Cheltenham contrasts greatly with more modern
retail and industrial areas of the town. Quite close to Cheltenham
Ladies College (which was established in the mid-19th century for the
daughters of Cheltenham’s gentlemen), we find the clutch of
bars, boutiques, antique shops and upmarket coffee shops of the
The name is
cut deep into the stonework above the
arched window and entry (shown below). Across this court stand the
first of the 'armless classical ladies', as the local tourist guide
refers to the almost life-size caryatids (supporting pillars in the
shapes of the human form).
Walk properties are separated by
these caryatids. The figures are based on the classical models on the
Erechtheion in Athens. There are 32 of them and they are not all the
same. Only two of them are dated from 1840, made by the original London
sculptor Rossi from terracota. The remainder were created by a local
man from Tivoli Street. Two of them, located on the extension of the
bank, were added in the 1970s. Montpellier Walk was designed by W. H.
Knight, the architect of the monumental Cheltenham Public Library.
In the 18th
and 19th centuries the name of French spa
town of Montpellier had been a byword for a pleasant healthy place
– and that name was chosen in 1809 by Henry Thompson for his
newly established spa. It was laid out in the early 18th century with
attractive villas and terraces surrounding spacious ornamental gardens,
now known as Montpellier Gardens. In the 1830s and 1840s specialist
shops were built and Montpellier developed as a classy shopping
area, the character of which it still retains today.
Montpellier has a
special place in history of Cheltenham. It is here that the first
Cheltenham spring was discovered in 1716. Thanks to magnificent villas
and terraces of Montpellier, Lansdown, Bayshill and Suffolks,
Cheltenham gained the reputation of being one of the most beautiful
towns in England.
carved into the stone wall at the end of the
Walk, the large and small capitals painted black against the honey
surround. This is close to the entry to the domed building which is the
original Cheltenham Spa: the Rotunda, today home to Lloyds TSB,
originally the building of the Montpellier Spa where the gentry took
the waters. The interior can be visited during the bank's opening hours
and it's definitely worth it (see the interior photograph below).
Henry Thompson constructed a wooden pavilion
with a colonnade and by 1817 he had to rebuild it in stone as
Montpellier Spa became more and more popular. He employed the architect
G. A. Underwood, who completed the building with a statue of crouching
lion on the parapet. It wasn’t until Thompson’s son
asked J. B. Papworth in 1826 to take over the project that the building
got its dome. Papworth, a London architect and in terms of national
reputation the most important architect to work in Cheltenham during
that time, was inspired by Rome’s Pantheon. Even the
are almost identical - 53ft high and 54ft across. The building became a
bank in 1882 when Worcester City and County Bank moved in although
balls and concerts still continued to take place in the venue which
would seat the audience of 400.
The Daffodil Cinema, 18-20
Although it doesn't appear to have integral lettering, The Daffodil is
certainly worth celebrating here. It began life as Cheltenham’s first purpose built picture palace (750 seat capacity), opening its doors
to the public on the 5th October 1922. On 7th
September 1963 The Daffodil screened its last public film due to
falling ticket sales and was in turn a bingo hall and antiques centre,
closing in 1989.
An extensive renovation started in1996 during
original features and fittings were restored and reinstated including
the original projectionist machinery (now displayed in the upper
circle) and a pair of red plush courting couple “kissing
seats” (at left of the interior shot above) which now occupy
pride of place
in the Terrazzo mosaic foyer. Today the
building is a civic award winning iconic Cheltenham landmark
as well as one of country’s finest surviving examples of original
Deco cinema design. We liked the small, glazed ticket booths to the far
left and right of the entrance, at least one of which is still used as
a manager's office.
A stroll down High Street, Cheltenham
Town centre: at Cobbler's Corner an art nouveau'ish canopy over
a shoe repair, engraving and key cutting business obscures the mirrored
sign above which curves all the way round the building. From the far
side, reading clockwise, it says:
Blender ... DICKINS ... Cigar Importer ... Highest Quality ... CIGARS
... DICKINS ... CIGAR IMPORTER'
The upper/lower case
phrases are in a bespoke, cursive script replete with flourishes. The
initial capital letters of the other words are very decorative.
A minute or so later, on the right...
other end of the social spectrum, so to speak,
we move to one of the more workaday shopping streets in Cheltenham
where you can find Wilkinsons and Peacocks. This enormous and well
looked-after piece of lettering hangs on an unusual shaped cartouche
which wraps wround the corner of the building at first floor level. F.
Hinds, jeweller, stands at the junction of Bennington Street and High
Street. The serpentine lettering is in san serif capitals with an
emphatic square full stop at the end. What does it all mean? We came
Rebsie Fairholm's excellent 'labour of love' website called Cheltonia
(see Links) and discovered that this spot has
considerable (now nearly
"During the first half of the 19th century, the northern end of what is
now Bennington Street was occupied by the town’s main market
place, moved away from its traditional site in the High Street to avoid
offending genteel visitors with stray scraps of smelly vegetables and
the noise of rough types plying their wares. The market was formed into
a tidy square – or rectangle – with stalls arranged
it in an orderly manner. The High Street end became the site of a
beautiful Regency shopping area called the Arcade, built in 1822. All
of this was paid for by Lord Sherborne, who was one of
Cheltenham’s main landowners at the time. In the entranceway
a stone known as the Centre Stone,
which was deemed to be the central
point in the town, from which distances could be measured and cab fares
calculated. James Hodsdon in his wondrous gazetteer suggests there may
have been an older market cross on the site previously."
Sadly, all that has gone now. There is much more information on
Cheltonia to take you down the byways of history and away from the
litter, Coke cans and dog-ends of the 21st century. Somebody determined
that this historic spot should be comemorated in such a striking way
and the current owners keep it in very spruce condition. Hats off.
Standing back from the street stands the attractive building:
Again, we're indebted to the Cheltonia website (see Links):
"Cheltenham Chapel, Jenner Walk. Well, at least dating this one
isn’t difficult. A more detailed history of the chapel can be
found in the article about Jenner Gardens [on the Cheltonia website],
but this V-cut hand-chiselled plaque remains one of the few of its kind
in Cheltenham, and one of the earliest. (In 1809 most of the town
hadn’t yet been built, and little existed beyond the High
Street.) The lettering is a fairly standard style for this period but
the bar on the letter A is strangely high up. The panel is a slightly
odd shape … perhaps it originally had some kind of border around
Over the road, a gnomic sign over a double shop-front which must
originally have extended to the left. But what does it mean?
mirror-backed lettering (compare with Dickins cigar emporium above) is
repeated in the central vertical panel (close-up to the right) and we
can make out its contents...
A little further down on the same side, above the
Aerials and Cable business is a high, weathered and little noticed
trade sign in carved characters in a plain stone inset:
The words 'Teas' at the
top and 'Marmalade' at the bottom curve round to bracket the rest of
the sign, some lettering is in a decorative font, some plainer. Was the
shop ownwer 'Mr Kingsale' (with his most emphatic full stop)? Why is
'And Retail' stuck on its own? Surely it should be 'Wholesale And
The 'Wilks Ironmonger' masonry detail at first floor
level, 343 High Street is specifically mentioned in the Cheltenham
Local Development Framework on this area: "Local details within the
Lower High Street character area collectively enhance the character and
appearance of not just Lower High Street but the whole of the Central
On the other side of the road is:
on the eastern wall of the Royal Oak (currently Irish
Oak): an old embossed lettered
Continue down under the disused railway bridge which used
to carry the line from Cheltenham Spa station to Cheltenham Racecourse
and on the coner of Gloucester Road and Tewkesbury Road is a striking
red brick building (with gothic clock-tower) bearing the words under
the dentitioned lintel below the first floor windows:
in an 'Arts & Crafts'-style typface.
Listed Buildings (see Links) tells us that:
works offices, now offices and walls adjoining. 1880 with later
alterations including conversions to offices c1995. Red brick with
terracotta tile and black brick bands, ashlar dressings to windows and
copings, slate roof with external end and ridge stacks with cornices
and decorative ridge tiles. Asymmetrical composition mostly in Gothic
Revival style. L-plan... First floor has continuous chamfered sill band
interrupted by 2 first-floor breakforwards but carrying across
breakforward to angle and with 'CHELTENHAM GAS COMPANY' to terracotta
decorative modillion band below."
Here's to the modillion band, eh?
Number 110 is Columbia House, now Constatinou's who have left the
illustrated tiling and decorative lettering above the shop front. This
was once the gamey:
'MORRIS. FISHMONGER & POULTERER.'
The Playhouse theatre at 47-53 Bath Road has a marvellous and eccentric
crest atop the building which many might not have noticed due to the
incredibly heavy traffic. The grotesgue mask, swags, 'peeled' crest
flourishes and nicely coloured elements on the town's crest and on a
flowing, curly banner at the base, the motto:
'SALUBRITAS ET ERUDITIO'
which means 'Health and Education'. Decoding the
elements on the crest, we find the pigeon at the very top is sitting on
a blue striped sphere and this represents the discovery of the fountain
of spa water by a pigeon that made Cheltenham famous (there are still
an awful lot of pigeons). This is sitting on top of a wreath of oak
leaves. The two open books, either side of the silver cross, on the
blue band represent education, particularly Pates Grammar School and
Cheltenham College. The silver cross shows religion. The two pigeons
represent the flock that gathered at the spa water spring. The Oak tree
at the bottom is there to represent the tree lined Promenade and
streets for which Cheltenham is also known.
Across the road at number 70 is a nice green tiled public house
frontage with the name 'BELL INN' clearly shown
in white serif'd characters three times below the windows.
St John's Schools
See also our pages on nearby Tewkesbury
, Winchcombe, Upton-On Severn and on Hay-On-Wye.