One hundred and one people through the gates in the first twenty minutes.
Not bad for the start of the special open morning arranged today (Saturday, October 31st between 10 am and 2 pm) for people to see what Cotswold Archaeology have uncovered on the Saw Close site which will eventually support a casino, restaurants and hotel.
Sanctus Site Manager – John Cossins-Price – was on hand to welcome and count people in. He was amazed by the early response.
Followers of the Virtual Museum will know that we were given a sneak preview of the remains of a pipe factory – demolished in 1859 – that had lain undisturbed under a school playground at Saw Close for 156 years.
The site simply became part of the segregated play areas created for boys and girls at the re-building – in 1860 – of the adjacent Bluecoat School. An institution where children – including architect John Wood – have been educated for four hundred years.
Now the area is being redeveloped archaeologists are being allowed to record what is underneath before the piles are carefully sunk to support the new buildings.
The good news is, as they discover where things are – and that includes very rare pipe kilns that are almost complete – the construction above will be undertaken in a way that preserves all that is underneath and without causing further damage.
Pipe making began in Bath in the late 1650’s though tobacco had arrived in the country a hundred years before. By the 19th century, there were small factories all over the city.
Special clay would be imported in barrels from Devon and brought up the River Avon to Bath. The pipes were shaped and fired using local coal to heat the kilns.
In 1836, the Bridewell Lane Factory – here on the Saw Close – was taken over by Joseph Sants and by 1841 he employed at lea 8 people. Ten years later it was ten or more.
However, the factory was doomed to closure when a renewal of its lease was refused on the grounds of the noisome nature of the industry and complaints about smoke from the factory.
Today’s visitors were able to survey the site from a safe distance and question the archaeologists who were happy to explain exactly what it is people were seeing.
I was grateful to archaeologist Liam Wilson for a chance to look down on the basement remains of numbers 9 and 10 Bridwell Lane.
The pathway got its name from the ‘brides-well’ – a prison for vagrants – that it led to.
He told me Number 9 was first occupied in 1625 when the property – described as a tenement and a garden – was leased to John and Elizabeth Clement and their son Simon for an annual rent of 1s and 4d.
The basement is filled with rubble from the demolished building above and archaeologists do hope to get through some of it. There is evidence of a fireplace and they have also uncovered the outside steps leading down to it – plus an outside but covered toilet.
Liam said they had found gun flints in that area and can surmise that is how someone was keeping himself temporarily occupied. While resident in the privy, he was busy chipping away at his block of flintstone.
No 10 alongside was part of the pipe making factory now excavated and on show to the people coming onto the site to see.
Another archaeologist on site is Marek Lewcun – an expert on clay pipes. Amongst their finds was a rather broken terracotta plaque bearing the classically stylised profile of a bearded Victorian gentleman.
It’s made of the same clay used at the factory and maybe was a trial oven ‘firing’ to test another product before offering for sale to the public as they turned to cigarettes and away from clay pipes.
Who this man was and what purpose the object served, remains a mystery but maybe someone attending today’s opening can shed new light on the subject.
The developers are obviously anxious to get on with things but responsible enough to let the archaeologists survey things first.
It’s also important that these digs also give them an idea of how firm the ground is beneath the new development.
I am sure as digging spreads to other parts of the site there will be more to show the public at some point in the future.
My thanks to Simon Cox – Head of Fieldwork at Cotswold Archaeology – for letting me know that – by the time they closed the doors at 2 pm – 1,510 people had been to see the work.