The Crown Inn in Upper Park Street closed in 1998 and an application was submitted to Cheltenham Borough Council for change of use to a private members’ club. When the residents of Upper Park Street learnt that the ‘Little Crown’ was to become the home of Cheltenham Motor Club, perhaps understandingly, there were concerns that members would travel there in their cars creating problems with car parking in the narrow street. As a result, more than 50 people signed a petition asking for the move to be blocked and eight more sent in letters pleading with the council to save them from more car chaos. Councillor Les Godwin said: “It’s fairly obvious that if it’s a motor club people will drive there.” Permission was granted on the condition that white lines were painted in the car park and the club shuts at midnight.
Cheltenham Motor Club was founded in 1906. In their centenary year the club was named as Gloucestershire CAMRA ‘Club of the Year’ and went on to scoop the prestigious CAMRA National Club of the Year twice. The CAMRA Club of the Year competition is run in conjunction with Club Mirror magazine with the simple aim of finding clubs with the greatest commitment to quality real ale – those which offer a fantastic atmosphere, welcoming surroundings and most importantly, top quality real ale served in great condition. Club steward Neil Way said in February 2017: “As a long-term member of CAMRA I am totally overwhelmed and honoured to win Club of the Year for a second time. I am lucky to have a very supportive wife, a supportive committee along with a very hard working, motivated and loyal bar team. The locals are tremendous too.” Neil added: “Winning the Club of the Year in 2013 was a huge achievement and it generated a jump in trade from which we have been able to build and capitalise on. We could not have afforded to renovate the club house if it hadn’t been for the increase in business that winning the CAMRA Club of the Year previously generated.”
After the excitement of gaining the title of CAMRA National Club of the Year twice, it was perhaps not surprising that Neil should go for the hat-trick and the Cheltenham Motor Club clinched the prestigious title for the third time becoming National Club of the Year once again in 2019.
The following is taken from the 2020 edition of the Campaign for Real Ale’s Good Beer Guide: ‘[Cheltenham Motor Club] is a friendly club just off London Road that won CAMRA National Club of the Year honours in 2013 and 2017, among other awards. It serves five regularly changing ales from across the country alongside a local beer, often from Tileys at the Salutation, Ham. At least one KeyKeg, three real ciders and a range of bottled Belgian ales are also offered. Events include Meet the Brewer and Tap Takeover evenings and an annual beer festival. The club hosts local darts and pool teams. Non-members are welcome to make occasional free visits.’
Without doubt the great success story of the Cheltenham Motor Club can be entirely attributed to its steward Neil Way, who for almost two decades has worked tirelessly promoting real ales whilst keeping the ethos of the club together. Neil also warmly welcomes guests to enjoy the unique and friendly atmosphere of the Cheltenham Motor Club.
There may be some irony in that whilst the Cheltenham Motor Club has gone from strength to strength in recent years the Russell Arms, just a few yards away on the corner of Upper Park Street and Hales Road, has been suffering from diminishing trade leading to its ultimate closure within the same time span.