Bath Walks within the Walls: Walk 1

A bright (though cold) day lured me out of the house to follow Peter Smithson’s Walk One from his book Bath: Walks Within the Walls.

Bath Walk 1

Dr A and I had chosen to start with Walk Two, as Walk One runs along a route that we often follow into and out of town. We thought that Walk One might be of less interest, as it features familiar paths. But seen through Smithson’s eyes, the city takes on new dimensions.

Photos by Dr H. Quotes by Peter Smithson are written in orange.

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The walk starts in South Parade.

This is my favourite part of Bath. Decent snuff-coloured buildings and the widest pavement I know.

Smithson has a thing about wide, raised pavements. Raised walkways were a feature of the recently demolished Robin Hood Gardens, designed by Alison and Peter Smithson.

The walk moves into the car-free Duke Street.

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Notice here for the first time in the Walks, the street name cut into the string-course and the effect it has of making the string-course look as if it was provided for that purpose. 

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Smithson admires the pediment and Tuscan Columns above the entrance to Pierrepont Place.

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He then moves on to Abbey Green.

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Here under this tree with the world shut out, traffic very slow, stone paved road, stone kerbs still intact, stone pavement… a real inhabited cavity in the ‘live-shell’.

Smithson then takes a sentence to pass the tourist hotspots of Bath – the Baths and Pump Rooms, the Abbey, Pulteney Bridge – all paid no heed.

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What interests Smithson is Laura Place. He describes this as one of Bath’s geometric oddities – of greatest interest in the resolution of corners.

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He declares the experiment a failure. Great Pulteney Street, leading out of Laura Place, is a favourite with directors and film crews of period dramas. But it does not gain favour with Smithson.

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Looking up Great Pulteney Street one feels a kind of desolation; one is in the grip of the continental drift towards abstract space… Street has become route.

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Smithson finds some details to admire, and notes the fanciness of the architecture. But his praise is reserved for Sydney Place.

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 This is architecture.

The last section of the walk leads through Sydney Gardens, over the railway and back along the canal.

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When Smithson was writing the Walks, the canal was in a terrible state; neglected and unused.

Now, the canal has been restored and is busy with boats, walkers and cyclists.


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Along the way, Smithson notes Cleveland House, once the Kennet and Avon canal headquarters (apparently one of the first purpose-built office buildings in Europe).

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The building sits above a tunnel, inside which is a small hole, through which workers on the boats could pass bills and messages to the clerks in the office.

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From here, the Walk follows the canal back to the station, past the backs of ordinary houses, by…locks, allotments, gardens and fields.

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Dr H

 

Bath: Walks Within the Walls

Bath walks within the walls cover

About a month ago, I stumbled across a copy of Peter Smithson’s “Bath: Walks within the the Walls“. Peter Smithson and his wife Alison Smithson were key figures in the debate over shifting architecture in the 1950s. The uncompromising concrete style of New Brutalism championed by the Smithsons can be seen in their buildings at the University of Bath.

It’s therefore surprising to discover that Peter Smithson found so much to admire in the Georgian architecture of Bath – to the extent that he created this book of 5 walks around Bath in order to show architects, students and anyone willing to listen, the lessons that Bath has to teach us about architecture and landscape.

Dr A and I have been discussion the possibilities of Bath as a city highly suitable for flaneuring, ever since getting pleasantly lost somewhere between Sion Hill and the Circus sometime last summer. Also, Dr A’s research into prehistoric art has led to a new fascination with materials and marks of making. So with Smithson’s guide in hand we set out to hit the streets.

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Smithson has some pretty strict rules about how you should undertake these walks, a key requirement being that you should follow them “alone or with one other person, and that one should not talk.” This is because: “the reverie that Bath can induce is an important part of the lesson“.

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Apologies to Smithson, but it was simply not possible for us to keep quiet for so long. Plus, I could not resist reading out Smithson’s forceful and often entertaining comments about the buildings and views we were encountering.

We had intended to follow the walks in order, but in the end we started with Walk 2, as it took us into areas of Bath we have so far failed to explore.

Over the next few months we hope to complete the rest of Smithson’s walks and post our findings on the blog.

Walk 2 will be posted tomorrow.

Dr H