24 de octubre de 2009

Cheltenham - Water turned into Business

Not a while ago I had the opportunity to visit a very "typical" english town. Cheltenham is perhaps a Regency town in England and one of the few English towns in which traditional and contemporary architecture are mixed up with armony that complement each other. It was originally an Anglo-Saxon settlement. By 803, it was the site of a very important monastery and by the 13th century Cheltenham was noted for its fairs and markets.

Like almost every town, Cheltenham has its own legend. It is said that by 1700, a flock of pigeons discovered a spring on a site near the south of the town. The locals, noticing that the pigeons seemed to thrive, tried the waters for themselves and found that they eased many of the disorders that afflicted 18th century man. The medicinal waters discovered were regarded as beneficial for a whole range of illnesses. Soon local entrepreneurs realised that there was money to be made from this gift of nature and started to develop the town in order to attract the wealthy and famous.

In 1788 King George III spent five weeks at Cheltenham, drinking the waters for his health’s sake, which ensured the success of Cheltenham as a Spa town. Among other famous visitors were members of the English and Continental Royal families, including Princess (later Queen) Victoria, the Duke of Wellington, Handel and Samuel Johnson, and the novelists Jane Austen and Lord Byron.

Many new buildings were erected in the early 19th century. Such as:
- Royal Crescent was built in the years 1806-1810.
- The Promenade was laid out as a tree lined walk in 1818.
- The Pittville Pump Room was built in 1830.
- The railway came to Cheltenham in 1840.
- Cheltenham College opened in 1841.
- Cheltenham Ladies College opened in 1854.

As the town was growing up facilities were also improved. In 1786 a group of men called the "paving commissioners" was formed with powers to pave, clean and light the streets (with oil lamps). Then in 1813 a dispensary opened where the poor could obtain free medicines.

From 1818 Cheltenham had gas light. In 1824, a private company was set up to supply piped water. In 1834 a sewers company was formed, which was later obtained by the "paving commissioners" in 1857.

The public library in Cheltenham opened in 1889. Although they were created in 1825 the council obtained Pitteville Gardens in 1890. In 1892 they obtained Montpellier Gardens.

Everyman Theatre was built in 1891. The famous statue of Neptune in Cheltenham was erected in 1893. (see picture)

From 1895 Cheltenham had an electricity supply.

In the later 19th century spas became much less important. However Cheltenham continued to be an important tourist destination and shopping centre as it is today. Along with many large organisations including Gulf Oil, Eagle Star, G.C.H.Q., and the Countryside Commission to name a few.

A very important piece of history that comes to point out how "medicinal spring waters" can be a very successful business. Finally, my whole gratitude to Ms Tracy Reed who woke up my interest in this wonderful and 'typical english town'.

carloslimongi@yahoo.com

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