Sunday, 27 November 2011

The butterflies are taking over



I've just spent about 5 minutes trying to upload 2 photos from my phone, which were going to be the meat and drink for today's post, but when I went to actually find them, they weren't there - strange. So I found these 2 pics above on the net - not ideal, but for some reason, Bath City Council seems reluctant to show the Corn Exchange in it's present state - read on...

There were 2 markets in Bath yesterday (actually 3, if you count the Farmer's market) - the Annual Christmas Market in the abbey courtyard, and the weekly flea market in the old market area of Walcot. I went to the flea as I always do, and made 2 purchases but, on the way, I had to fight my way through the coach loads of women from Cardiff (most of them coated in fake tan and covered in bling), as I will do for the couple of weeks that the Christmas market is running.

Traditionally, there has always been markets in the wide open areas beneath cathedrals in most cities, but this one has only been running for a few years, and consists of about 200 wooden sheds filled with the most unspeakable tat, with about 2000 people trying to walk amongst them at any given time, usually unable to stop and look at anything because of the pressure of the crowd pushing them from behind. The people who make the most money are (unsurprisingly) the stallholders that sell alcohol like mulled wine - each shed costs about £3000 to hire, so ultimately, Bath City Council does quite well too.

The flea-market has had several locations in it's 30-odd year history, but is now back in the area it first started - the old Cattle Market in Walcot, which is used as a car-park for the rest of the week.

When I first came to Bath, the cattle market was still a real event, and every wednesday, farmers from all over the county would arrive with real, live animals, and start to barter over them at about 5.00 o'clock in the morning. The pubs - even in those puritanical days - were open from about 6 a.m. in the morning, and drunk farmers on the streets at 9 a.m. were a common sight. Drunks pretending to be farmers outnumbered them by about 20 to 1.

I remember one wednesday when a bull broke loose and ran amok down the street, head-butting moving cars and terrorising pedestrians. They brought a policeman in with a rifle and shot it dead on the spot.

The other part of this market was the Corn Exchange, but this was not a going concern by the 1970s. The fabulously picturesque building was - at that time - a nursery school, and the paintings of the children could be seen adorning the rows of windows that were (and still are) running above the deep arches and alcoves where the sheep-pens were set up, and where some privileged stall-holders were then allowed to set up.

Even in the 1980s the place had begun to fall down, and eventually the 18th century structure was deemed too unsafe to stand anywhere near to, let alone allow small children to play in above. When it was a nursery, the main front of the building on the street which used to be the offices for the exchange, was a sheltered refuge for battered women. I was not supposed to know that (being a man) but I did, and so did a few violent men who went there to try and retrieve their long-suffering wives.

Pretty soon, the city fathers decided that the place was about to actually collapse, so had a raking-shore scaffold erected all down the leaning side of it. That was over twenty years ago, and it's still there today. They just don't seem to be able to find the money or will to rebuild it, despite finding about a billion to rebuild the Southgate shopping area, further into town.

They put up a hoarding against the scaffold, and - wouldn't you know it - the youth of the time sprayed graffiti all over it, so - to prevent them from breaking the law - they organised a graffiti competition over the whitewashed hoarding. That was so long ago that the boys who took part are now married men with children of about the same age.

Meanwhile, budlia plants are providing a great food source for the summer butterflies, if helping toward the destruction of the Corn Market as the city sits back and watches it disintegrate beyond repair. This is the same plant that flourished in the bomb-craters of central London when I was a kid - it likes rocky and untended spots, and it will find nourishment in the smallest of cracks and crevices.

The butterflies are taking over.


  1. The building behind the Corn Exchange arches was the old Bath tram shed, and was once the home of the flea-market. It has since been converted into flats, offices and a bar/restaurant.

    The barrel-roofed, iron structure in the 1985 picture no longer exists, and neither do the cattle-pens.

  2. Tesco. Soon to transform an ex-cattle market near you!

  3. Better the butterflies that unspeakable hordes of ladies in fake tan and bling Tom!

  4. for most of the great UK unwashed tat and christmas are becoming synonymous!
    mind this tiny corner of the Empire, I intend to keep the standards up!

  5. There have been some very beautiful buildings, in the corner of England where I live, that have been left to decay to a point where they are unsalvagable. Many were part of our railway heritage or historic market buildings.

    So they get bulldozed for newer architectural monstrosities or they have been turned into yet another branch of Hooters.


  6. The first 'Sack of Bath' was around 1680, when some wonderful medieval streets were leveled because the were considered too cramped and dark for visitors to 'The Bath'. That was speeded up principally by Woods the Elder and Younger, assisted by Ralph Allen who - being a quarry owner and keen to see his stone sold in place of the Portland variety in London (advocated by Wren - another quarry owner) was happy to see 'fire-proof' examples of his commodity on show in place of all that wood.

    The next lot of destruction was in the late 1960s. These days, there is an 18th century Georgian, MacDonalds hamburger joint here - possibly the oldest establishment in the world?

    Which corner of England do you live in, Chris?

  7. I'll give you a clue.

    Deep in the forests, merry men used to wear tights...

    (and no it's not Flintshire - which is in Wales anyway come to think of it...)

  8. I actually live IN flintshire!

  9. Errr....... Norfolk? I know it begins with an N.

  10. I think you're getting warmer, Iris - what colour were the tights?

  11. I'm not sure. I saw images of Robin Hood in very tight tights flashing before my eyes. Then I had to fan myself.

  12. More like Dom Deluise in tights Iris!