Pavement Perils

Good to see this piece of graffiti – spotted on the side of the Temple of Minerva in Sydney Gardens – was soon consigned to an (un)recorded history. I won’t be keeping the image either! Bath and North East Somerset Council recently spent £160,000 on new street cleaning machines in the ‘battle’ against litter and graffiti. This little ‘skirmish’ was quite effective. The offending daub was gone within a couple of days.

At this point, for those like me who did not know it, the aforementioned ‘temple’ was constructed to serve as an advertisement for Bath stone during the 1911 Empire Exhibition at Crystal Palace in London. It was designed by a local architect and based on a copy of the Roman pediment discovered in fragments near the Roman Baths in 1790.

According to Brenda Snaddon in her book on the history of the Sydney Pleasure Gardens and entitled ‘The Last Promenade’, when the Empire Exhibition closed the proposal was to set the ‘temple’ up ‘in some suitable spot in Bath which would best display such an ornamental structure’. Brenda said the Parks Committee had argued whether it was worth £288 to Bath, this being the cost of bringing it from London.

In the end it was re-erected in Sydney Gardens without its mosaic pavement, but with a plaque, paid for by the Bath Pageant Committee, who had surplus funds after their huge show in Victoria Park in 1909, and wished to have a memorial of the event.

The Bath Pageant of 1909 is another story to be told elsewhere. An astonishing achievement for the city with over three thousand performers re-enacting it’s ‘magnificent’ history every night for a week in Victoria Park.

Returning to that graffiti-busting machine, apparently it is also very effective in blasting gum from the surface of paving stones. Bath gets around four and a half million visitors every year so you can imagine how much of a pounding that sort of frenzied foot-fall administers each season.

Abbey Churchyard has to be considered the cultural heart of Bath. It’s where people line up for the Roman Baths and Pump Room, or go into the Abbey or wait for a Mayor’s Honorary Guide tour. It’s where they meet each other and listen to music from the street buskers. They eat and chew gum and spill food and drinks. Seagulls and pigeons fly in for the pickings and leave their own markers behind.

The paving stones are not in good condition. They are as crazy as the Abbey Churchyard at mid-day on a hot August week-end. They are cracked and uneven.To make matters worse l hear the gum and graffiti busting giant water pistol is dissolving the old lime mortar between the slabs. It is opening up more areas to water and frost and more cracking.

Just recently l had a chance to catch up with the City’s Heritage Manager Tony Crouch. We were talking about commemorative plaques – and more about that in a future blog – but l did mention the state of the paving slabs. Maybe its time l said to start looking down at our feet and not just up at Georgian terraces and crescents and squares.

Seems while grant aid is sometimes available to help restore iconic architectural hot spots like The CIrcus its hasn’t been there for more ordinary street level repairs and renovations. “We are paid the same to lay paving slabs as they would do in Swindon,” says Tony. “The big difference is that we are looking for pennant paving as opposed to normal concrete. The difference being about ten fold in price.”

Businesses in the city centre have been levied an extra tax for what’s known as business improvement schemes e.g. a machine that gets rid of chewing gum, food marks and bird droppings. It certainly keeps things clean but that high pressure water has been taking out some of the joints.

“Its looking a bit wobbly there in places now and there is a bit of a maintenance job to do to go back and point those and replace any broken slabs.”

In my opinion, with Council budgets being as squeezed as they are, that maintenance may take some time. There are other paving schemes currently taking priority. Including the new pedestrian-enhanced lay-out in the High Street outside the Guildhall. It is also very difficult to wring more money out of businesses that are battling for survival in these recessionary times.

Maybe we should be having a radical re-think about Abbey CHurchyard and its slab covering. With the Abbey hoping to do some major renovation work in the not too distant future, it might be time to share some of the burden of getting this well trodden surface up to scratch. What do you all think?