Bathwick

By Andrew Plaster

Published in B&AFHS Journal 137 September 2009


Bathwick is a parish in the hundred of Bath Forum in North-East Somerset, forming the eastern suburb of the spa city of Bath.  It lies on the east side of the river Avon, which is crossed by three fine bridges connecting the parish with Bath. By the end of the 18th century, Bathwick was a tiny village, separated from Bath, with which it was not incorporated until 1835, by the river Avon and a mile or so of swampy meadows. The Great Western railway, the Kennet and Avon canal, and the Warminster turnpike road pass through it. Bathwick is believed to have formed an important part of the old city, and it contains now some of the best streets and most elegant Georgian buildings of the city, including Sydney Place, Laura Place and Great Pulteney Street.  Bathwick became one of the two wealthiest Bath suburbs.


bathwick old

Bathwick Old Church



Bathwick was originally named “Wiche” or “Wicke”, old English for a farmstead, the prefix Bath being added later to distinguish the place from many others of the name. From the days of the Conqueror, who included it among the numerous West Country properties which was granted to Geoffrey, Bishop of Coutances, in reward for his part in the Conquest, Bathwick has remained a single estate. The Victoria County History of Somerset translates the Domesday Book of 1086 thus: The bishop (Geoffrey of Coutances) himself holds WICHE. Alvric held it in the time of King Edward (the Confessor) and paid geld for 4 hides. There is land for 4 ploughs. In demesne are 3 hides and 3 ploughs and 4 serfs, and there are 1 villein and 10 bordars who hold 1 hide less 11 acres. There are 2 riding-horses and 14 swine and 250 sheep. There is a mill paying 35 shillings and 50 acres of meadow and 120 acres of pasture. It is worth 7 pounds.  After the bishop’s death in 1093, Bathwick became Crown land, and then passed into the possession of Wherwell Nunnery, Hampshire. At the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the estate reverted to the Crown and was bestowed by Queen Mary to the NEVILLE family in 1553.


Mediaeval Bathwick changed little through the centuries. The 1664 Hearth Tax returns show a small village of just 12 dwellings. In the latter part of the 18th century, Bathwick was still a country parish including the small ‘street’ of about 250 inhabitants, 45 dwellings, a mill, an inn (the “Crown” which remains in its modernised form), and the diminutive 12th century parish church of St. Mary’s.  By early 1800s, the old village had all but been lost to Georgian development and by 1838 there was no common land remaining.


From the Nevilles, the estate passed to Algernon CAPEL, Earl of Essex in 1691, and in 1727 it was purchased by the great Sir William PULTENEY, a notable and wealthy politician, and later Earl of Bath. He was succeeded in his estates by his brother, General Harry PULTENEY in 1764. The next owner was Frances, daughter of the general’s cousin, Daniel PULTENEY, and the wife of William JOHNSTONE, afterwards Sir William PULTENEY. Their daughter, Henrietta Laura, came into the property in 1782, was created Baroness Bath in 1792 and died without issue in 1808 passing to her kinsman and heir, Lord William Henry Vane, 3rd Earl of Darlington and later 1st Duke of Cleveland. At the death of the 4th and last duke in 1891, the estate was inherited by his great nephew Captain FORESTER, from whence it was administered by the Bathwick Estate Company.


laura place

Laura Place & Great Pulteney Street


To the PULTENEY family belongs the distinction of creating the “new town” of Bathwick. Sir William JOHNSTONE PULTENEY took the first step by linking the estate with Bath in the building of Pulteney Bridge, from a design by Robert ADAM, in 1780. The two Scotsmen, PULTENEY and ADAM, were intimate friends, and Pulteney’s dream of an imposing architectural development in his Bathwick meadows inspired Adam to produce two schemes, neither of which was he destined to carry out. His plans, considerably modified, were eventually fulfilled by Thomas BALDWIN and others. Sir William, who died in 1782, did not live to see the realisation of his visions, for the building of the new suburb was not commenced until 1788. Argyle Street, Laura Place, Henrietta Street and Great Pulteney Street arose in rapid succession, and with the later work of Masters, John PINCH and other able architects. Georgian Bathwick emerged in all the splendour and elegance of its gleaming white freestone. Pulteney Bridge is one of only four bridges lined with shops in the world.


Many of the Bathwick streets we know today have names connected with the Pulteney family. Those with the prefix ‘Sydney’ are named after Thomas TOWNSEND, Viscount Sydney, British Home Secretary, a political associate of the Pulteneys. The first terrace of Sydney Place was completed in 1795, and the second terrace in 1808. Sydney House (later Sydney Hotel) was built in 1796-7. The hotel also provided coffee, tea and card rooms for people using the Sydney Gardens; there was a ballroom on the first floor as well as, intriguingly, a public house in the basement for the use of the chairmen, coachman and other servants who were not allowed in the pleasure gardens themselves. The Sydney Hotel became Bath Proprietary College (later Sydney College) in 1855 and is now the Holburne Museum of Art.


Some attempt had been made to provide for the spiritual needs of the new residents by the erection in 1795 of Laura Chapel, an Episcopal establishment of which the Rev’d. Dr. RANDOLPH became the proprietor and distinguished ornament. Two of the entrances to the chapel, which seated 1000, can be seen, appropriately inscribed in Henrietta Street. The building continued in use until the late Victorian period, when it was closed, became a ruin and is now superseded by a row of garages.  Argyle Chapel (now a United Reformed Church) in Argyle Street is considered to be the oldest Congregrational chapel in Bath.


The population of the parish rose rapidly and is reported to have reached almost 5000 by 1840. This rise, due to the Georgian development, followed by employment associated with Kennet & Avon Canal project, put immense pressure on the ancient dilapidated church and churchyard in Bathwick Street. Concerns over the lack of burial space were put to the Vestry, and in 1809, land adjacent to the churchyard was acquired as additional burying-ground.


The urgent need for a new church resulted in the formation of a group of trustees. Lord Darlington showed himself an interested patron of the living by giving the site at the bottom of Bathwick Hill.  John PINCH was entrusted with the design and by 1814 all was ready for a foundation-stone ceremony. This took place on September 1st of that year during the short-lived peace following Napoleon’s abdication. The new church was consecrated on 4th February 1820. Despite the “auspiciously fine day” coinciding with the local proclamation of George IV, “upwards of one thousand tickets of admission were delivered at the door”.

The additional burial ground (now known as St. Mary’s Churchyard) opened in 1809 is in the corner of Henrietta Road and Bathwick Street, near to the old church. Its mortuary chapel, also designed by John Pinch, was built in 1818 of materials salvaged from the demolition of the old church, and was initially used for both funerals and baptisms until the consecration of the new church in 1820.  Some of the plaques that were originally on the walls of the old church were moved to the walls of the chapel, three still survive. Those buried in the churchyard include:

Dame Eleanora BRISBANE - mother of Sir Thomas MacDougall BRISBANE, Governor of New South Wales, astronomer and soldier, after whom the Australian city and river were named.


Sophia WREN - great granddaughter of Sir Christopher WREN.


Mary LAWRENCE - who had been a pew opener in the parish for 68 years.


John PINCH the Elder & John PINCH the Younger - among the greatest architects of nineteenth century Bath, and especially prolific in Bathwick.


Dr Charles Hannings WILKINSON - surgeon, linguist, inventor, researcher and lecturer on electricity and chemistry.


The THORNE Family - whose four children all died of scarlet fever within six days of each other.


Charles Gee JONES - landlord of the Pulteney Arms, Bathwick and influential in the setting up of the Shipwrecked Fishermen and Mariners Society.


Some other names not found but reported to be buried here include:


Walter HARRIS, a builder, died in October 1838, aged 79


Revd Dr John TRUSSLER DD of Bathwick Villa, died January 1820 aged 85


William DYER drowned in the river Avon near Pulteney Weir, Ascension Day 1817, aged 13 (a Blue Coat Schoolboy)


John ALLEN died as a result of injuries sustained whilst working on the railway line in Sydney Gardens, August 1840.


Robert NUNN RN (date unknown)


James BIGGS, Parish Clerk of Bathwick, died August 1830.


From 1831 to 1835, persons from the Poorhouse in Grove Street were also reported to have been buried here, though presumably these graves were classed as paupers and therefore probably unmarked. In 1856, the churchyard was closed to new burials apart from some further burials up to 1891, and these then took place in a new cemetery which opened in the same year at Smallcombe Vale. The mortuary chapel is now ruin.

st marys

St Mary's Churchyard

The Friends of St. Mary’s Churchyard was formed in 2003 and with Bath & North East Somerset Council have worked to clear the churchyard and conserve the chapel in order to create designated paths to provide interest and enjoyment. There are 21 points of particular interest and these are clearly signed.


My ancestor’s second cousin, Stephen ORGAN (1775-1847) from North Nibley, Gloucestershire married Eleanor WOOLGER in 1804 at nearby St Mary’s, Walcot. Their children were baptised in Bathwick.  According to the 1841 census, he was a grocer of 196 Bathwick Street. They were buried in St Mary’s churchyard. There is a gravestone for them. Their eldest son John (b.1805) was also a grocer of Church Street (now part of Bathwick Hill). The other cousin John ORGAN (1778-1855) also from North Nibley married by licence to Frances Latham of St Michael’s, Bath in 1802 at the old church.  It is stated on the marriage record that he is with the Dragoon Guards.

By 1810 development had reached Bathwick Hill, then still a rough and lonely road with rivulet running down one side, known only as ‘the road to Claverton’. The Kennet & Avon Canal completed in 1810 was dug on the east side of the village and through Sydney Gardens. Cleveland Bridge between Bathwick and Walcot, was constructed in 1827.  In the 1830s, as Regency architects took over the development of Bathwick, the unfinished streets built during the previous years were left as they stood. Instead, schools and roads were planned and large villas in the increasingly popular Italianate style appeared in the residential streets.  Many of those houses can be seen today on Henrietta Road, Cleveland Walk and, most dramatically on Bathwick Hill.  The opening of a new road  (the A36) from Warminster to Bath was announced in 1833. This was followed by Pulteney Road and by 1836 the construction of the bridge at North Parade provided Bathwick with a third river crossing.  By 1839, the construction of the Great Western Railway was built saw the Bristol to London mainline push through Sydney Gardens and the parish.


A new cemetery opened in 1856 in Smallcombe Vale, and a Non-conformists’ burial ground opened in 1862 on neighbouring land. They are separated by a line of stones stretching from the boundary wall that skirts the edge of Smallcombe Wood, down to the entrance gates below. Two new mortuary chapels were built there – one for Anglicans and other for non-conformists.  Another new church dedicated to St. John the Baptist was built in 1862 and enlarged in 1871 almost on the site of the old church in Bathwick Street and next to St. Mary’s churchyard.


No large factories were ever built in Bathwick and it seems that old traditions of market gardening, the business of transport and the practice of erecting elegant well-designed buildings generally held firm. By the end of the 18th century the parish was known to be favourite resort of some of the ‘best families’ who visited Bath. Accordingly lodging houses could be found in almost any street. Throughout the years various shops scattered over three separate areas of Bathwick also served the community. During the Victorian period there were also at least 16 public houses although some of these were very short-lived and today only six remain. Industry included the Bath Brewery in Bathwick Street, the Maltsters (later BAIRD & Sons) at Sydney Buildings and Day & English, Brass & Iron Works in Spring Gardens Road where the two-stroke petrol engine was developed in about 1888.

pulteney1

Pulteney Bridge



Villa Fields, the area of Bathwick, bounded by the railway line, the river, Bathwick Street and Sydney Gardens, took its name from Bathwick Villa, built in 1777 and demolished in 1897.  The area remained largely undeveloped until the end of the 19th century: an area of scattered dwellings, orchards and smallholdings. Much of this was demolished, and new houses mostly substantial semi-detached villas or modest terraced houses in groups of four were constructed. All roads in the area were renamed - Villa Fields Road became Forester Road, and Powlett Place became Forester Avenue. Three new roads are called Powlett Road, Rockliffe Avenue and Rockliffe Road. All road names are associated with the Forester family. The Villa Fields area, centred on Forester Road, belong to what is informally known as the Forester Estate.  As well as being the last part of Bathwick developed by a descendant of the Pulteney family, the Forester Estate is especially interesting because of the way it anticipates the transformation of the 20th century Bathwick into a flourishing suburb of Bath.


In Somerset Record Office in Taunton can be found the parish registers dating from 1668 and other parochial records. Bath Record Office has the microform copy and Schickle’s transcript (with index) of the parish register, Bathwick Poor Rate book (1818-1901), Monumental Inscriptions of both St. Mary’s Churchyard and Smallcombe Cemetery (projected by Bathwick Local History Society and BAFHS respectively), and also records of Bathwick Estates Company (mainly title deeds and financial records).


Sources and further reading:


‘A History of Bath – Image and Reality’ 
by Graham Davis & Penny Bonsall


Bathwick Local History Society books: “Bathwick: A Forgotten Village” and “Bathwick: Echoes of the Past”.


St Mary’s Churchyard leaflet (published by Bath & North Somerset Council).


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