I spend a fair bit of time in Northumberland Place – one of those wonderful narrow shopping lanes hidden behind the High Street and opposite the Guildhall.
It’s one of a network of cosy shopping and refreshment passageways that mimic – in shape and size – the medieval streets in whose footprint they stand.
My reason for being there is an addiction to the strong Italian coffee served up at the Roscoff Deli cafe. Rosario – and his staff – manage to work espresso magic – producing an Americano with the longest-lasting ‘crema’ l have ever had the pleasure to sip black coffee through.
I am talking about what they call the ‘Guinness effect’ and it’s all about hot water – under great pressure – releasing carbon dioxide from the ground beans it’s being forced through. All those tiny bubbles of air float to the surface of the liquid – as soon as it escapes the pressurised basket – to create a creamy topping that sticks to your lips as you sip your hot and caffeine-rich brew.
It lasts long enough for me to observe life in the lane outside. Two things caught my eye today. One is an old projecting and ornate metal frame for what must have been a shop sign.
As someone who lived and worked in Brighton many years ago – l have never forgotten the delight of wandering around the famous ‘Lanes.’ Once the heart of the old fishing town – it’s an historic quarter and an intricate maze of twisting alleyways.
Bath’s off-street alleys cannot quite match those that lie in Sussex-by-the-sea but collectively – they could be marketed as an unusual feature.
So back to that old metal fitting. Ideal l think for holding a new sign saying ‘Welcome to Bath’s Lanes Quarter!’
Come on traders – and landlords – you have a unique feature you should be pushing more.
I said there were two things that caught my eye. The second was a down pipe outside what is now a branch of that calorific orgy of a coffee-and-fancy-cake-place called Patisserie Valerie.
It’s a branch of a company originally set up in London’s Soho district by Belgian-born Madame Valerie back in 1926.
However the building it occupies – Manver’s House – had a previous commercial life as a branch of WH Smith. I only know that because the initials are carved on that lead down pipe that caught my eye – along with the date 1927.
Below that is a scallop shell – but what is its symbolic significance here in Northumberland Place?
It’s an emblem of St James and pilgrimage in general, a symbol of love and fertility – linked with the goddess Venus – and even has an association with Methodism. But l ask – taking another sip of my Roscoff Deli coffee – what is the relationship with WH Smith and Son or the maker of the lead downpipes that still look so attractive.
Maybe someone who chances upon this can tell me more? In the meantime – even if you don’t drink coffee or eat fancy cakes – come and visit Bath’s (unofficial) Lanes Quarter!