Saturday 31 July 2010

The Regency Town of Cheltenham in Gloucestershire

By: Blue Badge Tour Guide - Anne Bartlett

The Promenade, Cheltenham
Cheltenham is considered one of the most complete Regency towns in England.
The Regency period is part of the late Georgian times. It was when King George III became insane in 1811, but lived until 1820. So his eldest son George became the Prince Regent, and ruled for nine years in the King's stead. Then when his father died George became King George IV and reigned in his own right from 1820-1830. Because of the Prince Regent’s huge influence on fashion, this is known as The Regency Period. Regency architecture was classical in nature. It used the traditional style of building of ancient Greece and Rome. And the typical Regency upper or middle-class houses were built in brick and covered in stucco or painted plaster with fluted Greek columns or pilasters, and carefully moulded cornices with beautiful decorative ironwork. So the building style is best described as "refined elegance".

How did Cheltenham develop from an insignificant medieval village to what you see today? Well surprisingly it’s thanks to a flock of pigeons and a very poorly king George III.

Back in 1716 a farmer called William Mason had bought a field in Bayshill (which is where the Ladies College now stands) and had the intention of farming it, but he noticed that pigeons were continually pecking near a trickle of mineral water running at the edge of the field. Spa towns such as Bath and Tunbridge Wells were becoming increasingly popular as health resorts for the wealthy. With this in mind, Mason developed the spring, fenced it, and built a thatched hut over it. He sold glasses of the mineral water to the public and his business venture was moderately successful.

William Mason retired and the estate passed to his daughter and son in law, Henry Skillicorne, a sea captain. Henry had a good eye for business and developed the potential of the Bayshill site turning it into a profitable enterprise.

In 1788 King George III had a nasty bilious attack and was recommended the Cheltenham waters by his doctor. So, leaving Windsor castle on 12th July 1788 he arrived in Cheltenham with his family to stay with Lord Fauconberg at his Bayshill House. The Royal family were here for five weeks.

The accounts show that it was a relaxed informal visit. The King would rise early and visit the well at 6 o’clock in the morning to drink the waters. He’d go off on his own riding out to the Cotswolds or he would walk around the town talking to shop keepers or passers by. It was a happy successful visit and by the time the royal party were to leave on the 16th August all Cheltenham came out to see them off – the gentles on one side and the commons on the other, and a band played God Save the King.

Pittville Pump Rooms, Cheltenham
Following the visit of King George III, Cheltenham was on the map, it was a Spa town to be visited. Arthur Welesley, later to become the Duke of Wellington, visited Cheltenham four times, and found relief for his liver complaint caused by a long period of service in India and he recommended the waters to his officers.

Visitors to the town increased and accommodation was needed. Speculators came and lodging houses went up at a great rate. There was a search to find more springs and new wells were opened.

Montpellier Pump Rooms, Cheltenham
After the first, named Royal Well, there was Montpellier Spa, Sherbourne Spa (where the Queen’s Hotel now stands) Vittoria Spa, Cambray Spa, Alstone Spa and Pittville Spa; business was booming. Assembly rooms were built for balls, concerts, card games and billiards. Theatres developed. Gardens were laid out with bandstands and, walks and rides so the fashionable people could promenade with their friends and see and be seen. Here was an opportunity for new friendships to develop, a chance to flirt, to find an aristocratic husband or a wealthy wife, to flaunt new clothes, to frequent the coffee houses and tea rooms, visit bookshops and complain about the extortionate prices.

This was now the Regency period, visiting a spa had become an established social custom. Cheltenham became the Merriest Sick Resort on Earth and probably in most cases the benefits to health were coincidental.

Gustav Holst's statue, Imperial Gardens,
Cheltenham has two famous sons. Gustav Holst was born here on 21st September 1874 and his birthplace 4, Clarence Street, is a typical Victorian terraced house and a delightful museum which honours his life and tells the story of the man and his music. Some of his personal belongings including his piano are on display. There is a bronze statue of him in Imperial gardens facing the town hall where he attended a 2 hour festival of music in his honour in 1927. He was invited to conduct Somerset Rhapsody and his most celebrated work The Planets. (d 1934).

Dr Edward Wilson the Antarctic Explorer who died with Captain Scott on his return from the South Pole in March 1912 was born in Montpellier Terrace on 23rd July 1872. (So, just 2 years difference in their ages.) Wilson went to Cheltenham College before going to Cambridge to read Natural Science and medicine. There is a statue to him in the Promenade which was sculptured by Lady Scott and there is also a gallery dedicated to him in the museum nearby.

Cheltenham is the Headquarters of the National Hunt (horse racing over hurdles) which culminates in the Gold Cup Festival from 15th – 18th March next year. The crowds, over 200,000 people attend over the 4 days, and over £500 million pounds will be bet on the results of just 26 races. The Race Course, set in the lee of the Cotswold Hills attracts royalty, celebrities, the great, the good and the fashionable. The carnival atmosphere gives residents a sense of occasion whether they are involved or not.  There is so much more to see in Cheltenham....

For a group guided tour of Cheltenham and the surrounding area as part of a coach tour or a special guided walk of Cheltenham's historic town centre. Contact

Friday 30 July 2010

A visit to the Market Town of Cirencester in Gloucestershire

If you haven’t visited Cirencester recently, then you haven’t seen the restored Parish Church, the smart new shops in the Corn Hall or the newly developed Post Office site. The Brewery Art Centre has been altered too, so is well worth a visit. You can see the craft workshops, visit the cafĂ©, and also the theatre for performing arts, music concerts and exhibitions.

I visited Cirencester a short while ago to see the result of the major work on the Parish church. You certainly get the wow factor when you walk in. The new floor is bright, its even and it makes the church look much bigger than it was before.

Cirencester is a great place to visit and to explore. Many changes have taken place just recently and it has a great history. As you probably know, it developed in Roman times when it became the second most important town after London. By the 12th century it had become well established with, a very large Augustinian Abbey and a Norman castle. Although you won’t see these buildings today, there’s still a Castle Street as well as the Abbey Grounds to remind us.

The building of the magnificent Parish church of St John the Baptist, which of course dominates the town today, was started in the 12th century in front of the great Abbey, and facing the market place. Although there were two separate religious buildings, one for the townsfolk and the other for the monks, the Abbot had considerable influence over the town.  He had the great South porch with its lovely fan vaulting built on to the parish church to provide a meeting place for his business with the town in the 1500's. After the dissolution of the abbey in 1539 the 3 storey porch became the Town Hall and is used for various functions today. If you look at the porch from the market place, the main hall is on the 2nd floor and I was able to go up and have a look around. It's an interesting room with a small balcony at the back over looking the main hall which, I was told, was where the Abbot stood to oversee his business going on below. I could still feel his presence!

The Chapels of Cirencester Parish Church
Do go and visit the church then take a walk around the outside. From the churchyard you can see the additional chapels and the different styles of building. It has some amazing architecture.

Cirencester has its olde worlde charm, its historic buildings, but its also changing, and has a style and quality that’s quite unique and very special. Its well worth a visit.
For: a group guided tour of Cirencester and the surrounding area as part of a coach tour or a special walking tour of the town. Contact:

Hidcote Manor Gardens in Gloucestershire

By: Blue Badge Tour Guide - Anne Bartlett
One of the most popular gardens to visit in Gloucestershire is Hidcote Manor Gardens right on the northern edge of the Cotswold escarpment above Chipping Campden.

Now if you have never visited Hidcote, it has the reputation of being one of the greatest gardens of the 20th century. It was built as a series of outdoor 'rooms', all with different themes such as the white garden, the red borders, the Fuchia garden, the stream garden and the wilderness to name but some.
It was over 100 years ago that a Mrs Gertrude Winthrop and her son Laurence Johnston bought the Hidcote Manor Estate. There was a large stone built farmhouse with a kitchen garden and lawn, and the rest of the estate was farmland. Johnston then aged about 36 set about designing and creating the various gardens from open fields working outwards from the house. He employed about 12 gardeners and between them they planted hedges to frame the different gardens, laid the paths and created the flower beds.
Amazingly Johnston was largely self taught, but he became a very knowledgeable plant expert, he enjoyed collecting rare and unusual plants himself. He went on expeditions to the Far East to find new plants; he also sponsored other people to go plant collecting for him so it became a very interesting and special garden.
The heyday of the garden was in the 1930’s but by the mid 1940’s Johnston was getting old and frail and he decided to move permanently to his other home in France. He gave Hidcote Manor Gardens to The National Trust and they took it over in 1948.

The National Trust has since owned Hidcote for a longer time than Laurence Johnston owned it. Recently the Trust was given a very large sum of money and they’ve raised a great deal more, in order to restore the estate to how it looked in its heyday.

Gardens are always changing and at Hidcote exciting new projects have been undertaken.
Yesterday, Thursday 29th July the restored sub tropical plant house was properly opened by Roy Lancaster - horticulturalist, writer and broadcaster.

For further information you can either look at the National Trust website which is or you can telephone the garden – and the number is 01386 438333

For group guided  Cotswold coach tours- to include a visit to Hidcote Manor Gardens, contact:

Thursday 22 July 2010

Gruesome tales at Berkeley Castle

Recorded for: BBC Radio Gloucestershire, Saturday Breakfast Show

Berkeley Castle from the gardens
The other day I took a group of tourists to Berkeley in Gloucestershire to look around the oldest inhabited castle in the country. I was taking a guided coach tour around the South Cotswolds. The weather was absolutely glorious and, as we travelled down the Cotswold escarpment towards the castle, we enjoyed glorious views across to The Forest of Dean with landmark -May Hill and its distinctive top knot trees, clearly visible in the distance. We could make out the River Severn as it made its way out to the estuary.

The solid stone castle we were to visit guards the Severn estuary. Generations of the Berkeley family have lived there for over 850 year. In Medieval times they were noble knights who kept and trained a private army to fight for their king when needed.

When we arrived at Berkeley castle we were warmly welcomed and shown into the inner courtyard, which is completely surrounded by fortified buildings. The oldest part, the Keep dates back to 1117.

It was in the very first room of the Keep that we heard the gruesome story of how King Edward II met his early death. We looked down into a dungeon dropping 28 feet below us. This was where some prisoners were kept, but King Edward probably had more comfortable quarters in a small cell in the corner of the room. Legend has it that the king was held down in his cell, and a red hot poker inserted so that it went deep into his bowels, until his internal burns killed him. It is said that Edward’s screams were heard for miles around - hardly a good idea for those wanting to claim, as they did, that Edward had died a natural death. In actual fact, he was probably smothered, but why let a good story get in the way of the truth? Edward was killed on the orders of his wife Isabella and her lover, Roger Mortimer a very powerful and ambitious Marcher Lord who wanted to rule England.

Berkeley castle was involved in the Civil War in the 1640's when it endured a three-day siege and was captured by Parliamentary forces. A breach was made in the walling of the Keep which is still there today. In fact, the owners are forbidden by law even now to repair the damage!

The 14th century Great Hall with its lofty ceiling is typical for a medieval castle. It was where everyone who lived in the castle met and ate their meals. Pages and servants waited on table. Entertainment was a major feature of life in a medieval castle with music, dancing, jugglers, jesters, plays and masques.

We enjoyed our guided tour through all the state rooms, hearing about the Berkeley family through the centuries.

Outside, we enjoyed strolling around the well kept gardens before we got on the coach and headed back to Gloucester.

For a group guided coach tour to include Berkeley Castle contact

Sunday 18 July 2010

A Restored Tudor House to explore in Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire

By: Blue Badge Tour Guide - Anne Bartlett
Recorded for: BBC Radio Gloucestershire

Tourist Information Centre, Tewkesbury
I recommend a visit to Tewkesbury in Gloucestershire during the summer months. The town has a wealth of medieval buildings, and is so well preserved that it is considered to be one of the most important gem towns in Great Britain. This means that it is recommended for preservation by the state as part of our national heritage.

I’m therefore going to suggest that you include a beautifully restored early 16th century timber framed property on your itinerary. The building, which is of both architectural and historical importance, is on Church Street right by The Cross, and is distinctive as it has a large black Beadles Hat, an ancient trade sign, hanging from the first floor.

Inside the front door as you enter, there’s an Information Centre. The staff there are extremely helpful and they will provide booklets and a very good 'state of the art' hand held audio visual guide to help you with the interpretation of all the restoration work, as well as telling you about the interesting discoveries that were found during the process. You can then go through and explore the building in your own time.

During the restoration work, a huge amount of research was made on one of the owners, a Bartholomew Read, a prosperous glove maker, who lived through the Civil War, and Oliver Cromwell’s Commonwealth period, dying in 1680 during the reign of King Charles II. So, during a period of huge political and religious upheaval. The audio visual guide gives an account of Read, whose status and lifestyle is reflected in the light, spacious rooms on show in this Medieval property. Contrary to popular belief the typical Puritan household enjoyed alcohol as well as music, and domestic life was lived to the full with religion being an important influence on their daily lives.

A further large room upstairs on the second floor gives an account of the history and development of Tewkesbury from the Anglo Saxon Period through to the present day. A highlight of the display, are pictures and a description of the Battle of Tewkesbury, which took place in 1471.

Besides the permanent displays there is a special Summer Exhibition which is on at the moment and its called “The Art of Theatrical Costume” and has stunning outfits on loan from the Royal Shakespeare Company from productions put on by The Courtyard Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon.

100, Church Street or “Out of the Hat” as it is called is open throughout the year and opens 7 days a week during school holidays.

Children are made very welcome, and there are special museum trails, activities, interactive displays, quizzes and dressing up clothes available for them. Also during the school holidays there will be workshops and special events organised. Entry, for Adults is £3.50 and children £2.50. A family ticket is £10.00

For more information about visits to the restored Tudor property in Tewkesbury, the website is and the telephone number is 01684 855040.

For group guided tours around Tewkesbury either as part of a coach tour of the area, or a special walking tour of the town contact:

Saturday 3 July 2010

Charles Rolls and his Wye Valley connections

By: Blue Badge Tour Guide - Anne Bartlett
Recorded for BBC Radio Gloucestershire Saturday Breakfast Show

Charles Rolls' statue in the centre
of Monmouth
The other day whilst doing a Forest of Dean coach tour we were travelling north along the A4136 running parallel to the River Wye and had glorious views down on the home town of pioneer motorist Charles Rolls and beyond into the Welsh countryside. This year is the centenary of the tragic death of Charles Rolls, so I reminded my group of locals from Gloucester about Charles’ eventful visit to their city in 1896.

Right up until 1896 every motor car, and there weren’t many about of course, that travelled on the roads had to have a man to walk in front of it, holding a red flag to warn people that the car was approaching. When the Red flag act was repealed, the emancipation of the motor car was celebrated with the London to Brighton Rally. The speed limit for cars was then increased from 4 to 14 miles an hour. And it was during that year that Charles Rolls was driving down Birdlip Hill when the brakes of his open topped Peugeot failed and the car sped down towards Brockworth, no doubt breaking the then speed limit.

Charles Rolls stopped at the New Inn in Northgate Street, Gloucester and the story goes that he was starting his car, I presume that he was using a crank handle, when the car started and ran him over! Fortunately only his pride was hurt!

Charles was later introduced to Henry Royce. Henry had a well established electrical and mechanical company and so they joined forces and worked together, Royce building and Rolls selling. In 1906 they had formed the Rolls Royce Company and were selling their classic car – The Silver Ghost.

Not content with speed on land Charles Rolls also learnt to fly, this was in the very early days when the Wright Brothers were developing their biplane. Charles bought a plane and made more than 200 flights and even set a record becoming the first man to cross the English Channel both ways in a single journey – a distance of 42 miles without stopping. Sadly it all ended in tragedy. Charles was killed aged 32, exactly 100 years ago on 12th July in an air crash at Hengistbury Airfield, Bournmouth when the tail of the plane broke off during an air display.

At the start of World War 1 Henry Royce was designing aero engines for planes built by the Gloster Aircraft Company. Rolls Royce developed the aero gas turbine engine that had been invented by Frank Whittle. Rolls Royce is now a global business and leads the world in building the most advanced jumbo jet engines, and its Filton works employs local people.

During July many places, including The Wye Valley, will be celebrating the life and significant achievements of the company founder Charles Rolls. There is an exhibition about him in the Nelson Museum in Monmouth until October.
For more about the celebrations in the Wye Valley there is a website

For Guided Coach Tours of The Forest of Dean and Wye Valley email:

Friday 2 July 2010

A Guided Tour of the Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham

The Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham
A few weeks ago I went with a group on a guided tour of the Everyman Theatre in Cheltenham.
We were greeted in the foyer by members of the theatre staff, and then shown into the auditorium where we were seated. Looking around, with the lights on, we could see that this much loved historic building was in need of restoration work and decoration. We were told about a £3m fund raising efforts to secure money for essential maintainance work. We were given a fascinating introductory talk about the history of the Theatre in Cheltenham.

The first theatre, was on a different site, and goes back to the 18th century. It was during King George III's visit to Cheltenham in 1788 that he made several visits to the theatre, enjoying performances by famous actresses such as Sarah Siddons as well as Dorothea Jordon. The theatre was very fashionable, however fifty years later it was in decline and the building was eventually destroyed by fire.

In 1891 a new theatre including opera house was built, to a design by Frank Matcham, one of the greatest theatre architects of the Victorian Age. We admired the intricate detail around the walls and balconies of the auditorium with its Rococo plaster work, its carvings and its painted ceilings, which, we were told, was the oldest surviving example of Matcham’s work still in use as a theatre today, so the decoration is very rare and very special.

We were given a look around behind the scenes and learnt so much about what went on. It was a very enjoyable tour.

Yesterday, we received great news. £500,000 has been granted to the Everyman Theatre by the Heritage Lottery fund which means that £2,750,000 of funding is now in place and the restoration work to the paintings and plasterwork followed by redecoration of the auditorium should begin in May 2011.

Guided tours of the Everyman Theatre are available still, but must be booked in advance. So do look on the website Or telephone 01242 695574