Beauty spot was a hive of industry
ALTHOUGH it’s local beauty spot today, Leckhampton Hill bears the scars of the time when it hosted quarrying on a commercial scale.
Limestone quarrying on the hill dates back at least four centuries and continued until the 1920s.
Buildings in Cheltenham such as Holy Apostles church and Cheltenham College chapel, were constructed from Leckhampton stone and examples further afield include Shire Hall in Gloucester and Magdalen College chapel, Oxford.
As quarrying gradually ate away at the escarpment, it became necessary to construct inclines down which stone could be hauled.
In 1811 a tramway was built that ran from the top of Leckhampton Hill down to Daisybank.
There were two lines, one for the truck loaded with stone to descend, the other for the empty truck to ascend.
The trucks were tethered by a rope that wound round a pulley at the top, so that the heavy one going down pulled the lighter one up.
From Daisybank the line dived to what is now a housing development, but until recently was Leckhampton Industrial Estate, to run along the west side of Leckhampton Road.
At the Norwood roundabout the tramway veered to follow Norwood Road.
A reminder of its route is found at the junction with Great Norwood Street, where the terrace of houses is named Railway Buildings.
In the centre of this row is a building that was once a pub called The Railway, now converted into flats.
The site opposite Railway Buildings, which locals will recall was Parry’s woodyard until about 30 years ago, was originally a stone wharf where blocks quarried on the hill were stored and dressed.
From here the tramway continued along Andover Road to Westal Green, then on via Queens Road to Gloucester Road where it joined the main Cheltenham to Gloucester tramroad.
This meant that Leckhampton stone could be transported to Gloucester docks and shipped to ports in the Bristol Channel or further.
It was the construction of an incline at the quarry that created the promontory on which the Devil’s Chimney stands.
An ambitious scheme was proposed in 1922 in which four large limekilns were to be built near the focal point of the railways and the lime produced would be transported off the hill on a standard gauge railway.
A key factor in the venture was the availability of a cheap Government loan as part of a scheme for easing unemployment after the First World War.
By September 1924 the limekilns and one and a quarter miles of railway track including the long incline had been completed.
However, for technical and other reasons the project was not a success.
All production stopped about two years later and the plant was sold in August 1927.
Leckhampton Hill was bought by Cheltenham council and opened to the public on September 29, 1929.
You can see the concrete bases on which the four, 77 ft high steel limekilns stood to this day.
It’s worth the steep trudge up from Daisybank to the site to imagine the scene a century ago when tranquil Leckhampton Hill rang to the clamour of hard steel on stone, steam cranes and railways.
The Leckhampton quarry limekilns
The quarries were opened to the public in 1929
The limekilns and railway track
A map of the lime kilns and railway
The railway track and Daisybank bridge
The Devil’s Chimney