The joy of drainpipes

29 09 2009

A selection of rainwater funnelling arrangements from among Cheltenham’s finest.


Alma House, Rodney Road. This genteel Regency receptacle of 1835 vintage is on the side of the building, overlooking Imperial Lane. It’s decorated with three elegant blobs and an innovative bit-of-pipe-sticking-out-the-wall.


Another fine specimen of early 19th century drainage ironware. This one is at the back of shop premises in the High Street, and viewed from Vernon Place (with a big zoom lens).


Meanwhile, down at ground level … this is one of Cheltenham’s finest Regency terraces, Columbia Place in Winchcombe Street. The beautiful frontage is of course drainpipe-free, but go down a little lane at the side and the ugly truth is revealed. From a simple hole in the wall, a cracked iron funnel takes the water through several sections of mismatched leaky iron pipe bolted to the wall and into a drain several yards down the lane. Ingenious.


Lansdown Terrace Lane and another “bendy” with a Victorian top. I particularly like the way it looks like it’s disgorging its load into a tub of geraniums.


No prizes for guessing the date of these elegant and decorative specimens on St Philip and St James’s church in Grafton Road.


Normanhurst, Gothic house on the corner of Eldorado Road. A wonderful carved imp sits at the gable juncture between two jack-in-the-greens and a bit of wobbly hand-beaten lead pipe. Built in 1882, this may be Cheltenham’s most eccentric and beautiful drainpipe.


Well, if you’re not using that 1840s arch-topped window you may as well find a practical use for it. House in Queen’s Retreat.


Here in Wellington Lane we have the “oh sod it, let’s channel the water all the way round the front of the building and then dump the whole lot on the garage roof” solution.


And here among the old mews buildings of Tivoli Walk is a splendid example of the totally non-functional drainpipe.

Trinity Lane

2 12 2008


Photos taken in December 2003

Trinity Lane is one of those places most Cheltenham residents probably never notice the existence of, despite being pretty much in the centre of town. It’s hidden away down a small pathway down the side of Holy Trinity church in Portland Street. This 2003 view (above) is taken from Trinity Lane itself and shows the gateway through the churchyard, with the Portland Street car park beyond. In the distance you can see the yellow and grey bulk of the Whitbread brewery office block, for a long time a despised Cheltenham landmark, now demolished and inexplicably replaced by an even uglier building.

OK, so this is what Trinity Lane looks like …


It’s a narrow and T-shaped service lane giving access to the backs of houses in upper Portland Street and upper Winchcombe Street. The south end opens onto Warwick Place. The north end (from which this photo was taken) is overlooked by the back gardens of houses in Clarence Road. At this end the lane stops and splits into two small alleyways, one joining up with Portland Street and the other leading along the side of the beautiful mini-terrace of Columbia Place.

Back in the 1890s the lane was known as Trinity Church Lane, and at some point before that it seems to have been called St Leger’s Lane. There’s no sign of it in “old” Cheltenham … the 1806 map just shows open fields here. But it was in existence by 1820 as shown here, unnamed, on Cossens’ Post Office map:


1820 map

It shows that before the Pittville development started the lane originally went right through in a straight line from Warwick Place to Clarence Road, and already had a couple of mews buildings in it. Holy Trinity church is clearly shown on the Portland Street side, though it was actually only just being built at the time the map was made. The School of Industry in Winchcombe Street later became an orphan asylum for girls.

Trinity Lane appears again on Merrett’s map of 1834, by which time it had been closed off at the north end by the building of a terrace of houses in Clarence Road (then known as Pittville Terrace). It was one of these houses (no.4 Pittville Terrace) that became the birthplace of Gustav Holst in 1874. 


1834 map. At this time there were still very few buildings in upper Portland Street other than the church. Trinity Lane had to be re-routed at its north end as it was no longer able to join up with Pittville Terrace, and this is the form it still has today. Other interesting landmarks shown here include the Anchor Brewery on the corner of Warwick Place (a tiny part of which still survives), the Female Orphan Asylum in Winchcombe Street (long gone) and the Pittville Gates.

So what is there to see in Trinity Lane? Not that much in terms of landmarks, but it’s one of those places where time seems to stand still and you can imagine yourself transported back a couple of hundred years.

The most emphatic landmark of course is the rear of Trinity church. This lovely window is one of the highlights.


Holy Trinity church was built “in the fields” between 1820 and 1823 and was the first of the new churches of Cheltenham’s Regency era, built as a chapel of ease to the parish church. No others had been built in the town since medieval times. Its architect was G.A. Underwood, who also oversaw the Masonic Hall at about the same time. The cash for its construction was raised from the sale of shares which entitled shareholders to the privilege of a pew. Everyone else had to pay to attend services.

The formidable “Pope of Cheltenham” Francis Close began his association with the town when he arrived as Holy Trinity’s curate in 1824. Among the burials here is the Hon. Katherine Monson, a property speculator who built several notable things in the town before the 1820s credit crunch and lived just up the road on what is now the site of North Place car park. More than just a wealthy developer, this extraordinary lady took a personal and practical role on all her building sites despite being a daughter of the aristocracy.


Her tombstone is at the southern end of the churchyard, but you have to be sharp eyed to spot it because the inscription is quite worn. The grave slabs at Trinity are all set flat into the ground, so you have to walk over them. She shares her final resting place with William Halford, her former clerk of works who took her in as a lodger after her bankruptcy.


A fine pair of Cheltenham bollards. These iron pillars stand guard at the junction between Trinity Lane and Portland Street. Similar ones can be found in the other alley on the Winchcombe Street side and several other of the town’s interesting back alleys. Many of them were made locally by celebrated Cheltenham ironmonger Richard Eede Marshall, whose company was involved in the crafting of much of the town’s fancy Regency metalwork.

Regency backsides

16 11 2008


Scruffy butt end of Montpellier Terrace. Photos taken October 2008

If you’ve ever gone down any of the mews lanes at the back of Cheltenham’s finest terraces you’ll know that Regency architecture has a shameful secret. The beautiful facades you see at the front don’t apply to the backs. In most cases the rear ends of these glamorous houses are little more than a scruffy expanse of brick and drainpipes. Here are some of my favourites.


Lansdown Crescent, front


Lansdown Crescent, back


Wellington Square, front


Wellington Square, back


Columbia Place, Winchcombe Street, front


Columbia Place, Winchcombe Street, back


Lansdown Terrace, Malvern Road, front


Lansdown Terrace, Malvern Road, back

Columbia Place

11 02 2008

It was common in Cheltenham’s heyday for terraces of houses to have their own individual names, independent of the name of the street they were in. Here we have Columbia Place (originally spelt Colombia), a beautiful terrace in Winchcombe Street, not far from the original Pittville Park gates. It’s set back from the main pavement with a sweeping crescent-shaped gravel driveway and a small segment of communal garden. It has its own pavement of flagstones alongside the drive and this has survived remarkably unspoiled.


Photographed December 2003

The two end houses are taller than the others and handsomely pedimented, while the four in the middle have a mansard roof and stone balconies supported on pillars. They have also retained some spectacular cast iron-work (you can’t see it very well in the picture, but there are decorative iron panels in the gaps between the castellations along the top) which according to Cheltenham’s iron-work expert Amina Chatwin, are “daring and unusual … like nothing that has gone before” and “the first panels in the town to make cast iron successful in its own right”. The terrace became very dilapidated in the latter part of the 20th century and looked very sorry for itself but fortunately in the last few years it’s been lovingly restored. Not everybody has always considered it beautiful though. William Cobbett in his thorough verbal trashing of Cheltenham in Rural Rides (1830) called it “a new row of most gaudy and fantastical dwelling places”.


Detail of cast iron ornamentation on the lower verandah

The terrace was commissioned by a cavalry equipment supplier called Thomas Thompson, whose business interests were in South America, including a lucrative salt refining business in Colombia, and he chose the name. He came to Cheltenham to take the waters and decided to build here, employing William Jay to design the terrace. Work began in 1824 and all of the six houses were complete by 1826. They were originally numbered 1-6 Colombia Place but are now 112-122 Winchcombe Street.