began as an Anglo-Saxon village over 1200 years ago. In 1226 it became
a market town, which was the basis of its economy until the 18th century,
when its medicinal waters were discovered in a field to the south of the
town where Cheltenham Ladies College now stands. These were regarded
as beneficial for a whole range of illnesses and by the late 18th century
the town was one of Englands leading spas.
In 1788 King
George III spent five weeks at Cheltenham, drinking the waters for his
healths sake. His visit set the seal on the towns
popularity and during the following years the number of visitors and residents
increased dramatically. Between 1700 and 1800 its population rose from
1500 to over 3000 and by 1850 it was the largest town in Gloucestershire,
with a population of more than 35,000. Among famous visitors were members
of the English and Continental Royal families, including Princess (later
Queen) Victoria, the Duke of Wellington, and the novelists Jane Austen
and Lord Byron.
to the town would drink the waters at either the original spa or one of
the rival spas that were established in the early 19 century, such as
Montpellier and Pittville. Several of the spas had tree-lined walks, rides
and gardens in which the visitors could promenade, often with
a band of musicians in attendance. Regular public breakfasts, gala fetes,
firework displays and other entertainments were held at the larger spas.
Visitors could also attend balls, assemblies and concerts at the Assembly
Rooms, plays at the Theatre Royal and horse races at the racecourse. They
could also shop for souvenirs along the High Street and, from the 1820s,
in the fashionable new shopping areas of Montpellier and the Promenade.
heyday as a spa lasted from about 1790 to 1840 and these years saw the
building of the towns many fine Regency terraces, crescents and
villas. By 1840 it had also become a popular residential town, particularly
for military families, many of whom had served in the Empire. It also
gained a reputation for the quality of preaching in its many churches
and chapels and for its schools and colleges, which encouraged still more
families to settle in the town.
centre for learning
of the schools was the Cheltenham Proprietary College for Boys, opened
in 1841; the Ladies College opened 13 years later. During the late
nineteenth century, the town developed some craft industries, in particular
a number of firms producing high-quality work in wood, metal, stone and
plaster. During the First World War, one of those firms, H H Martyn &
Co. began to manufacture aircraft components and later established the
Gloster Aircraft Company, thereby beginning a long-standing connection
between the town and aeronautical engineering.
century town has grown rapidly, becoming a centre for business and administration.
Accessibility to the A40 trunk road and the nearby M5; with main railway
and airport connections has attracted major players to set up headquarters
buildings in the town including Chelsea Building Society, Dowty Aerospace,
Smiths aerospace, Eagle Star, and the Universities and Colleges Admissions
Service (UCAS). This was boosted by the decision of Government Communications
Headquarters (GCHQ) to build its replacement headquarters or so called
'doughnut' (shown above) within the borough.
It also remained
a tourist resort throughout the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
Since the Second World War, it has built on its existing attractions with
its Festivals of Music and Literature, and National Hunt Racing festivals,
employing some of the 6,000 people who work in the tourist industry. It
offers a centre for tourists and foreign visitors with its high quality
accommodation and speciality shopping. It remains a centre of educational
excellence and continues in that tradition through a number of recently
established language schools.
does face some challenges however. Whilst the majority of property values
in the town continue to rise, one of the towns wards is ranked within
the top 20 per cent of most deprived areas in the country. This creates
conflicts in trying to attract tourists, businesses and residents to a
town perceived as a prosperous place to work or live, when that town is
also trying to attract grant funding and regeneration partners.
courtesy of Cheltenham Borough
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