In loving memory.

In loving memory.

While l am pleased B&NES have managed to get the Laura Place foumntain working again, regular followers of Bath Newseum will know l am criticial of this pathetic celebration of the ‘waters of Bath.’

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While the present ‘ashtray’ manifestation is nowhere near as grand as the original fountain of 1877 – at least it’s back in action.

However, it’s taken an exhibition which has just opened at the Museum of Bath Archtecture, to make me realise how that imposing crossroads may have looked very different if a couple of other ideas for that using that spot had come to fruition.

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The exhibition is called ‘Building Memory – the architecture of death and burial in Bath’ but it does look at other commemorative monuments to major events and personalities.

 

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Guests enjoying a preview of the new exhibition.

 

From high Victorian cemeteries through sombre war memorials to a peaceful garden for suffragettes, architecture has the power to commemorate the dead and captivate the living.

The celebration of great lives and commemoration of tragic loss has produced some of Bath’s most individual (and often forgotten) structures and spaces.

 

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A private preview evening of the new exhibition.

 

As we mark the centenary of the end of the First World War and the start of Votes for Women this is something that is examined in the exhibition which explores the architectural language of memory in Bath.

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I came across an illustration of a magnificent column that they actually started to build on the Laura Place site eventually occupied by a fountain.

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The Reform Act Column which would have towered over Great Pulteney Street!

After completion of the main street local residents petitioned and successfully raised significant funds to build a grand column – rather like Nelson’s Column in London –  to mark the passing of the Great Reform Act of 1832.

However, as construction of the column began, the residents realised that the addition would tower over the area – it would be 50% taller than the houses – and so they then petitioned for it to be cancelled.

After some negotiations, the column was pulled down and the much smaller fountain added instead.

Then – more recently –  a sketch for a War Memorial in Laura Place – dating from 1923. The sketch was possibly made by architect Reginald Blomfield when the location of Bath’s war memorial was first being discussed.

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Sorry about the reflection but the sketch is behind glass. It’s the Bath War Memorial that might have replaced the fountain in Laura Place.

From 1918 Blomfield has been the Imperial War Grave Commissions Principal Architect for France, and designed the Menin Gate Memorial at Ypres in Belgium. Blomfiedl created the Cross of Sacrifice, on which he also based his design for the Bath War Memorial.

The exhibition also showed me the original location of the statue of Peace which now stands in Parade Gardens. It’s a memorial to King Edward V11 who died in 1910. A local committee was created to commission a memorial to him.

The king was popularly known as the ‘peacemaker’ due to his work on foreign policy negotiations, and building relationships between Britain and Europe.

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The statue of Peace in Parade Gardens.

By 1914 the committee felt it would be wrong to erect a statue to Peace during a time of war, and the project was postponed. The statue – by Newbury Trent –  was finally installed at Edgar Buildings in September 1919. In 1933 it was moved to Parade Gardens.

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The statue of Peace in its original position outside Edgar Buildings.

The exhibition runs through to November 25th but do click on the museum’s website for details of opening hours and charges. That’s http://museumofbatharchitecture.org.uk

 

 

A statue that looks good enough to eat?

A statue that looks good enough to eat?

Bath is not exactly running a surplus on public sculpture.

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The statue of Queen Victoria at the Victoria Art Gallery.

Apart from Queen Victoria – sitting half way up an art gallery wall – and poor Rebecca getting no more than a dribble from her well – the majority of stone figures surround the Great Bath – the centrepiece of the city’s Roman remains.

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The Rebecca Fountain.

 

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Emperors and Governors at the Roman Bath.

 

However, the wonderful world of commerce is fighting back.

Never mind promoting water, this little fellow welcomes you at the doorway to ‘great food’ – and not far away, a Regency period dressed little lady looks good enough to eat.

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On guard in the name of ‘great food’ eh?

This new kid on the block is promoting the chocolates you can buy inside the shop she welcomes you into, but l wouldn’t suggest trying to bite her.

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A statue that looks good enough to eat!

Tempting though she looks, with her Jane Austen styled appearance, she is NOT made of the edible stuff.

 

Nothing to look up to?

Nothing to look up to?

What is it about Bath and public statues? Pop down the road to Bristol and have a quick look around College Green and the centre by the Bristol Hippodrome. Take a stroll around Queens Square or dodge the traffic to take a peek at what is displayed at the top of Queens Road. You will see example after edifying example of notable figures –  royal, military, mythological or locals who have done well in business, politics or show business – immortalised as public statues.

Queen Victoria on Bristol's College Green.

Queen Victoria on Bristol’s College Green.

Many of these are expensive bronzes, sitting on top of impressive  marble plinths, and there for us to express the emotions of admiration and respect. Past examples of citizens who are still able – beyond the grave – to  lead by example, to inspire and  certainly give us something to look up to.

Queen Victoria on College Green may constantly get her marble fingers broken off and Edward Colston – in the Centre – suffer the indignity of ‘slaver’ written in red paint about his person – but these are familiar examples of street furniture that are still interacted with AND visible – if only to make a political point or entertain vandals.

Edward Colston in Bristol.

Edward Colston in Bristol.

You will find bronzes in Bath but only as name plaques attached above doors to lodgings and other places where notables may have only just popped in for a cup of tea! Fair enough, Thomas Gainsborough the artist did live in the city for many years. Pitt the elder was here for a while – as was a rather reluctant resident called Jane Austen – but the point l am making is why has Bath not celebrated its own celebrities with the full ‘marble monty?’

Queen Victoria's niche at the Victoria Art Gallery

Queen Victoria’s niche at the Victoria Art Gallery

I have only lived here for a year, and may well have missed something, but  – with the exception of Rebecca at her fountain promoting the city’s main liquid resource – l cannot think of a single long-standing statue on a plinth in a public space? There are statues but they all cling to walls or stare down – like potential suicides – from the edge of a roof. Queen Victoria does not exactly get pride of place at the Victoria Gallery. To find her you have to go around the corner and she is half way up a  shade-covered wall. ‘Justice’ is another one of those suicidal sculptures, this time teetering on the edge of the Guildhall – though thankfully held on with an iron bar.

Are we doing 'Justice' justice?

Are we doing ‘Justice’ justice?

Roman generals and Caesars line the Victorian stone ballustrades added to enhance the original and ancient Great Roman Bath but you cannot call that a real public space. Nor would l call them good examples of public sculpture. More stone images – of saints and a king – peer down from the West Front of Bath Abbey and l spotted some allegorical figures in niches on a building in Quiet Street – including what looks like Mercury about to end it all by jumping off the top.

Maybe we have to accept that the two cities had their own individual ways of  publicly expressing themselves. Bristol with its history of self-made men and merchants trying to out-do each other in wealth, impressive residences and patronage. England’s once proud second city out to discover and conquer the world.

Beau Nash in his Pump Room niche.

Beau Nash in his Pump Room niche.

Here in Bath all the effort was in turning the city into a major tourist attraction and providing the facilities for outsiders to find good lodgings within; to be roundly entertained and encouraged to spend, spend and spend. The city then appears to have beoame a giant retirement home while Bristol was busily building ships, railways and planes.

A 'bronze' of Jane Austen.

A ‘bronze’ of Jane Austen.

Outward looking city versus inward looking? Maybe – but in Bath’s case no less a community, displaying no less a talent for enterprise. So l ask, where are the statues to celebrate the men who created that Georgian period of  incredible expansion. Sorry this is not meant to sound sexist. Why aren’t the trees in The Circus felled to make way for  a plinth to support both John Wood – father and son? John the Elder – a son of Bath –  had wanted an equestrian statue for that location anyway.

Meanwhile our illustrious Georgian host Beau Nash, has found immortality of sorts, but don’t we owe him something better than spending eternity on display in another little niche  half way up the wall in the Pump Room?

English: Crane at Floating Harbour, Bristol On...

Yes – Bristol seems to have more of them than we do! Crane at Floating Harbour, Bristol One of four landmark cranes at the waterside,made by Stothert & Pitt, in Bath, 1951 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Bristol, of course, now celebrates its industrial as well as its more muted but varied architectural past. Everything from Brunel’s Great Britain to Concorde are on display in the city in which they were built. We at least have a Bath-made  Stothert and Pitt crane on display in our city – down the river-bank  somewhere near Sainsbury’s. The former docklands of Bristol have even more of them ! Ours is a worthy if  less-prominent memorial to a period of  home-grown industrial energy.

The Southgate 'swimmer'.

The Southgate ‘swimmer’.

The only statues on the ground appear to be the street artists who ‘freeze’ in their spray-painted poses to entertain the summer tourists. Though l have to say,  on one corner of the new Southgate Shopping Centre, the first  real plinth has appeared. Upon it – a mixture of classical physique and abstract form celebrating an Olympic swimmer -and no doubt the fading memory that Bath had something to do with hosting some of those competing in the London Olympics of 2013. The torso – unsurprisingly in Bath stone  – has not commanded much respect. It is already looking both scuffed and shabby.

Of course such objects of public display are not cheap. There are ‘organising committee minutes’ a plenty to show us that the Victorians in Bristol often found it difficult to raise funds for their little-bursts-of-public-veneration energy. In the midst of today’s  economic doldrums there won’t be many supporting street art as a sound  financial investment for the future.

Ultimately, I raise this subject to promote debate and argument. It is but a personal opinion and l stand ready to be corrected or supported. Over to you Bath!