Gibson House is a Grade II listed building was originally constructed in about 1805 and was originally two houses. It was converted to house the Barnaby Bendalls removal company. The building suffered from a serious fire in the 1970’s which destroyed much of the internal structures together with the roof. The subsequent conversion to a bar and restaurant was not sympathetic with the historic architectural character of the original building.
Chemistry was a nightclub housed over four floors in Gibson House in St James Square. It first opened in 1988 as Gas, and then had a change of identity to Embassy & Knights. In 2000 a flood of protests from elderly residents living in the nearby Somerset House care home prompted Cheltenham Borough Council’s licensing committee to refuse the renewal for a public entertainment license. Luminar, the owners of Embassy & Knights, lodged an appeal with Gloucester Crown Court stating that the firm had introduced special measures to combat the nuisance caused by clubbers, including more security staff patrolling the surrounding streets.
Chemistry nightclub opened on Friday 13th December 2002 and the promotion invited prospective customers to ‘discover the finest food, drink and music in the world.’ Punters were enticed by the slogan ‘the perfect formula for Saturday night’. But once again anti-social behaviour and inconsiderate parking caused residents to officially complain in June 2003 with 19 letters being sent to the Borough Council. At the meeting of the authority’s licensing committee a councillor said: “Residents must not have to out up with vomiting, urination and sex in their gardens.” Despite this the club was granted a six-month licence.
A reporter for the ‘Gloucestershire Echo’ reported on the culture of binge drinking in Cheltenham town centre in the December 2005. A local resident, who did not want to be named, claimed that Wednesday nights at Chemistry were the worst. The ‘mashed’ themed nights aimed at students were claimed to be a policy of deliberately encouraging binge drinking. The resident said: “Their flyers say ‘dedicated to getting alcohol in you quicker’ and shots of vodka costs £1 and bottles of beer sell for £1.50.” He added, “Wednesday nights involve initiations of student freshers. They run around the streets naked and chanting. It’s a culture that sees young students forced to drink ridiculous quantities of alcohol resulting in vomiting and passing out.” The advertising posters were confirmed by the researcher and they read, ‘Don’t miss our new slammers and shooters bar dedicated to getting alcohol in you quicker.’ The binge-drinking culture was frighteningly and honestly expressed by a clubber who said: “It’s about drinking as much as you can. I had a bottle of wine before I left home. You’re dead the next day, but who cares?” A barmaid was interviewed and told the reporter that she was not allowed to sell triples, but “pouring two doubles into the same glass. No problem.”
Residents were dismayed when Chemistry nightclub sought to extend the late licence until 3 am. This was declined by councillors at the Borough Council and the St James Square club made its 38 staff redundant just before Christmas in 2005. A spokesman for Chemistry said: “We applied for a late licence which we didn’t get, putting us at a disadvantage, giving us no option but to close. We operated within our licence and although we have a strong student market it’s not an all year thing. No decisions have been made on selling the club, but the staff have been made redundant.”
The licence stipulating that the premises could open until 2 am, together with the entertainment licence, expired in October 2010. Headline Entertainments Ltd applied to restore the premises licence but there were no immediate plans to reopen the nightclub. A councillor said: “The residents are terrified its going to happen again. The elderly people are petrified and those who weren’t here before have heard what went on. It’s the wrong thing in the wrong place.” The application to renew the licence was refused, with the Borough Council licensing sub-committee voting unanimously against the proposal. However, the applicant appealed against the decision. A solicitor acting on behalf of the owner said: “My client is merely seeking to restore a premises licence in identical terms to what existed before.”
An application was submitted to Cheltenham Borough Council in November 2012 for the conversion of the former controversial nightclub venue into eight flats. Plans to convert the first, second and third floors of Gibson House into eight one and two-bedroom apartments were generally positively greeted, despite concerns about car parking facilities. But the owner had planning permission to reopen a bar and restaurant in the building’s basement and ground floor.