Mrs Champion and the Cheltenham Ladies’ Society for the Protection of Animals

The Cheltenham Ladies’ Society for the Protection of Animals (CLSPA) was founded in the summer of 1872. Its members looked after strays (they ran a dogs’ home in Whaddon) and sought the prosecution of those found ill-treating horses, dogs, and other animals. The CLSPA made few headlines in its early years, but came to note in 1877, when on 13 May, one James Walker preached a sermon in support of the society entitled ‘The groaning and deliverance of the creatures of God’, on the sin of cruelty to animals. This was published the same year, presumably as a fund-raiser.

The society’s most enduring contribution to animal welfare in the town was its campaign to install drinking troughs on the entrance routes into Cheltenham. Previously, where public troughs were lacking, draught animals either went thirsty or were watered at inns or alehouses, while their masters took stronger stuff, and it’s clear that the CLSPA was meeting a real need. Their troughs, inscribed with a pious sentiment, were all very substantial, and raising the money to pay for five of them must have been a challenge.

Fortunately, a Pittville resident was equal to the task. Mrs Mary Champion, a wealthy widow living at Malden Court, was the CLSPA’s treasurer, and it is she who features most often in reports of the society’s doings. (She had also been treasurer of the county branch of the RSPCA; the relationship, or lack of, between the two societies is unknown.) Just a month after Walker’s sermon, Mrs Champion wrote to the council asking for leave to place a drinking trough for cattle ‘on the Prestbury Road’. This may refer to something at Pittville Gates, but it seems nothing came of the plan. Perhaps at this time the CLSPA did not yet have enough money to procure troughs themselves, but relied on patrons to sponsor one.

Such seems to have been the case with the first confirmed delivery of a CLSPA trough, installed at the Gloucester Road–Tewkesbury Road junction in May 1878. The inscription records that it was ‘donated’ to the CLSPA by W Gibbons; it can be seen today in the Promenade, opposite Martin’s the jewellers. (Just a month after the new trough was set up in Gloucester Road, vandalism was evident, and Mrs Champion was writing to the council asking for offenders to be prosecuted.)

Ambitions were high in 1882, when the CLSPA sought council blessing to install three troughs, at Pittville Gates, Hewlett Road and Montpellier. The local paper records the arrival of the Pittville and Montpellier ones (both in red Aberdeen granite, carved by Martyn & Emms of Cheltenham) in August 1883, and the one now at the Hewlett Road/London Road junction is also dated 1883. Perhaps for traffic reasons, the Montpellier one was relocated in early 1884 to near Westal Green. It has since disappeared. The fifth delivery was in 1884, when the CLSPA presented the Leckhampton Local Board with the red granite drinking trough which still stands by the Norwood Arms.

The CLSPA then disappears from view, probably having ceded place to the older and larger RSPCA. All that remains of its efforts are three very solid troughs.

from Pittville Gates – Cheltenham’s ‘Grand Entrance’ (James Hodsdon, 2011)

The original horse trough in front of Pittville Gates

Additional biographical notes

Mary Champion (née Bacon), baptised 3 April 1809, at St. Lawrence, Reading, Berkshire, the daughter of Richard and Mary Bacon.

Married Thomas Champion, ‘fundholder’,  on  17 February 1830, at St Giles’, Reading, Berkshire.

Mary Champion died on 10 May 1896 – probate was granted in London on 15 June to Henry Cecil Geare gent. Her effects at death amounted to £22961 2s 8d (resworn in December 1896 as £20779 16s 7d).

Thomas Champion died on 16 Sept 1872, at Malden Court, Pittville Lawn. Probate was granted on26 October, with effects under £70,000. The will of Thomas Champion late of Malden Court Chelt, esq,  proved at Gloucester by Thomas Lyford Champion of Malden Court esq., his son, and Mary Champion of Malden Court, his widow and relict, both executors.