GLOUCESTER ROAD

New roads bring new development: this is one concern of those who are presently objecting to the proposed northwest Cheltenham bypass. As an example, let us go back to 1809.

It would be hard to imagine how remote the Harthurstfield area was before this date, even from the affairs of Cheltenham. The locals here had no reason to figure largely in history, and are notably absent from these publications.

In 1807 some possible routes were surveyed for a new road from Cheltenham to Gloucester: the reasons were varied. Maybe more so than now, considerable consultation was needed amongst the people affected, followed by permission from an Act of Parliament. With approval in 1809, building began right away, and was completed in 1811. The 'Turnpike' was a privatised or toll road (like the Birmingham Northern Relief Road).

Two separate projects were involved: a turnpike road and a light railway or tramroad. These ran side by side from what became Cheltenham Gas works across to the Elmbridge area of Gloucester (from there the railway ran on alone to the docks). The highest point was at Lansdown, and since at that early date rail power was provided not by steam but by horses, it was important to keep the gradients shallow. However, an 1807 route that would have meandered all over our Hesters Way area was rejected in favour of a straighter route, with a maximum gradient of 1 in 100.

It is likely that the railway was constructed first. Roadstone could then be placed directly from the rail wagons onto the road surface. The railway was a single line, but with many 'passing loops', so that in practice much of the route had two lines. Various wharves or dropping off points developed at strategic sites. No doubt for decades our locals went to these wharves to collect coal for their fires. One such spot was at the Badgeworth Lane junction, (opposite the Thistle Hotel near Arle Court roundabout).

The first steam locomotive ran not on the rail but on the turnpike road. Known as Gurney's Steam Coach, it carried several thousand passengers during 1831, but was discontinued due to the damage caused to the road surface. In the same year a similar machine was tried on the railroad, but the track was not strong enough.

Apparently the Acts of Parliament stipulated that the railway be used only for merchandise, not people. Carrying passengers on wagons would affect the income of the tollbooths on the highway. A few individuals did hitch lifts though.

The railway collected tolls at either end whilst the road had several tollgates along its length. One tollgate was at Lansdown Castle and another by The Pheasant at Staverton. Between these two, another gate stood until 1852 - by Grovefield Villa, near where the new GCHQ entrance is - but was then declared to be operating illegally! All the tollgates were abolished in 1853.

The light railway had mixed success, but eventually closed in 1861. The track's foundations are now largely beneath the road surface. Locally 'Gloucester Road' continued as the main highway, the A40, until 1969, by which time the areas on either side had become urbanised - Benhall and Hesters Way. The Golden Valley By-pass then offered a wider and straighter route through Staverton, with the old route becoming the B4063. It is notable though that an arrow straight by-pass through the Golden Valley was projected - and approved - as long ago as 1825: days of immense optimism in technology no doubt! But it was never built.

Acknowledgement: 'The Gloucester and Cheltenham Tramroad', 1987, David E. Bick

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