Northfield Passage

10 12 2008


Photos taken December 2008

The name Northfield is an old one in Cheltenham. It was in use in medieval times as the name of a field to the north of the town (surprise surprise). However it fell out of use for many centuries, and I don’t know whether the old Northfeld recorded in 1372 is the same place as the Northfield of the Regency period. However, it’s the Regency one we’re concerned with here. It was a large field occupying the area now covered by North Place car park plus a chunk the other side of Monson Avenue, bounded by the rectangle of roads which are now known as St Margaret’s Road, Dunalley Street, Clarence Square and North Place. Expansion of the town and the development of the Pittville estate from the 1820s made Northfield somewhat less northerly and field-like.


The 1806 map shows Northfield as exactly that … an open field, well to the north of the town, with a smattering of development at the town end. This development was mostly the work of Cheltenham’s lady builder, the Hon. Katherine Monson, who built herself a nice little villa in one corner during the late 18th century and then in 1805 treated herself to a much bigger one further along the field. Both are clearly marked on the map, along with the little lane to Keyts Cottage which is the early precursor to present day Monson Avenue. The cluster of buildings next to “Hyett’s now Pitts” (probably home of Mr Pittville himself, Joseph Pitt) is Byrches Farm where the actress Sarah Siddons lived briefly. She described it in 1803 as “a little cottage … some distance from the town, perfectly retired, surrounded by hills and fields and groves”.


1806 map

A similar picture is shown on the 1820 map (below) except that this one shows a footpath running diagonally across the field from Byrches Farm. This footpath is what shortly afterwards became Northfield Passage. Miss Monson was busy by this time building St Margaret’s Terrace next to her own house, with the foundations laid out and the first house already built. All the clay for bricks was dug out of Northfield itself and fired on site. Present day St Margaret’s Road is given here as Margaret Street. (These maps all have different orientations, sorry if they’re a pain to get your head round.)


1820 map

Northfield Passage was soon joined by Northfield Terrace (on 1834 map below as North Field Terrace), an adjacent street of 1820s terraced houses whose back garden walls butt onto the passage (see top photo) and it also acquired a few cottages of its own, and a timber yard in the corner. By this time the Pittville development was well underway; Byrches Farm was gone and the clean lines of Clarence Square laid down in its place, defying the old field boundaries. St Margaret’s Terrace (which still survives today) was complete but Katherine Monson had legged it to France in the wake of the 1828 credit crunch, which left her inextricably in debt.


1834 map

Neither of Miss Monson’s mansions are still there. Monson Villa, the little one, vanished decades ago and its site is now squatted on by a hideous featureless NCP multi-storey car park built in 2007. Its similarly unattractive predecessor was a nondescript pub attached to the back of the Whitbread brewery tower block. The brutally bland car park is a wasted opportunity to construct something decent in this much abused area of town. Katherine’s second house was known as St Margaret’s Cottage (it being a fashion at that time to use the name ‘cottage’ for grand houses) and later St Margaret’s Villa, and became etched in Cheltenham’s public consciousness as the ticket office of the former Black & White Coach Station. Lamentably, a stray bomb cast out by a German aeroplane in 1940 on its way back from bombing elsewhere made a direct hit on this glorious house. The site has been derelict since the early 1980s, and is used as a large but rather scruffy car park.

Northfield Passage is today what it was then, a long passageway connecting North Place with Monson Avenue in a straight line. It’s pedestrian only, being too narrow for cars, and has a few old cottages (and one or two newer ones) along its north side. The 1841 census lists about five dwellings in the passage, occupied by a hair dresser, a postman, a servant, a butcher and a shoemaker. In the top photo is the remainder of a demolished building incorporated into garden walls. Below is a beautifully unspoilt survivor.

The south side has always been undeveloped, and the timber yard is long gone.



The name Northfield also crops up in Charlton Kings, where again it can trace its origins to medieval times.

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.