Our Projects

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.

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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.

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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.

The Life and Legacies of George Whitefield

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.    

Whitfield Tabernacle built in 1741, Historic England

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.

Edward Wilson: Polar Explorer

This post comes from Sam Webber and Rachel Lane.

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.

At The South Pole (L-R: Edward Wilson, Henry Bowers, Edgar Evans, Robert Scott, Lawrence Oates)  

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.

Statue of Wilson, taken on Cheltenham Promenade

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 great ice barrier – looking east from Cape Crozier, 1911 watercolour by Wilson

Exhibits now on display at the Community Resource Centre

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:

Community Resource Centre, Grove Street, Cheltenham GL50 3LZ

01242 692112 or office.cwep@gmail.com

Mondays to Fridays: 9am – 4pm
Saturdays & Sundays: Closed

Gloucester History Festival 2019: the CC4HH Exhibits

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.

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.

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 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 police supervision.

Elizabeth Hill

Oral History on Cheltenham’s Lower High Street

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.

Gloucestershire Echo article from 1979 reporting the fire at the Wembley Cafe.’

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.

Where the Wembley Cafe’ used to be on the corner of the Lower High Street and King Street.

This whole 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 oral history.

Cheltenham: Diaspora project is underway

In June, 2018, the History team at the University of Gloucestershire proudly announced the award of a Heritage Lottery Fund grant, to support the ‘Cheltenham: Diaspora’ project. Since that time, we have been busily preparing the project, putting together our research team, and getting started with our local history research.

The ‘Cheltenham: Diaspora’ project aims to explore migration themes in Cheltenham. Much of our work is focused on the Lower High Street area, though this is not the sole focus of our attention. We are interested in recording narratives of how communities came to settle in Cheltenham, though we are specifically looking at how cultural traditions and practices change and move with people as they enter and establish new communities.

Much of what we have been doing over the past few months has involved reaching out to community leaders across Cheltenham, creating links and partnerships, through which we hope to meet people who are happy to share their personal stories and experiences. While we anticipate that most of our oral history recordings will take place in 2019, we have started conducting some interviews. The project has already begun to explore the challenging stories of forced Polish migration from central Europe in the 1940s, and the cultural legacy of Chinese migration, where both cuisine and martial arts have an important role to play in the contemporary cultural landscape of Cheltenham.

In the last week, we were pleased to welcome four student interns to the project, who will be helping develop the research side of things. The partnership is ideal, as it allows the project to help develop research skills for students of history, while allowing both undergraduate and postgraduate students to play an active role in a significant local history project. Their contributions will be meaningful and valued as we move forward.

Over the coming weeks, ‘Cheltenham: Diaspora’ will be continuing to reach out to cultural and religious organisations in Cheltenham, to help introduce the project to as many people as possible. Meanwhile, our student interns will be spending time in the local archives, looking to identify and explore some of the earlier migration narratives that helped shape the historical expansion of the town.

While we are in the process of reaching out to groups and individuals, we would also welcome people reaching out to us. If you have a migration story that you would like to share, please get in touch. Equally, if you know someone who has a story that might contribute to the project, please draw their attention to the project. You can reach us, and find out more about the project through any of the following methods:

Email, project co-ordinator: dhowell1@glos.ac.uk

Project hub: The Cotswold Centre for History and Heritage.

Cheltenham: Diaspora on Twitter

Cheltenham: Diaspora on Facebook

‘Cheltenham: Diaspora’ project secures HLF funding.

The History team at the University of Gloucestershire, and the Cotswolds Centre for History and Heritage, is pleased and excited to announce that a Heritage Lottery Fund award has been granted in support of the forthcoming ‘Cheltenham: Diaspora’ project.

‘Cheltenham: Diaspora’ will explore narratives of migration in Cheltenham. The town has a long history of being a gateway to the south west, however relatively little work has been done to document the narratives of those migrating into the area. This project will focus on the more recent history of Cheltenham and record oral testimonies of first and second generation migrants living in Cheltenham today.

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University of Gloucestershire History students worked closely with communities in Cheltenham as part of the Lower High Street project. Picture by Clint Randall http://www.pixelprphotography.co.uk

Stories of travel, culture, change and community are all of vital importance to understanding the way our communities have become what they are today. All too often, however, these stories are left undocumented until it is too late. ‘Cheltenham: Diaspora’ creates the ideal opportunity to work with local communities, to help them record their own history, and become custodians of their story, while sharing it with a significantly wider audience.

 
‘Cheltenham: Diaspora’ will focus on recording stories of migration, but it will also look to provide training opportunities to members of the community and students based with the University. It is hoped that, following training in recording of oral histories, this is a project that will be taken on and maintained by people living in Cheltenham. Project results will be maintained in an online archive, in addition to a touring exhibition based on the community led research.

 
This project follows on from the success of other community history projects led by the History team at the University of Gloucestershire, including the very successful ‘Lower High Street’ project in 2016-2017. In a ten day period, over 1000 people visited a pop-up exhibition celebrating the history of the Lower High Street, demonstrating the huge value placed on these local stories by the surrounding community. ‘Cheltenham: Diaspora’ looks to build on the success of these past projects, while giving greater voice to the significant cultural diversity found in Cheltenham.

 
The History team would like to thank the Heritage Lotter Fund, and National Lottery players, for their support, without which this project would not be possible.
‘Cheltenham: Diaspora’ formally commences in July, 2018, and training opportunities will be made available and advertised once the project is underway.

 
For any questions, queries or general interest regarding the ‘Cheltenham: Diaspora’ project please contact dhowell1@glos.ac.uk, or follow the History team at Cheltenham on twitter or on our facebook page. You can find information about other recent and ongoing projects via the Cotswolds Centre for Heritage and History website: http://www.cc4hh.co.uk