WHAT HAVE THE ROMANS EVER DONE FOR US?

Studies indicate that Walcot formed a focal point for the local road network in the Roman period, in much the same way as it does today. From excavations and casual finds it is known that Walcot Street was also an area of dense Romano - British occupation.

It is probably the oldest commercial street in Bath. Since the late 1980s, evidence gathered by Bath Archaeological Trust at the northern end of Walcot Street has led to a complete reappraisal of the development of Bath as a town during the Roman occupation of Britain. Prior to these excavations the Baths and Temple complex, begun in mid 1st century, was widely considered to have been the main focus of Roman urban activity.

However, there is a strong possibility that the complex may have stood in isolation in an area of open countryside when it was first completed. The lack of urban characteristics in the early Roman period in the area around the baths suggests that the focus of these activities may have developed here at Walcot. Indeed, there is enough evidence to suggest that there was a substantial settlement at the north end of Walcot Street and scattered occupation around and to the south.

The evidence from excavations showed that people settled in Walcot shortly after the invasion in 43AD but before the Baths and Temple were built by the springs. They founded a settlement that grew rapidly in the first two centuries into a bustling small town, capitalising on the tourist trade provided by the Temple and Baths. The influx of people from the Roman Empire included highly skilled stone masons, carpenters, blacksmiths, potters, and glass makers. They brought with them new skills in stone carving, metal working and glass blowing. Trade and industry flourished and the area around the Hat and Feather yard grew to become a mix of workshops and domestic dwellings that remained in use until the fourth century AD.

A wooden Roman fort probably stood just north of the centre of Bath in Walcot, to help protect the vitally important crossing point of the River Avon. Roman burials from Walcot [pictured: Grave Stone of Tancinus, Roman Solder found in Walcot] indicate soldiers from the Second Legion and the Twentieth Legion (Legio XX Valeria Victrix) where either stationed or retired in Bath. The links to trade are also reflected in the graves. The remains of a Syrian man, thought to be a trader, have been found in Walcot.

It is possible to imagine the Roman street as having a similar character to that of today; shops, living accommodation, small industry and a busy through road.

A BIT OF HISTORY

THE RISE AND FALL OF WALCOT

Walcot Street, Bath

By the 14th century Bath had became well known for its cloth industry, Walcot Street ‘besyde Bathe’ (where Chaucer’s Good Wife of Bath would have lived) being the main production area, although the records also indicate a wide variety of other trades in that area. Even as the cloth industry abandoned the old guild towns for the countryside during the 16th century, the largest group of weavers connected with the city still held property in Walcot Street in the early 17th century. 

There was an increase in commercial activity in Walcot Street in the 18th century, particularly after the construction in about 1770 of Sayce & Kelson’s famous ‘Northgate Brewery’. This became one of Bath’s most successful industries, and by the mid 19th century the brewery was rated the largest in the West of England. It was the first firm in Bath to employ steam power

In April 1809 the Council paid £500 for land ‘behind the houses in Walcot Street’ to build a cattle market. This land, which consisted of two large gardens on the south side of the Ladymead Brewery, was converted to an open arena bounded on the east side with a large five-storey granary or store-house backing onto the river. By September 1811 these works were complete when the vaults beneath the market were leased to a grocer - an indication that wholesale vegetables were also marketed here, including potatoes which were sold in the street until the 1830s

With the arrival of the Great Western Railway however, Walcot Street was already beginning to lose its importance, becoming a decayed area of public houses, shops and light industry, and for the next hundred years there were few changes. [Source: BANES - pdf file]

THE CORN MARKET AND CATTLE MARKET

THE CORN MARKET AND CATTLE MARKET
The Corn Market building and surrounding Cattle Market area on Walcot Street are examples of the last vestiges of Bath’s Victorian working past. As such they remain on the 2010 – 2011 Save Britain’s Heritage at Risk list.
 
Bath’s Market Charter was granted in 1317 by King Edward III and was located on the High Street for almost 500 years until the City Corporation decided that the increased number of livestock being brought for sale was blocking the area. In 1809 the selling of animals was moved to open land by the river, in what became known as the Cattle Market.
 
In 1855 a market hall was built alongside, replacing a tripe-boiler shop and a wheelwright’s workshop. Look closer and you will be able to see that the Corn Market entrance is a pre-existing Georgian townhouse, once residence of the market superintendent. Behind the townhouse running towards the river is the main market building itself, with its archways and vaults. Here there were slaughterhouses as well as facilities for storing excess grain to be sold on market days.
 
The market began to wind-down in the late 1960s, early 1970s. By then the Corn Market building had already been put to use as a woodwork classroom for local schools in the 1930s, and during the Second World War machine gun parts for Mosquito aircraft were manufactured here. . [source: Bath Magazine]

HEDGEMEAD PARK

Two hundred and seventy-one houses were built in the 1870s on the steeply sloping hillside known as Edgemead, below Camden Crescent. These were mainly artisan dwellings for Bath’s rising working-class population.

Over the next few years a series of landslips occurred resulting in burst water mains, sewers and gas leaks. But in 1881 a landslip destroyed or damaged one hundred and thirty-five houses that resulted in many homes being judged unsafe. The Council deemed it prudent to have the people evacuated.
However, it took a further land slippage in 1883, before calls were made for the creation of an ‘open space’ - Hedgemead Park, which was finally opened on the 19th July 1889

Being one of the earliest of the Bath “Pleasure Grounds”, the park’s maintenance base was on site in the area now occupied by the children’s play area.
Here, over the years up to the 2nd World War, there were expansive glass houses that for a time supplied not only the Park itself, but the Pump Room and other Council Buildings, 

Following extensive war damage in 1942 to not only the glass houses, but also the lower shelter and the public lavatories down on the London Road, all were eventually removed, and on the site of the glass houses, the long-promised Children’s play area was finally created in the 1950’s. 

A pathway which predates the creation of the park was probably a route from the River Avon upward to the Camden Crescent area. This sunken passageway, separated from the park by railings, divides the park into two sections – the smaller northern section entered by the London Road gates, and the southern part, entered by the Lansdown Road gates, that still contains a number of original features. [source: Friends of Hedgemead Park]

FEMALE PENITENTIARY

Bath was not only the 18th century centre of the 'Age of Elegance' but the centre of unashamed licentiousness. A past where the great city's historic streets were literally teaming with prostitutes.

The Walcot Street, Avon Street and the Holloway district of Bath were notorious for centres of the sex trade.

Prostitution was so rife in fact that by 1805, when Jane Austen was a resident, a Female Penitentiary and Lock Hospital had to be founded in Walcot to tackle the problem. Although the Penitentiary offered prostitutes salvation from walking the streets it was only in exchange for some 'honest toil'. The charity arranged for the women to take in washing and ironing. The large garden behind Ladymead House in Walcot Street made excellent drying grounds.

The first women were admitted to the Bath Penitentiary were Eliza Davey and Jane Matthews, both of who were aged seventeen. The youngest applicant was admitted to the Lock Hospital in March 1820 and was described as an 'unconsenting little sufferer of only nine years old '. 

The girls of the town lived amongst people struggling to make an honest survival against all the odds of the time in places such as Hat & Feather Yard, Walcot Street, described at the time as a "harbour of thieves, prostitutes, and characters of the worst descriptions, and a receptacle for stolen property" where the language was "most offensive to persons passing by, particularly on Sabbath days". [source: BBC] [JM Chivers]- A RESONATING VOID]

THE POOLEMEAD HOME FOR DEAF WOMEN

The Reverend Fountain Elwin, of Temple Church, Bristol, found a little deaf mute girl in his parish and took her into his home, the family moved to Bath and his daughter and her friend Miss White went about the city looking for deaf and dumb children, found several neglected little waif, and began to teach them in a rented room in Orange Grove.
 
Her early efforts went so well and aroused so much interest that in 1840 a Committee was formed and premises taken over at 9 Walcot Parade. In 1868 a home for adults was started, and by the middle 1890’s the adult work had far outstripped the school. The State was beginning to accept its proper duty of educating the young, and by 1897 the school had been closed altogether and the Charity Commissioners had agreed to the accumulated funds and property being used entirely for the home.
 
So the Bath Home for Deaf and Dumb Women came properly into being. The home, founded in 1868, became known as the Deaf and Dumb Industrial Home, then was taken over by the National Institute for the Deaf in 1932, and moved to ‘Poolemead’ at Twerton-on-Avon, near Bath, in 1933, and is now known as the Leopold Muller Deaf Home. [source: ucl.ac.uk]

THE WALCOT TUNNEL

In 1965 there was a proposal which would have seen the construction of a tunnel under the historic heart of the city, starting in Walcot Street to the east, but emerging in Charlotte Street, New King Street or near Kingsmead Square in the west.
 
With the announcement of the plan to demolish much of Walcot Street, property prices in the area plumetted - there are stories of old houses changing hands for less than fifty pounds in the 1970s. Indeed, at the southern end of the street, where the tunnel portal was planned, a vast chunk of property was cleared, and subsequently the Hilton Hotel built. To the east and south of the hotel, a large multi-storey underground car park was built, with the upper level intended to form the ground floor of a new Law Courts building. It was not until 1989 that The Podium shopping centre (including Waitrose and the City Library) was finally opened on this site.
 
Further north in the street, other properties were also cleared - mainly ramshackle semi-derelict sheds and warehouses, but fortunately the street frontages were largely preserved. Even today, thirty years after the plan was finally shelved, the little cottages at Nelson Terrace and Cleveland Cottages show signs of their once doomed future. At Chatham Row, the end three houses nearest the river were bought up and boarded up for demolition. Such was their expected life expectancy that the fire brigade were allowed to use the three houses for training and experiments, and indeed the houses were set alight to see how long it would take for an old Georgian House to collapse. The fact that these houses were restored in the 1980s proves how well built they must have been!
 
In many ways, we should be greatful to the tunnel plan, as it has given Bath a very eclectic 'artisan' quarter which developed when the property in the street was worth pennies. Today, this is being encouraged, and the restoration of the old Tram Shed - also once scheduled for demolition - has made this one of Bath's most fascinating corners. Even the Corn Market and neighbouring car park are now due for restoration and development. [source: Sabre Roads]

The 70s

WALCOT RISING

Bath Arts Workshop

BATH ARTS WORKSHOP

Bath Arts Workshop who started in 1970 was run in the style of the Arts Lab of Drury Lane, London. Its policy was to involve the community in projects to break down barriers between "work / play / art / drama and social activity, to integrate all ages and types of people and to stimulate creativity on a collective as well as on an individual level".
 
It staged its first event in June 1970 and started the first "Other Festival" in 1971 during Bath Festival week. The second "Other Festival" was a ten day event with 20 hours of entertainment a day. At this time the workshop had a full time but voluntary staff running projects all year round as well as the yearly festival when many temporary volunteers joined the team.
 
The Workshop started life in premises in Fountain Buildings, then moved to The Organ Factory where the daily communal meal was remembered as being an important social and life-giving event. The weekly Co-Ord was held on a Tuesday, when major decision making took place.
 
The Workshop Shop opened in The Paragon (where The Paragon Winebar used to be). It sold everything and anything, profits from which were put back into Workshop projects. A workshop member remembers jumble as being a very important commodity at this time, the race was on to see who could get to it first. It was also an early Virgin Records outlet. Number 146 Walcot Street was the final property to be Bath Arts Workshop. This became the shop, whilst the Paragon became Aunty Margaretıs Teashop.
 
Projects such as the Adventure Playgrounds were highly successful and fondly remembered by children of the period. Workshop Films was an important and popular exponent, recording events and running film workshops for such groups as The Riverside Truant School. The Snow Hill Road Show was a childrens theatre group, who, in the 1972 festival had their own theatre at the Cleveland Hotel and ran children only events.
The workshop offered many facilities including King Kong Transport, King Kong Workforce, Comtek Builders, Festival advice, photographic, recording and video equipment, Community Technology, Civil Aid and the Natural Theatre Company.

COMTEK

 

Comtek began as the Bath Community Design Workshop in 1973 with three people from Bath Arts Workshop. Their aim was to make themselves and others aware of the potential for controlling society and technology. The two basic elements of their philosophy were energy conservation and the interdependence between each person and the local community.

Comtek reached the community through festivals which involved local people in the planning and organising of events. They estimated that nearly a quarter of the population of the city was involved during the 1973 "Another Festival".

At Comtek'74 an exhibition of Alternative Technology drew participants from all over the country. After Comtek'75, with activities such as a forge and metalwork shop and information on urban agriculture, technology weekend workshops were run. The themes explored were solar and wind energy and greenhouse / fishfarm installations.

WALCOT FESTIVALS

The first festivals organised by Bath Arts Workshop (1970 - 1973) were called The Other Festival, as an alternative to the main Bath international Festival.

In 1972 they had the use of the 60 room Cleveland Hotel in Pulteney Street, owned at that time by Charlie Ware. It was opened by Rocky and the Jets, who arrived by helicopter. Hawkwind played at the hotel. This was the first festival to be recorded on film by Workshop Films.

1973 was called Another Festival, as they were expected to continue. This was an ambitious three site festival held in Walcot, Twerton and Oddown, as well as Bath Theatre Royal, owned by Charlie Ware at the time. Temporary structures were built by Comtek in the form of domes. Alan Ginsburg made an impromptu performance at the Twerton Dome to an audience of teenage boys.

The 1974 festival was called The Last Festival as money worries from the 1973 festival suggested it could be the last! This time a huge big top visited each of the three sites. An exhibition of community technology - COMTEK ran a four day festival at Kensington Meadows featuring "The Solar Trumpet", "Recycling a car" and "Whacky Races for kids".

1975 It rained this year. The events moved to the Burial Field.

1976 was very aptly called The Sunshine Festival, even though the theme was decided in January! The colour yellow played an important role, as did sunflowers. Comtek built a huge walkway on scaffolding along the site and built wind generators made from vehicle parts and solar panels made from old household radiators, amongst other things. The cost of the festival was £4,700 and money was raised mostly from the Arts Council and Bath City Council. A memorable event was Motorhead and AC/DC at The Pavilion.

1977 was the Silver Jubilee year and the festival was cut down to a one day Garden Party.

People were saddened by the small scale of the 1977 festival and brought about a change by organising a festival committee.

The Beano Club started at the Walcot Village Hall and ran as a weekly cabaret to raise funds for the festival.

1978 was a four day festival called The Walcot Beano. The program was in the style of a Beano comic.

1979 was Walcot Nation Festival of Independence. Each day during the festival there was a daily change of rule which meant that a new ruler could be seen at events.

After 1979 the festivals were run by a committee and not run solely by Bath Arts Workshop.

Walcot Nation Day

Back in 1997 shop traders in Walcot Street headed by Martin Tracey (Framing Workshop) decided it was about time to re-live those festival days of the 70's and reclaim Walcot as an Independent Nation (The first Independent State of Walcot was in 1979) and with help from Bath Fringe began to prepare for a Street Closure and festival of magnitude, with band stages, bars, street theatre, children’s entertainment and lots of fun for all. It was a total success and continued from then, becoming a social calendar event, up until 2006.

"We will once again close the streets, put up banners and bunting, eat and drink and laugh and dance, as the cream of Walcot's golden youth entertain us with their musical virtuosity and merry pranks."

Walcot Street would be closed off and 'checkpoints' erected at both ends where a Natural Theatre passport control is set up. Multiple stages are erected and food and drink stalls lined the street, entertainers wandering along the length of Walcot. Kids activities are centered down by Walcot Chapel and you stumble across bands and musicians hidden away in various corners of the area as well as on the main stages.

The Last Nation Day

On moving from Walcot Street to Kensington Meadows in 2006, we had a really lovely day out with the best of Bath-related entertainment, worthy of the great Nation Days & Walcot Festivals of the past – whatever the pessimists were saying about it before the event. The one thing that let the event down was the mis-match between what the event cost and what we collected on the gates. The event cost approximately £45,000 (an increase due to the costs of licensing an event under the new Licensing Act, in particular the requirements set by the Police) whereas the gates collected only about £12,000 in voluntary contributions (way down on previous years), to which we added £13,000 profit from the bars we ran (not even all of them) and stall fees, etc. This destroyed at a stroke the reserves built up against just such a ‘rainy day’ by hundreds of people working for nothing over previous years. Thanks a lot.

The Walcot Day group are proud to say that we’ve not gone out of business owing suppliers and artists money, like many allegedly ‘commercial’ festivals have done, in some cases repeatedly. But we can’t run events of that scale without building up the funds again; the 2009 Independence Day event was – despite having to charge admission – heading back in the right direction. Greatly increased costs, mostly related to the safety of an event and its impact on the neighbours (both of which are matters very close to our hearts anyway), make it difficult to run such large community events without charging entrance or attracting hefty sponsorship. To forestall the usual pub conversation, there is little chance of a return to Walcot Street itself, at least in the near future: a group of determined residents made clear their opposition to all street events in 2007.

It’s simply not true to say, as we’ve heard frequently, that “the council stopped it happening”. The change in Licensing laws, that which got the pubs opening later, meant that it was very much more complicated to run a community event of that kind on the street: the big well-funded Carnivals like St Paul’s or a green field festival with a big ticket price can afford to spend the time doing the preliminary paperwork and then have the personpower to make sure everyone sticks to what they’re supposed to be doing: a small community organisation doesn’t have those kind of resources. But it is true that as of 2010 the council withdrew the financial backing the Fringe used to support the Kensington Meadows events in general.

Walcot Day itself was never directly paid for by The Council or corporate sponsors, and that’s probably a good thing: its capital has been that people were prepared to muck in or chip in to make sure it happened. Future Walcot Days are not entirely off the agenda, and if that happens we’ll be calling on the community to manifest their support again. [source: Bath Fringe]