A letter from Pulteney Weir.

Yesterday the Leader of Bath and North East Somerset Council set out his Authority’s thoughts regarding the future development of the former industrial riverside on the west side of Bath.

What have we 'weir?'
What have we ‘weir?’ Click on the images to make them bigger.

It was in answer to the ‘weir protest’ being staged by Charlie Dancey who has spent the week on his Dutch barge – Northern Sun- which is ‘anchored’ in the shadow of Pulteney Bridge to protest about what he calls the Council’s ‘neglect’ of the old Stothert and Pitt factory site – a less picturesque spot further down river.

Charlie has sent over a copy of a letter he has sent to the Bath Chronicle. I print it – as Charlie has written it – spelling mistakes and ‘typos’ included! The Virtual Museum does not necessarily agree with every word but l do quote one passage worth repeating as it makes comparisons between the old crane factory – known as the Newark Works – and the Kennet and Avon Canal.

Weir protester Charlie Dancey.
Weir protester Charlie Dancey.

Says Charlie: ‘Newark Works has the last functioning quayside remaining as evidence of the link between heavy industry and the waterways in this historic city. If anyone has any doubt about the value of preserving industrial heritage consider this, that the charming canal itself is an industrial site, and now forms a wonderful environment for walkers, boaters, cyclists and fisherfolk.’

Below is Charlie’s letter in full.

SAVE NEWARK WORKS BARGE PROTEST

Dear Sir,

I feel that I must respond to Cllr. Paul crossley’s remarks that appeared in the press last week in answer to my barge protest at Pulteney Weir, and since neither he, nor any other officer at B&NES Council will do me the courtesey of a meeting or entering into any knid of dialogue, the only avenues I have open to me are writing to the media, or placing more banners on my barge – which I think would rather spoil the look of her.

My single message is “Save Newark Works, historic home of Stothert & Pitt, crane-makes to the world.”

Let me explain: “Newark Works” are the industrial buildings on the south side of the river opposite Green Park on the north side. They have a grade II listed frontage on the Lower Bristol road, next to the other tall and impressive riverside buildings, now used as offices, and this whole complex of buildings form a harmonious and interesting architectural complement to the wonderful city on the other side.

Newark Works have lain idle and empty and unmaintained, save for some token gestures to placate the Bath Heritage Watchdog people a few years back after they had complained loudly about the disgraceful neglect of the site by our Local Authority.

I too have been complaining of this for five years now, and as your readers may know, I have occupied the site, not once but twice to highlight the issue. I have written to B&NES, emailed them, vistied them, occupied the site twice and am now protesting this issue in Pulteney Weir, but nobody, not one person, at B&NES will enter into dialogue about this.

The mindset of a local authority behaving in this way is not hard to read. They would dearly love to tear it all down, but sadly cannot, because of the listed frontage, and this is because there is nothing a developer likes better than a blank canvas to wreak their work upon, and the closer it is to the City Centre, the more they want it. Witness the debacle of the Gasometer, which, while interesting in its own way, and while we also must conceed that the new bus station works very well, is a “novelty” design that will look very tawdry in 20 years time, and is wholly out of character with both the Georgian architecture that defines out city, and Brunel’s railway station that lies alongside it. And remember that a classic building was razed to the ground amid some dispute, in order to make way for it.

So if they can’t tear Newark Works down entirely, because of the pesky Grade II business, what can they do? Well, one tack would be to let the place fall to rack and ruin, by failing to maintain it and wait for the scrap thieves and blocked guttering to do the demolition work for them. In time the buildings will become unsafe and too expensive to economically repair and there will be no argument about it any more. The site will have to be “developed”, which will mean tearing down everything but the listed part of the facade and leave it standing there as a tombstone to the great buildings that once stood there, forming a frontage to the new, er, “development” behind it. And if it is to be “developed” then millions of pounds of grant money will be mopped up to carry out “essential” modifications to the site, like vast tanks under the site to help mop up floodwater when the river is in spate.

The old railway tracks and crane plates set into the cobbles of Newark Works will not survive a development like this, and these fabulous steel dinosuar footprints of former industry will be gone forever.

The “development” itself will probably be of the architecturally barren and quick-buck making style of the other soulless constructions that are starting to appear in the Western Riverside area. have no doubt about it, if these idiots are allowed to run riot over the Western Riverside for just a few more years, the entre area will be dominated by blocky architectural ghastliness.

Now the Western Riverside is a vast area of mainly brownfield sites, and we do need housing and premises for new businesses to keep the local economy bubbling along, so I accept that this City needs to be modern and professional and these brownfield sites are great places to place this sort of thing – so get on with it!

But do not destroy our heritage.

Newark Works is not a brownfield site. It is the last remaining site that is touched in every corner by the traces of the great industry that was carried out there, and which was reponsible, to a great degree of defining the nature of the City as it is today. Newark works has a quayside that forms part of “South Quay” which was a busy port near the intersection of the navigable River Avon and the Kennet and Avon Canal. The River Avon with her large locks allowing great barges to make their way down to Bristol Docks and the sea beyond, and the Kennet and Avon Canal, allowing boats to make their way east across the country all the way to the Thames and thence upriver to Oxford or downriver to London. Newark Works has the last functioning quayside remaining as evidence of the link between heavy industry and the waterways in this historic City.

If anyone is any doubt about the value of preserving industrial heritage consider this, that the charming canal itself is an industrial site, and now forms a wonderful environment for walkers, boaters, cyclists and fisherfolk. We owe a great debt to those who worked so hard and campaigned to save these relics of another time.

Look also to the amazing success of the regeneration of Bristol Docks, just a few miles away, that have created, close to the center of this great city, a living breathing heart that makes complete sense of the local scene.

Now imagine Bath without her canal, or Bristol without her docks.

See? It’s obvious. We do not need to “redevelop” the site, we simply need to restore the buildings into sound working condition, and we need to leave the railway lines and crane plates and weighbridge in the cobbled ground and we need to leave the great gantry crane in the westermost shed in place, and create our own South bank to rival Bristol Docks (though on a smaller scale of course). We need to open up the river and provide much- needed facilities for leisure craft and we need, not a new bridge, but the old Destructor Bridge, to be saved from the scrapyard and moved into place to provide a footbridge and cycleway connecting Green Park to Newark Works.

And also, if a flood tank is really required, lets cut a marina into the huge yard at Newark Works to form a small harbour around which the old buildings will provide a charming context.

I find the Councils attitde on this to be high-handed, secretive and downright rude, and their management of these listed buildings is a scandalous failure in their duty of care.

I am the leader of the South Quay Community Arts Project, and we are prepared to take on the entire site and make this happen. We can do this without tearing everything down, and we can do it with creativity and consideration of the quality of life of Bathonians and visitors to our City in a way that is quite impossible for and organisation like B&NES to achieve. Witness the pathetic attempt at creating an pleasant open space at Stothert Court’s riverside approach to Victoria Bridge, which is an abject failure. They can’t do it right, they just aren’t wired the right way.

I’m very pleased to hear that B&NES have already lined up £5.5 million in grants to apply to getting the site off the ground, because that sounds like way more than we’d need to do a really amazing job on the place. I mean a really super-duper award-winning job that will make Bath the envy of other cities. We’re the creative team, you’re welcome to handle the overseeing of the job, and the site should remain in public ownership anyway.

Just stop trying to have ideas, because you suck at it.

I shall remain in Pulteney Weir for as long as you refuse to talk to me, and I’m telling you this: in 20 years time you’ll be very glad that I won this battle.

So lets not fight, lets get on with it and we can all come out of this smelling of roses.

You really don’t want me and my duck playing Arthur Dent in front of your bulldozers do you?

No, you don’t. Best regards,

Charlie Dancey mv Northern Sun Pulteney Weir Bath