INDUSTRY

The coming of the railways to Cheltenham, opened up more distant markets and as accessibility was paramount, industry naturally built up by the railway - hence the rapid development in Alstone from the 1840's where the railway bi-sected the area.

Alongside the railway off Alstone Lane was set up in the 1860's, John Williams Coal Yard with its own sidings. John Williams left his High Street home and moved into Alstone Manor House, opposite the coal yard, where he established a flourishing business but in September 1855 he purchased 6 acres in Gloucester Road which were formerly the wharves and brickyards of a Mr. James Villar. Williams paid £2,560 for the premises, so as well as his coal business, his purchase of Alstone Brick and Tile Works, with their coal wharves to the nearby Malvern Road link, gave him ample scope to extend his business in other fields.

The site included a large dome topped pottery kiln and three 61' X 15' drying sheds fitted with flues, and an engine house. It was said that these bricks, tiles and pottery were highly esteemed in the neighbourhood. Williams also bought the brickworks and installed a steam pug mill to modernise the brick-making process.

Whether there was any connection or forethought, it is interesting to note that he owned the Derby and Staffordshire Arms in Alstone Lane adjacent to his coal yard and also the Foresters' Arms next to his site on Gloucester Road. Coal heaving and brick-making being thirsty work and one wonders whether his owning these two public houses, was altruistic or a means of keeping his workers happy!

Wrought Iron Work
Wrought Iron Work

At the same time, near the Midland Station at Lansdown in 1864 John Cornell set up the Lansdown Iron Works, with Mr. Letheren as his foreman. Letheren was a very talented iron worker and had won many prizes for his wrought iron craft. Eventually, Letheren set up his own business - The Vulcan Iron Works next to Cormell's premises. He produced lifts and cranes, iron roofs, girders, gates, railings, hurdles casements, general ironwork, art and medieval work in iron and brass. Much of his work could be seen locally for wrought iron balconies were a significant feature of 19th C Cheltenham.

His son set up a branch in Bennington Street and eventually the business was re-named William Letheren & Sons. In the year 1906 Vulcan Iron Works closed but part of the original buildings can still be seen through the bus depot beside the railway line. Then William Letheren & Sons joined H H Martyn to work in the art metalwork department.

Herbert Henry Martyn came to Cheltenham in 1866-7 to work as a stonemason with E A Emms but in February 1888 he established his own Company at Sunningend, a house on the corner of the High Street and College Road which later became Groves Garage.

However, much more space was needed so the firm took over the former Trusty Engine Works and Letheren's Vulcan Iron Works at Lansdown re-naming the site Sunningend Works. The firm flourished and was renowned for its exquisite iron works as they diversified into wood carving, metalwork, fibrous plaster and stained glass,

They were commissioned to make the Marble Arch Gates which were later removed from London to grace the entrance to a National Park in Saskatchawan in Canada. They also fitted many famous ships for the White Star Line, even the ill-fated Titanic.

During the war years the Air Ministry installed machine tools at H H Martyn (Aircraft) Ltd. to produce aircraft components. Their work was vast and varied and for a local man to obtain work there, was a far cry from the former agricultural tasks he would have done prior to industrialisation.

In 1895 Weyman & Hitchcock's Trusty Oil Engine Works took over the site of the former Central Iron Works, next to Letheren's at Lansdown but in 1897 a large fire there caused £15,000 to £20,000 damage. In 1900 it amalgamated with the Shillingford Works Co. of Wallingford to open a combined branch in Cheltenham and the 4 acre site was eventually taken over by H H Martyn.

Rowanfield
Aerial view of Rowanfield

In 1972 Platt Schindler Lifts Limited took over H H Martyn's former premises in the Lansdown Industrial Estate so this very successful business whose exquisite ironworks could be seen, not only in Cheltenham, but in many parts of the world, closed after 100 years in business.

However, since the last war, several sites in Alstone which used to house industry have ceased to do so, but instead now house a variety of light industries or retail warehouses, and the site of Williams Brickworks was taken over by Messrs. Sharpe & Fisher Ltd. in the 1960's and, when they ceased business, it was taken over by Travis Perkins Ltd., another Builders Merchant, selling, of course, the very same type of material which Williams once made on the same site. Whilst the land which used to be part of Six Chimneys Farm is now called Enterprise Way and stretches back to the Chelt and the rear of Arle Avenue and contains a variety of light industry and other businesses.

Much later than the Gas works, came another aspect of industry which was later to cause the demise of the gas industry to a great extent. This was the first Power Station to generate electricity for public supply and was accessed from Arle Road. A line drawing made at the time shows that it had an immensely high chimney, which was replaced in 1910 as electricity demand grew, by an even more massive structure. This chimney; at 210 feet high, was slightly taller than the present day Eagle Star tower block in Bath Road.

Private households were first supplied from here via underground electricity cables in 1895. Street lighting was supplied from 1896 onwards, and then also the new electric tramways between 1900 and 1930. But in 1928 Cheltenham was brought within a larger area, so that the local supply was phased out and the generator closed in 1932. The high chimney was felled amid some festivities in 1934 and the remaining buildings were leased to a wood-working factory, but returned to the electricity company as stores, depot and workshop in 1946 until sold in 1968. A childrens' paddling pool was also in this area for a while from 1935 but a BMX cycle track is here now.

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