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.

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Normanhurst

14 01 2009

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Normanhurst is a large private house, formerly in use as a residential care home, in Christ Church Road on the corner of Eldorado Road.

I don’t know very much about this beautiful Gothic-inspired house except that it was built in 1882 by a family called Smith.

Between 1933 and 1979 it was the home of a fearsome lady magistrate, Stella Louise Ingram.

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What makes this house extraordinary, as you can see, is the elaborate arrangement of oddly shaped gables and the spectacular array of figures and esoteric symbols carved in local Cotswold stone, cluttered and overwhelming but the work of a stone-carving genius. Sunbursts, lion-heads, leaves, flowers, horned shapes, animals and birds adorn every window frame and sticky-outy bit, orderly but asymmetrical, immaculately chiselled from an amazingly fertile imagination.

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Around the side of the house which overlooks Eldorado Road is a series of jack-in-the-green faces. The design is more restrained along this side and the gables have simple clean lines, but the craftsmanship is equally impressive.

Normanhurst is completely unlike any of the other houses in Christ Church Road, solidly chunky brick-built villas being the norm here. But round the corner in Queen’s Road you can find a row of six villas which may have been worked on by the same craftsman. The houses themselves are nothing like Normanhurst, but above their doors they have panels of carvings (all different) which show a similar menagerie of animals and birds.

The only other place in Cheltenham I know of with similarly eccentric critter carvings (in a much less ostentatious setting) is the west side of Wellington Square, which again has a range of different animals in odd places but is a few years older, completed in 1859. Whether there’s any connection I don’t know.

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Green man faces on gables on the north side.





Douro Road

2 01 2009

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Complete with authentic basal dandelion, this Penfold pillar box is one of eight survivors of its type in Cheltenham. They were made between 1866 and 1879 by the Cochrane Grove Company in Dudley and are one of the most distinctive and flamboyant of mail receptacles. You can recognise them by their hexagonal shape and beaded edge, topped with flowing acanthus leaves and an elegant central bud. Not so easy to see in this photo, it also has on the front a coat of arms and Queen Victoria’s cipher (monogram). Cheltenham is thought to have the largest number of still-in-use Penfold pillar boxes outside London. And this one here is in Douro Road.

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This very pretty residential street connects up two of Cheltenham’s landmark streets, Lansdown Crescent and Christ Church Road. It’s smaller scale than its companions but very much in keeping with their self-assured image. Shamelessly prettified mini-villas in semi-detached pairs make up a large part of the street, but there’s quite a bit of variety overall.

The street can probably trace its origins to the 1840s. Merrett’s 1834 map showed the Lansdown estate as it was planned rather than as it was actually built, and includes only a short section of Douro Road’s southern end surrounded by large villas. Most of the villas were never built, and the upper part of Douro Road was developed in a straight line across the estate rather than curving eastwards as initially envisioned.

The road in its present form first appears on maps in 1840 but there was no housing development at that time, it was simply a link road between the two senior streets, known as Sefton Place. By the time it started to be built up, the name Douro Road had been adopted for about half of it, the other half being called Northwick Road.

The name Douro comes from a river negotiated by the Duke of Wellington during the Peninsular War in 1809. His efforts there earned him the title of Marquess of Douro.

Northwick Road crops up in the Streets and Highways Commission report for April 1876 when the Misses Lingwood and others complained about the condition of the footpaths in the area. The following month another complaint was made by Colonel Lewes, who asked for nameplates to be put at either end of Northwick Road to distinguish the two roads. The committee apparently decided instead that the whole lot should be called Douro Road.

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These houses are part of a group of six built in 1847 by builder George Dover of Tivoli Place, and once had their own separate name, Douro Villas.

Driveway decoration: a 1963 Morris Minor.

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The southerly end of Douro Road runs alongside the pretty triangle of open green in front of Lansdown Parade and Lansdown Crescent. This spacious green is crucial to the character of this magnificent area and it’s difficult to imagine it without it, but originally it was intended to be built on. The plan for the Lansdown estate was for the whole of this central green to be filled up with villas, but it ran into financial difficulties and this area was left unbuilt.

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Photos taken October 2008





Eldorado Road

30 11 2008

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Photos taken November 2008

This is an L-shaped residential street taking in a chunk of land between Queen’s Road and Christ Church Road, round the back of Cypher’s Exotic Nursery. The first houses in Eldorado Road were built in 1894 and development continued up to about 1905. It remains today what it was then, a luxurious leafy street of large comfortable villas. Some are of Edwardian red brick, some are rendered, but all are beautiful and sturdily built. The adjoining Eldorado Crescent, a loop on the northern end of the road, was built at approximately the same time on what had previously been the fields of Christ Church Farm (now playing fields).

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Blue skies and Regency villas were meant for each other. Another fine house at the Christ Church Road end.

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A house called Coniston was the home of Dr and Mrs Layng whose son George was killed on the Somme in 1916.

The humblest building in Eldorado Road is a single-storey outbuilding which was formerly a vet’s surgery under the glorious name of Peter Chew Associates. Following Mr Chew’s retirement it was renamed Honeybourne, after the disused railway it backs onto. As its reputation and need for facilities grew it moved to much larger premises in nearby Overton Park Road.

There’s also a row of sturdy red brick villas backing onto the old Honeybourne railway line. Below is the porch of one of them, still with its original stained glass door and wooden eaves.

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At the Christ Church Road end is a house which looks significantly different from the others. Built of Cotswold stone and smattered with pointed gables, Normanhurst is a Victorian Gothic treasure dating from 1882. It actually fronts onto Christ Church Road but its side and garden runs along Eldorado Road. This building’s frontage is packed with carved curiosities but on this side the design is more restrained and the main features are a series of jack-in-the-green faces carved into the gables. They are all different; this one has the leaves sprouting out of his mouth (and eyebrows) in typical green man style but the others have leafy moustaches.

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Well Place

30 10 2008

Ah, Well Place. What a Cheltenhamesque name, conjuring up images of a line of Regency villas with a spa as its centrepiece. When I went there though, I found that the most interesting feature in the whole street was the sign that said Well Place. So here it is.

There was a time when Well Place might have been slightly more interesting. It did once have a spa in it, but it was a minor one, and relatively short-lived. It has a couple of intriguing looking Victorian walls, but whatever was originally enclosed by them has long since disappeared and been replaced by more recent housing, mostly luxury flats. This is an exclusive and expensive area to live, but the development is not exactly beautiful. The street runs diagonally between Douro Road and Christ Church Road, but it doesn’t match the beauty of either of them.

Well Place was a relatively late development in Cheltenham’s history. It doesn’t appear on the 1834 map, which shows the Lansdown area under development from the Crescent upwards. It appears in 1864, but unnamed.

The 1921 map (below) marks the location of the spa. It opened in 1857 under the name of Chadnor Villa Well, run by Miss Ann Webb. It was a saline well with an accompanying pump house, towards the north-west end of the street. On the map there’s also a confusing reference to “King’s Well” (the original King’s Well was a few streets away, in Overton Road). As far as I can tell the Well Place spa and pump house no longer exist.

There is a reference to a Well Place in Cheltenham in a deed of 1430. Its location is unknown but it’s most certainly unrelated to the present street.