"In the end, it's not the years in your life that count, it's the life in your years." - Abraham Lincoln

Posted on October 3, 2017 by Sioux under General
1 Comment

 

My last trip in Bath was a day visit to Prior Park Landscape Gardens, a 57 acre site in a steep-sided valley, overlooking the city. Initially the site of a deer park in the 1100’s, the park fell into disrepair and the deer escaped. It was bought in the 1720’s and landscaped to complement the owner’s new house. To begin with, the garden was very formal and without its iconic Palladian Bridge, but the landscape was developed and changed over the years to suit the tastes of its owners.   

Near the park entrance is a twisting canal of linked waterways, ending in a picturesque Gothic ‘bridge’. The ‘bridge’ can’t be crossed and was built purely as a focal point to the waterway. 

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The beautiful mansion overlooking the park is now Prior Park College was the home of the park owner, from 1693 –1764. The school houses only 600 pupils and is now one of the most successful Catholic independent boarding and day schools in the South West of England. 

The main feature in the park is the Palladian Bridge.

Built in 1755, it is the last of three of its kind built in England; and one of only four of this design left in the world. Palladian architecture reached the height of its popularity in England during the 18th century and the building of structures such as the bridges at Prior Park and at Stourhead                  was inspired by a Venetian architect; himself being influenced                             by the classical architecture of the ancient Greeks and                               the ancient

                            Romans. Major

                           restoration work

                           was done on the

                          bridge between

                         1993 and 1995. 

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I walked along shady paths which was a nice relief from the sun; and found

this little wooden shack, not knowing it was the rebuilt structure of the

‘Summerhouse’. In 1993 all that was left of the structure was the timber

frame. An old photograph from 1912, donated by a local man, enabled the

                                                                                                     current

                                                                                                     owners to

                                                                                                     reconstruct the little wooden house to its former 

                                                                                                     glory, using oak from a nearby fallen tree to re-lay

                                                                                                     the floor and clad the outside of the frame with the

                                                                                                     timber. A specialist craftsman used Cotswold 

                                                                                                     stone to recreate the roof. 

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One of the pathways leads to the top of a hill which gave fabulous views over the city. 

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Ambling around, I spotted an overgrown path which I discovered lead to Prior

Park’s ice house. Ice-houses were introduced in Britain around 1660 as a means of

providing ice all year round. This one was probably built in the mid-18th century; and is made from Bath stone. Only large manor houses had ice houses as they were considered a sign of great wealth and status. During severe winters, blocks of ice and snow from the lake were stored in the ice house, using layers of straw as insulation. The position at the far end of the garden was unusual as ice houses were usually built close to the mansion for convenience. However, at Prior Park, thanks to a railway on Ralph Allen Drive, it was easy to have ice brought up to the mansion in the summer, when the ice was used to preserve food. 

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During the WW2, the ice house took on a new role. Due to German invasion being a constant threat, it was stocked with ammunition and other supplies for resistance fighters to use, should such an event occur. Imagine the surprise of a schoolboy playing in the grounds one afternoon during the war, when he came across the ice house, and discovering guns and ammunition in boxes stored in the ice-house. At the time it was used as the base of a secret Auxiliary Unit.  

There are small wooden benches at intervals around the dam, so to rest tired feet I sat for a while, watching the antics of the ducks and a heron fishing. The swans tried staring me down for a while but once they realised I had nothing to feed them, they pushed off. 

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Leaving the park I walked down the road, passing by some lovely homes, to a small church nestled amongst the trees. 

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St Thomas à Becket Church was built between 1490 and 1498 took the place of an older Norman church. The Domesday survey of 1086 shows a small settlement around the church although no trace of it remains. In 1847 a larger church was built and when it was announced that the church bells, which had for centuries been in the tower of St. Thomas à Becket, were to be removed and installed in the new St. Matthew’s, the bells apparently had to be seized by force from the wardens of St Thomas’s. 

From there I headed across the road, to the Bath

Abbey cemetery. During the 1830’s, with a lack of

further burial space at Bath Abbey, a new cemetery

was proposed to be laid out at the edge of the city,

across from Prior Park. Land was purchased from the then owners of Prior Park and Abbey Cemetery was consecrated in 1844. Cemeteries were seen as not only as a place to bury the dead, but also as an attractive public park area, and were designed to fit these criteria. Many eminent Bath residents were buried here and the cemetery also has a Crimea War Memorial which was unveiled in 1856. It is now privately owned and burials are only permitted in existing family plots. 

As it became less used, nature took over and it’s now a protected wildlife area, with a variety of creatures now calling the area home. These include badgers, green woodpeckers and muntjac deer – also known as a ‘barking deer’. Muntjac’s are the oldest known deer, thought to have begun appearing 15–35 million years ago.

 

The flora is diverse, with an interesting array of lichen mosses and a rare bramble, the ‘Bath Fiscus’ which is only found in the Avon Valley. 

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I headed back to the bus stop and waited for the hop-on / hop-off tour bus, which I knew I could take for a small fee. I stayed on the bus all the way back to the Botanical Gardens, as from there, there BnB was only a 20 minute walk away. A wonderful day out; and a very interesting week in Bath. I still had a week before I started work again and was heading up to Chelmsford to spend some time with a friend and her family.  

The Gothic Sham Bridge

The Cascade in the Wilderness

View from Prior Park mansion, looking towards the Palladian bridge and the city of Bath

 

One response to “New roads, new adventures – exploring Bath – the final”

  1. Pauline Smith says:

    Oh boy, this was interesting. I love the “looks” the swans were giving you.
    A Green Woodpecker – that sounds interesting too …

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