Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Down there

Just about all of ancient Bath is concealed 18 or so feet below the modern streets, because the Georgians simply built up the streets and houses without digging out their basements, and they liked basements. Many of the streets are vaulted beneath to form wash-houses and wine-cellars.

Below out compact but adorable city apartment, there is a triple basement which effectively almost doubles the height of the house at the rear. The houses in this street are built directly upon what remained of the medieval city wall, and just the other side of them, a little lane runs down to the river. This is called 'Ducking-Stool Lane' for self-explanatory reasons, and the remains of 17th century buildings can be seen peeping out from the 19th century additions surrounding it.

Right now I am arranging access to a building in our street which is built right over a medieval street which forms part if it's basement. It seems that all they did was take the roofs off the houses, then use the walls as foundations to build up with.

I spoke to a friend of mine yesterday who went down there about 10 years ago, before it was cleared out by the then owners - lucky sod. He said that he saw an original street lamp attached to the side of a wall, and he entered into one of the houses through the original door - all the doors and windows are still down there in the dark, evidently.

Whoever was the last occupant of the house must have just left one day without taking much away with them. My friend found a chair in one room, and as he went to touch it, it simply fell to the floor as dust, leaving a shadow of itself on the stone flags which it had stood on for so many years.

When I go down, I will take a camera with me and give you a virtual tour - I hope it's as dramatic as my friend describes it.

Paris has 175 miles of underground tunnels!

What is our fascination with the subterranean? An archeologist was on the radio this morning, talking about a dig he made in Gough's Caves at Cheddar Gorge here in Somerset, at which he found the remains of a lot of Neanderthal people. It seems that about 400,000 years ago, we still had a fascination with underground places. The Neanderthal residents of Cheddar were also cannibals by the sound of it too.

I suppose that we 'bury' things to forget them, which is why me make a great effort to remember the dead by sticking memorial stones above ground - lest we forget. Like squirrels though, we have short memories - oak trees rely on the short memories of squirrels.

There is an underground room in a disused railway station here which has an entire steam-train in it, simply lying on it's side where it was discarded 100 or so years ago. Only a handful of people have seen it, including our present Mayor, who made a special trip down there to look as soon as he got the job. He is a steam fanatic, you understand.

How can you forget a 40 ton steam-train? Come to that, how can you forget an entire street? Out of sight, out of mind.


  1. I was taken on an underground tour of part of the old downtown in Seattle a few years ago. It sounds to me as if Bath would has a perfect tour model in the making. I mean the steam train alone would be enough for my husband! Here is a link if you are interested in seeing what was done: http://www.undergroundtour.com/about/index.html

    Love your line -- 'oak trees rely on the short memories of squirrels'!

  2. See? I knew there was a reason I hate basements: skeletons and steam trains, not to mention the boogeyman. Still, this is fascinating Tom. Good luck getting down there. I can hardly wait to see photos.

  3. May I join you? I too would love to see that dead train.

  4. In terms of symbolism, it is thought that basements, cellars, or underground caverns represent the subconscious, and so when we dream about descending into the unknown, we are getting touch with the deepest aspects of the Self. We are both fascinated and afraid of what we might find, drawn to it and repulsed by it-- much like a train wreck. How appropos that there is a dead train beneath your town! I can't wait to read about your adventures.

  5. I hate holes in the ground - I find them so claustrophobic. Going down the catacombs in Rome was one of the scariest things I have ever done. Give me above ground anyday.

  6. I am really looking forward to the photos of your virtual tour .... I LOVE anything like that.... there must be a few treasures down there still so it would be good to take a metal detector !
    It must be similar to Mary King's Close under the Royal Mile in Edinburgh.

  7. I can't wait for the pictures! Your visual of building a house using another house for a basement is excellent.

  8. It sounds very exciting. I hope you take lots of pictures.

  9. Treasure!!!

    I'd love to see that choo-choo too.

  10. Ok - I'll get permission for all of us to go down there, and see if we can cram 84 people into the forgotten street.