The Abbey

The Abbey 2017

The Abbey has had an interesting year with strong opposition to their plans to remove the Gilbert Scott nave pews from both SPAB and the Victorian Society (VS).  The VS took the Abbey to ecclesiastical Consistory Court in October 2017, a 3 day hearing was held within the nave, where both the VS and the Abbey argued their cases for an against removal of the pews through lawyers and a series of experts in front of an ecclesiastical judge.

You can read more about the court hearing from Bath Newseum. 

The Trust has continued in our position that the loss of the pews (in actual fact correctly called benches) is acceptable in that it will help the Abbey achieve their plans to create a 21st century event venue for Bath where both religious and non-secular events can be held.  This will in turn better reveal and open up the Abbey to a wider public audience who can appreciate its beauty and significance.  In addition the revealing of the old ledger stones and the opening out of the nave space will allow the Abbey to be appreciated as it was in Georgian times and for aspects of its architecture to be better revealed (for example the grand 16th century pillars). Whilst we acknowledge the importance of Gilbert Scott’s work, much of it does still survive within the Abbey and is therefore legible as an important historical layer, but in our view the building’s significance encompasses its whole historical story and its potential to adapt to the needs of a 21st century society.

The Abbey 2016

In December the Abbey Footprint team met with committee members and Trustees to update the Trust on the development of elements of the project. The Trust encouraged a joined up approach to interpretation working with the Mineral Hospital, the Archway Project and the Museum of Bath Architecture. We welcomed further engagement in the interpretation strategy and activity plan.

Historic England have advised on the approach to the floor and the conservation and repair of the ledgers. The significance of the ledger stones, locations, names and dates have all been recorded. This evidence represents a significant ensemble of social Georgian Bath. We called for this information to be a publically accessible resource.

It was once again confirmed that there was no intention to move the Montague tomb. The Trust has considered the removal of the Victorian pews and on balance believes that the conservation and communal benefits achieved by the overall project outweigh the harm.  The revelation of the interior space as (to large extent) experienced by the Georgians, together with the uncovering and documentation of the ledger stones obscured by the Scott pews, led us to support the Abbey in this context.

The overarching faculty application has been approved by the Diocese. The next stage is that 5 Orders for various elements of the work (which are exempt from Listed Building Consent) will be considered by the Diocese. The Trust will be reviewing these Orders and commenting where necessary.

2015

Since 2011 the Trust has been invited to openly discuss proposals for one of Bath’s most significant heritage asset’s and has aimed to influence the development of design proposals for Kingston Buildings, a rare surviving example of a more modest Georgian terrace used as the Abbey offices. A planning and listed building consent application to reorder the spaces within and below these buildings, to allow it to be used more effectively and an extension to the second floor of Kingston Buildings was submitted in 2012.

The proposed extension upon the second and third floors to one end of Kingston Buildings was problematic. Whilst the Trust recognised the Abbey’s expressed need for a meeting space, we did not agree that this translates as justification for such a radical and imposing extension. Further to the Trust’s objection, and similar objections from Statutory Consultees, The Georgian Group and English Heritage this element of the scheme was omitted.

Planning applications

12/03335/FUL & 12/03336/LBA –  Comments on amended plans 21 December 2012

Abbey Church of St Peter & St Paul, Abbey Churchyard, City Centre, Bath, BA1 1NZ

Provision of improved public and ancillary support facilities to Bath Abbey, alterations to 8-13 Kingston Buildings, basement of Abbey Chambers, the 1920s Jackson Extension to Bath Abbey, the Clergy Vestry and adjoining vaults and cellars south of the Abbey, creation of newly excavated below ground spaces north of Kingston Buildings and below the Jackson Extension, associated landscape improvement works to the public realm and to the garden north of the Seventh Day Adventist chapel.

COMMENT

BPT raised objection to these applications primarily on the grounds of the unacceptable impact on Kingston Buildings, in particular the visual impact of the third storey roof extension. We warmly welcome the withdrawal of this element of the scheme, which enables us to withdraw our overall objection.

However, we reiterate the significance of Kingston Buildings as one of only a few modest artisan terraces surviving within the city centre.  Many other modest terraces were destroyed in the 20th Century by either bombing or the sack of Bath. This amplifies the importance of this remaining group, and reinforces the argument for retaining it as close as possible to its relatively humble form, and to the extent that this is not possible, demonstrating clearly the justification in architectural and public benefit terms of the interventions proposed.

We consider that the statement of justification, read with the relevant section of the Heritage Statement, does not adequately acknowledge the extent of the harm which will result from the extensive loss of historic fabric. The level of intervention and loss of historic fabric and plan form will cause substantial harm to the significance of these buildings. Lateral conversion of historic buildings is usually avoided wherever possible.   In order to comply with paragraph 133 of the National Planning Policy Framework a strong and convincing case needs to be made as to why such major intervention and the associated harm should be accepted.  On balance, we are not objecting to the internal alterations to Kingston Buildings because we are taking in good faith the Abbey’s assurances that there is no suitable alternative location for their song school.

We remain concerned about the structural integrity of the terrace once principal walls, floors and lateral connections have been removed, and we would like to see details of the structural report for reassurance.

We reiterate our earlier points in relation to the proposal to reconfigure and open the existing herb garden to the public as a “softer, more introverted space for contemplation”. This is supported in principle. However, we are not convinced from the information provided, that this scheme will achieve its aim as fully as it might. In particular, the single long bench is not friendly to wheel-chair users, nor to those who seek solitude, the trees seem to be overly large, the exterior pathways too narrow, and the ‘herb garden’ element too hidden away and artificial. Moreover, the relationship of the statue of Christ the King with the adjacent hedge & large feature tree (unspecified) requires more thought. We would have expected much fuller details about the planting and hard landscaping, furniture & lighting (if any), as these matters are fundamental to the character of the space and are too important to be left to be decided later as Conditions. At present, the proposals will dramatically change the whole character of this very informal space and we are concerned that it may become a bit bland and even sterile.

Our understanding is that the Abbey intend in due course to revise these elements of the plans, but if this is the case they should be withdrawn from the current application and a further application made at a later date.

We have confined our comments to the development proposals which are the subject of the current applications.  Bath Preservation Trust will of course also take a close interest in the proposals for re-ordering the interior of the Abbey, and will wish to comment on these at the appropriate time.

 

12/03335/FUL & 12/03336/LBA – Objection to previous proposal

Abbey Church Of St Peter & St Paul, Abbey Churchyard, City Centre, Bath, BA1 1NZ

Provision of improved public and ancillary support facilities to Bath Abbey, alterations to 8-13 Kingston Buildings, basement of Abbey Chambers, the 1920s Jackson Extension to Bath Abbey, the Clergy Vestry and adjoining vaults and cellars south of the Abbey, creation of newly excavated below ground spaces north of Kingston Buildings and below the Jackson Extension, associated landscape improvement works to the public realm and to the garden north of the Seventh Day Adventist chapel.

OBJECT Bath Preservation Trust is broadly supportive of the Abbey’s desire to reorder the space to allow it to be used more effectively. We are grateful to have been given the opportunity to meet with the project team and have input into the design evolution. From early in our discussions it has been made clear that a substantial amount of intervention is proposed for Kingston Buildings and we have expressed serious concerns about these elements of the project prior to the submission of these planning applications.

Whilst we accept the alterations which would have an impact on the Jackson Extension, the Vaults, Abbey Chambers basement, York Street, and the clergy vestry – it is with regret that on balance BPT objects to these applications primarily on the grounds of the unacceptable impact on Kingston Buildings.

Kingston Buildings is one of few modest artisan terraces surviving within the city centre, the significance and integrity of which should be preserved. Many other modest terraces were destroyed in the 20th Century by either bombing or the sack of Bath. This amplifies the importance of this remaining group, and reinforces the argument for retaining it as close as possible to its more humble form.

The proposed top-floor meeting room has been amended in detail from the previous version seen by the Trust and we do appreciate the fact that changes have been made in response to our previous criticisms. Regrettably, however, it remains the Trust’s view that the proposed meeting room extension would have an unacceptable visual impact on the appearance of the terrace as a whole. Whilst we recognise that the 1880’s extension has to some extent already unbalanced the appearance of the terrace, the creation of additional height, bulk and massing at the Western end of the terrace further undermines the subservient character of this terrace. The extension would be over dominating to both the terrace and the confined setting of the Abbey at this location. Additionally the design of the roof extension and the height of the windows would relate poorly to the proportions and order of the modest terrace.

We are not convinced that the desired extension to Kingston Buildings to provide an additional meeting space is necessary to sustain the viable use of the building (and Abbey complex) or justifies such harmful physical and visual intervention. Meeting spaces could be easily accommodated elsewhere within Abbey Chambers. We feel that if there are any opportunities for the Abbey to appropriate the whole of Abbey Chambers that would be a preferable alternative to the radical alterations proposed. This would undoubtedly provide sufficient capacity within the structures to accommodate the activities of the Abbey, and negate the necessity to undertake radical extensions.

We now understand that the small sunken garden on the south side of the Abbey is to be paved over as part of the works, and this would go a long way to overcoming our previous concerns regarding the impact of the rose window feature set into the ground.

We welcome the proposal to reconfigure and open the existing herb garden to the public as a “softer, more introverted space for contemplation”. However, we are not convinced, from the information provided, that this scheme will achieve its aim as fully as it might. In particular, the single long bench is not friendly to wheel-chair users, nor to those who seek solitude, the trees seem to be overly large, the exterior pathways too narrow, and the ‘herb garden’ element too hidden away and artificial. Moreover, the relationship of the statue of Christ the King with the adjacent hedge & large feature tree (unspecified) requires more thought. We would have expected much fuller details about the planting and hard landscaping, furniture & lighting (if any), as these matters are fundamental to the character of the space and are too important to be left to be decided later as conditions. At present, the proposals will dramatically change the whole character of this very informal space and we are concerned that it may become a bit bland and even sterile.

Taken as a whole, the proposal is in our view contrary to section 12 of the NPPF, in particular paragraphs 132, the Planning (Listed Buildings & Conservation Areas) Act 1990, and B&NES Local Plan Policies D2, D4, BH2 and BH6.

Designed by Ice House Design