It was an insignificant example of 18th century graffiti that first got me interested in studying Bath stone in slightly greater detail.
Walk to the blind end of North Parade Buildings – formerly Gallaway’s Buildings – as the incised lettering just above the ground floor windows indicates – and you will come across IG 1774 .
The initials are carved into one of the long and short rustic quoins that mark the corner of each block and were added just 24 years after the terrace was built.
According to Michael Forsyth in his Pevsner Architectural Guide to Bath, this Georgian terrace was completed in 1750 – in a handsome blind alley set at an angle against the medieval wall – and was probably designed by Thomas Jelly to a plan instigated by an apothecary called William Gallaway who then lived in one of the houses.
Was IG a relation of Mr Gallaway’s – as a mason wouldn’t date his mark years after requiring payment for his work!
Speaking of masons’ marks takes me to Great Pulteney Street – Thomas Baldwin 1788-93 – and the initials BC which you will see in several places.
They are carved above the doorway into number 88 and at the point where nearby Darlington Street and Vane Street meet.
According to the Wikipedia on-line entry for ‘Masons’ Marks’…. ‘The exact purpose of mason’s marks is unclear, although it is generally assumed that they mark the working of a piece of masonry by a particular mason, in order to claim payment.
Others are assumed to indicate the position in which a stone should be laid. It has also been suggested that marks indicate the origin of the stone, or the location in which it was worked.’
Local historian and author Kirsten Elliott also came up with some other suggestions including Bath Corporation or Bathwick Church and – even more interesting – she tells me that just above King Edward’s School on North Road there is a gate and if you go to it you will see an old spout with the initials BCW which most likely stand for Bath Corporation Water which of course predates the Wessex Water Authority that manages and maintains supplies now.
While we are talking about masons’ marks let’s go onto the towpath of the Kennet and Avon Canal as it passes through Sydney Gardens and was constructed around 1799. The whole length was open for navigation from Bath to the Thames at Reading in 1810.
While l was busy investigating 19th century graffiti l soon became aware of a mass of markings. They were mainly triangular in shape but examples of other markings also incised into the blocks of cut Bath stone.
I made contact with Elaine Kirby who is Archive Administrator for the Kennet and Avon Canal Trust and she told me : ‘These are Masons marks, used by the stone masons to mark where their work was and for others the identify the individuals work.’
Elaine referred me to a paper entitled ‘The Kennet and Avon Canal and its marks’ written by a Major Gorham just after the First World War. He explains that work on the canal’s construction started in 1794 and took sixteen years to complete.
Meanwhile there is quite a history of graffiti along this stretch of waterway. I have mentioned the inscription of 1807 elsewhere on the Virtual Museum.