Cheltenham rose to popularity on the back of medicinal waters that were once in the town’s main spa. Legend has it that before this discovery in 803, a monastery stood on the site. It is said the medicinal abilities of the spa were actually discovered by pigeons and the locals only followed suit when they saw that the birds were doing well! Water from the spa cured many of the disorders of the day.
Some of the distinguished visitors to the town who no doubt contributed to its rise are King George III (1788), the Duke of Wellington and Princess Victoria (who later became Queen Victoria). Distinguished writers who also visited the spa town in its earliest form include Lord Byron, Jane Austen and Charles Dickens. The speedy development of Cheltenham as a trendy spa town however came about between 1790 and 1840. Over this time, it was the in-thing to visit a spa and so the town had very many visitors.
It was during this time that entrepreneurial locals discovered they could make money by offering services to visitors to the town. Many entrepreneurs built housing and other structures of architectural marvels, some of which still stand up to today. That is how Cheltenham acquired the reputation of being the most complete Regency town in all of England. It also became an attractive town for others to settle because of the allure of the nearby riverbanks.
Thereafter the fortunes of Cheltenham dipped southwards when the town’s popularity as a spa town with medicinal properties disappeared. However, the town had by now found a foundation that would not disintegrate. The local populace, who were good craftsmen, made sure that their town did not go flat by making very exquisite crafts for all travelers passing through. They started trading in their crafts products, effectively converting Cheltenham into a commercial town. By the Second World War, Cheltenham was no longer used as a spa town. It was simply a crafts town.
Immediately after World War II, Cheltenham began thriving again. The government set up its communications headquarters (GCHQ) in the town and this helped lift up its fortunes further. For a long time GCHQ operated under the cover of being a department of the Foreign Office, but in reality it was a Secret Surveillance Centre for the west, during the Cold War era. Right now, Cheltenham is a flourishing commercial centre and also an extremely popular tourist destination for holiday makers and day-trippers.