Tour the world with Light Up Cheltenham
Updated: Mar 22
A couple of years ago, the buildings of Regency Cheltenham were lit up in beautiful colours, and this blog takes you on a trip around the town... and Europe, with diversions to India and America and the Antarctic. It’s a short walk with a potentially massive carbon footprint!
We start in the Ukraine, formerly known as Crimea. The empty plinth in front of the Queen’s Hotel on the corner of the Imperial Gardens once sported a cannon used in 1856 at the Battle of Sevastopol during the Crimean War.
Cheltenham was a favourite haunt of military officers and its past residents fought in that war. Indeed the wife of one officer, Fanny Dubberly, went along as well and reported on it - one of the first ‘embedded’ journalists!
To France and Italy
Then it’s off to Montpellier. Local tradition links the name to a number of English prisoners of war in the Napoleonic era who were well treated when held in the French city of the same name. But it may be that developers just wanted to sound chic!
There’s influence from Italy as the domed copper roof of the Rotunda was based on the Pantheon in Rome. Typically for Cheltenham, the building has had many roles, starting as a venue for concerts, dancing and card playing for spa customers, and serving as a branch of Lloyds Bank before its current incarnation as the very smart Ivy restaurant. It also has echoes of Hungary, for many swooned as they heard Franz Lizst perform here in 1840 when he was a global superstar.
Glance to the side and we’re in Greece: the armless caryatid sculptures adorning the shops of Montpellier Walk were copies of statues from the Erechtheum temple on the Acropolis in Athens.
Off to Asia
Keep going down the Promenade and you venture into Asia. The East India Cafe was the haunt of many who worked for the East India Company that from about 1750 to 1850 acted as the unofficial British government in India. Cheltenham was dubbed ‘the Calcutta of the Cotswolds’ because it was so popular with officers from the colonies who flocked here and to the Imperial Club (now Waterstones), a short distance away.
We return to Italy with the Neptune Fountain, based on Rome’s Trevi Fountain, then wander to the Antarctic via the statue of Edward Wilson, who died alongside Robert Scott on the ill-fated expedition to the South Pole in 1912. Further along we are off to South Africa with the Boer War memorial.
Here come Sweden and America
Cross over to Imperial Park and stand by the statue of Gustav Holst. This famous son of Cheltenham was born as Gustav von Holst due to a Swedish grandparent - he dropped the middle monicker to counter whispers that he was a German spy during World War One. Here, he is beautifully silhouetted against the Ferris Wheel, invented for the Chicago Fair of 1893 by engineer George Washington Gales Ferris Junior.
Current tours of Cheltenham, and beyond
I teamed up with fellow Blue Badge Guide Steve Roth to offer a variety of walking tours in Cheltenham. Find out about them.
Read more about Cheltenham in my book Offbeat Cotswolds, a wander along the byways of the beautiful Cotswolds taking 400 surprising sites and strange tales.