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.

Bath Abbey appoints ‘Acting Rector’

Bath Abbey appoints ‘Acting Rector’

Parishioners have just been told that Bath Abbey Missioner, the Revd Stephen Girling will direct ‘ the mission and ministry’ of the church until the appointment of a new Rector to replace the Revd Edward Mason who will be retiring in November.

03 Stephen arriving

Revd Stephen Girling

An email from the Abbey announces:

” You may wonder why a successor has not already been appointed. In the Church of England it is recognised practice, following the resignation of the incumbent, that there is a period during which the position will remain vacant. (This is sometimes referred to as an interregnum.)

The Vacancy allows for a time of careful consideration and reflection on the needs of the church and on the appointment of a suitable person as a successor. The Church Council will be meeting with the Archdeacon before the end of the year as part of this consultation.”


The Rector Bath Abbey, the Rev Preb Edward Mason.

The Rev Girling will be ‘Acting Rector’ from December the 1st – though the Revd Mason has agreed to stay on ‘ to support the Abbey team during the Christmas period.’

The Abbey will also be saying goodbye to another member of staff as the Revd Claire Robson has decided to leave at the end of this month.


Revd Claire Robson

The email says: “For some time, Claire has expressed a desire to devote significant time to writing and this is the direction on which she now proposes to embark.”


Holding court in front of the choir stalls

Holding court in front of the choir stalls

Who would have thought that l would be sitting in a pew in Bath Abbey watching court proceedings unfold in front of the choir stalls!

However, dispell any image you might have of Rumpole of the Bailey at work –  though this was a bit of local church history in the making.

What l have been calling the ‘battle of the pews’ and a legal ‘confrontation’ between the Churchwardens of Bath Abbey and The Victorian Society in what the Church of England calls a Consistory Court hearing.


The pews in the nave of Bath Abbey.

To bring you up to speed. The church has received a extremely generous grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund to help meet the costs of emergency treatment to the Abbey floor.

It’s money being spent on other improvements too, as part of the Abbey’s Footprint Project – the church’s ‘vision for the future.’


The Abbey floor is covered with memorial – or ledger – stones

All those departed souls buried beneath today’s worshippers  – and visitors –  may have risen to heaven but they have left giant cavities in the ground which will need filling to stabilise things and stop the floor collapsing into the voids.

This will involve moving the pews – either side of the central aisle – and lifting all those amazing ledger stones that lie beneath them.


Easier to stack than pews maybe? Are these the seats of the future for Bath Abbey.

The church authorities see this as a golden opportunity NOT to put all those Victorian benches back – once the memorial stones have been re-laid.

This, they say, would not only reinstate the empty space this medieval building originally had at its west end but make it more flexible to the needs of modern-day worship.


Cain Ormondroyd – the lawyer representing the Parochial Church Council of the Abbey Church of St Peter and St Paul.

It would also expose – for the first time in nearly 180 years – the hundreds of inscriptions to the ‘dearly departed’ that have lain hidden beneath the pews.


Mark Blackett-Ord – the lawyer representing the Victorian Society. He is also Chancellor of the Leicester Diocese.

Bringing in chairs – when needed – would allow more flexibility for worship and with the added bonus of different configurations to accommodate everything from concerts and lectures to theatre in the round! It would – says the church – also make the nave truly accessible to all – whatever their level of mobility.

But those machine-tooled pews were designed by renowned Victorian architect George Gilbert Scott – the man responsible for St Pancras Station and the Albert Memorial. Removing them – the Society argues – would harm this Grade l-listed church’s historical significance and status.


The one man l could not photograph was the man who sat behind the desk in the middle of the crossing. He is Mr Timothy Briden, the Chancellor of the Bath and Wells Diocese and the lawyer who has to make the final decision. His appearance meant this court was in session and no photography is then allowed.

There is also concern that, without the protection of the pews, the ledger stones would be exposed and subject to the footfall of about 450,000 visitors a year and possible damage from chairs being moved and replaced on them.


The Abbey argue fabric strips on chairs would ensure they did not do any damage and that the finer and more socially and historically-significant memorial slabs would not be relaid in areas of high footfall.

Bath Abbey is a medieval jewel but one that wasn’t ‘complete’ until Scott was called in to restore or re-order it. It’s a good example of a major church interior as reimagined by the Victorians in medieval style.

He installed the stone fan vaulting in the nave to match the existing medieval ceiling over the choir and chancel.

Bath Abbey

Bath Abbey interior

He organised a restoration of the West Front.

Inside, the screens that separated the chancel from its aisles were removed.  Windows were reglazed, memorial tablets attached to the pillars transferred to the walls of the aisles,  gas chandeliers erected and the present oak seating placed in the nave.

It was the first time this space had offered permanent seating and – with the chancel screen gone – opened the interior from end to end to enable it to be used for very large congregations.


Though general tourism was not allowed during the two-day hearing, Bathonians were allowed to come in and watch the proceedings. Here are some of them during a court break.

Bath Abbey is probably unique in retaining so much of its Scott interior. An argument that hinges partly on the ‘ensemble value’ created by this famous church architect.

So here we sit – in a church bereft of its usual crowd of milling tourists – witnessing a little bit of ecclesiastical local history in the making.

The Church of England is exempt from the usual planning regulations. Changes proposed for its layout do not need to go before a B&NES planning committee.


The only time that l – or anyone else l would hope – would be allowed to take coffee into the Abbey pews. I did take the cup out with me!

However there is a built-in check on things – which can trigger a church court hearing. In this case it is The Victorian Society that has become ‘the party opponent’ to the Abbey’s plans to not put the pews back in the nave – once the repairs to the floor have been done.

So l – and around fifty Bathonians – are witnessing counsel for each party, in turn examining and cross-examining witnesses who have produced reports for and against the proposal.

For the Abbey it’s Mr Cain Ormondroyd and, for The Victorian Society ,Mr Mark Blackett-Ord who are appearing in front of the Chancellor of the Diocese of Bath and Wells, Mr Timothy Briden – who is himself a trained lawyer.


The Abbey’s legal team with Mr Cain Ormondroyd sitting on the right.

It is he who – in six weeks or so – will deliver his verdict and either allow or not allow the permanent removal of the pews to go ahead.

Proceedings are slow and methodical with the Chancellor stepping in now and again to help oil any legal difficulties or points that witnesses do not understand. Those watching events were also grateful to him for ordering breaks in the unfolding legal arguments for us to stretch our legs.


The Victorian Society’s legal team with Mr Mark Blackett-Ord on the left.

The irony wasn’t lost on me that the legal teams were seated on the sort of chairs that may replace the benches in question that – on this day –  bore the weight of us spectators.

The event was also a history lesson in the Abbey’s history. I hadn’t known the Victorians called the congregation’s seating arrangement benches and that to them pews were Georgian ‘boxes.’


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 make up 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.’

How many knew that Gilbert Scott found the church pillars covered in memorial stones and removed them to the walls to get rid of the central clutter. Bath, apparently, is only surpassed by Westminster Abbey in the number of ledger stones it contains.

Memorials for men would display a shield above the wording and a diamond shape for women – l was told during a break in proceedings – but Scott’s workmen mixed some of those up when they were re-hung.

In the end – it seems – the Chancellor has to base his judgement on a point of law established in a previous church court case regarding a church in Derbyshire called St Alkmund’s.


What the nave would look like with the pews taken away.

It’s all a question of whether the ‘resulting public benefit’ outweighs ‘the harm to the significance of the church as a building of special architectural or historic interest?’

Do the benches ‘link the nave liturgically on a grand scale’ or should these wooden seats be seen as ‘an army of pews’ to be eradicated.

I am glad l am not the man who has to decide – after this two-day hearing.

in the meantime the Abbey moves on with its Footprint Project plans and a building contractor to do the work will be appointed – from a shortlist – by Christmas.

‘Courtroom’ drama begins at Bath Abbey.

‘Courtroom’ drama begins at Bath Abbey.

Bath Abbey is going to be the unusual setting today – Wednesday, October 4th – for a ‘courtroom’ drama as the ‘battle of the pews’ gets underway.

bath abbey

The church is having to remove its Victorian pews next year as the floor of the building has to be stabilised. Once the work has been done – it will be undertaken section by section – the authorities do not want to put the pews back.


What the nave would look like with the pews taken away.

The Abbey argues that  the church was built as a big empty space and – being able to return to that format but with removable chairs replacing fixed pews – the building will be made more flexible and improve access for all.

However, The Victorian Society believes their removal would have ‘an extremely detrimental effect on the historical significance of this important religious building.’

They will now be a ‘party opponent’ at a Consistory Court hearing being held over two days next week. The hearing will be held today and tomorrow – October 4th and 5th  – and each session will  last from 10.20 to 4.30 pm.bath abbey

Though the Abbey will be closed to tourists for those two days, Bathonians are allowed to watch proceedings – ironically from the pews in question. The hearing will be held on the crossing – under the tower.


The ‘crossing’ where the two-day hearing will be held.

Each side will have a barrister present to argue their case before the Diocese Chancellor who will make a decision based on the proceedings.

Church of England places of worship are exempt from the requirement to obtain listed building consent from local councils. Decisions are instead made by the Chancellor of each diocese – a lawyer appointed by the church to adjudicate on these matters.


George Gilbert Scott’s nave pews.

The pews were designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott – the architect of St Pancras Station and the Albert Memorial. He was one of the most successful and highly respected church architects of the period and his major restoration of Bath Abbey in 1859-74 was intended to ‘complete’ the church as it would have been if the Reformation had not stopped its construction.

Scott completed the stone fan vaulting above the nave and designed a chandelier lighting system for the church – as well as designing the pews, which were modelled on those in other 16th-century Somerset churches.

Christopher Costelloe, Victorian Society Director, said: ‘Bath Abbey is one of the best examples of Victorian church restoration by perhaps the era’s most prominent architect – Sir George Gilbert Scott.bath abbey

There is no doubt that removing these pews would harm this Grade 1 listed church’s significance, and there is no need for such drastic changes in a thriving church when other options are available. The last decade or so has seen Victorian church schemes ripped out all over the country and once they’re gone they’re gone for good.

Bath Abbey has a different point of view and is at the start of a massive multi-million-pound project – boosted by the Heritage Lottery Fund – to deal with the threat of the church floor collapsing because of massive holes discovered beneath it. They have been created as a result of the six thousand odd people who have been buried below the stone flooring.

Bath abbey

Bath Newseum was there in 2013 when a trial section of the flooring was treated. A liquid concrete-styled solution was injected into the voids. Afterwards the memorial tablets were replaced. A lifting frame is being used to hoist and lower the slabs into place. This was taken through the plastic-covered observation window.

It means all the fixed furniture – including the pews – will have to be lifted as the repair is carried out – section by section – so the Abbey can stay in business throughout.

According to Charles Curnock – Director of the Footprint Project – once the floor has been stabilised and underfloor heating, powered by energy from the hot spring nearby, installed – they intend reinstating the hand-carved Corporation Pews and most of the machine-tooled pews behind them.


The pews behind the hand-carved Corporation Pews.

However, they want to leave the nave clear – the way it was when the church was built. It would mean people would get a clear view of the hundreds of ledger stones that have been hidden beneath the pews for nearly 180 years.


The whole Abbey floor is covered in ledger stones. They are all being recorded and photographed before being taken up.

It would also give the Abbey more flexibility in how the space was used – with chairs replacing pews for seated events – allowing different layouts for gatherings big and small. It would improve access for those with disability issues and allow visitors more freedom in exploring the church.

Bath Abbey

Will it be chairs or pews? These are temporary seats and not a style that the Abbey would buy for permanent use!

The Victorian Society argue that the pews have protected the ancient ledger stones from heavy foot traffic and that just removing the pews from the aisles would ease the flow of visitors.

Floor trial and ledger stone recording - L-R-Volunteers Mark Hudson Sandra Brown and Priscilla Olver SMALL

Floor trial and ledger stone recording – L-R-Volunteers Mark Hudson Sandra Brown and Priscilla Oliver Small

They have launched an online petition – which has attracted over a thousand signatures – and say the complete removal of the nave pews would ‘ strip the Abbey of a major layer of its interest and richness, permanently harming the interior.’


The memorial stones on the Abbey floor.Many of them are hidden under the pews.

Bath Abbey feels this is an opportunity to change how the floor space can be used to better serve the city, its visitors and future generations.  That an open nave will release the Abbey’s potential as a place for worship, celebration and community events in a way it previously hasn’t been able to offer.

It is going to be an interesting hearing. History in the making.

Prayers for Bath Abbey court hearing.

Prayers for Bath Abbey court hearing.

Special prayers – it seems – were offered up in Bath Abbey last night (Thursday, September 14th) ‘ for the mission and ministry of the Abbey.’

Bath Abbey

Bath Abbey – the lantern of the west!

They came as the church faces a special Consistory Court hearing in response to the nationally based Victorian Society’s objection to the removal of most of the pews following work to stabilise the floor.


The Rector Bath Abbey, the Rev Preb Edward Mason.

In a letter to the congregation, the Rector, the Rev Prebendary Edward Mason, explained that the Society were objecting to an element of the Footprint Project.

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The poster explaining why the floor has to come up.


‘Footprint will stabilise the Abbey floor to quite a deep level, install under-floor central heating with energy from the hot springs, and repair and re-lay the wonderful set of ledger stones.

To do this, all the furniture in the Abbey will be removed. Equally, our application proposes that all the furniture will be replaced – except for the nave pews.

We believe that freeing the nave of pews will enhance the mission and ministry of the Abbey in the present and leave it much better placed to respond to the changing needs of church and community in the future.

Bath Abbey - Looking West 2

A cross section of how the Footprint Project will evolve.

The Victorian Society does not agree and insists on the nave pews being replaced. The Consistory Court is a normal (but rare) means by which church planning issues like this are clarified.

The Court will be held in the Abbey early in October and there is full representation of both sides by legal teams. The judgement is made by the Chancellor of the Diocese, himself a practising lawyer.


An artist’s impression of what the nave will look like with the floor repaired and the pews removed.

In the light of this process, we feel it particularly important that we gather in prayer.’

The Rector said prayers were for the Abbey’s mission and ministry.

‘In particular, we pray that our core values expressed in worship, hospitality and justice will continue to be fully expressed through the development and future use of the Abbey.’

It is my understanding that the court hearing will be held in Bath Abbey on October 4th and 5th during which time the church will not be open to tourists.

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.