Sunday, 14 June 2015

Holiday II Bath

On the first full day of our time in the West Country we headed east (through Bristol, making mental note to return) to Bath.  It was my first proper visit, and a packed day we had of it; and as as we parked in Bennet St just east of the New Assembly Rooms (1769-71 by John Wood the Younger; the Tea Room is the best interior) I thought I'd start there.  These are just photos of some of the things I liked.  I really should have been more methodical, more organised, but I suspect I'll be returning, for Bath is very beautiful.  Stepping out of the car I felt a real frisson of excitement.  The architecture, the building stone, the topography, the sense of being in a proper city - a classical city at that - all contributed to an overwhelming experience.  In common with some of the other towns I've written about on this blog, such as Oundle in Nothamptonshire and Hadleigh in Suffolk, it is the collective sum of the city that impresses rather than individual buildings; just think of that wonderful view through Pulteney Bridge (1764-74 by Robert Adam) and up Great Pulteney Street (by Thomas Baldwin).
Although there are a small number of Baroque buildings down in the city centre, the architectonic language of city that grew up in the 18th century is essentially Neo-Palladian; and unfortunately one of the great failings of Neo-Palladiansim was the inability to evolve an architectural language for public and civic buildings.  It is therefore telling that in context of Bath the two greatest architectural expressions in the city are The Circus, with its strange druidic and masonic imagery (1754-66 by John Wood the Elder with Wood the Younger), and The Royal Crescent, (1767 by John Wood the Younger) were both the work of a civic minded private enterprise and also 'domestic'.  For me their success, together with the north side of Queen Square (1729, also by John Wood the Elder), lies in the robustness, and plasticity of the architecture.  Both, too, have a hint of the Baroque about them.  The Circus is essentially a French, and Baroque, Rond Point; The Royal Crescent, which has a masculine almost Vanbrugh air to it, has a sweep and a scale, a monumentality that could only be produced during or after the Baroque. It is almost an equivalent of Bernini's great colonnades outside St Peter's.
The smaller spaces were a delight too: Margaret's Buildings, Saville Row, Beauford Square.  Delightful also the street names carved into the very stone of the buildings - crisp, clear and beautifully done.

There were only two real disappointments: the Abbey and the Roman Baths.  Neither would be an experience I would wish to repeat too soon.  The Abbey is very late Perpendicular Gothic, credit usually goes to the brothers William and Robert Vertue, was abandoned half finished at the Reformation, and is crammed full of monuments and furniture. The entrance hall to the Roman Baths is by the Scottish architect John Brydon and is probably the best classical interior in the city.  Suitably Imperial in scale.  Both however were incredibly busy and there was little space left for the numinous and I felt alienated in both - profoundly so in the Roman Baths.  I was put in mind of W B Yeats's 'greasy till' ('September 1913').  Perhaps they need to be experienced at some other time and season.

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