MBE for Heritage Chief

MBE for Heritage Chief


Congratulations to Stephen Bird – Head of Heritage Services for Bath and North East Somerset Council – who is awarded an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours. This is in recognition of his services to Museums, Heritage and Tourism in the city.

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Stephen Bird who is Head of Heritage Services for B&NES

Stephen has worked in museums, heritage and tourism in Bath for more than 38 years, in a succession of different roles – he originally began with Bath City Council in the post of Keeper of Local History at the Roman Baths.

He says his inclusion in the Queen’s birthday honours list is also recognition of the hard work of all of his colleagues in Heritage Services who help people to learn more about the area’s history – from local school children on educational trips to international visitors – ensuring everyone has an enjoyable and memorable experience.

Stephen Bird, Head of Heritage Services at Bath & North East Somerset Council, said: “This has come as a complete surprise to me. Over the years I have been surrounded by a hugely talented and dedicated team of people right across Heritage Services and the award really belongs to them.”

This level of dedication from staff has also been recognised recently by three South West Tourism Excellence Awards, and a Gold and Silver at the national VisitEngland Awards for Excellence for the inclusivity they offer to visitors with disabilities.


A key decision Stephen took in 1999 was to take the Roman Baths & Pump Room into the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (ALVA) where it is still the only local authority-run member. In 2005 he made the case to the Council for Heritage Services to run as a business unit within the Council using a business model under which he planned the transformation of the Roman Baths into one of the country’s top heritage attractions.

His other key landmarks have included masterminding the restoration of the Victoria Art Gallery in 1990-2, introducing audio guides to the Roman Baths and Fashion Museum in 1995 (the first application of them in the world where they were not charged for separately), organising HM The Queen’s visit to Bath and North East Somerset in 2002 and working with Wessex Water and YTL on the free Three Tenors Concert at the Royal Crescent in 2003.

Stephen was also on the working groups that re-established the Bath Literary & Scientific Institution in 1993 and set up the Radstock Museum in 2000. More recently he worked with the Britain-Australia Society in 2012-14 to create a memorial to Admiral Arthur Phillip at the Assembly Rooms to mark the bicentenary of his death in Bath.

Stephen is a Fellow of the Museums Association, past President of the South Western Museums Federation and a member of the Chartered Management Institute and The Tourism Society. He is a professional mentor and Fellowship assessor for the Museums Association; he sits on the Advisory Board of Avebury Museum, is a trustee of Glastonbury Abbey and is Company Secretary of the Roman Baths Foundation.

Outside work Stephen is a member of the Long Distance Walkers Association. He has climbed Mount Kilimanjaro twice to raise funds for the homelessness charity Julian House.



Abbey’s hidden floor revealed.

Abbey’s hidden floor revealed.

You cannot fail to notice that the east – and most of the north side of Bath Abbey – are disappearing behind a white wall of hoarding.


Will this be decorated?

It’s the start of a multi-million-pound excavation and construction project to both stabilise the Abbey floor and provide new facilities for the church’s workforce and visiting public.


The great white wall!

The contract has gone to local building firm Emery Brothers Limited who actually carried out a small trial stabilisation a few years ago.


It’s made of some sort of foam plastic trapped​ between boards with shiny and washable surfaces.

The hoarding they have erected is made of plastic and will shortly be covered with specially produced artwork provided by local schoolchildren.

Bath will have plenty of time to get used to it too as it will be there for two and a half years. Even after that length of time, the panels are re-usable and will save on waste.


That’s as far as you can go now inside Bath Abbey. A visitor watches as the pews at the east end are dismantled.

Inside – at the Eastern end – the Corporation pews and choir stalls are being dismantled and will be taken out and stored.

Underneath, memorial stones that have not been seen for at least one hundred and fifty years are being revealed.


This is where the first section of floor will be lifted.

All the detail on them will be recorded because, eventually, the pews will be reinstated.


Memorial stones that have been hidden for 150 years are being revealed.

As work progresses pews in the nave will be removed. These will not be put back when the work has been completed and the memorial stones relaid.

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All the stones will be recorded before​ the pews are reinstated above them.

A quick recording of the work in progress this morning – Wednesday, June 6th.


The Eagle has wings!

The Eagle has wings!

Things have been looking up recently for one of Bath’s most unusual but well-loved green spaces.


Hedgemead Park was laid out – in the late 19th century – on the site of an earlier residential development destroyed by a landslip.

In 1883 it was agreed that the City Corporation would acquire the unstable ground and plant it as a public park in order to consolidate the dangerous slope.


When opened, the site was known as Hedgemead Pleasure Ground and was laid out with a series of contoured walks, a terrace walk and bandstand, an ornamental cast-iron drinking fountain, and terraces retained by stone walls and structural planting designed to consolidate the slope.


‘Vedgemead’ Park – with that special vegetable -enhanced flower bed.

Time has taken its toll on the place but the park hit the local headlines when a flower bed was planted with edibles and re-named Vegmead!

The bandstand has been restored and now – a newly-formed Friends of Hedgemead have started work on that ornamental drinking fountain.


The recently=restored bandstand.

Some of the specialist work – analysing what original paint was used and re-gilding the eagle at the top of the fountain – has been undertaken by Bath’s World Heritage Enhancement Fund which is meeting the costs.


Graham Groom explains to a park user what is happening to the fountain.

Ainslie Ensom – the Fund Administrator – told Bath Newseum:

“The WHEF has been involved in trying to refurbish the fountain in Hedgemead Park for years, and today, thanks to co-operative efforts from us, the Parks Department, our new mayor Patrick Anketell-Jones and the newly formed Friends of Hedgemead Park, the work begins.’

The eagle is to be re-gilded

Bath Newseum caught up with Graham Groom – one of the ‘Friends’  volunteers – at the fountain site where he has been helping to prepare the structure for its new coat of paint. So what happens then?
 Meanwhile, Roger Houghton reminds us of another project the World Heritage Enhancement Fund might like to support.
He writes:

A useful place for a drinking fountain – if only it worked!


Photo Roger Houghton



Blooming lovely – but no bridge?

Blooming lovely – but no bridge?

Good to see a mass of bright red poppies and blue cornflowers blooming on part of the reshaped riverbank opposite the old converted warehouses lining this part of the Avon.


These newly created walkways are a bonus part of a flood prevention scheme to increase the river’s capacity and prevent flooding of nearby properties.


It’s tied in with a newly built flood prevention wall on the other side.


It’s a shame the wildflowers don’t bloom all the way up to the Churchill Bridge end. It’s more a case of nettles here but l do have to say the newly planted trees are already looking fantastic.IMG_8210

While we’re down at Broad Quay – destined for office and residential development – can’t help wondering what has happened to the new pedestrian bridge promised for this area.


Work was due to start in January but no sign of any activity yet.

Since this story was published, l have noted the following remark on Twitter!

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Shiver me timber

Shiver me timber

More on that renovated balcony at Fitzroy House in Great Pulteney Street where 28 luxury flats are being created from five Grade 1 listed townhouses.

Bath Newseum follower Jim Canham noticed that the main balcony under the central pediment had been restored ‘ with a nasty timber plank floor instead of stone.”


On the left – stone – and on the right – wood.

Longacre – the developers – have already told us they were aware of the difference in flooring between the two balconies when they approached Historic England for listed building consent.

They were told the original floor of the larger balcony had been wooden and – under its protected status – should be wooden again.


The newly-refurbished central balcony.

Now Bath Newseum has heard from Sacha Hunter who is the Conservation Officer for the city’s heritage ‘policemen’ – Bath Preservation Trust.

She told me:

” I have been in touch with the architect of the above development.  The original applications did not include the balcony.

The previous owners – a housing association- covered the existing timber boards on that balcony with felt to try and extend the lifespan of them.  The applicants have therefore replaced the existing rotten timber boards with new timber boards made from oak.

The visual difference is that they have not reinstated the felt but left the oak to fade and weather naturally.  The felt would have given the previous balcony a dark appearance that may have been mistaken for concrete/stone.


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Here’s how they looked before they were repaired?


In the interim, the replacement timbers look visually quite stark but they were definitely timber when the current applicants bought the property. In our view, this is a like for like repair.”


All will be revealed.

All will be revealed.

Prepare for the east end of Bath Abbey to disappear behind hoarding in about six weeks or so as building contractors Emery’s get down to the business of starting to lift memorial or ledger stones.

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The first part of Bath Abbey to be affected by the floor reconstruction work.

The local building firm has won a multi-million-pound contract to secure the unstable Abbey floor, install new heating – tapped from Bath’s thermal waters –  and construct various new facilities for staff, choir and visitors.


Some sort of temporary altar will have to be set up.

It’s going to take several years to complete the job but the first area to be tackled – the east end –  will mean moving the high altar and choir nearer to the congregation so work can begin behind the screens.

The Abbey is insisting that – though facilities may be restricted at times – it WILL be business as usual and they will even be continuing their Tower Tours.


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The trial work of 2013


A few years ago Emery’s were involved in a trial piece of work carried out to test the technique of injecting a liquid agent into the cavities that had formed amongst the thousands of burials under the floor.


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Drilling holes for the fluid injections of August 2013


It fills and hardens and so stabilises the floor. In doing the work they had taken up a fair few memorial or ledger stones which were relaid afterwards.

Many more stones lie beneath the nave pews and – now they will gradually be permanently removed – many more ledger stones will be seen for the first time in 150 years.

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The central aisle inside Bath Abbey

Emery’s initial work was watched by a young local man involved in writing a dissertation for a Master of  Arts degree as part of his architectural studies.

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Ian Parkes – now employed by Bath-based architectural firm Stride Treglown – based his thesis on an area of Abbey flooring. It was called “The Stone remains – Mapping Place at Bath Abbey.”

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He was back in the building today to lead a tour of local people interested in hearing more about the ledger stones and what they told us of the Abbey and its social and spiritual history.

One of those in Ian’s group today was the Abbey’s Interpretation Officer, Dr Oliver Taylor. He and a grou of volunteers have been busy recording the details of all the ledger stones currently visible in the Abbey.


There will be many more to record as the pews are gradually removed. However, as the stones themselves will have to come up – so the floor can be stabilised – will they be going back where they were.


Earth, wind and fire.

Earth, wind and fire.

Earth, wind and fire. Not just the name of a successful American band from the 1970’s but some of the elements traditionally brought together by the blacksmith in the forging process. It’s one of the oldest known metalworking processes and is where heat is used to soften metal and a hammer welded to shape it.



Look around the city landscape of Bath and you’ll find plenty of examples of how ironwork has helped dress the architectural fabric – whether it’s as fencing, encasing street lamps or ornamental park gates.


Bath’s wealth of historic ironwork

In June, blacksmiths from around the country will be coming to Bath to help celebrate their art and give local people a chance to appreciate it too.

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The BathIRON Festival will be running from June 14th to the 17th and the focal point will be the live creation of a brand new balustrade for the bandstand in Parade Gardens.



Sketch showing how it might look!

The balustrade will be picked out with part of a musical score from the winner of a competition – run through Bath Spa University  The winning piece was a composition called Hammer & Anvil by Jake Garratt (listen here), and work has already begun on forging the notes for the score.



Composer, Jake Garratt.


The park will also house forging tents with demonstrations of the blacksmith’s art and even ‘have-a-go’ sessions for adults and children.


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One of the panel designs for the new balustrade.

There’s music by the Bath Folk Festival, an ironwork trail around Bath and a series of talks at the Guildhall on promoting the survival of this threatened part of our heritage.

Do visit wwww.bathiron.org.uk to find out more about the event. It’s organised by the National Heritage Ironwork Group in association with the British Artist Blacksmiths Association and the Institute of Conservation.


The Parade Gardens bandstand which is due to get a new look!

The NHIG Secretary is Andy Thearle – who has his own local business ‘Ironart’ at Larkhall in Bath – and l asked him to tell me first about the transformation planned for the Parade Garden’s bandstand.


The eight master blacksmiths involved in the bandstand project are Brian Russell, Sam Pearce, Shona Johnson, David James, Pete Clutterbuck, Andrew Hall, Andy Rowe and Gerard Loughran.

Andy mentioned the Larkhall Festival – over this coming weekend – which will feature his forge at Ironart. Visit larkhall-festival.org.uk for more information.



The Ironart forge


He also found me a useful article about that business regarding Queen Victoria’s mourning for Prince Albert and black railings! It’s at http://www.countrylife.co.uk/property/london-property/queen-victoria-and-the-myth-of-black-railings-14015


Next week Andy is going to be addressing councillors at B&NES about the importance of creating a Heritage Centre in the city so that artisan skills like smithying can be acknowledged and preserved.