Cheltenham has a long and interesting history as one of the most popular spa towns in the United Kingdom. Cheltenham’s mineral springs were discovered in 1716 when it was noticed that birds gathered around certain pools, pecking at salt deposits.
Locals believed that the beautiful clean water offered some therapeutic value and began drinking it. By the middle of the 18th-Century the owner of the spring, Henry Skillicone, decided to develop the area. He turned the spring into a well, adding a building nearby for people to hold dances and play cards. The water from the spring was also bottled and sold to people as a treatment for various illnesses. Over the next 60 years the reputation of the spa grew as more people visited the area.
A Favourite Destination of Royalty
Lord Fauconberg (a “gentlemen-in-waiting” to King George III), visited the spa in the 1780s. He had done so to treat a skin disorder. Lord Fauconberg was so pleased with the results that he built a house at nearby Bayshill.
The Lord told the king of the magnificent location and in 1788 King George III visited with the queen and royal princesses. The king had been suffering from some skin rashes and hoped the spa would cure him. Historians now know that King George III actually suffered from a rare genetic disorder called porphyria, which the spring could not treat!
The royal family spent 5 weeks in the area, staying at Lord Fauconberg’s residence. During this time the royals enjoyed the theatre and going for walks around the area. King George commented on the natural beauty of Cheltenham and the surrounding area.
After being visited by royalty, the popularity of the spa exploded. By 1800 more than 2000 visitors came to the spa each year. Competing spas opened up in the area including the Montpellier Spa, which opened in 1809. The Montpellier Spa featured a large copper rotunda, designed by famous London architect John Buonarotti Papworth.
In 1818 the Sherborne Spa opened. Connected to the town by Sherborne Promenade (now Cheltenham’s Promenade) the spa was in the location where the Queens Hotel stands today.
More spas followed including the Park Spa, Cambray Spa, the Alstone Spa and the Pittville Spa. By the middle of the 19th-Century the area was extremely popular with tourists and there was plenty of entertainment on offer for guests. Regular balls were held in Cheltenham with many famous guests in attendance. There were also bands and fireworks displays on offer. Between 1801 and 1850 the town’s population grew by ten-fold.
During the 19th-Century, the town began modernising and some very significant buildings were constructed. The Pittville Pump Room was built in 1830 and the Cheltenham College opened in 1841. Throughout this period the roads were paved, oil lamps were added and sewers were constructed.
Towards the end of the 19th-Century the public library and Everyman Theatre were constructed. Around this time the Pitteville Gardens and Montpellier Gardens were obtained by the council and developed. The popularity of the spa drove the architectural and cultural development of the town.
Towards the end of the century, the spas in Cheltenham became less popular, but visitors continued to come to the town.
Today, Cheltenham remains a vibrant and popular tourist destination with dozens of attractions. Featuring world-class hotels, sites of cultural significance, world-famous events and luxurious spas, Cheltenham will remain popular for many years to come.