Walking towards my Larkhall home along Walcot Street in Bath l happened to look up towards an oval-shaped blue plaque above a hairdressing salon on the Paragon side of the street. Sandwiched between two windows on an upper floor l read with some astonishment.. “Here lived IK Brunel designer of the Pulteney Bridge.’
Now while this commemorative tablet is little more than a good stone’s throw from the world-famous stone-built structure bearing that name – l was a little confused. That iconic bridge – one of the most photographed bits of Georgian architecture in the city – was surely built by William Johnstone Pulteney to a design by Robert Adam between 1769 and 1774.
While Brunel may have designed some famous bridges of his own – the Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol and the Tamar Railway Bridge down Plymouth way to name but two – how could anybody think that this little giant of Victorian engineering had anything to do with the Bath stone built, three-arched structure across the city stretch of the River Avon?
Well of course, he didn’t. The fact l am training to be a member of the Mayor’s Corps of Honorary Guides helped me solve this conundrum in spectacular fashion. Amongst all the rules and regulations passed my way by my mentors came a copy of “Guidelines” – an annual magazine given to guides and containing lots of interesting articles and bits of research carried out by individuals.
Opening my copy, from March 2012, l saw on page four an article by Kim Jordan and Collin Carr entitled “Pulteney Road Railway Bridge Past and Present.” Of course. That’s it!
Brunel may have stayed in Walcot Street at some point but the Pulteney Bridge he designed was further across the city and forming part of his amazing Great Western Railway which was to link the West Country with London. Brunel’s railway bridge spans Pulteney Road. The original structure he designed stood from 1841 until replaced by the present one in 1975. The orignal bridge was admired by many for its elegance but its narrow central arch became a traffic bottleneck as the volume on the road beneath it increased.
I for one have learned something from all of this. Bath has not one but two Pulteney Bridges and both of them opened up pathways to the future.
The one across the River Avon meant the Bathwick Estate on the other side could be developed. The one across Pulteney Road was but one of many spans that
helped drive the railways south westwards and bring goods and people closer together.