Following an impressive and much needed renovation, St Mary’s Minster churchyard, now known as Minster Gardens, is open for the public to enjoy and will really come to life in the Spring.
Visitors to the area can expect a new circular seating area, with benches made using stone from a Forest of Dean quarry, new pathways to improve accessibility, sensitive lighting and planting to enhance biodiversity.
The gardens are in the grounds of the Grade 1 Listed Minster, Cheltenham’s oldest and only surviving medieval building. The scheme – with full support from St Matthews and St Mary’s Parish and the Diocese of Gloucester – has taken six months of work, with local landscape architects, Ares Design and contractor, Id Verde, bringing the vision to life.
The improvements aim to encourage more people to enjoy the space, creating a natural surveillance that will help to deter anti-social behaviour.
Cllr Rowena Hay, leader at Cheltenham Borough Council, is pleased to have reached this milestone, she said: ‘’We are delighted with the transformation of this area, which holds such historic significance for the town. Together with partners, we had a vision that would breathe new life into the space, creating a sense of community and calm and we are thrilled that the project is now nearing final completion and will come to life fully in the Spring”.
‘’Working on the site of a medieval churchyard has certainly had its challenges and in order to comply with archaeological conditions, the project had to ensure that all groundwork digs were recorded by archaeologists. Huge thanks to experts from Oxford Archaeology, as a number of tombs were uncovered that were not on any previous records and had to be sensitively protected and recorded before work could continue. The project has, therefore, taken a little longer than planned but it was important to ensure works were undertaken thoroughly and sensitively.’’
As part of the renovation, the borough council also carried out conservation work on items needing urgent restoration. These have included memorials, table tombs and the base of the cross, a scheduled monument.
Thanks to the considered and phased approach, parishioners were able to access the church at all times.
Rev Clare Dyson at Cheltenham Minster said: “The church family are delighted to have The Minster now set in such thoughtfully restored grounds. We welcomed 11,000 visitors last year and have high hopes for that number to increase as more people are attracted to the area. We love meeting people in the Minster Gardens and look forward to holding events and activities there. It’s a great way for us to meet with the community and share Jesus’ love with them.”
Cllr Dom Morris, cabinet member for highways and flooding at Gloucestershire County Council, said: “I am proud that the council was able to help fund the renovation of Cheltenham’s Minster Gardens.
“The exciting development has brought the Minster’s churchyard back to life and delivers a fantastic public space for residents of the town.”
The project has been made possible through grants and donations from a number of partners and organisations and the council would like to thank Gloucestershire County Council and the European Regional Development Fund for significant funding and Cheltenham BID, The Leche Trust, Table Tomb Fund and Gloucestershire Historic Churches Trust for help to undertake the restoration work.
This scheme, is in addition to the recently renovated Clarence Fountain pocket park and the eagerly awaited recent re-opening of the newly refurbished Wilson Art Gallery and Museum and continues delivery of the council’s plans, to create a vibrant town centre for residents and visitors.
Visit www.cheltenham.gov.uk/minster-gardens to find out more about the scheme.