From Industry to Arcadia

From Industry to Arcadia

This walk explores the back streets of Bath, exploring the city’s divided history, and the mutual and co-operative solutions that have flourished in the margins. What lessons we might take from the past that could accelerate ecological and social revival today?

Linear Park and the Slow & Dirty

The Linear Park in Oldfield Park is a reminder of the lost railway routes of Bath. This followed the route of the old Somerset and Dorset line, affectionately known as the ‘Slow and Dirty’ or S&D (see Walk the Line for more information about it), which was created in 1862. The coming of the railway had multiple impacts on the city: it opened up cheaper travel for the masses, and made accessible the day trip. The Duke of Wellington famously opposed the coming of the railways as he thought it would encourage the working classes to ‘wander pointlessly about.’ But the S&D also cut Twerton, one of the more deprived parts of Bath even to this day, off from the rest of the city.

The Golden Fleece: Bath as a cloth city

The Golden Fleece is a testament to the importance of the cloth industry in Bath; Chaucer’s Wife of Bath is a cloth merchant, underlining the crucial role of cloth on the city’s economy by the Middle Ages. By the nineteenth century much of this work was concentrated in Twerton, one of the city’s working districts. In the late 1840s the Carr family bought the riverside cloth mills at Twerton, which employed many people locally. During World War I the Carr mills produced fabric for the military, but by the firm had closed by 1930, in part unable to compete with cheaper import cloth from abroad.

Jew’s Lane and Under the Railway

There was a significant Jewish community in Bath, formally ‘founded’ in 1742 with a congregation gathering in Kingsmead Street. Bath Old Synagogue was dedicated in 1841, although probably in use from 1836. Although the Synagogue closed in 1894, private worship used to take place during the 1930s and 40s in a hotel in Duke Street. There is a Jewish burial ground in Combe Down. Jews and other minority religions were often forced to live their religious lives secretly, or forced by authorities to live strictly within their own communities or ghettoes. Just as the railway line becomes a metaphor for cutting off a community of working people, so we are reminded that many groups faced periodic bouts of intolerance or violence because of their identity and religious beliefs.

The Old Bakery: Co-operation in the City

Twerton was a pioneer of the cooperative movement in the South West. The Bath Co-operative Society was established by a railway goods guard called Benjamin Colbourne who came to live in Twerton in 1888. Having seen cooperatives work well in the Midlands, Benjamin set about organising in Twerton, and some 80 local people came to his first meeting at St Peter’s Institute. There was an early constitutional crisis with a proposal to call the group the ‘Bath and Twerton Co-operative Society’ – locals were outraged that Twerton got second billing, so it became Twerton only. In 1922 Bath merged with the Twerton Co-op – which had six times the number of members and ten times the capital of its grander neighbour. By 1939 half the city had joined the co-op.

Consider the view from Twerton

Victorian terraces; 1930s ‘Homes for Heroes’; post-War and 1960s council housing – Twerton embraces all kinds of housing stock and styles but that (mostly) hark back to an era of public building projects and improvements in housing. What might a modern vision of Bevan’s ‘finest homes for all’ look like and why does our contemporary politics fail to offer this kind of vision?

From Twerton it is also possible to see the gas towers. The gas works employed many workers in Bath and from the mid-nineteenth century it was a significant provider of power to the town. At one time the most fashionable view in Bath was to have a view from the Royal Crescent that overlooked the gas towers – an embracing of the visuals of new energy technology that is sadly sometimes lacking with wind power and solar farms.

Bath City Farm: The Country in the City

There has been a farm on the Site of Bath City farm since before the Doomsday Book. The farm, which today covers around 37 acres, is now a thriving community resource. The current staff and volunteers have carefully traced the history of the farm and named their fields after the ancient names (and uses) of the land: such as Lower Lamb Sleight, Sideland Innox and Springfield. The fields are ‘unimproved grassland’ with a history of traditional grazing. Thus they have diverse wildflowers on the site such as scabious, knapweed and cowslips.

The farm was established by and for the local community in the 1990s, and became a charity in 1995. It now has a volunteer programme, as well as hosting workshops and other educational programmes for city – and country – dwellers alike.