You can’t see much of Bath’s iconic Empire Hotel (1899-1901 at the moment because the side facing Orange Grove is covered with scaffolding.
The five-storeyed, late-Victorian build (there’s a further two storeys in the roof) was designed by Bath City architect Major Charles Edward Davis for hotelier Alfred Holland at a time when there was no restriction on height. Try getting a city centre build like that past UNESCO now!
The hotel went up to cater for the Victorians who flocked to Bath during its revival as a spa destination. It served as a base for the Admiralty during the war and after – and is now home to many privately occupied apartments and a couple of restaurants.
The architecture of the roof is supposed to show the three classes of people. Castle on the corner for the upper class, a house for the middle class and a cottage for the lower classes.
I was reminded of this when a walked past all the work currently underway in Saw Close. There’s a new-build – restaurant, hotel and casino – going up between the old Blue Coat School and what’s left of the Palace Theatre.
Looking at the different sky-line styles l instantly thought of the old Empire. Here we have Flemish-styled curved gables and the pyramidal roof of the theatre now architecturally ‘hyphened’ or ‘stapled’ together with a white and modernistic – Bauhaus inspired – clean-cut block.
It takes its place well – in height and shape – without causing a fuss on the skyline. The new development is due to open next year.
The Saw Close public space in front is currently being ‘re-modelled’ with a new surface meant to pull the whole area together. We will see.