Leckhampton Hill and Charlton Kings Common have been an important recreational asset for the people of Cheltenham for many generations, people having literally fought for the right to access the Hill. Local people regard it as their own.
“A hundred years ago, when the average man had little opportunity to travel beyond the range of his two legs, Leckhampton Hill, being so close to Cheltenham, was a precious asset and valued accordingly: its popularity was shared by all …… the hill symbolised freedom for the whole vicinity”
Old Leckhampton, David Bick (1994)
In 1894 the hill was acquired by Henry Dale. Soon after he wrote to the Rural District Council refusing to admit to any rights of access. In 1897 Dale built Tramway Cottage, for the quarry foreman, on an open space at the foot of the middle incline, virtually blocking the main footpath to the hill. In 1899 he fenced a “26 acre piece” on the northern slopes of the Hill down to Daisybank Road. Further obstructions followed.
So incensed were the public that on 8th March 1902 a “resolute crowd “ gathered on the hill and proceeded to partially destroy the fences, completing the task on Good Friday. On 7th July a large gathering tore down the fences around Tramway Cottage, and afterwards the four ring leaders were arrested and charged with obstructing the police.
On the evening of their unexpected acquittal, 15th July 1902, “something like two thousand people” processed from Cheltenham to the foot of the Hill, evicting the occupants of Tramway Cottage and razing it to the ground.
In 1904, rights to three public paths were proved in a London court and big victory demonstrations took place in Cheltenham. However, the judge did not define the routes and Dale rebuilt Tramway Cottage in its original position. On Good Friday 1906, following an earlier attack on the cottage, a crowd of two thousand people again gathered and proceeded to attack the cottage, the act culminating in the “Reading of the Riot Act” and the eventual imprisonment of eight of the “rioters”, now collectively known as “the stalwarts”.
An article on the riots can be found on page 4 of FOLK Newsletter Issue 05 September 2001.
By the time the last of the rioters were released in October 1906, widespread disillusionment for the access struggle had developed and hostilities faded.
The quarrying operation was relatively short-lived after this and, a generation later in 1927, Cheltenham Town Council (now Cheltenham Borough Council) purchased 400 acres of land, including the Hill (but excluding Charlton Kings Common, which was transferred from Charlton Kings Urban District Council to the Borough Council in 1965) and a substantial area of adjacent agricultural land, from Salterley to boundary with Charlton Kings Common. The Hill was opened to the public in 1929, The local paper, the Echo, describing the day as “one of the great days in the history of Cheltenham”.
In 1971 there was public outcry over a scheme for a 10 acre larch plantation on the slopes above Daisybank Road. By this time much of the Hill had become registered common land under the Commons Registration Act 1965 and such a scheme required consent under the Law of Property Act. The scheme was nevertheless completed, but the Deputy Town Clerk conceded that: ”Clearly we have learnt our lesson – that we have to consult the people of Leckhampton more regarding schemes for the hill.”
In the late 1990s there was a proposal to lease Daisybank Fields to the Woodland Trust for a period of 999 years for the purposes of tree planting. As a result of significant public opposition the proposal was not taken forward. This was a major factor in the Borough Council recognising the need for a mechanism for public consultation and led to the public meetings that culminated in the formation of FOLK in 2000.
Current Use and Tourism
A variety of recreational and educational pursuits take place on the Hill. The major uses are as follows:
- Dog walking
- Horse riding
- Rock climbing and Abseiling
- Hang gliding, paragliding and the flying of non-motorised model aircraft
- Cycling and Mountain biking
- Picnicking and Barbecues
- Tobogganing, skiing and snowboarding
- Wildlife observation
- Collection of geological/ fossil specimens