Summary: Days gone by Cheltenham was once a small market town that changed dramatically over the years. Founded in the early 1700s as a spa town, it gradually became a popular destination for the wealthy and influential to enjoy the town’s many amenities. In this article, we will explore the history of Cheltenham and how it developed into the town we know today.
1. The Spa Town
In the late 1700s, people believed that the minerals in Cheltenham’s water had beneficial health effects, and it became known as a spa town. Visitors to the town could drink or bathe in the water to improve their health. The town also became a popular destination for the wealthy patronage of the arts. Luxury hotels and grandiose shops began to line the streets of the town. As the trend grew, so did the town.
The spa is still present today with the Pittville Pump Room and the Ladies’ College, but modern architecture has crept in. The beautiful environment that characterized the spa town helped to create the sense of exclusivity and luxury that underpinned this era. Cheltenham’s urban settlements also expanded during this period, and its character as a spa center continued until the middle of the 19th century.
As this was happening, architects were more focused on creating the most lavish and unusual buildings. Many were designed to reflect the Medieval or Gothic motifs and styles prevalent early in the 19th century.
2. The Victorian Era
The Victorian era saw a significant shift in focus toward maintaining buildings that were aesthetically pleasing. New roads and public buildings were erected to accommodate the growing population. The railway also came to Cheltenham, a new railway station being built in 1842. New shops with decorative tiles and ironwork lamps could be found everywhere, emphasizing the town’s grandeur.
In the 1850s, the arrival of John Galpin’s gasworks and a piped water supply network allowed greater industrialization of the town, and extensive residential development. The infrastructure was suitable for Cheltenham to again adapt to meet new demands, with buildings such as the Municipal Offices constructed to reflect this change in the town’s population.
The Town Hall was erected in the imperial style throughout this period. The choice of architectural designs ranged from baroque, Italianate, and Gothic, demonstrating the town’s adaptation to modern industrial expansion while retaining the historical elements of the spa town era.
3. The Twentieth Century
During the twentieth century, many historic buildings fell into disrepair and were destroyed due to air raids, fires, and urban renewal projects. Despite this, some of Cheltenham’s most significant twentieth-century developments occurred in its suburbs. Housing began to be extensively constructed outside the town center, with new modernist architecture popping up in areas like St. Pauls and Hester’s Way.
By the 1950s and 60s, High Street had changed considerably from the luxury goods stores of the spa town days to chain stores such as Woolworths. Public amenities such as schools and hospitals continued to grow along with the population.
Since then, Cheltenham has continued to grow in size and stature. The town is now home to several massive mews-style developments as well as a new central bus station and shopping mall. There has been a renewed interest in restoring historic buildings such as the Regency-era Montpellier district and its surrounding architecture that exemplify the best of this time.
4. The Sporting Hub
While people often think of the town’s beautiful Regency architecture and leafy parks, Cheltenham also has a rich sporting history. The racecourse at Prestbury Park has been an essential aspect of Cheltenham’s identity for over 200 years. It is home to the world-famous Cheltenham Festival, as well as other notable racing events throughout the year.
The town also features football, rugby, hockey, and cricket clubs, as well as extensive parks and leisure facilities. Cheltenham also hosts many cultural events such as the annual Jazz Festival and Literature Festival.
Finally, Cheltenham is noted for its floral displays, and in the spring the many cherry trees in the town burst into bloom, painting the town in vivid shades of pink. The town is also home to a unique rose garden, which includes a collection of Chinese roses that date back to the early 20th century.
Cheltenham has come a long way from its humble beginnings as a spa town in the 1700s. Its transformation into a bustling market town was a labor of love, with architects, businesspeople, and officials all working together to create something greater than any of them could have achieved on their own. Today, Cheltenham is a vibrant and burgeoning city, rich with culture, sport, and natural beauty – a true gem in the Cotswolds.
Whether it’s taking in the breathtaking architecture of the Montpellier district, or watching the hustle and bustle of the world-renowned Cheltenham Festival, there’s always something new to discover in this town of days gone by!