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Cheltenham History 5

The 20th century town

Cheltenham’s economic stagnation, which was apparent by 1900, continued. Between 1901 and 1921 the population fell and by the end of the First World War, so many of its large town houses were unoccupied and up for sale that Cheltenham was dubbed ‘the town to let’. The Corporation attempted to revive the spas but had only limited success, and by 1949, the word ‘Spa’ had been officially dropped from the town’s name.

The beginnings of renewed prosperity may be detected during the first World War when the local firm of wood, stone, plaster and metal workers, H H Martyn & Co, began producing aircraft components and established the Gloucestershire (later Gloster) Aircraft Company as a subsidiary. In 1931, an engineer, George Dowty set up his own business to manufacture 6 internally sprung wheels for a Japanese firm, and by 1939 his new company employed 3000 people in the production of aircraft components. A number of similar companies in Cheltenham opened during the 1930s and 1940s, including Rotol Propellers, the aircraft division of Smith’s Industries, and the Spirax Manufacturing Company. By the 1940s the town’s economy had diversified still further to include pharmaceutical products and foodstuffs.

Since the 1930s Cheltenham has continued to prosper and its population has doubled since 1921. in addition to light industry, many offices have been relocated to the town including the Government Communications Headquarters, The Universities Central Admissions Service, Rural England and the head offices of several building societies and insurance companies.

Tourism has played an increasingly important part in the town’s life, its cultural facilities and festivals of arts, racing and cricket all attracting many visitors to the town, as does its long standing reputation of the ‘Garden Town of England’. Much has also been done to restore and conserve its Regency and Victorian buildings, which are undoubtedly the greatest legacy of its historic past.

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