Cheltenham dates back to an Anglo-Saxon settlement- the name derives from Celtenhomme, 'the town under the hill' - and had a monastery by 803. King Alfred the Great wrote about the peaceful settlement on the River Chelt. It developed into a market town by the 13th century.
The discovery of the spa waters here in 1716 that really put the town on the map. According to local legend - the spring waters were discovered by a flock of pigeons on the site of what is now the famous Ladies College. Noticing that the pigeons seemed to thrive, local people tried the waters and found that they helped cure many of the disorders that afflicted 18th century England. Realising that there was money to be made from this spa water, businessmen started to develop the town in order to attract the wealthy and famous to take the waters - something that was a bit of a popular pastime at that time..
Many famous and distinguished people like Samuel Johnson and Handel
came to take the waters. But it was the visit of George III in 1788 that really
put it on the fashionable map of Britain. 'Farmer George' as he was popularly
known stayed at Bayshill and after 'taking the waters' walked regularly around
the town with his family.
Cheltenham continued to flourish een when the popularity of Spa towns waned, due to the fame of a group of fine craftsmen. After the Second World War, the town started attracting businesses that could benefit from being outside London - the Government Communications Headquarters (G.C.H.Q) which has become one of the West's most important secret surveillance centres, Eagle Star, Gulf Oil,, U.C.C.A.S. and the Countryside Commission have all come here.
If you want to take a short stroll round the town, you can walk from into Pittville
Park which has two scenic lakes and verdant lawns with colourful
flower beds. If you feel like tasting the spa waters that made the town famous,
then stop at the Pittville Pump to "take the waters" - The Pump Room
also houses the Gallery of Fashion. The displays of flowers in the numerous
parks like Pittville and Sandford have helped win the Britain in Bloom
Walking on towards the centre of town, you pass the Holst Birthplace Museum which houses exhibits on Gustav Holst- the composer of the Planets Suite. In the centre of town is Art Gallery and Museum which always has a wide range of special exhibitions. On through the centre of town via the wide, tree-lined Promenade (perhaps the finest Regency street in Britain) you go past the Municipal Offices, the Imperial Gardens (which holds summer exhibitions by local artists) and a number of other impressive Regency buildings
You will then reach the Montpellier district with another spacious park on one side of the road and a parade of speciality shops on the other. These shops are worth pausing at because of their architecture - between each shop is a statue of a Caryatid - a handsome figures based on the Acropolis in Athens.
Cheltenham is synonymous with National Hunt Racing. The National Hunt Season culminates every year with the The Gold Cup. Gold Cup week is in March and everyone is gripped by Gold Cup fever. The National Hunt festival is held at Cheltenham Racecourse just to the north of the town. It attracts visitors from all over the world, but it it the Irish who have made it their own - if there is an Irish winner, then the Guinness flows. The racecourse is set in a natural bowl with the Cotswold Hills making a spectacular backdrop. Apart from Gold Cup week, the racecourse is home to many other race meetings and events throughout the year.
Cheltenham itself offers some of the best shopping outside West London. Shopping
offers rich diversity thanks to the wide variety of quality shops, plus lots
of cosy tea shops that offer the visitor a chance to pause in the shopping from
time to time. Of special interest are the Regent Arcade with its Wishing Clock
and Beechwood Place, the town's latest shopping mall.
There are lots of festivals every year - the International Festival of Music started in 1944 to foster contemporary British music, and is held each July and it has become one of the best regarded music festivals in the world. Performances and talks are given at various venues in the town and in recent years a well supported Cheltenham Fringe Festival has given an extra piquancy to the event.
The County Cricket Festival is another regular event. Gloucestershire play host to other first class and international teams. This festival which was first run in 1872 takes place in the grounds of Cheltenham Boys College and the spectacular College buildings are right in character for county cricket.
A newer event is the Festival of Literature. During the ten days of this festival there are readings and discussions by famous authors and celebrities.
And all year round, the restored Everyman Theatre puts on productions by various theatre groups. The Playhouse Theatre is the base for many amateur companies. In addition the Town Hall holds a number of concerts and exhibitions including an Ideal Home Exhibition.
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Cheltenham, capital of the Cotswolds