It was great to see pictures – this week – of the successful installation of the first new crossing of our stretch of the River Avon in one hundred years.
This new pedestrian/cyclist bridge – at Bath Quays – will link new development on both riverbanks at this point and is very much part of the city’s commercial future.
So it’s fitting that the postman has delivered a copy of a new book that deals with part of that very same area – but this time does a very thorough job of uncovering its industrial and social past!
Archaeological excavations that were ordered ahead of the multi-million pounds Bath Quays development uncovered another side to the World Heritage city – far removed from its Georgian architectural gems and Roman remains.
The sub-title of author and archaeologist Cai Mason’s Bath Quays Waterside says it all. (Takes a breath)
‘The Archaeology of Industry, Commerce and the lives of the Poor in Bath’s Lost Quayside District.’
Cai led a team from Wessex Archaeology who spent months excavating a strip through the heart of the former Avon Street district – a notorious area which was once synonymous with crime, disease and poverty.
A district that was once home to ten thousand of the city’s poorest inhabitants who – as the book’s rear cover says – ‘lived in cramped dwellings nestled amongst the factories, stables, slaughterhouses, breweries, pubs and warehouses that grew up alongside the city’s riverside quays.’
I made several visits while the excavations were underway to report on proceedings for my www.bathnewseum.com website. The area of the bank here was due to be re-shaped as part of a flood prevention scheme that had to be installed before the surrounding office development could get underway.
What struck me about what these patient and dedicated all-weather experts were gradually uncovering was that this is where those who don’t get a mention in the city’s illustrious social history both lived and worked.
Away from the terraces and crescents were the working classes living in slum conditions – forced to share toilets and with only public baths to both wash themselves and their clothes. Surrounded by industrial grime, they were often were flooded out of their crowded tenement homes when the river rose.
Though all physical evidence of their lives has now been reburied beneath flower-bed lined riverside walkways, Cai’s published account of the team’s excavations allows these people from the city’s industrial past to speak to us from their point in this amazing city’s history.
Bath Quays Waterside is priced at £15 and is available via Oxbow Books at https://www.oxbowbooks.com/oxbow/bath-quays-waterside.html