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DISCOVERY OF 18th CENTURY ARCHITECTURAL PLANS PUTS SPA RESTORATION ON THE RIGHT LINES

The discovery of a number of 18th Century architectural drawings has helped the Bath Spa Project to ensure that the restoration of the Cross Bath - a Grade 1 listed building and sacred site follows the building’s true heritage.

The newly-found drawings by John Palmer, architect to the City of Bath,

form the missing link between the building as it is today and the Cross Bath as conceived by both Palmer and his predecessor, Thomas Baldwin at the end of the 18th Century.

The restoration of the Cross Bath had always presented the architects and conservation consultants with one of the greatest challenges of the initiative to reopen Bath’s Spas with the help of Lottery money from the Millennium Commission. Now, as project director Paul Simons explains, work can proceed based on firm evidence rather than educated guesswork:

"Some form of bathing has taken place around the Cross Spring for over 2,000 years. And there are parts of the current structure which go back to Roman and Medieval Times. Since then, the building has been remodelled on a number of occasions.

"The one gap in our knowledge of the history of the Cross Bath was confirmation of the detail of the 18th Century work carried out by Thomas Baldwin and John Palmer.

Towards the end of the 18th Century, the Cross Bath was in the process of being rebuilt by Thomas Baldwin - then the City architect.

Baldwin was dismissed from his post and replaced by John Palmer who continued the work. 18th Century council records show that John Palmer produced a set of drawings for the rebuilding of the Cross Bath. However, until recently when the drawings were offered to the Council by a resident of the area, they were presumed to be lost.

The drawings have now been purchased by the Archive Service of Bath & North East Somerset Council with the help of a fifty per cent grant from the MGC/Victoria & Albert Museum purchase grant fund.

"As a Grade 1 listed building, we are obliged to preserve any aspect of the structure which is of architectural importance - however, in the absence of any firm evidence, we were having to make assumptions about certain elements of the structure," says Paul Simons.

"This obviously led to some very lively debate between ourselves, English Heritage, the Springs Foundation, Donald Insall Associates and Nicholas Grimshaw & Partners.

"The discovery of the drawings enables us to proceed with complete confidence that we are following the true heritage of one of Bath’s most important buildings.

The Palmer drawings clearly demonstrate the extent of his own work in completing the project. Most exciting of all is the discovery that the original 1784 North facade by Baldwin was re-used by Palmer as the East facade in his remodelling of 1797. Although this had been suspected by architectural historians, no evidence was previously available to confirm it.

The drawings also show that Palmer had, in fact, introduced a small oval pump room within the Cross Bath and had resolved the problems of orientation of Baldwin’s pool, demonstrating a complete mastery of composition and design. This new evidence has informed and guided the architects in coming up with an acceptable degree of intervention within the existing structure.

The design for the restoration of the Cross Bath as part of the Bath Spa Project - conceived by conservation architects Donald Insall Associates in conjunction with Nicholas Grimshaw & Partners has now progressed substantially.

The design involves re-introducing the oval form of Palmer’s Pump Room as the main entrance from the North side under the existing portico. An attendant will be there to hand out Spa water to those who want to drink it, and to look after the bathers when they arrive and while they are using the pool. The new pool also takes an oval form and overlaps or ‘crosses’ the boundary of the pump room. The resulting intersection forms a pool to surround the natural Spring as it emerges untampered from its natural source. This acts as a focus, symbolically, geometrically and actually for the whole building.

For structural reasons the new pool with its attendant balance tanks and pipework, has to sit within the confines of the existing 19th Century pool. This is to reduce any disturbance of the delicate structural balance inherent in the building which sits over Victorian cisterns and Roman walls. As the pool is small, only about 12 people will be able to bathe at any one time, so there will be a booking routine for the changing rooms supervised by the attendant. The disabled are catered for with a special changing area that can be used for families as well. And the disabled will have full access to the water via a hoist system, easily removable when not in use.

"I believe we have now achieved a design solution for the Cross Bath which will satisfy all those who have an interest in this historic and sacred site, faithfully reflecting its architectural significance and also meeting the challenge of a contemporary architectural solution within the confines of a unique and much-loved part of Bath’s heritage," says project director Paul Simons.

Press contact:

Giles White, tel: 01225 835842

 

3 July 1998

 

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