Stepping up at Bath Abbey

Stepping up at Bath Abbey


Slowly does it. The narrow spiral staircase that leads to the top of the tower.

Slowly does it. The narrow spiral staircase that leads to the top of the tower.

Climbing 212 steps to the top of Bath Abbey’s 161 foot high tower is a bit of an undertaking but the view – once you are getting your breath back on top – has got to be worth the effort!

This Abbey Church of St Peter and St Paul runs very successful tower tours throughout the year and special mulled-wine fuelled Christmas Market tours at this festive time in December.

Looking down on the nave from on top and across to Parade Gardens.

Looking down on the nave from on top and across to Parade Gardens.

You do get a break in the middle of the climb to admire the roof of the 211 foot long nave – which itself soars 75 feet into the air above the pews inside.

Stopping in the bell chamber with the ropes of the eight bells hanging above our heads.

Stopping in the bell chamber with the ropes of the eight bells hanging above our heads.

There’s also a stop in the ringing chamber to allow your guide to tell you more about how the eight bells are rung.

The old carillon in the ringing chamber.

The old carillon in the ringing chamber.

There’s also the Westminster chime they produce as time keepers to the city and how a simple little electronic mechanism has replaced the massive carillon that used to produce the tunes we sometimes hear coming from the tower as we go about our business beneath.

The little electronic box that does the trick now.

The little electronic box that does the trick now.

Continuing our climb – with a peep through a window at the bells themselves – we are out on the tower’s flat top and admiring the view of the rooftops of the beautiful city of Bath spread out on all sides beneath.

Looking down on the market and Roman Baths

Looking down on the market and Roman Baths

The present Abbey Church was built at the beginning of the 16th century and is one of the largest examples of Perpendicular Gothic in the West-Country.

Increasing more and more tours are ending with marriage proposals at the top end of that 212 step staircase as Holly Doughty explains.









Saying hello to the world.

Saying hello to the world.

Martin on duty as Mr Bennet outside the Jane Austen Centre in Gay Street.

Martin on duty as Mr Bennet outside the Jane Austen Centre in Gay Street.

He might be helping to celebrate the city’s links with the past but Martin Slater – the man who’s been greeting visitors to Bath’s Jane Austen Centre for the past eight years – has been making sure he’s bang-up-to-date when it comes to keeping up with tourism trends.

Martin greeting the late British novelist  PD James.

Martin greeting the late British novelist PD James.

Martin – who makes all his own costumes – is dressed as Mr Bennet – father of Elizabeth Bennet from Jane Austen’s popular novel Pride and Prejudice. It’s the one that features that dashing Mr Darcy.

Martin goes 'walkies' with comedian and impersonator Rory Bremner

Martin goes ‘walkies’ with comedian and impersonator Rory Bremner

Martin with writer and tv presenter Marcel Theroux

Martin with writer and tv presenter Marcel Theroux

Martin’s no stranger to dressing up and often on hand to greet celebrities to the Centre or help them with local events.

Sometimes that involves  appearing in television programmes about Bath too.

Whatever the weather, you’ll often see him on duty at the front of this Gay Street museum – dedicated to one of the most popular novelists in English literature.

Jane spent several years in Bath as she was still living with her parents when her father retired to the city.

Martin in disguise and helping out the Duchess of Cornwall at a Christmas light switch-on! Photo by Sam Farr

Martin in disguise and helping out the Duchess of Cornwall at a Christmas light switch-on! Photo © Sam Farr

Martin is there with a friendly welcome for Jane Austen fans. If he knows the tour operator on a coach outside – stuck in the traffic – he’ll even hop on board and ask for their passports!

Greeting such an international crowd of Austen fans means he’s had to pick up a little of many a foreign language and now – with visitors from much further afield  – his abilities are really being tested.

More on that in a moment but first – the Virtual Museum wanted to know how he came to end up on the doorstep of number 40 Gay Street.







Elected Mayor for Bath and North East Somerset?

Elected Mayor for Bath and North East Somerset?

The office of Mayor of Bath can be traced back to 557AD when the settlement became a Saxon Burgh and a Burgh-Reeve or Governor was appointed.

The current Mayor of Bath, Cllr Cherry Beath.

The current Mayor of Bath, Cllr Cherry Beath.

The title ‘Mayor’ was introduced in 1189 – the first year of the reign of Richard the First and derives from the French ‘Maire’.

These rulers were appointed by the Monarch to administer justice in urban areas.

Today’s Mayor has no real power but is kept busy each year representing the city and supporting the local community.

Ceremonials in Abbey Churchyard

Ceremonials in Abbey Churchyard

Back in Tudor times a charter from Elizabeth the First had confirmed Bath’s city status in its own right with a corporate body of Mayor, Aldermen and Citizens.

The city’s titles were in danger of being lost when local government was restructured in 1974 and Bath became a District within the new County of Avon.

Our present Queen Elizabeth granted new charters to confirm Bath’s status and re-instate the titles of City and Borough.

Not sure where we stand now – with Bath part of Bath and North East Somerset Council – but l do know that a group of citizens have started a campaign to give back real power to a civic leader and appoint an elected mayor.

Collecting signatures in Kingsmead Square

Collecting signatures in Kingsmead Square

Bath hasn’t far to look to see an elected mayor in action. Just down the road in Bristol, George Ferguson – former President of the Royal Institute of British Architects and the man who saved and regenerated part of the old Wills Factory in Bedminster –  governs as their first city boss.

Stephen Taylor is part of a group of nine politically unaffiliated local people out collecting signatures in Bath to a petition which will call upon B&NES to organise a referendum next October to let people decide if they want to change the way the area is governed. But what sort of difference would it make?




Be interested to know what Virtual Museum of Bath followers think about this. The website for those campaigning for a referendum is


Pieroni’s Fountain

Pieroni’s Fountain

Readers looking for something local and original as gifts should check out the website of Bath-based publisher Akeman Press. Run by writers and historians Andrew Swift and Kirsten Elliott, the company has two new books out in time for Christmas, as well as a fine backlist of books of local interest.
SEVERN BEACH LINE WALKS001The first new book, by Andrew Swift, is called Walks from Bristol’s Severn Beach Line. If you want to explore our neighbouring city and its surrounding countryside, this is the way to do it.

No need to worry about parking – just jump on a train to Temple Meads and walk over to find the Severn Beach Line train (usually on Platform 1). Then, with book in hand, you are ready to undertake a series of walks.

They range from shorter city walks, taking in such varied delights as Clifton and Stokes Croft, the industrial past of Lawrence Hill and the mysterious, monumental tombs of Arnos’ Vale cemetery, as well as lost spas and gardens.

Those who prefer the countryside have a choice of much longer walks – one even ventures into Wales as you cross the Severn Bridge on foot – an experience only to be undertaken in fine weather, as Andrew Swift tells us.
There are visits to nature reserves and some of Bristol’s secret places and, as you might expect from a writer who also blogs about beer, plenty of pubs to visit. One of these is the Seven Stars near Temple Meads, which Andrew Swift calls ‘The pub which changed the world’. A double page spread in the book tells us why. By using the train, you can even enjoy a drink or two without worrying about whether you should be driving.
There is also a chapter on the story of the Severn Beach Line itself – once rated by Thomas Cook as one of Britain’s top scenic rail routes, it became known as the Cinderella Line as the operator ran fewer and fewer trains. It looked set to be replaced by buses but a vigorous local campaign saved it, and it is now used by more people than ever before. If you have never used this line, and/or want to discover some of the quirkier aspects of Bristol’s history, this is the book for you.

Those familiar with Andrew Swift’s style will know he wears his academic qualifications lightly – the book is meticulously researched but will appeal to all readers. The book, which is paperback and in full colour, costs £15.
Another author from Bath, Colin Fisher, also combines academic rigour with lightness of touch, as shown by the second book published by Akeman Press this month. With the intriguing title Pieroni’s Fountain, it tells how Italian immigrant Stefano Pieroni struggled to find respectability in Victorian Bath. He managed to participate in some public-spirited developments, including designing the fountain which now stands on Bog Island (from which the book gets its title).PIERONIS FOUNTAIN001

Another of his works is the large vase which stands in the garden below Royal Crescent and every summer forms one of Bath’s most spectacular floral displays. He also restored the coat of arms on Bellott’s Hospital – now part of the new Gainsborough Hotel.
The book not only relates Pieroni’s history, it gives a glimpse into the everyday workings of the city in the mid-Victorian period – the burning issues of the day that featured in the local paper, the heated political campaigns, and above all the efforts of ordinary people to establish themselves. Sadly, it also shows how hard life could be without the Welfare State to protect them as they aged and could no longer work.

The book includes the curious story of Speke’s missing bust and an interesting discussion of how radium was used to promote Bath’s healing waters – and why it abruptly stopped.
Illustrated in full colour, this paperback is entertainingly written but well annotated for the serious historian, and retails at £10. Both books are available from all good bookshops as well as the Akeman Press Website, where you will also find a list of their other publications.


Queen Square tree is axed!

Queen Square tree is axed!


Finishing off the felling of the Queen Square hornbeam.

Finishing off the felling of the Queen Square hornbeam. Click on images to enlarge.

Well the deed has been done. I am informed the men with a chainsaw turned up in Queen Square before nine this morning (Wednesday, November 26th) to fell the European ‘Fastigiate’ hornbeam.

The one tree on the historic central lawn to literally fall victim to the £100,000 B&NES has lavished on refurbishing this well-loved little ‘park’ in the centre of town.

By now the chunks of  freshly felled tree have been delivered to the Bath Approach Golf

All that's left of the hornbeam tree.

All that’s left of the hornbeam tree.

Course for the public to pick over the spoils and get some Yule logs for free.

It’s a sad end for a tree that was not dangerous or diseased but just happened to be in the wrong place.

Repair work to the Bath stonework on the south side gateway.

Repair work to the Bath stone work on the south side gateway.

Workmen in Queen Square  have continue to lay an improved and newly surfaced pathway around  the lawn. It’s re-opening next Tuesday – December 2nd. Any returning will probably come in the spring.

The cash injection also pays for improved areas for Petanque and new benches. I don’t know why l thought we were getting new gates on the East and West sides but l must have misinterpreted the Council press release and its ‘new gateways.’

As l have mentioned the only real casualty of this renovation has been the you don't!

…now you don’t!


Now you see it .......

Now you see it …….

B&NES say the loss of this one tree will be made good.

A Council spokesman told me : ‘By removing the tree and opening the side gates, the upper area of the square will be lighter, more attractive and better used by the public which will improve vision, public surveillance and policing of the area.

Its removal will also provide more space for events in the park (such as the very successful Petanque event).’ Has the tree been sacrificed just to make more room for commercial events?

I caught up with Dave Dixon – Deputy Leader of the Council – this morning.



Followers of this Museum will know we have frequently covered the effects of anti-social behaviour in the Square and featured the damage that has been done.

It would appear that the same dog has been seen causing serious damage to the bark of many of the trees in Queen Square. The Council tried wrapping fencing around the trunks but this has not deterred the vandalism.

Recent evidence of damage to a tree in Queen Square.

Recent evidence of damage to a tree in Queen Square.

It is understood some form of dog repellent paint will now be tried but the Council spokesman added:

‘We are also exploring a range of options for protecting the tree stock in Queen Square from anti-social behaviour and are keen to develop a permanent solution to this problem as soon as possible.’

One person who will be happy to see a permanent solution to the issue of tree damage is local resident Terry Basson who plays Petanque in Queen Square.

I asked him for his opinion regarding the felled tree.

Terry said its removal would certainly bring some light to this shaded corner.

‘I think they want to do this because  of the drunks who sit in the darker end hiding away.  This part of the park is mostly in shadow.’

Terry Basson

Terry Basson

Terry has campaigned now for months to get proper fencing erected around each tree in the Square.

‘I would sacrifice one tree if l thought they (B&NES) were going to properly protect the remainder.’

Meanwhile despite signs warning of a £100 fine for letting your dog off the lead this person appears to return frequently and more damage is being done.

I am hearing stories of organised dog fights in the Bath area and it would seem that chewing bark is a good way of strengthening the animal’s jaws.

Why, l wonder do they not ban dogs altogether from this tiny area?

Certainly proper fencing is needed around each tree.

As to the list of reasons for felling the tree, the opening of side gateways had nothing to do with letting the tree stay or go. The square used to have a gate on each side.

Of course, originally John Wood did not design this area to be softened and secluded by trees and surrounded by fences and gates. It was a giant promenading space where Bath’s parading spa visitors could deliberately show off and be seen.

Q and Nash's Ray c.1740-1770 by Thomas Robins © Bath in Time

Queen Square and Nash’s Ray c.1740-1770 by Thomas Robins © Bath in Time

The original 70 foot hight obelisk was surrounded by a lovely pool of reflecting water. Bath’s own mini Washington Monument.

We use the area for a different purpose today. It’s a green island in a sea of traffic.

As to opening up the surrounding Georgian architecture l think people are attracted by the fact the Square is screened and shaded and an oasis from reality.

A view of the transforming Queen Square from the first floor of the BRSLI.

A view of the transforming Queen Square from the first floor of the BRSLI.

Every tree affects the grass beneath it.

Go into Abbey Green and see how each year they turf underneath the giant plane tree and then we watch the grass die and be replaced again.

Don’t waste your money B&NES.

I have already called for some sort of Friends of Queen Square.

It would be good to work on something that might make the people who live and work around this historic site more aware of what is in their midst and, hopefully, want to care more about its future.

As we have heard B&NES would love some sort of trust to take over its long-term care. More taxpayer’s cash saved!

In the meantime – returning to the axed tree  – how ironic that in this city so proud of its classical past, it would seem the wood from the European Hornbeam is so solid it was reportedly used by the ancient Romans to make chariots, as well as being used by the American pioneers to make yokes for their oxen.

This ‘Fall’ the Queen Square hornbeam fell.





Design agency award for Bath Spa student

Design agency award for Bath Spa student

Architectural design practice, MoreySmith, recently launched a competition challenging students to design a particular aspect of the former Carfax Hotel on Great Pulteney Street.

 The four shortlisted students – Georgie Rogers, Francesca Rossi, Emma Buckley and Jamie Devrell-Cameron.

The four shortlisted students – Georgie Rogers, Francesca Rossi, Emma Buckley and Jamie Devrell-Cameron.

Students on the Three Dimensional Design course (Idea Material Object, IMO) at Bath Spa University were shown the design plans for the hotel by the Bath-based design agency  and were challenged to design an element for the reception area of the hotel such as a desk, key fobs, reception bell, lighting, seating elements and umbrella stands.

Francesca Rossi was named the winner at a ceremony on Friday where she was also awarded a £500 grant to create her design, Magnetile, a magnetic key fob and installation.

Francesca Rossi

Francesca Rossi

The students’ design proposals were judged by MoreySmith founder, Linda Morey Smith and design associate, Lesley Kelly, the hotel property developer, GECO Properties UK Ltd and Kate Authers, Editor of Bath Life.

MoreySmith, which celebrates its 21st anniversary this year, launched the award in 2013 in an effort to support the industry’s future talent. Last year, students were asked to design a clothing rail and display solution for major online fashion retailer, ASOS. The 2013 award was jointly won by third year student, Thomas Riddell, and second year student, Josh Ino, now in his final year and taking part in this year’s competition.

Kate Authers, Lesley Kelly, Francesca Rossi, Linda Morey Smith and Glauc Cerri.

Kate Authers, Lesley Kelly, Francesca Rossi, Linda Morey Smith and Glauc Cerri.

Winning student, Francesca Rossi, said: “I have thoroughly enjoyed this live project and am elated to have won. We have all worked so hard, it’s inspiring that MoreySmith and IMO have combined to create this award – giving students unique opportunities and a better understanding of industry.”

Three Dimensional Design Course Leader, Shai Akram commented: “Working on external briefs gives our students an invaluable taste of professional experience. We help them address the delicate balance of answering a client’s needs while maintaining their own voice as creative thinkers of the future.”

Linda Morey Smith added: “We are delighted to align our practice with the city’s upcoming design talent. Last year’s ASOS project was all about designing for a national fashion brand but, this year, we felt it was absolutely relevant that students of Bath Spa University should have the opportunity to influence design in their local city. Engaging them with this project felt appropriate as the Carfax Hotel is situated on one of Bath’s best loved streets, Great Pulteney Street.

“It has been amazing to see the designs and creativity that we can expect from our future generation of designers. It has been an exciting process in finding the winning design which really impressed us and we hope to see Francesca’s design incorporated into our scheme.”

GECO Properties UK Ltd purchased the Grade I listed building, formerly known as the Carfax Hotel, from The Salvation Army in September 2013. The hotel, a trio of Georgian houses, is situated in one of the most historical areas of the city. The developer has commissioned MoreySmith to redesign the property and create an elegant, design-led contemporary boutique hotel, sympathetic to the location’s heritage. Works are expected to commence later this year with completion in late 2015.

The BA (Hons) Three Dimensional Design [Idea Material Object (IMO)] course is an experimental design course that seeks to explore ideas through objects, spaces and experiences. Creativity comes in many different forms and is often separated into categories such as ‘art’, ‘design’, or ‘craft’. IMO looks at all of these areas, and many others, as sources of inspiration – intentionally interlinking and overlapping between them. Over the three-year programme, students hone their design process and develop the skills to turn abstract ideas into physical outcomes.

Bath – the UK’s most walkable city?

Bath – the UK’s most walkable city?

Bath & North East Somerset Council will discuss the draft transport strategy for Bath at its meeting on Thursday November 13.

Traffic congestion on the London Road

Traffic congestion on the London Road

Getting around Bath aims to reduce congestion and allow people to move around more easily to support the long-term economic strategy for the area.

The Council will hear that the strategy has been endorsed by Sir Peter Hendy, Commissioner of Transport for London and President of the International Union of Public Transport, who lives in Bath and chairs the Bath Transport Commission.

He says: “Bringing about transport improvements and ones which support the Council’s spatial and economic development plans will always be a challenge in an historic and beautiful city like Bath, so it is vital to have this blueprint for the future. In delivering this strategy, we can ensure that the city is a great place to live and work, and equally welcoming to all visitors, whether on foot, bike, public transport or in a car.

“I applaud the work which Members of all parties have put into this consensual strategy; because of this, it will stand the test of time and be capable of guiding the Council and supporting the City’s challenging and ambitious strategy for housing and job growth in its Core Strategy.

“I am delighted that in the consultation, a significant majority have endorsed the vision of reducing congestion and increasing walking and cycling in the city centre. You can see how in London we have made significant progress with this approach and I look forward to seeing Bath achieve similar success in the future.”

The transport strategy was commissioned by the Council in April 2013, following extensive research and discussion with stakeholders. In addition there was a period of public consultation in June/July this year.

Getting Around Bath aims to:

· Support and enable economic growth, competitiveness and jobs
· Promote sustainable mobility
· Widen travel choice
· Widen access to jobs / learning / training
· Improve air quality and health, reducing vehicle carbon emissions
· Safeguard and enhancing the unique historic environment and World Heritage Site status
· Improve the quality of life in the city

Key proposals include: developing a walking/cycling strategy to make Bath the UK’s most walkable city; better management of HGVs in the city; continued expansion of Park and Ride sites and a new location for coaches to park after dropping off visitors in the bike

Cllr Caroline Roberts (LibDem, Newbridge), Bath & North East Somerset’s Cabinet Member for Transport, said: “I’d like to thank everyone who has contributed towards this draft strategy. It has been well received and supported by the majority of those who responded to our consultation.

“Bath is an important World Heritage City – it’s vital that we look after the environment of the city whilst ensuring it’s a great place to live and work. This is an exciting time for Bath as we develop plans for the Bath Riverside Enterprise Area which will bring significant housing and jobs. We must get the transport right to allow these developments to work.”

If adopted, the strategy will be delivered through a wide range of projects which will be funded from various sources, including the Integrated Transport Capital grant (received annually from Government) and bids for additional monies from the Single Growth Fund managed by the West of England Local Enterprise Partnership. Having the agreed strategy will also enable the Council to target other funding opportunities.

You can see the strategy at