The National Trust has just taken back the keys to Bath Assembly Rooms – which it owns – after the Fashion Museum officially vacated the building.
Now the Trust is announcing some of the ways the building will be used while it works on developing the new “Georgian Experience’ currently due to open there in 2026.
In a press release – issued today, Monday, March 27th, it says:
” Visitors can look forward to an exciting programme of events from this spring and an opportunity to engage with the plans for the future of the building.
During the next three years, the Assembly Rooms will remain open as much as possible for visitors whilst developing the new Georgian experience, currently due to open in 2026.
The Trust will be working in collaboration with partners to offer a programme of events. Behind-the-scenes tours will be available later in the year, so people can see under the skin of this historic building. The public will also have an opportunity to engage with the plans for 2026 as elements of the proposed visitor experience are shared for testing and feedback over the coming months.
The first event to be held by the National Trust in the Assembly Rooms is in conjunction with the Holburne Museum. The recently announced, ‘Unlimited: Art for All in 1960s Bath’, is a retrospective exhibition devoted to Jeremy Fry’s ground-breaking Unlimited. Displayed in the Tea Room from 22 April until 4 June, visitors will be able to see the art free of charge.
Forest of Imagination will then provide ‘Assemble in the Forest’ from the 14 June until the 9 July using the whole of the ground floor of the building to celebrate 10 years of this contemporary arts event in Bath. This will bring nature inside the Assembly Rooms, with creative stations outside to link art and nature. Visitors will be able to interact with the installations and engage with climate issues, imagining how things could be different in the future.
Experience and Visitor Programming Manager for the Assembly Rooms, Alana Wright, said ‘We’re delighted to have the keys and start exploring all this magnificent building has to offer. We’ll be delivering an exciting programme during 2023, whilst the project team uncover the history of the building to inform the future Georgian experience. This will be something new for the National Trust and we aim to deliver an experience that has wide appeal to everyone.’
Dr Penny Hay, Bath Spa University, Co-founder Forest of Imagination and House of Imagination, said ‘We’re delighted that the National Trust team has invited Forest of Imagination to Bath Assembly Rooms this summer. Forest of Imagination explores our collective imagination and connection to nature as an inspiration to think about how we can design more hopeful futures together in response to the ecological emergency. ‘Assemble in the Forest’ is co-designed with a host of creative partners and international artists, alongside the creative, cultural and educational community of Bath.’
During 2023, the Assembly Rooms are planning to host the University of Bath winter graduation ceremonies, the Jane Austen ball and Mozartfest. For those interested in visiting the Assembly Rooms, details of all the events will be available on the National Trust website. Whilst these events continue, the National Trust will be uncovering aspects of the Assembly Rooms like the historic plunge pool and assessing the building for planned changes to reveal and restore Georgian features to enable the new visitor experience.
The Georgian experience is being developed in partnership with other organisations in the city such as universities, local museums and other institutions across Bath and beyond. The project will create an experience which is complementary to existing Georgian offers in the city.
Tom Boden, National Trust General Manager for the Bath portfolio, said ‘This is a pivotal moment in the history of the Bath Assembly Rooms and an exciting time for the Trust. We’ll uncover stories of this world heritage landmark and make plans to share the stories of the future. Working closely with friends and partners, we will develop the immersive experience to bring the social scene of Georgian Bath to life and create new ways for everyone to experience coming together in this unique building.’
The Trust has owned Bath Assembly Rooms since 1931 and invoked a break clause in 2019 to take back management of the rooms from Bath and North East Somerset Council. The keys to the Bath Assembly Rooms have now returned to the National Trust as work begins to create an experience that will transport visitors back to the social scene of Georgian Bath in the late eighteenth-century in a way which is relevant for today.
A better way to make the Assembly Rooms relevant to today might be for us to be able to continue using it for what it was designed, a gathering place for the citizens.The Octagon used to be Bath’s village hall but no longer. Do we need another interpretation centre telling “the story”? Interpretation centre to me reads “the story stops here”.
Can’t we just use these lovely buildings?
That just leaves the Guilhall, which I suggest could be turned into a waxworks showing all the famous people that USED to use it (including me!)
Wasn’t the Octagon originally a chapel?
Yes, it was built as a chapel. Herschel was organist. Throughout the 1960’s/70’s it was used for charity events, sales, alternative film screenings, Christmas bazaars and as a regular performance venue for amateur dramatics. Mostly by organisations that couldn’t quite afford the posher venues. All lit by an impressive chandelier if I recall correctly. It was occasionally used as a rock venue but the echo-ridden acoustics were horrendous. When the Arts Workshop put on their spoof rock band, Rocky Ricketts and the Jet Pilots of Jive, people commented that it was good value as they heard everything twice! By the way, the labyrinthine cellars are now a speakeasy style bar known as Beneath and will be used as a late night venue Bath Comedy Festival in April. Another interesting fact: The Octagon is currently entered via a mundane corridor, whereas the original entrance was through the dress shop next door which has a splendid carved façade, and elaborate plasterwork within.
Where will visitors/tourists park?
Is the National Trust putting in an underground car park in the forecourt?
I didn’t quite get it right about the building next to the Octagon. It’s much later. But the entrance probably wasn’t down a corridor. Anyway, I believe experts greater than I are poised to put me right. The Wikipedia entry for the Octagon is very amusing. Even when it was built the cellars were rented to a wine merchant.
All sounds good as long as the new events on 2023 ie. Mozartfest, Graduation ceremony & ball etc won’t impact local residents parking on Bennett St. Charlotte St car park should be used for visitors & organisers for these events. Why should we have to move from our car space that we’ve paid for. Also the noise is a problem when partygoers leave and equipment & lorries moving furniture at 2am. I will hope the venue shuts at 11am with no noise afterwards.
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