Renovations Review

THE TRUMPET SHALL SOUND

Whilst it is impolite to boast, surely no one can complain if Bath Preservation Trust proudly reviews its achievements in saving and restoring beautiful listed buildings and their ornaments.

For the better part of 30 years the Trust has led the way in putting back lost architectural features, directly saving buildings and monuments and persuading other people that they should do the same. This is quite apart from campaigning to save Bath as a whole. For some, the early schemes are forgotten and reminders prompt such remarks as ‘really’, ‘well, I never knew that’ and, of course, ‘I don’t believe it’. The last of these certainly applies to the first major example, the saving and restoration of the obelisk in Queen Square.

In 1946 it was decided that the obelisk was decayed and the inscribed stone tablet barely legible. The solution proposed by the council was to demolish the whole thing. Happily inertia ruled and then in 1977, the Trust thought the restoration of the obelisk, and re-carving of the tablet, a fitting commemorative gesture for the Queen’s Jubilee.

As one thing leads to another, the hideous plastic covered chain link fence which followed the hazel fence, sensitively installed to replace the railings removed as part of the war effort, cried out for removal at the same time.

The Trust investigated the possibility of replacing the original boundary marker, the stone balustrade, of which parts survived in someone’s garden, but at £30,000 this was too costly. The fact that the original was demolished in 1784 and most prints showed the subsequent Georgian railings, meant an appeal was launched for £15,000 for new railings . There were many public donations and the council also contributed. John Vivien, a trustee of BPT was the architect for the scheme.

The resultant transformation made many responsive to the Trust’s entreaties for conservation and restoration and over the years the Trust came financially to support or to lead the reinstatement of the railings in St James’s square in 1986, the saving of the railings in Royal Crescent in 1960, and the complete re-instatement in Catharine place in 1996. Since 1983 the Trust has grant aided the reinstatement of over 50 sets of iron railings some with a gate, for private houses, in addition to the Raby Gardens gate and has installed the magnificent cast iron railings, copied from a remaining piece, at Beckford’s Tower.

Balconettes, and canopies have been saved with help from the Trust and in 1970, Lord Strathcona’s three year campaign to repair and re-light the overthrows in Lansdown Crescent bore fruit, not with cash from the Trust, but with design advice from Hugh Crallan the Trust secretary. In 1991, a contribution of £4,000 was made to the cost of replacing missing parts of eight more of these exceptional lamp holders. The Trust promoted and part funded the scheme for the making of a new lamp for the chapel at the bottom of Lyncombe Hill and in 1999 paid for the new lamps outside the Holburne Museum.

A grant for an overthrow in Great Pulteney Street in 1996 was made in the hope that it would spur on the replacement of all of them. As with so many Trust ideas, time is needed for maturation. This year, 2009, the residents have come up with a united undertaking to replace more than half of the overthrows and lamps. The Trust is helping with design advice and a grant towards high quality detailed drawings and has provided the bulk of the historical research to support the application for Listed Building consent.

The earliest mention of grants aiding glazing bar replacement seems to be in 1960, and in 1964 a glazing bar fund was launched because of a sense of a missed opportunity when the Mineral Water Hospital rebuild after the war did not include period style glazing. The same was true of the old Fortes Restaurant in Milsom Street and Abbey Court flats.

Despite insistence by some pundits that later plate glass should be retained as part of the history of the building, the Trust stood its ground and argued that the buildings looked blank and lacklustre with plate glass, and that putting back the bars restored the smile to the face of the city. Huge numbers were replaced with government grants, under the Town Scheme, in Great Pulteney Street and the Circus and in the case of No.1 Royal Crescent the cills were raised to the Georgian level. So many had been cut down during the nineteenth century fashion for more light in the rooms, although the effect was marginal.

Overall the Trust has grant aided replacement sashes in almost 200 houses. Sadly, one great failure has been the north side of Queen Square where repeated attempts, since the 1960s, at re-glazing this crucial essay in terrace architecture were defeated by reluctant long term owners. In two houses, however, the owners were very enthusiastic and the Trust gave a large grant to one of them to include the cost of the use of special glass resembling the old crown glass. The result is spectacular particularly in raking evening light. The overall effect sadly is marred by the creepers which threaten to obscure not only our work, but more and more of this wonderful façade, one of John Wood’s greatest achievements.

In 1986, Queen Square also benefited from help to copy the lost staircase at no.15 where the plasterwork but not the woodwork had survived. Attempts to persuade the present owners of the original, removed and reinstalled elsewhere, failed, but the research and debate highlighted the extraordinary earlier cavalier attitude in Bath towards the loss of architectural detail of the highest quality. Another example of rescued woodwork was the part funding of the handsome gates to the Abbey Churchyard in Ralph Allen Drive. Off their hinges and rotting in the undergrowth, the gates were noticed by a vigilant enthusiast who with the help of Trust money promoted their restoration.

2003 was the year of The White Hart. The historic inn sign, from the old White Hart in Stall Street, is eighteenth century or earlier. It was stolen, the head removed and the corpse left in a stream. It was rescued, and the Trust drove a renovation project with the owners and the residents of Widcombe and Lyncombe. A carver, who had worked for the Trust, made the head and fixed the antlers which are real, as they were originally, and were given by the Claverton deer farm.

1997 saw a grant of £10,000 towards the multimillion pound Millennium restoration appeal for Bath Abbey, and the same year, £10,000 was given to help save the Georgian gymnasium at Prior Park School. As a venue for various events it is now seen by the public from time to time whereas previously it was cordoned off because parts were at the risk of collapse. The restoration of the Palladian bridge at Prior Park also attracted the Trust’s attention.

When it comes to stonework, some of the individually most attractive results have been achieved. The bust of Athenae in St James Parade, conserved in 1981 leads the way and the sphinx in George Street was conserved just before it disintegrated altogether. There is another sphinx above Belvedere in need of care and the Trust keeps prodding the owners but, as is so often the case, multiple ownership of split properties slows the progress.

Acroteria on a bow window in Bathwick Hill and a console in Cavendish Crescent serve as examples of complex carving, at considerable expense, where a grant has eased the way.

1981 also saw the Trust give one of its largest ever grants, £15,000, towards the restoration of the glorious Dance façade of the Theatre Royal. The carved details of the coat of arms were obliterated and the lyres largely lost. In the face of enormous expense in restoring the interior of the building such work was at risk of being set aside. In addition we paid for the lamps above the gateways around the lawn which sets off the whole composition.

The conservation, in 1991, of the exceedingly rare stone beehives on the gates at Bloomfield Crescent was an entirely Trust driven undertaking. One beehive was spilt asunder and old iron fixings were causing enormous and ongoing damage. In this instance the owners worked very hard together to raise much of the money, the Trust gave a grant and the stonemason handled this delicate task with great sensitivity. The outcome is splendid and the work standing up extremely well.

The Belvedere Urns represent one of the longest running sagas of repair and replacement but one of the most satisfying. Totally driven by the Trust, the damaged and just surviving urn was restored by grant aiding the owner’s contribution. Then the new urn for the empty niche was carved by the students at the City of Bath College. The three way partnership between owners, Trust and college worked well and the students benefited by seeing their work in a prominent public place. The student most involved also won the Trust’s Peter Greening Memorial Prize for his work. (Some members will remember Peter who was one of the most outspoken and doughty campaigners for the saving of Bath and he was chairman of the architecture committee and a trustee at some of the keys times in saving Bath from even worse damage in the 1960s and 1970s).

Stone carving grants also promoted the re-carving of street signs and the restoration of a garden balustrade at Heathfield. One failure was the attempt to rescue the busts of classical scholars on King Edward’s School in Broad Street. These were taken down and are now lost.

The successes have led to another similar group undertaking, this time with the Nexus Methodist Church. The students are carving a huge vase and conserving and restoring another.

The sentry boxes and the chimney on the gardeners lodge at the Holburne Museum should not be forgotten. The Englishcombe Tithe Barn, the maze and Beazer Garden at the Pulteney Bridge and the Southcote Burial Ground have all been helped in diverse ways and by Trust committees working together.

The reinstatement of a shop front in Broad Street, to designs by Graham Finch, stalled for lack of owners money. The Trust adopted the job and paid for the hand carving of the lovely capitals for the facia as a memorial to Graham, who had done so much to demonstrate how high quality design can transform the appearance of the shopping streets of the city.

Grants for replacement of architectural details are the meat and drink of the renovations committee, but the Trust has promoted and funded other much larger projects over the years. A salvage warehouse was run from 1975 to 1981. This received doors and door furniture, fireplaces and grates, stair rails and banisters, windows and all manner of other details rescued from sites, skips and even bonfires. This all went on during the ruthless demolition, by developers, including the council, of historic buildings, some listed. Trustees and members walked the streets collecting what developers looked upon as rubbish. The items then were recycled to those people with insight who were trying to restore buildings as fast as others pulled them down.

Even more heroic was the establishment of a revolving fund for the purchase and renovation of endangered buildings. This saved 2 and 2a Abbey Green in 1971, 25a-28 Monmouth Street in 1973, and 24 Monmouth Street and 12 Chapel row in 1981. These buildings were in some instances saved when on the brink of demolition and served as exemplars of how even the most derelict and neglected historic structures could be saved and adapted to modern uses.

From 1974 onwards the Trust fought for Prior Park Cottages and 6-26 Prior Park Road known as Allen’s Row. Whilst in the end the Trust did not fund their repair, these cottages undoubtedly would have been lost had the Trust not shown how they could be adapted, even when permission for demolition had already been granted by the Minister.

We must not forget that in the midst of all of this No.1 Royal Crescent was dragged back from dereliction as a boarding house in 1969, and the Countess of Huntingdon’s chapel rescued from dry rot and massive water penetration, and turned from abandonment as a church, into the Building of Bath Museum.

Thanks to the Drs Hilliard and the generosity of Mrs. Fernando amongst others, Beckford’s Tower, its gates and the graveyard have been made good. The interiors of the tower have been progressed towards their original form, and the spectacular top storey gilded instead of being painted dark red as before. No one present at the trustees meeting when the cost of gilding, £25,000, was revealed will forget the sharp intake of breath. The entire renovations budget for the year, and more, was used to underwrite the cost but appeals and grants saved the day. An already important building was thus turned into a spectacular sight and it has become an internationally recognised landmark.

It is one thing to be a pressure group and to voice opinions. It is quite another matter altogether to have put up large sums of money and to have persuaded others to part with even more. No one can deny that without government and council money, private grant giving trust donations and private property owners’ own money, many of the major schemes would not have been undertaken.

The Bath Preservation Trust has however, been the stimulus, the driving force and the underwriter for so much that has been achieved. As a source of detailed research, historical knowledge and a determination to achieve the best possible outcome for the salvage of buildings and their details, the Trust has served Bath consistently. It has supported council officers in their work and continues to do so, and is always assessing and appraising proposals for more work as the need becomes apparent.

Long hoped for restorations and renovations are not forgotten. They are merely on hold.

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