Cheltenham Spa – From Farmers Market Town to Spa Waters and Festivals

The picturesque spa town of Cheltenham, nestled in the Cotswolds – an area of outstanding natural beauty, understandably attracts visitors from all over the world throughout the year. It is probably most famous for it’s jump racing at Prestbury Park, the most famous event being the Gold Cup – a four day festival of jump racing in March, leading up to the final day, ‘Gold Cup Friday’, which sees vast numbers of people travel to the town to see who will make jump racing history.

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Cheltenham also hosts many festivals throughout the year which are hugely popular and have attracted big names to speak at the festivals, including Sir David Attenborough and JK Rowling, who have spoken at the Literature festival in previous years. The jazz festival and science festival are other popular events in the town and popularity has increased over the years, as word has spread!

It is difficult to imagine now, but Cheltenham Spa was nothing more than a tiny village during Saxon times. It is recorded in the Domesday book (in 1086) of having a population of no more than two hundred people!

Cheltenham remained a small town throughout the middle ages and was a mainly agricultural town. They held an annual fair, which attracted traders to the town to buy the local produce, but the population remained small. It was not until early in the 18th century that Cheltenham began to become more like what we know today and gained its full name – Cheltenham Spa.

A local spring was discovered, just south of the town. The waters from springs were believed to have healing powers and the ability to cure all manner of illness during this period, and the waters began to attract people to the town hoping to cure ailments, and people looking to make money began to sell the water.

The spring was owned by a man named Henry Skillicorne, who made the spring much deeper, planted a line of trees leading to the spring (which had become a well) and built the Assembly Rooms, where balls would be held.

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From this time, Cheltenham’s population grew very quickly, and there were more wells created to access the spa waters of the town. Throughout the 18th and 19th century, Cheltenham grew from a tiny market town to a booming spa town, and facilities were springing up quickly to accommodate the ever-growing population. As you wander about the town, you will notice many of the buildings date from this era.

It is possible today to visit Pitville pump rooms, where the water used to flow directly from the springs, although it is not possible to drink the water anymore! Cheltenham has remained not only a popular town for tourists, but it is also an attractive place to live and work with many businesses in the town such as restaurants, a wide range of shops and PR agents Cheltenham doesn’t look like it it’s popularity is going to decrease any time soon!