Bath has hidden historic gems – as well as its big architectural set pieces. One of them is the restored Georgian Garden behind number 4, the Circus.
Between 1985 and 1988 the overgrown and inaccessible garden behind the house was excavated by Bath Archaeological Trust and many of its original features discovered.
The decision was taken to restore it to its original 1760 form. It was thought to be the first town garden in the world to be scientifically excavated and re-created in situ.
In 1992 it won a Civic Trust Environmental Award and, in the same year, was opened to the public as the ‘Georgian Garden’, accessed from Gravel Walk in Royal Victoria Park behind the Circus.
This is a little ‘freebee’ l always offer to people in my group when l am out doing my Tuesday morning duties as a member of the Mayor of Bath’s Corps of Honorary Guides.
It’s also the point when l say the house at number 4 is where the Fashion Museum does its conservation and repair work. This is technically still correct but the house has a much more interesting history to recount.
One l have discovered through reading background detail to be presented to members of the Charitable Trust Board who will meet at Bath Guildhall on Tuesday next – October 4th – to discuss the appointment of new trustees to the charity which runs the house.
Back in 1958, Mr Charles Cooke and his wife Frances made mutual wills leaving their house – 4 Circus – to the survivor for life and thereafter to the Bath Preservation Trust.
Two years later Mr Cooke died and Mrs Cooke approached the then Bath City Council to see if they would take over the property to make it available to the general public as a themed Georgian exhibition house.
The Council discussed the proposal with Bath Preservation Trust but they decided it was not for them – especially as they had recently acquired more suitable and grander premises at No 1 Royal Crescent.
The City Council considered converting number 4 for housing purposes but decided it would be better used as a much needed ‘accessory’ to the Museum of Costume which, at that time, lacked space in the Assembly Rooms for storage, public research and study purposes.
Then Mrs Cooke died and, as no joint scheme between the Council and Preservation Trust had been implemented to realise the wishes of her late husband, the matter was put in the hands of the Official Custodian for Charities.
A charity was formed in Mrs Cooke’s name and the Council had to appoint four trustees with the object of ‘ the preservation and exhibition to the public of the building on the said land as a place of architectural and historic interest.’
In 1973 a scheme was drawn up to lease the property to Bath City Council ‘ for purposes not inconsistent with the object of the charity which purposes may include use as a museum of costume.’
So a year later the Fashion Research Centre opened at number 4 – as the study and education arm of the Museum of Costume.
In the years that followed the house was also used for other purposes. It was the main offices for the Council’s Museum Service – until they moved to the Pump Room. Bath Archaeological Trust – at one time – also occupied rooms on the top floor.
In 1985 a textile conservation studio was created in the basement – serving not only the Museum of Costume but museums throughout the South West.
Although the original intention of Mr Cooke was for public access to the house, the restoration and opening of the garden to the public was seen as a major contribution to the object of the charity.
The Georgian garden is administered and promoted by the Council’s Heritage Services and maintained by the Parks and Open Spaces team.
Then, of course, Bath City Council became B&NES and in 2003 a new 21 year lease was negotiated. Also – at that time – the Fashion Research Centre’s collections and services were merged with those of the Museum of Costume at the Assembly Rooms.
This released space at 4 Circus and a search began for a partner tenant whose function would be compatible with that of the Museum and consistent with the Object of the Charity.
This brought about a new BA course in Fashion Design Skills and a working partnership with Bath Spa University who came to occupy part of the property.
The use of parts of the building for teaching the Fashion Design Skills course was deemed to be in keeping with the Object of the Charity in that it made the building accessible to BSU students and staff.
In addition, the house was opened for accompanied public viewing at certain times of year such as National Heritage Open Days.
‘In theory members of the public could request sight of the interior at any time and would have to be admitted, although the ability to do this has never been made public.’
That’s something l tested out this morning – Thursday, September 29th – when a very polite young man came to the door and told me entry wouldn’t be possible because there were students there having lectures.
I had missed the annual Open Doors access by a week or so, he said.
I decided not to press my case.
Much of what l am writing has been taken from a document prepared as a briefing note for next week’s meeting.
New trustees have to be appointed to approve a new sub lease to Bath Spa University. The proposed terms provide for a lease ending early in 2019 which coincides with the end of the lease from the Trust to the Council, and one of the first tasks for the new trustees will be to consider what happens after this date.
The house is managed by Heritage Services, for which there is an operating budget of £34,120. Maintenance is undertaken through the Council’s Project Delivery Team at a cost of £19,960 in 2016/17.
These costs are partly offset by a rental income of £24,790 from Bath Spa University in 2016/17.
The terms of a new lease, under which the University will take on more of the running costs and pay a revised level of rent, is currently the subject of negotiation between the Council’s Estates Team and the University.
No.4 Circus is a mid-eighteenth-century town house set within the south-west segment of the Circus, the first of the three segments to be built.
It was designed by John Wood the Elder (who died in 1754 before its completion) and built by his son John Wood the Younger. No.4 was completed in 1760. The house is Grade I listed.
The charity controlling its future has to work to its legal objectives of publicly exhibiting the house and garden ‘as a place of architectural and historic interest.’
The new trustees have quite a task in front of them to find a novel and financially way to secure its future.
The Museum of Costume has since become Bath’s world-famous Fashion Museum – and is based at the Assembly Rooms.