Walking tour of Georgian Bath

I belong to a walk in the past, history walking group and last Sunday we explored Georgian  Bath.  Bath which is a UNESCO world heritage site still markets itself as a Georgian city.  In the 18th century  the aristocracy flocked here to take the waters, to gamble or to find a suitable spouse.   Jane Austen who lived in the city for a few years vividly described life in regency Bath  in books such as “Northanger Abbey” .

We met in North Parade terrace a fashionable street which overlooks Parade gardens. In the 18th century the idle rich paraded here in all their finery. Now it is a pleasant place to sit and watch the world go by. You can hire a deckchair and buy an ice cream.

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A summer’s day in Parade gardens which overlooks the river Avon. Photo provided by Visit Bath.

We were admiring the houses and one of the owners asked if we would like to look inside. He seemed quite happy to let all twenty five of us plus two dogs climb upstairs to admire the view.

The Architecture

Much of Bath was designed by two architects, a father and son, John Wood the elder and John Wood the younger. They were free masons and they used a lot of freemasonry symbols. It is said that the Royal crescent and the Circus, (a ring of houses) represent the sun and the moon. They were certainly keen to bring the countryside into the city and luckily the green spaces have been preserved. Bath has very strict planning laws and all buildings still have to be made from the honey coloured Bath stone quarried from the nearby hills. The Georgian developers destroyed most of the medieval city in their rush to build Palladian houses where the rich and important could lodge for the season. Number 1 Royal crescent has been furnished and decorated in 18th century style and is now a museum.

Aerial photo showing the layout of the Georgian city.
Aerial view of the circus and crescent supposed to represent the sun and the moon.

Our walk took in Queen’s square with its famous obelisk. This reflects the interest in Egypt in the period.

The Obelisk was put up in the 18th century.
The Obelisk in Queen’s square (my photo)

High society in Georgian Bath

Richard Nash who became known as Beau Nash was the self appointed Master of ceremonies for many years. he kept a list of the 500 most important visitors and controlled invitations to balls and soirees. He  also helped to control the gambling and became very rich on the proceeds before loosing his fortune at the tables.

We also looked in the Pump room where visitors used to take the water . You can now get an expensive afternoon tea there and imagine yourself in a recency novel.

The Assembly Rooms, one of Bath’s finest Georgian buildings, was purpose built in 1771 for a particular 18th century form of entertainment: the assembly; ‘a stated and general meeting of the polite persons of both sexes for the sake of conversation, gallantry, news and play’. Guests would gather in the rooms in the evening for balls, concerts and other social functions, or simply to play cards and socialise. (National trust). it now houses a fashion museum which is well worth a visit. We went inside to admire the magnificent glass chandeliers.

Bath pump room
The Pump room with the abbey in the background (my photo)

Bath’s fortunes declined in the 19th century. Queen Victoria was not as keen on idle pursuits and preferred to holiday on the Isle of Wight or in Scotland and later seaside resorts such as Brighton became more popular.

This post follows on from a previous Bath walk 

It has been added to a link party for blogging grandmothers.

If you want to find out more information about visiting Bath here is a link to the Bath tourist office.

The Mayor’s guides offer daily free walking tours of Bath.  They start at 10 A.M. and 2 P.M. from Abbey Square.

Some of the photos for this post were used with permission from visit Bath.

Visiting Bletchley Park

A local college offers free study weekends for the “young at heart” over fifties.  I am not sure we qualify as young at heart but I liked the sound of one of the activities on offer a functional Mathematics study day and a visit to Bletchley park home of the wartime code breakers.

I very much enjoyed the film “the imitation game” particularly Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance as Alan Turing and was keen to see the place where it was set. It is over fifty years since I studied mathematics at school so I thought a refresher course would be good and might even  get the grey cells working.

The Discover weekend

We arrived at the college on Saturday and I was surprised to see how many over fifties were prepared to give it a go.  In England the retirement age for women has gone up to 65 and for both men and women it will soon be 66.  Many participants were women in their fifties who were keen to add a qualification to their C.V. There were also a good smattering of people like us who have already retired. I think my husband at 78 was one of the oldest.

One of the morning activities was planning a party for 50 people and bringing it in on budget which was quite good fun and certainly tested our basic maths skills. We had to estimate the amount of flooring and length of fairy lights needed for a marquee. As well as plan the type and quantity of food we would need.

The college provided us with a tasty lunch of cottage pie and fruit crumble .  Then in the afternoon we took a short test. They will send it away to be marked and if we pass we will get our certificates in a few weeks. The day finished with tea or coffee and lemon drizzle cake.

Bletchley Park

The large red brick mansion at Bletchley Park.
The rather grand mansion at Bletchley Park now houses a restaurant where you can enjoy lunch or afternoon tea.

On Sunday we got up early and my husband drove us to the college where a coach was waiting to take us to Bletchley Park. The journey took about two and a half hours and on the way we watched “The imitation game”  so that we could understand some of the background to the work done at Bletchley Park.

Bletchley Park is a beautiful mansion  near Milton Keynes which was bought by M16 the top secret government department   responsible for spying.  We learnt that a network of code breakers had been built up during the Spanish Civil war and when the Second world war was declared they received a message “aunt Flo is ill”. This was instruction to go to Bletchley Park.

Eventually almost seven thousand people worked at Bletchley Park. They were a strange mixture of university educated mathematicians, linguists, typists and amateur radio hams. I was surprised to learn that more women were employed there than men.

A plaque on the wall at Blechley Park
A plaque inside the manor with a fitting Shakespearean quote.

The big prize was cracking the German Enigma code.  The German code was thought to be unbreakable and it changed very day. Alan Turing and his team were able to build a machine to crack this and from about 1942 we were able to read the German messages. They were helped in this by the earlier work of Polish mathematicians.  Staff at Bletchley Park  had to keep this secret and were not able to act on many of the messages they deciphered.  It is thought that their work saved many thousands of lives. A particular success was ensuring that U boats did not attack the D day landing ships.

Churchill, the Prime minister was a big supporter of Bletchley Park and made sure they had sufficient funds to carry out their work. He also made sure they had leisure facilities including a tennis court.

As well as cracking the enigma code teams worked on deciphering Morse code messages and deciphering codes in other languages including Japanese.

I found the exhibitions extremely interesting. The displays included a lot of  fascinating quotations from the ordinary people who had worked there.

As we walked around the grounds we heard sound effects such as a spitfire flying overhead or an old lorry backfiring which added realism.  We were able to enter some of the huts where the decoding took place and see a replica bombe machine which was built to crack the Enigma code. There was also a very interesting exhibition on the part played by homing pigeons as messengers.

Part of the bombe machine used to crack the enigma code.
Replica bombe machine (stock image)

The practicalities

The Bletchley Park site  has a restaurant and two cafes. To add authenticity our drinks were served in wartime tin mugs. There is a playpark but I think younger children would be bored.  It is open everyday except for a few days at Christmas.   You need to allow three or four hours to see everything and real enthusiasts might need longer. Every where is accessible for wheelchair users or pushchairs but some of the paths are gravel. In the summer you can picnic by the lake. Entrance costs from £18.00 and  tickets are valid for a year. You can book a free guided tour with a volunteer guide or pick up a free audio guide. There is also a well stocked souvenir shop.

A wartime office recreated inside Bletchley Park
This office inside the mansion has been lovingly recreated.

Discover courses

If you live in or near South Gloucestershire and are over fifty. You may want to see what other Discover courses are available. You can do one English and one Mathematics course  which are held at the Wise campus in Stoke Gifford. Other coach trips this year include The Tate Gallery, London  and Stratford on Avon (English) and Exeter, food and Wine fayre (Maths). I thoroughly recommend it for a weekend with a difference.

This post has been added to link parties for blogging grandmothers and I would be interested to learn if other colleges offer similar opportunities.

An old Chad Valley teddy bear wearing checked shorts.
Alan Turing’s teddy bear on display

Discovering Marlborough doors

The sign says Deans Chaunterie

A while ago I came across a blog link party featuring posts about doors from all over the world. At first I thought it was a rather nerdish subject but then I became intrigued and decided to see if I could write a suitable post. The trouble was the more I looked the more difficult it became to find suitable doors. Even if the rest of the building had award winning architecture the doors seemed to be standard issue.

Last weekend however my husband and I went on a mystery coach tour. At first I was slightly disappointed to find we were heading east towards London but then we crossed into Wiltshire. The landscape of Wiltshire is very ancient. Our morning coffee stop was in Avebury home to a mysterious stone circle and  we also  drove past Silbury hill  a long barrow thought to date back to 3,700 B.C.

Marlborough

We then had a short sightseeing break in the small town of Marlborough and as I walked round I realised I would have the material for a doors post. Marlborough was mentioned in the Doomsday book of 1089. It is a small town of alleyways half timbered houses  and coaching inns with a church on either end of the high street. It  found fame as the site of a civil war battle of 1642 and then returned to being a  stop on the main road between London and Bristol. A place to change your horses and eat a meal.  Nowadays travellers often stop here on the way to Stonehenge which is only twenty miles away.

Many of the houses obviously date back to Tudor times or earlier but have been adapted to suit the needs of the modern inhabitants. I did not feel I was walking through an English heritage theme park. The houses looked lived in rather than picture postcard perfect.

The doors

A wall decoration with glasses and beard.
My husband spotted this man with his glasses and beard.

These cottages still retain a lot of their original charm but   real people who watch television live here.
I thought this narrow yellow house  looked like an illustration from a story book and if  you are wondering what sort of person might live here…  We spotted this plaque on the corner house.

A blue plaque commemorating William GoldingWilliam Golding wrote “Lord of the flies” a book about anarchic school children. He grew up in Marlborough where his father was a local school master.

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I thought the name Wren cottage suited this house.

I found the sign Dean’s chauntrie (above) further down this terrace. I had to consult a medieval online dictionary but I discovered a chauntrie was a home for chaunter clerks, priests who were hired to chant prayers for rich people who were too lazy or busy to do so themselves.

An old wooden door with a box Flat 113
This door was hidden beside a High Street shop.

This door was at the side  of one of the High Street shops. The thickness of the wood and the style of the iron work betray its age.

I only spent about half an hour in Marlborough but I very much enjoyed looking at the architecture.

We had a surprise when we found our hotel for the night was the police federation headquarters in Leatherhead but that is another anecdote.

This post has been added to a Thursday doors link party.

Bath a brief history

I was happy to find out that Bath would be the venue for our February walk in the past history walk.  I  grew up  between Bristol and Bath and my father went to school in the city so I have watched  Bath change over the years.  Jane Austen would probably recognise the centre  but there is also a side to the city the tourists miss.   It has a large student population.  Bath university is particularly well known for sport and many  athletes train there.

We met for our walk at the back of Bath bus station.  If you plan to visit Bath I suggest arriving by bus or train as parking is very difficult. There are several park and ride schemes nearby and the main bus station and train station are close to the city attractions.

Bath is the only English city to be given UNESCO  world heritage status. For the locals this is a mixed blessing. I remember when I was at University one of my history lecturers asked me if it was like living in a museum. In summer it can be difficult to move through the city because of the number of tourists but they also bring  us much prosperity.

This walk was a brief introduction to the history of Bath which we hope to explore in more detail later.  I have provided a potted version here.

The Romans

There is a Celtic legend that the hot springs at Bath were discovered by a swineherd named Bladud who found that the hot mud cured a skin disease his pigs had been suffering from. He later became a tribal leader and established a shrine in Bath to the goddess Sulla. Although there is no evidence for his existence there are a lot of iron age settlements around Bath. Bath itself is supposed to be built in the crater of an extinct volcano.

Bath guidebooks usually date the history  back to the Romans who were drawn to the hot spa water and built a magnificent Bath Complex. to enjoy it. Much of this survives or has been restored though unfortunately you can not swim there any longer. You can taste the water but be warned it tastes vile.

Another reason why we met behind the bus station is that it is close to the route of the Roman Fosseway a road between Exeter and Lincoln. Here the Romans built a bridge to cross the river Avon. As well as enjoying hot baths the Romans were attracted to the area to mine lead from the nearby Mendip hills.

The Medieval Period

After the Romans left Bath seems to have declined in importance.  However the magnificent Bath abbey was built during the medieval period. The   medieval legacy is preserved in the names of the roads, Eastgate, Southgate, Westgate and Northgate though the walls and gates have disappeared.

The Georgians

Bath markets itself as a Georgian city.  In the 18th century, Bath stone was quarried from the nearby hills to build the famous crescents.  The aristocracy would descend on Bath to take the waters or play cards.  This was vividly described by Jane Austen, perhaps Bath’s most famous resident who does not seem to have enjoyed her stay much. If you visit the assembly rooms and nearby fashion museum you can take afternoon tea and children can dress up.  You can  imagine yourself in a scene from one of her books or visit the Jane Austen centre.

A couple wearing 18th century clothing.
A couple dressed in costume for the Jane Austen festival.

During this period William Herschel who had been an organist in Bath discovered the planet Uranus. You can visit his house and see the telescopes he made.

The Royal crescent Bath is built of yellow Bath stone.
The famous Royal crescent.

Visit Bath

Pulteney Bridge was built by Sir William Pulteney close to the site of the old Roman bridge to enable development on the other side of the river.

The Modern city

Bath was linked to Reading by the Kennett and Avon canal and later Isambard Kingdom Brunel built his famous Great Western Railway between Bristol and London with a station in Bath.

Bath was badly bombed during the second world war.  It was not considered a target but the Germans carried out what became known as the Baedeker raids. They targeted cities given a high rating in the Baedeker guide books in retaliation for British bombing raids on Germany. However it has been largely rebuilt using Bath stone.

Bath has built a new spa complex where visitors can swim in the hot mineral waters just as the Romans did.

Visitors swimming in the rooftop Bath.
The new rooftop Bath at the Thermae complex. Bath abbey is in the background.

Photos for this blog post were used with permission from VisitBath

This post is linked to grammy’s grid and grandma’s briefs, both sites for blogging grandmothers who are happy to welcome new members.

If you enjoyed this post you might like two national trust houses to visit near Bath.

Christmas lunch at Avon Valley Railway Station

20181211_111011This year our French group decided to have Christmas lunch at Bitton railway Station.

This railway was part of my childhood.  I remember sitting in boring lessons at school and watching trains pass along the line. The Avon valley railway line which was part of the Midland rail network ran from Bristol to Bath and connected up with the Somerset and Dorset railway known affectionally as the S and D or slow and dirty. It took people on day trips to the seaside, to places like Bournemouth and Weymouth.

However in 1960’s the government decided that the car was the future and closed a lot of branch lines including ours. For many years the tracks and stations were allowed to decay. However we were fortunate our line between Bristol and Bath was turned into a cycle track by Sustrans. The thirteen mile path is very popular with both cyclists and walkers and also provides an important wildlife corridor.

A group of volunteers bought Bitton railway station which dates from the 1860’s and decided to reopen part of the track. They now run trains over a three mile stretch including crossing the river Avon. The volunteers host special events such as Santa Specials, Thomas the Tank Engine days, murder mysteries and Grandparents days.  If you want a present for the man in your life they can even learn to drive a steam train.

The Railway Buffet

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The volunteers  also reopened the station buffet and use two converted 1950’s railway carriages  named Margaret and Rose to serve meals. Our U3A French group decided that it would make an unusual venue for our Christmas meal.

We enjoyed a very good  lunch with all the trimmings in Rose and we were even able to order a glass of wine  If you are visiting the area at other times of the year you can get a good range of reasonably priced snacks and drinks.  You can also enjoy a full English breakfast followed by a walk along the river towards Bath.  For locals it is a popular place to take visitors. For the more energetic the cycle track leads to the former Green Park Station in Bath which now houses a number of stalls where you can buy snacks or crafts. The station has free car parking.

On a personal note I am pleased to report that 2018 was a very good year for me. As well as starting this blog, Bill and I celebrated our ruby wedding after surviving 40 years of married life, our youngest son Christopher married his school friend Lorna and our second son Martin and his wife Kirsty presented us with our first grand daughter. I wonder what 2019 will bring.