New eye on Bath

New eye on Bath

Backs of Georgian houses. © Tony McNicol

Backs of Georgian houses. © Tony McNicol

The city of Bath is a major tourist magnet – drawing in around four and a half million visitors each year and – as a member of the Mayor of Bath’s Corps of Honorary Guides – l am one of many local people who volunteer to show some of them around.

Alexandra Park, Bath, UK, May 16, 2015. © Tony McNicol

Alexandra Park, Bath, UK, May 16, 2015. © Tony McNicol

It is a place with World Heritage status – partly awarded for its architecture and setting – something our visitors are keen to record with cameras, smart phones and tablets.

Images – amongst many taken on their travels – that they will probably puzzle over when they get home.

But now for the more serious photographers amongst them – and of course for local people with an eye for an image – an opportunity to explore the UK’s most photogenic city in expert camera-company.

Professional photographer, Tony McNicol.

Professional photographer, Tony McNicol.

The ‘new kid on the Bath stone block’ is The Bath Photo Tour, a three-hour private walking tour,  guided by professional photographer, Tony McNicol, which takes in Bath’s most iconic locations, as well as some lesser known spots.

On the tour, participants learn to get the most out of their camera, whether a smart phone, a point-and-shoot, or a high-end DSLR.

Tours can include as much or as little instruction as needed, such as on the basics of composition and colour, aperture and shutter speed, the best lenses to use for different subjects and the skillful use of natural light.

Lansdown Crescent, Bath, UK, June 15, 2015. ©Tony McNicol

Lansdown Crescent, Bath, UK, June 15, 2015. ©Tony McNicol

Tours are led by Tony McNicol who grew up in Bath before spending 15 years working in the UK and Japan as a photojournalist and travel photographer.

His photos have been published in media such as the Guardian, Daily Telegraph, Wired Magazine and National Geographic News.

Interior Bath Abbey. Bath, UK, May 4, 2015. ©Tony McNicol

Interior Bath Abbey. Bath, UK, May 4, 2015. ©Tony McNicol

“As everyone who has visited Bath knows, this is an incredibly beautiful and photogenic city,” says Tony.

“I want to help photographers get the most out of their visit. And it’s a great way for me to explore and document the city too!”

The tour is run by www.thebathphotographer.uk – an online resource for Bath-based and visiting photographers.

Custom tours to locations near Bath are available and special workshops are also being planned.

Improvement work to Sydney Gardens underway

Improvement work to Sydney Gardens underway

Work has now started on a six-month programme of shrub pruning and landscape improvements in Bath’s historic Sydney Gardens..

Sydney Gardens became a municipal park in 1909.

Sydney Gardens became a municipal park in 1909.

Bath & North East Somerset Council is working with the local community on a long-term plan to help conserve the space for future generations.

Notices about the pruning and replanting works have gone up in the gardens.

Notices about the pruning and replanting works have gone up in the gardens.

The public park is a remnant of what was a Georgian pleasure garden which provided outside catering, grottos, mazes and swing boat rides for those prepared to pay an admission fee.

Councillor Martin Veal (Conservative, Bathavon North), the Council’s Cabinet Member for Community Services, said: “This is crucial work that will really improve the park for local people and visitors to Bath.

A close up of an information notice that has gone up in the gardens. Click on images to enlarge.

A close up of an information notice that has gone up in the gardens. Click on images to enlarge.

We aim to open up the park, allowing views across the city whilst removing some of the more secluded areas to help combat anti-social behaviour. It will create new spaces for planting and restore the original landscape design for the gardens.”

The Council’s contractors may need to restrict access to some areas temporarily and members of the public are asked to follow advice on signage. Pruning over the summer will be supervised by a qualified ecologist to avoid disturbance to any nesting birds.

Evidence of recent poplar pruning

Evidence of recent poplar pruning

The Council’s parks team will continue to work with the Sydney Gardens Steering Group – a partnership of friends and residents groups, representatives from the Holburne Museum, and local Councillors – to help improve the space over the coming year.

Jonny East, Chairman of Friends of Sydney Gardens, said: “The Friends of Sydney Gardens promotes the preservation and conservation of Sydney Gardens, together with community-supported improvements.

To this end we are delighted to work with Bath & North East Somerset Council on the programme of shrub pruning and landscape improvements.”

More information on the pruning and landscaping works is available at www.bathnes.gov.uk/sydneygardens

I hear some sort of anti-skateboard surface is going to be added to the main pathway to stop what is becoming a bit of a dangerous hazard.

A peep inside the Gainsborough’s front door!

A peep inside the Gainsborough’s front door!

Just popped into see the very helpful front-of-house staff at Bath’s newest five-star luxury hotel The Gainsborough.

The Gainsborough Hotel

The Gainsborough Hotel

It’s the latest incarnation for a building that started life as the city’s general hospital before switching to educating youngsters in the technical arts and trades.

It was later bought, as a derelict shell, by a Malaysian-based company – well-known internationally for its luxury spa-resorts – called YTL.

The stepped side of the ramp leading to the restaurant.

The stepped side of the ramp leading to the restaurant.

The company also manages Bath’s Thermae Spa  and owns Wessex Water so it’s pretty clear – that drink it or bathe in it – Bath’s waters come courtesy of this successful business concern.

The Gainsborough building has an impressive two-tier entrance ramp which l thought led up to the front door and reception area – but l was fooled.

The main entrance in Beau Street.

The main entrance in Beau Street.

The actual entrance is on the side in Beau Street – the same area in which that fabulous hoard of Roman coins was discovered while building work was underway.

A view of the reception area

A view of the reception area

The ramp leads up to the hotel’s impressive restaurant which l was shown on a quick tour of the ground floor.

Bath's Spa Quarter

Bath’s Spa Quarter

The building has had what they call a ‘soft opening’ and will be officially introduced in September – no doubt when all the initial snags you get with new staff and new hotel are ironed out.

It’s all very impressive and of course the hotel boasts a genuine thermal water source for its luxury spa facilities. That l didn’t get to see.

The Laura Place Fountain - not working again.

The Laura Place Fountain – not working again.

The Gainsborough stands alongside the Thermae Spa and Cross Bath in what is now knows as the Spa Quarter.

A perfect place l think for working in a public fountain to celebrate the waters of Bath.

The city’s public fountains are a disgrace in  a place with  a history that flowed alongside its river, thermal and cold spring waters.

If not here then it needs someone like YTL to really make something of the ‘ashtray’ that is the Laura Place fountain.

It’s a miserable  example of a  public fountain at one end of one of the most impressive streets in the world!

Wartime letters to Bath Mayor links with past.

Wartime letters to Bath Mayor links with past.

The Bath Records Office. A WWI letter from Mrs S. Higgins asking about her son addressed to the Mayor of Bath. June 2015. Photographer Freia Turland e:info@ftphotography.co.uk m:07875514528 Click on images to enlarge.

The Bath Record Office. A WWI letter from Mrs S. Higgins asking about her son addressed to the Mayor of Bath. June 2015. Photographer Freia Turland e:info@ftphotography.co.uk m:07875514528 Click on images to enlarge.

Poignant wartime letters written to the Mayor of Bath have been uncovered during a major cataloguing project carried out by Bath & North East Somerset Council’s Archive Service.

This 18-month project, funded by the National Cataloguing Grants Programme for Archives, catalogued Bath city records from the 12th to the 21st centuries and was carried out by a team of 25 volunteers working with the Council’s Archive Service.

The Bath Records Office. Hannah Little and Jessica Smith look through the WWI letters sent to the Mayor during the war.  June 2015. Photographer Freia Turland e:info@ftphotography.co.uk m:07875514528

The Bath Record Office. Hannah Little and Jessica Smith look through the WWI letters sent to the Mayor during the war. June 2015. Photographer Freia Turland e:info@ftphotography.co.uk m:07875514528

Councillor Patrick Anketell-Jones (Conservative, Lansdown), Bath & North East Somerset Council’s Cabinet Member for Economic Development, said: “This has been a fascinating project and the Council is very grateful to the many volunteers who gave their time and skills, as well as to the National Cataloguing Grants Programme for Archives for funding this.”

The project uncovered Mayor’s office files from the First World War (1914-1918) which illustrate how people’s lives were touched by the war.

One very moving letter from Mrs Higgins, a widow of Trinity Square in Walcot Street, asks the Mayor to intervene on her behalf. All six of her sons had enlisted, and one was hospitalised in a distant military hospital which she couldn’t afford the train fare to visit.

The Bath Records Office. A WWI letter from the RSPCA for the request of a Badge / Flag Day to raise funds for sick and wounded war horses addressed to the Mayor of Bath. June 2015. Photographer Freia Turland e:info@ftphotography.co.uk m:07875514528

The Bath Record Office. A WWI letter from the RSPCA for the request of a Badge / Flag Day to raise funds for sick and wounded war horses addressed to the Mayor of Bath. June 2015. Photographer Freia Turland e:info@ftphotography.co.uk m:07875514528

In her letter, she asks the Mayor to arrange for her son to be transferred to a Bath Hospital. She explains that he is suffering from a diseased heart and rheumatism, and has spent over three years in France with only one spell of leave.

In her letter she talks about her other five sons; one was killed in action in 1917, two others are in hospital in other parts of England, one is serving in Baghdad, and the youngest, just 18, has recently joined up.

The letter is written in September 1918, only weeks before war ended, but sadly not all of her five remaining sons returned home. The son who Mrs Higgins could not visit died in hospital the following year.
The files also contain many requests for fundraising events, from street-collections to concerts. To limit the demands on public generosity the Mayor restricted street-collections to one a month.

The mayor’s files are all available to view in Bath & North East Somerset Council’s Record Office at The Guildhall. The list of Mayor’s files can be viewed on the Archive Service website http://www.batharchives.co.uk/our-collections

Celebrating National Bookstart Week

Celebrating National Bookstart Week

Bath Central Library

Bath Central Library

Bath & North East Somerset Council’s Libraries are organising free events across the area to celebrate National Bookstart Week, June 8 – 14.

This year’s theme, Jungle Adventures, is based around Giles Andreae’s beloved picture book Rumble in the Jungle, which will be given away to hundreds of families at the events.

On Monday June 8, the Chairman of Bath & North East Somerset Council, Cllr Ian Gilchrist, will be leading celebrations at Radstock Library between 10am and 12 noon, with the help of the big blue Bookstart Bear.

Parents and carers are being encouraged to bring along their under-fives are invited to come and meet the Bear and enjoy jungle-themed stories, rhymes and craft activities.

There will also be an opportunity to hear jungle adventure stories and rhymes at the following events, which are all free and open to all families with children under five (rhymetimes are aimed at 0-3 years and storytimes at 2-5 yrs):

Monday June 8
Radstock Library, 10am – 12 noon (stories, rhymes & crafts with the Bookstart Bear)
Moorland Rd Library, Bath –10.30 – 11am (storytime)
Midsomer Norton Library – 11 – 11.30am (storytime)

Tuesday June 9
Keynsham Library – 10 – 10.30am & 11 – 11.30am (rhymetimes)
Weston Library, Bath – 10.30am – 11.15am (stories, rhymes & crafts with the Bookstart Bear)
Bath Central Library – 11 – 11.30am (storytime)

Bath Central Library

Bath Central Library

Thursday June 11
Keynsham Library – 10am – 10.30am (storytime)
Paulton Library – 1.30 – 2.30pm (storytime)
Saltford Library –2.30 – 3pm (storytime)

Friday June 12
Weston Library, Bath – 10.30 – 11am (rhymetime)

National Bookstart Week is an annual celebration of UK charity Book Trust’s flagship reading programme, Bookstart. It aims to reinforce to families the importance of getting in to the habit of reading every day – even if it’s just for ten minutes.

Councillor Martin Veal, (Conservative, Bathavon North), Cabinet Member for Community Services, said: “Our libraries are providing a valuable resource to families with more and more under 5s joining their library every year. It’s never too early to start sharing books with your baby and give them a head start in life. National Bookstart Week is a wonderful opportunity to bring together young children and families across Bath and North East Somerset in a celebration of reading.”

If families are unable to make it along to their local event they can join in the fun at home, with plenty of jungle-themed arts and crafts, games and baking recipes all on the Bookstart website http://www.bookstart.org.uk/jungle.

For more information about Bath & North East Somerset Council’s Library Service, visit www.bathnes.gov.uk/libraries.

For your information: 

Book Trust is Britain’s largest reading charity. It has a vision of a society where nobody misses out on the life-changing benefits that reading can bring. Book Trust is responsible for a number of successful national reading promotions, sponsored book prizes and creative reading projects aimed at encouraging readers to discover and enjoy books. http://www.booktrust.org.uk

Book Trust’s flagship reading programme Bookstart supports parents and carers to enjoy books with their child from as early as possible with the gift of free books to children in the first year of their life and again when they are 3-4 years old. http://www.bookstart.org.uk
Research has shown that if a parent reads to their infant every day they will be almost 12 months ahead of those who are read to less often, in terms of their reading and language skills. (Kalb, G. & van Ours, J. C. (2013) Reading to Young Children: A Head-Start in Life? Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research).

Throughout the year Book Trust gives free books to 2.5 million parents and carers to read with their children. Inclusive packs are also available for children in care, with hearing or sight impairment, have fine motor delay or whose first language isn’t English.

Regular Bookstart-supported Storytime and Rhymetime sessions are held throughout the year in local libraries, nurseries and children’s centres.

Meeting Mr Bennet.

Meeting Mr Bennet.

For three years now l have been a member of the Mayor of Bath’s Honorary Corps of Guides – an organisation that has been active for the last 81 years in showing visitors to Bath around our lovely World Heritage city.

A very friendly group of Bath visitors meeting Martin on their Mayor's Guides trip this morning. Click on image to enlarge.

A very friendly group of Bath visitors meeting Martin on their Mayor’s Guides trip this morning. Click on image to enlarge.

I am humbled by other volunteer guides who have been doing this for up to forty years. It is a free service and we don’t even accept tips.

It’s a great way of connecting with our visitors. Bath welcomes around four and a half million a year – people who inject a fair bit of cash into our local economy.

This morning – Tuesday, May 18th – our party bumped into Martin – aka Mr Bennet – on duty outside the Jane Austen Centre. He makes all his own costumes and is reckoned to be the most photographed ‘street’ character in England.

Tomorrow he is off to a garden party at Buckingham Palace but has decided to wear a morning suit instead! More about the Mayor of Bath’s Honorary Corps via www.bathguides.org.uk/

Keynsham mosaics display leave ‘something to be desired’.

Keynsham mosaics display leave ‘something to be desired’.

Anthony Beeson

Anthony Beeson

A review now of the display of mosaics that have been incorporated into Keynsham’s new Civic Centre from Bristol-based Anthony Beeson who is an acknowledged Classical iconographer and an expert on Roman and Greek art and architecture.

He is also the Honorary Archivist of the Association for Roman Archaeology and this review has been published in the latest edition of the ARA News. Anthony is a member of the Association for the Study and Preservation of Roman Mosaics. He is a writer and former Art Librarian at Bristol City Libraries.

 ‘Keynsham’s new civic centre entitled the One Stop Shop opened. The building combines a number of civic services, from library to police, under one roof.
Keynsham, the town that lies between Bath and Bristol, has had a raw deal so far as its antiquities and the tourism that they would have generated are concerned. Its huge and architecturally outstanding Roman complex on Durley Hill was chosen as the site of a new cemetery in the 1920s.

The new One Stop Shop and library at Keynsham Civic Centre

The new One Stop Shop and library at Keynsham Civic Centre. Click on images to enlarge.

The obvious religious complex and the accompanying town believed to be Trajectus were first partly covered by Fry’s (later Cadbury’s) chocolate factory and, since the latter’s demise and following a controversial take-over, threatened by a plan for new housing on the site.
The remains of Keynsham’s great abbey were thoroughly dealt with by the construction of the town’s bypass in the 1960s. The Roman and medieval objects discovered rivalled anything displayed in either Bath or Bristol and should have generated enough civic pride in the town to have prompted a local museum.
The splendid mosaics found at Durley Hill were lifted and for many years were displayed as unrelated panels at the small museum founded at the gateway to Fry’s factory at Somerdale. In the 1980s this was closed and the mosaics and other antiquities went into long-term storage in the basement of the town hall.

The mosaic from room W as laid out in the Parish Church as part of Keynsham's millennium celebrations. The panels were still within frames at this time, but this was the first occasion when they had been placed into position since the 1920s. Photos: © Anthony Beeson.

The mosaic from room W as laid out in the Parish Church as part of Keynsham’s millennium celebrations. The panels were still within frames at this time, but
this was the first occasion when they had been placed into position since the 1920s.
Photos: © Anthony Beeson.

The late Charles Browne campaigned endlessly for their permanent display somewhere in the town, and at least managed a splendid show in the Parish Church in 2000 when the author and others had the delight of displaying the Durley Hill mosaics together in their original positions for the first time since their discovery (Beeson, 2001).
The mosaics and other finds then went back into obscurity, and were later moved to a warehouse in Pixash Lane that has become an archaeological store. It was with delight therefore that one heard the news that a proposed new civic centre was going to display the mosaics and other objects. This author visited the finished building in January with great expectations.
The spectacular mosaic from room W at the Durley Hill complex, previously divided into framed panels, has now been beautifully restored and the sections joined together. It occupies a sunken area between the library and community reception desks and is glazed over.
This is a controversial but currently popular way of dealing with mosaics. Glass and its supporting steel framework generally does nothing to enhance a mosaic beneath them. If the choice is there and floor space is lacking, a wall mounting is generally to be preferred.
The mosaic from room W as now displayed at Keynsham. The panels have been beautifully joined together giving one an idea of how the floor must have originally appeared. Care has been taken to position the steel structure above the joining guilloche strips. Neon lighting reflects in the glass. Photos: © Anthony Beeson.

The mosaic from room W as now displayed at Keynsham. The panels have been beautifully joined together giving one an idea of how the floor must have originally appeared. Care has been taken to position the steel structure above the joining guilloche strips. Neon lighting reflects in the glass.
Photos: © Anthony Beeson.

The steelwork at Keynsham does follow the shape of the guilloche framing of the panels in an attempt not to obscure the design too much and, on the whole, the display is better than it might have been.

Light reflection on the glass is also a problem with this type of display, and is unfortunately so at Keynsham as neon light strips have been placed on the ceiling over the floor.
Wonderful as it is to see the main pavement joined again, it is a pity that the building could not have been designed so that the mosaic could have been displayed better.
Unfortunately the remaining isolated panel with birds from the same floor is nowhere to be seen; it could have accompanied the beautiful rosette centre-piece from room J that is attached, slightly too high, to an otherwise blank staircase wall that overlooks the main pavement.
This rosette is one of the gems of mosaic work in its handling of colour and technique remaining to us from Roman Britain. An accompanying panel from this mosaic is unfortunately not

displayed with it.
Neither of the mosaics displayed has any museum labelling; there is a no-doubt expensive terminal that is supposed to inform the curious about them, but it was out of order when I visited. Someone had very kindly photocopied a leaflet about the mosaics, but the description of what was happening on the Achilles panel was muddled. One hopes that the information terminal provides a clearer description.

A view from the first floor of the One Stop Shop showing the distracting seating that has been placed overlapping the main panels of the mosaic from room W. Fortunately only two seats were occupied on this occasion. The great rosette from room J's mosaic may be seen on the staircase wall.

A view from the first floor of the One Stop Shop showing the distracting seating that has been placed overlapping the main panels of the mosaic from room W. Fortunately only two seats were occupied on this occasion. The great rosette from room J’s mosaic may be seen on the staircase wall.  Image © Anthony Beeson

What was particularly annoying with this new display, however, was the fact that someone (presumably the designer) had decided that it would be a great idea to place seating on three sides of the pavement, both blocking the central viewing area before the Europa panel and overlapping the edges of the mosaic.
Not only does one have to cope with reflected ceiling lighting and glass but also with people sitting with their legs and bags resting over the floor. No doubt this stems from some muddle-headed idea that it ‘brings the mosaic into the community’.
None of the library staff that I questioned had any idea who had made the decision to place the seating there. It is becoming depressingly commonplace in British museums, when reorganising and rebuilding such institutions, that designers’ and architects’ wishes override those of curatorial staff – when there are any.
Whilst one tried to view the glazed mosaic there appeared to be a permanent meeting of several people wearing name badges who successfully managed to obfuscate the Europa panel and made no attempt to move so that others might view it properly.
It really made this author wonder why so much money had been spent on displaying a national treasure only to allow it to be obscured so easily. I fortunately went at a quiet time, so one wonders what the experience would be if it had been busy.
The Roman window display of pottery and building materials from Keynsham sites

The Roman window display of pottery and building materials from Keynsham sites.  Image © Anthony Beeson

Windows at the One Stop Shop have been used as museum cases displaying minor stonework from the abbey and some pottery, tesserae and building materials from the Roman sites.

The cream of these collections, including a rare statue base dedicated to Silvanus, alas still remain in the store at Pixash Lane.
It is wonderful to have these mosaics finally on display, but what an opportunity to display Keynsham’s treasures properly has been missed.’