Criminal Activities and WW2 in Cheltenham’s Pittville Area

Project team: Hannah Treveil, Katherine Sparks, Matthew Bedford & Racheal Chandler

Pittville is well-known for its upper-class inhabitants as it is often given a civic reputation of harmony, which has shunned away the notion of any criminal activities in the area to remain as a taboo and thus highlights Pittville as a poorly researched area. Our project aims are to investigate the area’s criminal activities in order to challenge mythological narratives of Pittville. We are additionally examining the area’s involvement and impact in WW2, which includes the destruction of Cheltenham’s great spa building – Pittville Pump Room

Our initial research has focused on demographic changes in Pittville. We have studied the shift towards multi-occupancy houses as well as the history surrounding the Pittville Pump Room, which was used as military storage units for American munitions and equipment during the war. The Pump Room suffered extensive damage and local residents fought over its restoration; some wanted it to be restored to its previous state, but others wanted it to become a building to benefit the whole community.

We are also researching the lives of soldiers from Pittville who died during WW2. Pittville History Works helped us to compile a list that demonstrate that twenty-two Pittville servicemen and one service woman had sacrificed their lives during WW2. To develop this research, we have consulted Graham Sacker’s Held in Honour: Cheltenham and the Second World War, as well as searching newspapers in order to uncover photographs and further details about the lives of the soldiers prior to and during the war. For example, Flying Officer (Air Bomber) Donald Cameron McIntosh (third from the left), a resident of Camden Lodge, Clarence Road, was killed in action in Germany on the 30th November 1944. We are in the process of writing brief narratives of each of these soldiers.

In order to tie our research with the criminal activity in Pittville and during WW2 together, the Pittville History Works team have supplied us with information on soldier Cyril Johnson. Despite his heroic remembrance as a water transport driver who died at sea during the WW2, Johnson was previously involved in petty crimes. He was sent to prison on at least three occasions for stealing school-boy bicycles, car theft at the Hotel Majestic in Pittville and other robberies.

As part of our research into the criminal activities, Rachael and Katherine have utilised the prison and asylum records in the Gloucestershire Archives. We have combined our findings from these records with information from to develop an insight into the crimes and the criminals. Petty crimes were the most common offences, particularly in relation to servants stealing from their households. This was perhaps to be expected due to the predominantly middle-class demographics of Pittville. Nevertheless, we have also discovered a number of horrific murders and stabbings in Pittville, including the murder of a young woman, Alice Gardener, by Frederick Jones in 1817.

We have analysed newspaper reports and used these in conjunction with the information found from the prison and asylum records. This has revealed extracts of reports from the murders and crimes in general, to identify any additional information from the journalists whose findings were not included in the official records. Through the use of the newspapers and records, we have been able to find images of the criminals to include on our display panels and to gain a more developed insight into their lives and what the criminals were like. For example, Elizabeth Hill, a 42-year old charwoman, was committed for stealing bed linen on the 2nd July 1870. She was sentenced for six months of hard labour and under two years of police supervision.

Elizabeth Hill

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