Thoughts, quirky insights and experiences in my meandering life.

A potted history of Georgian Architecture in Bath

The road is an addition for our obsession with cars.

Bath is very easy on the eyes. Bath stone, limestone I have discovered, is a lovely creamy colour and when every building is the same colour is makes for a soothing architectural background to the city. Not only is every building the same colour, but there are dramatic building facades which makes for a very cohesive “look” to the city. This did not happen by accident.

The attraction of Bath as a city to “take the waters” for such ailments as gout, melancholy and everything in between really got going in the early Georgian era, i.e. early 1700’s, and of course the city had to expand to meet the accommodation needs of the increased number of bathers. As sometimes happily happens the right people were in the right place at the right time to create a city that has been designated a World Heritage Site en mass.

John Wood was one of those people, and the story goes like this. This was the age of enlightenment. Which means that people, substitute men, were exploring the natural world, and taking the Grand Tour. A bit like a gap year. Those young men became enamoured of ancient Greece and Rome and desired to reproduce that esthetic in Britain. Bath was expanding rapidly and John Wood bought properties and then designed classical facades such as the span of the Royal Crescent. Then he did that peculiar English thing of creating 99 year land leases of the land behind the facade, all divided into separate lots. These lots were available for speculative builders to acquire and build a house. So the frontage is a unified design but the back is the creation of each individual builder, building next to each other. Clever. Then they sold the building and land lease.

The Circle.

The result is a lovely facade, but a real jumble behind. There was a great demand for short term rentals so many were a kind of boarding house, offering everything from rooms to suites to floors, depending on whether you were pseudo gentry or the real thing. Apparently they are a real mixed bag of design and construction. Sadly, I did not look behind the buildings to see what the back looked like. I wish I had. The Circle, above, was designed so that wherever you entered the circle you saw an amazing facade. While at the Architectural Museum in Bath I learned about columns, and came up with the following to keep them in order. DIC D is for Doric, the simplest column, then I for Ionic and C for Corinthian, the most fancy. The relationship between the circumference (or perhaps width), and the height are ingrained in stone, literally. Check them out on Duck Duck Go (not google) to see what they look like.

Pseudo gentry and the real gentry mixed at the Assembly Rooms. Beau Nash was the unofficial Master of Ceremonies from 1704 to 1761.

His position was unofficial, but nevertheless he had extensive influence in the city until early 1761. He would meet new arrivals to Bath and judge whether they were suitable to join the select “Company’ of 500 to 600 people who had pre-booked tables, match ladies with appropriate dancing partners at each ball, pay the musicians at such events, broker marriages, escort unaccompanied wives and regulate gambling (by restraining compulsive gamblers or warning players against risky games or cardsharps). Wikipedia

Which brings me to Jane Austen. Her shrewd observations of human nature were honed during her years in Bath and many of her novels were set there. There is, of course, a Jane Austen centre which I visited. I love her insights into human behaviour and I am tempted to listen to all her books again as I travel the canals. She was the pseudo gentry, a clergyman’s daughter, who, unlike her characters, did not marry. In fact resisted marriage. Not a woman typical of her era where social status was dictated by your marriage. Not a great era for women.

Moving along.

I have been single handing for a few days now, and have enjoyed many aspects of it. I have climbed up from the bottom of a lock with rope and windlass in hand, but I am happy to say that I have not had to climb down into the lock when I have been going “downhill”. Luckily, at every lock there have been people who have helped me through going downhill. Not least the volunteers this morning. Water is low in the Kennet part of the Kennet and Avon Canal, and this morning I was grounded by water flowing out of the pound over night. It seeps through the locks. I went to open the locks then get my boat ungrounded. Lock volunteers showed up and helped me get the bow unstuck, the stern was already free. Then they accompanied me through a number of locks. At each of the succeeding locks there were people who helped me so I could avoid that climb down the ladder. It was not so much the climb that worried me, it was transferring from the ladder to the boat at the bottom, which potentially could be moving around of its own free accord. Phew. Now it is done, and I await the arrival of my sister Jane and her partner Martin tomorrow.

Right now I am in thatched cottage country, in this case, Great Bedwyn. Don’t you love the names? When I was growing up thatched cottages were as far away from my every day reality as Toronto was. They look good, but I hear that the thatch has to be replaced every twenty years. No problem, say north americans, but here tile and slate roofs last for life, that is, life of the building. I have never understood why we use roofing material that has to be replaced every 15 to 20 years in Canada.

Last, but not least, I have to talk about the SUV’s of the canal, the double wides, or broadbeams as they are called.

He said it.

The bow of Wide Boy

Huge and imposing. I am not sure I could easily get into the skin of these boats they seem so big, and the only place I have experienced them so far is on the Kennet and Avon. When they are coming down the canal they are not easy to pass. There is a great risk of going aground. They are not an apartment afloat, they are the whole house.

I have already seen Mallard chicks but could not quite get a picture. Will try again, and the catkins are out. Very chilly nights and mornings, and a chilly breeze, but I couldn’t have been luckier with the weather. It has been a milder than usual winter with lots of sunshine. I do feel very very lucky. Almost half way through my time on Little Star. Can’t quite believe that either.

Not the original White Horse. When does the copy become authentic? Don’t know for sure what the yellow crop is, mustard maybe.
Another bow shot. Late afternoon on April 12th. Gorgeous.


Tea for the Tillerman


The Magna Carta: The beginning of the end of absolute monarchs in Britain


  1. Kathie Oakden

    Dear Maggie, I am enjoying your beautiful photos and informative posts. Next best thing to being there. Best wishes, Kathie

    • Maggie

      That is great to hear, I am glad you are enjoying it. I really enjoyed having Wendy on board for a few hours.

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