8 Caroline Buildings, Widcombe, Bath
8 Caroline Buildings forms part of a Grade II early 19th century terrace of townhouses at 1-20 Caroline Buildings, situated within the Bath conservation area and World Heritage Site. The terrace remains largely homogenous and well-balanced in appearance with a three bay frontage in Bath stone ashlar; each house is comprised of a pair of sash windows across the ground, first, and second floors and a raised keys and surround arched front door reveal. The terrace enjoys an elevated position over Pulteney Road (South) with access from a raised flag pavement, separately Grade II listed. It backs onto the Kennet & Avon Canal towpath to the south-east with high visibility in mid-range elevated views from Abbey View Gardens.
The focus of proposed works is at lower ground floor level, seeking to address ongoing damp issues in the vaults under the raised pavement. The Heritage Statement indicates evidence of a series of interventions to the vaults which have worsened water ingress, such as a multi-level concrete floor and the use of a cementitious slurry on the external walls. From the photos provided, it appears that areas of exposed stone on the internal walls of the vaults have been retained, although we cannot comment further without the benefit of a site visit.
BPT generally takes a position against the conversion of vaults for residential purposes, where these spaces are typically incompatible with the dark, damp, and ill-ventilated qualities of Bath’s vaults and cellars. We therefore have some questions regarding the proposed dry lining of the vault to “reinstate the front vault as useful accommodation”, cited as a pantry attached to the kitchen.
We emphasise that Bath’s historic vaults and cellars are historically dark and frowsty in character and character, indicative of their typically ancillary and utilitarian function in serving the ‘host’ dwelling. As such, these spaces are often not suited to more ‘immediate’ habitable use where this would result in increased pressure to meet modern standards of living (eg. well-ventilated and dry) and likely necessitate further material interventions to the detriment of historic fabric and character.
Where excessive levels of damp are preventing certain uses ancillary to domestic occupation, such as storage, acceptable mechanical methods of damp proofing would include dry lining and membrane lining systems, although this would remain dependent on whether lining would compromise any internal features of interest which should be clarified as part of the application.
Where possible, we recommend any cement-based renders or tanking methods should be removed to allow the historic stonework to ‘breathe’ and better mitigate the effects of retained moisture, although we appreciate the benefits of this should be considered against the relative difficulty of removing cement-based systems and resulting damage to stonework. Removal is generally recommended where the cement has already started to fail and come away from the wall.