Here’s the sort of amazing lighting effect you can capture if you happen to be in this Kennet and Avon Canal road-bearing tunnel, out of Sydney Gardens, at the right time on a sunny day.
This is what l call the ‘Thames tunnel.’
It’s the one that bears an image of Old Father Thames above its portal to remind you that John Rennie’s 18th century masterpiece was dug – with much sweat and toil – to link the West with London.
At the other end of the gardens is another lengthy tunnel – this time sporting the face of Sabrina – the Roman goddess of the River Severn. This part of the canal heads towards the River Avon which flows towards Bristol and ultimately the Severn Estuary.
The tunnel supports a road and also a Grade 11* listed building – now called Cleveland House – originally built as the offices of the Kennet and Avon Canal Company – and known as Canal House.
It was constructed – to a design by John Pinch the Elder – between 1817-20 – on the orders of the Duke of Cleveland who owned the Bathwick Estate. He let it to the canal company until 1851 when the Great Western Railway bought it.
Michael Forsyth – who wrote the updated Pevsner Architectural Guide to Bath – describes it as ‘ among the most refined and important buildings connected to canals.’
More recently the building had been acquired for renovation and re-sale as a domestic dwelling house by the Trevor Osborne Property Group who have a reputation for high quality projects involving historic buildings.
This one will go on the market shortly at a guide price of three and a half million pounds.
So proud was the company with the fine job they have done to this historic building that they installed a lighting feature to the surface of the tunnel below – which forms part of the building’s structure.
It’s there, they say, “to celebrate and draw attention to the tunnel as a key architectural feature to this building.
The lighting also has the added benefit of improving the public space below the property, making it safer for canal tow path users to pass through this dark space, but also by improving the aesthetic value of this heritage asset. The lighting allows for a greater appreciation of the stonework within the tunnel.”
The company consulted various people and even followed guidelines on lighting historic buildings laid down by English Heritage. They thought they had done a good job. It seemed to go down well with local residents too. People they invited in to look at the restored house and the tunnel lighting.
Then came the realisation that they do have to go through with a listed building application and have produced a specially-prepared report to help them get permission – a little after the event so to speak.
So the tunnel remains in darkness while councillors decide – in the next couple of weeks – whether the lighting can be used for real.
Rob Moore – Development Manager for the Osborne Group – told Bath Newseum – that the house deeds included the tunnel beneath as part of the property. However, there does appear to be an issue over who owns the remaining section of tunnel under the road alongside the house.
“No one seems to know who owns that section'” said Rob, “but if and when an ‘owner’ provides evidence of freehold ownership we can have a sensible discussion about what we consider to be a nice asset for the city.”
The company has checked out the effect on wildlife with the aid of consultants Greena Ecological. They reported back that bats use the tunnel to fly through but don’t appear to roost or hibernate there.
Bearing this in mind the company says : ” It is proposed that the lighting of the tunnel will be limited to the two hours before dark between the spring and autumn equinox each year, while the lighting will be on between 17:00 and 20:00 during the winter months, when Green Ecology have confirmed that there will be no adverse ecological impact.”
While the LED lights will be neutral for most of the time they do have the ability to gradually change colour but Rob Moore says that special effect would not be in constant use.
“We want the lighting to be subtle and not in your face. However the colour change could be used a few times a year for special events. Turning it into a piece of artwork for things like the Bath Festival for instance. We don’t want to be gimmicky.”
At this point let me explain that if planning permission is granted the tunnel lighting will be under the control of the new house owner.
” These are LED bulbs which will add hardly anything to the house electricity bill. I don’t think it will concern whoever buys Cleveland House,” says Rob.
It’s true to say there are lights above ground too with floodlights on the house. A ‘show home’ in more ways than one.
While the Osborne Group have done their own ‘public consultation’ the B&NES planning application is now open for the public to comment upon and let the Council know what they think.
Find it at https://isharemaps.bathnes.gov.uk/data.aspx?requesttype=parsetemplate&template=DevelopmentControlApplication.tmplt&basepage=data.aspx&Filter=^refval^=%2717/01445/LBA%27&history=4b5b381ec9c3464bab05632b0f2e2804&SearchLayer=DCApplications
The Canal and River Trust has declined to comment at this stage.