VCH Gloucestershire Academy / Volume 15 / Cheltenham 1738-1852
The discovery in the early 18th century of mineral waters in a field south of the town had a fundamental influence on the subsequent history of Cheltenham. Initially modest, the spa facilities were greatly enhanced in the late 1730s. The spa’s reputation grew steadily in the following decades. The five-week visit of the invalid George III and family in 1788 confirmed Cheltenham as one of the country’s principal fashionable resorts. Other mineral wells were opened up and promoted in and around the town. Described in 1818 as the ‘Montpelier of Britain’, Cheltenham’s population increased tenfold between 1801 and 1841. The waters, and the servicing of their visitors, remained central to the prosperity of the town until the mid 19th century. By the outbreak of the First World War, their importance was marginal. In 2017 only one working mineral well remained, in municipal ownership.
For much of the period the focus of the town continued to be its high street, running approximately from east to west. Before the 19th century development was mainly to premises lining the existing roads. The inclosure of the common fields of Cheltenham township in 1806 freed up large amounts of potential building land, in particular to the north of the town, but during the first two decades of the century development was predominantly along the medieval burgages that lined the high street, and on the meadow land that lay between the town and the wells. Several new streets lined with genteel housing were laid out to the north and south of the high street, in particular at the more fashionable upper end, whilst large villas lined the verdant lanes and walks beyond the town. It was only after 1820 that large housing estates were laid out by speculative landowners to the north and south of the town, adding an important north-south axis to the town for fashionable society. Ambitious schemes were projected by developers, but a number of these ran into financial difficulties, and many of the projects were not realised according to their original plans. Nevertheless, during the first half of the 19th century the town expanded significantly and was established as one of principal towns of Gloucestershire.
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