It’s glitzy, glass-fronted and shiny and new. But all around the £23 million John Lewis store are reminders of Cheltenham’s past.
The surrounding buildings date back more than 100 years, echoing a time when shopping was very different. Historians are keen that such times aren’t forgotten.
Jill Waller, researcher of Cheltenham’s Local History Society said: “The people, they’re not aware of the past in Cheltenham.”
The Parish Church is the only Medieval building remaining in Cheltenham, but if you look up towards the high end of the High Street, you can see Victorian buildings with modern fronts.
Jill added: “I think they have to move with the times, John Lewis have a glass façade, whereas Regent Arcade tried to reflect on the past. It’s good to reflect on the past but sometimes it’s good to move on too.”
The town centre has changed over the years, from being a mix of housing and shops, it is now almost completely commercial.
A woman who has lived in Cheltenham for three years said she likes the idea of Cheltenham having more modern touches with keeping the “beautiful Regency style”.
“It gives it the perfect place to live and the benefits of the modern shopping and modern living.”
Having worked on the Promenade when first moving to Cheltenham, she barely ventured into the High Street, but now she spends more time there than Montpellier.
The Days Gone By in Cheltenham Facebook page has been set up for people of Cheltenham to share old photos, stories and memories of the past and reflect on how much that has changed, even old school photos. Christine Mitchell, a member of the group says: “I remember the Lower High Street was the vibrant Cheltenham in the 1960’s.” “Everyone supported each other’s businesses.”
This brings us to question whether it is a case of forgetting the history, or are we building a new era of Cheltenham’s history?
Dr Christian O’Connell, a cultural historian and history lecturer from the University of Gloucestershire, put together a local history project Cheltenham’s Lower High Street: Past, Present & Future last year. Capturing people’s memories of growing up in the area, he says that most buildings have been redeveloped since they were built, and a lot have a missing history. ” It’s often forgotten that the first workhouse in Cheltenham was on the lower High Street which is now a launderette and a South Korean restaurant.”
There’s lots of investment going into certain parts of the High Street and less in others and there are reasons for that.
He says where there used to be a thriving community in the lower High Street, primarily working class, populated with migrants from parts of the UK, Ireland and parts of Europe, “it was very self-contained.”
It was a bustling High Street full of different grocery shops, butchers, labourers, and back to back houses full of families, this community feel has been lost by new housing estates being built and more people able to afford houses with gardens and driveways.
“The Brewery, John Lewis, have had millions gone into developing some parts of the town, but this has neglected the poorer areas, and this happens everywhere.”
Credit: Nik Thomas, Days Gone By in Cheltenham Facebook page