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Cheltenham’s Lower High Street and its neglected working-class history

University of Gloucestershire history researchers, in collaboration with the Cheltenham West End Partnership and the Cheltenham Civic Society, have explored the memories and experiences of former and existing residents of Cheltenham’s Lower High Street.​

Before the turn of the 19th Century, Cheltenham consisted of a High Street plus a few lanes and alleys. After King George III’s visit in 1788, grand villas and luxury shops were built and the town became popular as a tourist destination. The eastern end of the Lower High Street marked an invisible social boundary between poverty and wealth.

The aim of the research was to challenge long-standing negative perceptions of Lower High Street, provide a more balanced history of the town, and influence urban regeneration policy to be appreciative of Cheltenham’s neglected working-class history.

Christian O’Connell, Academic Course Leader in History, University of Gloucestershire said:
“Cheltenham’s Lower High Street has suffered from a long history of stigmatisation and neglect, particularly in comparison with the town’s rich Regency-era heritage.

“Through testimonies of former and current residents, we revealed a significant grassroots willingness to challenge the exclusionary Regency narrative. Present concerns about ethnic diversity and urban decay also exposed contemporary anxieties that are indicative of the broader context of modern Britain.

“We also looked at local resident and trader responses to the ongoing ‘studentification’ of the area surrounding the University of Gloucestershire’s Francis Close Hall campus, as student numbers have grown over the past two decades in response to the expansion of enrolments in Higher Education.”

Find out more on this research project on the Cotswold Centre for History and Heritage website​ which hosts an exhibition and short film about the research.

In March 2020, the research was published in the ‘International Journal for Regional and Local History’.​