No 4

No 4

Bath has hidden historic gems – as well as its big architectural set pieces. One of them is the restored Georgian Garden behind number 4, the Circus.


Looking down to the Georgian Garden from the house.

Between 1985 and 1988 the overgrown and inaccessible garden behind the house was excavated by Bath Archaeological Trust and many of its original features discovered.


Information boards in the garden show the public the excavations made during the 1980’s

The decision was taken to restore it to its original 1760 form. It was thought to be the first town garden in the world to be scientifically excavated and re-created in situ.

In 1992 it won a Civic Trust Environmental Award and, in the same year, was opened to the public as the ‘Georgian Garden’, accessed from Gravel Walk in Royal Victoria Park behind the Circus.

This is a little ‘freebee’ l always offer to people in my group when l am out doing my Tuesday morning duties as a member of the Mayor of Bath’s Corps of Honorary Guides.


Looking towards the Georgian Garden entrance from the Gravel Walk leading up to the Royal Crescent

It’s also the point when l say the house at number 4 is where the Fashion Museum does its conservation and repair work. This is technically still correct but the house has a much more interesting history to recount.

One l have discovered through reading background detail to be presented to members of the Charitable Trust Board who will meet at Bath Guildhall on Tuesday next – October 4th – to discuss the appointment of new trustees to the charity which runs the house.

Back in 1958, Mr Charles Cooke and his wife Frances made mutual wills leaving their house – 4 Circus – to the survivor for life and thereafter to the Bath Preservation Trust.


The front of the Grade 1 listed No 4 in the Circus.

Two years later Mr Cooke died and Mrs Cooke approached the then Bath City Council to see if they would take over the property to make it available to the general public as a themed Georgian exhibition house.

The Council discussed the proposal with Bath Preservation Trust but they decided it was not for them – especially as they had recently acquired  more suitable and grander premises at No 1 Royal Crescent.

No 1 Royal Crescent

Number 1 Royal Crescent

The City Council considered converting number 4 for housing purposes but decided it would be better used as a much needed ‘accessory’ to the Museum of Costume which, at that time, lacked space in the Assembly Rooms for storage, public research and study purposes.

Then Mrs Cooke died and, as no joint scheme between the Council and Preservation Trust had been implemented to realise the wishes of her late husband, the matter was put in the hands of the Official Custodian for Charities.

A charity was formed in Mrs Cooke’s name and the Council had to appoint four trustees with the object of ‘ the preservation and exhibition to the public of the building on the said land as a place of architectural and historic interest.’

In 1973 a scheme was drawn up to lease the property to Bath City Council ‘ for purposes not inconsistent with the object of the charity which purposes may include use as a museum of costume.’

So a year later the Fashion Research Centre opened at number 4 – as the study and education arm of the Museum of Costume.

In the years that followed the house was also used for other purposes. It was the main offices for the Council’s Museum Service – until they moved to the Pump Room. Bath Archaeological Trust – at one time – also occupied rooms on the top floor.

In 1985 a textile conservation studio was created in the basement – serving not only the Museum of Costume but museums throughout the South West.

Although the original intention of Mr Cooke was for public access to the house, the restoration and opening of the garden to the public was seen as a major contribution to the object of the charity.

The Georgian garden is administered and promoted by the Council’s Heritage Services and maintained by the Parks and Open Spaces team.


Another view of the Georgian Garden

Then, of course, Bath City Council became B&NES and in 2003 a new 21 year lease was negotiated. Also – at that time – the Fashion Research Centre’s collections and services were merged with those of the Museum of Costume at the Assembly Rooms.

This released space at 4 Circus and a search began for a partner tenant whose function would be compatible with that of the Museum and consistent with the Object of the Charity.

This brought about a new BA course in Fashion Design Skills and a working partnership with Bath Spa University who came to occupy part of the property.

The use of parts of the building for teaching the Fashion Design Skills course was deemed to be in keeping with the Object of the Charity in that it made the building accessible to BSU students and staff.

In addition, the house was opened for accompanied public viewing at certain times of year such as National Heritage Open Days.

‘In theory members of the public could request sight of the interior at any time and would have to be admitted, although the ability to do this has never been made public.’

That’s something l tested out this morning – Thursday, September 29th – when a very polite young man came to the door and told me entry wouldn’t be possible because there were students there having lectures.

I had missed the annual Open Doors access by a week or so, he said.


I wasn’t allowed through the door today.

I decided not to press my case.

Much of what l am writing has been taken from a document prepared as a briefing note for next week’s meeting.

New trustees have to be appointed to approve a new sub lease to Bath Spa University. The proposed terms provide for a lease ending early in 2019 which coincides with the end of the lease from the Trust to the Council, and one of the first tasks for the new trustees will be to consider what happens after this date.

The house is managed by Heritage Services, for which there is an operating budget of £34,120. Maintenance is undertaken through the Council’s Project Delivery Team at a cost of £19,960 in 2016/17.

These costs are partly offset by a rental income of £24,790 from Bath Spa University in 2016/17.

The terms of a new lease, under which the University will take on more of the running costs and pay a revised level of rent, is currently the subject of negotiation between the Council’s Estates Team and the University.


Number 4 is contained within the first segment of the Circus built. The foundation stone laid in 1754. Shortly afterwards John Wood the Elder died. His son completed the project.

No.4 Circus is a mid-eighteenth-century town house set within the south-west segment of the Circus, the first of the three segments to be built.

It was designed by John Wood the Elder (who died in 1754 before its completion) and built by his son John Wood the Younger. No.4 was completed in 1760. The house is Grade I listed.

The charity controlling its future has to work to its legal objectives of  publicly exhibiting the house and garden ‘as a place of architectural and historic interest.’

The new trustees have quite a task in front of them to find a novel and financially way to  secure its future.

The Museum of Costume has since become Bath’s world-famous Fashion Museum – and is based at the Assembly Rooms.






Riverbank gives up more secrets

Riverbank gives up more secrets

Bath Newseum has made its final trip to the rescue archaeology underway beside the River Avon at Broad Quay in Bath – an area due to be reshaped as part of a flood alleviation programme and also opened up – and renamed Bath Quays – as a sector for commercial regeneration.


How the river bank will be re-shaped for the new Bath Quays zone.

It also happens to be where the ordinary working folk of Bath both lived and earned a wage in an area often prone to flooding and considered a notorious slum of crowded tenements.


This wall – beside the river – has a cellar beneath it. It would have always been flooded so archaeologists think this may have been a boat house.

Members of Wessex Archaeology have been allowed in to record what is left of that once buried and forgotten environment before it is all swept away as the river bank is remodelled.


Cai Stands in the Bath House. This would have been a section of screened cubicles where people did their laundry and would have paid for hot river water by the bucketful. This facility was set up by the Baths and Laundry Society in the 19th century to promote ‘cleanliness of dress and person among the poor inhabitants of Bath.’

With just weeks to go it seems the archaeologists have left the best to last. Not only have they been uncovering the remains of a bath house in which the the people who lived in overcrowded tenements both washed themselves and did their laundry but they have also confirmed finding part of a defensive wall and ditch shown as a spur off the city walls on an early 18th century maps of Bath.


The rusty elliptical shape is where one of the copper boilers would have stood. Coal would have been brought in from the river to feed the furnace to heat the water.

Here’s what Cai Mason –  Senior Project Officer at this site for Wessex Archaeology – had to say when Bath Newseum went down to collect another ‘tale from the riverbank’.


The discovery of the defensive wall and ditch – plus the footbridge across it  – is something B&NES should consider keeping and not sweeping away.


The defensive wall cuts through this image from top to bottom. Difficult to see but the stones slope towards Cai Mason – pushed over by flood waters.

This is an important relic that should be marked in someway. I will ask for a comment.


Autumn turn off.

Autumn turn off.

When do you know that summer is officially over.


Out goes the water and a good brush up for the basin.

Forget the Autumn Equinox and just look out for those very polite workmen from Zeta Services who are employed by B&NES to clean out the fountain in Laura Place and shut the system down for the winter.


Time to turn the tap off for this year.

There’s been quite an algae build up – and these experts in water monitoring – are going to investigate what bio-system might be introduced within the water flow to cut down on its growth next season.


Starting the business of pumping out the water.

While we’ve been enjoying recent sunshine, those  golden rays have been encouraging a rapid greening within the fountain basin. Something they’ve been dealing with today.


The green waters of Laura Place

A penny for your thoughts?

A penny for your thoughts?

B&NES has big plans for making historic Sydney Gardens more ’21st century’ friendly. That’s if the council is successful in attracting Heritage Lottery funding to pay for a sensitive make-over that acknowledges the past as well as the present.

sydney gardens

Sydney Gardens became a municipal park in 1909.

The gardens were opened in 1795 as a Georgian ‘Vauxhall’ or pleasure grounds which offered  – for those who paid to come in – such adult delights as swings, a grotto and labrynth, waterfalls, bowling greens and public outdoor breakfasts with music!

canal sydney gardens gate

The Kennet and Avon through Sydney Gardens.

Both John Rennie’s canal and Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s railway were later to criss-cross these pleasure grounds of picnics and promenading. Private grounds turned into a public space when they became a municipal park in 1909.

sydney gardens

The central driveway.

There’s not much left of the original design – apart from the central driveway (and maybe some mature trees?)  – but of course history continues to be ‘laid down’ on the landscape.

Tennis courts and a bowling green have been added over the years.


The bowling green.

However, following the decision by the bowling club to end their lease at the end of 2016 bowling season – due to a falling membership – the plan is to will the pavilion into a new café and the former bowling green will provide a venue for informal play and activities such as yoga, tai chi and salsa.


The bottom tennis courts.

The latest design also includes a multi-use ball game area within the footprint of the current bottom courts – creating space where a wide range of informal and other ball games can be played; such as basketball, football, volleyball and table tennis.

Ultimately this would provide a more flexible space for a wider range of different types of active play than can currently be accommodated by six permanent tennis courts.


The newly refurbished loos

Just recently the public toilets were ‘upgraded’ and are now operated via a 20 p piece in the slot. 


Ancient and modern

But alongside the block stands the remains of a gentlemen’s public lavatories – erected in 1910 – and an unusual survival of a once common type made by the Star Works of Birmingham.


There’s the remains of a Victorian ladies loo in there somewhere!

I had never stopped to wonder where the ladies version of this ornamental restroom would have stood but came across it tucked away behind the gents and completely overgrown and fenced off.


The Victorian gents!

I hear on the grapevine, that the intention might be to used portions of the much more dilapidated ladies loo to restore the more complete gents.


The ornamental structure is Grade 11 listed!

These are Grade 11 listed structures – so such plans will have to be well considered.

Long term B&NES are looking to the public for ideas as to how the restored feature could be used. A novel and useful way to enhance and ensure its survival. A relic from an age when spending a penny meant just that!

Empire building

Empire building

Bath’s continued faith in its tourist industry is born out by plenty of evidence of new hotel building in the city.

Elsewhere, established businesses are being given make-overs to increase both capacity and appeal.


But it’s a hotel from a previous age l want to talk about – and a building that has split public opinion ever since it soared onto the city skyline in 1901.

It’s also one partially obscured by scaffolding at present while repairs are made to the roof and fabric.


The old Empire Hotel – like it or loath it – is described by Michael Forsyth in the Pevsner Architectural Guide to Bath as ‘ an unbelievably pompous piece of architecture.’

It was designed by the Bath City Architect, Major Charles Edward Davis for the hotelier Alfred Holland – a wealthy entrepreneur – and built during 1900/1.

According to Professor Barry Cunliffe – Director of Excavations at Bath for many years – Major Davis was fulfilling a professional dream.

In a paper he wrote – ‘Major Davis: Architect and Antiquarian’ – Professor Cunliffe says of him…

‘Throughout his working life in Bath Davis had two particular ambitions, to create a new road along the Avon between the Orange Grove and Bridge Street, and to build a large hotel.

His several hotel schemes had come to nothing and his plans for a link road failed to receive Council approval on more than one occasion.

At last, at the very end of his life, these two ambitions were realised in the great scheme which saw the erection of the Empire Hotel and its fronting Grand Parade’.


As Professor Cunliffe explained it was the era of mega hotels. Major Davis had already – in the 1880’s – led the uncovering of the city’s Roman baths.

It was a new attraction to encourage people to the spa city and Davis has already missed out on building the new Grand Pump Room Hotel nearby.

‘A wealthy entrepreneur, Mr Alfred Holland, came forward with the money and the hotel company he formed entrusted the task of design to Davis having made clear in approaching the Council that it was ‘taking it for granted that there are no restrictions as to height’.


Davis seems to have been mildly concerned by the problem and did, in fact, go to the trouble to prepare ‘skylines’ showing his proposed new building in relation to those immediately adjacent.

In the event, his seven-storey ‘Jacobean’ monster, crowned with an eclectic ensemble of gables and turrets, towers above the city directly challenging the grandeur of the Abbey and all else’.


Professor Cunliffe continued: ‘It is fashionable at the moment to treat the Empire Hotel with contempt and ridicule but it has a distinct quality and even a fin-de-siecle charm.

It is the only truly grandiose High Victorian building that Bath can boast and for all its faults the city would be the poorer without it.’

Major Davis died in 1902 – a year after finally building his hotel. He was 75 and had served Bath as its Surveyor of Works for forty years.

The Empire occupies a large L-shaped block. It is six storeys high plus the octagonal corner tower. The front of the building onto Orange Grove has eight bays and the side overlooking the River Avon has nine bays.


The architecture of the roof shows the three classes of people, Castle on the corner for Upper Class, A House for the Middle classes and a cottage for the lower classes.

During World War 11 it was used by the Admiralty as postal sorting offices and remained in their possession until the 1990s.

It was then was refurbished and became luxury retirement flats and a restaurant.

It is a Grade 11 listed building.

It stands alongside the old Police Station and Lock-up that Davis had built in 1865 – in the Italian palazzo style. A station that functioned as such until 1966 when the new one opened in Manvers Street.


The old police station and lock-up next door.

I have a handy little Lumix camera – with an impressive Leica telescopic, telephoto lens – and was able to get some close up details of very worn carvings – just below the parapet – and one appears to have an heraldic animal ‘rampant’ –  that’s standing on one leg.


The badly weathered roundel with an heraldic animal rampant?


Meanwhile – on ground level – some detail from the elegant glazed wrought and cast iron canopies by A.J.Taylor – added in 1907.


Taylor also did the ornamental canopy over the entrance to The Corridor in the High Street in 1927.


The Corridor canopy by A.J.Taylor

I found the image of a pegasus – a winged divine stallion from Greek mythology. Always depicted as white in colour and according to legend, every time his hoof struck the earth an inspiring  spring burst forth. Is that the reason he is here? Celebrating Bath’s hot and cold springs?

Dan Brown from tells me the contractors who did the conversion into luxury flats were called Pegasus. Not quite so romantic eh.


The Pegasus figure.

Elsewhere another close up found me trying to make out lettering. Do l see initials here – for Charles Edward Davis?

I think Pete Cashman – a Bath Newseum visitor – is right in suggesting E and H for Empire Hotel!


E and H for Empire Hotel!

Certainly the spirit of the man hangs heavily over what remains a grand and confident building of its time.

Railside bloomers.

Railside bloomers.

Crest Nicholson – the developers who are rapidly transforming Bath’s  Western Riverside from industrial brownfield to a major housing development – are keen to show they care about the older communities nearby and the industrial heritage of the site they are working upon.

western riverside

Some of the first new homes at Western Riverside

Not only have they given £500 to the community group who look after the floral displays at Oldfield Park railway station, but they have even done a nice little YouTube feature explaining what has been going on there since a group of local residents decided to ‘adopt’ the station.

They were led by local independent councillor June Player – who is also this year’s Deputy Mayor of Bath.

It was nine years ago that she finally decided to do something about the state of the local station whose overgrown banks had become something of an eyesore.



What she and her army of volunteers have achieved has involved people from the retired to school children and has helped bring a real sense of community spirit.

The  YouTube video – filmed and produced by Alistair Rzeznicki of Bath’s Sunflower Creative Agency – can be viewed here.

Park plot to stay

Park plot to stay

Looks like B&NES have had a change of heart over their original intention to move a vegetable plot feature on the slopes of a Bath public park.

The aptly-called Vegmead Community Group packed out the public gallery at this week’s Council meeting to hear  Honorary Alderman David Dixon question the wisdom of removing a community group from the city’s  Hedgemead Park.


The Vegmead Plot campaigners joined others -protesting against the East of Bath Park and Ride – outside the Guildhall this week. © Joseph Lavington

Quoting the 3000 volunteer hours invested in the site since its inception in 2011, David asked why, in light of a difficult funding climate, this level of community investment would be removed.

Citing the claims made by the Parks Department, that the site didn’t look attractive he stated it was unfair of the Department to have visited the site in February when most green spaces aren’t looking their best.

When asked by a Councillor if he could confirm that Vegmead was staying in Hedgemead Park Tim Warren, Council Leader replied ‘yes’.


The pop up produce stall outside the Bath Guildhall. © Joseph Lavington

Before the meeting began the group set up a pop up produce stall outside the Guildhall and gave away vegetables and fruit to passing members of the public. They were also joined by supporters and spoke to numerous passersby about the Save Vegmead campaign.


The vegetable plot in Hedgemead Park

Vegmead Community Group had received information in the days prior to the meeting that the Council were having a re-think about removing Vegmead, but no direct word from the Council had been received.

In light of this they attended the meeting in person to hear the news first hand. They are awaiting a meeting date from the Council to discuss their plans for Vegmead’s future.


Smiles all round from the Vegmead Community Group – Beth, Tim, Jo, Alastair, Adam, Jon, Tom, Emma, Jodie, Oli, Nat, Helena & Sara © Joseph Lavington

The Council have added a caveat stating that Vegmead can stay if the site is deemed a ‘success’. It’s not yet clear how the Council are defining success at Vegmead but the last seven  weeks of campaigning have proved what a success it already is.

The huge amount of support given to the group since the launch of the campaign 7 weeks ago has been phenomenal. Local newspapers, radio and television have helped raise the campaigns profile.

Seventy seven local people have provided written testimonials of support and community organisations, local businesses, gardening groups and charities have spoken out against the Council’s original decision to move it.