An Anglo-Saxon settlement, Cheltenham - possibly from Celtenhomme, 'the town under the hill' - was the site of a monastery as early as 803. Alfred the Great wrote admiringly of the peace of the settlement on the banks of the River Chelt, and by the 13th century Cheltenham was noted for its fairs and markets.
In 1716 the town's sudden rise from obscurity began when - according to legend - a flock of pigeons discovered a spring on the site of what is now the Ladies College. The locals, noticing that the pigeons seemed to thrive, tried the waters for themselves and found that they eased many of the disorders that afflicted 18th century man. Local entrepreneurs soon realised that there was money to be made from this gift of nature and started to develop the town in order to attract the wealthy and famous.
Amongst the early visitors to take the spa waters were distinguished people like Handel and Samuel Johnson. The event which ensured the success of Cheltenham as a Spa town was the visit of George III in 1788. 'Farmer George' as he was popularly known lodged with his entourage at Bayshill and after 'taking the waters' strolled around the town with his family, meeting the populace.
Although Cheltenham's popularity as a Spa town waned, the town itself continued to prosper but this was due more to the efforts of a growing band of fine craftsmen than the 'fashionable set'.This tradition of craftsmanship continues today thanks to the presence of many high-tech companies such as Dowty and Smiths Industries.
After the Second World War, the town's fortunes picked up again with the establishment of the Government Communications Headquarters (G.C.H.Q) which has become one of the West's most important secret surveillance centres (while maintaining the fiction that it was just part of the Foreign Office). Cheltenham is a now a thriving commercial centre as well as being a popular destination for tourists. Many large organisations are based here including Gulf Oil, Eagle Star, U.C.C.A.S. and the Countryside Commission to name but a few.
The town maintains strong links with communities in the rest of the world and is twinned with Annecy - France, Goettingen - Germany, Cheltenham (Pennsylvania) and Sochi - Russia