The City of Bath
Bath was named by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 1987. World Heritage Sites are ‘places of outstanding universal value to the whole of humanity’ like The Taj Mahal, Pyramids of Giza, the Great Wall of China and the Grand Canyon, so this City is something very, very special! The widespread use of local limestone and the uniform scale and height of the buildings contributes to the beauty of the city.
I had not been to Bath for over twenty five years and was looking to explore this unique and architecturally stunning city with new eyes. I had read somewhere that it was the only city in Britain which had been given site of special interest for the whole city! As a child in an English school, you learn about the Roman presence in Britain, the road building, the mosaics, hypocausts, centurions & of course their baths. I had visited the Roman Baths in Bath on my previous visit to the city, so I was looking to explore further.
The walk across the city from my hotel was breath taking, there are so many beautiful buildings on every corner. I passed through a beautiful covered market, then I walked across the iconic Pulteney Bridge, one of only four bridges in the world to have shops across its full span on both sides. I was surprised to find that when I was standing on the bridge that it was very difficult to see that I was still on a bridge! I could not see the river! It was only when I looked right through the small shops to the windows on the other side that I could see the river below.
My walk up Great Pulteney Street was stunning with fine tall Georgian terraces on both sides clamouring for my attention. At over 1,000 feet long and 100 feet wide, Great Pulteney Street is the widest, grandest thoroughfare in Bath, flanked on either side by beautiful Georgian properties. The big bold solid wooden doors at the top of a short series of wide stone steps at many of the properties were simply awesome. Some of the properties also had extremely beautiful and delicate iron balconies or arches around their doors or entrances.
In all major dimensions there is considerable conformity, the width and height of buildings and the size and spacing of windows all adhere to a grid pattern. While the street has a visual external unity, the buildings have different internal features, some having been designed as private houses and others as hotels. This beautiful street, completed in 1789, was commissioned by Sir William Pulteney and designed by Georgian architect Thomas Baldwin. Apparently when first built, the street was lined with trees, which in autumn caused some problems with leaf litter. When asked to solve this problem the town council opted to simply cut most of the trees down!
At one end you will find Laura Place, with its pretty fountain at the centre. At the other end stands the magnificent Holburne Museum, the city’s first public art gallery, and Sydney Gardens, the only remaining eighteenth-century pleasure gardens in the country.
Down the back of these terraces, I got a glimpse of Bath Rugby Club and more surprisingly street signs to the Bath Croquet Club. Only in Bath have I seen a croquet club so prominently advertised. The only time I see croquet is at hotels I have stayed at for the amusement & recreation of guests.
Holburne Museum was a striking and beautiful end to my short walk across this historic city. Before entering the main building, I took a pleasant walk up to the Avon & Kennett canal after crossing a railway bridge through part of the Sydney Pleasure Gardens.
The Museum has been housed in the former Sydney Hotel since 1916. There is a bookshop and a café with a covered marquee that opens out onto the Gardens. The gardens remain the only remaining eighteenth-century pleasure gardens in the country.
The city’s first public art gallery, the Grade I listed building is home to fine collection of decorative arts built around the collection of Sir William Holburne. Artists in the collection include Gainsborough, Guardi, Stubbs, Ramsay and Zoffany. The ballroom which housed, The Golden Age of British painting appeared small and compact but contained over forty incredible works of Art including some of the biggest British artists of that period. I particularly enjoyed the Gainsborough’s. I felt that many of the paintings looked so fresh that they could have been painted yesterday. There was an incredible collection of miniatures, both paintings & objects and the works of Pieter Bruegel the Younger was full of activity, there was so much going on in his paintings. The museum also has an extensive programme of temporary exhibitions, music performances, creative workshops, family events, talks and lectures.
The Holburne stood in for the Devonshire villa in the 2008 film The Duchess starring Keira Knightley, and for Steyne’s mansion in Vanity Fair, the 2004 adaption of William Thackeray’s novel, starring Reese Witherspoon.
The museum had reopened in May 2011 after extensive restoration and a much maligned extension, which at the time was met with some opposition from local residents, local councillors and conservationists. The historic front does contrast wildly with the modern rear addition, which when I visited was partly obscured by a large, covered marquee across the terrace.
The three-storey block of glass is vertically furrowed by a series of ceramic strips or ‘fins’ glazed in blue and green. The bottom third of the extension is transparent, the middle third layered and semi-transparent, and the top is a solid ceramic box. The three new floors double the museum’s exhibition and public space.
On the ground floor a small café & bookshop provides a 180-degree view of the surrounding Sydney Gardens. The intermediate floors in the extension provide a ‘cabinet of curiosities’ display of previously stored items from the Holburne’s collection. The day-lit top floor provides a temporary gallery. A secondary staircase, lift and service spaces creates a connection between old and new buildings.
Jane Austen is one of the most beloved writers in English literature, responsible for classics such as Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility and has a significant presence in Bath & Holburne House. The Gardens provided a favourite walk for the young writer who set part of her novel Northanger Abbey across the road in Great Pulteney Street. Austen had also lived in Sydney Place, just off Great Pulteney Street, which was used in the filming of Persuasion (1994).
On my visit there was a unique chance to see the only widely accepted depiction of Jane Austen (1775–1817) outside London, when the sketch of the novelist by her sister Cassandra is generously lent to the Holburne Museum by the National Portrait Gallery. The sketch by Cassandra is the only surviving memento of Austen’s features and the sole widely accepted depiction of her appearance. Although the drawing is undated and unrecorded in the correspondence between the sisters, the sitter’s age and attire suggest a date of around 1810.
In the late 19th century, the sketch was turned into an engraving that, according to Austen’s niece Caroline, depicted a ‘pleasing countenance’, ‘though the general resemblance is not strong’. This representation became the accepted image of the author and, most recently, provided the basis for the £10 note. Holburne has recently been shown in the Netflix drama Bridgerton so there is also an added interest for fans of the drama which included Lady Danbury’s Terrace!
I simply loved Holburne House and would recommend a visit when in Bath. The House is simply beautiful & the works of Art within its walls incredible. I spent a good few hours browsing the galleries and had a nice cup of coffee and a cake in the café at the end of my visit in the café.
The Royal Crescent is an architectural marvel. When people think of the City of Bath, the iconic Royal Crescent is one of the first things they think of, after the Thermal Roman Spa Baths. No.1 Royal Crescent is the first building at the eastern end of the Royal Crescent and is of national architectural and historic importance. It is without doubt one of the UK’s most important buildings and one of the most significant urban architectural achievements of the 18th century, representing the highest point of Palladian architecture in Bath. Standing outside facing the building I could only marvel at the symmetrical five-window frontage with the central Doric doorcase. It is such a beautiful building.
No.1 operates as a public “historic house” museum, furnished to represent life in one of the great houses of 18th century Bath, displaying authentic room sets, furniture, pictures and other items illustrating Georgian domestic life both ‘upstairs’ and ‘downstairs’. The Netflix drama Bridgerton featured No. 1 as the house belonging to the Featherington family, which is of great interest to many viewers of this popular period drama, including my wife!
No visit to Bath would be complete without a trip to the unique ancient site of the Roman Baths where you can find out how Bath’s former residents relaxed all those centuries ago. You can’t take a dip at the Roman Baths any longer, but you can still immerse yourself in the same natural hot spring waters at the Thermae Bath Spa whilst enjoying a spectacular rooftop pool offering 360-degree views of the city.
I can fully recommend taking the Bath Abbey Tower Tour. If you are up to the challenge & capable of climbing the 212 steps to the top, you will see the bell chamber, stand above Bath Abbey’s vaulted ceiling and actually sit behind the clock face! Once you reach the roof, you will also be rewarded with spectacular views over the city and surrounding countryside.
Bath has a treasure chest of museums and art galleries to choose from. Why not soak up some style at the Fashion Museum, visit the Victoria Art Gallery for classic and contemporary art in a splendid Victorian setting or cloak yourself in the dark world of Mary Shelley and her famous gothic creation at the House of Frankenstein?
The City of Bath has so much more to offer at all times of the year. Stunning sights crop up around almost every corner of the city, take a stroll around another Georgian marvel The Circus, enjoy spectacular vistas from the top of Alexandra Park, take a break in the landscaped gardens of Prior Park or take tea & a bun at Sally Lunn’s House.
I enjoyed my short visit to Bath enormously and am already looking to making an extended visit sometime in the very near future. Bath is waiting for you to come & explore. Why don’t you check it out for yourself?