Cheltenham: a Regency Treasure

From the moment you enter the town of Cheltenham you are struck by the number of Georgian and Regency houses and municipal buildings – there are hundreds of them dating back to the late 1700’s. In fact, the town has one of the largest concentrations of listed buildings in the country. The style of building is as pleasing to the eye today as it was 250 years ago: clean, fresh lines, mostly built of local, cream coloured stone.

The most prestigious street in the town is Promenade, situated in its heart, in the area known as Montpelier, a mix of designer shops, offices, bistros, sculpture, flower bedding and fountains. The photographs below demonstrate the grandeur of the area – the large building is the Borough Council offices.

Montpelier came into existence in 1808 when a new well was discovered there. A hundred years before, salt springs were discovered and, after George III visited in 1788 to ‘take the waters’, the town became even more popular. Montpelier’s well ensured the success of the area and Promenade was laid out as a wide, tree lined walk in 1818.
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Today, Cheltenham still thrives, busy and loved by both local residents and tourists alike. The Town Hall, below, is the centre for many exhibitons and concerts and each year the town plays host to both literary and music festivals attracting a world wide audience.

It is not just the grand buildings and streets that contain architectural gems. The photographs below demonstrate the houses and apartments that can be found down many of the side streets. These photographs are of original buildings; many new buildings are also built in the style and blend in so well that, in many cases, they have to be sought out. Not many new buildings can afford the elaborate iron work railings as in these genuine, Regency flats. Ironwork is another major architectural feature of the town.

Cheltenham is a place that really has to be explored on foot to discover all of its secrets and eccentricities. Sitting in a street cafe on Promenade I realised I was looking out onto a cluster of red telephone boxes – a very traditional, English sight, rather akin to red double decker buses. These boxes are almost a thing of the past now, having been replaced by modern kiosks that look the same whichever city in the world you might be in.
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The Wishing Fish Clock is totally eccentric! The tallest mechanical clock in existence, on the hour the fish blows bubbles while the clock plays the tune ‘I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles’!
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The Cotswold Hills rise steeply from the edge of Cheltenham and driving back to the secret valley through unknown country lanes, I came across another eccentricty. This stream that runs through the tiny village of Compton Abdale has had a witty crocodile waterspout added to it. There was no sign to explain the reasoning behind it: another case of British humour, I imagine!
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Ten Plants Too Many

I find it impossible to imagine a life not being addicted to plants and the natural wonders all around us. So I find it quite difficult when I am asked to create a garden that requires no maintenance. After all, for people like me, its the tweaking and pinching out and getting in amongst the greenery that is part of the joy of being alive and certainly the best part of owning a garden.

Even mowing the lawn was a chore for the owners of this small town garden (I’m a bit inclined to agree with them there) and so it had to go. And, as far as they were concerned, ten plants would be ten plants too many. The design I came up with centred on this slate water feature – if there were to be no flowers then at least water would give the garden some ‘life’.

We still needed a path from the house to the garage but to get away from a too solid look, I went for these ‘old but new’ cobbles set in gravel, the zig-zag line developing from the twist of the fountain. The same cobbles were used to create the patio area.

Left with a sea of gravel to the left of the path I decided to break the expanse up with a small ‘lozenge’ using the cobbles again. And much against the wishes of the client I built the timber raised planter along a wall with the promise that I would remove it for free if it became too much like hard work. My ruse worked for, when I returned a few months later, they had added some new pots at the foot of it – they were getting hooked!

I love these raised planters and find it difficult not to put them into every garden I create! They are easy to build and easy to maintain: they do not have a base but just sit on the ground. It’s always the bottoms that rot out first anyway and also, like this, roots can get down deep and there is much less watering to do because of it. Below is another L shaped one I made as a divider between two levels in a different garden. One day I intend to turn one into a water feature in its own right – if you do it first make sure you send me a picture!

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