Set in stone.

Set in stone.

Almost a year ago l paid my first-ever visit to the Ralph Allen Cornerstone Interpretation Centre – the place that tells the story of the Combe Down stone quarries which basically supplied the material to build the World Heritage city of Bath.



The Ralph Allen Cornerstone Interpretation Centre


This modest museum – on Rock Hall Lane – is named after the man who owned the underground mines and used his own product to build Prior Park – a house that doubled as an advertising billboard as it very publicly showed off what you could do with Bath stone.



There’s more evidence of this industry in the museum than out on the landscape but the Centre has been involved in a project to mark the industry with a modest but rather special memorial.

All the shafts have been filled in as part of a massive operation – which cost £155 million pounds – to stabilise the old workings. There was a real danger the houses above might fall into the voids!

Not much to show for something that provided employment for many and helped build a city. However, last year the museum organised the uncovering of what remains of the top of one of the old shafts on former mining land now known as Firs Field.


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

A survey of the site and an excavation of part of the wall remains was carried out by a team of local young people during the summer of 2017 aided by members of Combe Down Heritage Society, Combe Down Stone Legacy Trust and Friends of Firs Field together with experienced Archaeologists from Cliveden Conservation Workshop.  



Last year’s excavation


Then last month a team from local builders Erwood & Morris got down to conserving the old remains. 


Artist Jeni Wood’s special insert has arrived ready for fixing.

Using stone donated by Bath Stone Group, the wall was raised and soon coping stones – bearing text about the site – will be carved by students from Bath College to complete the memorial structure. 


The specially-carved World Heritage logo.

It also bears a special insert. A World Heritage site logo cut into a piece of Bath stone by local artist Jeni Wood.


The memorial just needs its coping stones to complete the project.

As well as bringing closure for the community of Combe Down – which many feel is still needed – the aim pof the project is also to encourage interest in this aspect of the heritage of Bath, with Ralph Allen’s stone quarrying centre lying so close as it does to Ralph Allen’s‘show house’ (now Prior Park College), its attached parkland, now National Trust Prior Park Landscape Garden, the Bath Skyline Walk (also National Trust) and close to the route of the open top bus tour of the City.  

It will also serve to draw visitors to Museum of Bath Stone in Combe Road where much more of the local heritage and other items of interest are available to view.

Firs Field has unrestricted public access and is well used by the whole community, from toddlers to teenagers and dog-walkers.

The memorial scheme was initiated by the local Heritage Society a decade ago following the £155 million restoration project, to in-fill the underground voids with foamed concrete, completed in 2010. 

The village, although now secure, has lost virtually all the physical evidence of its stone-quarrying heritage. There is no longer any public access to the mines.  And Bath lost an important part of its Heritage.

Importantly, in addition to substantial financial backing from the World Heritage Enhancement Fund, B&NES Community Empowerment Fund and local Councillors, Bob Goodman and Cherry Beath, there has been a strong local community support with crowdfunding to raise the money to conserve and augment this structure.

It is now widely supported by Combe Down Stone Legacy Trust and community group Friends of Firs Field, plus local business, including Wessex Water.





Bath’s ‘Stone Age’ attraction.

Bath’s ‘Stone Age’ attraction.

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

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

kennet and avon canal

The canal towpath through Bath’s Sydney Gardens.

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

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


The CornerStone museum at Combe Down.

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

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


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

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


Interior of the stone museum

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

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


Preliminary dig in Firs Field

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

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

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

Bert’s blog can be viewed at:

Check out the Ralph Allen CornerStone Museum at





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.

roman baths

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.

laura place fountain

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.


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’.


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.


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.

patients report

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.


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.


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.


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.

Screen Shot 2017-03-20 at 19.57.55

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.’


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.’


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 or – because there are server issues at the moment – try







‘Prior’ engagement for John Wood

‘Prior’ engagement for John Wood

Two of Bath’s most illustrious characters from its Georgian past were brought to life last week-end ( Saturday,July 5th) to help

L to 2 Ralph Allen (Pavel Douglas) Georgian Lady (Sara Bird) and John Wood (Ric Jerrom)

L to R Ralph Allen (Ric Jerrom) Georgian Lady (Sara Bird) and John Wood (Pavel Douglas)


celebrate two important events in the city’s history.

History graduate Sara Bird dressed in Georgian attire in order to meet Bath’s famous quarry-owner and socialite Ralph Allen – portrayed by actor Ric Jerrom – and his architect John Wood the Elder – recreated here by actor Pavel Douglas.

Sally Helvey – who sent in this report – tells me they had a lively conversation in which Mr Allen was extolling the virtues of ‘Bath Stone’ – with which Prior Park was built in 1742 as a show-piece – and Miss Bird was quick to give her half-penneth worth!

The event, which was open to the public and held at the National Trust’s Prior Park Landscape Garden, celebrated 250 years since Ralph Allen died, and 300 years since the beginning of the Georgian period.

Sara had a wonder around the grounds with me and we came across an authentic group of estate workers at their trades, including a scyther doing his thing in front of the stunning Palladian-style bridge which span the lakes at the bottom of the park.

Head Gardener Matthew Wood at work with a scythe!

Head Gardener Matthew Ward at work with a scythe!

All the National Trust staff dressed up for this event to look authentic for the occasion, and at one point the scyther Matthew Ward – who is Head Gardener no less – was spotted having to pull his stockings up!

The outfits were supplied by the Bath Theatrical Costume Hire Company.

Our Virtual Museum ‘reporter’ Sally Helvey is also a Trustee of the Cleveland Pools Trust and tells me that actors Ric Jerrom (aka Ralph Allen) and Pavel Douglas (aka John Wood) work for the Natural Theatre Company and the Cleveland Pools Trust will be asking if them if they would impersonate some of this unique venue’s own historical characters from bygone years for its own bicentenary celebrations next year.

The Cleveland Pools is the UK’s only surviving Georgian open-air Lido and it is due to be fully restored within the next 18 months, depending on whether the trustees are successful in acquiring Heritage Lottery Funding this summer. The wait is still on.

For more details, look up:

Historic Huntsman back in business.

Historic Huntsman back in business.

The Huntsman Pub

The Huntsman Pub

Bath gets ready to welcome back The Huntsman pub into its drinking fold.

The historic building – in front of Ralph Allen’s classic townhouse – was once a Georgian Coffee House. Along with the Crystal Palace on Abbey Green – recently refurbished – and The Boater just off Laura Place – the pub has been bought by Fuller’s  Brewery.

It’s a Grade ll listed building with the oldest shop-front in the city – dating back to 1680.

The ornate canopied side-entrance to The Huntsman

The ornate canopied side-entrance to The Huntsman

Now the outside has been cleaned and restored there is time to admire the amazing ornate porch canopy to the side. Doors open to drinkers tomorrow – Wednesday, November 27th.

Pop-up Apres Ski outside the Abbey Hotel.

Pop-up Apres-Ski outside the Abbey Hotel.

Just across the way the Abbey Hotel is getting it’s pop-up Apres-Ski Bar ready for joining in the festive fun. It’s a fair-sized wooden chalet which has been set up on the pavement outside the hotel.

Faded glory

Faded glory

Several Bathonians played important roles in the development of our modern postal system but before l give credit to them l want to let one Virtual Museum follower express his feelings about the state of a familiar postal object we pass every day on our streets.

One lonely and faded  letter-box!

One lonely and faded letter-box!

‘Go to the red post box, which is in the London Road, just up from the traffic lights at Cleveland Bridge – up towards the mini-roundabout at the section of London Road and Walcot Street, ‘ says Tony Howell.

‘ Take your camera with you, and look at the front of the post box. It is an utter disgrace. The paint has faded, it has peeled/is peeling off, the box is covered in green mould, and there is a plastic bag stuffed between the stamp machine and the box. It sums up eloquently what is wrong with Britain today.’

The pillar post-box on the London Road

The pillar post-box on the London Road

Well – as you can see from the images l have recorded – l did. The box is very faded and damaged. It’s attached stamp-dispenser is also in a sorry state.
The pillar is embossed with the letters ‘GR’ which means it can be dated to no later than 1952 – the year George VI died – and one hundred years after the first pillar box was erected in Jersey in 1852.
Embossed with 'GR'

Embossed with ‘GR’

You can find out much more about post boxes and Bath’s connections with the postal system by visiting – a website which will also tell you where the museum is in the city and when it is open.

Henry the Eighth is credited with inventing the postal system with the appointment of a Master of the Posts in 1516.  This job title became the Postmaster General in 1710.
Ralph Allen (1719-1763) was a Cornishman who became Postmaster of Bath and then developed and expanded Britain’s postal network. He organised mail coaches  – some provided by Williams and Company of Bath – and made enough money to buy up the stone mines around Bath – just as the Georgian building boom was taking off.

Then there is John Palmer (1742-1818) theatre owner and the man who introduced efficient mail-coach delivery services in Great Britain during the late 18th century. Our Mr Palmer was a local brewer who had inherited his father’s theatre in Old Orchard Street and then bought up the Theatre Royal in Bristol. His fast coaches also used to carry actors between the two venues.

The stamp dispenser has taken a battering

The stamp dispenser has taken a battering

John Palmer was twice Mayor of Bath and once the city’s MP. He is buried in Bath Abbey.
None of this of course helps the plight of that poor old letter box on the London Road. Today Royal Mail has become a public company with shareholders. As of 2013 Royal Mail employs 150,000 permanent staff with an extra 18,000 extra casuals taken on over the Christmas period.
All credit to the ‘postie’ out in all winds and weathers.
As for the letter box. Could we not have ‘adopt a post box’ schemes? Give us the ‘Letterbox Red’ paint and l am sure even our Tony Howell would be a dab-hand with a brush!
History exposed.

History exposed.

Road 'mending' in Upper Borough Walls

Road ‘mending’ in Upper Borough Walls

Bath’s Heritage Manager Tony Crouch has confirmed the reasoning behind wooden blocks being used to create the original Georgian road surface in Upper Borough Walls.

These were briefly exposed by workmen from Bath and North East Somerset’s Highways Department ‘mending’ some bad patches in the road.

Stone and wooden blocks exposed.

Stone and wooden blocks exposed.

One of the workmen told me he had been given to understand that the wooden blocks or setts had been specially laid to reduce the noise – created by passing horse-drawn traffic – affecting patients in the Mineral Water Hospital alongside part of the road.

The ‘Min’ – as the re-named Royal National Hospital for Rheumatic Diseases is now known – is currently under threat of closure.

Tony Crouch who is Heritage Manager for B&NES.

Tony Crouch who is Heritage Manager for B&NES.

Tony told the Virtual Museum:

‘The workman’s explanation of the wooden setts is, I understand, correct. They were laid to deaden the noise of iron carriage wheels, both here and by public subscription in the some of the more up-market Bath set pieces.

I believe they were of Jarrah wood, a hard Eucalyptus shipped from Australia.  The setts were phased out, partly because although they suppressed noise, they also soaked up horse pee and smelt to high heaven in the summer!’

The 'MIn'

The ‘MIn’

You may also like to know that the old Mineral Water Hospital – which was was the country’s first national hospital – houses its own museum which showcases the building’s medical history, art and artefacts in relation to the hospital’s importance in relation to Bath’s history since its establishment in 1738.

Beau Nash, John Wood the Elder, artist William Hoare and quarry-owner Ralph Allen are amongst the historical figures who have ties with the hospital.IMG_4211

The Museum is open every Monday from 2 to 4 pm or by appointment. For more information email or telephone 01225-465697 ex 278.