Chel­tenham’s South Town web­site

Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine - - CONTENTS - Alan Crosby

Chel­tenham Con­nect is a lo­cal com­mu­nity or­gan­i­sa­tion founded in 2009 to strengthen and em­power the res­i­den­tial and trad­ing com­mu­nity of South Chel­tenham, Glouces­ter­shire – its motto is ‘Lo­cal peo­ple, lo­cal pride’.

Among its projects has been de­vel­op­ing chel­tenham­south­town.org, a fas­ci­nat­ing web­site based on his­tor­i­cal re­search into shops and shop­ping in the area, look­ing at how they have evolved as well as the his­tory of in­di­vid­ual busi­nesses stretch­ing back over two cen­turies.

Stu­art Man­ton, the pro­ject di­rec­tor, told me that he was born in the area and traces his fam­ily there back to the early-19th cen­tury. Since it was a fast-grow­ing com­mu­nity in the Vic­to­rian pe­riod, with many in­com­ers, that is quite un­usual. He feels it gives him an affin­ity for that part of the town, which he says is a great place to live. Stu­art pointed out that projects like this help peo­ple to un­der­stand how the place where they live and work de­vel­oped over time, bring­ing about a greater sense of be­ing part of a com­mu­nity.

In­ter­ac­tive maps

The pro­ject web­site has ex­cel­lent in­ter­ac­tive maps of the dif­fer­ent ‘quar­ters’ of the area. Th­ese give an overview of the his­tory and you can then click on any present-day busi­ness and find de­tailed his­tor­i­cal in­for­ma­tion about the premises, its changes of use and own­er­ship, and the peo­ple and fam­i­lies who lived and worked there.

The web­site re­ally is a fine ex­am­ple of how a lo­cal pro­ject can cre­ate a gen­uinely valu­able on­line his­tor­i­cal re­source.

Pho­tos through the ages

The site is lav­ishly il­lus­trated with pho­tos of build­ings (then and now), peo­ple and ad­verts. It’s also en­ter­tain­ing – I loved the story of 166 Bath Road, where elec­tri­cian Arthur Chapman lived in the 1920s with his wife Mary (see the pho­to­graph above of her wear­ing a splen­did hat!) and their five chil­dren.

“The shop was dou­ble fronted – in one win­dow Arthur had a black china cat and in the other a black china dog. He re­placed the eyes on both crea­tures with flash­ing lights. On one oc­ca­sion an el­derly gen­tle­man was quite cross with him say­ing that it was an out­ra­geous waste of elec­tric­ity.

“Arthur, a mo­tor me­chanic dur­ing the First World War, loved to tin­ker with any­thing me­chan­i­cal and made a ra­dio re­ceiv­ing sta­tion in a room above the shop, where he was able to re­ceive Bri­tish broad­casts. When Arthur and Mary’s fam­ily grew to seven chil­dren, they moved on and the shop be­came a fried fish shop.”

That’s so­cial his­tory of the sort you can’t dis­cover in the of­fi­cial sources!

The pro­ject has great po­ten­tial for fur­ther de­vel­op­ment, too. The work is on­go­ing and re­search is in progress on the last two or three shop­ping streets.

As Stu­art ex­plained, the sources for re­search­ing the traders change over time. For the 19th cen­tury and early-20th cen­tury, the re­searchers drew heav­ily upon the lo­cal trade di­rec­to­ries, census re­turns, news­pa­pers and town guides. But the last trade direc­tory ap­peared in 1975, af­ter which time they used Yel­low Pages (but that is very dif­fi­cult to search by ad­dress, rather than spe­cific trades).

Of course, the lat­est census avail­able is 1911 and to­day’s lo­cal news­pa­pers carry fewer ad­ver­tise­ments.

All of this makes it es­sen­tial to call upon peo­ple’s mem­o­ries of how life was in for­mer days, as well as for spe­cific in­for­ma­tion about who lived where, and what in­di­vid­ual shops were like. The in­ten­tion is that the web­site will in­clude in­creas­ing amounts of oral his­tory and rem­i­nis­cence.

The pro­ject is al­ways on the look­out for more ma­te­rial so if you think you might have in­for­ma­tion or il­lus­tra­tions, please con­tact them. And if you live in the Chel­tenham area, why not con­sider be­com­ing a mem­ber?

The web­site is a fine ex­am­ple of how a lo­cal pro­ject can cre­ate a gen­uinely valu­able on­line his­tor­i­cal re­source

Above: Arthur and Mary Chapman; Right: The shop he once owned in Bath Road, Chel­tenham, now sells fish and chips

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