The Cheltonian > Articles

Cheltenham City

The Monarch Alone, Can Confer City Status Upon A Town crack

Max Le Grand on the possible elevation of our town.

Why on earth is there so much hoo-ha about the prospect of our beloved town, possibly becoming the City of Cheltenham? It’s not as if the municipal office, has approached Buckingham Palace, cap in hand. So many misconceptions have arisen, borne from stories of rising council taxes, to down right snobbery among some Cheltonians.

Within the United Kingdom, Cheltenham has the reputation for punching beyond its weight. A fact, because we have the Government Communications Headquarters, within our boundary. Plus the avalanche of publicity generated annually, by the Cheltenham National Hunt Festival.

I have to admit, wherever I have travelled at home and abroad, when I say Cheltenham is my home, some eye brows shoot to the ceiling. Social climbers apparently gravitate here. Tell that to the citizens of St. Marks, Hesters Way, Whaddon or St. Paul’s. They will laugh in your face. Within these suburbs live the normal working people, who are the important under belly of the town.

To add balance to readdressing our home town as a city, I can hopefully add a modicum of perspective from The Doomsday volume. We learn, the origins of Cheltenham at around 1086, started with a small community of farm workers. Some one hundred and thirty years later, King Henry III, gave Cheltenham the right to become a market town.

Now firmly established within the bosom of the Cotswold Hills, Cheltenham shot into prominence when a flock of pigeons slaked their thirst from a puddle of sulphated water in Montpellier. Cheltenham Spa was on the map.

The social standing of Cheltenham went off the graph when King George III’s medical advisor told His Majesty to seek spa treatment in Cheltenham, to cure his bilious attacks. The royal family moved into Fauconberg House for several weeks. How strange, that so many members of London society, were apparently diagnosed with personal ailments. They came to the Cotswolds in their droves. Many city dwellers were so enamored with Cheltenham, they actually moved here. Consequently, a rumbustious social scene exploded, along with the population.

Many new Georgian-Regency style buildings suddenly mushroomed. The original Assembly Rooms were opened in the High Street, by the Duke of Wellington in 1815. Places like Royal Crescent, The Queens Hotel and the Pittville Pump Room rose from virgin earth. The Cheltenham Gentlemen’s College became established, which in turn, eventually financed the construction of the Cheltenham Ladies College.

Among various sporting activities, horse racing featured on Nottingham Hill, off the road to Winchcombe. Then steeple chasing found a new venue for what became the home of the National Hunt Festival at Prestbury Park. The Cheltenham Cricket Festival, historically the oldest annual event of its kind in the world, first knocked the stumps in at the college ground in 1872.

The festivals of Classical Music and Literature are the most established on the social calendar. More recently, the festivals of Folk Music, Jazz and Science have found a niche in Cheltenham. All these events are now based at the Town Hall that replaced the demolished Assembly Rooms in 1903.

These major events have long supplemented the Spa Town as a tourist attraction. Over a period of time, Cheltenham has developed a nationwide reputation as a cultural centre. All wrapped up in the kingdom’s best example of Regency architecture. Traders recently prided themselves as being the friendliest shopping centre, in the entire country.

Despite its reputation, Cheltenham was always a town. The City of Gloucester, was set aside from Cheltenham with its cathedral and commercial harbour. Thereby, it became the seat of the Gloucestershire County Council at Shire Hall. Today, the Conservative rulers have elected to make Cheltenham a city. A gesture in recognition of The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012. After consultation with her government ministers, The Monarch alone, can confer city status upon a town.

There was a time when a town could only become a city by virtue of having a Diocesan Cathedral. That rule does not apply these days. Neither does the area covered by a town, or the number of citizens, come into the equation. The City of Wells, in Somerset, has a miniscule population of just over 10,000. Incidentally, other cities like Exeter, York, Lincoln, Salisbury and Carlisle share the tradition of horse racing.

The fear some Cheltonians harbour, that city status will bring a financial burden, are unfounded. If we do become the City of Cheltenham, there are no additional powers, functions or funding from the state. Becoming a city is merely an honourary status, in recognition of a town’s contribution to the betterment of society.

Let us face this latent honour with pride. After all, such a title would reflect favourably upon our league football club. Just imagine cheering for Cheltenham City. As for snobbery value – nonsense. League Two Lincoln City, gained its status long ago in the mists of time. And by golly, they are still proud.