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Arbie's Unoriginally Titled Book Blog

It's a blog! Mainly of book reviews.

Currently reading

Station Zero
Philip Reeve
Progress: 220/282 pages
The Books of Earthsea: The Complete Illustrated Edition
Ursula K. Le Guin, Charles Vess
Progress: 749/997 pages
The Penguin Book of Russian Poetry
Robert Chandler
The Uncertain Land and Other Poems
Patrick O'Brian
Progress: 8/160 pages
The Heptameron (Penguin Classics)
Marguerite de Navarre
Progress: 152/544 pages
The Poems and Plays of John Masefield
John Masefield
Progress: 78/534 pages
Poems Selected
Emily Dickinson, Ted Hughes
Progress: 4/50 pages
Selected Poems
U A Fanthorpe
Progress: 18/160 pages
The Penguin Book of Scottish Verse
Mick Imlah, Robert Crawford
Hainish Novels & Stories, Vol. 2
Ursula K. Le Guin
Progress: 133/789 pages

Vanishing Bath, Peter & Ruth Coard

Vanishing Bath - Peter Coard, Ruth Coard

The 1960s-1970s were a disaster for cultural heritage in Bath. Not merely entire streets but whole neighbourhoods of Georgian through to Victorian architecture were demolished and redeveloped. It became known as The Sack of Bath. Not until the late 1970s did the tide turn back towards conservation and preservation. By that time huge quantities of buildings of significant architectural merit had been flattened. The motivation for all this destruction was allegedly the need for improved housing. It was cheaper to bulldoze and build new than to modernise terraces that were anything up to two centuries old. And indeed, something needed to be done - many of these terraces were suffering from damp as well as needing new plumbing and electrical wiring. Not a single one of the replacement buildings had half the architectural merit of its predecessor and, mysteriously, large areas were not replaced by housing of any kind. The Southgate area gained a horrible covered shopping precinct. Hamm Gardens got a giant multi-storey car-park that couldn't have been uglier if you were trying to make it so. Similarly with Corn Street and Avon Street.


Eventually it was realised that since the local wool trade died in the 18th Century, Bath has had no reason to exist outside of being a Tourist Mecca and giving posh people bragging rights about living in one of the famous up-market streets. (John wood the Elder created this out of nothing in the 2nd half of the 1700s.) Since then, the city's economy has risen and fallen consistently on how popular it is with tourists and rich residents. Needless to say, the 1960s-1970s were a hideous depression for Bath. Only when the clean up and conservation ethos re-established itself (around the time my family moved to the area) did fortunes improve. Since then, new developments have, despite often being labelled (usually fairly) "mediocre" and "insipid" been usually a vast improvement on anything that occurred post WWII and pre-1980. (A notable exception is the new bus station which is only marginally better than the atrocity it replaced.) Since then, the fortunes of the city have also been generally on the rise. People want to visit the amazing World Heritage Site now, whereas they mostly wanted to get the hell out of the soot-covered hell-hole of pre-1980.


Which brings me to the book. From the start of the Sack of Bath, many protested the enormous cultural loss. Some, unable to stop the loss, decided to at least try to preserve a record of the old city before it was too late to do even that. A campaign of photography and drawing was launched. The originals were curated by the old Bath Reference Library (now merged with the lending library). This book, which reproduces the majority of the drawings made during this effort, is therefore important - a term I do not bandy about lightly in case of books - as it represents the best and frequently only easily accessible witness of what we lost in those two decades of planning horror. And what a loss! I had no idea! Almost every building appearing in the book would be considered an untouchable masterpiece if it was standing in one of the towns or villages to the south west or north west of Bath. Only the proximity to so many internationally extraordinary streets and isolated buildings allowed them to be overshadowed and criminally under-appreciated by urban planners who caused more problems than they solved.