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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This post comes from Rebecca Chivers, Josh Oliver and Frankie Stanley.
The recent controversy over the removal of Confederate monuments in the United States, and even colonial figures such as Admiral Lord Nelson in Britain, has focused attention on the ways in which national ‘heroes’ and more problematic historical figures are and should be remembered. Our project provides one example by focusing on Gloucester-born George Whitefield, the 18th century evangelist credited with promoting a Protestant revival in Britain and its American colonies.
Whitefield’s childhood and early life are a pivotal part of our project, as they played an important role in his development as a charismatic and inspirational. His interest in acting and theatre whilst growing up was crucial in how he became such an influential and famous figure throughout Great Britain and the American colonies. His experiences acting on stage made him an incredibly captivating preacher.
Whitefield is popularly known as a prominent evangelist preacher that sparked surges of religious interest in the American colonies during the 18th century, part of what was known as the ‘Great Awakening.’ However, his endorsement of slavery in Georgia and religious justifications for the enslavement of Africans have rarely been acknowledged. Even Gloucestershire tourist websites have taken advantage of his Gloucestershire connection but have not shed light on this controversial past. Although his charity work funding the Bethesda Orphanage in Georgia (that founded his advocacy of slavery), his interest in the religious education and conversion of African American slaves and protest of the physical abuse of slaves complicates the picture of his ethical blind spots.
As well as Whitefield’s approach to slavery and his early life and childhood, our group will be researching his involvement in the foundation of the Methodist movement of Christianity, and his relationship with the Wesley brothers, Charles and John. This approach will also naturally detail his upbringing and education, especially the time he spent at Pembroke College in Oxford. This will also lead into Whitefield’s journey to the American colonies and the missionary work , which eventually led to his rise to fame. It was the Wesley brothers who convinced Whitefield to travel to America, so the relationship between the three of them will be an important aspect of our project, especially when looking at the tensions and difficulties which later occurred during their lives.
Our group project is to investigate the controversial legacy of Whitefield, how Gloucestershire should remember him and how Whitefield shows the complicated relationship between religion and slavery. In recent years, historians have explored Whitefield’s religious theodicy and conflicted views on slavery, which meant that it would be difficult for our group to uncover new information. Therefore, we concluded that our group would present a broad display of Whitefield’s life, his American preaching, his humanitarianism and his murky connection to slavery so that the audience can arrive at their own conclusions on how they, and Gloucestershire, should remember him.
Our project focuses on the life and legacy of Edward Wilson. Not many people know who Edward Wilson was, but they would have heard about the mission he was a participant in: the Terra Nova mission to reach the South Pole (1910-13). Not as famous as the mission’s captain, Robert Scott, Wilson was, nevertheless, an instrumental member of the team. He was the doctor and scientist of the group and was among the five to reach the pole. All five died on their return, after having been beaten to the pole by the Norwegians. Wilson is the main focus of our project because he was born and raised in Cheltenham, growing up in a house on the Promenade.
We had only very limited knowledge of Wilson before we started this project, but we knew of the mission and so had some basic information to start from. Our first action was to go to the Wilson Museum in Cheltenham. The museum was renamed after Edward Wilson, and has objects that belonged to Wilson and his family. We wanted to see what information was already readily available and to give ourselves a starting point. An unexpected and prominent part of the museum was Wilson’s paintings and drawings. He was a prolific painter and considered a career in art before pursuing medicine. Following this visit, we decided to focus specifically on Wilson’s life in Cheltenham, the mission itself and, finally, his legacy. We think it is important for Wilson to be recognised for his life, not just as being someone who died alongside Scott of the Antarctic.
More specifically, we aim to highlight Wilson’s works and achievements as a physician here in Cheltenham, his extensive scientific work as a zoologist, his part in the Discovery and Terra Nova expeditions as the first explorers to reach the South Pole, and the life he left behind. We also aim to cover his legacy, the lessons we have learnt as a result of his work and how he is commemorated here in Cheltenham.
Wilson worked as a surgeon at Cheltenham General Hospital alongside his work as an artist and natural historian. His paintings, alongside much of his equipment and personal effects, can be found in the Wilson Gallery in Cheltenham. The gallery was renamed after Wilson in 2013 and there are rooms dedicated to his memory. The holdings include items and information about his family, who also did a great amount of philanthropic work in the town. The project will highlight how much of Edward Wilson’s life was linked to Cheltenham, yet not many people know who he was. We aim to establish Wilson as a figurehead for Cheltenham.
The Community Resource Centre based on Grove Street in Cheltenham now has two of our main exhibitions on display. Visitors will now be able to see the ‘Cheltenham’s Lower High Street: Past, Present and Future’ exhibition, which was first displayed at Chapel Arts in June 2017. This project, which has been available on this website since early 2018, focuses on the memories of former residents of the Lower High Street area, and it’s often hidden role in development of Cheltenham. Visitors will also be able to see the ‘Cheltenham: Diaspora’ exhibition, which explores various and often unexpected narratives of migration to the town from the late 19th century onwards from different parts of the world.
Many thanks to Bernice Thomson, Manager of the Cheltenham West End Partnership and her team who have supported both of these projects. Contact details below:
The programme for this year’s Gloucester History Festival is finally here, and we’re very excited that the student projects conducted for CC4HH will be displayed in two separate exhibits throughout the festival. These are part of the Festival’s ‘City Voices’ programme which explores aspects of local history and heritage. The theme for this year is ‘Power and the People’.
Firstly, the projects exploring Gloucester’s Windrush Generation and Gloucestershire’s LGBTQ+ community will be exhibited at the Eastgate Shopping Centre (see pic above) in Gloucester from the 7th to the 21st of September. The projects exploring Cheltenham’s history, which include life in the workhouses, a history of Pittville, and the Heritage Lottery funded project led by Dr David Howell ‘Cheltenham: Diasporas’ will be exhibited at the Chapel Arts gallery on Knapp road in Cheltenham from 4th to the 14th September. After this date, these exhibits will be relocated to the Quad Walk Gallery in the Francis Close Hall campus library at the University of Gloucestershire in Cheltenham. Ultimately, all the exhibits will be made available on the website. Here’s a sneak preview of a couple of the panels from the Windrush and Workhouses projects.
We’re very much looking forward to this year’s exhibits, which will be the third year in the life of the Centre, and the second year of collaboration with the Festival.
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 Ancestory.com 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
By Tom Adams (Second Year Undergraduate History Student)
In a new series of posts, History students at the University of Gloucestershire will be outlining progress on new research projects for the 2019 Gloucester History Festival.
As part of a research internship on my degree in History, I took the opportunity to investigate the history of the Lower High street area in Cheltenham as part of the ongoing research project, Cheltenham’s Lower High Street: Past, Present & Future. Often perceived as being a less prestigious area of the town, this Lower High Street now has an abundance of different cultures and nationalities, incorporating a mixture of different shops and markets, including barber shops, liquor stores, restaurants, takeaways, and clothing stores. This is the Cheltenham I currently live in, but I took up this placement as I was curious to find out more about the area and the people that once lived there decades ago. This, of course entailed talking to people that used to inhabit this area.
Firstly, Dr Christian O’Connell gave me an audio recording to transcribe from an interview conducted as part of the project. This allowed me to gain an understanding of the sort of questions to ask, the methodology of asking questions and the techniques to consider when conducting an oral history interview. The interview was with a lady called Lynn Ricketts, who grew up in the area. She gave an insight into what life was like living there during the second half of the twentieth century, which was very much in line with the memories of other interviewees who recalled a bustling neighbourhood and were nostalgic for the tightly knit communities that surrounded the High Street. She also remarked how the area had changed and deteriorated over the years.
Following on from this interview, I arranged an interview of my own with Jess Harrod, a lady who coincidently works at the University of Gloucestershire. There were a number of questions I prepared concerning the life in the area. I was particularly interested to find out if the people that lived on the Lower High Street were mixed with the members of society that lived in the more prestigious areas of ‘Regency Cheltenham,’ or whether they lived completely separate lives. Her response was interesting. From memory she said that there was very little interaction between the two sides of Cheltenham and in fact, a vast majority of people that lived in the Lower High Street area never even visited places like the Promenade or Montpellier, which was surprising. In addition, I also found out that Jess’s grandparents owned the beloved Wembley Café that was extremely popular to many of the residents in the area, and is even mentioned in the famous Lower High Street poem. The Café was burnt down in 1979, amazingly, no one was hurt and no one ever found out the cause of the fire. However, after it burnt down, the event was so big it actually made it as a story in the Echo newspaper. After the fire, the building was abandoned by Jess’s grandparents and was to be a café no more.
I was also intrigued to find out about the day to day lives of people that lived in the area, what they did for entertainment and their quality of life. Through interviewing Jess I found out that community was everything. Unlike today, children spent all day outside playing, or in Jess’ case, hanging around her grandparents Café. It seems to have been a really happy place, everyone knew everyone, and the area was, in essence, self-sufficient. No one needed to visit the Promenade, everything that people needed to live was within an arm’s reach, be that the butchers, bakery, or indeed shops such as the Wembley Café. Having read some of the reports from last year on the Lower High Street area, her memories were in contrast to stories I’d read about violent crime. Having asked Jess this very question I found out that there were indeed murders that took place in the area. Jess told me about one which took place not too far from her Grandparents café, where a boy called Murray Pugh was stabbed in March 1993. The murder also made it to the Echo newspaper, and as a result of the murder a ‘Murray Pugh Memorial Fund’ was set up to offer assistance of up to £2,000 to students and staff working with children with special needs at the University of Gloucestershire, and to children with physical disabilities themselves at the university.
investigative process has helped develop my understanding of the importance of
oral history. As oral historians Robert Perks and Alistair Thomson suggest, ‘the
interviewing of eye-witness participants in the events of the past for the
purposes of historical reconstruction has transformed the practice of contemporary
history in many countries.’ I think I also agree with their metaphor that ‘every
old man that dies is a library that burns.’ In addition, by working on the
Lower High Street project, I have seen how ‘oral history has allowed access so
that social groups in communities are often inadequately or even completely
unrepresented by traditional archival sources’ (Peter Claus and John Marriott, History: An Introduction to Methods, Theory
and Practice, 2012). Through my own investigation and conducting of
interviews, I have truly developed a sound understanding of the practice of