Lower High Street Blog Posts

Lockdown Life Stories

This year, our students are working on a number of important local history projects covering the hidden lives of prominent women, exploring the experiences of lockdown, and uncovering links with slavery. All the projects will be exhibited in September as part of the ‘City Voices’ programme of the Gloucester History Festival. This post is one of five projects exploring the much more contemporary experiences of life under lockdown, and sees students applying some knowledge of oral history as a research method. The students involved are Mike Brazier and Tom Thickbroom.

The aim of our Lockdown Life Stories is to find out the impact the series of lockdowns have had on workers employed in some of the country’s key public services, such as the NHS and teaching, and the ways in which these people have overcome the issues that may have arisen during lockdown. We decided to interview four NHS workers and four teachers because these occupations could provide us with different experiences of the lockdowns. Each group has been affected by the pandemic, with NHS workers having to take on new roles due to Covid and teachers being forced to use online resources to present their classes because of school closures.

We agreed to conduct the interviews together via online calls on Microsoft Teams so that we could record the meetings and write up a transcript for future reference when we come to produce the final presentation of our project. For the interviews, we decided to ask a set of standardised questions with both professions, the only difference being that each group would be asked four ‘profession specific’ questions alongside a further four ‘general’ questions. We agreed to use a standardised set of questions for the interviews as opposed to sets of randomised questions so that every person we interview receives the same overall experience, making the interviews more straightforward to conduct, and because the answers then allow for more direct comparison when it comes to producing the final project.

We designed a consent form that all participants complete and sign before the interviews commence. The form includes the opportunity for participants to withdraw any information they don’t wish to be recorded. If they don’t feel comfortable with how their answers may be used in the future, they also have the option to withdraw completely from the project. This was done to ensure that all participants felt comfortable with all of the questions we may ask during the interview.

So far, we’ve completed four interviews. We’ve been able to complete all the interviews for those working in the NHS, so we’ve now got the recordings and the transcripts of these interviews for future use when we come to produce our final project. We still need to complete the last four interviews involving the teachers, but we’ve found it difficult to identify teachers who are able to participate in the interviews because schools reopened at the beginning of March and since then teachers have been too busy to participate in our project.

As this is the case, we’ve discussed the idea of changing our focus from teachers to shop / supermarket workers because, like NHS workers, they’ve continued to work throughout the lockdowns and they’ve been greatly affected by the pandemic. It’s likely that we’ll switch our focus to these workers if we can’t get any teachers to agree to be interviewed before the Easter Break.

Working on historic Excavations at Evesham Abbey

This post comes from second year undergraduate student Chris Chamberlain, who is contributing to a project on the Rudge family excavations of the Evesham Abbey grounds from 1811-1834 as part of the HM5002 Engaging Humanities module.

A Brief history of the Abbey:

Evesham Abbey was founded by Saint Egwin of Worcester during the 8th century, and was an integral place of worship and commerce for the Evesham area. This was especially the case after the Norman conquests due to the efforts of Abbott Aethelwig, and lasted until the dissolution of the monasteries in 1540 when the Abbey was demolished. Only the 16th century bell tower remained intact.

The 16th century bell tower in Evesham, with the All-Saints church in the background. Photo taken by Gregory Larson, 2012

After his death at the Battle of Evesham in 1265, Simon de Montfort was interred near what is believed to have been the high altar of the Abbey. His son, Henry de Montfort, was also buried there. The Abbey’s founder, Saint Egwin, was enshrined at the Abbey, alongside the remains of other saints, including Saint Credan, Saint Wigstan and Saint Odulf. These important burials speak volumes as to the importance of Evesham Abbey in medieval Britain.

The Rudge Family Excavations, 1811-1834

Edward Rudge (1763-1846), who was primarily a botanist, owned the grounds on which much of the Abbey once stood. His son, Edward John Rudge (1792-1861), was considered an antiquary, and was eventually made a fellow of the Royal Society in 1847. Edward John Rudge made the first excavation of the Abbey grounds following its destruction and his investigation still stands as the most extensive excavation of the ruins to date. He published his findings from the excavations in volume 5 of the Vetusta Monumenta in 1835.

This schematic featured in Vetusta Monumenta, vol.5, 1835, published by the Society of Antiquaries, London. It shows the foundations and floorplans discovered during the Rudge dig.

Edward John Rudge’s memoir in the Vetusta Monumenta provides us with an indication of the scale of the Abbey. He states that it stood at almost 300 feet long and 300 feet tall. In total, it is estimated that the Abbey covered an area of 90,000 square feet.

There is no doubt that the Abbey itself dominated not only the local landscape, but also the daily life of Evesham for over 800 years. It would likely have remained an integral place of Catholic worship if it were not for the dissolution of the monasteries in the 16th century. For artists impressions of what the abbey looked like and for more information on upcoming projects, follow this link: Evesham Abbey | Evesham Abbey Trust

African American Abolitionists in Gloucester

This year, our students are working on a number of important local history projects covering the hidden lives of prominent women, exploring the experiences of lockdown, and uncovering links with slavery. All the projects will be exhibited in September as part of the ‘City Voices’ programme of the Gloucester History Festival. This post is one of five projects, and explores the visits of former American slaves to Britain in the 19th century. Group members include Bethan Burley, Abbie Coleman, Alivia Middleton, Rebecca Taylor.

Our project focuses on African American abolitionists that visited Gloucestershire in the 19th century. We are examining their impact on the abolitionist movement as a whole, along with the methods they used in order to bring about the abolition of slavery. Going into this project, we knew a little bit about abolitionists in America. However, we knew nothing about the work of African American abolitionists in England, the impact that they had whilst here, or even the reasons why they came to England in the first place.

The connections between slavery and Gloucestershire are evident over hundreds of years. One of the earliest relevant documents dates from 1603. In England, slavery wasn’t abolished until 1834, and because of the amount of money generated in Gloucestershire through the operations of the slave trade, there was a good deal of local resistance to the abolitionist movement. British and American abolitionists joined forces in the call to end slavery, delivering lectures hosted across the county.

Our project focuses on four African American abolitionists that were identified in the work of Hannah Rose Murray, and the Frederick Douglass in Britain and Ireland project: Moses Roper, William Wells Brown and William and Ellen Craft, all of whom delivered talks in Gloucestershire in favour of the abolition of slavery.

Moses Roper was one of the first escaped slaves to travel to Britain, and his very first lecture was delivered in Gloucestershire. With the aid of British abolitionists, Roper gained a university education and told gruesome stories of his experiences on the slave farms in North Carolina and Florida.

William Wells Brown was a prominent African American abolitionist lecturer, novelist and historian in the United States. His time in Britain had a lasting impact. His personal objectives indicated his desire to educate others on the wrongs that were still being committed towards slaves and the free coloured people in both America and Britain. He often addressed the issues of slavery as a lecturer and a fugitive tourist. His success is reflected in a growing audience that sparked conversations and debates, benefiting his work as an anti-slave activist.

William and Ellen Craft made their escape from slavery to north America in December 1848 travelling by train. Their escape was made easier by Ellen’s ability to cross dress and pass William off as her servant. When they were threatened by the fugitive slave act, they emigrated to England. They continued their work as abolitionists by giving lectures across the country. They later returned to the United States where they set up education facilities for freed slaves’ children.

One of the main resources we’ve used in this project is the British Newspaper Archives. British newspapers included articles on all of the abolitionists we’re looking at and although there was not much on them in Gloucestershire the information provided for their travels throughout the country has allowed us to form an impression of what they may have done during their time in Gloucester and Cheltenham.

Overall, we aim to highlight how much of an impact these African American abolitionists had in Gloucestershire by reviewing what they did, what they said, how they interacted with other abolitionists and their contribution to the fight for racial equality.

The Legacies of Slave Ownership in Pittville and Cheltenham

This year, our students are working on a number of important local history projects covering the hidden lives of prominent women, exploring the experiences of lockdown, and uncovering links with slavery. All the projects will be exhibited in September as part of the ‘City Voices’ programme of the Gloucester History Festival. This post is one of five projects, and explores the legacies of slave ownership in and around Gloucester, and includes Alfie Lansdown, Jack Vincent, Sam Hodges, and Will Clark.

Our research project focuses on the legacies of slavery in Cheltenham, and we chose this topic partly in response to the recent protests around the portrayal of slaveholders in Britain and the corresponding Black Lives Matter movement. We aim to discover the ways in which legacies of the transatlantic slave trade are still visible around the area in which we live and study. Our research has considered the effects and legacies of the 1833 Slavery Abolition Act. We aim to uncover the historical opinions of local people by researching the time period around when the act was debated in order to see if the abolition movement was supported locally. We’ve also been looking directly at the legacies of slavery evident in Pittville today, one of Cheltenham’s most distinctively Regency-era areas . We have focused on two key individuals who benefitted from slavery and were compensated directly by the 1833 Act.

Map of Pittville in 1855

Our research began by identifying the connections to slavery amongst people who lived in the Pittville area. First, we used the UCL database of Legacies of British Slave Ownership, and work done by Pittville History Works to identify the most significant local slaveholders. One of the key individuals is Solomon Mendes Da Silva, who lived at 5 Blenheim Parade in Pittville. He received over £6000 in compensation (equivalent to £767,000 today) for his plantations and the slaves who lived on them. His largest plantation, in St Ann’s, Jamaica, covered 300 acres and had 96 enslaved workers. Da Silva is significant to our study because he directly benefitted from the act. He generously spent this money in the local Jewish community and put funds into a local Synagogue. He spent his final years living in the gated community around Pittville Park, which has many of its large homes still standing

A similar home in Pittville costs £1,950,000 today

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We have made extensive use of the British Newspaper Archive to investigate the opinions of local people at the time of abolition. Through a collection of local newspapers we discovered that there was general support for abolition in Cheltenham. The Assembly Rooms hosted many large gatherings that debated the morals and validity of slavery. We also identified Cheltenham’s first Member of Parliament, elected in 1832. Craven Fitzhardige Berkeley petitioned parliament on behalf of the Cheltenham abolitionists. Furthermore, he was an advocate for progressive rights movements. The local community continued to advocate for abolition after the British Abolition Act was passed. Lectures continued at the Assembly Rooms pressing for the total abolition of slavery across the Atlantic, and many prominent abolitionists were invited to speak, including Britain’s leading abolitionist George Thompson.

So far, our research has given us a crucial understanding of the direct effects of slavery on Pittville and Cheltenham. Our study has shown that the problems linked to slavery directly affected the whole town and that slavery had an extensive reach.

The Life and Legacy of Lilian Faithfull

This year, our students are working on a number of important local history projects covering the hidden lives of prominent women, exploring the experiences of lockdown, and uncovering links with slavery. All the projects will be exhibited in September as part of the ‘City Voices’ programme of the Gloucester History Festival. This post is one of five projects, and explores the life of famous Cheltonian and humanitarian, Lilian Faithfull. Group members include Grace Fry, Sam Hodges, Megan Kenchington, Tom White.

This project contributes to the women’s history of Cheltenham by exploring the life and work of one of its prominent twentieth-century educationalists and philanthropists: Lilian Faithfull (1865-1952).

Her education: Lilian Faithfull was born on 12 March 1865. She was one of eight children. In recognising her potential, her father sent her to his brother–in–law’s prep school, where she received a well-rounded and rare education. She was the only girl among twenty-five boys, and she later paid tribute to the thorough education she received. After completing her schooling, she continued to study from home and through the university extension movement, which had started offering lectures in subjects such as History and Economics.

She then attended Somerville College, Oxford, where she received a first-class degree in English Language and Literature. She couldn’t officially graduate but claimed an ad eundem award from Trinity College, Dublin, in 1905. She was awarded an honorary MA degree from Oxford in 1925 and a CBE in 1926.

Her career: Lilian Faithfull’s first job in 1887-88 was secretary to the principal of Somerville College, Madeleine Shall Lefevre. She then taught for a year at Oxford High School. She was then a lecturer in English at Royal Holloway College from 1889-94, and was subsequently appointed to succeed Cornelia Schmitz as Vice Principal of the ladies’ department of King’s College, London. She describes this job as one of the happiest educational posts for women in England. The aim of the department was to provide women with the same sorts of opportunities that were provided by the university extension lectures offered by Oxford and Cambridge. Women aged seventeen to seventy came to listen to lectures given by professors at Kings College. Faithfull was active in pushing for the advancement of women’s education, pursuing courses of study leading to university examinations, academic degrees and diplomas.

During her thirteen years as Vice Principal, the numbers of students doubled, a hall of residence was opened in 1897, household science was developed as a serious branch of study, and much of the King’s financial debt was cleared.

In 1906, Faithfull was persuaded to apply for the position of Headmistress at Cheltenham Ladies’ College following the death of Dorothea Beale. At the Ladies’ College, she is remembered as a likable, easy-mannered leader, who had concern and appreciation for her students’ welfare.

During the First World War, Faithfull recalls how often she had to share the news of lost fathers and brothers.  She established an intercession room near her office, where students could go to pray and find some privacy. She also organised a Red Cross hospital in one of the boarding houses.

Faithfull also served as Justice of the Peace for twenty-five years, retiring on 17 January 1946. She was one of the first women magistrates to be appointed to the Commission of Peace in October 1920 and she was the first female magistrate to sit on the Cheltenham bench. On her retirement, the chairman (Sir Francis Colchester-Wemyss) said: ‘She has been a model of justice and will carry away with her the esteem and the affection of all the justices’.

Lillian Faithfull died on the 2 May 1952 at Faithfull House, Cheltenham, a home for the elderly that she had helped to found. She was buried in Cheltenham.

Our groups next steps: Sam and Grace are currently exploring the newspaper archives. We’ve had some success, finding new information and quotes about Lilian Faithfull’s role as magistrate. Tom and Meg will spend time in the University of Gloucestershire Archive and will read her memoirs. We’re hoping to find more personal reflections on the events of her life, as well as more information about her role as head mistress at the Cheltenham Ladies’ College and her career after retirement. Grace is going to chase the archivist at the Cheltenham Ladies’ College now that lockdown restrictions are being eased, in the hope of being able to access their records of her leadership. Melanie has forwarded to us some online information about Lilian Faithfull. Our key sources so far are an article from the Dictionary of National Bibliography archive, a few newspaper articles, and images from the care homes website.

Legacies of slave ownership in Gloucestershire

This year, our students are working on a number of important local history projects covering the hidden lives of prominent women, exploring the experiences of lockdown, and uncovering links with slavery. All the projects will be exhibited in September as part of the ‘City Voices’ programme of the Gloucester History Festival. This post is one of five projects, and explores the legacies of slave ownership in and around Gloucester, and includes Joe Richardson, Harry Scott, Stephen Walmsley.

The Black Lives Matter protests in the summer of 2020 awoke a desire in many to learn more about our past and to question what we see around us. Many people wanted to gain further knowledge of the slave trade, a topic often brushed over in school, and many, ourselves included, wanted to know in what ways wealth generated by slavery is still visible. This project provides us with the opportunity to explore these questions in a case study of Gloucestershire. We aim to explore some of the legacies of the slave trade that are still visible in Gloucester and Gloucestershire.

Initially, we investigated how the abolition of slavery came about in Britain and its empire. There were two key pieces of legislation. First, the 1807 Abolition of the Slave Trade Act allowed for the confiscation of all ships involved in the slave trade. The 1807 Act also imposed fines on slave ship masters of £100 per slave if they tried to transport thereafter. Second, the 1834 Abolition Act had two sections: one emancipated the slaves, and the other compensated the slave owners. This act saw over £20,000,000 (over £2.4bn in today’s money) given in compensation to over 3,000 slave owning families. This was around 5% of GDP and 40% of the national budget. The money borrowed to pay this compensation was only paid off in 2015.

Next, we used the University College London (UCL) website Legacies of British slave-ownership to identify the names of known slave owners of Gloucester who received compensation after 1834. We then used a range of archives and digital archives, including the British Newspaper Archive, to explore further the individuals found on the UCL website. We found eleven people in Gloucester, or the villages just outside of the city, who received compensation. Of these eleven, we were able to find some more detailed information in archives and from records kept by local history societies, although this is still an ongoing process.

We found Rev. George Wilson Bridges. Bridges served as a vicar in two parishes in Jamaica and then served as rector as St. Giles Church in Maisemore, a village just outside Gloucester, from 1844-1846. He returned to Gloucestershire as vicar at Beachley from 1858-1863. He received just over £87 in compensation for three slaves, but this was not the main way that Bridges profited from slavery. Bridges earnt an annual income of between £500 and £2000 from baptising slaves whilst he was serving in Jamaica. With this money, he was able to fund a decade of travel around the world developing photography, something for which he is remembered. This example shows two aspects of slavery: first, the way people could indirectly profit from slavery; and second, one of the ways people spent the money they made from it, including pursuing a hobby.

People also invested their wealth. For example, George Henry Ames received over £45,000 in compensation for sixteen slave estates and made significant investments in the Great Western Cotton Company. Henry Sealy received £393 in compensation, and he invested a total of £2,500 in the York and Carlisle railway. Sealy was not the only Gloucestershire slave owner to invest in railways. These examples demonstrate that profit from the slave trade remains ingrained in many aspects of modern life in ways that are extremely easy to miss, such as the development of a railway network.

Badminton House as mentioned above (https://www.badmintonestate.com)

Another visible aspect of wealth from the slave trade is in the country estates around Gloucestershire. These were the ideal purchase for wealthy slave traders and merchants from Bristol. There were at least ten country estates in Gloucestershire that saw money from slavery invested in them, including one of the most famous in the country: Badminton House. Badminton benefitted from a £20,000 refurbishment in late 17th century by its owner, Henry Somerset, who had extraordinarily strong links to the slave trade.

Even though the project is ongoing, the examples listed in this post demonstrate that money from the slave trade can be seen in many aspects of modern life even in areas that one might not expect.

The Soldiers of St Paul’s, Cheltenham

This post comes from second year undergraduate student Jason Thomas, who is conducting a project with the University’s Archives and Special Collections as part of the HM5002 Engaging Humanities module.

My project involves making a contribution to writing the short biographies of a number of alumni soldiers who attended St. Paul’s Practicing School, located at Francis Close Hall campus along with St Paul’s College in Cheltenham. In due course, a memorial board will be placed inside the chapel at FCH and an exhibition about the alumni soldiers is scheduled to take place in November 2021.

Commonwealth War Graves Cheltenham Cemetery

Many of the 41 students covered by this project lived locally and they all served as soldiers in the Second World War. The task involved analysing service records about the students, and preparing short biographies noting information relating to their family life, educational background, employment history and leisure activities. Most of the source material came from the Commonwealth War Graves website (which has a ‘Held in Honour’ page providing short biographies of the soldiers), grave register and registration information and a pdf copy of the burial site. The major challenge for me in writing the biographies was to ensure that they did not simply repeat the information already publicly available. With only two paragraphs to work with, it was important to provide some new insight to every story, even if the eventual outcome for each of the individual soldiers was ultimately the same.

Image of St. Paul’s Training College Practising School and environs, Cheltenham (1934)

My personal connection to Cheltenham has been further cemented by working on these biographies. Although my other interests in photography and walking had already established a sense of belonging to the town through visiting various buildings and the surrounding landscape, this project has imprinted an emotional link with Cheltenham that will stay with me for a long time. I considered it not only a duty, but also a pleasure to learn more about the everyday lives of these local people, their day-to-day normality, the routine of going about their business, until either by choice or by call, their lives were taken in a different direction. They have helped to shape Cheltenham’s wartime history.

New publications from CC4HH research

We’re very proud to announce that we have our first academic publications on our community research projects. Two of these relate to the Cheltenham Lower High Street project, and the latest concerns Cheltenham: Diaspora.

Christian O’Connell’s paper entitled ‘”Poor, Proud and Pretty:” Community History and the Challenge of Heritage in “Darkest” Cheltenham’ was published in International Journal of Regional and Local History. The article discusses a collaborative local history project in Cheltenham Spa’s Lower High Street, an area that has suffered from “symbolic annihilation” through a long history of stigmatisation at the expense the town’s Regency-era heritage. Residents’ testimonies give voice to marginalised experiences that help to establish the area’s distinctive “sense of place,” which is rooted in shared experiences of exclusion, hardship and community cohesion. Through nostalgic recollections, they also reveal a significant grassroots willingness to challenge the exclusionary practices of Cheltenham’s dominant and exclusionary Regency narrative. However, present concerns about ethnic diversity and urban decay also exposed contemporary anxieties that are indicative of the broader context of Britain in the EU referendum era. While offering a “history from below,” the paper also considers how universities operating as “anchor” institutions can help to address contemporary issues of social alienation and spatial inequality by fostering a greater appreciation of the past.

Visitors react to the Cheltenham Lower High Street: Past, Present and Future exhibition at Chapel Arts in Cheltenham, June 2017.

Matthew Kidd who also contributed to the Lower High Street project, published his paper ‘”Us and Them:” exploring social difference in an English Spa town’ in the autumn edition of Oral History. This article draws on interviews with former residents of Cheltenham’s Lower High Street area to explore how ordinary Cheltonians understood their place in the town’s social hierarchy in the post-war period. While the initial findings of the Cheltenham Lower High Street: Past, Present, Future project suggested that residents articulated a working-class identity, this article contends that such an interpretation does not do justice to the ambiguity that characterised their views on social difference. Most struggled to express their feelings about the issue; when they did so, they tended to articulate a populist rather than class-based model of society. By exploring social difference in an atypical English town, this article seeks to contribute to ongoing debates about class in post-war Britain.

Finally, David Howell’s paper ‘Expanding Heritage Horizons through the Cheltenham: A Diaspora Project‘ has just been published in the journal Present Pasts, and can be read free online. This article considers the Cheltenham: Diaspora project, an exploration and promotion of migration heritage narratives in Cheltenham (UK). Cheltenham has a diverse history, but heritage provision in the locality has been consistently concentrated on 18th and 19th century Regency architecture. This has led to a marginalisation of non-elite heritage narratives, with no permanent platform for culturally diverse heritage themes in the region. In addition, informal, online history themed social media groups have, rather than expand heritage narratives, ultimately further narrowed heritage discussions. The Diaspora project looked to challenge the lack of diversity in the authorised heritage discourse, and informal online discourses of Cheltenham’s heritage, while enhancing the democratic nature of research projects coming out of the University of Gloucestershire. This paper considers the difficulties encountered in attempting to democratise heritage research, in a cultural climate that is rigid in its perception of what counts as ‘heritage’ and what is deemed as relevant by more ‘vocal’ local stakeholder groups. Ultimately the project reveals that while social media provides a useful avenue through which diverse heritage narratives can be pursued and promoted, ingrained attitudes regarding authorised forms of heritage are robust and resistant to the introduction of the unfamiliar.

From India to Cheltenham

This post comes for second year undergraduate student Lydia Munn, who has been working as a research assistant on the Cheltenham: Diaspora project.

When I first joined the Cheltenham: Diaspora project I was unsure where my research would lead me. After exploring some of the project’s initial findings, I decided that I wanted to focus on women’s stories as I feel their voices are often overlooked. I noticed one narrative the project had already started looking at was the Ayah’s, who were Indian women brought over to England during the 19th century by British colonial officers in order to look after their children on the long ship journey’s. The officers were supposed to pay for these women’s journey home, but many ended up abandoned and were sent to the Ayahs’ home in London.

Ayahs Home
The Ayahs’ Home in Hackney, 1904. Photo courtesy of the British Library.

Most of these women’s stories have not been written down and are lost to history, but one Cheltenham related name that kept appearing was ‘Ruth’. She was an Ayah in the service of Colonel Rowlandson, and she became the first person from India to be baptised in Cheltenham along with one of the Colonel’s children. What is even more interesting is she was baptised by a different priest to the child, one who could speak her native language: Tamil. Very few records surrounding these women have been saved. With some determination though, I found the record of her baptism on Ancestry. This record revealed her last name, or at least the name she had been given while in England, as Adnitt, a piece of information I had not been able to previously find. I wondered if she had kept the name, so I searched for it on shipping records but found nothing. It was so frustrating as there was so much information about the English family she lived with, but so little about her.

munn
Ruth’s Baptism certificate obtained from Ancestry.

I have not given up on Ruth and hope to one day find out more about her but I wanted to be of more use to the project. A few weeks before I had helped the Diaspora team set up a pop-up exhibition at the Cheltenham Community Rescource Centre. During this Bernice Thomson, who runs the centre, had mentioned that she ran a group on Monday’s called Sahara Saheli, for women had had emigrated to Cheltenham from other parts of the world. I contacted her and asked if any of the women would like to be interviewed for the project, she suggested I come along to one of the Monday sessions, in order to introduce myself and explain the project. I thought I could be of use to the Diaspora project as many of these women come from traditional cultural backgrounds and would feel more comfortable being interviewed by another woman.

Munn 2
The Cheltenham: Diaspora exhibition being installed at the Community Resource Centre on Grove Street.

The Sahara Saheli group was really welcoming and some of them seemed genuinely interested in the project. I conducted my first interview in March and heard the powerful story of a woman who came to Cheltenham from India in 1967. Over the next fifty years she watched a town change dramatically whilst dealing with immense loss and the need to support her family back in India. Sadly, due to the current Coronavirus pandemic it is unlikely I will be able to conduct anymore interviews this year, but I am so grateful that I have been able to have even the tiniest glimpse into some of these women’s amazing stories.

100 Years of GCHQ

This post comes from Charlotte Andrews, Ethan Cross, Liz Cutter, Richard Grace, Marcie Jones, Dan Moore.

Most people have an idea of what occurs at GCHQ – intercepting messages to do with international terrorism, helping to protect people from cyber-attacks. Others question why GCHQ should have so much power and what that means for ordinary people’s privacy.

We are looking at 100 years of GCHQ and particularly how it has become part of Cheltenham. As a large group we have been able to divide up our key focuses and have been able to look at more exciting things than we expected. The three key areas we are focusing on are:

1.  the Trade Union strikes that affected GCHQ in the 1980s;

2.  the lives of double agents;

3.  scandals surrounding the organisation and surveillance in the 21st Century and a possible future of surveillance vs privacy.

(BC Newsbeat, 2011

Charlotte, Liz and Marcie were able to take a trip to London to view the exhibit ‘Top Secret: from Ciphers to Cyber’ at the Science Museum. This was particularly exciting because it covered exactly what the research project wanted – 100 years of GCHQ. It was really helpful in giving us a clear understanding and helpful timeline of events concerning GCHQ in Cheltenham.

1. The Trade Union strikes that affected GCHQ in the 1980s: these took place in Cheltenham and some people might remember them. Gloucester archives have been a useful resource to find records of these events. Research suggests that people felt very strongly about Trade Unions being banned from GCHQ, as shown through the annual marches that took place through the town.

2. The lives of double agents and scandals surrounding the organisation: our case study for this is Geoffrey Prime and his life in Cheltenham. Prime was a double agent who gave information to the Soviet Union. It also allows us to explore the importance of Cheltenham during the Cold War.

3. Surveillance in the 21st Century and a possible future of surveillance vs privacy: we gained lots of valuable information about the future of GCHQ from London and the on-going debate on how much involvement GCHQ should have in individuals’ computer security. We also aim to speak to and include what local people think of GCHQ being Cheltenham based.

As part of the Trades Union Congress protest against the prohibition of Government Communications Head Quarters workers being allowed Trade Union membership, a series of marches took place annually through Cheltenham, in January. Police Constable Martyn Hillier riding   J82CVJ which was put on the road in December 1991, so this is the 1992 march. (Gloucestershire Police Archives URN 2269) | Photograph from Martyn Hillier
Gloucester Police Archives, URN 2269

We aim to put together a display that will reveal the importance of Cheltenham to GCHQ, exploring the impact and legacy on Cheltenham, and to allow local people to see more of an organisation that is part of their local community but, yet, so little is known about it. One main issue to come up so far is that GCHQ are very talented at saying a lot about nothing. Many news articles say the same thing. However, we are finding that we are now able to look past the surface of what is available to draw some conclusions about the impact of GCHQ in Cheltenham.