The Friends of Pittville excavation to investigate if the grand flight of steps in front of the Pump Room still exists took place on Thursday 20 April. Twelve of our regular Green Space volunteers went for the Time Team option and worked extremely hard, some until 1.00 pm. We were supervised by experts from Gloucestershire Archaeology as most of us were new to ‘digging’. Malcolm Walls represented Cheltenham Borough Counci and supplied equipment to fence off the site and provide information to passing members of the public.
We dug three trenches, two adjacent to the plinths and one in the middle. We didn’t find the stone steps still in situ, but by each plinth we uncovered the brick foundations for the steps, and marks showing the original position of the stone, so we gained some useful information about their size. In the middle trench brick and rubble foundations – probably for the bandstand – were discovered, lying on top of where the steps would have been. After recording the ‘finds’ with photos and drawings, the trenches were filled in and the turf replaced.
We now have a better idea of what probably happened to the steps. The bandstand was situated directly in front of the Pump Room for a period of about a year in 1900-1, until it was belatedly realised that it spoiled the view and it was moved to the side. Sadly it was probably its original siting on the flight of steps that led to their dismantling – so if someone in 1900 hadn’t had such a strange idea, we might still have the steps in place.
The ‘dig’ was well publicised, with two spots on BBC Radio Gloucestershire and interviews and photos by the Gloucestershire Echo. We were delighted that Chris Ryder, Mayor of Cheltenham, visited us while the dig was going on, bearing a welcome gift of cake.
Old photographs showing the steps reveal how much they enhanced the approach to the Pump Room, and of course they were part of the original design for the Pump Room and its surroundings. Perhaps one day we will see them back in place.