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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Corpus Street

15 10 2009

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Photos taken September 2009

Corpus Street is a quiet cul-de-sac off the busy A40 London Road and although only one side survives in its original form it’s a lovely example of a Regency-era artisan street.

The origins of Corpus Street – and its name – go back to a time when large areas of land in Cheltenham were held and administered by Corpus Christi College, Oxford. The area of land to the south of London Road was known as Kinsham Close, which later morphed into Keynsham, a name which is still prevalent in that part of Cheltenham today. It was part of the charity estate bequeathed by Richard Pate, whose beneficence is still apparent in the town some 400 years after his death. Pate left substantial land holdings in the care of Corpus Christi College, from which he had graduated, and they were responsible for its administration for several centuries.

Some time around 1818, the Corpus Christi College records note that “3 houses are begun at the front of Keynsham Close and the lessee proposes to have a street down the centre with small houses on each side and 3 on the east side to correspond with the 3 on the west side”.

These ‘3 houses’ are Oxford Villas, a beautiful Regency mini-terrace which fronts onto London Road and remains one of the special attractions in this part of Cheltenham. Their frontages have been distinctive in recent years for having been painted a dark grey-green and their ironwork a contrasting white – you can see a bit of them in the photo above. Each house has an exquisitely lacy and delicate wrought iron veranda with a tented hood. The houses are set back from the road with long front gardens bounded by wrought iron railings. The railing finials bear the name of Marshall, made by the local foundry R.E.& C. Marshall … perhaps Marshall’s made the verandas too.

The proposed second group of three on the east side were never built, their intended plot being taken up by a large villa instead. But the “street down the centre” is what became Corpus Street. The 1820 map shows the newly built Oxford Villas … Corpus Street didn’t yet exist but its line is visible as a strip along the left hand side of the terrace.

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1820 map. Two confusing things about this map – one, it’s upside down and has south at the top. Secondly, the main road shown here was originally part of the High Street, but is now part of London Road instead (the point at which the High Street ends and London Road begins was changed in 1954). I’ve added a label to show where Oxford Villas are, newly built in the field known as Keynsham Close. The whole area was still very lightly developed at this time, but familar names already present include Oxford Parade (then only part built), Oxford Street (also part built and not yet meeting up with the main road) and Keynsham Bank (a group of houses now demolished but the name survives). Just opposite Oxford Villas and to the right is the large detached house known as The Priory, as yet unencumbered by any adjoining houses or streets.

The top section of Corpus Street is entirely taken up with the sides and backs of the houses fronting onto London Road. Because Oxford Villas have such long front gardens, and also fairly generous rear gardens, they dominate a large chunk and the houses of Corpus Street itself don’t begin until some way down the street.

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The rear of Oxford Villas viewed from Corpus Street; walled gardens and a very attractive lunette window with a fanlight (rems of).

The layout and building of Corpus Street is thought to have begun in 1820 or thereabouts, continuing through until at least 1826, and comprised two terraces of ‘small houses’. In the early stages of development it was called Corpus Christi Street, but was soon settled in its shorter form. It’s possible that the bricks used to build the houses were dug and fired on site, as there is a reference in the Corpus Christi records to Keynsham Close being used as a brickfield in 1818. They are typical of Georgian artisan houses; compact and solid and sturdy with the six-paned sash windows typical of the period (some of which have been replaced with bigger panes over the years) and a cellar underneath. They would have been home to skilled tradespeople, whose lives would have been very different from those who lived in the villas along London Road. In the 1841 census, for example, Corpus Street was inhabited by a range of dressmakers, tanners, smiths, builders, laundresses, hairdressers and cooks, while the end house of Oxford Villas was the home of a surgeon who kept two servants.

Decades later, the second house from the left in the picture below was the home of Arthur Phillips, an employee of the Cheltenham Original Brewery who joined up to fight in the First World War and was killed in the 3rd Battle of Ypres in 1917. His neighbour across the street, George Organ, met the same fate a year later in 1918; he had been a pony-carriage owner in the years before the war, running a ‘taxi’ type service in the town with his two carriages.

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I’m curious about the dips in the pavement in front of each door … you normally only see this where there is a vehicle access, so I’m not sure why it was done here, but it seems to follow the line of the original pavement which still shows through the tarmac in places. There are also some slight differences in detail between the houses, which suggests that they may not have all been built by the same builder, but parcelled up into lots which were sold off separately (a common practice at the time). An overall design was adhered to but small details varied. For example most, but not all, have a lunette panel above the front door, some of which are glazed and others left blank. This one has a beautifully ornate fanlight.

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At one time there was a beerhouse at 5 Corpus Street called the Oxford Arms, belonging to the Cheltenham Original Brewery. It is known to have been there in the 1870s and was still there in 1926, but was demolished along with the rest of the western side of the street shortly afterwards.

In its original form, Corpus Street had terraces on both sides. The western one was slightly longer and also, if the 1834 map is any indication, had some houses which were bigger. There was a detached house in its own grounds at the far end, leading through into market gardens and fields. The 1841 census seems to show this house (assuming the ordering of the properties is consecutive, which is a bit of an assumption with the 1841 census) as Sandford Lodge, where a governess presided over four pupils. Most of the houses on both sides originally backed onto fields behind their rear gardens, but this changed as the surrounding area got more built up.

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1834 map. If you look at this one in conjunction with the 1820 map (which is the opposite way up) you can see that the development of this area was still proceeding quite slowly. Apart from Corpus Street, and the completion of Oxford Parade across the road, there wasn’t a lot of difference. The line running down the left hand side is the River Chelt, and the large field beyond it is what is now Sandford Park.

By the early 1920s the field behind the west side of the street was occupied by a large Drug Manufactory extending right down to the River Chelt, and some time after this the entire western side of Corpus Street was demolished to make way for light industrial buildings, which is a very great shame. These buildings have since been swept away and replaced with modern housing, including a new cul-de-sac, which is reasonably sympathetic with the style of the street even if it’s no substitute for what is lost. The east side remains intact and beautifully kept … but then these former working class houses are now expensive and desirable!

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The far end of the terrace on the east side. The cream coloured house was originally the end of the terrace and the land next to it remained a field well into the 20th century. It’s now built up with more recent housing set back from the rest of the terrace, just visible here on the right.