Hope Street

15 11 2008

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1834 map showing Stanhope Street in development, emerging out of the orchards and allotment gardens

Hope Street, or Stanhope Street to give it its original name, began life in the early 1820s with the enclosure and sale of numerous little parcels of formerly cultivated land north of Tewkesbury Road for the building of small houses. The map shows it still being built in the early 1830s and evolving alongside Waterloo Place (now Waterloo Street) and the cul-de-stump of Sun Street. These rows of straight parallel terraces springing up in this part of town, known informally as Dockem, were never intended for the town’s elite citizens, but rather to provide cheap lodgings for the low-skilled workers who serviced the wealthier residents. Servants, labourers and laundry women were crammed into these streets and in Stanhope Street itself could be found weavers, watch makers, gardeners, lamp lighters and bonnet makers.

The street may possibly have been named after Lady Hester Stanhope, a society celebrity of her day who visited Cheltenham in the early 1800s, but if so it wasn’t much of a tribute. Poverty hung over the street like a murky fog from the moment the first residents moved in, and stayed there until its destruction exactly a century later when its condition had become so atrocious it spurred the formation of a Slum Areas Clearance Committee, empowered to act under the Housing of the Working Classes Act 1890.

By 1925 the council was buying up the houses for compulsory demolition and within a few years the entire street had been razed and rebuilt with new terraces, more spacious and decently built. In 1928 the street was renamed Hope Street as a symbolic statement of its regeneration.

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Today Hope Street remains one of Cheltenham’s less affluent areas but the terraces of 1920s houses have stood the test of time pretty well and it’s one of the nicer streets in Dockem. It’s now a quiet cul-de-sac, blocked off at the Tewkesbury Road end.

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I can’t show you any pictures of the original Stanhope Street houses because there are none left. I’m not even sure what it looked like in relation to other streets in the area. But thanks to the 1841 census I can introduce you to some of its former residents. There was Edward Fryer the grocer, Mary Attwood the ironer, Ann Sparrow the plain sewer and Joseph Thomas the hawker. John Everiss the lamp lighter, Joseph Antill the umbrella maker, and a handful of Irish musicians such as Thomas O’Brion. Prospects for lowly workers were not good in Cheltenham in 1841 and many labourers were seriously struggling to find work. As pokey and dingy as the houses must have been, most of these people were living in tenancies within tenancies, multiple households crowded together in rooms sub-let by tenants who couldn’t afford to pay the rent by themselves. The street was barely fifteen years old but the overcrowding was already extreme.

Take the house occupied by hairdresser John Dukes. He shared it with 15 other people including Henry Sidney the confectioner, James Procter the book binder, John Fry the wool cutter, Edward Pedler the rat catcher, John Maeth the sailor, John Ieanbesta the musician (from “foreign parts”) and a servant called Elizabeth Pinegar. There were five separate households within this one house. That was not unusual either. A few doors away lived 23-year-old Stephen Shiel whose occupation was “climbing boy”, whatever that means. The house he lived in was occupied by 19 people comprising nine different households.

In the midst of all this was Charles Ashton, a bill sticker by trade, whose family had a house all to themselves! 

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The original rear garden walls of the old houses are all that survive of Stanhope Street. Set against a vista of dumped settees is a pair of Victorian white cottages surviving in next door Waterloo Street.

The 1841 census is a fascinating glimpse of the demographic of this area. A high proportion of people living in the street (and in Dockem generally) were Irish.

In a masterstroke of practicality, a dual purpose pub and coal merchant traded on the western corner of Stanhope Street and Tewkesbury Road, under the name of the Elephant and Castle. It’s marked on the 1834 map above if you look closely, but the name isn’t very legible. It’s long gone now and no trace of its buildings and yard survive. There was another pub called the Barley Mow on the opposite side of the street, also fronting onto Tewkesbury Road. Both pubs were swept away for the widening of Tewkesbury Road. The regenerated Hope Street had instead a pub down at the opposite end, built in the 1960s or early 70s and facing onto Swindon Road. Changing name with optimistic regularity, from the Railway Inn to the Sportsman, its last incarnation was the Best Mate Inn, named after a well loved racehorse. At the end of 2008 it was for sale and very derelict.

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