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Friday, 1st Feb 2019
The forgotten county
By Tim Porter
Stones in his pockets
Wednesday 24th April 2019
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Wigs, Romans and plumbers
On the 17th of September, members of the Society visited Bath. Here Dave Wiblin gives his account of a day that turned out to have a few surprises.
I had only ever been to Bath as a child and more recently to watch rugby, which really consisted of spending hours navigating the one-way system, more hours trying to find somewhere to park and then going in the nearest pub, watching rugby and doing the reverse so it was a good opportunity to get a better idea of what Bath has to offer.
The day started well with a nice clear, dry day after days of unsettled weather as 29 of us gathered in the Square waiting for the Pulham’s coach. We were pleasantly surprised when a tinted glass, executive coach pulled into the coach parking area and we all got on greeted with plush leather seats, lots of legroom, footrests and tables. All we needed was a seat back TV to complete the luxury.
Our first tour stop was at No.1 Royal Crescent, Bath (Grade I listed) which was built to the design of John Wood the Younger in 1767 – 1774 as the first house in the Royal Crescent, a Bath stone crescent of thirty houses. The occupation of the house reflects the changing social make-up of Bath with a decline in the status of the occupants from a wealthy landowner (Mr Henry Sandford) who rented the house between 1777 and 1796 to clerics and minor gentry. In the 1840s the house was a seminary for young ladies and later became a lodging-house.
One of the tenants was the Duke of York made famous in ‘the Grand of Duke of York’. The buildings fell into disrepair and were formally separated in 1968, when No. 1 was bought by a Mr. Bernard Cayzer at a cost of £3,000 who supported its restoration to become both a historic house and the headquarters for the Bath Preservation Trust. The building has been lovingly restored with great attention to detail and when we were there they had an exhibition of dolls houses from the period in one of the rooms.
We were shown down into the Servants Kitchen where tea and coffee was served. One of the guides gave us a most entertaining insight into life in the Georgian period. She pointed out the lack of hygiene with people washing very infrequently (hence the gentleman’s propensity to take snuff) and the women’s fashion of wearing wigs which were often worn night and day for up to 6 weeks at a time and became infested.
Having spent some time looking through the rooms we were then free to wander down the hill to the centre of Bath and search out a spot of lunch, meeting up again at the Roman Baths for the afternoon’s tour.
Having visited the baths as a child I wasn’t expecting much but boy have they changed. The complex is now one of the finest historic sites in Northern Europe, and one of the most popular tourist attractions in the UK. In 2011 the Roman Baths completed a £5.5 million redevelopment to bring the best of modern interpretation to the site. Our group was split into 2 with enthusiastic and knowledgeable guides who took us around the spring itself, the bath house, the Roman temple and museum.
The whole area has been skilfully excavated to reveal and display the remains of a Roman temple, stopping only at the foundations of the local Primark. The museum itself houses a wealth of finds including small lead scraps with wishes written on them together with the largest votive collection of over 12,000 Roman coins found on the site. This puts the Stow Wells into perspective with a collection of £11.40 from the recent cleaning workgroup. The spring itself delivers over one million litres of water a day through the baths, again putting the Wells to shame. There was a slight concern when our Chairman tripped over an original Roman lead water pipe with brazed joints that today’s plumbers would be proud of. At the end of the tour we were given the option of spending more time in the museum with a Bill Bryson audio commentary or exploring a bit more of Bath.
A quiet coach journey home after a full day and time to reflect on a great day out. Well done Rachel Surman for organising an interesting trip to a City I hope to visit again soon (and not only when Gloucester Rugby play Bath).
Interior No. 1, Royal Crescent
The Roman baths.