The Building Booms 1820 - 1840
During the 20 years between 1820 and 1840 the growth of Cheltenham was at its peak. The recorded population rose from 13,388 in 1821 to 36,617 in 1841 and the town’s stock of houses from 2411 to 7365. In common with other provincial towns, Cheltenham’s building industry experienced a cycle of booms and slumps, the years 1823-5 and 1832-8 being those of most activity, each being followed by more difficult times, in which poor demand and a shortage of capital resulted in a spate of bankruptcies and unfinished projects The boom of 1823-5 was perhaps the most intense. In November 1823 the Gloucester Journal claimed that “upwards of 4500 workmen are in daily employment upon houses and building now erecting there”, and in November 1825 the Cheltenham Journal described the whole situation in Cheltenham as a “brick and mortar mania”. In 1826 one writer stated that 1477 houses had been built since 1821 – an average of almost 300 per year.
Whereas before the 1820’s, building development had centred on the construction of single houses or at most, a terrace, these years saw the establishment of extensive building estates, the largest of which, Pittville (est.1824) was intended to comprise 600 houses. Other important new estates were the Suffolk estate (1823), the Lansdown estate (1824) The Park (1833), and Bayshill (1837) while many new houses were built along the ‘walks and rides’ of Montpellier and Imperial Spas including the great mansions of the Promenade.
Overspeculation was clearly rife during these decades. At Pittville, fewer than 20 houses had been completed by 1830 and even by 1860 they barely exceeded 200. The estates developer, a lawyer and banker named Joseph Pitt, died heavily in debt. Even so, what was achieved created a fine townscape of brick, stucco and ironwork, much of which still survives to make Cheltenham one of the most complete Regency towns in England.
Also during the 1820’s and 1830’s, Cheltenham developed into a major shopping centre. New shops were opened in the High Street, houses in the Promenade were converted into shops and a purpose built area of shops was built at Montpellier. Many of these were chemists and druggists or sold such luxury goods as china, glass, prints, and expensive clothing.
The Promenade, Cheltenham, about 1860. Lithograph.
Proposed houses at Pittville, 1827.
Plan of Pittville Estate, 1826.
Pittville walks and rides, 1838. Engraving.
Lansdown Place & Crescent by M D Eichbaum, 1840.
Joseph Pitt by Richard Dighton.
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