House hunting and house history: The Hendre, Overton Park Road, Cheltenham

As the trainee archivist here at Gloucestershire Archives I have helped many customers carry out their own research. I recently went to view a flat in a house called The Hendre on Overton Park Road in Cheltenham. Very little was known about the history of the building, and I offered to utilise some of the skills I have learned in my time here and look through the archives.

Photograph of the The Hendre, 2015

The Hendre today

I started my research by using the Historical gazetteer of Cheltenham by James Hodson (available in the public searchroom) to identify when Overton Park Road had been established. The road was listed as ‘existing but being unnamed’ in 1896. The first mention of The Hendre in directories for Cheltenham was for 1891, which listed The Hendre as being in Overton Park.

Image of Hendre census  1901 courtesy of The National Archives

The Hendre in the 1901 census, courtesy of The National Archives

I then examined the census returns for the area in the late 1800s. The census return for 1891 shows a retired Deputy Surgeon General of the Bengal Army, George Alder Watson, as the occupier, along with his wife, young children, and servants. There was no entry for The Hendre in the 1881 census. An examination of the first edition Ordnance Survey maps, 1884/1885, did not show the property either (OS/1/25/26/7/3). My assumption therefore was that the building was constructed at some point between 1885 and 1890.

 I then carried out a search for ‘Hendre’ in the Gloucestershire Archives catalogue to see if we held any records. The search brought up two results; a bundle of deeds for Flat 7 from the 1930s to 1980s (D5907/box 13/2), and plans for the property from the 1930s (D5587/box95506). The plans, whilst interesting, did not reveal a construction date. The deeds, however, mentioned the purchase of land for the original property in 1886, as well as the name N M Roberts. This gave me some hope as to the identity of the original owner and the construction date.

Image of plans of The Hendre, D2970/1/162

Plans of The Hendre, D2970/1/162

I carried out another search, this time for ‘Roberts’ and ‘Overton’. This identified a collection of architectural plans from 1885 for an unnamed house at Overton Park, Cheltenham for N M Roberts (D2970/1/162). This was part of the collection for Middleton, Prothero and Phillott of Cheltenham, architects (D2970). These turned out to be a bundle of different designs and plans for the property, and were drawn by Middleton for Norris Matthew Roberts. Dated December 1885, these would likely have been submitted for approval by the Cheltenham Borough Street and Highway Committee.

 The records of the Cheltenham Borough Council contain the Registers of Plans for new buildings. The register for 1862-1886 (CBR/C5/6/1/1/1) showed that the property had been approved for construction in February 1886. The Cheltenham Looker-On for 1887 (B721/23603GS) showed that a Mr and Mrs Roberts moved in to the Hendre in spring of that year. As such it is safe to say that the house was constructed between 1886 and 1887.

By examining older census returns I found that Norris Roberts was a farmer from Anglesey (presumably a successful one to have his own property in Cheltenham). His Welsh origins explain the name of The Hendre, which in Welsh literally means ‘old home’. Unfortunately Norris Roberts did not get to enjoy his new home for very long. A notice in the Gloucester Citizen for 3rd June 1899 (available on microfiche in the public searchroom) shows him as dying suddenly in London. George Watson moves in to the property in summer 1890. George Watson served in the Bengal Army from 1855 to 1885 and his obituary can be found in the 1915 edition of Cheltenham Looker-On (B545/27982GS).

These records give us an interesting insight in to the early existence of The Hendre and the people who lived there. I can say I have learnt two things from this project. Firstly, researching house history can be very interesting, especially when you examine the people who lived in the property. Secondly, my research skills are still good, even eight years since completing university!

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