This is the story of the Hesters Way area, including a brief look back to the days before the housing estates overwhelmed the ancient village of Arle.
This is the first history of Hesters Way to be published, but it is not intended as the definitive volume. In fact, there is enough material for two complete encyclopaedias - one on pre-war Arle and one on post-war Hesters Way. More than that, there is enough for an entire heritage centre! But for the moment we present those aspects likely to be of widest interest, starting with the story of the construction of the council housing estate.
Hesters Way History Group, March 1999
HOW IT ALL BEGAN
The 1940s saw a drive nationally to provide new housing and in line with this initiative, Cheltenham Corporation were given powers to compulsorily purchase land. At a meeting of the Cheltenham Borough Council Housing Committee on 18th September, 1941, the Town Clerk submitted a memorandum received from the National Housing and Town Planning Council with regard to planning and rebuilding after the war. The Committee considered that it would be necessary to erect a large number of houses at the end of the war and that, with this end in view, the Town Planning Committee proceeded with the planning on the west side of the Borough.
A team from the Borough Engineer's Department prepared preliminary layout plans for the proposed estate. In order to do so, they surveyed the whole area from Gloucester Road to Tewkesbury Road and from Hesters Way Road to Brooklyn Road. This survey represented a massive undertaking and the results were plotted at 1/500th scale on a single sheet of paper specially made for the purpose. It stood rolled up in the office like a huge roll of linoleum.
The Housing Committee approved the plan in principle and asked the Borough Engineer to proceed with such plans as he was able to, so that after the war the Council could be authorised to commence building with as little delay as possible. Should it prove necessary to purchase land, the price should not exceed the 1939 value, and where possible should be obtained by agreement. However, if this was not possible the Minister was prepared to consider applications for compulsory purchase.
It was agreed that a first year's programme for 450 houses be prepared and that the Borough Surveyor draw up details of the land to be acquired. A decision had to be made before work could commence, but there was a significant delay in the Ministry's response because Hesters Way was good agricultural land. It had always been farmland, so any decision to change its use could not be taken lightly. However, in the meantime, the Housing Committee discussed details of the type of houses to be built and it was generally agreed that large terraces were appropriate. The question of back street development was an open one, but as a solution it was suggested that the back streets be traffic free and the approach to the fronts of the houses should be by footway.
In December 1946, the Borough Surveyor submitted a preliminary layout of the Hesters Way Estate to the Housing Committee. This was only intended to indicate the general lines of development and could not be finalised until a decision had been reached regarding school sites and various amenities. It was suggested that a school site be provided close to King George V Playing Fields, thus enabling the fields to be used by the Grammar School.
Much of the land needed was acquired in large blocks - altogether perhaps ten or twelve purchases. In 1945 thirteen and a half acres from the Arle House Estate, and in 1949 sixty-seven and a half acres belonging to Hesters Way Farm were acquired - hence the name of Hesters Way. In 1952 forty-nine and a half acres from Arle Court Farm and in 1953 yet a further one hundred and fifty-six acres from Arle Farm, were acquired - some by compulsory purchase; almost all of the land having been agricultural land for centuries. Several old cottages, formerly used by farmers and market gardeners, had to be demolished.
THE COUNCIL ESTATE BUILDERS
As information became available details were worked out for the whole estate and various contracts granted. The profile of the estate received a huge boost at this point, in 1951, when the Foreign Office announced it was locating its new Communications Section in Benhall, Cheltenham. In order to relocate staff an arrangement was made between the Foreign Office and Cheltenham Corporation to build houses and flats on the estate as agents to the F.O.. This immediately doubled the rate of building in Hesters Way. The Benhall site developed rapidly and GCHQ moved into the site in 1952.
George Wimpey Ltd. of Hammersmith, London were granted the first housing contracts and work began in earnest in the Orchard Avenue/ Bramley Road area. Pye Brothers of Oxford, who had developed part of Orchard Way prior to the War, still owned land there. They added more housing in and around Russet Road. Work progressed rapidly, as with no significant geographical problems the estate was easy to develop. The principal headache was that the routes of the 33,000 volt underground electricity cables running from the MEB site in Hesters Way Road to various sub-stations had not been well recorded, so the builders needed to be very vigilant.
The construction of a central axis road, which was to become Princess Elizabeth Way (so named because the then Princess Elizabeth had officially opened the estate with the planting of a tree in March1951) was a separate contract with Wimpey. The last section of Princess Elizabeth Way, between Arle Road and Tewkesbury Road, however was delayed due to a dispute and was finally opened in 1957.
Among the parts of the estate built during the next phase of the work were the Kingsmead Avenue and Pennsylvania Avenue area, and also the Barbridge Road/ Ashlands Road area, these areas around 1952. A majority of the blocks of flats on both sides of Princess Elizabeth Way between Grevil Road and Quebec House went up from 1953 to 1955.
There are two interesting blocks of flats on the estate originally built to house single persons relocated by the Foreign Office. Firstly Scott House and Edward Wilson House known locally at the time as 'Stalingrad House' because of its stark look. These were designed by L.W. Barnard and Partners of Imperial Square, Cheltenham and constructed by Wimpey. The other block is Monkscroft, designed by Louis de Soisson and Partners and built by Ford and Weston Ltd., who had just moved into the area but who had been involved in maintenance work at Dowty's for some time. Louis de Soisson was well known for his Neo-Georgian architecture and was responsible for the 'new town', Welwyn Garden City.
The Welch Road area was built by several developers around 1956. The houses at the southern end of Welch Road were built by Wimpey, at the eastern end by Holborough and Co Ltd. of Tetbury, with some in between by Brockworth Builders Ltd. Brockworth Builders were a subsidiary of Hawker Aircraft and produced a pre-fabricated house. They transported the sections on the lorries used for aircraft wings, and unloaded them with high-lift cranes used to lift aircraft bodies during the War.
The Marsland Road, Beale Road and the Pitman Road areas were completed mainly by Wimpey but so far as building was concerned, others were involved and areas were completed in a rather haphazard way as the building programmes wound down. While much of the earlier development had consisted of houses with a few blocks of flats thrown in, in the interests of housing a maximum number of people on the remaining space, much of subsequent building consisted of flats with a few houses thrown in.
The section of Princess Elizabeth Way from Orchard Avenue to Dowty Road was developed with a series of blocks of flats named after castles in the 1956-57 period, these more attractive than some of the earlier blocks that face the thoroughfare. However this was followed in 1958 by the unsightly Shakespeare Road high rise blocks, which in 1997 made way for a housing association development of attractive houses.
The Coronation Square area, which today appears as the central feature of Hesters Way, was developed by Kingsgate Investmant Co. Ltd during the period 1958-61, quite late on in the overall development of the council estate. The area concerned includes the Coronation Square Shopping centre, the Musicians Blocks, India and Pakistan House and the flats in Newton Road. The 'Three Ways' development which includes Hobart House was also built during this period.
Council house development on the estate ended in 1965 with the several blocks of flats that make up Sochi Court, by which time there was little room on the Hesters Way estate for any futher major building works. It is ironic, given the age of some cottages still sprinkled around the estate, that some of the later Council developments, such as the flats in Shakespeare Road, have already been demolished.
From 1965, housing construction was carried on by private developers, in the Springbank area on green field sites, effectively doubling the size of Hesters Way. Further expansion outwards in this direction is however unlikely due to the proximity of the Hayden Sewage Works.
In 1977 development moved to the Fiddlers Green Lane area, with private estates at the Golden Valley end, and red brick housing association estates where Elm Farm had stood.
The latest major development was at the north end of Springbank. The social housing known as Arle Farm and Springfield went up from 1984 onwards and is still continuing today.
NO CORNER SHOP!
Facilities for shopping in the early days of the Hesters Way Estate were extremely basic. The shops on Hesters Way Road were not built until the late 1950s, and those at Coronation Square not until 1960. The nearest shops until then were those at Tennyson Road, St. Marks, built in the late 1920s/ early 1930s. Unless one had transport it was case of 'Shank's Pony' into Cheltenham. Fortunately in those days most shopkeepers were happy to deliver free of charge to one's door.
Given these shortcomings in facilities, residents relied to some extent on the 'mobile shop'. Drivers calling sometimes daily (and sometimes late into the evening!) either direct to the door, or parking on the corner of the road, sounded their horn to announce their arrival. This usually attracted a small social gathering of housewives and children, taking the opportunity for a chat whilst they did their shopping. Apart from day-to-day groceries, the vans would be bulging with everything from 'a pin to an elephant'. If they did not have your particular requirement on board, they would promise to bring it along the next day - and did so, without fail!
There were a host of delivery vans coming on to estate as it grew. Gerald Sutherland delivered bread and groceries for forty years in Arle and Hesters Way from 1955 to 1995. He worked for Mr. Townsend whose bakehouse stood on the corner of Townsend Street and the Lower High Street, opposite the gas works, until the arrival of the Tesco supermarket in the early 1990s. In 1955 the price of a loaf was 8d - and if it was sliced it was another halfpenny. Every so often a customs and excise official would appear to check that the weight of the loaf was correct, usually on a Saturday, his busiest day! Gerald was a lifeline to many elderly and housebound persons, especially the senior citizens who lived in Barlow Road, and he was always willing to help them with any other problems such as collecting their medicine from the chemist. Townsend's bread was baked in a traditional oven and tasted home made, and like Gerald himself, their doughnuts and drippers are remembered with affection!
The Co-op butcher was still making the rounds in the late 1960's - no packaged meat here! His van was equipped with a chopping block, and as he drove around, the legs of lamb etc. swung somewhat bizarrely from the hooks above his head.
The milkman T. Hopkins of Hesters Way Lane, and the coalman J. Jones of Swindon Road were regular callers in the early days, and then there was Mr. Lusty the 'paraffin man' - no central heating in the houses in those days - so Mr Lusty's van was a particularly welcome sight. The van was festooned with pots and pans, and brushes of all shapes and sizes, and who can forget that unique aroma of soap, candlewax and paraffin?
PATES PLAYING FIELDS
In about 1932 Pates Grammar School, although still based in the town centre, established sports playing fields in the area. The entrance was on Brooklyn Road, and a pavilion stood where Sochi Court is now (by the Laxton Road corner). For some years an annual fete, which included aeroplane trips, was held on these fields. In fact the original pre-war plan was for a new straight road marking off a neat boundary to the old St Marks estate. A site by this new road was set aside for the new Boys' Grammar School, roughly where Westfields/ Walton House is now.
The War changed plans, and the fields ended up under compulsory purchase in 1952. This resulted in arguments which ended in the resignation of the Pates headmaster, Mr Heawood. The area concerned included Ellison Road, Dowty Road, Coronation Square and India House. Most of the area was not actually developed until the late 1950s. Ironically a large chunk of the old playing fields ended up reincorporated into the grounds of the Grammar School that opened in 1965.