Ring my bell!

Ring my bell!

Bath Abbey’s historic Tower was the site of 38 marriage proposals last year as individuals climbed 212 steps to the top of the city landmark to pop the question to their loved ones.

bath abbey

Bath Abbey

The Abbey has been offering visitors tours of its Tower for nearly ten years but only launched its Romantic Tower Tours a few years ago. Since its first Romantic Tower Tour in 2012, over 180 couples have enjoyed this experience. The couples range from those who live locally to as far afield as Australia and the United States with reasons for taking the tour including being on honeymoon or wanting to celebrate a wedding anniversary. Increasingly, the Abbey’s Tower Tour Guides have reported a trend in visitors surprising their partners with marriage proposals while on a Romantic Tower Tour.

bath abbey

Looking down on the Christmas Market and Roman Baths

Holly Doughty, Events and Tower Tour Lead, said: “We usually get special requests from one of the couples, so we tend to know in advance but we of course never give the surprise away. Usually, we’re hidden around the corner waiting for the “Yes!” before we appear with a bottle of champagne to congratulate the happy couple.

bath abbey

Looking across to the Rec and Bath Rugby ground.

We’ve been running Romantic Tower Tours for more than five years now and usually get a couple of proposals each month but it’s always still really fun for us. The best part is that we can claim a 100% success rate. All proposals made up here have ended up with a happy engagement! At 49 metres high, surrounded by stunning 360-degree views of Bath, love definitely must be in the air up here!”

Bath Abbey

Bath Abbey – the lantern of the west!

With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, why not book a Tower Tour for two for a fun and imaginative way to celebrate the day? Tailored for two, couples will get to spend quality time together at the top of the tower enjoying glasses of champagne surrounded by spectacular views of the city. Other highlights include sitting behind the Abbey clock-face, chiming the Abbey bells and standing on top of the famous vaulted ceiling.

Tower Tours View of North West

A view from the top of the tower – looking towards the Guildhall.

To book a Romantic Tower Tour, contact Holly Doughty, Bath Abbey’s Tower Tour and Events Lead, today on: 01225 422462 ortowertours@bathabbey.org. Prices start from £100 (per couple) depending on timings and availability.

Bath Abbey also offers Tower Tours for individual visitors and groups. Tickets cost £8 per adult, £4 per child. The fully guided tour takes 45 – 50 minutes and tickets can be purchased from the Abbey shop on the day only. Group bookings need to be booked in advance.

For more information, please see www.bathabbey.org/towertours

Bath Abbey

The Bath Abbey bellringers.

Top 7 facts about the Bath Abbey Tower

  1. The Abbey Tower is 49 metres tall and there is a total of 212 steps to climb before reaching to the top.
  2. Bells have been rung at the Abbey since before the 16th century, and this tradition is carried on to this day.
  3. There are ten bells in total. If an Abbey ringer from the 18th century entered the tower today, he would feel quite at home. Not much has changed: eight of the ten bells date from 1700, two smaller bells were added in 1774 to make the present ring of ten, and they still hang in the original timber frame.
  4. The heaviest bell – called the tenor – weighs about 1.7 tonnes (1,688kg) the equivalent of a 4 x 4 vehicle.
  5. In 1869, the Tenor bell unexpectedly cracked during ringing practice one night, and had to be recast. The replacement was examined by the Abbey organist, and given the go-ahead. However, when it was hauled up and reinstalled, it proved to be out of tune, so it had to be recast a second time!
  6. The Tenor bell bears the inscription: ‘All you of Bathe that hear me sound Thank Lady Hopton’s hundred pound’. What many people don’t know is that Lady Hopton only paid us £20 for the bell herself and her family were made to pay the remaining sum! But it’s her name that’s on the bell not theirs, what a clever lady!
  7. The bells are arranged in descending scale in an anti-clockwise direction and this is unusual, most towers have bells hung in a clockwise direction. This can be a little confusing for visiting bell ringers!



Battle of the Pews – not over yet.

Battle of the Pews – not over yet.

Seems the battle of the pews in Bath Abbey is not over yet after all.

The Victorian Society has applied for leave to appeal against the recent judgement in favour of removing the nave pews from the historic church.

Bath Abbey

Bath Abbey interior

Late last year the Chancellor of the Diocese of Bath and Wells granted permission for Bath Abbey to remove the Victorian pews from the abbey nave as part of their multi-million pound ‘Footprint’ project.

The pews were designed by renowned architect Sir George Gilbert Scott and are an almost complete set, unusual for churches of this size.

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How the news of the appeal appears on the Victorian Society’s website.

In a statement – released today, Thursday, December 11th, the Victorian Society say they believe:
“The permanent removal of the Gilbert Scott pews is unnecessary and would harm the significance of the Grade I-listed building. We objected to the plans when they were first issued and eventually became party opponents at the Consistory Court hearing which took place within the abbey in October 2017.”

Christopher Costelloe, Director of the Victorian Society

Christopher Costelloe, Director of the Victorian Society

Christopher Costelloe, Director of the Victorian Society, said: “We were disappointed with the Chancellor’s decision to allow the pews to be removed, but believe we have strong grounds to appeal against the judgement. We are continuing to fight against a decision which we believe would cause significant harm to an outstanding listed building.”


bath abbey

Bath Abbey’s ‘Footprint’ project involves the removal of the Gilbert Scott pews from the nave and aisles in order to install contemporary underfloor heating. The Victorian Society is objecting to the abbey’s plans to make that removal permanent and to instead replace the pews with new seating.
The pews were designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott who was one of the Victorian era’s most celebrated architects and is best known for designing London’s St Pancras Station and the Albert Memorial. His major restoration of Bath Abbey in 1859-74 – says the Victorian Society – was intended to ‘complete’ the church as it would have been if the Reformation had not stopped its construction.

bath abbey

The central aisle inside Bath Abbey


The Society says the nave pews, which would be lost if this scheme is permitted, are unique to the abbey and are excellent examples of Scott’s work, each one modelled on those in other 16th century Somerset churches.
James Hughes, Churches Conservation Adviser for the Victorian Society, said: “We received significant public support for our campaign to save the Gilbert Scott pews, including over 1500 signatures on our online petition and dozens of comments and letters from the public expressing outrage that they may be lost forever.

There is clearly strong feeling, from the general public and Bath residents alike, that the pews are irreplaceable and significant to the historic and architectural importance of the Abbey.”

A Bath Abbey spokesperson said the church would wait to see if an appeal IS allowed before making any official comment.


Doing it for love NOT money!

Doing it for love NOT money!

Bath Preservation Trust – with its various city museums  – would be the first to admit just how important volunteers are to its operation but – it seems –  finding people with spare time and energy is becoming more difficult.

I am sure other bodies like Bath Abbey, the Holbourne Museum and Victoria Art Gallery would also agree that attracting those prepared to work for love and not money – is proving challenging.

The Trust have come up with the idea of  holding Volunteer Open Days when those prepared to consider joining the ranks can pop into one of its museums and chat to current volunteers and staff about the sort of roles on offer.

BPT Volunteer Team A4 leaflet aw.indd

Bath Newseum caught up with BPT’s newly appointed Director of Museums, Claire Dixon – outside No 1, Royal Crescent – to find out more.

The open days are being held on Wednesday the 17th and Saturday, January 20th, between 11 am and 2pm at the Museum of Bath Architecture, No. 1 Royal Crescent and the Herschel Museum of Astronomy.

The Trust’s Conservation Team will be at No. 1 on the Wednesday (17th) to answer any questions you have if you are wanting to help in heritage watchdog/preservation work.

BPT say: “We can talk about the time commitment you are looking to make and the role you would like to do and you can ask any questions about what we have available.  Whether you like the idea of talking to visitors, delving into our archives, supporting events and children’s activities or being behind the scenes helping in the office, we will be able to find a place for you in our friendly team.

At the end of your visit, if you are interested in getting involved, we will provide you with an application form and a person to keep in contact with.  Our friendly teams of staff and volunteers are looking forward to welcoming you.

If you are interested in volunteering with us but cannot make either of our drop in open days, please contact us to find out about our next session or to receive an application form by calling 01225 428126 or emailing.”

The web address is http://www.bath-preservation-trust.org.uk

‘This programme is rolling’ – says Abbey Project Director.

‘This programme is rolling’ – says Abbey Project Director.

‘This programme is rolling’ – says Bath Abbey Footprint Project Director, Charles Curnock – after a Consistory Court gives judgement in favour of allowing the church to permanenty dispense with its nave pews as part of a multi-million pound scheme to stablilise the church floor and improve its facilities.

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The Director of Bath Abbey’s Footprint Project, Charles Curnock.

The future of these Victorian benches was part of a legal battle – played out in the Abbey – between the church authorites and the Victorian Society in which the Chancellor of the Dioces heard evidence from both sides and then – weeks later – delivered a written judgement.

The Victorian Society had argued that Bath Abbey’s plans to permanently remove the nave pews, a major element of Sir George Gilbert Scott’s reordering of the church in the mid nineteenth century, were unnecessary and would harm the significance of this listed building.


The pews in the nave of Bath Abbey.

Judicial permission to remove them permanently comes with conditions – and this will involve the Abbey in making a display – using parts of the benches – and explaining the history of the Victorian pews.

I asked Footprint Project Director, Charles Curnock, for his reaction to the judgement.



In a statement the Director of the Victorian Society, Christopher Costeloe, has described the decision as ‘ a defeat for Bath’s heritage.’

The full statement from the Society is given below.

“The Chancellor of the Diocese of Bath and Wells has granted permission for Bath Abbey to permanently remove its fine nave pews, despite opposition from the Victorian Society.
This follows a two day court hearing which took place in October, where the Victorian Society and Bath Abbey put forward their opposing cases to the Chancellor.

The Victorian Society argued that Bath Abbey’s plans to permanently remove the nave pews, a major element of Sir George Gilbert Scott’s reordering of the church in the mid nineteenth century, were unnecessary and would harm the significance of this listed building.
Christopher Costelloe, Director of the Victorian Society, said: “Obviously we are disappointed with the Chancellor’s decision. The loss of the Victorian nave furnishings would permanently diminish the interest of the Abbey. We will now give careful consideration to appealing against the judgment.”
Subject to any appeal, it is thought that Bath Abbey will now press ahead with the plans for this element of their multi-million pound ‘Footprint’ project, which would involve removing the pews.


The aisle end of one of the nave pews – or benches as the Victorians would call them. Unlike the higher grade choir and Corporation stalls – these seats were produced on a steam-driven cutting machine. However, the end carvings were finished by hand. No two are the same. Either end of each bench is different. The carvings drew inspiration from existing carvings in medieval churches in Croscombe and North Wootton. They form part of Scott’s ensemble and – according to The Victorian Society – form an important part of the high-quality oak furnishings of the church which survive intact to a ‘very unusual degree.’

James Hughes, Churches Conservation Adviser for the Victorian Society, who was also present at the court hearing, said: “We fought our case well but sadly in the end the Chancellor judged in the Abbey’s favour. We are grateful for the high level of support we had from members of the public via our online petition; it’s always wonderful to see people eager to protect their heritage. We are only sorry the outcome was not what we hoped for in this case.”
Bath Abbey is a Grade I-listed building, an acknowledgement of its exceptional historic and architectural significance. Unlike listed secular buildings, Church of England places of worship are exempt from the requirement to obtain listed building consent from local councils to undertake internal or external changes which would normally warrant such consent. The ecclesiastical court hearing, which took place in the Abbey itself, was as a result of our objections to the Abbey’s plans.
The architect of the pews, Sir George Gilbert Scott, was a renowned 19th century architect, best known for designing St Pancras Station and the Albert Memorial. Bath Abbey retains an almost complete set of Scott furnishings; in most other medieval churches or cathedrals of a similar size Scott worked on only the chancel furniture is left.
The nave pews are unique to the Abbey and are excellent examples of Scott’s work, with the carved pew ends modelled on surviving medieval examples in other 16th century Somerset churches. The Victorian Society believes that their loss will significantly diminish the Abbey’s architectural and historical significance.”

It’s goodbye to the Bath Abbey pews.

It’s goodbye to the Bath Abbey pews.

Plans to permanently remove the pews in Bath Abbey have been given the go ahead  following a decision by the Church of England’s consistory court that they can be  replaced with stackable chairs.

Bath Abbey

Bath Abbey interior

This will enable the Abbey to open up its nave, install eco-friendly underfloor heating and repair its collapsing floor.

The work is part of the Abbey’s innovative Footprint project, a programme of capital works and interpretation, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, that will secure the Abbey’s physical future and improve its hospitality, worship and service to the city. A major aspect of the project is to replace the Abbey’s antiquated heating system with an innovative design using underfloor heating powered by energy from Bath’s natural hot springs.

Following nearly a decade of planning, consultation and development work, building work inside the Abbey is expected to start in the spring of 2018. However, before any work could take place, the Abbey had to apply for permission from the Church of England for the fixed pews to be removed.

Revd Edward Mason of Bath Abbey said. “We are delighted with the decision of the Consistory Court.

We strongly believe in the benefits of removing the pews.  It will enable us to open up the Abbey’s nave and side aisles to all and make it possible for people of different physical ability to sit where they choose.  Stackable chairs mean that the nave can be used for a wide variety of traditional and contemporary worship and restore the Abbey to the community use for which it was first designed.”

“It will also mean that for the first time in over 150 years, hundreds of the Abbey’s historic ledger stones, previously hidden beneath the pews, will once again be seen, revealing a whole layer of 17th and 18th century ancestry and heritage.”

Revd Mason continued: “We are aware that change to a historic and much-loved building like the Abbey can be difficult to understand and can provoke strong reactions.  However, we have had considerable support for this change from the local community and honestly believe that freeing the nave of pews will greatly benefit the hundreds of thousands that come into the Abbey every year.”


The special Consistory Court hearing that was held in Bath Abbey.

The Consistory Court was initiated by the Victorian Society which opposed the permanent removal of the nave pews.

Revd Mason said, “We remain very appreciative of the significant contribution the Victorians made to the interior of the Abbey, in particular architect, Gilbert Scott. Much of their contribution remains valuable today such as the fabulous nave ceiling.  Gilbert Scott himself did exactly what we’re aiming to do with our Footprint programme: he tried to repair the floor, put in advanced heating and lighting and changed the seating to cater for the needs of the day.  Before 1860, the Abbey would have been completely open plan with no fixed seating at all. With our Footprint programme, we are simply following in the footsteps of many before us in changing and renewing the Abbey for today’s needs and for future generations.”

Bath Abbey Footprint is a £19.3 million programme of capital works, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, which includes:

  • Repairing and restoring the collapsing floor
  • A sustainable, eco-friendly heating system using energy from Bath’s famous hot springs
  • Creating new spaces underground including a Discovery Centre, meeting rooms, kitchens and cloakrooms
  • Providing first-class facilities that will enable the Music Department to work with local choirs, schools, and hundreds of visiting children
  • An exciting interpretation and activities programme to share stories about the Abbey’s past and present.
  • Footprint will enable the Abbey to fulfil its vision of becoming a place of congregation, equal access and hospitality, and ‘A People and Place Fully Alive’

To find out more, please see www.bathabbey.org/footprint.

Going underground.

Going underground.

I joined around a dozen Bath traders from the York Street area last night on a fact-finding mission – above and below ground level.


Our traders are in Swallow Street and outside the old laundry building.

These are business people who share their location with the Roman Baths complex – one of the city’s main tourist attractions – and a valuable source of revenue for our cash-strapped local authority.


In the distant middle are Stephen Bird – Head of Heritage Services – on the left and the Roman Baths Manager, Stephen Clews on the right. They are surrounded by York Street traders and starting their tour of the old spa building on the corner of Swallow Street. The ground floor is currently let as a shop selling leather furniture.

In the new year, a major project gets underway to extend the ruins visible to the public and create a World Heritage Centre and Roman Baths Learning Centre that will show people why Bath is so special and inspire them to go out and explore the archaeology and architecture that has given the city World Heritage status.

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An image taken from the Roman Baths website at http://www.romanbaths.co.uk

Along with Venice,  we are one of only two Europeans cities to be awarded this UNESCO accolade.

York Street

The decorative archway in York Street

It’s officially called The Archway Project – after the decorative stone bridge across York Street which was built to hide the pipes carrying spa water back and forth to the former Victorian Spa building and city laundry that will now be converted.

While this operation will be costing five million – with the help of a 3.4 million pound Heritage Lottery Fund donation – the Council is also faced with an additional expense.


Some of the massive beams supporting the road above.

Clearing the passages under York Street – to prepare for next year – revealed there was a problem with the beams supporting the road. Water – seeping through from the surface – has been eating away at the supports and many of them will need strengthening or replacing.


There’s plenty of evidence in the passageway under York Street of the damaging water seeping through from above.

On top of this, the road itself will have to come up so a waterproof membrane can be laid to stop any further ingress.

All of this is going to be disruptive to neighbouring traders who – while recognising the benefits of an increased footfall in the future – will have to put up with a certain amount of construction work outside their doors for several years.

Meanwhile, the Roman Baths isn’t the only major body getting work done from next year. Neighbouring Bath Abbey will begin the task of taking up its floor – section by section – for stabilisation work and installing a new heating system and other facilities.


Bath Abbey and the Roman Baths are located next to each other.


There’s going to be construction traffic everywhere and traders were not slow to voice their concerns and ask to be involved in the planning of the operation.

Kelvin Packer – Group Manager for Highways and Traffic – told them it would take around six weeks to do the road and that they would work with traders to minimise disruption. He assured them that they would not end up with a huge hole in York Street and that the strengthening work would be done from below.

While it was the Council’s policy to make Bath as pedestrian and cycle-friendly as possible – and limit traffic – without the repairs being carried out it was doubtful if the street could continue to support heavy vehicles like fire appliances or rubbish lorries.

Mr Packer said the Council had a duty to inspect its basements and cellars on a regular basis. As this is a city built on basements and cellars maybe everyone else should so do too. How long before a bus or coach goes through one?

While Stephen Bird – who is Head of Heritage Services – gave a preliminary introduction to the project – it was Stephen Clews – the Roman Baths and Pump Room Manager – who took us on a tour of the passageway under York Street.


Archaeologists will also be able to sift through an untouched historical layer of earth built up over the centuries.

Here there has been a massive emptying operation of heavy Roman masonry to clear the site. In January archaeologists will begin a three-month dig. The main contractor will then get down to business at Easter.

Bath Newseum caught up with Stephen to tell us more.


Next year’s timetable begins with three months worth of underground archaeology and then work on repairing the road beams will take place between April and August.

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An image taken from the Roman Baths website at wwww.romanbaths.co.uk

The above groundwork – and that includes creating the World Heritage Centre and other educational resources will being in June and run through to May 2019. The additional archaeological facilities – a Roman exercise yard and a specially heated room called a Laconicum – will be opened to the public in July 2019.

Find out more via www.romanbaths.co.uk





Ivy on Milsom Street

Ivy on Milsom Street

Bath’s new Ivy Brasserie has more objects crowded on its walls than the city’s Abbey church but this isn’t so much memorials to the dear departed as wrapping diners in the ‘company colours’ which define the imagery of the London-based ‘mother’ restaurant’s new nationally-dispensed brand.


See what l mean about wall coverage?

It’s like walking into a floor-to-ceiling art exhibition hanging in 19th century France where framed images taking up every inch of the wall surface.


Spot the local connections. There’s Bath Abbey!

Although this is obviously the approved interior ‘feel’ of these new eating houses there is a nod to Bath with both Bath Abbey and the hot springs represented amongst the wall hangings.


I recognise that steaming bath!

Let’s just step back a moment and put all this in context. The Ivy Brasserie is housed in what used to be NatWest’s Milsom Street branch.


The new Ivy Brasserie in Milsom Street

Itself contained in one of five grand houses that make up Somersetshire Buildings – built as a speculation by the City Architect Thomas Baldwin in 1781-3.


Attentive waiters start the rounds as guests arrive.

Milsom Street gets its name from Daniel Milsom a school master and member of the Corporation who leased this last strip of untouched land between the old town and the new architecture on the hill and got his son to jointly develop it with the local authority.

It became a favoured residential area until commerce moved in. It remains what you would call part of Bath’s ‘up town’ area.

The bank was housed in what would have been the bay-fronted living room of a lodging house which no doubt attracted a high-class and wealthy lodger – in town to take the waters.


Plenty of Monday night fizz!

While they wouldn’t recognise the place today – they would appreciate the most eloquent architectural feature of that space still remains.

The ground floor front room of No 39 – the centre house – was given one of the finest and most delicate plaster ceilings in Bath. Modelled on Josiah Wedgewood’s Jasper Ware – introduced by the English potter in 1775. A classic mixture of white and pale blue mouldings of rams heads, foliage and ribbons decorating a large circular panel.


That 18th-century ceiling in all its glory.

I have to say The Ivy’s interior designers have done a good job of allowing the 18th century ceiling to ‘crown’ that front bay area in uninterrupted glory despite the more eclectic and colourful mixture you’ll find walking further into the restaurant.

It can be better appreciated by people who will be spending more time under it that any previous bank customer dashing in to cash a cheque at the NatWest counter.


Full marks for the marble floor!

The restaurant has spared no expense with a beautiful marble floor and a bar counter that uses light and suspended glass flutes to create a long ‘chandelier’ effect linking the front entrance with the more internal  and intimate dining area.


The ‘chandelier effect’ of that long and welcoming bar!

The Ivy Brasserie opens on Wednesday this week – October 11th. It’s first floor dining facilities will be completed early next year – and there are plans for roof-top entertaining by Easter of next year.

Can’t tell you anything about the food or prices – because this was a stand-up – canapes and fizz-type gathering – but l can tell you they have spent weeks training the staff and that showed last night with a well-oiled and well-mannered welcome and continual replenishment of nibbles and drink.

No 39 begins a new role in its long and varied social history.

Over to you via https://theivybathbrasserie.com

PS. If you were wondering where NatWest have gone. They’ve just opened up in the old Burton Building in Stall Street – opposite M and S.


The new NatWest branch on Stall Street.