Pittville Estate History


In the summer of 1833, the Scottish writer Catherine Sinclair visited Cheltenham.  She wrote in her journal, later published under the title Hill and Valley (1838),  ‘On Tuesday morning, we drove in a horse fly to visit Pittville in the suburbs of Cheltenham, a scene of gorgeous magnificence.  Here a large estate has been divided into public gardens, and sprinkled with houses of every size, shape and character; ‑ Grecian temples, Italian villas, and citizen’s boxes, so fresh and clean, you would imagine they were all blown out at once like soap bubbles’.

Pittville is still a special part of Cheltenham, retaining much of the original development and attracting residents and visitors alike. Its origins lie in its medicinal waters, as did the phenomenal growth of the town as a whole during the nineteenth century.

Cheltenham’s growth in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries
Medicinal waters were first discovered in 1716, and Cheltenham gradually became a popular resort for the gentry, especially after the five-week visit of King George the Third in 1788. Five new spa wells, including that in Pittville, were in operation by 1834. Next to several of these were extensive tree-lined walks, rides and gardens in which people could walk, ride or drive by carriage. With a growing population and more visitors, demand for building land increased in the late eighteenth and early 19th century. The land alongside the walks and rides was seen to provide ideal sites for houses to accommodate the seasonal visitors and wealthy residents. It was also seen as an excellent business venture.
The timing of Joseph Pitt’s decision to establish a new spa and estate was influenced by both Cheltenham’s growth and by the national economic situation. Between 1801 and 1821, the recorded population of the town rose from 3,076 to 13,388 and the number of visitors to the spas also increased, both of which fuelled the demand for building land and houses. The pace of building quickened still further after 1820, as the country as a whole experienced an economic and building ‘boom’ with apparently unlimited capital available for investment in building.

Joseph Pitt
Joseph Pitt was born in Little Witcombe in 1759. He is said to have begun his career by ‘holding gentlemen’s horses for a penny; when, appearing a sharp lad, an attorney took a fancy to him and bred him to his own business’. He became an attorney himself around 1780 in Cirencester. He later invested the profits of his legal business in banking and in the purchase of land in Gloucestershire and Wiltshire, including substantial property at Cheltenham. His earliest recorded purchases here were of several small tracts of land to the north-east of the town from July 1789 onwards and over the next thirty years he became the single largest landowner in Cheltenham. He sold his solicitor’s practice in 1812 and was MP for Cricklade from that year until 1831.

The creation of the Pittville Estate
The future site of Pittville lay partly within Cheltenham parish and partly within Prestbury. The divided and piecemeal pattern of ownership of the area precluded its development as building land. To overcome this an Act of Parliament was obtained in 1801 whereby the Open Fields and other common lands on the north side of the town could be ‘inclosed’ into varying-sized allotments. These would then be ‘awarded’ to anyone who could prove ownership rights or other financial interests. A moving spirit behind the Act was undoubtedly Joseph Pitt, who was eventually to benefit from it more than any other individual. He also acquired land from other landowners.
Pitt’s scheme was for a new town, rather than an extension of Cheltenham. He envisaged an estate of approximately 100 acres, crossed by several miles of gravelled walks and rides, alongside which lots for between 500 and 600 houses were to be made available. These would accommodate both seasonal visitors to the new Pittville Spa and the wealthy people whom Pitt hoped would settle permanently at Pittville. The walks and rides would be planted with trees, and several ‘ornamental pleasure grounds’ would be created. This included a ‘Long Garden’ at the heart of the estate, between Evesham Road and Pittville Lawn, a residential crescent and two squares. There would be an ornamental lake, with a bridge across Wyman’s Brook at each end, beyond which, reached by a promenade lined with shrubberies, was to stand the Pump Room itself. Further north there would be a church.
The designs for the Pump Room and for the general layout of the estate were entrusted to a local architect, John Forbes. Forbes had trained at the Royal Academy Schools in London and was working in Cheltenham by 1820. His proposed street layout is almost identical to that of today, although the density and arrangement of the houses is very different. His original plan, to provide a combination of villas and terraces, often alternating with one another, is best seen in parts of Evesham Road and Pittville Lawn.

The first medicinal well at Pittville was dug in 1822 and the foundations of the Pump Room were laid in May 1825. Other work started in 1824.
A nurseryman, Richard Ware, was responsible for laying out the walks and rides and for planting the ornamental pleasure grounds. By 1827 the bridges at either end of the new lake had been built, several main sewers had been created, and a small subsidiary spa well, known as Essex Lodge or the ‘Little Spa’ had been established. The new Pittville Street, providing better access from the High Street, was ready by 1824.

The Pump Room was completed and opened to the public in July 1830.
Forbes’s plans for the building lots were completed in July 1824. Each lot was to be offered freehold, subject to an annual rent charge, payable to Joseph Pitt. This was to contribute towards the general upkeep of the estate and the provision of a water-supply and sewers. The rent charges varied according to the size and situation of each lot. Each purchaser was to abide by certain restrictive covenants which, although varying slightly from lot to lot, tended to follow the same basic format.

The number and type of houses to be built were generally stipulated, as was the time-scale of their construction. Nothing was to be built forward of a ‘building line’ or the house had to be built in line with other adjoining houses. The purchaser had to agree to build to an elevation and external appearance approved and signed by Pitt himself and his architect and surveyor.
The best example of this is the two terraces of five houses built in Pittville Lawn between 1836 and 1838 (numbers 45-53 and 59-67), in which the appearance of each house was to correspond exactly to the equivalent house in an earlier terrace of five houses further along Pittville Lawn (numbers 29-37). The internal layout of each house was solely the purchaser’s concern, and it is not unusual to find adjoining houses with very different room-plans.

Each house was to be built ‘fit for habitation with fit and proper materials and in a good and workmanlike manner’, the brickwork being faced with ‘well cleansed freestone or Roman cement’ and roofed with slates ‘not inferior in quality to the Countess blue slates’. The external appearance of the house was to be maintained and the number and placement of additional buildings such as coach houses, stables and greenhouses was often stipulated.
Once the house had been built, the land in front was to be laid out as an ‘ornamental pleasure ground’, and fenced with iron railings, in a style once again to be approved by Pitt, and often in unity with the adjoining houses. Seven-foot high brick walls were to be built on the other three sides of the property, the cost often being shared with the builders of adjoining houses. Purchasers were permitted to cut cross-drains into one of the estate’s network of sewers, and were responsible for laying down a pavement and gutter of ‘good tooled forest stone’ in front of their houses, either nine or ten feet wide according to situation.
Commercial activities were restricted. For example, owners could not let a coach-house or stable separately from the house or sink any wells. The only professions allowed were librarians, nurserymen, florists, coffee house-keepers and hoteliers. Shops were limited to those in Prestbury Road. Two private schools were established, usually on condition that no signboard was erected outside the building.

Owners or occupiers had the right to use the walks and rides of the estate and the private gardens. Servants could only have access when in charge of the children of someone who was permitted to use them!

Other architects, in addition to Forbes, were appointed to design the houses. One was Henry Merrett, employed from 1836. The agreement between Merrett and Pitt suggests that, while the purchasers of terraced lots had to accept the elevations prepared by the estate architect, those who bought villa lots could select an architect and style of their choice, as long as the estate surveyor approved the designs.
This may have been to encourage prosperous individuals to build and settle at Pittville and, in fact, no two villas in Pittville are the same.

Building lots at Pittville were first offered for sale in September 1824, and were eagerly taken up. However, circumstances beyond Pitt’s control were soon to interrupt the Estate’s progress, and many of the buyers failed to complete their purchases. It is not known how much Joseph Pitt lost but his financial collapse also meant that some of the proposed buildings such as the church were never constructed and fewer houses were built.
Building at Pittville, 1825 ‑ 1860
Land at Pittville was bought by a large number of people, who built on it themselves, employed someone to build for them, or resold it, generally at a profit, to someone else. The last of these was particularly the case with those who bought a large block of land and then transferred it in smaller lots to individual builders.

The former was by far the smaller, only twenty houses having been built by their subsequent first occupant. Most of these were wealthy people who wished to have a house (usually a detached villa) in the style and location of their choice, and although some may have personally supervised the construction of their house, employing the necessary craftsmen, it is more likely that they engaged a professional builder. Several of these purchasers were women, while a significant number were military or East India Company officers.
The second group of land purchasers at Pittville were the speculators, many of who were involved in the building industry and who no doubt personally undertook the construction of their houses. They included some of Cheltenham’s leading professional builders. Others were builders’ merchants, and specialist craftsmen, such as carpenters, painters, plumbers and bricklayers.

These craftsmen probably worked for the more substantial professional builders, but, especially during the building booms, were tempted to ‘go it alone’ and to buy some land and build houses themselves.
Other speculators at Pittville were professional men already involved in some way with the practical, legal or financial aspects of building, such as architects, surveyors, bankers, and solicitors. There was also a small group of speculators who were in no way connected with the building industry, including a bell hanger, and a partnership between a draper and a widow. As with the wealthy intending residents who bought a building lot, these individuals may have employed a professional builder to construct their houses for them.

For the two hundred and eight houses where we know the identity of the original purchaser, seventy-four appear only once ‑ an indication of the very large number of people involved in building at Pittville. Indeed, only nine individuals are known to have been responsible for more than three houses.
The prices paid for building land at Pittville varied according to a number of factors. These included the area and frontage of each lot, the number of lots purchased, their location within the estate and the level of demand for building land at the time of sale. Land was clearly more expensive during 1824‑25 than it was during the slump of 1826‑30, while the price of lots appears to have increased gradually from 1831 onwards.

Often, however, the prices paid for apparently similar lots varied so much that it is difficult to gain more than a general indication of price levels.
Many individuals who agreed to purchase a piece of land at Pittville signed a preliminary building agreement, incorporating the various covenants. This was followed at a later date by the formal conveyance of the land, once the title deeds had been prepared, at which time the purchase money was due. Once the agreement had been signed, building could begin. Evidence of exactly how builders worked is lacking, and although professional builders probably had their own workforce, the craftsman-builders presumably had to hire whatever labour was needed to complement their own skills, and perhaps even co‑operated with the builders of adjoining houses to pool their talents.

Building materials were obtained locally ‑ Cheltenham’s clay soil was ideal for brick‑making, stone was available from the quarries on Leckhampton Hill, and timber, slates, lead, ironwork and paving slabs could he purchased from the town’s builders’ merchants, many of whom no doubt obtained their materials via the tram road (and later the railway) which connected Cheltenham to Gloucester and its docks.

In order to finance their building projects, many builders arranged mortgages or other credit facilities. Building materials were often obtained on credit, and occasionally, Joseph Pitt, or an intermediate vendor if one were involved, would allow the purchase money to remain on mortgage, at up 5% interest per annum. More usually though, the builder would raise a separate mortgage, on the security of the property, occasionally from a bank, but more often from a private individual, arranged through his bank or solicitor. Of the one hundred and sixty-eight houses at Pittville for which a full building history is available, one hundred and ten were mortgaged during the course of their construction. Mortgages were initially for one year, but often continued for many years, the lender being content as long as the annual interest was paid. On occasion, however, builders failed to maintain their payments, or were unable to repay the capital when requested to do so, and several houses at Pittville were repossessed and sold by mortgagees during these years.

Most lenders were professional or leisured people, including several clergymen, widows and spinsters. Many mortgagees were from Cheltenham, but others lived in Bath, Plymouth and London as well as a large number in Worcestershire.

Most newly‑built houses were either sold or rented to tenants, depending on whether the builder sought a quick return (or perhaps needed to settle his debts) or a long‑term investment. Title deeds provide evidence for the sale of eighty-six houses at Pittville between 1827 and 1860, the prices varying from as low as £500 to well over £2,000 for villas. House prices fluctuated with changing demand, and it certainly appears that houses commanded higher prices when newly‑built than they did ten or fifteen years later.

The men and women who bought the houses to occupy themselves were from the same social background as those who built houses for their own occupation, or who loaned money to builders.

From the outset, Pittville was intended as an exclusive residential area, and its progress as such was noted in several contemporary newspapers. On 5 April 1830, the Cheltenham Journal stated that ‘several large houses . . . are now occupied by families of distinction’, while on 26 March 1831 the Cheltenham Chronicle remarked that ‘already the numerous elegant villas and terraces which have been completed are inhabited by families of high rank’.

Two noteworthy facts are the many female heads of household in the 1851 census (sixty-three in all) and the high number of military personnel. The latter was characteristic of Cheltenham as a whole throughout the 19th century, a fact that led one irreverent commentator to note that ‘you couldn’t fire a shot‑gun in any direction without hitting a Colonel’. The military were attracted to Cheltenham by its society, mild climate and spa waters (which were believed to be particularly beneficial to digestive systems disordered by service in India) and by the end of the century, the town had been dubbed ‘the Anglo‑Indian’s Paradise’. Inevitably, with so many wealthy residents, the estate also housed many servants, four hundred and twenty-two to be exact (three hundred and sixty-two of them female) at the time of the 1851 census, with as many as eight servants in some of the estate’s larger houses.

The attraction of Pittville for its many wealthy residents is clear, the estate being within easy reach of both the Pump Room and the town, yet sufficiently removed from the busy centre to provide the spacious and socially exclusive combination of town and country that so many sought. As the Cheltenham Chronicle remarked as early as 26 April 1827, the villas under construction were ‘realising every idea which can be found of the rus in urbe’.

Architecturally, most of the houses followed simple classical lines, although some of the villas have bolder Greek revival details, such as Ionic and Corinthian columns. A number of houses were built in the Tudor‑Gothic style. All were built of brick, faced with either stucco or (from 1836 onwards) ashlar stone. Where the former was used, it was jointed and painted in imitation of stone, and the houses were often adorned with wrought iron balconies and verandas, many of which still survive. Internally, the room arrangements varied greatly from house to house, but in general the kitchens were in the basement, the reception rooms on the ground floor and the bedrooms above, the rooms being distinguished by plaster friezes, marble fireplaces and mahogany door‑surrounds.

Although the years 1825‑60 saw the building of many fine houses at Pittville, and the creation of what was effectively a garden suburb, the estate was never the success that Pitt had hoped. The popularity of the spa waters began to wane soon after the opening of the Pump Room, which also suffered from its distance from the town centre, particularly as the fashionable life of Cheltenham remained focused to the south of the High Street, in the Promenade and Montpellier. Equally, the numbers of houses built fell short of Pitt’s intention, particularly in the estate’s early years, and even by 1860, barely half of those originally planned had been constructed ‑ a clear indication that the amount of building land made available in these years had far outstripped the level of demand.


1825‑1830: ‘baseless fabric’The earliest building to take place in the new estate began during 1825, with the construction of the first houses in a terrace called Pittville Parade, on the west side of Evesham Road. This was beset with problems from the beginning, both financial and practical.  A news item in the Cheltenham Journal for 19 December 1825 suggested that the work may have been ‘jerry‑building’ of the worst kind. The item is entitled ‘Accident’ and reads:

‘On Thursday last, an accident, which had nearly proved fatal in its consequences, occurred at Pittville, between 10 and eleven o’clock in the morning, while the masons were at work on one of the new houses, erecting by Mr. Watts, near the New Church, the front wall suddenly gave way, and fell with a dreadful crash, carrying with it three of the workmen. Their escape, with life, was indeed miraculous ‑ one of them was actually walking upon the coping at the moment of the fall, and he was hurled to the earth with such violence, amidst the falling fragments, that he now lies seriously indisposed . . . The other two men were hurt, but not severely. We know not to what cause the accident is to be attributed, but we hope it will have the effect of drawing the attention of the proprietor to the rest of the building, and thus be instrumental in preventing some more serious calamity. It is to be feared that the present system of building is more calculated for cheapness than durability . . . It is frightful to think what might have been the consequence had this house been finished and entered upon by tenants, without this discovery in the weakness of its walls, which must sooner or later have betrayed itself. It is a question by no means beneath the consideration of the legislature, whether it would not be desirable to pass a law by which, in all buildings, but especially in those intended for dwellings, the thickness of the main walls should be regulated by the height of the erection, not by the judgement or parsimony of the builder’.

A wider problem had become apparent throughout the country in December 1825 and this affected building at Pittville for several years. The root cause an unstable banking system and a crisis on the London stock exchange. At this time, England’s provincial banks were small, privately‑owned ‘country banks’, many of which had seriously over‑extended their loans and issued too much paper money during the boom years, relying on the large London banks ‑ and ultimately on the Bank of England ‑ to underwrite them. Meanwhile, over‑speculation in unsound investments at home and abroad, and particularly in South American government bonds and mining shares, had caused a slump in share prices, which damaged public confidence. This led to growing uncertainty among bank depositors, which developed into a panic as more and more banks became unable to meet the demand for withdrawals. Low national gold reserves, caused by heavy imports, and the similar difficulties being encountered by several London banks meant that neither they, nor even the Bank of England were able to give significant help, and during December 1825 numerous ‘country banks’ suspended payment, including two of the major banks in Cheltenham, while others failed altogether.

The result for the building industry was a rapid drying up of the credit facilities on which so many builders depended and a slump in the market for building land and houses, with falling prices and few buyers. Among many accounts, Henry Davies’ is particularly poignant:

‘Scarcely had these golden dreams assumed even a dream‑like consistency, when the commercial panic which now seized the country dissolved the magic spell and the ‘baseless fabric’ of prosperity melted into ‘thin air’ . . . Of the five hundred houses which, six years ago, were to have been erected around Pittville, not one hundred have as yet made their appearance above the soil’.

It is not certain that any other houses were begun at Pittville during 1825, although an item in the Gloucester Herald for 14 January 1826 may imply that they were. This noted that:

‘The works at Pittville are in progress, though necessarily suspended by the rigour of the season and checked, perhaps, in a temporary degree, by those commercial embarrassments which Cheltenham has not had the good fortune to escape … some very elegant houses are completing on various spots under the superintendence of Mr. William Jay, a gentleman whose architectural merits are most admirably displayed in every task he has hitherto undertaken’.

In all, twenty-seven houses appear to have been either completed or partly‑built by 1830.

1831 ‑ 1842: ‘terrestrial paradise’

Although the second half of the 1820s had seen a certain amount of building at Pittville, it was clearly far less than either Pitt or anyone else involved with the estate had anticipated. From 1831 onwards, however, the pace of building quickened considerably.  By the middle of 1832, the eight houses that had been left unfinished since 1825-28 had been completed and new houses were underway in several parts of the estate; by March 1835, the Cheltenham Chronicle could write that ‘the terrestrial paradise of Pittville … has attracted numerous enterprising individuals to enter into speculations which, we predict without fear of contradiction, will ultimately prove as profitable to themselves as they are ornamental to the town’.  The 1830s was in fact the peak decade for building at Pittville, and between 1831 and 1842 a total of one hundred and fifty-eight new houses were built, notably in Clarence and Wellington Squares, Evesham and Prestbury Roads and Pittville Lawn.  However, no houses were built to the north of the lake and this tended to isolate the Pump Room from the rest of the estate.

These years coincided with a number of changes in the organisation of the estate. In 1831 Pitt entrusted its overall management, including the arrangements for the sale of building lots and the collection of rent charges, to his land steward and accountant, Josiah Greathead Strachan. The other major change involved the estate architect and surveyor, John Forbes. Evidence suggests that he may have resigned as architect of the Pump Room, and even the estate, in 1828. Certainly during 1829‑31 he was the architect of the new St. Paul’s Church and he also worked as a speculative builder at Montpellier and in the Promenade and Imperial Square. He appears to have got into financial difficulties during the early 1830s and nothing is known of him after 1841.

Forbes appears to have been succeeded as Pitt’s architect and surveyor for a short while by William Arthur Watson. Robert Stokes occupied the post from summer 1832 until March 1835, when he left Cheltenham, also in financial difficulties. Henry Sperring Merrett took over from 8 June 1835.
Soon after this, Strachan fell seriously ill, and in November 1835, Pitt’s son, Joseph, a solicitor from Lichfield, came to Cheltenham to take over the management of the estate. Strachan died on 4 March 1836 and Pitt appointed a surveyor, Francis Dodd, as his agent on 20 March 1836.

Merrett appears to have wanted to assume estate management in addition to architectural responsibilities but resigned on 29 March 1836 when this was refused. Pitt then seems to have dispensed with the services of a full‑time architect, while the management of the estate was shared between Dodd and another of Pitt’s sons, William Gregson Pitt. Dodd himself left Pitt’s service sometime between May and September 1839, and was replaced by another surveyor, George James Engall. Engall acted as agent until Pitt’s death in 1842 and continued to administer the estate, on behalf of the Court of Chancery, until at least 1849.
Given that at least four men served as Pitt’s architect and surveyor between 1824 and 1836, it is difficult to ascribe particular buildings to particular architects, especially as plans and elevations drawn up by one architect may have been used by his successors.

The earliest of the entirely new developments in the early 1830s were in Clarence Road and Clarence Square while a number of new houses exhibiting a far greater architectural variety than those in Clarence Square were built in Wellington Square. In Pittville Lawn, a considerable amount of building also took place from 1832 onwards. During 1833 the northernmost, and earliest, of the great series of villas facing across Pittville Lawn to the Long Garden were begun. These alternated with terraces and were part of the original concept for the estate. With the addition of further terraces and villas, work was completed by 1838. On Evesham Road, Pittville Parade was completed and new villas built between 1833 and 1838.

The final part of the estate to be developed during these years was Prestbury Road. The original plan showed a row of six shops, a terrace with six houses and two semi-detached houses at the northern end. These shops were the only commercial premises allowed on the estate and included a chemist and a branch post office. The building of the shops and houses proceeded rapidly between 1839 and 1841, with the original plan being amended so as to increase the number of terraced houses to seven, with one detached villa to the north of the terrace. The villa was built in 1839‑40 by Edward Cope, and was clearly designed to complement the very similar Apsley House on the opposite side of Prestbury Road. This was also built by Cope as part of an extensive building estate centred on Albert Circus (now Pittville Circus) and Pittville Circus Road, which he was developing on land purchased from Pitt in 1839.

Although the inhabitants of the estate relied on Cheltenham for most of their services, Joseph Pitt continued to view Pittville as an independent community, rather than as a northward extension of Cheltenham. He therefore strongly opposed attempts by the Paving Commissioners to extend their authority to the estate, and to levy rates on its houses. He felt that the levying of rates on houses in Pittville, in addition to the existing rent charges, would reduce their attraction to purchasers, and he was supported by many owners. Their opposition to the Commissioners’ attempts to rate them in 1836‑8 was so strong that the Commissioners voted, in December 1838, not to do so. Instead, they sought, in 1839, to obtain a new Paving and Lighting Act, which would extend their authority to Pittville and the other private estates. This, however, was defeated in the House of Commons, largely, it was said, because of Pitt’s influence with many of his former Parliamentary colleagues, and Pittville remained theoretically independent from Cheltenham until 1890.

The one real benefit that Pittville might have gained from inclusion in the Commissioners’ sphere of authority was the lighting of its roads by gas, and in January 1840, Pitt provided this himself, by agreement with the Gas Company. This was to be Pitt’s last contribution to the development of the estate, for by 1840 he was eighty-one years old and had only two more years to live: he died at Eastcourt on 9 February 1842.

1842-1860: an estate in debt

Although Joseph Pitt’s death did not immediately affect the pattern of building at Pittville, it inevitably formed a watershed in the history of the estate, not least because of the huge debts that he had amassed during the last 20 years of his life. When he died, his total debts were just over £154,500.

Exactly why Pitt became so heavily in debt is difficult to explain without considerable research into his many and varied activities. Pittville contributed to his difficulties, both through the high costs involved in its creation and, even more crucial in the long‑term, the expenses of its management and upkeep. These were not matched by the income of an estate in which both the amount of land sold and the income from the annual rent charges fell well below expectations.

Pitt’s assets were insufficient to cover his debts, and, barely a month after his death, his grandson, also called Joseph Pitt, who was owed £1,400, brought an action in the Court of Chancery ‘on behalf of himself and all other creditors of Joseph Pitt against his uncle, Joseph Pitt of Lichfield, who was Pitt’s sole executor and beneficiary. On 11 March 1842, the Court of Chancery decreed that all Pitt’s remaining property should be sold for the benefit of his creditors.

His remaining land at Cheltenham and Prestbury was sold at four separate auction sales in 1843 and 1845. A number of lots were purchased directly by intending developers and builders. The County of Gloucester Bank acquired the majority of those offered in 1845. The bank played an active role in the development of the estate during the ensuing years, dividing the land into individual lots for sale to builders and employing its own surveyor to ensure that the restrictive covenants imposed at the auction sales were adhered to.

Pitt’s debts were not finally settled until 1890 with the sale of the Pump Room, gardens and rent charges to Cheltenham Borough Council.

Between 1844 and 1860, thirty-two houses were built at Pittville, all of them on land sold at the three of the auction sales. These included properties in Evesham Road, Wellington Square, Pittville Lawn, Clarence Square, East Approach Drive, West Approach Drive and Albert Road. Three of these developments are of particular interest in that they effectively completed partly‑built sections of the estate.

The largest was the imposing Tudor‑Gothic terrace occupying the west side of Wellington Square, built between 1848 and 1856. The County of Gloucester Bank acquired sites in Clarence Square and Pittville Lawn at the April 1845 sale. The five houses on the south side of Clarence Square completed, in similar style, a terrace built in 1832‑38, while new houses in Pittville Lawn complemented the existing houses, albeit in a new and different style.

Pittville since 1860

Although the two hundred and sixteen houses built at Pittville between 1825 and 1860 represent little more than a third of the total number originally planned for the estate, they certainly included some of the finest villas and terraces ever built in Cheltenham, with architectural variety as their keynote. After 1860, however, that variety was lost. No more terraces were built after the completion of Wellington Square West in 1859, and virtually all the estate’s late 19th‑century houses were large detached or semi‑detached properties in a uniformly heavy style that had already been introduced to Pittville in the 1850s.

The years after 1860 also saw a steady decline in the level of building activity within the estate, reflecting the town’s economic malaise and its falling rate of population growth. Between 1860 and the publication of the Cheltenham Ordnance Survey in 1885, only 29 houses were built at Pittville. These were mainly in Evesham Road, Albert Road and Pittville Crescent, with just another three being added by the 1930s.

In 1931, the total population of Cheltenham was actually less than it had been in 1901, and throughout the early decades of the 20th century, the town contained many unoccupied houses, particularly in such areas as Pittville, where they had been built for large families with their own servants. Consequently, house prices fell steadily until the 1930s, and at Pittville, terraced houses in Clarence and Wellington Squares often sold for less than £500.

By 1860, the only part of the Pittville estate that remained unsold was the Pump Room, gardens and rent charges (the latter amounting to £603 per annum), a part of the income from which helped to pay the interest on Pitt’s one outstanding debt, a sum £10,800, owed to the County of Gloucester Bank. In March 1888, the Bank offered to accept £5,400 if the Borough Council would agreed to purchase ‑ and preserve ‑ the Pump Room and gardens. Authority to raise the necessary amount was included in the 1889 Cheltenham Improvement Act and the property passed to the Council in December 1890. Since then, the gardens, no longer the private preserve of the residents, have been maintained as part of Pittville Park and the Pump Room underwent a major programme of restoration from 1949‑60. The Council continued to collect the rent charges for a time, but this was discontinued in 1954.

Although the fabric of many of Pittville’s houses deteriorated during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, there were few pressures for the area’s redevelopment. Only three of its pre‑1860 houses have been demolished and, apart from some modern infilling of vacant lots, the estate has survived relatively intact as a fine example of early 19th‑century town planning. The modern prosperity of Cheltenham, combined with an awareness of the importance of its historic buildings and the availability of conservation grants, has led to the restoration of many of its houses and to Pittville’s increasing role as one of the Cheltenham’s most sought‑after residential areas ‑ which was certainly Joseph Pitt’s intention when he established the estate more than one hundred and sixty years ago.

The summary above was edited by Fiona Clarke and taken, with the author’s kind permission, from the book, “Pittville 1824 – 1860 – a scene of gorgeous magnificence” by Dr Steven Blake. Publisher: Cheltenham Art Gallery and Museums (1988). ISBN-10: 090515715X, ISBN-13: 978-0905157153