Norman masonry, gin shaker and putting archaeology to bed.

I was on hand – earlier today (Wednesday, November 25th) – to watch contractors put a little part of Bath’s industrial archaeology to bed.

The old pipe factory is being carefully covered with a blanket of small stones and a membrane.

It’s a good way of describing the careful way in which an important clay pipe factory – exposed by archaeologists during a dig on an area of the Saw Close that is now being redeveloped – is being carefully covered before it once again disappears below ground.

The site will eventually house a casino, hotel and restaurants but Sanctus the developers are letting Cotswold Archaeology delve into the history of this historic part of the old city before starting the re-build.

Knowing what is underground will also help the contractors work out where to put in the piles to support the new buildings – without too much disturbance.

The pipe factory – and its kilns – are the subject of a video interview elsewhere on the Virtual Museum and were also visited by nearly two thousand people during a special open day.

John Cossins-Price – the Sanctus Site Manager – gave me a hard hat and a special guided tour around the old Regency Garage which is soon to be demolished.

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Site Manager John Cousins-Price showing me the old car lift inside the Regency Garage.

The building was originally an 18th-century coach house and then a cheese warehouse, before becoming a garage in 1906. It operated until the late 20th century.

Interesting to read a section of a Historical Building Report on the area produced by Kay Ross of McLaughlin Ross llp for B&NES in 2007. She says:

‘The Regency Garage remains little changed since it was converted into a garage in 1906, and its distinctive shape can be traced back through a number of maps and plans to at least the late 18th century.

The old Regency Garage building.

Originally a coach house built in the 1770s, the east wall has a high blocked archway which would have provided access from the carrier’s yard. The angled west wall fronting the Saw Close was built in 1824 as well as the southern section of the rear east wall. The remaining walls are probably those of the 1770s building.

Both large doorways were inserted between 1906 and 1914 and the building has probably been 3 storeys since 1824.’

The historic walls linking it with the front of the former Music Hall Theatre next door will be kept. The theatre facade is listed and is absolutely assured of also being retained.

The upper floor in the old Regency Garage with the winch winding gear to the right.

The rest of the building is near collapse anyway. The most interesting thing inside is a manually operated car lift that must date back to the early years of the 20th century.

One could imagine it taking the weight of a Model T Ford but not a modern day – and much weightier – car.

The old winding handle for the car lift in the old Regency Garage.

A car can be winched up to the second floor – to be worked on – by a man turning the winch handle on the floor above.

I have taken many pictures and will pass them on to Stuart Burroughs at the Museum of Bath at Work.

Meanwhile, Simon Sworn who is Site Director for Cotswold Archaeology showed me where the excavated pipe factory was now being carefully re-covered in readiness for development work to proceed above it.

Site Director Simon Sworn showing me the basement area they have uncovered.

Elsewhere he pointed out some carved Normal masonry that had been recycled as building material on the Saw Close site. He thought it came from a church. Could it have come from the Norman complex that lies beneath Bath Abbey?

The carved piece of Norman masonry that may have come from a Bath church.

The stonework is being removed and will be preserved.

We then went further down the site and – in the middle of a muddy and noisy construction area – Simon explained what new archaeology had been discovered in the basements of houses that used to line the Bridewell Lane.