Planet Suffolk: Bringing together the Suffolks of the world

The Suffolks, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, England

The Suffolks is the unofficial name for a part of the Montpellier district in the town of Cheltenham, Gloucestershire in England, situated at 51°53’ N 02°04’ W. It encompasses Suffolk Square & the surrounding streets.

Population:-  No specific figures available for The Suffolks. The estimated population of Cheltenham as at 2008 was 112,000.

How to get there:-

By road: From Gloucester & the west, take A40 eastbound into Cheltenham, then turn right into Andover Road, which then becomes Suffolk Road.
From Oxford & the east, take westbound A40 (London Road) into Cheltenham, turn left into Sandford Mill Road, then left again into Old Bath Road before turning right into Thirlestaine Road. Follow this road until it becomes Suffolk Road.
If approaching from the north or south on M5, exit onto A40 at junction 11, then follow route as from the west.

By rail: Nearest railway station is Cheltenham Spa

The closest major airport to Cheltenham is Bristol International. From there take M5 northbound, then follow directions as above.
Gloucestershire Airport is situated close to the A40 & junction 11 of the M5.

Time zone: Greenwich Mean Time.   Daylight saving time in summer +1 hr.

Order of contents on this page: (Click on the links below)

History & Derivation of Name

Suffolk Hall VAD Hospital





For lots more photos of The Suffolks, Cheltenham, go to the Photo Gallery

History & Derivation of Name

Based around the square of the same name, The Suffolks refers to an area of Cheltenham adjacent to Montpellier.  Montpellier is known as one of the most attractive and fashionable areas of Cheltenham, the home to the famous Cheltenham Ladies’ College, which has a worldwide reputation (see Montpellier section, below).  Both Montpellier and The Suffolks have a distinctive architecture with many café’s and bars that provide a continental flavour.  The Suffolks is the area around Suffolk Square, a square of 19th century Regency buildings with a central bowling green, where upmarket boutiques mix with cafés and specialist craft establishments.  It is a very popular centre for antiques. Many consider these streets to be the true artisan area of Cheltenham, with many of the creative professions, such as landscape designers, interior designers, silversmiths and photographers, choosing to locate here away from the bustle of the town centre.  Renowned as a place for browsing and great finds, it also has two popular pubs - The Beehive and the Suffolk Arms.

                                                                                                                                    The Suffolks 1834

The name given to the area is obvious when you have a Suffolk Road, Suffolk Parade, Suffolk Place, Suffolk Court, Suffolk Mews, Suffolk Lawn, Suffolk Villas and, of course, Suffolk Square*. The name is ultimately derived from the Earl of Suffolk (see Suffolk Misc. page Suffolk as a Title) who owned the land which was developed after his death in 1820.  The square contains predominantly late Georgian and early Victorian villas and terraced houses that give a distinctive identity to the area.  There are a high number of listed buildings within Suffolk Square, and it is a Conservation Area.    

*There is also a Suffolk Street,  a few hundred yards to the south of Suffolk Road & therefore outside The Suffolks,  which is a short residential street running between Norwood Road & Bath Road.

Prior to the 19th century the area was open, undeveloped farmland. Galipot Farm, dating back to medieval times, stood alone in the fields for over a century while the rest of Cheltenham took shape.  It was described as “lately erected” in 1694 when it went by the name of Gallypott Hall and, although no image of it is known to survive, it was most likely quite a large residence.  In the late 18th century it was part of the property of John de la Bere, who owned most of this area at the time.  Gallypott Hall was a popular spot for social gatherings during the heyday of the original Cheltenham Spa.  In 1808 Gallypott Hall and its surrounding fields were bought by the Earl of Suffolk, whose main residence was not far away at Charlton Park in the neighbouring county of Wiltshire.  He demolished the old farmhouse and had a grand bow-fronted house, which became known as Suffolk House, built on the site.

For a few years, Suffolk House stood on its own in the fields just as Galipot Farm/Gallypott Hall had done.  But in 1820 the Earl of Suffolk died and his daughter sold off the surplus lands on either side of the house, which were snapped up by James Fisher, a hotelier and property speculator.  He proceeded to lay out a new residential square, employing local architect Edward Jenkins.  Work began in 1823 and the first completed houses were ready in 1826.  By 1834 Suffolk Square had been established with magnificent terraces and grand houses using the classic Regency layout of a central communal garden with houses facing towards it around all four sides.  A Regency Gothic church dedicated to St. James was also built in 1825 (see photo, above).  The church is no longer used for service and has been converted to a restaurant.  Suffolk Place and Suffolk Court were built as the northwest entrance to the square.  Houses in Suffolk Parade which are now occupied by antique shops, boutiques, cafés and brasseries, were built around the 1840s.  By the end of the century, terraced housing had been completed in gaps along the north side of the square, but the area remained relatively unchanged from 1834.  The main thoroughfare to the south of the square was named Suffolk Road.  The square green was used as a bowling green and remains in use as such today, being the focal point of Suffolk Square.  Suffolk House was demolished in 1935 and the present “Suffolk House”, consisting of a block of apartments, was constructed in 1936.  The coach house and a few cottages are the only surviving relic of the original Suffolk House.  In the 1980s Suffolk Mews to the southeast of the square was built for retirement homes.  

On the other side of Suffolk House, on the east side of today’s Lypiatt Road, and not directly connected to the development in Suffolk Square, five large detached Regency-style houses were built by Edward Jenkins (Imperial House, Stanmer House, Carrick House, Compass House & Burlington House).  These were originally collectively named Park Place, but shortly after completion became known as Suffolk Lawn.  The exact date of the Suffolk Lawn buildings is not known, but a request for street lighting in 1827 suggests that at least some of the houses were built and occupied by then.  As was common in the 19th century, the Suffolk Lawn development gave its name to the entire road, and that is how it appears on an 1834 map.  This name for the road was short-lived, and with the new housing developments opposite it soon took its present name of Lypiatt Road.  Most of the other Suffolk Lawn houses have been converted into business premises, but Stanmer House (see photo, above) is still residential, now converted into prestigious apartments.  It is a Grade II listed building  and retains most of its original features, including wooden internal shutters across the ground floor windows and its original sweeping semi-circular driveway, designed to provide convenient access for carriages.

The Suffolk Arms on Suffolk Road (see photo, left) is one of Cheltenham’s oldest and most traditional pubs, established in 1824, originally as a coach-house and inn.  The pub has been a popular meeting place for the locals of The Suffolks and it is well known for its high quality food.  The Suffolk Arms more recently has become famous in this part of Gloucestershire for the authentic Thai food served within its walls. Next to the Suffolk Arms is a row of terraced houses called Suffolk Villas.

The Suffolks Annual Street Fair, held every Bank Holiday Monday in May, is another famous event with over 45 stalls selling  jewellery, cakes, local produce, furniture, clothes, plants and flowers, and arts and crafts.  Live music is provided by a walking jazz band, plus local rock and folk bands.

Another feature that has arisen in recent years is the concept of self-catering vacation apartments.  This is particularly attractive to short-term stays during events such as Cheltenham Races or the musical festivals.  Each apartment has a lounge, TV, adjacent fully fitted kitchen, with a separate bedroom and bath/shower room.  Weekly housekeeping and change of towels and linen are  included in the price.  This is seen as an alternative to the more traditional and costly hotel accommodation.  In 2010 property at 62 Suffolk Road was converted into the “Suffolk Road Apartments”.  Another property, not actually part of The Suffolks, but a few streets away in Exmouth Street is a converted house calling itself “Suffolks Apartments”.

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Suffolk Hall VAD Hospital

Burlington House, one of the large houses in Lypiatt Road (formerly Suffolk Lawn), became the Suffolk Hall Preparatory School for boys during the 19th century.  It was very much an early school for young boys who were likely to go on to Cheltenham College.  Its most prominent pupil was Ivor Brown (1891-1974), a writer best known for his works on literature and the English language.  He had a particular interest in Shakespeare, publishing several books about his life and career.  From 1942 to 1948 Brown was the editor of The Observer, after which he continued as The Observer's drama critic until 1954.   

At the outset of the First World War, Mr Soames, the owner of Suffolk Hall, loaned the house for use as a hospital.  It was staffed by No 26 Gloucestershire Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD), and opened on 9th December 1914.  The large gymnasium and schoolrooms made excellent wards.  A theatre was completely fitted up, and here all the operations were performed until June 1917, after which the more serious cases were removed to the General Hospital owing to the shortage of surgeons, those from Suffolk Hall having left for service.  The hospital received cases direct from the front, except during the winters of 1915 and 1916, when it acted as garrison hospital for the troops stationed in Cheltenham.  The hospital, owing to the influenza epidemic, was filled to overflowing from January 1919, and the staff went though a very trying time.  Of the staff, at the close of the hospital on 29 March 1919, there were seventeen remaining who had worked since the opening in December 1914.

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Montpellier is a district of Cheltenham south of the town centre.  Originally developed in the early 19th century in conjunction with the spas, Montpellier is known as one of the most attractive and fashionable areas of Cheltenham, renowned for its bars, cafés, restaurants and range of specialist shops.  In April 2008 Montpellier was one of the most expensive areas in Cheltenham to buy property, with apartments ranging from £300,000 to over £1,000,000, town houses from around £400,000, and houses over £4,000,000.

A “spa” was developed by Henry Thompson after springs were discovered on land he had bought in 1801 to build a house.  In the 18th and 19th centuries the name of the French spa town of Montpellier was a byword for a pleasant healthy place, and that was why the name was chosen in 1809 by Henry Thompson for his newly established spa.  In 1809 Henry Thompson constructed a wooden pavilion with a colonnade and by 1817 he had to rebuilt it in stone as Montpellier Spa became more and more popular.  The spa buildings of 1817 were by George Allen Underwood.  It was not until Thompson’s son Pearson asked John Buonarotti Papworth, a London architect with a national reputation, to take over the project in 1826 that the pump room building got its distinctive Rotunda.  Papworth was inspired by Rome’s Pantheon, even the dimensions are almost identical, 53ft high and 54ft across.  The building became a bank in 1882, although balls and concerts still continued to take place in the venue which could seat an audience of 400.  It is now a branch of Lloyds TSB bank.

The new Montpellier Spa had tree-lined ‘walks and rides’ with attractive villas and terraces surrounding spacious ornamental gardens, now known as Montpellier Gardens.  During the 1830s and 1840s, specialist shops were built along Montpellier Walk and Montpellier Arcade.  This is now one of the best preserved early 19th century shopping arcades in the country.  Most picturesque is Montpellier Walk, leading to Montpellier Spa, noted for the 32 caryatids, sculpted female figures supporting the shop fronts in place of a column or a pillar.


                Montpellier Spa, around 1845

Montpellier is home to famous Cheltenham Ladies’ College (see photo, right).  It is an independent boarding and day school for girls aged 11 to 18, founded in 1853 as an institution for the daughters of gentlemen.  Under its second Principal, Dorothea Beale, who took over in 1858, the College became a powerful influence in the development of women’s education.  By 1864 external examiners marked the school examinations, with the first Examiner in Mathematics being the Rev. Charles Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll.  The College moved to its present site in 1873.  The College continued to expand and the Princess Hall was opened in 1897 on the site of the original mineral spring found in Cheltenham in 1716.  The College has been at the forefront of girls’ education for over 150 years and has a worldwide reputation for academic excellence.  With fees ranging between £6,500 to £10,800 per term (as at September 2011), many a pupil will be the daughter of a famous celebrity as well as those from lesser known, but equally well-endowed parents.

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Cheltenham, also known as Cheltenham Spa, is a spa town and borough in Gloucestershire, on the edge of the Cotswolds, with a population in excess of 115,000.  It is the home of the flagship race of British steeplechase horse racing, the Gold Cup, the main event of the Cheltenham Festival held every March.

An Anglo-Saxon settlement, Cheltenham (the settlement under the hill) was the site of a monastery as early as 803.  The town was awarded a weekly market and annual fair in 1226.  Cheltenham remained a typical English provincial farming community, with a population of around 1,500 in the 17th century.  In 1716 the town’s sudden rise from obscurity began when, according to tradition, a flock of pigeons discovered a spring on the site of what is now the Ladies College.  The locals, noticing that the pigeons seemed to thrive, tried the waters for themselves and found that they eased many of the disorders that afflicted them.  Local entrepreneurs soon realised that there was money to be made from this, and started to develop the town in order to attract the wealthy and famous.  In the years 1738 to 1742 the owner of the spring built Assembly Rooms where people played cards and danced at balls, and he also created an avenue of trees leading to the well.

The visit of George III with the queen and royal princesses in 1788 to “take the waters” gave Cheltenham the stamp of approval.  Today the waters continue to be taken recreationally at the Pittville Pump Room, built for this purpose and completed in 1830; it is the centrepiece of Pittville, a planned extension of Cheltenham to the north, developed by Joseph Pitt.  Cheltenham’s success as a spa town is reflected in the railway station, which is still called “Cheltenham Spa”.

Horse racing began in Cheltenham in 1815, and became a major national attraction after the establishment of the Festival in 1902.  Cheltenham Festival is a significant National Hunt racing meeting, and has prize money second only to the Grand National.  The National Hunt Chase was first held in 1860, and it took place at a number of different racecourses over the years, including Cheltenham on occasions, but in 1911 it took place on the Cheltenham Racecourse at Prestbury Park and has remained there to this day.  It is an event where many of the best British and Irish trained horses race against each other, and is particularly favoured by the Irish as the Festival takes place annually in March when it usually coincides with St. Patrick’s Day, a national holiday in celebration of the patron saint of Ireland.

The first British jet aircraft prototype, the Gloster E.28/39, was manufactured in Cheltenham.  Manufacturing started near Gloucester, but was later moved to Cheltenham which was considered a location safer from bombing since there was no notable industry in the town.  After the Second World War the Government Communications Headquarters (G.C.H.Q), which has become one of the West’s most important secret surveillance centres, was established in Cheltenham.   

Whilst the volume of tourists visiting the spa has declined, the town is now a thriving commercial centre as well as being a popular destination for tourists.  The town also hosts several festivals of culture such as the Cheltenham Literature Festival, Cheltenham Jazz Festival, and Cheltenham Music Festival.

Famous people from Cheltenham include:

Lewis Brian Hopkins Jones (1942 –1969), better known as Brian Jones, founding member of the Rolling Stones pop group & regarded as a fashion icon due to his flamboyant style of dress and manner which did much to influence the fashion scene of swinging 1960s London. He is buried in Cheltenham Cemetery.

The renowned composer, Gustav Holst (originally named Gustavus Theodor von Holst), who was born of Lithuanian parents in 1874 in Cheltenham, & whose birthplace is now a museum. He is most famous for his orchestral suite The Planets. The photo on the right is of the Gustav Holst Memorial Fountain in Imperial Gardens, sculpted by Anthony Stones & unveiled in April 2008.

Edward Wilson, who was born at Montpellier Terrace, Cheltenham in 1872. He was a member of  Captain Robert Scott's Expedition of 1911 who reached the South Pole, but died with Scott in March 1912.

Michael Edwards, better known as Eddie the Eagle, who was born in Cheltenham in 1963. In 1988 he became Britain’s first and only ski jumper in the Olympics; finishing 58th in the 70-metre jump (the last, 59th, competitor was disqualified), and coming last in the 90–metre jump.  With his big glasses, which fogged up when he was jumping, and quick wit, he became a media sensation, and arguably the best loved athlete of that Olympics. 

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