Spray, splodge and dodge.

Spray, splodge and dodge.

The main pathway up to the front of the Holburne Museum.

The main pathway up to the front of the Holburne Museum.

Followers of the Virtual Museum will know l hate so-called pavement stencils. Messy graffiti that disfigures our historic city. It just looks bad and – as the rain falls and people smudge the outlines – it just gets worse and worse.

How can young people be told not to write on walls when the so-called grown-ups are busy spraying all over the floor??

A closer look at the Holburne graffiti. Click on images to enlarge.

A closer look at the Holburne graffiti. Click on images to enlarge.

This is a World Heritage city. Every bit of it is precious. There is enough rubbish blowing about without this.

Ironically just been watching Reese Witherspoon in the 2004 film version of Vanity Fair – shot at locations in Bath including the Holburne and Great Pulteney Street.

These are backdrops we value for tourist income – don’t spoil them.

It’s not enough to say it’s temporary. It’s the mindset that you think it’s OK to do this in the first place.

The cut back laurel hedge by the canal.

The cut back laurel hedge by the canal.

Meanwhile interested in knowing how people feel about the cutting back of laurel in Sydney Gardens where views of the canal are certainly being opened up. I like it.

The laurel will recover at a more respectable height. It’s all to do with park management. At least for as long as the local council feels it can afford to pay.

The Network Rail barriers in Sydney Gardens are coming down.

The Network Rail barriers in Sydney Gardens are coming down.

Elsewhere in the park the barriers around the railway line that also cuts through this former Georgian pleasure garden are starting to come down at the end of Network Rail’s six-week programme of works ahead of electrification.

Can’t wait to see the designs being considered for the brackets to hold the power cable through this heritage site.

Maybe the whole of Bath might be allowed to vote on them rather than individual organisations.

The puddle-covered towpath into Bath.

The puddle-covered towpath into Bath.

The other path leading into the park is the towpath along the Kennet and Avon Canal. Ironically B&NES has a grant – aimed at encouraging cycling – to spend for the benefit of all users of the towpath. Not everyone likes the cyclists but then not every cyclist likes the dogs that wander freely across their path.

Plans for resurfacing the towpath were put on show at Larkhall on Saturday for people to see and comment upon.

Plans for resurfacing the towpath were put on show at Larkhall on Saturday for people to see and comment upon.

Went to the consultation in Larkhall yesterday where l was told very few people had complained about the proposals.

A steady flow but not exactly the sort of queues Banky’s Dismaland has been getting down at Weston super Mare.

This – of course -is all about consideration for others and a decent path so ALL can enjoy a mud and water free walk or cycle into town.

If you don’t like the bikes then campaign for B&NES to make proper provision for them along the streets of this city. The car is not sacred anymore.

The towpath has an un-enforceable code of conduct which asks cyclists to go slow and dog walkers to use a lead but there is no one to police this or hand out an on-the-spot-fine.

To all speeding cyclists and those without bell or helmet – l say slow down and safety-up. To all dog walkers not using leads l say get your pet under control. While those out with the family must put their mobiles away for long enough to keep an eye on their toddlers.

To all of those who do have consideration for others – thanks and now spread the word.

Seven Dials closure.

Seven Dials closure.

Bath & North East Somerset Council will be carrying out overnight road closures on Monday 7 and Tuesday 8

The 'shared' space at Seven Dials.

The ‘shared’ space at Seven Dials.

September to deliver essential road maintenance in Westgate Buildings and additional road markings in Seven Dials.

The road will be closed at the entry to Westgate Buildings from 7pm each night, re-opening at 5am the following morning.

During the closures, there will be no vehicle access to Westgate Buildings or Monmouth Street from James Street West. Pedestrian access will be maintained at all times.

Vehicles will still be able to access Saw Close via Westgate Street and Kingsmead Square via New Street and the upper section of Monmouth Road will be accessible from Princes Street.

Councillor Anthony Clarke (Conservative, Lansdown), Bath & North East Somerset Council’s Cabinet Member for Transport, said: “The overnight road closures are essential to the ongoing improvement work to this area of Bath. This new administration is committed to making it easier for residents, businesses and visitors to get around Bath.”

Seven Dials, incorporating Kingsmead Square and Saw Close, is the historic west gate of Bath the city where seven routes met and lies to the west of the city’s main thoroughfare. Work to improve the public space in Seven Dials has recently been completed as part of an ongoing package of pedestrian and cycling improvements.

Box, Bath and Brunel.

Box, Bath and Brunel.

Bath Spa Station.

Bath Spa Station.

At 5.41 am tomorrow – Tuesday, September the First – a train is due to leave Bath Spa for Chippenham.

Not only will it be the first train movement of the day on this Bristol to London line but the first to make the journey up the track – and through Box Tunnel – since Network Rail closed this part of the rail route to the east six weeks ago.

That’s the time they were giving contractors to lower

New ballast arriving in Sydney Gardens.

New ballast arriving in Sydney Gardens.

sections of the track and renew drains, ballast and a lot of actual railway as part of the multi-billion electrification scheme that will see new faster and cleaner rolling stock ferrying passengers to and fro from the capital on what was Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s Great Western Railway line.

That's me on the left chatting to Consultant Civil Engineer John Buxton.

That’s me on the right chatting to Consultant Civil Engineer John Buxton.

Yesterday l was allowed on to that closed section where – suitably outfitted as a temporary member of the ‘orange army’ – the highly visible colour of the safety clothes they wear – l was able to walk into what was once – at nearly two miles in length – the longest tunnel in the world.

The clothing, steel re-inforced boots and hard hat are all part of the modern-day safety requirements demanded to work on such a  potentially dangerous site where – although the line is closed to passenger traffic – various line and ballast laying machinery is still trundling up and down.

Construction workers pose for a

Construction workers pose for a “Brunel shot” as a tribute to the original engineer.

From what is known as the Shockerwick Compound – after being kitted out and sitting through a ‘safety presentation’ – l was driven down to Box. Leaving behind me a real feeling amongst these engineers that the job was coming to an end.

One of the senior site officials, Andy Musgrave – complete with stove pipe hat and smoking cigar – lined up in front of his friends and working colleagues for an ‘end of term’ group photo.

It’s been a tough job to complete on schedule but you cannot help thinking of how much tougher it must have been for the men and animals that actually blasted the Box Tunnel – and its little Middle Hill companion – out of the rock at Box.

It was going to be a long and hot trudge along the newly laid ballast towards the two tunnels.

It was going to be a long and hot trudge along the newly laid ballast towards the two tunnels.

Trudging towards the tunnels – across newly-laid ballast – was like trying to walk in heavy boots across Brighton’s pebble beach but there was plenty to see to take your mind off the journey.

I had Network Rail’s consultant John Buxton for company – he has his own civil engineering consultancy company (Cambrian Transport Ltd) and has known Box Tunnel for many years – stretching back to the days of British Rail.

Re-erecting some of the sound deadening fencing that had been blown over.

Re-erecting some of the sound deadening fencing that had been blown over.

We passed some of the barriers that had been erected to try to muffle the noise of operations and where the wind had blown down a section which the contractors were now re-erecting – and on past the remains of Box Station – a little white-painted Victorian building at the side of the track.

The old Box Station building.

The old Box Station building.

It was a short walk through the Middle Hill tunnel. It’s only 198 yards long but its entrance portals are pretty impressive – though l was getting a better view than a passenger in a hi-speed train would have!

The Bath-stone clad entrance are richly carved and the tunnel flanked by pilasters decorated with fasces – an architectural feature derived from the bundle of rods carried before a high-ranking Roman magistrate.

The tunnel through Middle Hill showing the fasces either side of the portal entrance.

The tunnel through Middle Hill showing the fasces either side of the portal entrance.

According to rail and local historian Andrew Swift in his fascinating book “The Ringing Grooves of Change” this may have been a subliminal Brunel message.

Says Andrew: “If Brunel was aware of the derivation of the motif, he may have been indulging in a sophisticated architectural joke here, decorating the tunnel leading to the great Box Tunnel with the symbol of something carried before a dignitary.’

Box Hill though was the biggest obstacle on the route to London and one Brunel decided he would tunnel through.

It was constructed between September 1836 and June 1841. Between 1100 and 4,000 men were employed on the job – and around one hundred of them would die working on it.

Inside the tunnel.

Inside Box Tunnel. Click on images to enlarge.

More than three  hundred horses laboured – many walking around in circles – drawing the excavated material to the surface through numerous shafts that had been sunk along the line of the proposed tunnel.

A ton of dynamite and a ton of candles was used every week while something like 247,000 cubic yards of stone was removed.

Some of it no doubt used to create the impressive ‘triumphant’ archways erected at both the west and east entrances to the tunnel.

Brunel was not the first to tunnel in that hill – Bath stone – oolite limestone – was being worked in underground quarries beside the route he chose through this mighty obstacle on his iron road to London.

It was the quarry workers he called in to help him with his tunnelling and even built a smaller tunnel under his tunnel for them. Part of the deal was to allow the stone works to continue in the hill on the other side of the track – though they never in fact went this far and the ‘subway’ has now been filled in.

Those stone quarry tunnels became an aircraft factory during the war and a proposed refuge for government and Royal Family in the event of a nuclear war.

There were no lights in the tunnel in Brunel's day!

There were no lights in the tunnel in Brunel’s day!

It was a very weird feeling to be standing in the middle of this train tunnel and at a point where l could see light in the distance coming through the East portal towards London.

John told me Network Rail had only had to reduce the track level nearest the east entrance – athough ballast and track had been replaced. The line is now even straighter than it was in Brunel’s day.

The tunnel was dug wider than it might have needed to be because of Brunel’s broad gauge lines – but at least it’s given modern-day engineers more room to play with.

The tunnel is 30 feet wide and varies in height from 25 to nearly 40 feet. You have something like 300 feet of hill above your head at its deepest point.

Part of the sensor equipment to check for movement.

Part of the sensor equipment to check for movement.

John showed me sensors that had been installed to check on movement during the work and also we stood beneath one of the ventilation shafts Brunel had installed to take fumes out of the tunnel. There is still plenty of soot lining the walls from the age of steam.

Looking up around 150 feet through one of the ventilation shafts.

Looking up around 150 feet through one of the ventilation shafts.

There are six ventilation shafts but many more hidden shafts which were dug by Brunel’s men to check the geological composition of the hill and also so they could excavate out at either side of the bottom of these bore holes.

Some parts of the tunnel were left as bare rock but around 30 million locally-made bricks were used elsewhere on  lining this subterranean route.

The east portal is just visible in the distance!

The east portal is just visible in the distance!

You can imagine the horror on the faces of passengers entering this dark and smoke-filled tunnel in the early days of the Great Western Railway.

It must have felt like a gate to hell for those sitting in carriage with no lights and – of course – third class sitting in open wagons.

There were those who thought you were sure to suffocate or be crushed by a cave in. Many got off at Box and into carriages to take them around to the other side of the tunnel to catch the next train passing through.

It’s remarkable that something built so long ago should still be in ‘active service’ today!

Once out in sunshine again l had a chance to ask John exactly what work had been carried out here.

The canal as it passes through Sydney Gardens.

The canal as it passes through Sydney Gardens.

My visit to Box Tunnel was followed by a trip to Sydney Gardens in the centre of Bath – the last remnant of a Georgian pleasure garden or Vauxhall. In its time it’s been crossed by two forms of transport regarded as cutting-edge technology in their day.

The line of the Kennet and Avon Canal  ( John Rennie 1799) was the first thing to truncate the pleasure gardens. Followed in1841 by Brunel’s Great Western Railway.

Both engineers though had sought to make features of their transport routes where they crossed the park.

Where you could watch the trains passing by.

Where you could watch the trains passing by.

In Brunel’s case he shaped the land so the park was like the auditorium of a theatre where people could watch his marvellous steam engines hurtle in from the wings and cross a ‘stage’ before disappearing out of sight on their way to London Paddington.

The big fear now has been that all that accessibility would disappear once high voltage has to be strung along the side of the track.

Bath passengers get their railway back next month but there will be more disruption to come this year and next as the poles for the power cable are gradually erected down the line.

Seems Sydney Gardens now won’t get a sloping ditch but some sort of barrier on top or or alongside the existing wall. This has yet to be agreed with B&NES. I think Brunel would have loved all of this ‘upgrading’ of his line. You could almost smell his cigar!

Heritage Open Day venues around Bath

Heritage Open Day venues around Bath

heritage open daysResidents and visitors are being given the chance to explore parts Bath and North East Somerset they would normally never get to see.

As part of the national Heritage Open Days initiative, Bath & North East Somerset Council is promoting open days at a series of venues between September 10 and 13.

Councillor Patrick Anketell-Jones (Conservative, Lansdown), the Council’s Cabinet Member for Economic Development, said: “This is a huge opportunity for local people and visitors to discover – free of charge – the hidden treasures we have in our area and enjoy a wide range of tours, events and activities that bring local history and culture to life.”

Some of the venues taking part in leaflet available from B&NES.

Some of the venues taking part in leaflet available from B&NES. Click on images to enlarge.

The following venues are taking part in Heritage Open Days: Southcot Burial Ground; Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution; Central United Reformed Church; Cleveland Pools; Fairfield House; The Chapel of St Michael at St John’s Hospital; Union Chapel; Jewish Burial Ground; Prior Park Landscape Garden; Midsomer Norton Station; Saltford Brass Mill, Pixash Lane Archaeology Store; St Swithin’s Church; Kier Recycling Depot, Keynsham; No.4 The Circus, The Magdalen Chapel; Nexus Methodist Church; St John’s Local History Store.

These are just some of the events taking place:

Friday 11, Saturday 12 and Sunday 13 September, 2pm – 5pm

Cleveland Pools.

Cleveland Pools.

Cleveland Pools, Bath BA2 6QS

Bath’s unique Georgian open air public lido, the oldest in the country. Remember how it was and imagine how it could be when restored.

The Pixash Lane stores at Keynsham.

The Pixash Lane stores at Keynsham.

Saturday September 12

The Kier Recycling Depot at Keynsham is also offering people a chance to go behind the scenes and see what happens to all the recycling collected by the Council. There are four free tours, which will run 10-11am, 11am-12pm, 12pm-1pm and 1pm-2pm Places on the guided-only tours are limited and must be booked in advance by calling Council Connect on 01225 394041. Children under 16 must be accompanied by an adult.

Saturday 12 and Sunday 13 September, 10.30am – 4.30pm

Somerset and Dorset Railway Heritage Trust at Midsomer Norton Station,

The historic Jewish Cemetery at Combe Down in Bath.

The historic Jewish Cemetery at Combe Down in Bath.

Transport Heritage Weekend with examples of old transport. Trains will be running over weekend at extra charge.

Sunday 13 September, 11am – 3.30pm

Southcot Burial Ground Open Day, Widcombe

Bath Preservation Trust owns and manages this hidden oasis in the centre of Bath, a haven for wildlife and history. Dr Tony Walter, Director of the Centre for Dead and Society, at the University of Bath will give talks at 11.30am and 2.30pm.

Sunday 13 September

Cycle Ride with Sustrans Volunteer Rangers

Meet at 10am at Orange Grove

Join local rangers for a 25 mile ride along Sustrans routes, visiting local heritage sites. Under 18s must be accompanied by an adult.

Full details of all the other events can be found here www.bathnes.gov.uk/heritageevents or you can call 01225 477 773.

Putting Kurt Jackson in his Place.

Putting Kurt Jackson in his Place.

Artist Kurt Jackson © YouTube

Artist Kurt Jackson © YouTube

Acclaimed British artist Kurt Jackson has collaborated with a diverse group of contemporary writers for his latest exhibition, and accompanying book, Place.

The show opens at the Bath & North East Somerset Council-run Victoria Art Gallery on October 10.

Each writer was asked to contribute text about their favourite location in Britain. Jackson then visited each location – including Worthy Farm (Glastonbury Festival), Bristol docks and Bath, as well as islands, mountains, Spaghetti Junction, suburbs, beaches, Paddington Station and a Welsh estuary – to create works for the show.

Kurt Jackson's accompanying book on Place.

Kurt Jackson’s accompanying book on Place.

The exhibition will feature each writer’s text alongside Jackson’s response to their chosen location.

Kurt Jackson said: “Over the last 30 years as my working practice has evolved, I have become more and more conscious that I need a reason for visiting a location for my work to happen there. For this project, I turned my normal methods upside down and looked for a way to relinquish control and to funnel new sources into my working practice. I decided to ask other people for their own choice of a preferred location, with them choosing where to ‘send’ me to make work at their own personal place within Britain.”

Bristol Docks as painted by Kurt Jackson. © Kurt Jackson

Bristol Docks as painted by Kurt Jackson. © Kurt Jackson

Councillor Patrick Anketell-Jones (Conservative, Lansdown), the Council’s Cabinet Member for Economic Development, said: “This exhibition gives a fascinating view of Britain, including Bath and the surrounding areas, through the eyes of Kurt Jackson and an eclectic array of writers. Bath & North East Somerset residents will be able to see the exhibition for free when they show a Discovery Card.”

Glastonbury Festival founder Michael Eavis is one of the 32 writers who have contributed text to the show.

 Scorcher-femi-kuti-on-the-pyramid-stage-Glastonbury-2010 © Kurt Jackson


Scorcher-femi-kuti-on-the-pyramid-stage-Glastonbury-2010 © Kurt Jackson

He will open the exhibition for Jackson, who is also the Glastonbury Festival Artist in Residence. Among the other contributors are charity directors, musicians, professors, journalists, authors and poets.

To complement the main exhibition, a group of smaller paintings of Glastonbury has been specially selected by Jackson and will be offered for sale in support of Greenpeace, of which he is a long-time supporter.

Jackson works with paint, mixed media, sculpture, printmaking and film, and the idea of ‘place’ has always been essential to his working practice. The Victoria Art Gallery has hosted two Kurt Jackson exhibitions over the past 10 years: ‘Two Woods’ and ‘River Avon’.

For further information contact www.kurtjackson.com

Related events:
Talk by Kurt Jackson. Saturday 10 October, 11.30am-12.30pm. Free to Discovery Card and ticket holders.
In: Visible Place. Australian artist Merilyn Faireskye in conversation with Anita Taylor, Dean of Bath School of Art & Design. Saturday 31 October, 4.45pm-6pm. Tickets £6/£5 concessions.
The Victoria Art Gallery is run by Bath & North East Somerset Council. Opening times are Tuesday – Saturday 10am – 5pm, Sunday 1.30 – 5pm, closed Mondays. Telephone 01225 477233; website www.victoriagal.org.uk

Documenting the old Destructor.

Documenting the old Destructor.

The old Destructor Bridge.

The old Destructor Bridge.

People using the towpath on the Upper Bristol Road side of the River Avon and where it passed under the old Destructor Bridge should be warned that access will be lost from September 21st.

That’s when contractors get down to the serious business of excavating to provide bank supports for the new pedestrian and cycle bridge that is going to be strung across the River Avon at this point .

Crest Nicholson – who are developing the Western Riverside – called in local production company Sunflower Film and Creative Agency Limited to produce two films – available on YouTube – which document both the dismantling of the old Destructor Bridge and site preparations for the construction of a new pedestrian and cyclist replacement.

Do follow the links below for Parts 1 & 2.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=82VLckgTIZM

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L-5ygL97jXQ

My thanks to Crest Nicholson and Sunflower for this. Find out more about the local production company on www.sunflowerfca.co.uk

Trains back for September 1st.

Trains back for September 1st.

Running to schedule. Taking up the old ballast through Sydney Gardens.

Running to schedule. Taking up the old ballast through Sydney Gardens. Click on images to enlarge.

You’ll get your railway back on September 1st – that’s still the promise from Network Rail while contractors are hard at work on the closed and – in places – rail-less section of the main line through Bath.

Things are blocked through to Chippenham with Box Tunnel having been the subject of a massive track lowering scheme to enable a power line to pass through as part of  the electrification of the London to Bristol (and beyond) line.

Now – through historic Sydney Gardens – having laid a new drain, the old ballast is being removed and new material brought in and tamped down before the track is re-laid.

Network Rail's Stakeholder Relationship Manager Graeme Monteith answering questions from a member of the Bath public.

Network Rail’s Stakeholder Relationship Manager Graeme Monteith answering questions from a member of the Bath public.

I am told overall – on this section – the track height has been reduced by around a foot.

Just enough to allow the power cable to pass under listed bridges that might otherwise have to be demolished and re-built.

Full marks to Network Rail for putting Stakeholder Relationship Manager Graeme Monteith on duty in the park  this week to answer questions from members of the public watching the work on the track below.

Here's the section running through Sydney Gardens where a proposed sloping ditch might be replaced with a new more decorative barrier.

Here’s the section running through Sydney Gardens where a proposed sloping ditch might be replaced with a new more decorative barrier.

Obviously the next big intervention – and disruption to services – will be when the posts for the power line are put up.

Special curved ones are being prepared for the Sydney Gardens section but have to be approved by B&NES. Let’s hope they don’t waste too much time on it.

I am also hearing that a sloping ditch may now NOT be constructed on the park side of the track.

Instead a decorative fence might be installed to run along the top of the existing and original stone balustrade wall!