Lansdown Terrace Lane

21 08 2009

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Lansdown Terrace Lane is one of Cheltenham’s most precious treasures, and yet I’d bet thousands of people living in the town don’t even know it’s there. (Shown above – without its name – on the 1921 map.)

The lane owes its name to Lansdown Terrace, the grand row of 1830s houses which occupies one side of Malvern Road, and in its current form was created as a service lane for access to the backs of the houses. It runs the entire length of the back of the terrace, and contains many coach houses and mews cottages built to house the staff who looked after the residents’ horses and carriages. There is a decorative arch at either end, one small pedestrian-sized one and the other large enough for carriages. At the northern end, the lane turns at rightangles alongside a villa called Stoneleigh and connects up with Parabola Road.

But the lane goes back a lot further than the development of the terrace. It incorporates a section of an old road formerly known as Lads Lane. There are references to Lads Lane as far back as 1776, when it was a footpath which marked the boundary between Alstone and Sandford tithings. From 1781 onwards the path was an access route to Bays Hill House, then known as Fauconberg Lodge, which was used as royal lodgings during George III’s visit in 1788. This important house is long gone and its site is now occupied by Sidney Lodge in Overton Road.

Lads Lane appears on the 1806 map, but had by then been ‘shut up’.

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1806 map. As usual it is very hard to get your bearings here, as the whole of the Lansdown and Bayshill area was just fields back then – and the map’s peculiar south-west orientation doesn’t help. The map shows the grand royal lodging house “Bay’s Hill Lodge, late Lord Falconberg” (sic) which is long ago demolished but stood on the crest of Bayshill in present day Overton Road. The “Royal Spa” was a private spa built for King George’s visit, also long gone, although the road shown here is approximately on the site of present day Bayshill Road. The “New Well” in the lower left corner was short-lived and its site is now occupied by Montpellier roundabout and the Gordon lamp. Lansdown Crescent now occupies the field immediately above the New Well. “Lads Lane shut up” (what a charming thing to see on a map) was simply a footpath across the field from Montpellier to Bayshill, but it’s the line of this path which became Lansdown Terrace Lane, with Malvern Road forging a line across the field just above it. At bottom right is a loop of the River Chelt.

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The pictures are presented here in order, starting from the north end. The lane begins through this lovely pedestrian archway in Lansdown Terrace’s elegant frontage. Beautiful as it is, it’s entirely decorative and is just a short span of stone-faced brick to disguise an otherwise mundane alleyway between two houses. Lansdown Terrace was designed by the Jearrad brothers, who were very prominent Cheltenham architects in the Regency era. It was originally meant to comprise two sections of terrace with this alleyway in between them. In the event, only one house was ever built in the second section – and it does look rather strange on its own.

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View along the back of Lansdown Terrace towards the hills. Although the houses front onto Malvern Road, that’s actually the ridge of the Cotswolds you can see in the distance, not the Malverns. As is the norm with Regency architecture, the backs of the houses are nowhere near as attractive as the frontages (see my article Regency Backsides for more pictures) – kind of brown and scrubby with a muddle of asymmetrical windows and drainpipes. The whole of the west side of Lansdown Terrace Lane is occupied by these less than beautiful rear elevations, but on the east side are some gloriously quirky cottages and small townhouses which have retained a lot of their original character and ambience.

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Probably the most significant building in the lane is this coach house, from whose upper floor George Dowty started his engineering business in 1931 … it even has a little blue plaque.

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George Dowty was an employee of the Gloster Aircraft Company in the 1920s, and lived in a flat in Lansdown Terrace. He was a gifted engineer and his job was to improve the design of aircraft landing gear. When an order came in for his innovative new design of landing wheel, and the Gloster Aircraft Co was unable to supply the order, Dowty promptly resigned and set up his own business to build the wheels himself. He rented the upper floor of this cottage in the lane behind his flat and kitted it out with the necessary equipment. Within a very short time his business took off and had to move on to bigger premises, eventually becoming an international firm and a major local employer – but this cottage is where it all started.

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Back garden entrance to Evelyn Court. This name was given in 1918 to the section of Lansdown Terrace incorporating numbers 2 to 19. These houses were bought up by the Officers’ Families Association and converted into flats by P R Morley Horder, as charitable residences for the widows of officers killed in the First World War. The name ‘Evelyn’ was often given to housing provided for war widows. If it seems a bit extravagant to use a row of prestigious Regency houses as charitable homes, it’s partly a reflection of the change in fortunes Cheltenham went through in the early 20th century. Many of its grand houses were empty and abandoned around this period, and could be bought up for next to nothing. There’s also an element of the class system in play though. In WW1 officers were almost always from the privileged social classes, while the lower classes made up the ‘other ranks’, so the families of fallen officers were supplied with the kind of genteel housing they were accustomed to. Without wanting to downplay the value of the charitable work done to help officers’ widows, there was far more conspicuous suffering and hardship among the widows of ordinary soldiers in Cheltenham’s many clusters of slums.

In the intervening years, most if not all of the other houses in the terrace have been converted to flats. Long gone are the days when people could afford to buy and run a Regency townhouse in its entirety. It has, however, been lifted in its fortunes somewhat in the last century, and is once again the kind of prestigious and desirable area it was originally built to be. 

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Ever fancied having a Gothic window in your basement? Somebody did. A view through a back gate.

Despite being built as living quarters for staff, the whole street is a delight. I love this mews cottage with its eccentric porch and wonky drainpipes.

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Without doubt the most visually striking feature of Lansdown Terrace Lane is its archway at the southern end. This is a tall one, plenty big enough to allow coaches and carriages through. As with the rest of the architechture, the back is less glamorous and reveals its construction of plain brick, while the front …

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… is faced with beautiful Cotswold stone ashlar. This view shows the mews houses of Lansdown Terrace Lane through its lower entrance. The arch is part of the main Lansdown Terrace deign, and although it’s tucked away behind the houses it’s still visible from Malvern Road, so it is designed to present the same standard of opulence as the terrace itself.

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This is the end-of-terrace, where the mews lane meets up with Malvern Road. The elevation shown here is the side of the end house, and was the first house in the row to be built, adorned with a side porch. Porches on side elevations were a particular trademark of architect J B Papworth, and this one may indicate his involvement. Papworth was responsible for much of the initial design work in Lansdown, until the original developer ran out of money and the project was sold off to the Jearrad brothers. The Jearrads dumped Papworth but kept hold of his plans against his wishes, and may well have incorporated some of his ideas into their own design.





Regency backsides

16 11 2008

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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.

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Lansdown Crescent, front

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Lansdown Crescent, back

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Wellington Square, front

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Wellington Square, back

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Columbia Place, Winchcombe Street, front

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Columbia Place, Winchcombe Street, back

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Lansdown Terrace, Malvern Road, front

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Lansdown Terrace, Malvern Road, back





Malvern Road

30 10 2008

Photos taken October 2008

For me personally, Malvern Road is the street that defines Cheltenham. Partly because it was the first street I got to know intimately. But also because it has so many exquisitely Cheltonian features. From street level you can’t actually see the Malverns, but ironically the vista from the top of the road gives a magnificent view of the Cotswolds.

The road was developed during the 1830s, the heyday of Cheltenham’s building boom. Its southern end appears on the 1834 map under its original name of Lansdown Terrace, named after the magnificent terrace of houses which was originally built there. The terrace name is not much used these days, but the mews lane running round the back of it is still called Lansdown Terrace Lane.

The most imposing building in the street is the striking Gothic Christ Church, which despite its immense height and immaculately chiselled features seems to have been built in only three years, from 1837-1840. The signpost above stands in front of the church on what is now an open forecourt but was originally enclosed by a fine set of railings (you can see the row of empty holes in the kerbstone running along underneath). Sadly these were removed for scrap in 1942 in an unfortunate and ultimately pointless drive to gather iron for wartime munitions.

These days Malvern Road runs all the way from Lansdown Crescent to Gloucester Road but the northern end (north of the church) was originally a separate street called Christ Church Terrace, and was still being marked as such on some maps as late as the 1920s. It comprises mostly terraced housing, much less grand than Malvern Road proper but still very respectable. Like many others in Cheltenham, the terraces originally had their own names, Christchurch Terrace and Christchurch Villas. The names are no longer used but survive on individual houses.

In the 1900s the Honeybourne Line railway was carved through the middle of this section of street, but at a lower level than the street itself so it passes underneath a road bridge so subtle you’d hardly notice it. The railway line is now disused and makes a nice footpath. There was originally a Malvern Road Station, set back some way from the road at the edge of the Ladies College playing fields. It’s long gone now but the approach road still exists.

Another interesting building in this part of the street is Highbridge, the beautiful green house in the photo below with its exquisite oriel window. This house, and its slightly more modest beige companion, were built in 1857 by a prestigious local stonemason called James Brown. He and his son William made the famous Caryatid statues in Montpellier, and also worked on carvings for the Houses of Parliament. Brown built the beige house to live in himself, while Highbridge was a showpiece to advertise his carving skills and was rented out to provide him with a regular income.

Don’t you just love doors-in-the-wall that don’t actually lead anywhere? This lovely feature belongs to Richmond House, just to the south of the church, and screens off its garden from the street.

And looking down, between the modern concrete kerb and the tarmac and yellow line, a relic still survives of the street’s original paving surface, made with flagstones and cobblestone setts. It must have been truly bum-numbing to drive over these in a horse-drawn carriage in the days before pneumatic tyres. Ouch.

Back in the days before Christ Church and its terraces were built, the 1834 map shows just a handful of existing houses in Malvern Road. These were Lansdown Court, Drake House (built by a chap called Sir Francis Drake – no, not that one – in 1832) and a strange Tudor-Gothic edifice called Aban Court. The picture shows Aban Court’s unassuming letterbox set into a whopping great arched and studded front door.

Under construction on the 1834 map was the vast and magnificent Lansdown Terrace which gives Malvern Road much of its character, designed and built by the well-known Cheltenham architect Robert Jearrad. This long row stretches right the way down the lower half of the street (shown in the photo below is the end-of-terrace at the north end) and has kept most of its original features. It was supposed to be longer though – a second terrace of 12 houses was planned but never built. In 1834 only the first few houses (and their accompanying mews buildings) had been built but it was mostly complete by 1840. The end house here, separated from the others by a passage and archway, is Regan House. It was supposed to be the first house in the second terrace, but in the event it was the only one built – which is why it has the passageway running alongside it (originally intended as an access route between the terraces) and, although you can’t really see them in this picture, on its left hand side it bears the architectural mouldings of its thwarted neighbour. It stood derelict and vandalised for many years, its windows broken and its stonework pitted by airgun pellets. Its restoration in the mid 1990s won it a civic award. The green wheely bins are not original but the woman walking up towards the archway gives some idea of the grand scale of these houses.

The arched passageway leads into Lansdown Terrace Lane, a very old street which has its own Cheltonia article.

North end of Lansdown Terrace, with Regan House on the left

And here is the view from just inside the passage, looking back towards Malvern Road. The house you can see here is Aban Court.

And that’s not the only interesting thing in the passageway. The wall of the first house in the terrace has some old graffiti, showing that wanton vandalism is far from being a modern phenomenon. The stonework here was covered by a plaque for many years (hence the holes around the edge) which has had the effect of preserving the folk etchings underneath.

Further down the street, another peephole. This time into the front garden of Lansdown Court, a pair of flamboyant Italianate villas which actually front onto neighbouring Lansdown Crescent.