History Briefing Document: Spring Gardens

  (only available on CD)

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Spring Gardens, to many people, is just a huge expanse of tarmac. It has always been located adjacent to - but not quite in - the centre of Tewkesbury’s life. I am still uncertain of the location of the "spring" but, in the medieval town plan, the area was indeed used as a plot of garden land owned by the richer burgesses who lived in large houses on the three main streets. It was Tewkesbury’s medieval ‘open field’ which was enclosed in 1808-11, with land legally allotted to certain individuals.

However the land was soon prey to the developers of the industrial revolution and, gradually, much of the area was consumed by industrial buildings. The northern strip was consumed by the branch railway, built from Ashchurch around 1840 along with Downing’s large Malthouse. In the south, land was given in 1837 for the building of Holy Trinity Church to accommodate the spiritual needs of the growing number of working people attracted into the town’s textile industry and to Holy Trinity School to cater for their education needs. To accommodate their physical needs, immediately to the south of the railway appeared between 1833 and 1861 a housing development known as Spring Gardens. Know to locals as the "Rabbit Warren", this neglected area of housing was demolished in 1955. We shall demonstrate, however, that families of some distinction emerged from Spring Gardens.

Much of the remainder of the area stayed as gardens until the twentieth century with the exception of Samuel Barnes’ Almshouses, built on the Chance Street edge. However, in 1908 Thomas Walker’s Factory in Oldbury Road, then famous for building fairground machinery, was spectacularly burned down, an event which prompted Walker to build his new factory on the gardens to the north and east of Holy Trinity Church. However, it was only a short time before Walker’s death and international competition caused Walkers to go out of business. However, his site was promptly filled by Hone’s new cattle market which was opened in 1927 amidst great fanfare by the local M.P.. This cattle market was a replacement for a smaller one along Oldbury Road, in what is now known as Hone’s Court housing development. The other main inter-war development was the building of a Telephone Exchange to the south along Chance Street – a building which has been transformed by 1977 into St. Joseph’s Catholic Church.

After World War II, the area came under the protective embrace of the historic Town Council which gradually cleared the area of buildings and replaced it with a car park. Significantly in 1968 however, it joined with the people of Tewkesbury to build a swimming pool, now known as Cascades, whilst the Lodge of Free Masons bought the former school and headmaster’s house of Trinity School.

In the early 21st century, the future of Spring Gardens is the centre of controversy. There are two major issues:

    1. the future of Cascades Swimming Pool which is regarded as in need of refurbishment so costly that it should be replaced by a modern leisure centre, which reflects future needs and which can compete with those operating in Cheltenham and Gloucester. How can such a development be financed? In 2005 a consultants’ report was published which recommended the building of this leisure centre at the Borough Council site in Gloucester Road.

    2. the future of Spring Gardens. Is it the case that the only way such a leisure centre can be financed is by selling Spring Gardens to a developer? Would a developer seek to build another supermarket or would it be restored to a housing development? In either scenario, the town would be deprived of a car park at the centre of the town and that loss might cause the shops and commercial establishments of the three main streets to enter terminal decline as shoppers forsake Tewkesbury for the free parking of super stores on the outskirts of Cheltenham and Gloucester. In addition, it would deprive the Borough Council of much needed revenue in solving its long term financial problem.

Spring Gardens is, therefore, once again thrust into the heart of a debate about the long term economic future of the Town and, indeed, the Borough. It is to be hoped that this history of the area will aid that debate.

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