The Lower High Street Projects

The History staff team is pleased to announce that it has been successful in securing two internal grants to undertake research focusing on the history of Cheltenham’s Lower High Street, near FCH campus. University-wide LIFT (Learning Innovation for Tomorrow) money will be used to support Level 5 group project work in HM5000, and funds from the Being Human Research Priority Area will be used to run a parallel series of staff and postgraduate projects. The projects will investigate the history of the Lower High Street area by examining changes in its commercial trading and residential populations. The projects will also focus on themes such as memory, identity and migration, and will be based on collaboration with local community organizations, the Cheltenham Civic Society and West End Partnership

This area of Cheltenham has a distinct character, culture and make-up that sets it apart from the more commonly recognized and promoted ‘Regency Cheltenham,’ which means it is often overlooked in terms of its historical significance. The area around the Lower High Street is the town’s oldest district, with its history dating back to medieval times. The area has a particularly interesting history in terms of ‘class,’ as it is has most often been the home of Cheltenham’s poorer residents. The town’s workhouses could be found in the area in the 19th century, and it has also been home to many migrant populations, from Irish in the 19th century to eastern European, Asian and Middle Eastern groups more recently. But there is also an interesting history in terms of independent trading, evidence of which can be seen in the area’s diverse mix of shops and businesses, and in the architecture which points to the long history of trading in the area. The area is now the focus of local council regeneration plans, a component of which is focused on detailing and tracing its multiple identities and histories. This is where History staff and students come in.

cheltenham-lower-high-street-c1955_c75109
Cheltenham, Lower High Street c.1955. From the Francis Frith Collection https://www.francisfrith.com/
cheltenham-lower-high-street-c1955_c75108
Cheltenham, Lower High Street c.1955. From the Francis Frith Collection https://www.francisfrith.com/

The primary aim of the projects is to produce an exhibition on the history of the area at Cheltenham’s Civic Day on Saturday 17 June 2017. Our second-year undergraduate students will be working alongside members of staff to choose the focus of their research and design the exhibition. These will include both micro studies, of a particular business, building or family, and macro studies focusing on such issues as identity, community and migration. The research will include ‘snap shot’ studies of the Lower High Street at particular moments in time, and track changes over longer chronological periods. A series of oral history interviews is planned with local residents and traders. The projects will be supported by a Facebook page and digital timeline to encourage past and current residents and traders to post their photographs and memories. A legacy ‘Local History Projects’ website will be developed to provide the focus of student research in the future.

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The Lower High Street today seen from the western end.

The Lower High Street projects are a great opportunity for our undergraduate students to apply theoretical skills learned in class in a real-life context, and demonstrate how the study of the past can shape and influence the future. Importantly, the projects highlight how the practice of history, conducting research and communicating that work through an exhibition can have a direct impact on the local community. For staff, they are an opportunity to bring in our research expertise and apply them in a local context, and help to uncover forgotten stories of Cheltenham’s past.

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