Bath’s Viking history.

Bath’s Viking history.

Today l came face to face with a small – but important – part of Bath’s history.

It lies encased in shaped polystyrene – and stored in the vaults of the Roman Baths Museum – but this is not a relic from the city’s imperial past – nor an object from its Georgian period.

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The black patina finish still has a sheen.

It’s a well-preserved tenth-century Scandinavian-styled sword and was found after excavations in front of what’s left of the town wall in Upper Borough Walls back in 1981.

This high-status Viking weapon was expensively made from crucible steel but ended up dumped in a ditch outside Bath’s Saxon wall.

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The handle is believed to have been wound with silver thread.

Had it been kept as an heirloom, stolen and hidden or lost in a skirmish between Danish raiders and Anglo Saxons.

Once upon a time a replica was displayed near what remains on the city wall but now both lie hidden. We have a glorious museum to set off our wonderful Roman Baths and are surrounded by splendid Georgian architecture but there is not a Museum of Bath to display treasures that don’t fit into tourist-driven visible history.

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The inscription reads ‘Ulfbehrt made me’ n Latin. Did it come from one of the finest workshops of early medieval Germany or was it made in England?

Maybe one day the Viking sword will have a more visible resting place but do click on the link below to hear Roman Baths Collections Assitant Zofia Matyjaszkiewicz tell us why the sword is dated to the Viking period. She is holding a replica of the real sword which rests beside her on the table.

 

Chairmens’ lodges sold for £159,000.

Chairmens’ lodges sold for £159,000.

The last two Georgian-built ‘Chair Attendants’ Lodges’ still standing in Bath are reported to have fetched £159,000 at auction.

The West and East Sedan Chair Houses, which are thought to have been built in the 1730s, were sold by Bath & North East Somerset Council, one for £81,000 and the other for £79,000.

The buildings, which were built by the noted architect John Wood the Elder in Queen’s Parade Place, are single storey and measure just 100 square feet apiece.

Councillor Charles Gerrish, (Conservative, Keynsham North), Cabinet Member for Finance and Efficiency, said: “The council has a policy of continually reviewing its properties and these were not part of its heritage estate.

Although these are unusual and historic buildings, they had only a very low rental income and are were not easily lettable because of their size and lack of essential facilities.

Capital receipts generated from the sale of the properties will be re-invested into the Council’s portfolio.  Because the buildings protected by Grade II-listed, any future development by their new owners would have to be in accordance with statutory listing regulations. ”

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The square-shaped little stone buildings – complete with their original Georgian chimneys – are in Queen’s Parade Place. They have been sold for commercial use.

They were built in 1734 – by John Wood the Elder – as places for sedan chairmen to rest between carrying fare-paying passengers in the city’s first taxis service.Screen Shot 2017-10-27 at 16.07.52

They were auctioned by Savills with a guide price of around £25,000 each.

 

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West Sedan Chair House

The properties are Grade 11 listed which means – while the interiors can be modified – the exterior facades will have to remain pretty much the same.

John Wood – and his son John – were responsible for some of Bath’s crowning architectural set-pieces including Queen Square, The Circus and the Royal Crescent.

Putting Sydney Gardens out to grass.

Putting Sydney Gardens out to grass.

Let me start by saying that l know the guys from the city’s parks department do a great job – with ever-decreasing funds – but it’s a fact of life that more time and effort is going to go into somewhere like Parade Gardens than a recreational space further away from the main tourist trail.

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Sydney Gardens displaying its autumnal glory.

Sydney Gardens is an historic, former Georgian Vauxhall that is full of mature trees currently crowned in autumnal glory.

You may know that  an application for a major HLF grant is currently being prepared that would help invigorate the space and equip it for life as a contemporary park to be enjoyed by all.

That’s a convoluted way of saying that – however much money they throw at it – it won’t be restored to anything like the way it originally was because life and society has changed.

While the city waits for some good news about a grant the gardens continue to deteriorate.

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Grass tracks show where the mower has been.

The grass now gets cut by the mowing team whose machines go from park to park. I have noticed there is no great attention to detail in some places.

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Not all the grass has been mown. Nothing seems to be done by hand any more. Note the squashed doggy poo bag!

Here is where the mower has been and a lot of the grass seems to have escaped the knife.

They have got rid of the permanent ‘park keeper’ who kept an eye on things and gave the gardens the benefit of a ‘personal touch.’

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A roof garden is taking hold at the temple.

The roof of the temple is weed bound and boundary walls are crumbling.

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The edging to the retaining wall beside the top steps has crumbled away.

Maybe Bathonians should roll up their sleeves and take charge. Silly me – doesn’t that involve taking pride in our community?

A temple of convenience.

A temple of convenience.

Bath’s Sydney Gardens has a long and illustrious history.

Laid out as commercially-run 18th century pleasure grounds –  in which even Jane Austen herself would have strolled – the site was taken over by the old Bath City Council in 1908 and opened to the public.

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The main driveway through Sydney Gardens. 

These days – as we live in an age of austerity – the park has an air of faded glory.

It certainly needs some ‘TLC’ – which hopefully will come as a result of Heritage Lottery funding. An application for nearly four million pounds will be going in next year.

If successful – according to the B&NES website – ‘The funding will be used to restore historic buildings, invest in landscape and garden restoration works, and create new play areas for all ages, over a three year programme (2019 – 21).

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Winter sunshine in Sydney Gardens

Alongside the works, a programme of events and activities around art, nature, horticulture, wildlife, play, sport, archaeology and history will be put on.

The project will celebrate the fascinating history of the gardens, with its Cosmorama, Labyrinth, Merlins Swing, Concerts, Public Breakfasts, Galas and Illuminations.’

Someone who takes a keen interest in all this is Kirsten Elliott – a  local author and historian – who also gives guided walks around the city’s parks.

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Kirsten Elliott – author and local historian.

She’s excited about one particular original feature – added when the Council bought the old Georgian ‘Vauxhall’ – but until now hidden and forgotten in the overgrown bushes.

It’s what celebrity author (Lady) Lucinda Lambton – who writes about architecture – would describe as a ‘temple of convenience.’ A cast-iron Edwardian ladies loo.

Kirsten took Bath Newseum along to have a look.

These days Bath’s public loos have been taken over by a private company who provide ‘well-maintained’ facilities that are accessed via a 20 pence piece.

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The existing facilities in Sydney Gardens

We have come a long way since the days of ‘spending a penny’ haven’t we. Out of interest, l can explain where that description of the ‘call of nature’ came from.

It’s all to do with the Great Exhibition – the world’s first trade fair – which opened in Joseph Paxton’s amazing Crystal Palace in 1851.

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The Great Exhibition © Wikipedia

 

Over six million people visited so it was, with some relief l am sure, that the exhibition also featured the UK’s first paid-for flushing toilet when visitors spent one penny to experience a clean toilet seat, a towel, a comb and a shoe shine.

Records show that 675,000 pennies were spent!

That chandelier moment!

That chandelier moment!

Twice a year the very expensive Georgian crystal glass chandeliers at the Assembly Rooms are lowered towards the floor for cleaning and maintenance.
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The chandeliers in the Ballroom in their lowered position.

They are amongst the most important to have survived from the 18th century. The five in the ballroom and three in the Tea Room are by William Parker of Fleet Street.
It’s always been the same operation. Though we change light bulbs rather than candles.
Originally those little wax fed flames were capable of giving seven hours service for a ball – leaving four hours burning time for a concert.
Today’s illuminators last a little longer!
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Looking towards the Ballroom.

Jonathan Collett made an earlier set for the Ballroom but, one month after the opening in 1771, an arm collapsed – nearly hitting artist Thomas Gainsborough. They were dismantled and salvaged to form a single chandelier in the Octagon – to illuminate the card players!
A museum without a home?

A museum without a home?

Bath has plenty of museums to celebrate and explore its Roman, Georgian and Victorian pasts but – until quite recently – nothing to reflect its important role as a medical hub.

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The Great Roman Bath – full of the city’s famous thermal water.

The city’s thermal waters have helped create and shape its history, with an emphasis on their health-giving qualities and their role in soothing the minds and bodies of the many who have come – over the centuries – in search of a cure for their ailments.

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Fountain in Laura Place

Their use – whether by Romans or Georgians – has left its mark in archaeological ruins and fine 18th-century architecture – which together has helped Bath gain its World Heritage status.

Both periods are well represented in award-winning museums but the medical side of things has never been singled out for special attention. That is – until quite recently.

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In a much-loved building – which itself played an important role in the city’s social history –  a group of volunteers has established the Bath Medical Museum.

At its core is a remarkable collection of artefacts which tell the history of ‘The Min’. Opened in 1742, it was the first national hospital which took patients from all over the UK. The idea behind its construction was to provide access to treatment in the thermal waters of Bath for the ‘sick poor from Britain and Ireland’.

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Opened in 1742, it was the first national hospital which took patients from all over the UK. The idea behind its construction was to provide access to treatment in the thermal waters of Bath for the ‘sick poor from Britain and Ireland’.

In order to cover the cost of sending patients home when their treatment was finished, providing necessary clothing, or burying them if they died, a sum of money (caution money) had to be deposited with the Registrar on admission.

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At first, the patients were taken to and from the Corporation Baths for treatment. They wore brass badges (a number of which are still in existence at the Hospital) giving their ward and the number of their bed.

These badges were a `ticket of admission’ to the Corporation Baths. They were also to prevent patients entering public houses and coming back the worse for drink. The Inn Keepers were instructed not to serve patients and risked losing their licence if they did.

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Details of some of the patients who passed through the hospital.

 

A book of patients’ records, the brass badges and even a sedan chair to carry patients with gout bandaged legs are amongst the items on display.

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People like Ralph Allen – who gave his quarry stone for free – and John Wood Senior – who designed the hospital – have left their signatures in the hospital’s books.

The museum – run by many volunteers who are still out-patients at what is now the Royal National Hospital for Rheumatic Diseases – is getting itself charitable trust status and hoping to extend its medical collection – but there is one BIG problem.

The building is now a NHS Trust but its world-renowned facilities are due to move to a new centre to be purpose-built at the Royal United Hospital.

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The proposed new building to be built at the Royal United Hospital site.

This means the old Grade 2* listed building is up for sale and could end up as a hotel, department store, offices or restaurant – leaving the Bath Medical Museum without a home.

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Amongst the volunteers running the medical museum are (L to R) Mel Brooke, Alyson Leeds, and Dr Roberta Anderson.

Bath Newseum spoke to the museum’s Project Director, Dr Roberta Anderson, and asked her why she thought the museum was so important.

 

The property is being marketed by GVA and their Bristol-based Senior Regional Director, Gordon Isgrove, told me:

‘We are currently in the middle of the tendering exercise so there is not a huge amount I can say. I can confirm that we moved the tender deadline out a little from the original set date (which was 26th April) and we received a number of tenders on the 11th May.

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As you would expect for such a prime property, interest was strong and we are reviewing a number of the offers proposals and hope to be in a position to progress the sale forward once we have completed our review over the next 6 weeks.

In relation to price, there was no formal guide price and I can’t comment given the commercially sensitive stage we are at.’

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The facade of the original building. An extension was added in 1860.

Meanwhile, Howard Jones, Strategic Estates Advisor for the Royal United Hospitals Bath NHS Foundation Trust, said:

 “We are working with our appointed agents on the sale of the RNHRD and are confident that the outcome will be positive, allowing us to further improve services we will provide for patients at the new RNHRD and Therapies Centre at the RUH.

We continue to work with volunteers who have set up the Bath Medical Museum charity, and are loaning them artefacts for ongoing display in the museum’s eventual new home.’

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Opening days and times.

Where that new home will be is anyone’s guess. I have heard other museums have been to inspect what The Min has to offer. Could this be a real Museum of Bath at last? One that could incorporate several individual museums under one roof?

Money would – no doubt – be the deciding factor.

You can check out Bath’s Medical Museum via www.bathmedicalmuseum.org or – because there are server issues at the moment – try https://visitbath.co.uk/things-to-do/bath-medical-museum-p2118253

 

 

 

 

 

 

Names on a Bath stone wall.

Names on a Bath stone wall.

This is the sad and neglected Georgian building in Broad Street that was – for over two hundred years – a bustling school.

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The old King Edward’s School.

It was built in 1754 to house King Edward’s School and in use through to  1990 when the last of the pupils still based there left to  join their already relocated colleagues in a move to the school’s new 14 acre North Road site.

Since then the Grade 11• listed property in the city centre has remained empty. Sold for development – plans to turn it into an hotel or pub/restaurant have so far come to nothing.

The building remains on the ‘Heritage at Risk Register’ though repair work to the roof has at least reduced the risk to the property.

Recently, I was in the car park behind York Buildings and could see the side of the old school wall above the boundary wall of the parking lot.

Etched into its surface – in very neat carved writing – are the names of various people and a range of early 20th century dates alongside them.

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The side wall of the old school building.

Are these former pupils with the dates of their time at the school alongside their names? Or maybe teachers who taught in this building?

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A closer look at some of the names carved into the Bath stone.

Perhaps someone knows more. I am sure a list of pupils from 1900 onwards would help identify some of the names carved in stone.