Apart from their Christian names, l know nothing about Wendy and Tom – the new owners of a patch of land created from the spoil dug out to build the canal that lies above it.
It’s a sloping plot – covered in mature and self-seeded trees – and also the ruins of a pub and brewery that once attracted people who walked from the London Road – over Grosvenor Bridge and the River Avon – to this secluded spot beside the Kennet and Avon Canal.
It’s a route l often take on my bike and there is no longer any above-ground evidence of the pub that had a bowling alley, a fountain in the grounds and a brewery fed by the Hampton Springs.
Wendy let me onto the site to get some idea of just how big a footprint the old buildings still have. You can still peer into the tops of cellars now filled with more modern rubbish from the many people who have slept rough here.
These licensed premises – now all but disappeared – were called The Folly and feature in a book – called Lost Pubs – written by local historian and author Kirsten Elliott. It’s published by the Akeman Press – http://www.akemanpress.com
Kirsten said when she and her partner Andrew Swift were researching Bath’s pubs – past and present – they found the Folly very intriguing. The amount of material they discovered was enormous but they could not find a photograph. So far the only known image is a painting by Samuel Poole – done sometime before 1930 – which can be seen at the Victoria Art Gallery.
I know Kirsten – and the land’s new owners – would love to find photographs or personal memories regarding this now vanished public house.
The Folly – according to Lost Pubs – first appears as an unnamed building on Thorp’s 1742 map of Bath. In 1795, when Harcourt Masters published his map of Bath, it appears, as the Folly, and linked by a free ferry with the new pleasure gardens then being created at Grosvenor.
Is this the reason for its name, she asks? Grosvenor Gardens began to be laid out in 1792 – in imitation of Vauxhall in London. Unfortunately, although they could create wonderful spectacles in the gardens themselves, the view across the river was something of an anti-climax.
Taking an old building and turning it into a folly by the addition of eye-catching features would be an ideal way of transforming a rather uninteresting view into a picturesque landscape. This is, at least, Kirsten’s theory.
The building retained the name after the failure of the Grosvenor Pleasure Gardens prior to 1795 and was leased – as a dairy farm – by William Hulbert. The canal cut across the land at the back of the Folly in 1800 which brought a steady flow of people and boats to this previously remote spot. It’s thought Mr Hulbert may have turned part of his land into a tea garden to make some money from this new passing trade
In 1830 Thomas Shew, who lived at the eastern end of Grosvenor and owned the land at the back, constructed a suspension bridge over the River Avon to create a pleasant walk from Walcot to Bathampton and back along the river and canal. This probably made the path by the Folly busier than ever.
In 1839 Matthew Hulbert, William’s son, entered into an agreement with the Duke of Cumberland, who owned the land on which the Folly stood, to redevelop the building at precisely the time the railway was about to be built alongside it.
He then started to serve teas in the garden during the summer months. It is not known when the Folly became a public house but the first reference to it came in 1847 when a report in the Bath Chronicle of a drowning woman being pulled from the river states that the alarm was raised by ‘the son of Mr Hulbert of the Folly Public House‘ and the victim was taken there to recover.
By 1852 the Watch committee regarded it as a ‘harbour for loose characters.’ Several landlords followed. Then, in 1862, Thomas Osmond from the Theatre Tavern in St John’s Place, took it over and attempted to give the Folly a new image by renaming it the Cremorne Pleasure Gardens.
There was a fountain in the grounds, dancing, brewing from the Hampton Springs and the longest, most comfortable bowling alley in Bath as well as gala nights lit by Vauxhall lamps.
In 1887, the Great Western Railway bought the land – it was still owned by Network Rail. It was home to the Grosvenor Brewery – by then the pub’s official name. Over the years, licensees came and went and the pub deteriorated. Yet it remained a popular place for family outings, with swings and other games for children. Many locals remembered being taken there by their parents.
At last, one fateful night in 1942, a stray German bomber brought an abrupt end to the Folly’s long if chequered history. The report of the condition of the building stated that, although the damage was considerable, the building was still usable.
But given the Folly’s less than salubrious reputation and dilapidated state, it was decided it should be allowed to slip gracefully into oblivion.
In 1958 the licence of the Folly was transferred to the Richmond Arms in Richmond Place, which until then had only had a beer licence.
Today all that remains of the Folly are a few shattered stones, a short flight of steps that once led from the bar to the brewery, and a thick tangle of undergrowth.
I asked Wendy what plans they had for their newly acquired land and she said they had no immediate idea. The autumn is giving them a chance to actually see what they have bought with the leaf fall letting in more light upon the scene.
They have quite a clearance on their hands. Will they be tempted to re-build in some way? We will have to wait and see.