Georgian, Victorian, and Edwardian, Cheltenham

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Portland Apartments: a grand Cheltenham residence converted into luxury accomodation

Although I’ve been to any number of events in the Cheltenham area over the years, I can’t remember when I last explored the town itself. The opportunity to rectify that omission presented itself at the beginning of August 2017, when I arrived a full day before I was due to be marshalling and spectating at Prescott Speed Hill Climb. I didn’t have a lot of time to research the tourist opportunities beforehand, although I was staying with an experienced tour guide, but I decided my best option was to take a bus into the town centre and see what struck me as particularly interesting.

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The Holst Birthplace Museum

Cheltenham has a comprehensively stocked Tourist Information Centre, along with a sizable quantity of pedestrian signs. From these I was able to find my way (via a number of highly photogenic buildings) to 4 Clarence Road (formerly 4 Pittville Terrace), the birthplace of the composer Gustav Holst. Having become familiar with Holst’s best-known orchestral suite, The Planets, while at school, I was keen to find out at last about the man himself, and also to look around yet another recreation of a Victorian family home: always an inspiring experience for me, especially since, by Victorian times, and in spite of their German-sounding names, the Holst family were very much a typical middle-class English family.

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Gustav Holst’s Gramophone

From the outside, the former Holst family home doesn’t look particularly impressive, particularly when compared with some of Cheltenham’s older, and larger, residences. The inside and its contents, however, are fascinating. Gustav Holst was a member of a family of musicians, composers and artists: his great-uncle Theodor von Holst was a great influence on the pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, his father was a well-known music teacher and performer, and his younger brother became the Hollywood actor, Ernest Cossart; further back, Holst’s great-grandfather had moved from Latvia to London at the beginning of the 19th Century, while his son – Gustav Holst’s grandfather – had moved to Cheltenham in the 1830s as it was gaining its reputation as a spa town. Evidently the Holst family were good at spotting and following new trends, as can also be seen by the presence of Gustav’s 1926 gramophone (newly acquired by the museum) on prominent display in the music room, which also contains his piano (recordings of both can be played back by visitors).

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The Kitchen at 4 Clarence Road

The rooms in the Museum alternate between recreations of their Victorian and Regency appearances, and purely educational areas. I particularly enjoyed investigating the Victorian ‘service rooms’: kitchen, larder, scullery, and so on, while the rooms on the upper floors – the Regency Sitting Room, and Victorian Bedrooms and Nursery – are well worth lingering over. Although the music that Gustav Holst became famous for was written in the Edwardian and post-War periods, the museum remains true to its roots, as well as telling the full story of its most prominent inhabitant’s life.

Gates leading into Pittville

Keen to see more of the Cheltenham that sprang up in Regency times, however, I took the advice of the Museum volunteer who was on duty and crossed Clarence Road, into Pittville, a development of grand early 19th Century houses leading to Pittville Park and Spa. The area is now a suburb of Cheltenham, but its developer envisioned that it would become a spa town in its own right, to rival its older close-neighbour.

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A typical Pittville House

The houses are all beautiful in their own individual ways, in spite of many being too obscured by trees to photograph easily in their entirety; the presence of so many cars in front of them barely dissuaded me from envisioning how they would have looked in their heyday. Many have been converted into flats or offices, but some are still single private residences.

The park, meanwhile, is a vast area of green, with an impressive lake, play-areas for younger visitors, and the dominant Pump Room (closed for a private function when I visited) overlooking the whole from its location at the top of the slope at the far end. I definitely plan to revisit Cheltenham at some point in the not too distant future, and discover its other attractions, of which I am sure there are many.

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The lake in Pittville Park
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Pittville Pump Room and Bandstand


  1. Hi Stevie,
    It’s amazing what’s under our noses that we never seem to see; Cheltenham is one of those wonderful places and reading your blog now makes me want to go explore it. Your photos are great by the way.
    I know this isn’t quite the same but…while I was in Birmingham a week ago waiting for my car to be serviced, I came across The Coffin Museum! Before closing over a decade ago, it used to make all the coffin furniture (handles, interiors (!), plaques etc) and adorned the coffins of Winston Churchill, Princess Diana, Neville Chamberlain. Who knew they were down a back street in Birmingham!! It was a great tour of days gone by.

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  2. It’s amazing what you find when you decide to take a proper look at a place. My partner and I were recently traveling in England (actually, Rep. of Ireland, Wales, England, Scotland and N. Irealand). We embarked on a road trip from where we live, Co. Mayo, in the west of Ireland, to Norfolk, then on to Hebden Bridge to see friends and home via Scotland and Belfast.
    Anyway, we avoided the motorways and took the back roads. It was wonderful. I lived in London for fifteen years and did some traveling in England before but this was a revelation. We crossed the Peak District, drove through the Broads, through the Yorkshire Dales and into the Lake District and that was before we got to Scotland.
    There were lots of highlights but one that I will never forget was buying a bakewell tart in, yes, you’ve guessed it, Bakewell. Then we went on to treat ourselves to a pork pie in Melton Mowbray. Apart from gastronomic delights, it was wonderful to see towns like Knutsford, which I had previously only known as a motorway services point. The town itself has a strong connection to the writer Elizabeth Gaskell and was quite olde worlde and quaint.
    I came home with a new curiosity about other places that I previously thought of as points to be passed on the map. I suppose, when you think of it, everywhere has a history of place and people and that makes things interesting.
    Your pictures of Cheltenham are lovely and a good reminder that the town is not just about horse racing!

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