27 St James’s Square, Lansdown, Bath
27 St James’s Square forms part of a section of Grade I late 18th century terrace at 23-37 St James’s Square, situated within the Bath conservation area and World Heritage Site. It forms part of the wider, monumental development of St James’s Square including the Grade I listed terraces at 1-15, 16-22, and 38-45 St James’s Square, as well as the wider streetscape context of a high concentration of Grade II terraced townhouses along Marlborough Street, St James’s Street, Great Bedford Street, and Park Street. The square is an exemplary example of monumental Georgian design and town planning by John Palmer, following the earlier precedent of the Grade I Queen Square by John Wood the Elder. The square presents a homogenous 3 ½ storey formal stone façade orientated inwards to look over the central private garden. The less formal rear elevations of 23-37 St James’s Square are visible from Northampton Buildings, although planting and later development obscures the lower storeys from public views, and positively contribute to the ancillary backland character of the area.
Should the glazed enclosure of this space be considered acceptable, this is not considered to justify future damp proofing or mitigation measures to the space. Historic vaults were not originally designed for human occupation and often remain the least-changed areas in a listed building where historic fabric and characteristics are clearly retained. This must continue to be respected as part of the balance between sustaining the special interest of a listed building, and ensuring its sustainable, in this case residential, use.
It is not clear what is meant by the proposals to “reinstate sanitary ware to the rear basement vaults”. The existing basement plans indicate that part of Rear Vault 1 has been enclosed to create a WC, although no existing sanitary fittings are detailed in the existing plans. Similarly, a 2021 sales brochure includes the enclosed room in Rear Vault 1, but this is not labelled as a WC. Therefore, it is unclear as to whether this enclosed room is currently in active, permitted use as a toilet or has already been fitted with appropriate soil/waste pipes or other fixtures. A plan form for a historic toilet appears to be referenced, but this does not establish a principle for use as a modern bathroom with the associated pressures and requirements that come with modern living.
BPT is typically resistant to the residential conversion of vaults due to the harmful impact on historic fabric and character, and the increased pressure this places on vaults to meet appropriate standards of light and ventilation, something that historic vaults are not designed to do and therefore requires more invasive alterations. It is noted that the vaults’ “internal rooms do not comply with current ventilation standards presenting a risk of impacting the historic fabric and the health of its inhabitants”, but this doesn’t account for the naturally frowsty and dank condition of these historic spaces which is ill-suited to modern standards of ventilation and air quality.
We therefore maintain that further information is required to clarify the current use of this space in Rear Vault 1 and whether a precedent for its use as a WC has already been materially established. Otherwise we are opposed to the creation of a new WC in this space.
We maintain that there is an absence of information regarding the current condition and proposed impact to the vault floor by the installation of underfloor heating. It seems to be indicated that the floor surfaces are historic, and therefore works including lifting, relaying, and the fitting of underfloor heating would disturb historic fabric and possible historic foundations or archaeological deposits beneath the Georgian/Regency layer of the building. Whilst we acknowledge the harm already caused by modern drainage interventions, this does not appropriately justify further harm. We refer to B&NES’ energy efficiency guidance for listed buildings SPD, in which underfloor heating installation may be possible “where there is a poor quality modern, replacement surface material or there is convincing evidence that a historic floor has been previously lifted and re-laid.” Further information regarding the existing condition of the floor surface and the proposed scheme of works is therefore required.