Cheltenham in the 19th Century

It is easy to forget how towns have been transformed in the last two hundred years. The following is taken from Volume 1 of Gloucestershire Notes and Queries, published in 1881. This book had in turn extracted the information from yet earlier documents.

The notes below are taken from this volume, and the spelling and grammar are as the original.

Cheltenham in 1800.

A few extracts from the Cheltenham Directory, 1800 (which comprehends a list of the principal Inhabitants, Tradesmen, and Lodging Houses, etc.), must prove acceptable. It was printed by J. Shenton, at the Mercury Press, and sold by W. Buckle, at his Circulating Library, No.167, opposite the George Inn; and from it the following particulars have been taken :-

Description of Cheltenham

This town has been greatly enlarged and improved within these few years by the addition of many elegant and commodious new buildings erected in the principal street, and its environs, which from the increase of company resorting thither for the benefit of its excellent waters, are generally let during the season, and some by the year.

From the first of June to the first of October is the full season; in the spring and autumn the lodgings are let at half-price. [Tempora mutantur, nos et mutamur in illis.]

There is no particular manufactory in the place, and but little trade in the winter; the chief dependence of the inhabitants is on their lodgings, and the business that is done by the nobility and gentry that resort here. Exclusive of the residents whose names are inserted in this directory, there are several tradesmen from London, Bath &c., that open shops during the season.

The church stands in the middle of the town, in the form of a cross, [and] has a tower, with a set of eight musical bells, a lofty steeple, and a gilt weather-cock on the top; there is an eight-day clock in the tower, and a large handsome dial-plate on the south side, by which you may see on the Well-walk the time of the day.

Formerly the water ran thro' the middle of the street ; but it is now paved on each side, and lighted according to act of parliament passed a few years since.

The market-day is on Thursday; indeed the country people bring flesh, fish, poultry, &c., every day during the season, so that the town is well supplied.

There are five fairs held annually, for cattle and horses, viz., the second Thursday in April, Holy Thursday, August 5 (noted for lambs), the second Thursday in September (for cheese, etc.), and the third Thursday in December, besides two statute fairs for hiring servants, on the Thursday before Old Michaelmas-day, and the Thursday after.

There are two very spacious ball rooms, called the Upper and Lower Rooms, kept by Mr. Rooke, and open every evening during the season alternately. Ball nights - Mondays and Fridays: Cards - Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.

The Theatre is very neat and commodious, having two rows of boxes all round, [and] holds between 40 and 50. Mr. Watson, the proprietor, has in general a very good company, which thro' the winter performs at his other theatres, in Worcester, Hereford, Glocester, Stourbridge, Coventry, Leicester, Cirencester, &c., every second year. Some of the first performers at London and Bath are occasionally engaged at the Cheltenham theatre. Mrs. Siddons, Mrs. Jordan, Mrs. Martyr, Miss Wallis, Mrs. Mills, Miss Chapman, Messrs. Quick, Bannister, Holman, Murray, Russell, Corey, &c., have repeatedly appeared here; and the musical talents of Kelly and Crouch are in the highest estimation, and most liberally rewarded every season by the visitors. Days of playing-Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.

The alms-houses are endowed for three poor men and three women, besides several other charities belonging to the town.

Sunday schools were established here in 1787, by a voluntary subscription of the inhabitants of the town and its environs, and in the season a sermon is annually preached for the benefit of the children.

The first troop of Gloucestershire Yeomanry Cavalry was embodied here in the year 1795, P. Snell, Esq., Major Commandant; and a company of Volunteer Infantry in 1798, W. Hicks, Esq., Captain.

Cheltenham Well.

The Well is about a quarter of a mile from the town, to which is a pleasant footway, and a good coach-road. The footway thro' the churchyard is a pleasant neat walk, between two rows of trees formed into an alcove, from thence thro' a serpentine path, to a pleasant field, called Church Meadow, at the end of which a small draw-bridge leads to the Well, by a noble promenade, between two rows of tall elm trees.

Left hand,
55 trees.
On this side
Mr. Briggs,
Dealer in Wines

Gravel walk
the Well

Right hand,
56 trees

between 60 and 70 feet high, and have been planted as many years, (when the walk was first made) at the top of a square court in which the pump appears under a dome, with a sun-dial on top, through an airy and neat archway with two posterns, supported by pillars, on each an egg-urn, at the top of which is a pigeon, as report says, the first discoverers of this salubrious water, in the beginning of the last century.

On the left hand side of the pump is a handsome long room for the company to walk in, on the right hand is an orchestra for music, in which a band plays during the season, from eight to ten in the morning; at the end of the posterns are Mrs. Forty's apartments, who has been a pumper near thirty years.

There are two very neat gravel walks above the Spa with trees on each side; at the top of these walks is Grove Cottage, the residence of S. H. Myers, Esq.

The coach-road is down St. George's Place, and over an arch brick bridge, thro' a pleasant orchard, on the left hand leads to the Well and Grove Cottage; on the right hand is the road to Bay's Hill Lodge, the seat of the Earl of Fauconberg, which in the year 1788 was honored by the residence of their Majesties, the Princess Royal, Princess Augusta, and Princess Elizabeth, from July 12 to August 16; during which period his Royal Highness the Duke of York paid a visit to their Majesties.

In a field on this side the Earl's Lodge is the Royal Spa, a well sunk by his Majestie's order, from which the salts are made; and in time of scarcity of water at the mother well, the company resort to this, so that there is now no want of water.

Rides about Cheltenham

Up Winchcomb Street, to Prestbury, at which place is the Grotto, for company to drink tea &c., kept by Mr. Rooke; from thence to Southam, Cleve, Winchcomb, Sudley Castle, &c.

The turnpike gate at the top of the town (being the London Road) leads to Charlton Kings, Dowdswell, Frog-mill, &c.

Turning on the right hand from the said gate, is the road to Birdlip, where Mr. Richard Dancer, at the Black Horse, has erected in his garden a neat summer-house, for the reception of the company to drink tea; and if they choose, to dine, by sending their own provisions, may have them dressed at any hour ordered; Birdlip is on the road to Painswick, Stroud, Bath, &c.

Thro' the turnpike gate at the bottom of the town is the road to Gloucester, Tewkesbury, Worcester, &c. - Antiquarius

Cheltenham in 1820

Messrs. Gell and Bradshaw, in 1820, issued a Gloucestershire Directory - "an accurate and scarce publication;" and this is their description of Cheltenham as it was sixty years ago: Cheltenham has now arrived at that degree of pre-eminence that its name is become as familiar in the British East and West Indies as in London. This celebrity has arisen partly from the salubrity of its climate, but chiefly from the reputation of its springs. It is situated in 51 deg. 51 min., north latitude, and 2 deg. 5 min. west longitude; and has been usually described as being in the Vale of Evesham; but as there is no natural division between this valley and that part of Gloucestershire denominated The Vale, the whole district might with greater propriety be included in the more comprehensive appellation, The Vale of Severn. The Cotswold Hills, rising almost immediately behind the town, kindly protect it from the chilling blast of the north and east, while their elevated summits give spirit to the surrounding scenery, and produce a charming variety in the pleasant rides with which this neighbourhood abounds. The town is situated 94 1/2 miles by the Uxbridge-road W.N.W. of London, and is 9 1/2 miles distant from Gloucester, 16 from Cirencester, 40 from Oxford, 9 from Tewkesbury, 40 from Hereford 35 from Monmouth, 22 from Malvern, 25 from Worcester, 44 1/2 from Bristol, and 44 1/2 from Bath.

The parish is ten miles in circumference, and consists of five hamlets beside the town, viz., Alstone, Westall, Naunton, Arle, and Sandford, where lodgings have been fitted up for the reception of the superfluous company resorting to the Spa. The town is principally built of brick, and the High-street, which runs from east to west, is more than a mile in length, everywhere light and airy, and of considerable width; it possesses a spacious pavement, and usually forms the grand promenade, its situation affording to pedestrians, for the most of the day, a barrier against the scorching rays of the sun. Numerous streets and villas, on each hand, develop scenery that can scarcely be matched in any place in the kingdom. The houses are generally well built, and exhibit verandahs and areas resembling those of the metropolis. Occasionally, however, a few old dwellings obtrude themselves to the eye, to remind us of its former simplicity; but these are rapidly disappearing, and in a short period the few humble cottages that still disfigure the western extremity of the row must give place to more spacious and elegant structures. The shops are handsome and sufficiently attended to justify the most extravagant taste. The houses are numbered, the lodgings comfortable and commodious, and the proprietors civil and attentive. The street are brilliantly lighted with gas. The immediate vicinity of the town being level, is considered peculiarly advantageous to invalids; yet in the northern, eastern, and southern directions the country is charmingly variegated by gradual acclivities and gentle descents, and rising on a rib of the Cotswolds, it is nearly 200 feet above Gloucester, and 143 more elevated than Tewkesbury.

Persons coming to Cheltenham with no immediate view to the benefit of the waters, constantly find an increase of appetite; which may in a great measure be ascribed to the purity and salubrity of the air, and to exercise and disengagement from cares which new scenes and situations generally induce. Indeed, Gloucestershire is famous for the healthiness and longevity of its inhabitants; as an instance of which in the reign of James I, eight old men, all belonging to one manor in this county, whose ages added together made as many centuries, performed a morris-dance.

In the year 1780 the whole number of lodging houses at Cheltenham did not amount to more than thirty. The increase of the town since the year 1788, when his majesty visited it, is truly astonishing. The number of visitors has ever since been gradually increasing, and the place of course proportionably enlarging, till it has attained a magnitude and respectability far beyond the limits of the most sanguine anticipation. On the whole it is impossible for strangers to take a more delightful excursion (either for health or pleasure) than a trip to Cheltenham affords, for there is a sociability of disposition and freedom of intercourse among the visitors which are seldom witnessed in other places of public resort.

Cheltenham in 1800 and1837

The editor of the Cheltenham Annuaire, 1838, thus contrasts Cheltenham in 1837 with what it had been in 1800 :- "In the year here referred to, the celebrated Dr. Jenner appears to have been the only resident physician practising in the town. There were five surgeons, one chemist and druggist, and five attorneys. The contrast of 1837 gives us seventeen physicians, twenty-seven surgeons, twenty chemists and druggists, and thirty attorneys."


1. A facsimile of this scarce little book, "the first Directory published in Cheltenham", was issued by Mr. Horace Edwards in 1872, "as showing the progress and increase of the town", and is a curiousity in its way. The first Cheltenham Guide had been published in London, in 1781.

2. Commissioners were empowered, in 1786, to erect "120 oil lamps" for lighting the town. In 1818 gas was introduced in the High Street.

3. In the parish church of Cheltenham there is this inscription:- "In a grave beneath the Yew -tree in this churchyard are deposited the remains of Hanah Forty (widow of Willm. Forty, of this town, Gardener). She died on the 9th day of Augst., 1816. Was born at Malden, in Essex, on the 24th day of Novr., 1744. Her maiden name was Knight. She became pumper at the Old Well in this town on the 12th day of Sepr. 1772, and continued in that situation until the 1st day of Jany., 1816, discharging for more than forty three years the duties of her office with credit to herself, and to the satisfaction of the numerous visitors, who during that long period resorted to the Original Spring. A few of those to whom for several seasons she had dispensed the blessings of health, have felt a satisfaction in erecting this memorial to her long and meritorious service." - Monumental Inscriptions in the Parish Church of Cheltenham., p6.