THE ARLE COURT ESTATE
Hesters Way is built on the last remaining vestiges of the Arle Court Estate, a very ancient foundation the boundaries of which varied over the centuries. Because of its close proximity to Gloucester, about six miles as the crow flies, Arle's very early history is closely connected with that city and port, which played a prominent role in national history. Until the discovery of the waters in the last quarter of the eighteenth century Cheltenham was 'simply a longe towne havyinge a market'. Gloucester, because of its advantageous position on the River Severn was from earliest times a place of particular importance and activity.
Although there is no documentary or archaeological evidence to support the theory, it does seem possible that the land which later became the Arle Court Estate had originally been in the possession of a high ranking member of the Roman military establishment in Gloucester, or even an important civil official responsible for its administration. The Romans left Gloucester a highly civilised city, with permanent housing for its ex-soldier colonists, who were rewarded for their military service with gifts of land in the nearby countryside.
The Romans are thought to have introduced Cotswold sheep, and there is clear evidence that as early as the first half of the third century, wool and woollen garments were being exported to the Continent. Some Roman villas had rooms set aside for cloth production, but not all Romans were wealthy enough to own a villa; many were lesser mortals eking out a living in small farmsteads, producing their own wine.
The export of wool from the Cotswolds, grain from the fertile valley of the River Severn (Sabrina) and iron from the Forest of Dean continued to stimulate the economy. Inter-marriages of local ladies with the Romans who had settled here, and with the merchants and traders drawn to the area in search of business, made Gloucester and its surrounds a very cosmopolitan and desirable place to be.
It is hard not to imagine the Arle estate, albeit under a different name, in the hands of a Romano-British family who were leading a far more sophisticated and cultured life than ever before. This Utopian state was however soon to end with the Battle of Dyrham in 577. Gloucester came under the rule of the West Saxons, whose ideal settlements were beside rivers and streams. They were mainly responsible for clearing marshy alder infested valleys, preferring deep meadows to hill pastures.
The literal meaning of Arle is 'at the alder tree', so it seems quite feasible that at this time the Arle Court Estate would be an attractive and profitable possession for an important West Saxon, who may well be responsible for the name. It should be remembered though that the earliest documentary mention of Arle does not occur until the mid-eighth century. In 628 after a battle between Wessex and Penda of Mercia, 'an agreement' removed Gloucester from the orbit of Wessex, into that of Mercia, where it was to remain for the next two centuries. Penda, later King of Mercia, formed the province of Hwicce with its seat of government at Gloucester, and about 681, King Osric of the Hwicce founded the Abbey of St Peter's, and appointed his sister Cyneburg, the first Abbess.
Gloucester prospered under Penda and his successors, his son Wulfhere, the first Christian King of Mercia, took a special interest in Gloucester itself. It is recorded that in the seventeen years of his reign, Wulfhere enlarged and beautified the city to such an extent that it became one of the noblest in the realm. Lands were reclaimed and cultivated, forests pushed back and the people of Gloucester prospered.
His successor King Ethelbald of Mercia (716 - 757), who was not a Christian and famous for his gifts of reparation to nuns, gave twenty hides of land in Arle to St Peter's Abbey in the time of the Abbess Eafa (735 - 767), a gift that was confirmed by his successor Burged. This land with Badgeworth was used as grazing for the Abbey's sheep. It is interesting to note that a drove road south-west of Cheltenham, the Greenway, leading up onto the Cotswolds at Upper Coberley was used as summer grazing by the Abbey.
King Alfred's (of the burnt cakes) daughter, The Lady of the Mercians, ruled Gloucester and built St. Oswalds Priory as a memorial to her husband. Edward the Confessor held a Royal Council at Christmas in the Saxon Palace at Kingsholm, and William the Conqueror ordered the Domesday survey in Gloucester in 1085. In 1089 Abbot Serlo, a friend of the Conqueror began the building of the present Gloucester Cathedral.
The story that there was a monastery in Arle may have arisen from the fact that St Peter's maintained a small mission station in the area with someone to tend to the needs of their sheep and to offer spiritual comfort to the local people. However, in 1093 Anselm, Abbot of Bec, was visiting his friend Abbot Serlo of St Peter's, Gloucester, whilst at the same time nearby, King William II lay ill, seemingly dying. Needing to appoint a new Archbishop of Canterbury, William requested Anselm to accept. Because of his reluctance to do so, William ordered him not to return home, and it is recorded that Anselm retired to a villa belonging to St Peter's at Arle.
It is not until the mid-twelfth century, when a Walter of Brussels (possibly a Flemish mercenary or a wool merchant) offered a virgate of land to the mother church of Cheltenham in exchange for a service three days a week in his chapel at Arle that the two places are linked. This heralds a further interesting period in the history of Arle.
Once Upon a Time There Was a Place Called Arle
Although Hesters Way is built upon land which was part of the Arle Court Estate, the new estate was presumably called Hesters Way because one of the first areas of land which Cheltenham Borough Council purchased belonged to Hesters Way Farm. At the time many of the residents who had been born and bred in Arle were disappointed with this choice, as they felt that the new estate should have perpetuated the old name for the area, and that the name Arle would be lost forever.
Hesters Way was less than twenty years old when in 1967 for no apparent reason Cheltenham Borough Council decided to change the name of the small part of road which ran between Princess Elizabeth Way and Arle Village Road, to Kingsmead Road. In doing so they raised the hackles of the 'Arleites' as one person signed their letter of protest to the local newspaper. Mr. Douglas Trapp, a local historian, who at the time lived in Lee Close, Arle, also wrote a strong letter which was published under the headline:-
Sadly since that date the practice has continued, and few today could readily direct you to Arle. Arle Village Road has now become Village Road, which is a puzzle to residents and strangers alike. Much worse, for those who are still proud to be 'Arleites' was the decision a few years ago to change the name of Arle Comprehensive School to Cheltenham Kingsmead. The earliest documentary evidence of Arle is in the eighth century which pre-dates the earliest evidence of Cheltenham by a hundred years. To quote from Douglas Trapp's letter, 'Arle was a village when Cheltenham was only a street'.