A detailed and – some would say disturbing – email now from a regular Bath Newseum reader with a great interest in the works of that ‘Little Giant’ of a Victorian engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel.
Varian Tye writes:
“I note once more my thoughts below on the importance of structures by Brunel from that far away place of Box in Wiltshire, however, this time my observations relate to structures in Bath at Sydney Gardens.
You may wish to consider sharing them with the photographs attached with the readers of Bath Newseum. I hope you also agree with them.
I read with interest your recent article in Bath Newseum , ‘A look at the new rail track – fence https://bathnewseum.com/2022/05/27/a-look-at-the-new-rail-track-fence/
I am very pleased you are keeping an eye on the works being undertaken by Network Rail to the important listed balustrade as it forms part of the magnificent railway stage-piece constructed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel through Sydney Gardens.
It is good to see works to repair and clean the listed balustrade. Your concerns that works are undertaken to a high standard are understandable in view of the importance of the Grade II* listed balustrade and its context with the other listed railway structures in Sydney Gardens.
It is hoped that the Local Authorities Conservation Officers and Historic England are likewise keeping a close eye on the works to ensure they are of a high standard and in accordance with any conditions attached to the original permission/consent for the works to be undertaken.
On looking more closely at the photographs in your article above I noted also the condition of other listed buildings which I understand NR are responsible for maintaining on behalf of the public in Sydney Gardens.
For example, the listed Grade II* embankments walls.
The stone embankment walls appear very soiled with dirt and staining in places which may be damaging underlying stonework and to a degree detracts from their appearance, in some areas the stonework may require careful repairs and in several locations, it is covered with vegetation that could be causing harm to the .stonework and detracts from the appearance of the historic embankment walls.
After I read your article I decided to go down on site and noted that in some areas vegetation had been cleared from the embankment walls but in others, it had not, including areas on the listed bridges which cross the GWR.
In those areas where vegetation had been cleared, I did see in some locations what appeared to be the bases of formerly cleared vegetation and wondered if not treated correctly it could reappear next year, as it appears to have done in the past when the embankments have had vegetation clearance undertaken by NR.
To the photographs you provided in your article, I have attached others showing examples of where vegetation has still not been removed, repairs required to the stonework on listed buildings and the neglected state of some of the bridges, in particular, the poor appearance of Brunel’s Grade II* listed footbridge.
The appearance of Brunel’s listed footbridge is of particular concern. Brunel’s last remaining cast-iron footbridge is rapidly becoming an eyesore due to its condition; it deserves restoration and action soon to prevent further deterioration.
I note from a past article in Bath Newseum that you did contact NR in 2017 about the state of the footbridge. At that time NR said it would be removed and renovated as part of electrification proposals but I understand electrification is no longer proposed for this section of the line.
Is it still on the ‘to-do’ list by NR to do? Just because electrification has not been implemented does not mean NR should not be carrying out remedial works to the bridge. Works hopefully agreed with Historic England and the Local Authorities Conservation Officers prior to them being implemented.
Five years on from 2017 and this important historic bridge is still deteriorating, furthermore there still appears to be no firm date from NR for its restoration, this is unacceptable. Its appearance is a disgrace bearing in mind the importance of the GWR to the railway history of this country, to Sydney Gardens, the Conservation Area and to Bath which is a World Heritage Site.
How much longer do we have to wait for funding to be secured by NR for its restoration and for the works to be given a date to start on-site?
Completion of the repair and cleaning works to the historically listed balustrade will only serve to show more clearly how neglected other parts of Brunel’s stage piece have become under the guardianship of Network Rail.”
A spokesperson for Network Rail told Bath Newseum:
“We’re working closely with Bath and North East Somerset council’s conservation officers on the repairs and installation of railings to the low balustrade wall at Sydney Gardens, for which we have obtained Listed Building Consent.
“We’re ensuring that we treat the architecture and surrounding area with the care and respect it deserves as a site of important historical interest, preserving both the character and appearance of the balustrade wall while maintaining the safety of the railway. In line with our planning approval, vegetation removal is ongoing using methods that ensure that no regrowth will take place.
“We are also currently working with the council on a plan to repair the Sydney Gardens footbridge in the near future, including discussions with planning and conservation officers about how to best repair and maintain the bridge while respecting the Grade II* listing.”
That’s good news l am sure!