Playing the fool.

Playing the fool.


The re-displayed head of Minerva

The re-displayed head of Minerva

There is no doubt about it – Bath makes money out of its heritage. It can boast some of the best Roman remains in the country and is also home to the Uk’s only hot springs.

Add to that its assorted streets of breathtaking Georgian architecture and you can see why – in 1987 – UNESCO decided the city had earned a World Heritage status rating.

Royal Crescent

Royal Crescent

It was the internationally-recognised accolade that put the icing on a cultural cake that is greedily consumed annually by more than four million visitors and which generates an estimated 380 million pounds of tourist income a year.

I say Bath but this city does not have its own unitary status as a local authority – it’s part of a politically-created council called Bath and North East Somerset.

Two hundred and twenty square miles of B&NES-governed territory that  came into being in 1996 when another and bigger beast called Avon was put out of its misery. Bath had been a county borough – it’s own boss – from 1889 through to 1974.

While its coat of arms may not often fly from the Guildhall roof flagpole it is still a city very proud of its history and one that appears much keener these days to take care of its heritage.

The Roman Baths – as l have said – are a money-spinner – and help to trim the rates for every citizen. I have heard them described as  ‘a cash cow’ and without that annual bonus income – council tax would be  appreciably higher.

roman bathsI am a member of the Mayor of Bath’s Corps of Honorary Guides. A bunch of volunteers – well versed in local history – who for 80 years now have been taking visitors around the city to point out and explain the sights – without taking as much as a tip for their troubles.

We have a sense of pride in the place. The local authority knows the World Heritage status is good for business and so is the maintenance and upkeep of all the iconic sites – the Georgian set-pieces – that form the basis for that status being bestowed.

The past has to earn its place in the present these economically-stretched days while state-sponsored gambling helps fund repairs and restorations through the much grander-sounding Heritage Lottery Fund.

Here and there the lack of  public money is beginning to show. Boarding over some of the stone pillars forming the balustrade between the pavement of Grand Parade and Pulteney Weir and Parade Gardens below shows where erosion is making parts of that safety barrier unstable. It may or may not receive attention later this year.

Boarded up section at Pulteney Weir

Boarded up section at Pulteney Weir

Plans to do much-needed restoration work to the fountain in Laura Place are on hold. Restoration work in Sydney Gardens – the last remaining section in this country of a Georgian pleasure garden – will depend on a green light from the Heritage Lottery Fund This cannot be guaranteed.

Major developments depend on private money or state aid. Western Riverside, the old Green Park Station site, the Stotthert and Pitt derelict works – all depend on corporate money for their business futures.

B&NES bangs on a great deal about its historic heart. A garden city with four hundred years of Roman history, a hundred year’s worth of Georgian indulgence, a treasure-house filled with architectural gems. Photo-opportunities at every corner it would seem.

A stencil outside No 1 Royal Crescent

A stencil outside No 1 Royal Crescent

So – imagine my surprise to find outside the entrance to Bath Preservation Trust’s Georgian House – No 1 Royal Crescent – the first of a line of street stencils in a fluorescent light turquoise green – stretching completely around the pennant stone pavement to Marlborough Buildings.

Street stencils are not new. It’s a way of getting noticed – of publicising your event – using a non-permanent marker that eventually disappears under the tread of countless feet or is washed away in a summer downpour or two.

Well, that’s what the supporters of this trendy new way of promoting your business or event say. I cannot pretend to like them. We have enough mess in our streets without the adult chalked version of children’s hopscotch cropping up every few yards on pavements and paving stones. If this was done on a wall it would be graffiti and illegal.

More stencils going around the Crescent paving

More stencils going around the Crescent paving

The pavement markings ARE allowed if you apply to the Council for permission to do them. You will be asked to explain what you are doing and what eco-friendly marking material you intend spraying on your stencils.

This latest marking – evident in Milsom Street as well as Royal Crescent – was to publicise an art event aimed at the family.

A spokesperson for B&NES confirmed that permission had been granted by the Highways Department to use a chalk substance to create markings that would ‘engage visitors to follow the route.’

Hmmm. Well l don’t know if anyone bothered to go out and take a look but they were actually Jester- shaped silhouettes that gave the name of the event and the dates it was running and nothing else. The images were meaningless. They were not clear to read, not leading anywhere in particular and doing nothing for the look of the Royal Crescent.

It looked like kids had vandalised the place – just playing the fool. We haven’t had anything like enough rain to put its erasability to the test but l fear it’s not the chalk but the pigment that will promote a more lingering presence.

I don’t care if this is a refreshingly new way of getting attention. What worries me is that in the wonderful world of higher education – which happened to be the source of this event – it would seem there is an educational lacking in any real appreciation and understanding of what history and heritage is all about. No understanding of it’s important role in today’s society.

The image 'Tweeted' to the Virtual Museum.

The image ‘Tweeted’ to the Virtual Museum.

This was not enhancing what is a Grade 1 listed area at all. It was defacing it. Confusing our international visitors and giving out mixed messages to children who we always tell not to scribble on walls!

These boring old buildings – that line our congested streets – will one day be passed onto the next generation to care for. Maybe to some of the very same people who cannot see anything wrong with messing up the pennant stone pavements in front of them.

street banners

Street banners

Ironically for me – no protest from Bath Preservation Trust at No 1 – the very body that has so effectively campaigned for and protected so much of the city’s heritage. No one rushed out to throw water over the ‘jester’ in front of their entrance.

Maybe l am a lone voice but l am disappointed that B&NES could not see that  stencils inRoyal Crescent was not a good idea. That some things have to be treated with respect and managed in a way that does not detract from or diminish their iconic power. Smear a mirror and you diminish its reflection.

How you can boast about your World Heritage status on the one hand and then make insensitive decisions like giving permission for these markings on the other.

Meanwhile, around the Guildhall and Orange Grove bright banners have been erected proclaiming and promoting the architectural and historical glories of  Bath. This is the right way of getting noticed. They are smart, colourful and add something to the street scene.

They also come down at the end of the season – like the spent flower baskets that always bring such vitality and freshness to our tourist town during the summer. A little more thought please.

I applaud and would do all that l can to encourage youthful intervention in this city.  We are blessed with two universities and a city college. Young people adding energy, new ideas, a fresh eye but directed in a more positive and enhancing way. With a bit more guidance from the powers that be.

This is a very personal opinion. What do other Virtual Museum visitors think?







Spray cans and stencils

Spray cans and stencils

The image 'Tweeted' to the Virtual Museum.

The image carried in the Tweet which included the Virtual Museum.

The Virtual Museum of Bath was recently included in a ‘tweet’ on Twitter  - that appeared to be a response to criticism – on this site – of organisations who use ‘ street stencils’ for gaining free publicity.

More stencils going around the Crescent paving

More stencils going around the Crescent paving

It was a picture of a stencil and a spray can of fluorescent green/blue marking material that was being used to promote an art event in the city called Forest of the Imagination.

It came with the message that more of these stencils had just been laid on paving fronting one of Bath’s most iconic urban spaces  and Georgian masterpieces the Royal Crescent.

Little green jesters in front of Bath Preservation Trust’s Georgian House at No 1 and at intervals all the way around this Grade 1 terrace of 30 houses – including the  entrance to the Royal Crescent Hotel.

A stencil outside the Royal Crescent Hotel

A stencil outside the Royal Crescent Hotel

A faded image in MIlsom Street

A faded image in MIlsom Street

It’s ok – say the organisers – it’s a chalk-based spray paint and ‘eco-friendly’ so no harm has been done.

Well go look at the faded images sprayed in Milsom Street. They don’t vanish quite as quickly as is being suggested. It’s not so much the chalk as the pigment.

That though is not the argument. This is graffiti by any other name. It gives out mixed messages to even younger people about how such things can be added to the street scene anywhere with complete impunity.

The fact that it is not on a wall seems to mark the difference between legitimate advertising and vandalism.

A stencil outside No 1 Royal Crescent

A stencil outside No 1 Royal Crescent

Younger people might not be as keen to restrict their markings to the pavement. What does this say about an understanding of Bath’s history and heritage – and a tourist trade that many people rely on for their employment and income. What does it say about a World Heritage city caring for its past. I am even hearing that the local authority gave permission for these images to be sprayed. Bath needs young people to invigorate and refresh its culture with youthful energy and imagination but not to cause environmental damage to the very history and heritage that one day will become their responsibility – as custodians – to look after. The Virtual Museum was set up to promote this city’s amazing history and show that it is very much alive in the present and part of  Bath’s future. It is here to promote debate and invite others to contribute. Perhaps others might like to voice an opinion?

I have no learned that you can get permission from B&NES to use chalk-based street stencils. I reproduce the relevant answer to a question on the website of ‘Sports, Leisure and Parks.’

“16. I want to use chalk stencils on the pavement to let people know about my event – what do I need to do?

All chalk stencils must use water soluble chalk so that they can be removed. For permission to do this, you will need to email your request to both and with the following information:

Where you want the stencils
How big the stencils are
An image of what the stencils look like
As chalk stencils are temporary and do not make any impact or damage to the pavement or building it is on, you will not need to apply for planning permission.”

What l want to know is did B&NES give permission for these stencils to be laid in front of the Royal Crescent. If so l am amazed. I have tried today to find out which council department may have dealt with this? This authority is quick to shower praise on its World Heritage status and would be rather hypocritical if it was then seen to ‘manage’ one of its prime Grade 1 listed sites in such a clumsy, uncaring manner.

A call to arms

A call to arms


A depiction of the city's coat of arms in the Guildhall.

A depiction of the city’s coat of arms in the Guildhall.

You’ll come across various visual interpretations of Bath’s coat of arms around the city but the one l am showing you is based on the earliest depiction from 1568 in William Smith’s Particular Description of England – now in the British Museum.

The ownership of the crest is actually unclear as there is no longer a Bath City Council – the city is now part of a unitary authority which does not display the crest on its documents or website.

Let’s take you through the coat of arms from bottom to top.

The motto – Aqua Sulis or Waters of Sulus – is the Roman name for Bath.

A lion and a bear hold up the shield and stand on oak branches with acorns which are linked to King Bladud – the legendary founder of Bath – and the man feeding his pigs acorns when they ran off to discover the steaming mud and thermal waters of the hot springs.

The lion stands for bravery, valour, strength and royalty. The bear for strength, cunning and ferocity in the protection of one’s kindred.

The official Coat of Arms for the City of Bath

The official Coat of Arms for the City of Bath

The shield depicts the town wall, the mineral springs and River Avon and the sword of St Paul – one of the patron saints of Bath Abbey – which is also the town’s parish church.

The lion and bear also display the crossed sword and keys – representing both patron saints. St Peter – who held the keys to the kingdom of Heaven – shares the protection of the Abbey with St Paul.

Above them the crown of King Edgar – first king of all England – is held aloft by the arms of St Dunstan who performed his coronation in Bath in 973 AD.

So now you know.

Government urged to protect Bath’s thermal waters from fracking

Government urged to protect Bath’s thermal waters from fracking

The Leader of Bath & North East Somerset Council has called on the Coalition Government to protect Bath’s natural Hot Springs from potential hydro fracturing in outlying areas.

The Great Roman Bath

The Great Roman Bath

Hydro fracturing – commonly known as ‘fracking’ – is the investigation underground of sources of gas by drilling a bore hole and obtaining data from either explosives or pumping water down the cavity. The Department of Energy & Climate Change had issued four Petroleum Exploration and Development Licences (PEDLs) for fracking for areas around Bath. Three of these have been relinquished but the fourth has been extended for a further year. Councillor Paul Crossley has written to Energy Minister, Michael Fallon MP, to express the Council’s deep concerns about the process and the possible damage to the supply of water to Bath Hot Springs and the impact on Bath’s major tourist attraction. He urged the Government to review its decision to grant a one-year extension to potentially explore and extract unconventional gas.

Cllr Paul Crossley Leader, B&NES

Cllr Paul Crossley
Leader, B&NES

Cllr Paul Crossley (Lib-Dem, Southdown), Leader of Council, said: “The springs are the life blood of this city, which is cherished worldwide. In economic terms, the city and region rely heavily on a tourist industry which is worth an estimated £380m annually to Bath alone and which employs 10,000 people Independent research carried out by the British Geological Survey has concluded that extraction of unconventional gas within the zone of influence of the Hot Springs of Bath has the potential to damage the delicate fracture-led delivery system of the hot water. In his letter, Cllr Crossley said: “The United Kingdom’s only natural Hot Springs emerge in the heart of the World Heritage City of Bath. The UK Government committed to protect and conserve these sites for this and future generations.” He added: “We strongly welcome the actions to relinquish three of the four licences and call upon the 4th licence holder to also relinquish their licence to frack in the areas that might affect the Hot springs. “I am also very concerned to learn that the relinquished licences will be made available again in the 14th round licence offer, as and when this is made. This once again invites companies to potentially explore and extract unconventional gas within the zone of influence of the Hot Springs. Our strong request is that these licence areas and others within the zone of influence are withheld from future licensing rounds.”

The King's Bath or Sacred Spring - fed by three-quarters of a million litres of natural water a day.

The King’s Bath or Sacred Spring – fed by three-quarters of a million litres of natural water a day.

Cllr Crossley’s letter concluded: “I would stress that Bath & North East Somerset Council is not politically opposed to the concept of shale gas extraction. Our concern is wholly focussed on the potential damage to the Hot Springs and is backed by research findings. “As such, we are not asking that Bath is made an exception in policy terms, but rather that a policy of pursuing shale gas extraction in appropriate areas recognises that for technical reasons it is wholly inappropriate to issue licences within the Bath Hot Springs catchment area.” Cllr Crossley has sent copies of his letter to the Department of Energy & Climate Change, the Leaders and Chief Executives of Mendip District Council and Somerset County Council and local MPs. Director’s notes: · Bath & North East Somerset Council is concerned that the process of fracking will result in the water courses leading to the natural Hot Springs being contaminated with pollutants from this process, or for the waters to adopt a different direction of travel through new fractures in the underlying rocks. · The Council has apparently obtained the very best expert advice on this matter and there is little to suggest that any thought has been given to the potential for damage to the deep water sources that supply the Hot Springs in Bath. ·  B&NES believes exposing the Bath Hot Springs to risk through the avoidable action of the issue of PEDL licences would appear to be in direct contradiction of the UK’s commitment to the 1972 World Heritage Convention.

Network Rail announces plans for electrifying rail route through Bath

Network Rail announces plans for electrifying rail route through Bath

Network Rail has announced how it plans to electrify the rail route through the city and onto Swansea via Bristol and – it says – Bath stands to benefit from the 7.5 billion modernisation of the Great Western Railway and promises that ‘huge care will be taken to ensure that the electrified rail route protects the special status of the City of Bath and its listed buildings.’

Artists impression of electrified route through Sydney Gardens

Artists impression of electrified route through Sydney Gardens

The Company has outlined how it plans to ensure that electrification will open the way for a new generation of electric intercity trains serving Bath from 2017, resulting in more seats, more leg room, more tables and a reduction in journey times.

It says the scheme  ‘will also deliver a greener and quieter railway, with fewer emissions released into the atmosphere and a reduction in the noise as electric trains replace the existing diesel ones.

To deliver this, we are doing a package of works in preparation for the electrification of the Bath railway corridor, with the majority of the work completed at night to ensure trains operate as normal for passengers.

Work which cannot be completed at night and which will affect the City of Bath are to be combined during a six week period from mid-July to the end of August 2015 with work completed in two main phases during that time.

sydney gardensThe first three week phase will affect only the immediate Box Tunnel area (near Corsham) but the second three week phase also requires the closure the entire railway immediately east of Bath station and the direct route to Trowbridge.

By maximising work over a six week period it will be completed with the minimum possible level of disruption to passengers. We will also use the closure to complete other work that was due to be undertaken in the Bath area over the coming years.

The work is planned for the summer of 2015 as it has to be sequenced between work at Reading and Bristol and to avoid bat and newt breeding seasons. There will be some further work needed in 2016 west of Bath that will require further changes to train services over some weekends, but on a smaller scale.

The work to be completed in summer 2015 include:

Lowering the track in Box Tunnel and installing electrification equipment.
Aligning the track at Bath Spa station to reduce the stepping gap between the train and the platform, while also extending platforms to make them longer and larger.
Installing specially designed electrification equipment in Sydney Gardens, in recognition of its unique status as a World Heritage Site.

Huge care will be taken to ensure that the electrified rail route protects the special status of the City of Bath and its listed buildings.
We’re working with First Great Western, Bath & North East Somerset Council and Bath Tourism Plus to ensure that the approach to electrifying the railway through Bath is done in a way that ensures minimum disruption to rail users and visitors to the city.

The overriding objective of all these organisations is to keep passengers on trains, wherever possible, rather than having to use coach services as the railway around Bath is modernised.

Final plans for the programme of works will be announced in autumn 2014 following dialogue with businesses, tourism representatives and rail users over the coming months.

A firm objective of all parties is to ensure that Bath remains open during these works next summer, albeit with a reduced level of service. Service provision measures currently under consideration to manage the impact these works will have on the people living in Bath and its visitors could include:

Ensuring commuters and off peak passengers can travel by train by keeping the rail route west of Bath open throughout the improvement works, so that a reduced service from Bath Spa to London Paddington and Bath Spa to Bristol Temple Meads and Cardiff Central can operate.
Keeping passengers on trains that normally travel through Bath Spa by diverting services where at all possible.
Implementing a high quality coach service between Bath Spa and Chippenham, Trowbridge and Westbury which would operate at the same frequency as rail services, connecting passengers with onward train services at those stations.
Easing ticket restrictions to enable passengers to use alternative rail routes.
Allowing car park season ticket holders to use car parks at alternative train stations.
These proposals will be refined following a review of passenger journeys made at Bath Spa this summer and consultation with user groups.

A number of bridges and structures along this route will be affected by the Great Western electrification programme.

This list is not comprehensive and only includes bridge and structure works approved by the Council.

No closures are scheduled yet.’

International recognition for Bath’s messages to the gods.

International recognition for Bath’s messages to the gods.

Bath’s Roman curse tablets have been added to the UNESCO Memory of the World register of outstanding documentary heritage.

The 130 Roman curse tablets can be seen at The Roman Baths, which is managed by Bath & North East Somerset Council.

A single curse with writing clearly visible – this is a sanction against perjury issued at the Sacred Spring on the 12th April of an unknown year.

A single curse with writing clearly visible – this is a sanction against perjury issued at the Sacred Spring on the 12th April of an unknown year.

They are the personal and private prayers of 130 individuals inscribed on small sheets of lead or pewter, and cast into the hot spring at Bath, and date from the 2nd-4th century AD. The earliest known surviving prayers to a deity in Britain, they are messages in Latin to the Roman goddess Sulis Minerva, from people who had suffered an injustice, asking for wrongs to be put right and for revenge.

The tablets are extremely difficult to read and translate and some are quite fierce, such as the person who, seeking revenge for theft of a bronze vessel, asks that it be filled with the blood of the thief. One curse was written in British Celtic, the only text known to survive in that language. Another tablet contains the earliest known use of the word ‘Christian’ in Britain.

The curse tablets are the only objects from Roman Britain to have been inscribed on the UNESCO Memory of the World UK register, which aims to raise awareness of some of the UK’s exceptional documentary riches. They were one of nine new inscriptions to the register and they join the 41 already listed.

The award was made on Thursday June 19 at a ceremony in Edinburgh, organised by the Scottish Council on Archives and hosted by Lloyds Banking Group.

 The presentation shows Cllr Ben Stevens (right) and Stephen Clews, the Council’s Roman Baths & Pump Room Manager. Photo credit: Lesley Ann Ercolano.

The presentation shows Cllr Ben Stevens (right) and Stephen Clews, the Council’s Roman Baths & Pump Room Manager. Photo credit: Lesley Ann Ercolano.

Cllr Ben Stevens, Bath & North East Somerset Council’s Cabinet member for Sustainable Development (LibDem, Widcombe) accepted the certificate of inscription on behalf of the Council. He said: “The decision by UNESCO to inscribe the Roman curse tablets from Bath on the Memory of the World register reflects the very special nature of this collection, and is another reason for local people to take pride in the exceptional quality of our local heritage here in Bath & North East Somerset.”

UNESCO established the Memory of the World (MoW) Programme in 1992. The programme vision is that the world’s documentary heritage belongs to all, should be fully preserved and protected for all and, with due recognition of cultural mores and practicalities, should be permanently accessible to all without hindrance.

About the UNESCO Memory of the World Programme:
• United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is the ‘intellectual’ agency of the United Nations and was established in 1945.

The King's Bath or Sacred Spring - fed by three-quarters of a million litres of natural water a day.

The King’s Bath or Sacred Spring – fed by three-quarters of a million litres of natural water a day.

• The UNESCO Memory of the World Programme aims to facilitate preservation of the world’s documentary heritage, to assist universal access and to increase awareness worldwide of the existence and significance of this documentary heritage through both an international Register and individual country Registers. This globally-recognised status celebrates some of the UK’s most exceptional archive riches.
• To learn more about the MoW programme visit

Full list of 2014 Awards:
• Carmichael Watson Collection: The collection of pioneering folklorist Alexander Carmichael (1832–1912), is one of the most significant collections of its kind in the world. Carmichael spent over 50 years recording all manner of Scottish Highland Gaelic lore such as prayers, blessings, charms, stories, songs, folk customs, proverbs and unusual vocabulary. It is of great value both to researchers and the Highland communities from which it was gathered and has greatly influenced concepts of ‘spiritual Celts’ and ‘Celticism’. Held by Edinburgh University Library.
• Hepworth Cinema Interviews: In 1916 Cecil Hepworth, a pioneer of cinematography filmed well known persons ‘talking‘ to the camera and in this instance making personal statements about the War such as Lloyd George, and Herbert Asquith. It was the start of the media interview, now a staple of TV reporting. Held by the National Screen and Sound Archive of Wales.
• Neath Abbey Ironworks: Neath Abbey Ironworks in South Wales was in the forefront of development of beam engines for the South Wales coalfield and built one of the first railway locomotives in 1829. The collection includes 8,000 engineering drawings (1792-1882) and demonstrates the contribution of South Wales to Britain’s industrial revolution. Held by the West Yorkshire Archive Service.
• Robert Hooke’s Diary, 1672-1683: The private diary of this major scientific figure. It covers all aspects of his life and scientific research, including experimenting with his own body, his relationships with other well-known individuals at that time, his work with Christopher Wren to rebuild London after the Great Fire and a detailed description of life in seventeenth century London. Held by London Metropolitan Archives.
• Roman Curse Tablets from Bath: Personal and private prayers of 130 individuals inscribed on small sheets of lead or pewter, and cast into the hot spring at Bath, dating from the 2nd-4th century AD. They give an insight into the lives of ordinary people. One tablet is currently unique in that it is believed to be made up of Celtic words written in the Latin alphabet. Another curse tablet contains what is currently the earliest known reference to Christianity in Britain. Held by Bath and North East Somerset Council.
• Royal Mail Archive 1636-1969: From 1635 to the modern day The Royal Mail has dealt with essential aspects of everyday life, from broadcasting and communications to banking and employment. It documents the organisation’s unique history, from employment records to stamp artwork, and is one of the oldest business archives in the world. The collection covers everything from the impact of post on peoples’ lives, to an outstanding archive of stamp designs. Held by the British Postal Museum and Archive.
• Royal National Institution for the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck (1823-1854): Describes the foundation of what became the RNLI, the first national lifeboat institution in the world. Held by the RNLI.
• Shakespeare Documents: The key archive sources for understanding the life of the world’s most celebrated poet and playwright, William Shakespeare (1564-1616). These unique handwritten documents, dating from within Shakespeare’s lifetime, provide an evidential basis for his life – his birth, death, family affairs, property and business dealings, as well as his context within a period of history that saw major changes in religious and political society. Held by The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and the UK National Archives.
• West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum, records 1814-1991: The West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum was one of the World’s most famous and active research institutions, aiming for the systematic study of the insane brain. The research work and the resulting scientific developments were ground breaking and instigated global scientific changes in the treatment of the mentally ill. The records chart all aspects of life at the hospital and include over 5000 photographs of patients from the late 1860s onwards along with detailed patient notes. Held by West Yorkshire Archive Service.
To view the UK register and see all the inscriptions including the new inscriptions of 2014 visit:

NatWest & Wedgwood?

NatWest & Wedgwood?

Somersetshire Buildings, Baldwin 1781-83

Somersetshire Buildings, Baldwin 1781-83

Next time you are walking down Milsom Street in Bath, pop into the NatWest Bank at number 39 and admire the ceiling. I am sure they won’t mind.

Any fan of Wedgwood ceramics will see how it’s inspired by Josiah’s famous Jasperware pottery – both in style and colour – and the Company did have a shop nearby – so is it a Wedgwood ceiling?

Detail of ceiling plasterwork

Detail of ceiling plasterwork

Josiah Wedgwood (1730-95) came from a family of Staffordshire potters and stamped his mark very quickly on Georgian society.

In 1764 he introduced a superior inexpensive clear-glazed creamware pottery which was quickly re-named Queen’s ware after George the Third’s wife Charlotte ordered a tea-set! Possible the world’s first celebrity marketing campaign?

Jasperware was though his greatest creation. A cameo patterned pottery with the tranluscence and total qualities of porcelain which arrived in 1775. That was just three years after Josiah opened a showroom in Bath’s Westgate Buildings.

Now back to that ceiling in Milsom Street. Walter Ison in his seminal The Georgian Buildings of Bath – first published in 1948 – includes a black and white photograph of the overhead decoration at number 39 which he describes as adorning a ground floor front room c 1782.

Closer view of the central features of this palace facade.

Closer view of the central features of this palace facade.

Remember this was not built as a bank but formed part of Somersetshire Buildings – erected by Thomas Baldwin in 1782 – on the site of the Poor House. It’s another of those architectural illusions where – this time – five separate dwellings are brought together into a palatial whole. They were domestic dwellings until being altered for commercial use.

Ison says: ‘the ground-floor front room in the central house, now occupied by the Westminster Bank, contains an elaborately decorated ceiling’ and – in an index – goes into greater detail.

There is no mention of colour – probably because the book contained no colour photographs – much too expensive for 1948 publications!

Ison says: ‘This is probably the finest ceiling of its period in Bath, and proves (Thomas) Baldwin to have been a master of interior decoration. Although it has a distinct affinity with the circular panels in the Guildhall Banqueting Room, this ceiling is treated with greater delicacy and freedom.’

No mention of Wedgwood colours at all. So l sent an image to the Wedgwood Museum at Stoke on Trent and got the following reply from Ben Miller who is a museum assistant there.

‘The ceiling will have nothing to do with the Wedgwood company other than it is painted in the style of jasper ware (white on blue in this instance).

Shugborough Hall in South Staffordshire has a number of stucco ceilings within the mansion house dating to the 18th century which simply follow the prevailing trend for neo-classical design with pastel colours.’wedgwood ceiling

It’s still worth noting how Thomas Baldwin must have been inspired by a new range of pottery the chattering Georgian classes  spending their time in Bath were raving about and no doubt buying in vast quantities from the Wedgwood shop in Westgate Buildings.

It pays to look up and down. You never know what you might be missing!



Call for cross-party support to reduce city traffic.

Call for cross-party support to reduce city traffic.

Bath and North East Somerset Council is facing calls for a cross-party committee to be established to start work on developing a fully-fledged transport strategy for Bath and the surrounding area.

milsom streetConservative councillors have called for the all-party group to be created so that politicians can try and reach a consensus on the long-term transport needs of the city and wider area.

The proposal comes following the publication by the Council of a high-level consultation document which sets out in broad terms the approach the authority should take to producing a more detailed Transport Strategy. The work needed to decide what specific projects should be taken forward over the coming years is yet to be undertaken by the Council.

Conservatives are pressing for more urgent action to be taken to get the aspiration of a proper Transport Strategy off the ground. The establishing a cross-party group of councillors would mean that work could begin on agreeing what infrastructure and investment will be needed to improve the area’s transport network over the coming years.

Conservative shadow transport spokesman, Cllr Anthony Clarke, has tabled a question to the Council’s Liberal Democrat Cabinet asking that such a committee a committee is created. He said:london road 1

“When the Council launched its long-anticipated transport consultation a couple of weeks ago the consensus was that it was a bit of a damp squib, with scant detail and only broad-brush statements on the need to reduce traffic. Since then there have also been a number of ideas batted around, including Park and Rail, eastern Park and Ride, tunnels and link roads, but again there have been few details on their feasibility.

“What residents desperately want is for B&NES to get its act together and produce a properly worked out long-term plan to improve transport and tackle congestion.

“If the Council is to have a plan and stick to it, then a level of support is needed across the political divide. That’s why we are calling for a cross-party committee to be established tasked with working on a long-term transport strategy for Bath and the surrounding area.”

B&NES Conservative Group Leader Cllr Tim Warren added:

“It is incumbent upon all parties to work together to try and build upon and improve upon the broad ideas the Council has so far presented. Many other Councils manage to reach cross-party agreement on the long-term transport and infrastructure needs of their areas in order to avoid the upheaval of policy changing after every election. That shouldn’t be impossible here in B&NES and we must work to try and achieve it.”

At last – Keynsham’s Roman town gets official protection!

At last – Keynsham’s Roman town gets official protection!

We’ve been waiting a long time to hear it but at last the roman settlement that has been discovered under the Keynsham Hams has received official protection and has been added to the nation’s Schedule of Monuments.

Somerdale at Keynsham

Somerdale at Keynsham

We’re talking about what could be the lost town of Trajectus – a staging post on the Roman route across this area to their port near Bristol.

The remains of more than a dozen buildings are known to lie under the playing fields to one side of the old chocolate factory at Somerdale – much of which is now being developed for housing.

The cover of a booklet published by Fry's about the Roman remains on their Somerdale site.

The cover of a booklet published by Fry’s about the Roman remains on their Somerdale site.

The remains are on the flood plain of the Avon and there are no plans for any development that would disturb or destroy them. The area is likely to remain as playing fields.

Below is a quote from part of the letter that B&NES has now received from English Heritage:


Roman Settlement at Keynsham Hams, former Cadbury’s Factory, Somerdale, Keynsham – Awarded Scheduled Monument Status

‘I am writing to inform you that we have been considering adding the above monument to the Schedule of Monuments.
We have taken into account all the representations made, and completed our assessment of the monument. Having considered our recommendation, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport has decided to add Roman Settlement at Keynsham Hams, former Cadbury’s Factory to the Schedule of Monuments.

I attach a copy of our advice report, which gives the principal reasons for this decision. A copy of the Schedule entry for this monument, together with a map, has now been published on the National Heritage List for England, and will be available for public access from tomorrow. This List can be accessed through our website.

Please be aware that the scheduling of the monument took effect on the day that the copy of the Schedule entry was published on the National Heritage List for England. The entry in the Schedule relating to the monument will be registered as a local land charge.’


Hallelujah! Bath Abbey wins HLF support

Hallelujah! Bath Abbey wins HLF support

Bath Abbey has received initial support from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) for a £10m bid for its Footprint project, a transformative programme of capital works, interpretation, collections care and sustainable energy.

Development funding of £389,000 has also been awarded to help progress plans to secure a full grant at a later date.

However, there is some serious fund-raising to be done now with £7 million pounds needed to unlock the many millions the Abbey should now be able to secure from HLF.

Bath Abbey - looking West

Bath Abbey – looking West

Bath Abbey - Looking East

Bath Abbey – Looking East

The £19.3 million Footprint project aims to carry out essential repairs to the Abbey’s collapsing floor, install a new eco-friendly heating system using Bath’s unique hot springs as a source of energy and enlarge capacity by creating 200 sq metres of new facilities to fulfil the Abbey as a place of congregation, equal access and hospitality.

A programme is also planned to record and interpret the Abbey’s 1,200 years of history and this iconic church for millions of visitors including educational visits.

Development funding of £389,000 has been awarded to help the Abbey progress its plans to secure the full grant in 2015. The Abbey is expected to use this to further develop its design plans and implement its interpretation programme which will then unlock the full award of £10 million.

The Abbey thanked its congregation, the local community and stakeholders who have worked so hard in supporting the funding application.

Bath Abbey's proposed Song School

Bath Abbey’s proposed Song School

Edward Mason, Rector of Bath Abbey, said: “We are all delighted to learn that we have secured initial support from HLF today. This is great news for the Abbey as well as the city of Bath and everyone who has put so much time and effort into this.

The Abbey has been at the centre of the Bath community for over 1,200 years. Footprint will make the Abbey fit for purpose and the changes will make it possible for current and future generations to use, understand and fully enjoy Bath Abbey. Thanks to the HLF, we are a huge step closer to achieving this.”

Bath Abbey - proposed Jackson extension

Bath Abbey – proposed Jackson extension

Laura Brown, Footprint Appeal Director, said: “We are thrilled to have the HLF’s support and are really grateful to everyone who has worked so hard to achieve this in a short space of time.

The essential groundwork is already completed: we’ve been granted planning and listed building consent by B&NES and we’ve already seen £2 million of investment, so together with the HLF’s support, we are in a very strong position.

Now of course the really hard but potentially very exciting work starts.

Bath Abbey

Left to Right: Katie McGill, Fundraising Administrator (seated); Sarah Jermyn, Footprint Project Administrator (seated); Laura Brown, Footprint Appeal Director (standing); Charles Curnock, Footprint Project Director

There are certainly big challenges ahead but the HLF’s decision is the best news we could have hoped for and makes the project a tangible reality.”

Nerys Watts, Head of Heritage Lottery Fund South West, said: “The great medieval Bath Abbey has a rich history, and the innovative Footprint project will ensure that this special place can continue to play a vital role in the lives of the thousands of people who visit every year.

Our initial support for the essential capital work plans, collections care and the use of sustainable energy will bring the Abbey into the 21st century, enabling people from Bath and further afield to enjoy this special place for many more years to come.”

In order to unlock the full award of £10 million from HLF, the Abbey will need to raise around £7 million in additional funding through a combination of grant-making trusts and foundations, plus donations from individuals. A major public appeal will be launched later on this year.