Say Cheltenham and you generally tend to think of things being a bit posh because of the Ladies college and the horse racing. Whilst it does say “Capital” and “in the Heart” of the Cotswolds this is not true. Cirencester is the capital of the area as it is in it. Cheltenham is right next to the Cotswolds but its rise to prominence has more do with it’s water and the sand it sits on rather than anyway else.
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Our story begins in the Middle ages. Cheltenham is marked on a map as being a tiny place. Just village with a few fields and the whole place belong to Cirencester Abbey. The fact it has ‘ham’ at the end tells us that it was little more than an Anglo-Saxon village without the Roman heritage of Gloucester or Cirencester. Unlike those two towns it also has no Medieval history to speak of. Apart from the Yorkist army wandering near it before the battle of Tewkesbury it doesn’t feature at all. It did get a market in 1226 but this would have been dwarfed by the Gloucester and Cirencester markets to have not been significant at all.
What sets the place apart and brings it to the fore is the discovery of spring water in 1716, that has passed though minerals, the famous Cheltenham sands which the town sits on. Geological this are quite individual and the benefits of drinking the water were soon being touted across the land. An entrepreneur saw the opportunity that the small village in making a lot of money. He set about changing the face of Cheltenham making it a much more attractive place to visit. He also sold the walking that could be had in the Cotswold area that the village was on the very edge of. He greatest stroke was to build an ornate well house with space for entertainment and balls in a luxurious pleasure park land that remains today. At all times the sweeping Cotswolds were in view, affording the visitor the chance to see them if not actually visit as Cheltenham, though expanding, was not in them.
The Mad King George 3rd in 1788 was to seal Cheltenham’s new-found status. Already the elites and aristocracy were being drawn to its waters, especially if it helps with their gout. A Pump Room was then constructed around the spring and water, which can still be had would pour forth.
In more modern times the Town has a Festival of racing due to its horse track and there are Science and Literacy festivals drawn in all manner of celebrities. This combined with a large student population makes the town a vibrant place.