Battledown Today

The Battledown Estate lies to the east of Cheltenham and the north of Charlton Kings, on a wooded hill which rises to nearly 500 feet above sea level. It is conveniently located about ½ a mile from the centre of Cheltenham and ¼ mile from that of Charlton Kings. Battledown is one of a number of private residential estates established in Cheltenham during the 19th Century but it is the only one to have survived as such, all the others, including Pittville, having been incorporated into the town. The Estate, which covers some 120 acres and has two miles of private roads, developed slowly from its inception in 1859, with the result that it has a wide variety of houses, ranging from large Victorian mansions to smaller houses and bungalows built during the 1920s and immediate post-war period. Most of the housing development has occurred since 1950: many large modern houses have been built and much of the existing housing stock has been rebuilt and extended. This has been made possible by virtue of the fact that houses possess at least one half acre of land. The Estate straddles the Cotswold Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and there is ready access to the countryside to the east. The calm, semi-rural character of the Estate has been carefully preserved: the roads run through tree-lined avenues with green verges and footpaths and street furniture and signs are kept to a minimum. Most noticeable is the absence of cars parked along the roads, since there is room for these within the properties. Since 1992 three of the four entry roads to the Estate have been closed by automatic barriers, electronically operable by residents, which has stopped the use of the roads by through traffic. The fourth road, Battledown Approach, leads up from Hales Road and is always open for visitors and tradespeople, who can thus access the Estate at any time. While traffic is thus minimised, the peaceful charm of the Estate attracts many walkers, cyclists and joggers. Seen from Cleeve Hill, or from high-rise buildings in the town, Battledown presents itself as a green, wooded hill, with few, if any, of its houses visible, and forms an important part of the hill rim which surrounds the town.

The Estate is regulated by a Deed of Covenants for the Enjoyment of the Estate. This was set up by the founders of the Estate in 1859 and made binding on all lot owners, their heirs and assigns henceforth. The conditions of the Deed, in particular those relating to the density and character of housing and maintenance and funding of the Estate roads, trees and ditches, are administered by between three and five honorary Trustees, who are themselves residents of the Estate. All building works require the agreement of the Trustees, in addition to any Borough Council Planning requirements. It is the continuous and active application of the Deed of Covenants that has given Battledown the attractive environmental character it possesses. Maintenance of the Estate is achieved through a Battledown Rate, applied per acre of land owned, set annually by vote at the Annual Meeting of Residents, held on the fourth Monday in June.

The Historical Background

The earliest inhabitant of Battledown Hill was Baedala, a Saxon who, in about 500AD built an enclosure, or tun, on what was then a densely wooded hill. By the 12th Century, when the land belonged to the Abbey of Cirencester, the hill was referred to as an assart, or woodland cleared for agriculture. By 1617 the area was known as Badleton and this became corrupted through the 1700s to Battledon. By 1810 the name Battledown was in general use, though variations such as Battles Down and Battledowns were also common. The establishment of the Estate in 1859 produced a proliferation of legal documents and fixed Battledown as accepted usage. The choice was more attractive and was probably swayed by the presence of an Iron Age fort on The Camp at the top of the hill and the possibility that a Civil War skirmish took place there in 1643. However, no battle can be claimed for the hill.

The creation of an exclusive residential estate on the hill was a speculative enterprise conceived by a solicitor named George Ridge. Born in Grantham, he moved to Cheltenham in 1854 and soon achieved eminence as a Town Commissioner and agent to the Conservative MP. In 1858 he drew in two other men, William Bain, an accountant, and Somerset Tibbs, a dental surgeon, both of whom owned land connecting the hill to Cheltenham. The plan identified with a movement to develop the northern part of Charlton Kings as a high-class residential area, for many of the gentry saw the old village as not the place to live. However, Ridge also saw that Battledown offered both a rural ambience and ready access to the social delights of Cheltenham. He conceived his estate as a new town, “emulating Cheltenham in the number and quality of its fashionable residents”. As such, it would require a church, and a site next to Battledown House was reserved for one. Owing to the slow development of the Estate, it was later built on its present Holy Apostles site.

Sadly, Ridge and his two original Trustees, who expended £14,000 in buying the land, underestimated the costs of laying out the road, trees and fences and overestimated the demand. It took four years to sell all the lots and by 1899, 40 years from the start, there were only 16 new houses. Tibbs saw disaster coming and moved away, Bain died in 1870 and Ridge got ever deeper in debt. His wife died prematurely in 1865 and in 1876 new Trustees disqualified him for financial mismanagement. He died in 1884, aged 55, a lonely man living in lodgings, and left less than £100 in his will. Battledown, which he described as “the speculation which has been so disastrous to me”, had finished him.

Unfortunately, he did not live to see his concept fully justified. As wealth returned to England, the gentry, in the form of members of the aristocracy, Royal Navy, Indian and British Army officers, Civil Servants, clergymen and the more successful professional and business people of the Town began to move up on to Battledown and build large houses. This era effectively ended with World War II, since when the extensive gardens of the big villas have been subdivided into smaller but still, in modern terms, sizeable, plots, allowing more people to enjoy the charms of the Estate. Since the area of land available is finite, with some 180 houses, the Estate is now effectively full. However, the attractions of the site mean that the housing stock is continuously being renewed and improved. Battledown has always been considered one of Cheltenham's premier residential areas and it is generally recognised as an important part of Cheltenham's history and geography.

The book Battledown – The story of a Victorian Estate by David O'Connor (ISBN 0 951954106), is published by Alan Sutton (1992) and gives a detailed history of the Estate.

A 36-page booklet celebrating the 150th annniversary of the Estate as part of Cheltenham's Victorian legacy, The Battledown Estate 150th Anniversary 1859 - 2009, compiled by David O'Connor (the Estate Historian), is available from the Estate Trustees, price £5 including UK postage. Published in 2009, the booklet highlights the founding of the Estate and the first 25 years trauma of its development, the derivation of road and house names, the trees, and the Deed of Covenants which contribute to its unique ambience in the 21st century.