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101 Things You Didn't Know About Cheltenham


1. Cheltenham was a market town as far back as 1226

2. The Pittville Spa water is unique in that is the only natural alkaline water in Great Britain

3. In its early days the town mainly consisted of lanes and alleys around the lower High Street. It was not until the early 20th century that the area around Boots was considered to be the town centre.

4. St. Mary’s Parish Church is the oldest building in Cheltenham dating back to the 12th century.

5. GCHQ moved to Cheltenham in 1952, occupying sites at Oakley and Benhall. The local residents referred to it as ‘the Foreign Office’ and were discreet about the secret organisation in their midst which was still largely unheard of outside Whitehall and the Cotswolds.

6. The tobacconist Charles Dickens & Co. (established 1889) used to occupy the shop on the corner of the High Street and Clarence Street which is now Cobblers Corner. The ornate canopy was made by Charles William Hancock around 1920. The original sign is still visible above the canopy.

7. The population of Cheltenham in 2005 was estimated to be 111,700

8. The Everyman Theatre which opened as The Opera House in 1891, was designed by Frank Matcham who also designed the London Palladium and other important British theatres.

9. The Ladies College opened in 1854. Its original home was Cambray House where Cambray Court now stands. The college moved to its current premises in 1873.

10. Electric trams ran between Cheltenham and Cleeve Hill between 1901 and 1929

11. The famous Cheltenham landmark, the Devil’s Chimney, is almost certainly man-made and was probably constructed by local quarrymen around 1780.

12. Dowty and Co. made the undercarriage for the WW2 Lancaster bomber

13. Cheltenham has been a health and holiday spa town resort since the discovery of mineral springs there in 1716.

14. Sir Ralph Richardson was born in Cheltenham on 19 December 1902. Along with Laurence Olivier and John Gielgud, he was considered one of the greatest classical actors of the 20th century

15. Naunton Park was opened on 6 July 1893 to mark the wedding of the Duke of York and Princess Victoria Mary of Teck who later became King George V and Queen Mary.

16. Prescott Hill Climb between Winchcombe and Bishops Cleeve is home to one of the best and oldest motor racing hill climbs in England. Stirling Moss made one of his earliest competitive appearances there.

17. 520 metres of the River Chelt flows underground passing under Bath Road, Rodney Road, The Promenade and Royal Well before surfacing in Synagogue Lane.

18. The actor Robert Hardy was born in Cheltenham on October 29, 1925 while his father was headmaster at Cheltenham College. He is perhaps most famous for his role as Siegfried Farnon in the long-running BBC series All Creatures Great and Small (1978–1990)

19. The Mitsubishi 10th World Croquet Championship was held in Cheltenham in 2005.

20. Pate’s Grammar School was founded by a fund bestowed to Corpus Christi College, Oxford by Richard Pate in 1574.

21. Dame Felicity Lott was born in Cheltenham on May 8, 1947. She is a soprano with an international reputation and is universally known as Flott. During her childhood she lived in Alstone Croft and attended Christchurch Junior School.

22. Fourteen Victoria Crosses have been won by former pupils of Cheltenham College. Only old boys of the much larger Eton College (22 awards) and Harrow School (15 awards) have won more.

23. The buildings of Naunton Park School were used as a hospital during the First World War.

24. Cheltenham College’s military past is recognised in the fact that it is one of only two schools (the other being Eton) to have its own military colours.

25. Marshal of the Royal Air Force Sir Arthur Travers Harris, 1st Baronet (1892-1984), commonly known as “Bomber” Harris, was born at 3 Queen’s Parade in Cheltenham. He was largely responsible for the bombing of Germany during WW2

26. The land-mark 1968 Lindsay Anderson film If… was made in Cheltenham, its main location being the College. Many of the pupils took part in the film as extras. Anderson was an old boy of the College.

27. Sir Benjamin Baker was, alongside Brunel, one oft the great British Victorian engineers. He was the chief designer for the Forth Railway Bridge as well as for some of the great London railway stations. He lived for a time in a house that occupied the site that Tailor’s bar now stands on in Cambray Place

28. When the new licensing laws were introduced, The Times, in an article, stated Cheltenham had more late licensed premises per capita, than anywhere else in the country.

29. Cricket Week at The College was introduced in 1878 and became the Festival in 1906. It is the oldest cricket festival in the world.

30. The Grammar School Buildings were built on the original High Street site in 1887-89. Designed for 300 pupils, they eventually held over 700. The cost was £11,000, including provision for science teaching.

31. Richard O’Brien (born Richard Timothy Smith) was born on March 25, 1942 in Cheltenham. He is a writer, actor, television presenter and theatre performer and is best known for writing the cult musical The Rocky Horror Show

32. The Thai Brasserie at the Rotunda was originally a pharmacy. The chemist moved to Rotunda Terrace and took with it the large brass pestle and mortar that stood above the original shop.

33. The town motto is Salubritas et Eruditio (“Health and Education”).

34. The Physics Department at Pate’s Grammar School was recognised as the best in the country in a survey published by The Observer in May 2006.

35. The area of Cheltenham is 46.61 sq. km.

36. Well Walk was created in 1739-40. Originally one of the paths that led out of town from St. Mary’s Church it became the way from Church Meadow to The Walk which led into Royal Well Crescent.

37. Zizzi’s restaurant in Suffolk Square was originally the Gothic revival church of St. James built between 1825 and 1830

38. Until recently it was thought that Cheltenham Town Football Club was founded in 1892. However, recent evidence points to the origins being five years earlier when Mr. Albert Close White returned to his native Cheltenham from college in London to take up a teaching post.

39. The Cheltenham Flyer was the first train in the world to be scheduled to run at 70mph. The feat was achieved in September 1932.

40. There is a town called Cheltenham in Pennsylvania, U.S.A

41. The deciding game of the first international rugby league tour by New Zealand took place at the old rugby ground in Albion Street known as the Athletic Ground, in 1908.

42. A building used to stand on the space between the bandstand and attached to the Proscenium or Garden Gallery in Montpellier Gardens. In the 1950s it was a café and then around 1960, became a table tennis club. One of its members was Ian Harrison, England’s No.1 table tennis player at the time.

43. Trinity Church is one of the largest Anglican churches outside London. It originally came into being in 1824 as an overflow from the Parish Church in the town centre. The first minister was Francis Close.

44. Brian Jones (28 February 1942 – 3 July 1969) founding member The Rolling Stones was christened Lewis Brian Hopkin Jones and attended Cheltenham Grammar School when it was situated in the High Street. He is buried in Cheltenham Cemetery.

45. The headmaster of Pate’s Grammar School, Shaun Fenton, also has links with popular music. His father is the singer and actor Alvin Stardust, formerly known as Shane Fenton.

46. Approximately 25,000 bedding plants are used to produce the magnificent floral displays enjoyed by thousands of visitors each year in Imperial Gardens.

47. Michael Edwards was born in Cheltenham on 5 December 1963 is better known as Eddie ‘the Eagle’ Edwards. He was the first competitor to ever represent Britain in Olympic ski jumping.

48. The X Factor host Kate Thornton was born in Cheltenham on 7th February 1973

49. The bandstand in Montpellier Gardens was erected in 1864 and is currently the oldest one still in use in Britain having been restored in 1993.

50. Christchurch in Malvern Road was consecrated in 1840. Pearson Thompson gave the land on which it is built. He was an enterprising landowner for whom the Montpellier Rotunda Spa (now Lloyds Bank) was built. The church foundation stone was laid in 1837 by Francis Close

51. In 1952 Geoffrey Heawood resigned as Headmaster of the Grammar School over the loss of the playing fields, needed for the construction of Princess Elizabeth Way and housing for staff at GCHQ. He was succeeded by Dr A.E. Bell

52. The Cheltenham Gold Cup is a Grade 1 National Hunt horse race for five-year-old and above. Horses run over a distance of 3 miles 2½ furlongs (5,331 metres). There are twenty-two fences to be jumped in the race.

53. GCHQ continued the work of Bletchley Park in Buckinghamshire which was set up during the WW2 to break the German Enigma code.

54. The Gold Cup was first run in 1924, and is the most prestigious chase in the United Kingdom.

55. The architects of Christchurch in Malvern Road were R.W. and C. Jearrad, who were also architects for the Queens Hotel.

56. The Neptune Fountain in the Promenade, which is based on the Trevi Fountain in Rome, was built in 1893. It takes its water from the River Chelt which flows beneath it.

57. Montpellier Gardens were originally developed as the pleasure grounds for one of Cheltenham’s spas - the Montpellier Spa whose Rotunda building still stands on the opposite side of the road.

58. The Assembly Rooms, which stood in the High Street near the junction with Rodney Road, were opened in 1816 by the Duke of Wellington. Famous performers to appear there included Paganini and Johann Strauss.

59. H.H. Martyn & Co. from their factory near Lansdown Station created monumental sculptures in metal, stone, wood and plaster. Among their most prestigious commissions were the pulpit of St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Cenotaph in Whitehall.

60. The Imperial Gardens were originally planted out for the exclusive use of subscribers to the Sherborne Spa, which was constructed in 1818 on the site where the Queen’s Hotel now stands.

61. Pittville was owned and financed by Joseph Pitt, a wealthy politician, lawyer and banker.

62. The Blue Moon club above Burton’s in the High Street was an important live music venue in the 1960s. Among others, Jimi Hendrix and The Who played there.

63. There used to be a small meteorological station in Montpellier Gardens surrounded by iron railings. On 3 August 1990 it recorded the highest temperature ever registered to date in the UK – a scorching 37.1 C

64. The room under the bandstand in Montpellier Gardens was used to store archery targets used by the Cheltenham Archers between 1857 and 1934.

65. In 1226 King Henry III gave Cheltenham the right to hold a weekly market each Thursday and a three-day fair each July.

66. Captain Henry Skillicorne (1678-1763) is generally considered to be the founding father of modern Cheltenham for developing the spa in what is now Royal Well. There is a private garden bearing his name hidden behind the Town Hall.

67. During the Second World War the Pittville Pump Room was used as a supply depot by the American Forces. The neglect and the damage caused during this period almost led to its demolition.

68. When King George III and his family arrived for a five-week visit to Cheltenham on 12th July 1788 the town became the focus of the fashionable world.

69. Cheltenham was at its most fashionable between 1788 and the 1820s when it was visited by Jane Austen, Lord Byron and the Duke of Wellington.

70. In 1801 the first national census showed the population of Cheltenham to be 3,076. By 1831 it was 22,942

71. The town’s police headquarters used to be in what is now John Dower House in Crescent Place.

72. The Gloster Aircraft Company was originally created in Cheltenham in 1917 as an offshoot of H.H. Martyn & Co., one of the town’s most important companies.

73. The filling station at Westall Green, at the junction of Lansdown Road and Andover Road, was designed by Clough Williams-Ellis who also created the village of Portmeirion used for cult 60s TV series The Prisoner.

74. Frank Whittle assembled the world’s first jet engine in a garage in Regent Street in 1940-1. The site is now part of the Regent Arcade

75. The Playhouse Theatre in Bath Road is a converted Victorian baths. The site was also a medicinal salts factory, the chimney of which was only demolished in 1984. The main pool still exists under the auditorium.

76. The ONS code for Cheltenham is 23UB

77. Tesco’s store at the junction of Gloucester Road and Tewkesbury Road stands on the site of the old gasworks. The red-brick buildings with the clock tower, were the former offices.

78. The Waterstone’s bookstore (formerly Ottakars) opposite Cavendish House is in what used to be the town’s Post Office until it closed in 1987. The building was originally the Imperial Hotel. In 1856 it became a gentleman’s club and was finally taken over by the Post Office in 1874.

79. Dowty House in St. Margaret’s Road, just opposite the entrance to The Brewery was opened in 1867 as a Boys’ Orphan Asylum. It continued as an orphanage until 1956. Next to it used to stand the Black & White coach station. It is currently a retirement home.

80. The bandstand which stood in Imperial Gardens was sold to Bognor Regis in 1948 where it still stands today. The Holst fountain now stands on the site.

81. Cheltenham was one of the first English towns to have council run electricity. The main sub-station, an exotic building based on the Palazzo Strozzi in Florence, stands on the corner of St. George’s Place and Manchester Street. The Grade 2 listed building was opened in 1894 and was recently converted to the Strozzi Palace hotel.

82. Brian Jones’ meeting with Alexis Korner after a Chris Barber Jazz Band concert at the Town Hall in 1961 led to him moving to London and getting involved with the blues scene there. The rest, as they say, is history.

83. The founder of the Cheltenham Film Studios, David Bill, was the creator of the For Mash Get Smash TV adverts in the 60s & 70s

84. Thomas Newton, the builder of the Queens Hotel, was lost at sea in 1849 when on his way to South Africa. His memorial plaque is at the west end of the St. Mary’s church.

85. The motto of Cheltenham College is Labor Omnia Vincit (Work Conquers All)

86. The Revolution bar in Clarence Parade was originally the Salem Baptist Chapel. It was said to have the tallest chapel doors in England when it open in 1844.

87. The Cheltenham Gold Cup was first run in 1924, and is the most prestigious chase in the United Kingdom. The most successful horse in Gold Cup history was Golden Miller, who won five times from 1932. Three other horses have won the race three times consecutively - Cottage Rake in 1948-1950, Arkle in 1964-1966 and Best Mate in 2002-2004.

88. Sir Frederick Handley Page was born at 3 Kings Road in 1909. His company was the UK’s first publicly traded aircraft manufacturing company created Imperial Airlines which later became BOAC and finally, BA.

89. The first two of the famous Montpellier caryatids were created by London sculptor Charles Rossi. The remaining 29 were made in Cheltenham by local craftsman W.G. Brown. The final one was cast in concrete in 1970 as part of the new extension for the building that is now Ask restaurant.

90. Montpellier Arcade is one of the hidden gems of Cheltenham and it’s among the best preserved early 19th century arcades in the country. It was built in 1831 for the sale of luxury goods to visitors to the town’s spas. Inside there were originally 16 small shops. Today, the arcade is little changed but in need of a wash and brush-up.

91. John Wesley preached from the Cross in St. Mary’s churchyard in 1744 and again in 1768. The cross is now little more than a pillar.

92. Cheltenham is one of the few towns in the England to still have the unusual hexagonal Penfold letterboxes which were introduced in 1866. There are currently nine of them, including one in Bayshill Road and another at the junction of Queen’s Road and Lansdown Road.

93. The Queens Hotel was built in 1837/8 on the sight of the Imperial Spa at a cost of £40,000. The Cotswold Hunt met outside there every Boxing Day until the mid 60s and was considered to be an important part of Christmas.

94. The name plate of the famous Cheltenham Flyer train is preserved in the National Railway Museum in York.

95. Cheltenham first Member of Parliament was elected in 1832

96. The first performance at the Opera House Theatre (now the Everyman) took place on 1 October 1891 with an appearance by Lily Langtry and her company.

97. The first electric streetlights were switched on in Cheltenham on 6th February 1897. The 29 lamps replaced 75 of the old gas standards.

98. There is a theory that a Cheltenham resident, Colonel Claude Reignier Condor, was the notorious Jack the Ripper and that he was shielded by his friend Sir Charles Warren who was Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police at the time and an old boy of Cheltenham College.

99. A total of 1,266 men who had either been born or educated in Cheltenham died in the First World War.

100. Grosvenor Terrace, off the High Street, bears a plaque marking the site of The Theatre Royal which was visited by King George III on his visit to the town in 1788.

101. The shops Joules, Vinegar Hill and L.K.Bennet on the corner of The Promenade and Imperial Lane occupy a building that was originally a café known as The Cosy Café. It opened in 1906 and was famous for its roof terrace.