Friday 29 March 2024

Cheltenham - Part 1

Cheltenham is perhaps best known for its race course and for being the home of GCHQ, but it is now time to put in on the map for its clocks.

A high proportion of the clocks are on ecclesiastic or educational establishments, which may or may not say something about the good people of the town. But nevertheless there is a good range of public timepieces to be seen.

The order of the clocks in this post is roughly in the order in which the pictures were taken rather than trying to provide a sensible route to see them all in a day's visit. And unusually we don't start with the railway station as unfortunately it is devoid of any clocks (or at least ones which would make it into this blog).

In fact our starting point is a clock that can't really be seen at the moment - in the sense that it is currently obscured by scaffolding rather than having magically turned invisible.

Hopefully by the time you track it down it will be fully visible. And if you do want to track it down, let me make it easier by telling you that this Francis Close Hall in Swindon Road - part of the University of Gloucester.

Not far away is St Paul's church:

Thus Grade II* church was designed by John Forbes and was built in 1829 - 31.

It is getting rarer to find Marks & Spencer on the High Street these days as it has shifted focus to out of town sites (and by all accounts doing much better financially out of the strategy). However the High Street stores that do still exist often come adorned with the standard M&S clock, and in this regard Cheltenham does not let us down.

Further along the High Street where it is joined by Cambray Place we find this fine corner building.

I couldn't see any sign of what this building used to be, but I am pretty sure that the current street level shop was not its original purpose. My guess that it might have been a bank due to its grand nature and the fact there are other bank buildings (or generally ex-banks) nearby along the High Street.

Another church now - this time the Roman Catholic church of St Gregory the Great, located on the corner of St James' Square and Clarence Street.

The main body of the church was built 1854 - 57, although the tower and spire was not completed until 1876. The architect was Charles Hansom (1817 - 1888), who designed scores of churches across the country. And if you you think the name rings a bell, he was the brother of Joseph Hansom, also an architect but also creator of the Hansom Cab.

Sometimes buildings look like churches when they are not, and sometimes they look like churches because that was what they were originally built as but have now been re-purposed. Such is the case with Zizzi in Suffolk Square, whose structure was once St James' church.

As a church, this building was consecrated in 1830 and ceased being a place of worship in 1974. It was converted to its current restaurant use in 2004. If you looked at its lifespan to date as a pie chart, the Zizzi period would have an arc of about 36 degrees, or a thinnish slice of pizza.

From churches to colleges, we are now at Cheltenham College. The first of three clocks is on a side elevation in Sandford Road. This set back a long way from the road (see if you can spot in in the second photo) and is a relatively simple clock, and hence it can be assumed that this meant for the pupils of the school only rather than one for the general public.


The main entrance on Bath Road is far more impressive, and has a more elegant clock to match.

The college was established on this site in 1843, and the main building was designed by James Wilson of Bath.

The third clock is facing the college's sports ground.

We haven't had a look at church for a little while, so here's St Luke's, on St Luke's Road.

The church dates from 1853-54, and was designed by Frederick W Ordish of London.

Back to educational establishments, we are now at Cheltenham Ladies' College, which is much more widely known than its male counterpart. The clock is on one of its buildings on Montpellier Street, although it is best viewed between the gaps in the buildings on the Promenade.

The main site was built 1872 - 76, but the clock is on the tower of the observatory added in 1897.

We will finish off part 1 of our tour of Cheltenham by looking at three clocks on commercial premises on the Promenade, the posh shopping street of the town.

The first two are standard promotional designs for Omega and Rolex on the the Omega and Martin & Co shops respectively:

The third Promenade clock is both larger and more interesting, and also possibly doomed. This long-established department store is now part of the House of Fraser Group, and at the time of my visit (February 2024) was in the process of shutting down (who would have thought that Mike Ashley's Sports Direct Group would downgrade quality shopping?).

The original Victorian frontage was given a major makeover in the 1960's, which I assume is when this rather pleasing clock was added. Who knows what will happen to the building, but hopefully the clock will be retained.

Next stop, Part II.

Friday 15 September 2023



No clock to start with, but we can't investigate Banbury without showing the Banbury Cross of nursery rhyme fame:

Ride a cock horse to Banbury Cross
To see a fine lady upon a white horse
With rings on her fingers and bells on her toes
She shall have music wherever she goes.

There were not many horses, cock, white or otherwise, on my visit, but we do start our clock tour on a road called Horsefair.

 This is the church of St Mary The Virgin, consecrated in September 1797.

The church is Banbury's only Grade I listed building. The cylindrical tower was completed in 1822.

I must also give my apologies for the quality of some of the pictures as they were all taken on my phone rather than my usual camera.

Just down the road is our second church, this time St John's on South Bar Street.

St John's dates from 1838, and is described in Pevsner's as "aisleless, with a mean west tower with top-heavy pinnacles".

My perambulations took me to two unidentified buildings opposite each other on Broad Street. Both would seem to be old works of some description.

The first building has the inscription "Established 1866" above the clock.

Opposite is what is now Crofts Pet Foods Ltd.

Just a little way along Broad Street at its junction with George Street is the old Co-op building, described in a caption to a photograph in Banbury Museum as a working man's palace in a working man's district.

The octagonal tower has clock faces on alternative sides, with the clock itself originating from Synchronome of London, a firm which still exists but is now based in Hay-on-Wye.

The Town Hall, dating from 1854, is described by dear old Pevsner as "ponderous" and having a "dumpy spire".

From towers and spires to scissors and curling tongs. Hair Concepts is on Marlborough Road, a thoroughfare where it is always hair time.

Staying with commercial premises , Anker the estate agents on High Street looks like it inherited a clock when it moved into the premises.

The Banbury Health Centre is on Concord Avenue, although I am not sure if it can be all that healthy with the busy road junction right in front of it.

Our final clock is at the Banbury Borough Bowling Club.