Cheltenham's railroad history started with The Gloucester and Cheltenham Railroad. Once a few proposed routes had been rejected the actual tramroad route chosen in 1808 is still now clearly visible because Gloucester Road was constructed alongside it as a turnpike. Its course ran from Staverton Bridge was through Harthurstfield, Benhall and Alstone Green. The final section ran to the end of The Knapp (in New Street) but was revised to end at the existing turnpike gate on Tewkesbury Road, located at Cheltenham's western "town's end". (now Townsend Street)
The railroad and turnpike road were authorised by Parliament and were constructed literally in parallel. It was financed largely by the same investors and they opened for business in Cheltenham in 1810, and through to Gloucester in 1811.
The chief freight was coal and the chief export from Cheltenham was stone which was delivered via a branch route heading from Leckhampton through Westall Green; the last stage of which is now marked by Queen's Road.
The main wharves formed Cheltenham's first industrial estate with its mixture of trades. They lay alongside the ancient tithing boundary between Alstone and Cheltenham which was delineated by a new highway - now Market Street.
There were experiments in 1831 trying out a steam locomotive on the tramroad, and also on the turnpike road, but the rails were too weak for such a heavy machine, and following a few regular trips, the surface of the turnpike road was found to be unacceptably damaged.
The turnpike road was not a financial success for its investors. The tramline had the advantage of being of great interest to larger companies in the 1830's the members of which were planning a steam railway between Bristol and Birmingham. This was established in 1836.
The railway station at Lansdown was the first of many in Cheltenham and is the last to survive. It was commenced in 1839 and opened in 1840 with services between Gloucester and Birmingham and known until the 1920's as Cheltenham (Midland) station. It later was referred to as Cheltenham Spa (Lansdown).
The old tramline did not close immediately, but declined during the 1850's. It finally closed in 1859 and was dismantled in 1861 and is commemorated by a plaque outside the Hop Pole Inn. Most of the former track now lies under the road surface.
In extension of this railway began towards the town centre in 1844 and Cheltenham Spa (St. James) station opened in 1847 but unlike Lansdown Station, did no survive to present day.
Other developments, necessitated by the increase of industry alongside the railway at Alstone led to a new yard for rolling stock to be developed in a 4 acre plot in Rowan Field, formerly known as The Vineyards.
Of remains of the early railways few are left. A wooden locomotive shed which used to stand on the south side of St. George's Road from 1847 had to be demolished in 1906 along with about fifteen fairly new houses on the west side of Great Western Road to make way for another new section. This was because GWR wanted their own route between Bristol and Birmingham and this route became known as the Honeybourne Line, since the 20 mile stretch from Cheltenham to Honeybourne was the only brand-new section of rail. This line and Malvern Road Station opened in 1906 with a more permanent station building appearing in 1908.
In 1965 the Lansdown Station's platforms were lengthened to cope with the London trains but both St. James and Malvern Road stations became redundant and closed in 1966. The Honeybourne Line declined from 1960 through to its final closure in 1976.
The replacement locomotive shed at Malvern Road was built in 1907 and closed in 1962. It still stands as a brick building - now the warehouse of Travis Perkins Ltd., Builders' Merchants. Another old brick locomotive shed stood north of Arle Road and was built in 1893 and expanded in 1911/14 but closed in 1935, though the sidings in that area were active for many years but eventually gave way to the development of the B & Q site. The old shed is now used by Carpet Hut salesroom and Mechanical Repairs car workshop.
A further building, north of Arle Road was generally known as the Midlands Goods Shed and for years survived as a timber building of about 1880 and was listed Grade 2 but probably the publicity in the local paper, encouraged arsonists to attack it. It was burnt down and finally demolished in 2003.
Probably the last signal box in this area stands at the level crossing on Alstone Lane and dates from 1891. It was known as the Paddy Gates, probably because Irish navvies played a great part in the building of railways.
In recent years the Honeybourne Line between Queen's Road and Folly Lane was laid out as a cycle track between 1993 and 1996 and with the development of the Waitrose Site has been further improved and now makes a pleasant rural back-water for cyclists and pedestrians alike, who, as they saunter along this idyllic retreat can almost imagine how it must have looked 200 years ago.
In 1965, the Lansdown station's platforms were lengthened to cope with the London trains. Both St. James' and Malvern Road stations thereby became redundant and closed in 1966 .
Three men are described here who pioneered and drove forward the railways locally. The prime character of the early tramroad was Benjamin Newmarch. His father was a subscriber or shareholder of the tramroad company from the start, around 1808, and his brothers were also involved. Benjamin was on the original management committee. Solicitors to the company included Theodore Gwinnett, who was also joint owner with Benjamin Newmarch of the Albion Brewery. The latter venture bankrupted them both- Gwinnett almost immediately in 1811, and Newmarch in 1813.
However, Newmarch had many connected business interests; he leased Leckhampton Quarries in 1817, taking over from the first tenant, John Walford & Co. of Alstone Green. Buy 1819 he was the first manager of the new Gas Works. He resigned after a couple of years, and in 1822 took on another newly created role, as agent for the tramroad tolls. Despite heavy traffic on the line, the tramroad's finances, like Newmarch's, had variable fortunes during his lifetime until 1835.
The second major character was Pearson Thompson. He had inherited the land in Montpellier and Lansdown area from his father Henry. He and his friends got into trouble in 1825 for building a siding from the tramroad to their own land across the common of Westal Green, and also for cluttering the area.
In 1835-6, he influenced the route of the new railway line. He was not keen on the projected route, which would have been well to the west of the town centre (approximately along the alignment now taken by Devon Avenue), with the station at Maud's Elm. So he offered to build a branch-line to the town centre at his own expense. His proposed branch would have left the main line near St. Mark's Church, heading either to the south side of St. James's Square, or alternatively along Queen's Road to a terminus at Westal Green. Under pressure not to ignore these proposals, the railway company in 1837 finally chose an alignment a little nearer to the town, as it now exists.
Finally here should be mentioned Henry Lucy who succeeded Newmarch as agent and acting clerk to the tramroad in 1835, whilst continuing his own building and surveying business.
He continued as agent when the tramroad was bought out by the railway company. In 1839 he oversaw the demolition of the toll house and weighing machine at "Leckhampton Junction" which stood in the way of construction of the new Lansdown railway station. He then contrived to charge his own employers, the Birmingham & Gloucester Railway Company, £98 for the work of rebuilding the tramroad on a new bridge over the railway.