Abbey damage made good.

Abbey damage made good.

With thousands of tourists – every year – stopping to pose for a picture in front of the West Door of Bath Abbey it’s not surprising to hear that damage can be done.

Accidental or deliberate – we don’t know – but part of the carved decoration on these 17th century commemorative oak doors was seen to be broken off.


The West Door of Bath Abbey

The elaborately carved doors were a gift from the Lord Chief Justice,  Sir Henry Montagu to celebrate his brother, Bishop James Montagu who was Bishop of Bath and Wells from 1608 to 1616. Each door bears an heraldic shield for each of the brothers.

They symbolically come together when the doors are closed.


The damaged carving.


After repair!

Not sure who has done the repair but the before and after show how well it has been done.


Bath’s ‘Stone Age’ attraction.

Bath’s ‘Stone Age’ attraction.

We get something like four and a half million visitors a year in Bath but how many of them will see anything other than Roman remains and Georgian terraces and crescents.

There has been a lot of talk recently about trying to spread the load a bit and persuade our visitors – a very important part of local commerce – to expand their horizons to some of the attractions further out of the centre.

kennet and avon canal

The canal towpath through Bath’s Sydney Gardens.

Everything from Beckford’s Tower to Prior Park Gardens with other areas of interest including things like the Kennet and Avon Canal, the American Museum and Museum of Bath at Work.

One rather modest museum that tells a major story you can find half way around the number 2 First Bus route which climbs the hill to Combe Down.


The CornerStone museum at Combe Down.

The Ralph Allen CornerStone Interpretation Centre –  on Rock Hall Lane – opened in 2014 and is described as a community history centre.

Combe Down is the main site of Ralph Allen’s stone quarries – the stone that built the World Heritage City of Bath.


The abandoned workings were in-filled with an innovative £155 million restoration project, completed in 2010. 

The village, now secure, has lost much of the physical evidence of its stone-quarrying heritage. Hence the need for a museum that tells the story of its industrial past and the men who worked underground.


Interior of the stone museum

But – outside its doors – there are now plans to uncover and preserve what remains of the top of one of the shafts through which stone would have been brought to the surface and transported on Ralph Allen’s tram system down the hill to the river.

It’s on former mining land – and now a public space known as Firs Field. A group of young local people have also got involved in preparatory  survey and excavation work to see exactly what is left just below the surface of the ground.


Preliminary dig in Firs Field

The idea will be to conserve what is left of the wall and construct a low bench as a memorial to ‘the mines, those who worked them, the community of Combe Down and the wider City of Bath.’

I had a chance to speak to Val Lyon who is the Director of the Firs Field Project. I asked her to tell me first about the Ralph Allen CornerStone museum.

Three of the youngsters   – involved in the project –  have contributed to a blog (led by Bert Nash) which tells what they have been doing and its importance to Bath’s World Heritage status.

Bert’s blog can be viewed at:

Check out the Ralph Allen CornerStone Museum at





Raising a glass to Thomas.

Raising a glass to Thomas.

Exactly what was quenching the thirst of the people of Bath in the summer of  1856.   Turns out beverages sold by Thomas Steele (1805-1859) – a chemist at 6 Milsom Street in the city were hitting the right spot 160 years ago. Flavours that included gooseberry and mulberry.

This little snippet of social history comes via Bath Abbey’s Footprint Project – a multi-million pound scheme of works to make the Abbey floor safe and improve facilities in the church.

As part of the work volunteers are researching the hundreds of historic memorial stones in the building which will have to be lifted to allow the structural work to take place.


Thomas Steele’s memorial stone.

Thanks to one of them, it’s been discovered that Thomas – one of thousands of people granted burial under the floor – once placed a notice in the Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette on 31 July 1856 advertising all types of flavours and included various ways on how these could be used to flavour tarts, jellies and spirits.

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He is one of the hundreds of Bathonians commemorated in the Abbey and researched for the Bath Abbey ledger stone project as part of #Footprintproject.

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You can visit the blog site of Abbey archivist, Anna Riggs to check out the advert:


A ‘call’ to arms

A ‘call’ to arms

Hales the Chemist  – on Bath’s Argyle Street – occupies one of the earliest commercial premises built in the city.


Scaffolding in place outside Hale’s the Chemist for the conservators to start work on the royal coat of arms.

It’s at one end of a remarkable line of shop fronts – along a street originally created for shopping – and has traded under the name of A.H.Hale since 1826.


The colourful interior of Hales the Chemist.

While much of its frontage is original – and its interior decorated with a vivid array of  old fashioned medicine bottles and carboys – from its days as an apothecary’s shop – there’s one external feature with an even more colourful story to tell.


A photograph of the coat of arms – above Hales Chemist – before restoration began.

Above the attractive Ionic-columned shop front of No 8 rests the arms of Charlotte Sophia, Queen of England and wife of George the Third.

It’s not their original home – as they have been moved around the city quite a bit – but have been here since 1982 after being discovered in the Guildhall basement.

The Queen had visited Bath and the coat of arms would have indicated Her Majesty had spent money in a shop which was then anxious to boast – by having the coat of arms made – that they were ‘By Royal Appointment’  – having been given the royal seal of approval.

Of course holders of a ‘Royal Warrant’ today still like to show they enjoy royal favour.

How this colourful landmark came to rest above an Argyle Street chemist we will come to in a moment.


Freelance conservators Joanna Pucci and Teresa Llewellyn at work on the royal coat of arms.

I climbed the scaffolding – recently erected in front of the shop – to meet two conservators tasked with cleaning off layers of faded paint and re-colouring the royal insignia.

The World Heritage Enhancement Fund has put in the largest chunk of funding for this work to be done, with contributions from the Leche Trust, Mr Doshi and his family – who now own the chemist –  and the Bath Heradic Society through.

So it has been a real collaboration between people keen to see it restored to its former glory.

Once up on the platform, I was able to speak to conservator, Teresa Llewellyn while her colleague – Joanna Pucci – continued her delicate work behind her.

The women are freelance conservators employed by Somerset-based Cliveden Conservation to carry out the project.

Here’s what Teresa had to say about the history of the coat of arms.


The Queen was in Bath in 1817 and was at a Guildhall banquet when news came through of the death of her daughter Princess Charlotte, in childbirth.


A portrait of Queen Charlotte – by Sir Joshua Reynolds – that hangs in the Banqueting Room at the Bath Guildhall.

It was – for the Nation – a bit of a ‘Princess Diana moment’ as Charlotte was much loved.

I picked up another story while talking to the current owner pharmacist Mr Balwant Doshi.

It concerns another famous family and – if it’s true – shows that Jane Austen’s mother Cassandra could also ‘pen’ a word or two.


A copy of the poem apparently ‘penned’ by Jane Austen’s mother Cassandra to thank an apothecary for medicine which helped her recover from a serious illness.

You can pop in and see the evidence next time you are in the area but l am sure the Doshi family would like you to buy something as well.

The conservators hope to finish their work by the end of next week – weather permitting.

Behind closed doors.

Behind closed doors.

There are many Bathonians who will remember buying provisions from Cater, Stoffell and Fortt – a famous company name in Bath’s retail history and a firm regarded by many as the Fortnum and Masons of the provinces.

The company went out of business in the 1980’s but one of its city shops was in Margaret’s Buildings and – miraculously – much of its original fittings survive.

Local historian Andrew Hill – who covered the history of the company in his book ‘Biscuits, Banquets and Bollinger’ – has been lucky enough to look behind the shutters.

Here’s his report and some of the photographs he took.

Caters, Stoffel & Fort, Margaret Buildings

The shop in St Margaret’s Buildings – as it was back in the 1980’s.

“Behind the shutters of 8 Margaret’s Buildings can be found a fascinating relic of Bath’s retail history. From 1890 to the early 1980s, the firm of Cater, Stoffell and Fortt was a byword for quality, variety and service in Bath, Bristol and the West Country.

It was claimed that it could provide anything from fish fingers to foie gras and custard powder to caviar, and it was regarded as the Fortnum and Mason’s of the provinces.


The shop fittings are still in place.

As well as Margaret’s Buildings, the firm had branches in the High Street, Milsom Street, Southgate Street and Green Street as well as two stores in Bristol and the Bath Oliver Biscuit factory in Manvers Street.

The premises in Margaret’s Buildings offered a high class service to the “carriage trade”, especially  the wealthy residents of the Circus and the various nearby crescents. When the shop finally closed in 1981 it became an antiques emporium and the new owner retained the original shop fittings and signage.


Now the shop has been sold again, but the new owner and Savill’s estate agents permitted Andrew Hill (author of “Biscuits, Banquets & Bollinger, the History of Cater, Stoffell & Fortt Ltd”) to have a look around and take some photos, as seen here.


They are a souvenir of a bygone era when the well-heeled customers sat on chairs at the counter and dictated their orders to the staff who arranged for deliveries to the door in a matter of hours.

20170725_130518 In its heyday, customers came from as far away as Shepton Mallet to take their pick of the huge variety of goods available, including up to 40 different types of cheese and such exotic delicacies as shark’s fin soup, mussel soup and kangaroo tail.


Few traces of Cater, Stoffell & Fortt now remain but it is encouraging to hear that the new owner of these premises intends to preserve the ground floor shop interior unchanged.



It’s our heritage!

It’s our heritage!


Local people and visitors are invited to explore Bath and North East Somerset’s fantastic heritage as venues across the area open their doors for Heritage Open Days (Thursday 7 September to Sunday 10 September 2017).

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The nationwide celebration of history, architecture and culture is a chance to see hidden places and try out new experiences – all for free.

Councillor Paul Myers (Conservative Midsomer Norton Redfield) Cabinet Member for Economic and Community Regeneration, said: “This is a wonderful opportunity to see behind the scenes at venues that are normally closed to the public – from historic buildings to gardens and museum stores.”

There will be something for all ages and interests during the four-day celebration, for example:

georgian garden

The Georgian Garden at Number 4

    • See inside No. 4 The Circus and explore its beautifully restored Georgian garden – the first of its kind in Britain
    • Take a tour of the archives and new Local Studies strong room at the recently refurbished Bath Record Office
    • Visit Cleveland Pools and learn about plans for the restoration of this Grade II listed pool – the oldest open air public pool in the country

An artist’s impression of how the restored ‘Pools’ might look like

  • Follow the Widcombe Chapel Trail to discover ancient churches, outstanding architecture and fascinating cemeteries
  • See inside the home of Haile Selassie at Fairfield House, an Italianate Victorian villa with an Arts and Crafts extension
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    The Pixash Lane stores at Keynsham.

  • Explore archaeological finds from Keynsham, including Roman and Medieval objects, at Pixash Lane Archaeology Store
  • Visit the historic Saltford Brass Mill, complete with a working 18-foot water wheel
  • Head to Midsomer Norton Station to explore the Railway Museum, Anderson shelter and pill box

Opening dates and times vary. For more information visit

For information about the national event visit

Looking Back

Looking Back

Your chance to have a nosey around the recently refurbished Bath Record Office with a ‘Drop-In Day’ on Monday 11 September, 9am-4.30pm.

The public are invited to come and explore the revamped rooms and browse the Open Access book collection. They can also visit the new Library strongroom where hundreds of historic documents and books are stored.

The archivists and Local Studies Librarian will be on hand to welcome people and show them around.


L to R. Volunteer Kerri Sant and Hannah Tinkler,who is Project Archivist at Bath Record Office.

Councillor Paul Myers (Conservative Midsomer Norton Redfield) Cabinet Member for Economic and Community Regeneration, said: “The drop-in day is a great opportunity for anyone interested in researching local history or tracing their family tree to find out about the facilities on offer at Bath Record Office. The Record Office is a treasure trove of fascinating information about the local area, and is completely free to visit.”

Located in the Guildhall, and run by Bath & North East Somerset Council, the Record Office is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. In the early days the archive contained just the Council’s own records, but since 1967 archivists have collected many thousands of documents from local businesses, families, private and public organisations, all of which tell the story of life in Bath over the centuries.

The Council’s Local Studies collection ­– which includes local history reference books, manuscripts, maps, photographs and other historic items – was recently combined with the archives at Bath Record Office. At the same time, the Record Office was refurbished, with new public spaces, WiFi in the research rooms, and additional PCs, desks and book shelves.

Drop-in event, no advance booking required.

For more information please visit