This is a follow-on from my previous post about the hidden underground street, where I commented that sometimes it is better to be ignored than have any attention whatsoever.
The short-sighted and simple-minded people that were elected to take care of the World Heritage site which is the city of Bath, care more for revenue than pretty much anything else on the agenda, and as far as the revenue from the city itself is concerned, their policies have remained unchanged since George the First, when the destruction of medieval Bath was begun in order to build places like the Royal Crescent and The Circus, which bring in tourists from all over the world by the plane-load.
The Georgians did two things to hide the bits of medieval Bath that they did not destroy - one was to build a veneer over the original facades of large buildings, leaving Tudor and 17th century bits like the one above intact, but round the backs where they could not be seen. The Victorians continued with this practice, which explains why you can see a flat roof cut into the gable which rises from it in the photo.
This piece of 1600s architecture is the view from our kitchen window, and it's side wall can be seen in the photos of 'Ducking Stool Lane' in the previous post, rising up from the lane itself. The reason why there is a buried street just down the lane is because of the other thing the Georgians did to build their new metropolis - they formed basements by simply building above the medieval level and raising the street-level by - in some cases - as much as 18 feet. There are many hidden tunnels and lanes below the pavements of Bath - the Roman Baths themselves are on the same level as them, and have a complex network of passages which run in all directions around them.
The elected city fathers care little for the pathetic remnants of late medieval Bath - in fact I doubt if any of them are educated enough to be able to recognise them as such. You can easily spot 17th century masonry because these buildings were almost always made using two different types of stone - White Lias which was imported from deeper Somerset and used as rubble infill to be painted with a lime-wash (you can see it in the above photo) and local 'freestone' for quoins etc. which was soft enough to cut to the required size and shape with a saw.
The term 'freestone' simply means that the size of it is not governed by the strict set of dimensions which govern 'ashlar'. Ashlar comes in these sizes, and these sizes only: 24 inches high, 14 inches high, 12 inches high and 10 inches high, and 3, 4, 6, 8, 10 and 12 inches thick. Anything below 10 inches high is termed 'freestone', and the haphazard cutting of any larger pieces to - say - 13 inches, is also called 'freestone'.
Many people who should know better erroneously call any Bath stone 'ashlar', and call any dark sandstone which our pavements are made from 'pennant', but 'pennant' is only the shape of the stones. 'Pennant' means 'flag', as in 'flag-stones' - shaped like a flag. Geddit?
When I saw a roofer taking off the coping stones to this gable-end, I feared the worst would happen so I emailed the above picture to the civil servant who is in charge of planning and conservation for the whole of Bath and told him of my concerns. I also added that I had been a sculptor and stone conservator for about 40 years, just in case he thought I was a generally ignorant busybody.
A few days later, he replied by saying that he had visited the site and assured himself that the builders were only repairing the slate roof, so all was well.
About one day after his visit, the roofer re-pointed all of the 17th century masonry, using what looks like a 50-50 mix of ordinary Portland cement (not even white cement) and 'Blackrock' dust - a substance which has been banned in Bath for about 30 years. Not only that, the mix was almost liquid and smeared or run down the entire face of the gable, causing irreversible damage. The poor building had survived nicely (though in need of some TLC) for over 300 years, until a prat with a trowel and paintbrush turned up one day.
So I sent this photo to the 'conservation officer', together with a message telling him that this was the very thing I had been warning about, and now it was too bloody late to do anything about it. I received no reply.
If you are local to the area, or happen to know anyone on Bath City Council, perhaps you could forward this blog post to them for the sake of the future. I am tired of talking to them right now.