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«Placemaking Areas CHARLOTTE STREET CAR PARK HISTORICAL OUTLINE Barton Fields and The Royal Crescent At the beginning of 18th century the area of ...»

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Placemaking Areas



Barton Fields and The Royal Crescent

At the beginning of 18th century the area of Charlotte Street Car Park lay within a large pasture ground

adjoining the Upper Bristol Road called Barton Lower Field or Kingsmead Furlong, property of the

demesne farm or ‘Barton’ of Walcot which then stood in what is now John Street. Above this, reaching the road to Weston, lay two similar grounds, Barton Middle Field and Barton Upper Field (known also as Hayes Furlong) which provided the site for the Royal Crescent and its front lawn. On the west side of these grounds was a stream, ‘Mud Brook’, boundary with the town Commons, later marked by the line of Marlborough Lane. On the east side, a smaller watercourse, arising in the dell below what later became the Gravel Walk, formed the boundary with two more fields near the Farm House; Barton Bestall Ground (or Longcroft, on which Queen Square was built) and Barton Home Field (or The Hayes, site of the King’s Circus). Various other minor springs leaked out into these fields, one at the western end of the car park area forming a small watercourse which flowed out to the Avon a little way downstream of the later Norfolk Crescent.

An important component in the siting of the Royal Crescent was its view over these fields, in the manner of a country mansion overlooking the grounds of an estate, and when the lease for the building land was finally drawn up in 1766 between John Wood the Younger and the then manorial owner, Sir Benet Garrard, this amenity was safeguarded by a covenant which precluded any buildings being erected, or the planting of any tree or shrub over eight feet high on the grounds below. The only exception was a plot adjoining the Bristol Road, next to the eastern boundary stream below the dell, set aside for a ‘Farm House and Offices’ (presumably to replace the original Barton Farm). For this purpose also, all the existing fields were thrown together into a single expanse of pasture for cows and sheep, henceforth known as Crescent Fields, separated from the Crescent by the Ha-Ha in front of the building. Included in this expanse were the remnants of Longcroft and the Hayes on the east side of the dell, lying between the Gravel Walk (laid out in 1771 to link Queen Square with the Crescent), Queen’s Parade (built in 1768 in place of an intended Assembly Rooms) and a large area which fronted the Bristol Road (now Monmouth Place) between Queen’s Parade and the intended Farmhouse, then occupied by Messrs.Jelly and Sainsbury, builders, for a timber yard. The northern part of this yard, behind Palace Yard Mews (then called Stable Lane) later became the site of Charlotte Street.

Even while the Crescent was being built, in 1767 the ownership of the estate passed to the Rev.Sir Peter Rivers Gay, bart., who in 1773, after it was completed, sought to capitalise on the value of Crescent Fields, without infringing the covenant, with a scheme for laying out ‘kitchen gardens’ - such gardens being then at a high premium. This policy was already being adopted by principal landowners elsewhere in the city who lacked the immediate opportunity to develop their land for fashionable building [as noted in other Placemaking Areas such as the Recreation Ground and Villa Fields in the Pulteney Estate, and the Ham Gardens in the Manvers Estate]. To dissuade the reverend baronet from ‘desecrating’ the Crescent landscape, the satirical poet Christopher Anstey, one of the early occupants of the Crescent, produced a mock heroic Ode on an Evening View of the Crescent in Bath (Appendix I below) which hints that the fields were already becoming the fashionable venue for walkers familiar to later writers such as Jane Austen.

Nevertheless, Sir Peter was not deterred from laying out a strip of gardens along the Bristol Road (site of the present Crescent Gardens) between Marlborough Lane and the proposed ‘Farm House and Offices’. In the event, these would have had little impact on the view between the Crescent and the river - certainly less than the irregular rear elevations presented by the development of New King Street, Stanhope Street and Norfolk Crescent which soon began to appear on the south side of the Bristol Road, blocking off the view of the river. Indeed, by the end of the century the Bristol Road was becoming increasingly commercialised, the site of the proposed Farm House and Offices being used for a coal yard, and a large complex of storehouses and auction rooms erected on Jelly & Sainsbury’s timber yard.

After the death of Sir Peter Rivers Gay in 1790, when the estate passed to his widow, Lady Martha Rivers, a proposal was made in 1810 to replace the kitchen gardens with a ‘handsome’ terrace of houses to mask the ‘ugly and irregular’ buildings on the south side of the road. These houses were to face towards the Crescent, with a new road in front leading from Marlborough Lane to Queen Square.

However, it appears that the design did not meet with the approval of Lady Rivers, whose permission would have been needed to release the land from the covenant, and in the following year an alternative plan to extend the kitchen gardens northward was adopted instead. To advise ‘on Drainage and Sunk Fence &c’, William Smith (‘Father of English Geology’) was brought in by Lady Rivers, having recently been employed by the City to locate and restore a loss of hot water to the baths from leakage around the springs. Smith’s diary and papers show that the ground works were already under way in 1812, and almost certainly finished by 1814 when he discusses the discovery of several Roman coffins when ‘digging Gravel for the Walks lately made’ (Appendix II).

In this scheme a second row of gardens was added to the back of those by the road, with another row above that fanning out behind a serpentine hedge, the latter reflecting the outlines of the Crescent and possibly masking the gardens from view. To provide access to the upper garden plots, a gravelled walk was laid out along this hedge, running from the lower end of Marlborough Buildings to the Brock Street entrance of the Gravel Walk, together with another pathway at the centre leading down through the middle of the gardens to the Bristol Road. Smith’s note implies that the various springs mentioned above were diverted at this time into stone sewers, particularly the one in the Dell, which was replaced by the eastern boundary hedge of the new gardens, leaving the remaining ground on the east side of the dell as an isolated open field. Even before this, the outfalls of these streams had already disappeared on the south side of the Bristol Road, where they were diverted into sewers serving the new developments there.

Victoria Park In 1829 a plan proposed for a public park on the Crescent fields above the gardens - extended with the agreement of the Freemen of Bath to include the town commons on the west side, was approved by Lady Rivers who granted a lease of the necessary land for an approach road (the Royal Avenue), and in October 1830 the Park was opened by Princess Victoria. Since the new road cut across the gardens at their northern end, several plots along its border were included in the park ground, together with the field on the east side of the dell and (for pedestrian access) the serpentine walk and central pathway between the gardens. The parish rate books show that one of the garden plots given up to the park, on the corner of Marlborough Lane, was adopted for a small botanical garden, created in 1837, but removed to its present site in 1886. Another plot, at the Brock Street entrance to the Gravel Walk, became the site of ‘Richard Beard’s Photographic Institution’ (Bath’s first photographic studio) between 1841 to 1850, later converted back to a flower garden following the donation of the flower vase by Signor Pieroni in 1861.

Since the park was initially financed by subscription, access was controlled by a perimeter fence and gates (closed at night), one of which stood at the Bristol Road entrance of the central walk between the gardens. As a result this route became known as the Subscription Walk, and the gardens themselves sometimes called the Subscription Walk Gardens. It was about this time also that a gated entrance was made at the southern end of Queen’s Parade into the field on the east side of the dell.

Charlotte Street and Crescent Gardens When Lady Martha Rivers Gay died in 1835, the estate passed to her surviving son, Sir Henry Rivers, and it was Henry’s wife, Charlotte, whose name was adopted for Charlotte Street when laid out by George Manners, City Architect, in 1839-40. Sir Henry died in 1851, and although Lady Charlotte Rivers continued as lady of the manor until her death in 1870, her son Sir Henry Chandos Rivers, the last of the Rivers baronets, died in the same year. However, when part of the Crescent Gardens was considered for building development in the 1890s, the covenant on building was still an issue - as illustrated by a set of photographs in the Bath Record Office entitled ‘Photographs showing buildings in Crescent Gardens prior to the erection of houses between 1893-1897 despite the restrictive covenants in the Deed relating to the land.’(BRO PX805). These views (some included below) show that from an early stage the gardens adjoining the Bristol Road (and evidently those in Marlborough Lane also) had already become fronted by a variety of single-storey buildings (carriage houses, stables, lodge cottages, &c), similar to the mews that existed elsewhere in the city. It can also be seen that the open gardens at the rear contained many summerhouses, greenhouses and other structures, often of an ornamental nature.

Nevertheless, the new houses (the present Crescent Gardens) were built on the lower strip of gardens fronting the Bristol Road, taking in the former Coal Yard (by this time a Stone Yard) which abutted the houses in Charlotte Street, and separated from the remaining gardens by a back lane connecting with Marlborough Lane and the main Road. It was about this time also that another row of houses were built along the east side of Marlborough Lane. Although the Subscription Walk was retained between these houses, the piers of the entrance gate were moved up to the new boundary of the back lane, on the west side of which was built the present Park Superintendent’s Lodge. The back lane also provided access to a nursery which had taken over all the garden plots on the south-west side by the early 1900s.

The British Restaurant Although the ownership of the Common had already passed from the Freemen to the Corporation in 1879, it was not until 1921 that the management and financial control of Victoria Park itself was handed over by the Park Committee and a variety of public works brought into effect. Besides several new public toilets, one in Marlborough Lane on the site of the former Botanical Garden, another at the Charlotte Street entrance, a sports facility including a pavilion, tennis courts, bowling green and putting green was laid out in terraces on the upper part of the ground on the east side of the dell.

However, the lower part, inside the Charlotte Street entrance, remained open until the second World War, when the Council received a directive from the Ministry of Food in July 1941 requesting the erection of one or more British Restaurants, to provide ‘day-to-day feeding of the population and to act as a first line of defence in an emergency’. The first to be built was inside the Charlotte Street entrance (named Parkside as a result of a newspaper competition) which opened in August 1942, followed by two others;

Hillside (Oldfield Park), and Riverside (Walcot). Parkside was the most used, serving 900 lunches a day, 30 teas and 70 suppers (open between l0 a.m. and 8.30 p.m., the cost of an average three-course lunch being set at 9d), and a dance was held there each month. It was at this stage that the entrance was widened for vehicular access by the acquisition of part of the garden of the adjoining Registry Office, although it was not until later that a connection was made with the back lane of Crescent Gardens. After the Ministry withdrew support for the scheme in April 1947, the Council purchased the buildings which they continued to run under the name of Civic Restaurants. Parkside was the last to close, at the end of 1950, by which time the spare ground on the north side of the building was already in use as a car park. The building subsequently became Parkside Junior School (closed 2006), and is now a Children’s Centre.

When the Charlotte Street Car Park was laid out in the 1980s on the site of the gardens (which had no vehicular access), new openings were provided at each end; from the Charlotte Street entrance through the fence at the back of the School, and from Marlborough Lane through the site of the toilets, demolished to connect with the end section of the serpentine path which was converted to a roadway. For pedestrians, the pathway of the Subscription Walk was retained, and an opening was made at the eastern corner of the car park which connected with the other end of the serpentine path in Victoria Park. The rest of the old path was left to become overgrown with shrubbery to provide a dense screen between the car park and the lawns surrounding the bandstand.

Appendix I Inscribed to the Rev.Sir Peter Rivers Gay, bart, with allegorical watercolour frontispiece, ‘written on the occasion of a scheme to convert the beautiful fields in front of the Crescent at Bath into kitchen gardens’.

‘Ode On An Evening View Of The Cresent At Bath Lo! where beside yon verdant plain !Sweet Avon winds his way, !And smiling laves thy rich demain, !Sir Peter Rivers Gay, !

Joyful I view the flocks that graze, !Or o’er his margin stray; !

Here let us rest, and silent gaze, !Sir Peter Rivers Gay. !

Mark with what glee that playful crew !In life’s delightful May, !

Eager their childish sports pursue, !Sir Peter Rivers Gay: !

Nor glads it less, now sol’s withdrawn, !Yon nymphs in fair array !

To trace the velvet of thy lawn, !Sir Peter Rivers Gay: !

O! may no rude remorseless swains, !No churlish clown essay !

To force them from these blissful plains !Sir Peter Rivers Gay! !

E’en oe’r my brows tho’ time should steal, !And spread his mantle grey, !

Still to bright beauty’s shrine I’d kneel, !Sir Peter Rivers Gay: !

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