There’s one little piece of Bath’s Georgian heritage that literally leaves me breathless.
It’s the passageway known as Walcot Steps – a pedestrian stone staircase that links the city’s artisan quarter with the 18th century extravagance that is The Paragon – sitting loftily above.
‘Picturesque’ and ‘charming’ are two adjectives used to describe this well-used shortcut – for the fit.
Its upper entranceway on the Paragon – complete with ornate cast iron bollards – has a Grade ll* listing.
Those of us who carry extra weight or years have an excuse to pause mid flight and see how sad it has become.
The steps are strewn with broken glass and littler – the passageway walls daubed with graffiti.
Well – l have some good news. There is a wonderful little body of people in Bath who run something called the World Heritage Enhancement Fund.
They’ve made their mark in many different and modest ways in this city. Re-painting Georgian street signs, gilding the eagle on the Hedgemead Park fountain, restoring the royal coat of arms above the chemist on Laura Place.
Now a listed building application has gone into B&NES to allow them to conserve and repair the fabric and improve the lighting of this unique Georgian staircase.
They also want to clean and conserve incised street signs at numbers 1 and 15 Bladud buildings.
In their application they say: ” It is a popular and well frequented thoroughfare, currently suffering degradation caused by the wear and tear of time, neglected repair, and earlier interventions using inappropriate materials which are leading to the decay of the original historic fabric.
In addition there is some localised anti-social behaviour, including repeated graffiti application.”
They want to do repairs in sections – starting with the head of the steps where the archway that frames the entrance has been covered with layers of impermeable paint and is now friable and deteriorating because it can’t breathe. That will be taken off and maybe a coat of lime wash used instead.
The railings and footings to either side of the archway will need attention to deal with damage and missing sections.
The bollards will be cleaned and painted – as will the railings.
Currently there are two modern lamps lighting up this stairway and one is badly positioned. The upper lamp will stay where it is but the lower light will be moved to within the steps and two new lanterns will be made to a design already used with lamps outside the Pump Room.
The quality of illumination will also be improved – making it a more friendly place to access after dark.
Then on to the street signs at either end of Bladud Buildings where it’s hoped to remove overpainting and define the incised details.
The application states: ” Dates of the incised and painted street signs cannot be accurately assessed; the earliest record dates from 1787, and it is possible to assume that many of them date from the late 18th and early 19th centuries, following this evidence and the style of lettering.
The incised signs have lasted remarkably well, and their significance as a homogenous body of historic work throughout the city may be considered high; their preservation is important as a regular feature of the city street scene and as an historic record. Authenticity is assured where the evidence of original characteristics of form and style can be discerned, as in this instance.”
In conclusion, the application states: ‘ Walcot Steps is a popular and attractive thoroughfare, currently suffering from the wear and tear of time, neglected ted repair and previous damaging intervention. Sympathetic conservation and repair will halt decay, improve aesthetic quality, and restore the significant attributes of the site.
In addition, it is hoped that improved lighting and a less neglected appearance will address the current problems of anti-social behaviour and graffiti application.
The proposed works are necessary for the long-term survival of the site, and its continued contribution to the architectural heritage and cultural value of the City of Bath World Heritage Site.”
I can’t argue with any of that and l am sure the Planning Committee won’t either. Maybe the good people of Walcot Street might ‘adopt’ this stairway to Paragon ‘heaven’ and help look after it once the works have been carried out.