diversity.


A diversity of building styles joined together. The wide panel on the front of the mauve house suggests it may once have been business premises.

Its origins go back to before 1820, as it appears on the Post Office map as a solitary road laid out across fields on the rural edges of town, just off the “Road from Hewlett’s”, with three cottages already built (completely separate and some distance apart) on the north side and further plots marked out ready for building. It predates most of the Fairview estate on the other side of Hewlett Road, which was then entirely agricultural land with only Sherborne Street and Sherborne Place under construction.


1820 map, showing Duke Street emerging from a very rural setting. The only other development at that time was a plant nursery, whose garden plots and long terrace of outbuildings is shown on the north side where Leighton Road is today. The little thin lane on the far left is what shortly afterwards became St Anne’s Terrace, and the tiny dotted footpath in the top left corner is All Saints Road!

From 1820 onwards several more cottages appeared, and work was still in progress 14 years later when Henry Merrett made his wondrous 1834 map. By then the street was laid out as a full terrace, loaded with numerous mini-courtyards and tiny cottages tucked away down alleyways. But even so a minority had actually been built, and it was not so much a terrace as several groups of 2, 3, 4 or 5 houses.


1834 map. Duke Street is still unfinished here (the darker blue shows the houses which were actually built by then, the lighter ones are just plots in progress) but the surrounding area is taking shape. The nursery had expanded (it survived well into the 20th century). Carlton Street was just starting to develop, with the Carlton Brewery shown here on the south side. All Saints Road was established and already had some terraced cottages built, along with a terrace called Jersey Place along Hewlett Road. On the left hand side you can see two other landmarks … St John’s church, built in 1827 and demolished in 1967, and St Ann’s Cottage, a large fine house in extensive gardens which still stands today but completely integrated among other houses in present day St Anne’s Road.

Most of the groups of cottages in Duke Street originally had their own names …

Thatch Cottage or Cottages are listed in the 1841 and 1881 census, occupied by a laundress called Maria Hamlett in the 1850s and a housepainter called Joseph Jewell in the 1880s. It seems to have been next door to the Talbot inn. There are no thatched cottages in the street today.

Woodbine Cottages were apparently between Carlton Street and the west end of Duke Street. They’re mentioned on the 1841 census and the 1855-7 Old Town Survey.

Halford’s Cottages, 3 houses on the south side between nos. 48 and 50, date back to at least 1844, when one of them was occupied by a carpenter called William Halford. I haven’t yet established whether he was related to the William Halford (also at one time a carpenter) who was Katherine Monson’s clerk of works and later took her in when she was broke.

Duke’s Head Cottages (3 houses) and Duke’s Court (2 houses) are on either side of the former Duke’s Head beerhouse at no. 71.

Cirencester Cottages was a row of 4 houses between nos. 69 and 73. All four were listed in a 1935 slum clearance programme.

Morgan’s Cottages (2 houses), Prince’s Cottages (3 houses) and Prince’s Place (a passage off the east end, behind Marlborough Place) are not referred to until the 1870s, by which time the terrace was fully joined up.


1921 plan of Duke Street, when the street was fully built and still had most of its courtyard housing. Notice how the higgledy piecemeal building of this street contrasts with the orderly rows in upmarket Leighton Road. The P.H. symbols show the locations of the New Inn (Fiery Angel) and the Talbot.

Like all Cheltenham’s poor areas the street was crammed with extra houses behind the existing ones. Although most of the rear courtyard housing has been demolished, you can often recognise their former sites by the gaps through the terrace, doorways and passages now incorporated into gardens but once giving access to tiny shadowy cottages.

Although they were sometimes named after residents, the courtyards were more usually named after the builders who put them up. Or both: Savory’s Court was a group of at least three houses built by the Duke’s Head landlord Richard Savory around 1838. In the 1841 census it’s called Savoury’s Yard. The yard is not there any more, demolished in early 20th century slum clearance. Another similar example is Teal’s Court, which has had a range of spelling variations (Teale’s CourtTale’s CourtTeile’s Cottages) but is named after Thomas Teal, who was a local builder active in Cheltenham from the 1830s onwards. It consisted of 5 backyard houses accessed from the frontage of no. 56. In 1913 Cheltenham Borough Council condemned them as unfit for habitation.