What future for Sydney Gardens?

What future for Sydney Gardens?

One of the posters dotted around the park.

One of the posters dotted around the park.

Bath’s Sydney Gardens is currently dotted with official B&NES signs giving notice of plans to inject £250,000 into this old public park and asking those who enjoy using it for their views on ways it could be rejuvenated.

You have until March 6th to pass on your comments and suggestions – but more about that later.

On the council website this elongated hexagonal of land is correctly identified as the oldest park in the city but it wasn’t planned as being somewhere for the general public to go!

Winter sunshine in Sydney Gardens

Winter sunshine in Sydney Gardens

From the start this was a private commercial venture – opened in 1795 – as a pleasure ground.

It was a profit-making enterprise designed for adult society and entertainment with a character quite different from the more formal, flower-bedded and free-to-enter Victorian parks to come.

According to Michael Forsyth – in the Pevsner Architectural Guide to Bath – the Gardens or Vauxhall – to give the venture its proper name – was funded by shares of £100 and you had to pay a fee to get in and enjoy the facilities.

MInerva's Temple - brought from the Empire Exhibition at the Crystal Palace and re-erected here in 1913-14.

MInerva’s Temple – brought from the Empire Exhibition at the Crystal Palace and re-erected here in 1913-14.

The New Bath Guide for 1801 described  ‘waterfalls, stone and thatched pavilions, alcoves, a sham castle, bowling greens, swings, a labyrinth, a fine Merlin swing, a grotto of antique appearance, and four thatched umbrellas as a shelter for the rains.’

It was a lot to cram onto a modest site – and all surrounded by a drive for carriages and individually mounted horses to ride upon.

A novel entertainment for the well-to-do in the middle of a vast Georgian development. These were the former virgin acres of the Bathwick estate that could now be easily reached across the newly built Pulteney Bridge.

It was a Bath ‘New Town’ that would spread out from a fine terraced avenue of houses named after the estate’s developer Sir William Johnstone Pulteney.

Great Pulteney Street lead down to Sydney House – which formed it’s closure at the eastern end. However the building – now the Holburne Museum – was also the entrance to the pleasure gardens beyond.

The Holburne Museum

The Holburne Museum

Thomas Baldwin – architect of Great Pulteney Street – initially designed Sydney House and Gardens in 1794, but in the end it was his pupil Charles Harcourt Masters who did the work and to a modified design.

The house offered coffee, tea and card rooms for those using the Gardens and with a ballroom on the first floor.

On the side facing the Gardens was a conservatory, orchestra stand and even – on the ground floor – a transparency. A picture painted on thin linen so that it glowed against the light.

There was also a public house in the basement – called the Sydney Tap – for chairmen, coachmen and other servants who were not allowed into the Gardens.

Sydney Gardens became a municipal park in 1909.

Sydney Gardens became a municipal park in 1909.

Events within these sylvan acres included public breakfasts and dinners – in open wooden supper boxes that jutted out in curved wings either side of the house.

There were evening promenades, gala nights with fireworks and illuminations and all accompanied by music.

All of this on offer in Gardens that were also planned to be enclosed by fine terraces of houses – that would all share a fine view of the pleasure gardens – and then the development would continue beyond.

Only two sides were completed. Bankruptcy and the French Revolution punctured this property balloon – so what remains is just a vision of what might have been.

The coming of the Kennet and Avon Canal – and then the Great Western Railway – produced further modification and disruption to the pleasure gardens layout – as both were to cut their way through its grounds.

The existing low wall from where people can watch the trains pass by.

The existing low wall from where people can watch the trains pass by.

As it was the canal – once built – was heralded as an additional ‘attraction’ while Brunel ‘landscaped’ his rail route through the Gardens – providing a visual theatre in which people could cheer his amazing trains as they sped – belching smoke and hissing steam – across this garden of delights.

Today the canal has been revitalised and the rail link to London is about to be electrified which will in itself involve some modification of the section through Sydney Gardens to address health and safety issues.

They will be digging a trench to keep people away from the line but not adversely affect the view.

The central path - looking up to the Loggia

The central path – looking up to the Loggia

Elsewhere  the original features have all but disappeared but the central axis – which does continue the line of Great Pulteney Street – and some interesting garden structures of later dates do remain.

B&NES had applied for Heritage Lottery funding but failed in the attempt. At one time a joint application was to go in from both the Holburne Museum and the Council but – for various – reasons only the Holburne’s proposal for an extension was submitted.

The Holburne extension

The Holburne extension

It was successful and – for some – a controversial but award-winning glass and ceramic 11.2 million pound extension was added to the Holburne which re-opened in May 2011 after building work was completed.

The Museum building had lost its direct link with the Gardens after it became  a college and its grounds were fenced.

The Holburne wants this view open up!

The Holburne wants this view open up!

It’s a well-known fact that – after adding an extension which turned the attention of visitors back to what lay outside – the Holburne would like to see a more direct link with the Gardens recreated. Some sort of balanced opening out into what lies beyond its rear boundaries.

No doubt B&NES will be aware of their feelings. Meanwhile they have called in a company called Place Studios Limited of Bristol to help them plan a course of action in Sydney Gardens.

On their website Place say: ‘We are qualified urban designers who enjoy working with stakeholders and communities. We are experienced in helping to shape places, streets and green spaces within the country’s most diverse and sensitive environments, notably Bristol, Bath and London.’

Members of urban designers Place Studios and interested parties taking a tour of Sydney Gardens.

Members of urban designers Place Studios and interested parties taking a tour of Sydney Gardens.

I spotted them out in the Gardens with council officials and other interested parties taking a walk around. It’s part of a process B&NES is undertaking before deciding on a plan of action. On the Council website it says:

‘In recent years the Council has been working with the local community to develop a long-term plan for improving Sydney Gardens. Recent surveys have identified that some of the listed historic structures and public amenities are in need of attention; and that there are concerns about anti-social behaviour in the Gardens, and the Council has recently allocated £250,000 to help address these issues.

MInerva's Temple - brought from the Empire Exhibition at the Crystal Palace and re-erected here in 1913-14.

MInerva’s Temple – brought from the Empire Exhibition at the Crystal Palace and re-erected here in 1913-14.

The Council has commissioned Place Studio to help: working with a project Steering Group that includes representatives of local residents’ groups (including The Friends of Sydney Gardens) to identify practical work that needs to happen now to help conserve the gardens and then to work with stakeholders to agree ongoing future improvements.’

According to Councillor David Dixon- who is Cabinet Member for Neighbourhoods:

‘Sydney Gardens is one of Bath’s most historic public parks, much-loved by its local community, but in desperate need of careful rejuvenation. Bath & North East Somerset Council’s injection of £250,000 this year will kick-start a collaboration between the community and the Council, restoring the landscape, improving accessibility and enabling it to become an even better focus of the community life for future generations.’

B&NES lists its priorities for people to consider.

The Project Steering Group has identified a number of priorities for investment in the short-term, and we want to hear your views about these and/or any other priorities which you feel need addressing in the Gardens.

Priorities identified to date include:

Environment
• Reveal the canal.

Shrubbery prevents you seeing the canal. Should it be removed?

Shrubbery prevents you seeing the canal. Should it be removed?

• Open up views.
• More/better benches.
• Places for wildlife.
• Heritage interpretation

Access/Safety
• Signs to and around the gardens.
• Improve the entrances.
• Connect paths & remove dead ends.
• Trim overgrown bushes/shrubs.

Play/Keeping Fit
• Provide natural play opportunities for children.
• Improve the tennis courts.
• Outdoor gym/trail.
• Walking/jogging routes.
• More cycle parking.

It asks people who have suggestions for other improvements to send any comments by 6th March to: info@placestudio.com

Alternatively, you can write your comments down and drop them in to the Council’s One-Stop-Shop in Manvers Street in an envelope clearly marked ‘Sydney Gardens’.

The Virtual Museum has something to say on the subject. Clearly the Gardens cannot be restored to its original layout. Too much has changed – physically and socially – but it would be nice if its heritage could be better acknowledged. It is after all the last remaining portion of a former Georgian pleasure garden existing in this country!

Should the canal be opened up to view by removing shrubbery?

Should the canal be opened up to view by removing shrubbery?

Orignal planting was often done on such a confined space to hide attractions from one another. So that you came across each one as an element of surprise – although they were close to each other. At one time the whole gardens looked like a densely packed wood!

The Virtual Museum agrees that some views – like the canal – could be opened up. The restoration of a clear line between the Holburne and what remains of the Loggia at the top would also be welcomed.

B&NES talks about places for wildlife and the VM is not sure what they mean by this. As things stand the place is teeming with it and any reduction of flora would reduce habitat for what is there.

Seating could certainly be better

Seating could certainly be better

The park needs better seating. Could people not sponsor it? Already seats are providing as memorials to loved ones. Once upon a time there was wooden seating wrapped around mature trees. Could not that be done again?

The bottom tennis courts in need of attention

The bottom tennis courts in need of attention

Recreational activities do need to be addressed and certainly the bottom tennis court could do with a make-over.

The public loos have been overhauled but there are older listed loos to consider?

Get rid of the tarmac paths and – most important of all – bring the Gardens back into night use with proper lighting. I am sure l heard there were plans to have solar lights sunk into the ground?

Maybe a limited archaeological dig could identify some sites of past structure so some sort of reconstruction could be attempted?

The main driveway through Sydney Gardens. Swathes of tarmac!

The main driveway through Sydney Gardens. Swathes of tarmac!

New and old loos standing side by side

New and old loos standing side by side

Network Rail’s intervention in the area this year – as part of their electrification scheme – should be tied into the Council’s plans.

Maybe the company might help out in other ways!

B&NES say: ‘Once we have received suggestions, a plan of action will be agreed by the project Steering Group and the Council.

We will then update on progress and – at a later date – provide an opportunity for residents and other stakeholders to get involved in developing the longer term plan.’

The Council website for you to look at is: www.bathnes.gov.uk/…/sydney-gardens

 

 

 

 

Magic night of lanterns and light.

Magic night of lanterns and light.

lantern procession 2014Hundreds of people have taken part in what surely must be the biggest lanternlantern procession 2014 procession through Bath that the Holburne Museum has got together in the eight years this magical event has been running.

Hundreds more lined the streets to experience a night of lanterns, lights and music.

This year’s theme was On the High Seas and there was an assortment of things big and small – from jelly fish and minnows to submarines, galleons and even an elephant!

Virtual Museum fans can watch some of the event by clicking on the link below.

 

Panto man on a plinth at Holburne Museum

Panto man on a plinth at Holburne Museum

The late and great comic actor Chris Harris – star of countless pantomimes at Bath’s Theatre Royal – has been commemorated in a work of art that has gone on display at the Holburne Museum in the city.

'Hello You Tinkers! Chris Harris as Widow Twankey' Paul Gunning MA

‘Hello You Tinkers! Chris Harris as Widow Twankey’
Paul Gunning MA

The Holburne Museum

The Holburne Museum

A ceramic figure of Chris – dressed as Window Twankey – is just one of eleven temporary installations from MA ceramics and textiles students at Bath Spa University’s  School of Art & Design which have now gone on show throughout the building.

It is the work of Paul Gunning who is a MA Design: Ceramics graduate this year and who has explained his choice of subject  on a card alongside the figure.

Paul says: ‘ I’ve always been drawn to the Holburne’s ceramic figures and paintings of actors. When l decided to create this figure, Chris was very much alive and heaving the matronly bosom.

Now the work is dedicated to the memory of a generous, funny man who looked fantastic in lipstick and Doc Martens.’

Well there’s no denying this would make a fitting installation for Bath’s Theatre Royal – if the money could be raised to buy it?

Meanwhile, the Virtual Museum has been down to speak to the Holburne’s Curator of Decorative Arts, Catrin Jones, who can explain exactly what the tie-up with Bath Spa is.

 

 

Whether responding to individual pieces in the collection, highlighting objects not usually on display or commenting on Sir William Holburne himself, this exciting collaboration between Bath Spa University and the Holburne Museum will stimulate new interpretations and ways of looking.

The show includes ceramics by Charlotte Asprey, Rupert Brakspear, Adele Christensen, Paul Gunning, Wen Hsi Harman, Elise Menghini and Richard Winfield, and textiles by Kate Bond, Jayne Goulding, Bronwen Gwillim, and Carole Wadham.

The exhibition graphics were designed by Paul Gunning.

 

 

 

It’s going to be a blue (and white) Christmas at the Holburne!

It’s going to be a blue (and white) Christmas at the Holburne!

Got a chance to meet Jennifer Scott – the new Director of the Holburne Museum – today and she’s very excited about the venue’s new exhibition which features the comic art of Thomas Rowlandson. He was one of the leading caricaturists of Georgian Britain and many of his cartoons feature Bath. The exhibition has just opened and will run through to February next year.

Jennifer has also been telling me what’s in store for this year’s Christmas theme at the Holburne – so stay with this article until the end to find out more!

She has come to Bath from her previous job as curator at the Royal Collection Trust. A job she has done since 2004. She has curated a number of major exhibitions for the Queen’s Galleries in London and Edinburgh.

Jennifer also worked with the Holburne Museum team last year on the Rembrandt Exhibition which also featured paintings from the Royal Collection.

But first – let’s talk about Thomas Rowlandson.

 

 

Jennifer has only been in the job for five weeks and was not about to divulge long-term plans for the Holburne. However she was able to give me a taster of what to expect at the museum this Christmas.

 

 

 

Fresh art on display!

Fresh art on display!

FREE Exhibition of new artwork created for the Hillview Acute Inpatient Unit in Bath.
At The Schoolhouse, Building of Bath Collection, The Paragon,
Bath, BA1 5NA.
31st May – 8th June, 12.00 – 4.00 daily.

Building of Bath Museum

Building of Bath Museum

No.1 Royal Crescent, the Holburne Museum and the American Museum in Britain have hosted a series of creative workshops resulting in a remarkable collection of artwork to be displayed in Hillview Lodge, B&NES’s acute inpatient unit in Bath.

The artists are people with experience of mental health challenges plus their friends and family. The artwork includes collage and painting and presents such challenges in a positive light, breaking down the stigma often associated with this subject.

The original idea behind the Fresh Art @ Hillview project came from service users at Hillview Lodge who wanted to give something back to the ward. Providing fresh artwork will promote conversation and inspiration within Hillview and give confidence, new skills and a sense of pride to those whose work is on display.

The project itself has been run as a partnership between local organisations: Avon and Wiltshire NHS Trust (AWP), Bath Preservation Trust, the Holburne Museum, the American Museum in Britain, Creativity Works, Sirona and St. Mungo’s.

Hannah Carding, one of the lead artists, said: “It has been very rewarding to see how participants have enjoyed developing their artistic skills so much. They have really flourished in this project.”
Polly Andrews, Co-ordinator of the Bath Museums Community Engagement project commented: “We have been delighted to work in partnership to provide an opportunity for the participants to feel inspired by our unique collections and beautiful settings.”FreshArt@Hillview

Participants on the project came from the acute inpatient community at Hillview as well as many peer-led creative groups such as Tiny Monuments and The Inspirational Arts & Crafts group, which have grown from wellbeing projects across B&NES.

For more information on the Fresh Art @ Hillview exhibition or the project itself contact:
Name: Polly Andrews
Tel: / email: 01225 333895 pandrews@bptrust.org.uk
The artworks will be on display in the Schoolhouse at the Building of Bath Collection on the Paragon between 31 May and 8 June, between 12 and 4pm daily. Free admission.

 

Oh no missus! Julian Opie at the Holburne.

Oh no missus! Julian Opie at the Holburne.

Julian Opie

Click on images to enlarge.

julian opie

Click on images to enlarge.

Oh no missus – as Frankie Howerd might have exclaimed – what is a naked woman and a little urinating boy doing on the back lawn at Bath’s Holburne Museum?

Well – hopefully – it won’t result in too many ‘ladies of leisure’ choking on their clotted cream and jam scones but the painted metal shapes and digital simulation are part of a fantastic exhibition due to open soon in this  popular museum of art at the Sydney Gardens end of Great Pulteney Street.

To those familiar with the  work of Julian Opie – English sculptor, painter, printmaker and installation artist –  you won’t need me to explain that these ‘humorous and playful sculptures’ are typical of a man who has been an influential figure on the British art scene since the 1980’s.

Opening on June 21st, the Holburne will be hosting  – Julian Opie: Collected Works which continues a series of exhibitions at the venue exploring artists and their collections.

Julian is one of this country’s most important and successful contemporary artists and this will be his first one person exhibition in a UK museum for over ten years.

Uniquely it will bring together his own works – including some previously unseen works – with pieces from his private art collection and explore the links and resonances between the two.

 

 

 

Help celebrate Bath’s World Heritage status.

Help celebrate Bath’s World Heritage status.

sydney gardensSydney Gardens is to host an afternoon of free events and activities on Sunday 13 April as Bath & North East Somerset Council, in partnership with Bath Preservation Trust and the Holburne Museum, celebrates 27 years of Bath’s World Heritage Site status.

World Heritage Day will feature fun for the whole family in Sydney Gardens, one of the country’s last surviving 18th century pleasure gardens, from 12noon to 4pm.  Running alongside the Holburne Museum’s ‘Explosive Easter Eggstravaganza’, there will be events and activities for everyone to enjoy and a chance to learn more about the past and future of this historic park.

The Mayor’s Honorary Guides will be leading hourly guided walks (at 12.30pm, 1.30pm and 2.30pm) around the local area, including the canal – starting and finishing in Sydney Gardens. There will also be opportunities to walk to Cleveland Pools and enjoy a stroll along the canal to Southcot Burial Ground in Widcombe.

There will be swingboat rides for children and traditional games to play. Craft activities are on offer, with the chance to make something to take away and to contribute to a very large ‘painting by numbers’ picture.  There will be some special Georgian characters to meet on the day.

The Kennet and Avon through Sydney Gardens.

The Kennet and Avon through Sydney Gardens.

Councillor Ben Stevens (Lib-Dem, Widcombe), Cabinet Member for Sustainable Development, said: “Bath & North East Somerset Council is delighted to join Bath Preservation Trust in welcoming everyone to Sydney Gardens for this family-friendly event on Sunday 13 April.

“World Heritage status is a tremendous accolade for Bath. It means we are recognised as being amongst the most significant cultural sites in the world, and one of the only entire cities to be designated a World Heritage Site. World Heritage Day is all about encouraging people to enjoy finding out more about the legacy of this very special place and the responsibility we share in ensuring that future generations can appreciate it too.”

Groups including the Kennet and Avon Canal Trust, the Friends of Sydney Gardens, the Cleveland Pools Trust and Bath Preservation Trust will be on hand to tell visitors more about the fascinating history of Sydney Gardens, and the exciting plans for the future.

Bath City Jubilee Waits will entertain visitors with lively English music from 2-4pm. The group re-establishes the tradition of playing music at civic occasions which existed in Bath for much of the 18th Century.

sydney gardensAll of the day’s events and guided walks are free to all.  The ‘Explosive Easter Eggstravanza’ at the Holburne Museum is also a free event offering science and art activities inspired by the paintings of Joseph Wright of Derby as well as a giant egg roll!

Elsewhere in Bath, the Herschel Museum of Astronomy in New King Street will be offering free admission to children on the day and making Eighteenth century fashion dolls. At Southcot Burial Ground children can follow the Tree Sprite trail from 11-3pm.

For more information on the World Heritage Day events visit: www.bathnes.gov.uk/heritageevents

sydney gardens