Saw Close style.

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 three roof styles of the old Empire Hotel.

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.

In a new architectural line-up. Blue Coat School, new Casino and entrance tower to the old 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.

The new Saw Close surface taking shape.

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.

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Looking down Upper Borough Wall towards the Saw Close.

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.



  1. One of the issues with Saw Close, is that it suffers, to a certain extent, from the same problems that Seven Dials does. It is impossible for VIPs (Visually Impaired People) to use it confidently. The lack of grade separation between the road and the pavement and the only indicator that you are at the edge of the pavement being a 30cm wide corduroy paver is a real accessibility nightmare.

    You have no ability to know if you are on the pavement or road side. One lady I spoke to felt that the council was practicing a form of social exclusion by allowing this type of design.

    Thankfully traffic around Saw Close should be low, however long term, we need to use rising bollards to close Cheap Street to traffic as has been done to Lower Borough Walls. I would also strongly suggest a similar approach is taken with Westgate Buildings and buses are diverted along James St West.

    We should never be designing space that works just for the physically able. We need to consider all user groups and not socially exclude them through the designs we allow in out public realm, be that through not including grade separation or by not closing roads to through traffic.

  2. Hi Richard

    I don’t think UNESCO were consulted about the two recent monstrosities on the Bath Riverside (one is Royal View not sure about the other). Viewed from the hills surrounding the city these two blocks stick out like sore thumbs and do nothing for the heritage of the city. I wrote a letter to the Chronicle complaining about Royal View but they did not print it, no doubt because they are making a fortune from advertising the properties.


    Neil Garrett

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