A Town Maligned…

Royal Crescent Cheltenham

Dan and Anne-Louise from Wokingham said ‘Had a very relaxing stay and really enjoyed Cheltenham’.

My daughter-in-law Sarah brought to my attention an article in yesterday’s The Sunday Times Home section which does both the writer, but more importantly, Cheltenham a disservice. With a certain amount of disenguousness, Eleanor Mills in an article titled ‘It’s Not in the Running’ wrote disparagingly about the town, while ostensibly reviewing a flat in a Georgian house there. She is perfectly entitled to her opinion on the flat, if that is her speciality, but I don’t think she is as well qualified to malign a town as attractive, with superb amenities and facilities as this.

What she doesn’t seem to understand that as a journalist in a well-esteemed national newspaper, she can be extremely influential, and many people who have never been here will read her ill-thought out comments and formulate adverse and uninformed opinion about this Regency spa town in the heart of the Cotswolds. It could actually indirectly damage the tourist trade, important to many businesses, including our own, in these financially straitened times.

Eleanor Mills seems to have aligned the M5 accident near Taunton (over 70 miles away) together with a driving transgression of her own, and a traumatic ride (her mother driving) to Cheltenham General Hospital’s A&E  with a broken collarbone when she was a child, with her view of the town. Her deprecating remarks about ‘the ‘Nam’ (we pronounce it Cheltn’h’m, ‘Nam’ being more cognisant of the ’60s Vietnam) include the description ‘these days it’s all TK Maxx and downmarket clothes shops’ and an opinion of ‘a friend’ of hers that Cheltenham’s best feature is ‘out of town .. the glorious hills and golden villages of the Cotswolds..’ (which are undoubtably very attractive), but make me think that Eleanor has hardly been in the town, except to see the flat she reviewed and to ‘cruise the malls’ as she admits. 

Even her praise was rather condescending – ‘pretty good schools’ instead of ‘excellent’ (Cheltenham Ladies, Cheltenham College and Dean Close are amongst the top in the country, as well as Pate’s Grammar School and St Edwards). ‘And there’s the racecourse’ – as though it were a cultural benefit, not just a beautifully-located sporting venue – and of course the source of the ‘witty’ title of her opinion piece. Eleanor’s comment on shops I’m afraid indicates either her lack of exploring ability or total lack of knowledge of the town, in which Montpellier, The Promenade and some of the other streets off the, admittedly ruined, high street (close to TK Maxx etc), provide lovely and individual shops as well as a plethora of Georgian and early Victorian houses, squares and terraces. Our next door neighbour runs just one such shop, Feva, on Regent Street, close to the Everyman Theatre, which is an exclusive, fashionable and very successful ladies’ couturier shop, a million miles away from ‘downmarket’!

Central (apart from the High Street end) Cheltenham, including Pitville, Montpellier and Bayshill areas are exquisite, not the ‘grotty and down at heel’ section that Eleanor clearly frequented. Bookshops abound – a large Waterstones on The Promenade and smaller exclusive shops such as Peter Lyons Books on Imperial Square close by the Town Hall.

To conclude this rebuttal of the criticism, although Cheltenham has, like anywhere else, a few downsides (such as the one-way system and the High Street), its pros far outweigh its cons. I would therefore dare Eleanor to come back for a weekend in the summer, particularly when there’s a festival (Jazz, Music, Science or Green Belt (she’d like that, it’s at the racecourse) or the Literature in the autumn, stay somewhere stylish like Hanover House (www.hanoverhouse.org), dine at Brasserie Blanc, Jamie’s Italian in the old Courthouse, Champignon Sauvage (Michelin 2 Stars), the art deco Daffodil in the Suffolks or Royal Well Tavern, throw in a concert at The Town Hall or a play at the Everyman, browse the shops and wine bars in Montpellier, then write another article. The tone might be somewhat different!




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