An outline of Cheltenham's development from a toponymic perspective
'A longe towne havynge a Market. There is a brook on the South Syde of the Towne.' Leland's famous description of the town in the reign of Henry VIII bears repetition. It reminds us that, even though a market town, Cheltenham had no urban extension beyond the single main street. Beyond this strip, out to the hamlets of Arle, Naunton and so on, Norden's 1617 survey shows no more than a handful of locality names. The High Street was just The Street or Cheltenham Street. Even in the mid 18th century, when the spa's reputation was beginning to spread, this one ribbon of development accounted for nearly all the town's housing and economic activities. Between the Top of the Town and the Bottom, there were very few spurs off the High Street warranting separate identification. As late as 1800, twelve years after the great boost given to the town's tourism by George Ill's visit, John Shenton saw fit to preface his Directory thus:
'As Cheltenham has but One principal street, and many good Lodging Houses which stand out of that street, are situate in places which have no particular Name, the Printer has deviated from the usual alphabetical mode of publishing Directories. He has begun at the top of the Street on the North side, and when he came to any turning of that street he has taken in the Houses which such turning led to, and then turned to the street again, pursuing the same mode coming up the South-side. . .'
In the whole length of the High Street, there were only nine named 'turnings' for Shenton to list: two streets (Winchcombe and North); two yards, (Coffee House and Post Office); two places (St George's and Portland); Fleece Lane; Counsellor's Alley; and Mrs Meekings's Passage. Within a decade, however, a distinct grid pattern was developing. The High Street was still the main axis, but the grid depicted on the early 19th-century maps is very much one which can be recognised today. The business of expanding that network, and naming and renaming its parts, has not stopped since.
For Cheltenham itself, as distinct from the other settlements now included in today's borough, 1800 is in many ways a watershed. Before then, the names were almost all ‘natural’, deriving directly from ownership or function (Bays Hill, Well Walk, Church Mead, Fleece Lane). After 1800, especially in the Regency years when 'bricks and mortar mania' took hold, the need to assign names to new features became much more pressing. The process became more deliberate and self-conscious. Much of it was designed to reinforce the reputation of the town by commemorating its most famous visitors. As John Goding noted in 1863 (already looking back with a degree of nostalgia to the Regency boom years):
'The names still used for houses and streets are memorials of the sojourn of the great and wealthy, and indicate the localities where they resided and the titles which they held, such as Fauconberg, Essex, Clonbrock, Chester, Manchester, Norfolk, Suffolk, Berkeley, Wellington, Regent, Portland, Clarence, Devonshire, Adelaide, Beaufort, Bedford, Brunswick, Camden, Cambridge, Exmouth, Gloucester, Grosvenor, Vernon, Jersey, Lansdown, Northwick, Oxford, Sussex, Sydney, York, Buckingham, Monson, Gordon, Marlborough, Salisbury, Stamford, Warwick, Wolesley, Powers-Court, Somerset, &c.'
Many of these names are still present today, though others have slipped below the level of immediate recognition, and many of the streets which bear them are less obviously fashionable than once they were, or aspired to be.
It was in 1786 that Cheltenham acquired the beginnings of a local government system more suited to a town of the size it had grown to. An Act of Parliament in that year established a body of Paving Commissioners. As their name suggests, their first task was to make the streets passable, but they soon branched out into lighting, cleansing and many of the other functions now falling to the borough council. It was not until November 1806 (perhaps not coincidentally the year Cheltenham's open fields were finally inclosed) that the commissioners felt impelled to define the limits of the town, as distinct from the parish. The boundaries of their area of responsibility were broadly: to the north, the turnpike gate in what is now Winchcombe Street (300 yards north of the High Street); to the east, the turnpike gate at Maidenhorn Junction of St Paul's Road and Swindon Road); to the west, what is now Hales Road; and to the south, a line along what is now Sandford Road-Montpellier Terrace-Parabola Road-Alstone.
The commissioners' tasks came to include making the town easier for residents and visitors to find their way about in, by getting street nameplates and house-numbers properly organised. House-numbers were being introduced in Cheltenham before the end of the 18th century: they occur in guide books of the 1790s. Shenton's 1800 Directory numbers High Street houses up to 193, and St George's Place is numbered up to 10. House-numbers are useful only if they can he seen, and on 3 March 1807, the Paving Commissioners accepted a tender from a Mr Carruthers to number all the houses in the town, starting from Sir William Hicks's landmark residence at the Top of the Town (where Irving Court, once the Belle Vue Hotel, now is). The rate agreed was 2¾ d. per house.
In what seems to have been the first deliberate renaming of an existing site, in 1808 the commissioners gave a smart new name to what had up to then, and without known complaint, been plain Coffee House Yard. They ordered
'. . . that the passage heretofore called Coffee House Yard be henceforth called Portland
Passage and that the surveyor do immediately affix up that name accordingly on a board
to he affixed in 5 the street across the passage and fastened to the houses of Mrs Wills and
Mr White . . .
Only a few years were to pass before Portland Passage in turn disappeared, demolished to make way for Pittville Street. Inevitably, as the town continued to grow, such naming and numbering measures needed periodic renewal. On 1 March 1820, it was ordered
'that the Several Streets and Public Places within the Town he forthwith Numbered, and also the Name by which every Street, Crescent, Square, Lane and Public Passage within the said Town is called or known be placed on some conspicuous point of some nearby house or building at, or near each End, Corner or Entrance of the said Street etc, and under the direction of the following Committee: Capt. Hamilton, Thomas Jones, Thomas Henney, George de Brisac, William Gyde'.
This measure was reinforced by a general directive included as Section 57 of Cheltenham's 1821 Act of Parliament. Other numbering and renumbering schemes of varying scale have taken place ever since. One of the most substantial was the general revision of High Street numbers ordered in 1954, a badly needed overhaul of the 1820 allocation. The old system had started at no. 1 at the eastern end (Hales Road) and ran in a one-up sequence all the way along the northern side to no. 245 at the junction with Gloucester Road, before crossing to the southern side and continuing back cast up to no. 457, doubtless baffling many visitors. The 1954 rationalisation did away with the various A and B numbers which it had been necessary to assign to new or divided properties, redefined the eastern end of the street (the junction with Hewlett Road rather than Hales Road), and, most important, adopted the now more usual alternating scheme, with odd numbers on the north side and evens on the south. There is thus no fixed arithmetical relationship between the 1820-1954 and the post 1954 numbers; in the Gazetteer, equivalents are given wherever possible. For pre- 1820 High Street numbers, the later equivalents are often harder to establish exactly.
It is a commonplace that not every planned development comes to fruition. Older maps of Cheltenham preserve several 'ghost' names, for roads and streets confidently plotted but not in the event realised. The grid pattern of the first Christchurch Estate perhaps lingered longest on maps, being first seen in 1840, but one of the most spectacular projects was that for Cambray Parade, a scheme for 200 houses which is confidently marked on the 1825 map though never a brick was laid.
In Cheltenham, as in other towns developing in the Regency period, tontine schemes often funded the building process. A successful example was in Cambray Place (1809, Joseph Pitt being one of the promoters); unsuccessful was the proposal in the same year for a 52-house square near Alstone Spa.
As befits the town that fostered Francis Close, Cheltenham has a great number of Saints in its street-names. Most of them derive predictably from neighbouring churches, usually 19th-century, but others are of less obvious origin. An early example is St George's Place. It first comes to notice in 1788, and seems almost certain to be a commemoration of George III's visit in that year. Next are some which may have been intended to echo fashionable London names, such as St James's Street and Square (at opposite ends of the town centre, though both of about 1809). Early house names, such as St Anne's, St Margaret's and the now vanished St Julia's remain of unknown origin. St Leger's Lane, a 1787 predecessor of Winchcombe Street, preserved a family name. All of them contribute to a distinct wave of Saint names, unconnected with churches, in the years either side of 1800.
While London examples may have inspired some Cheltenham choices, more frequently the likely models are closer, in Bath or Bristol. Instances include Colonnade, Camden Terrace, Lansdown, Poultney Street and Sion Row.
Whenever several streets are built in a single development, there is a temptation to introduce a theme in the naming, and draw on a ready-made set. In Cheltenham, this is typically a 20th-century phenomenon, but earlier traces can he seen, for instance Tivoli's royal relations, Alexandra, Albany and Dagmar, all of about 1880. The trend was established on a large scale by the municipal developments beginning after the first World War. First were the English poets in St Marks, followed by English rivers in Whaddon, English hills in Lynworth, Gloucestershire Regiment battle honours at Priors Farm and so on. The list now includes Welsh counties, southern counties, birds of prey, honorary freemen, council officials, and butterflies. Sometimes the themes break down. An example is at Benhall, where, because the borough surveyor belatedly remembered a previous commitment to commemorate the 1959 bicentenary of Robert Burns, a road which was to have borne a themed Cotswold village name was graced instead with that of the Scottish poet.
More recent developments play the theme game slightly more subtly, with market-oriented developers often going for sets of names with a suggestion of country wholesomeness, or other attractive attribute. The more imagination that can be added to this process (as has generally been the case recently in Up Hatherley, for example), the better the result.
Roads and streets with few houses in (including service roads) often took a long time to attract a formal name, and a few are anonymous still. In 1909, for instance, the borough surveyor drew up a list of 150 streets for which nameplates were required, and noted a further 31 streets which had not been named at all.
Today, the names for new streets will often be proposed by the developers themselves, with the council making counter-proposals if necessary, for instance because the first suggestion is too similar to an existing name and could confuse the Post Office or Fire Service. But local initiatives can also influence the choice, usually resulting in a more distinctive name with a stronger local association. When the choice of a new name falls to the council, the officers have been commendably keen to look for something of local relevance.
The pages of the gazetteer show how many of the pre-20th century roads and streets have undergone name changes, some more than once. Such changes are most likely to occur if the street undergoes a significant change of use, for example from undeveloped to residential or commercial (Fleece Lane to Henrietta Street), or a change in quality (unimproved Coltham Lane to made-up Hales Road). Aesthetic reasons also come into play: when the new cemetery was first opened, the council was proud to rename part of Bouncer's Lane Cemetery Road; but when, decades later, the road became developed for housing, Cemetery Road was less to the residents' taste, and now it is Priors Road.
In Cheltenham, with the single exception of Green Street, which deserves further study, ‘street’ always indicates a built-up road, and one can see for example the once unpopulated Hewlett Road becoming Hewlett Street in the section where housing first went up at the London Road end about 1820. Later, when housing had become more or less continuous from London Road to Priors Road, the distinction was not worth preserving and Hewlett Street as a separate name fell victim to a general renumbering.
Several of today's roads preserve at least in part the line of much older routes. Among these are St Paul's Road, Agg's Hill, Hale's Road and the Old Bath Road. While these older public highways are reasonably well documented, there is also a stratum of more local roads from the period before the first properly surveyed maps. Several of these have so far resisted accurate identification. In addition to Green Street mentioned above, one may note Bearhole Lane, Burrough Lane, and Mill Lane, all three probably not far from the centre of the town in the 18th century. Deeper analysis of the manor court books data might locate them more precisely.
Exotic places supply a fair number of Cheltenham street-names. Some are in wide use elsewhere in the British Isles (Trafalgar, Waterloo); others while not unique to Cheltenham are distinctively associated with it (Cambray, Montpellier, Tivoli). Considering the town's reputation, India accounts for surprisingly few (mostly house-names, such as Mosquito Ghur and Mussoorie Court). Russia provides Alma (half-a-dozen examples), and Sochi, the latter reflecting one of several twinning arrangements.
Where the same name element is applied to a number of different units, it is often possible to see a regular chronological sequence, starting with a single large or notable house (St Margaret's, for example), which then gives rise to St Margaret's Terrace (still so named), and thence over time to the larger unit of St Margaret's Road. It is suspected that several as yet unexplained terrace and street-names will be found to have their origin in a single house in that way. To Ken Pollock goes the credit for pointing out how reliable the house-terrace-place-street sequence is as a rule of thumb in establishing relative dates.
Many of the original detached residences built when Cheltenham first became fashionable, and which gave their names to later terraces and so forth, were styled Cottages, in the fashion of the day, but were in fact very substantial houses. An example is St Anne's Cottage, which survives (now subdivided, with the British Legion in one half) in St Anne's Road.
Finally, follies. Cheltenham has known two, Cooke's Folly and Wilkinson's Folly. Both seem to have had their origin in the early 19th century; both clearly deserved their tides, for they were swept away soon after, leaving, as far as can he ascertained, little more trace in the historical record than their bare names.