Forty years ago this year the redoubtable and formidable Miss Amabel Wellesley-Colley took on the might of Bath Corporation and the Bath Preservation Trust and dared to put a blot on a world-famous Georgian architectural masterpiece. This little lady – a direct descendant of the Duke of Wellington – lived at number 22 Royal Crescent and found herself tripping over the toes of propriety when she decided to brighten up her front door and sash windows with some Primrose Yellow paint and matching blinds.
Never did a hue cause such a hue (and cry) as this colourful front entrance standing out as sore as a thumb amongst the various shades of more agreeable white and natural wood doors fronting the other 29 units which make up this Grade 1 listed, John Wood Junior-built world-famous crescent.
I was a young reporter at HTV West at the time and well remember standing in front of the offending door to tell viewers how this rather eccentric lady was standing firm behind her proverbial sandbags in defence of her freedom of choice. Bravely digging in to fight two Enforcement Orders insisting she restored the door to its original colour and removed the yellow blinds. The Council said both substantially altered the appearance of an historic building of great importance. The yellow door detracted from the appearance of the Royal Crescent and there had been complaints. Another salvo was fired off from the Preservation Trust – near neighbours at Number 1 – who thought her choice of paint ‘most regrettable’.
Minor legal skirmishes turned into one final major battle. Miss Wellesley-Colley’s Waterloo was her appearance before a public inquiry and a ruling from the Secretary of State for the Environment. Seven hundred pounds lighter and several weeks later her appeal against the Council’s order was upheld. The door stayed yellow.
Forty years on and the current owners of number 22 are thinking about re-painting the front door but – don’t worry – it is going to stay yellow. Mr Stephen Little – a retired race-course bookmaker – has lived at the terraced house for nineteen years with his wife and two sons. He told me he used to pass the famous yellow door when they went on walking tours of the city. “It was one of those sights of Bath but l never dreamed that l would end up buying the house.”
Stephen says there is nothing in the deeds that says the door has to remain yellow but they decided to continue the tradition and have already repainted it twice. “I must say it is overdue for painting now as it is rather faded.”
The Little’s intend staying with the colour. “I think changing the colour now would create as much of an outcry as Miss Wellesley Colley received when she first decided to defy the authorities.
Bath’s open top tour buses no longer crawl past the Crescent front as opposition from home owners and high-end ratepayers forced a route diversion but Stephen does remember the day one bus guide stopped his vehicle and came and knocked on his door. “We were in the process of re-painting the front door and had got as far as applying a white undercoat. The tour guide wanted to know if he was no longer going to be able to point us out now to tourists. I had to reassure him it was only an undercoat and the yellow door would be back once the paint had dried.”
I have a feeling that while one yellow door is being tolerated and has – in a way – become part of the historical story of Royal Crescent – any other deviation from white or natural would not go down too well with the powers that be. Amabel Wellesley-Colley has long since departed to meet her ancestors and there is no bronze plaque on number 22 to record this colourful caper but some might say it is good to see the occasional outbreak of individuality in a Heritage City famous for its Georgian balance, proportion and harmony.