I met friends and family yesterday afternoon here at the Adventure Cafe in Bath and, for the first time in almost 40 years of residency, found myself in the courtyard behind it, sitting in the sun and looking at an aspect of the town that was completely new to me. There are green and leafy parts of Bath that can only be seen from the air, because they are enclosed by the huge squares that border many of the streets which the Georgian city is famous for. You have to be a resident or a guest in these places to sit in the parks and groves they contain.
This cafe - like most of the street-front businesses in the centre - has been tacked onto an eighteenth century building which was purpose-built to house the wealthy visitors to the Spa who came every year for the 'Season', in order to promenade around during the day, and dance at the nearby Assembly Rooms at night beneath the glittering chandeliers that hang from it's vast ceilings. The house I live in was built for short tenancies, and was situated very close to the original Assembly Rooms of about 1720, which were rebuilt further up town to accommodate the ever-increasing numbers of Londoners who came to the fashionable, Somerset spa.
No matter how grand or how humble, these houses always followed pretty much the same layout: servants quarters in the attic; master-bedroom on the next floor down; dining room below; withdrawing room/s beneath that; kitchen, wash-room and wine-cellar in the basement. The two (bad, phone) pictures above and below were taken by me yesterday, when I was on my way to the gents, passing through the room which now houses the pool-table.
The three, massive pillars would have been open 250 years ago (stud-walls have been built around them now), and would have supported the ceiling above the place where small-beer, wine and perishable goods were stored. The two huge fire places of the original kitchen have now been half-filled with masonry, and were the open ranges where the meals for the house-hold were prepared. They still have some original ironwork fitted to them for suspending pots and spits, etc.
In the mid-nineteenth century, spas fell out of fashion and many of these houses stood empty. It was possible to just turn up in a town like Bath and pretty much select any building you fancied to live in for a tiny amount of rent - not like today.
In the late nineteenth century, the Roman Baths started to be uncovered in earnest, and during this time, they demolished many fine, early 18th century buildings which stood over them. Last year, I went into underground passages beneath the Pump Room, and found an entire, grand town-house dating from about 1700, sitting down there, mouldering in the darkness.