A penny for your thoughts?

B&NES has big plans for making historic Sydney Gardens more ’21st century’ friendly. That’s if the council is successful in attracting Heritage Lottery funding to pay for a sensitive make-over that acknowledges the past as well as the present.

sydney gardens
Sydney Gardens became a municipal park in 1909.

The gardens were opened in 1795 as a Georgian ‘Vauxhall’ or pleasure grounds which offered  – for those who paid to come in – such adult delights as swings, a grotto and labrynth, waterfalls, bowling greens and public outdoor breakfasts with music!

canal sydney gardens gate
The Kennet and Avon through Sydney Gardens.

Both John Rennie’s canal and Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s railway were later to criss-cross these pleasure grounds of picnics and promenading. Private grounds turned into a public space when they became a municipal park in 1909.

sydney gardens
The central driveway.

There’s not much left of the original design – apart from the central driveway (and maybe some mature trees?)  – but of course history continues to be ‘laid down’ on the landscape.

Tennis courts and a bowling green have been added over the years.

The bowling green.

However, following the decision by the bowling club to end their lease at the end of 2016 bowling season – due to a falling membership – the plan is to will the pavilion into a new café and the former bowling green will provide a venue for informal play and activities such as yoga, tai chi and salsa.

The bottom tennis courts.

The latest design also includes a multi-use ball game area within the footprint of the current bottom courts – creating space where a wide range of informal and other ball games can be played; such as basketball, football, volleyball and table tennis.

Ultimately this would provide a more flexible space for a wider range of different types of active play than can currently be accommodated by six permanent tennis courts.

The newly refurbished loos

Just recently the public toilets were ‘upgraded’ and are now operated via a 20 p piece in the slot. 

Ancient and modern

But alongside the block stands the remains of a gentlemen’s public lavatories – erected in 1910 – and an unusual survival of a once common type made by the Star Works of Birmingham.

There’s the remains of a Victorian ladies loo in there somewhere!

I had never stopped to wonder where the ladies version of this ornamental restroom would have stood but came across it tucked away behind the gents and completely overgrown and fenced off.

The Victorian gents!

I hear on the grapevine, that the intention might be to used portions of the much more dilapidated ladies loo to restore the more complete gents.

The ornamental structure is Grade 11 listed!

These are Grade 11 listed structures – so such plans will have to be well considered.

Long term B&NES are looking to the public for ideas as to how the restored feature could be used. A novel and useful way to enhance and ensure its survival. A relic from an age when spending a penny meant just that!


  1. They could follow the example of the public toilets on the green in Twickenham in SW London and turn them into a compact restaurant. Possibly an unappetising prospect, but it was surprising how quickly one forgot the building’s previous use. Admittedly, the project was helped along considerably by a rather nice conservatory construction. Food for thought, anyway. Here’s a picture… http://l7.alamy.com/zooms/19a1d5181a42493297917093e1b2a4e8/aurthurs-restaurant-on-twickenham-green-london-uk-the-diner-is-situated-e4m0me.jpg

    1. Thanks for that Eirlys. A similar idea transformed a block of toilets on Clifton Downs in Bristol into a cafe. Trouble is l think they want to use the cafe idea on the club house attached to the bowling green.

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