Archive for the ‘Bath’ Category

A bridge with a view

June 15, 2012

View towards the Palladian Bridge at Prior Park and the city of Bath to the north beyond. ©National Trust Images/Charlie Waite

I have just spotted these results of a recent photoshoot by Charlie Waite at Prior Park, Bath. They show how the garden at Prior Park nestles in a little valley with expansive views over the city.

The Palladian bridge perched on a dam between two water levels. ©National Trust Images/Charlie Waite

Ralph Allen, who developed the garden in the 1740s and 1750s, was an entrepreneur who supplied the ‘Bath stone’ that was being used to build the elegant terraces and crescents of the burgeoning spa resort. He constructed an early railway right next to Prior Park that allowed blocks of stone to be brought down into the city from the quarry at Combe Down.

View through one of the arches of the Palladian Bridge. ©National Trust Images/Charlie Waite

The Palladian Bridge was built in 1755, elegantly hiding an otherwise pedestrian dam between two different water levels. This type of bridge – loosely based on designs by Andrea Palladio – was popular in England at that time, and other examples were built at Wilton House (1735) and Stowe (1738). 

Some of the historical graffiti on the Palladian Bridge. ©National Trust Images/Charlie Waite

Allen was acquainted with Viscount Cobham, the owner of Stowe, and his circle, and one of them, Thomas Pitt, seems to have had a hand in the design of the Prior Park bridge – yet another example of the ‘liquid networks’ I have written about previously.

The Palladian Bridge from the south. ©National Trust Images/Charlie Waite

After Allen’s death Prior Park was sold several times and eventually became a school. The main house is still in use by Prior Park College, but the National Trust acquired the garden in 1993, and has been gradually restoring its various features ever since.

Von Ranke redux

August 25, 2010

James Wolfe's all-in-one field dinner table, or canteen: an evocative relic, but how was it actually used? ©NTPL/John Hammond

One of the perennial aims of historical research is to find out what actually happened at some point in the past – or, in Leopold von Ranke’s famous phrase, ‘Wie es eigentlich gewesen.’

This is, of course, an incredibly difficult undertaking: even if we know many facts about a particular moment in the past, and even if the contemporary artefacts are still available, it still requires a huge effort of the intellect and the imagination to recreate what it actually felt like to be there.

Eighteenth-century soap bubbles at Quebec House. ©National Trust

Historic houses like Quebec House exemplify this problem: they can be beautiful, seductive and inspiring places, but was that what they were actually like, back then? In most cases we are dealing with multi-layered places, made up of elements from a number of different periods.

Re-enactments by costumed interpreters can seem more like theatre than historical reality. However, if done sensitively and using the available research, they can bring visitors into direct contact with aspects of the past.

Eighteenth-century surgery explained. ©National Trust

At Quebec House Jane and Geoff King from living history group The Mannered Mob were recently asked to demonstrate elements of mid-eighteenth-century life. The custodian of Quebec House, John Rawlinson, has kindly sent me these images.

The accoutrements of silhouette-making. ©National Trust

Geoff King, in the guise of an eighteenth-century surgeon, talked about the wounds sustained by General James Wolfe at Quebec. There was very little that any doctor could have done for Wolfe on the battlefield, as he had been shot in the arm, the shoulder and the chest. 

A genteel girl engaged in a genteel pastime. ©National Trust

Jane King showed visitors something about the genteel accomplishments of the time, such as music and making silhouette portraits. GDK Historic Consultancy supplied hand-made hats, dresses, coats and boots. More events like this are planned at Quebec House for the near future.

The house in Trim Street, Bath, where James Wolfe lived before departing for America. ©austenonly

In response to the earlier posts about James Wolfe, Julie Wakefield of the austenonly blog generously sent me this picture of the house in Trim Street, Bath, where Wolfe lived before he left for America.

It looks a picture of genteel tranquility, but, as Julie found when she recently stayed at another house in the street, the nights are disturbed by stag and hen parties and by the raucous gulls feeding on discarded fast food.

The ballroom at the Assembly Rooms, Bath: the scene of refinement, or of tawdriness? ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

And that makes one wonder what life in eighteenth-century Bath was like: full of elegant people taking the waters and dancing in the Assembly Rooms, or also with some of the tawdry and transient elements that seem to be common to resort places? As von Ranke might have said: Wie war es eigentlich gewesen?