Brought to you by Cheltenham’s Business Improvement District (BID)
Hidden Cheltenham: The Podcast
A new podcast will appear on our website monthly throughout 2020, featuring fascinating and often unusual stories from Cheltenham’s illustrious and sometimes forgotten past; presented by Anthony Rowett.
Listen to Hidden Cheltenham here:
1. The Mayflower
Cheltenham’s first Chinese restaurant, Ah Chow, was opened by Soo Yow in 1958. The restaurant was initially located in half the current building. They served Chinese and English food and quickly built up a regular clientele. Soo Yow moved to Cheltenham with his family from Birkenhead in 1949. He also set up the first Chinese laundry which was in Winchcombe Street.
2. Hepworth Bronzes (above Wagamama)
This bronze relief, Themes and Variations, by leading 20th century sculptor Barbara Hepworth (1903-1975) complements the curved nature of the building designed by architects Healing and Overbury for the Cheltenham & Gloucester Building Society HQ. Hepworth was contacted at the height of her career in the 1960s so it was pretty amazing that she agreed.
3. St Mary's Church Yard
Hidden away in the path are two brass markers, art historian Pevsner noted three in his Gloucestershire Guide so the third might have been tarmacked over. It seems that they were most likely to have been used for measuring rope rather than fabric. Rope was made in Cheltenham and amongst the principle trades recorded in 1608. Henry III granted a weekly Thursday market in Cheltenham in 1226.
4. Centre Stone (F Hinds)
The centre stone marks the official centre of Cheltenham. Travelling distances were measured from this point. Later fares for cabs and taxis were calculated from here. The words were on an earlier 19th archway to the market. When this was demolished they were transferred to the nearest house, now the jeweller’s F Hinds.
5. The Brewery Quarter
Cheltenham’s first proper brewery was founded in 1760 by local maltster and baker, Thomas Gardner on this site. Gardner’s Brewery flourished and expanded and in 1888 was registered as Cheltenham Original Brewery Ltd. However, people had been brewing their own ale and malt since medieval times because it was safer to drink than disease-borne water. In 1963 Whitbread took over the business operating on the site until 1998.
6. Brian Jones (formerly The Odeon)
Brian Jones was born 28th February 1942 in the Park Nursing Home in Cheltenham. He attended Dean Close Preparatory School (1947-53) and Pates Grammar School in Cheltenham (1953-57) before leaving for London to find fame in The Rolling Stones. He came back with them to play at the Gaumont Cinema, later the Odeon Cinema, on this site in 1964 and 1965.
7. George Jacob Holyoake (Marks & Spencer)
On this site in 1842, George Jacob Holyoake became the last man to be arrested for blasphemy in England. Holyoake was a famous social reformer and radical thinker who promoted secularism and also fought for women’s rights. Holyoake coined the word “secularist” to describe himself and his followers. To Holyoake the term was more positive than atheism.
8. Gloster Aircraft (Regent Arcade)
Britain’s first successful jet aircraft ‘Pioneer’ was assembled on this site in 1941. The aircraft was designed and built by the Gloster Aircraft Company at Hucclecote, but after a bombing raid on the factory, work was dispersed to Regent Motors for completion. Regent Motors’ large premises were demolished when the Regent Arcade was built. The aircraft now hangs in the Science Museum in London.
9. Sarah Burney (Pizza Express)
Little known English novelist, Sarah Harriet Burney, moved to this former boarding house in 1841. Her career as a writer, although successful, was overshadowed by her more famous elder sister, the novelist and diarist Frances Burney (Madame d’Arblay). At the age of 66, Sarah Burney wrote a mystery novel entitled ‘The Renunciation’ which begins with a dramatic description of a kidnapping outside a Cheltenham theatre.
10. The Bandstand (Montpellier Gardens)
The first successful parachute descent by an Englishman, John Hampton, was made on this site in 1838. Hampton jumped from his hot air balloon at a height of 6000 feet in a descent lasting 12 minutes 40 seconds. He went on to make a further seven parachute descents before his retirement in 1852.
11. J N Maskelyne (Spa Pharmacy)
This shop was once the home of J N Maskelyne, world famous magician, inventor and watchmaker. Maskelyne’s professional career as an illusionist began by exposing fraudulent spiritualists and as an inventor he is known for inventing the coin-operated toilet, from which we get the British phrase, ‘to spend a penny’. Maskelyne’s two sons and four of his grandchildren followed in his footsteps, becoming magicians too.
12. The Observatory (Cheltenham Ladies' College)
Although astronomy had been taught at Cheltenham Ladies’ College since the 1850s, the Observatory that stands on top of Princess Hall was not erected until 1897. The landmark revolving dome is constructed of steel covered with papier mache and canvas painted sea green. During the Second World War the dome was used as an observation post.