Saturday, 5 July 2014

Bath's gem of a bridge!

Bath's fascinating Pulteney Bridge straddles the River Avon and sits upstream of an unusually shaped weir. And why so fascinating you may ask? Old stone bridges are happily still commonplace in the British Isles, so nothing unique there. A testament to the "civil engineering" of the past, although the exceptional flooding of recent winters and summers has put some old bridges under unprecedented structural stress.

Pulteney Bridge, designed by the foremost architect of the (UK's) Georgian period Robert Adam, was completed in 1774. But it shares something in common with the much older, now "lost" medieval London Bridge. And with the surviving medieval Ponte Vecchio spanning the River Arno, in Italy's Florence.

You've probably guessed it. Bath's bridge, built for one George Pulteney, has shops lining its entire span on both sides! I find this incredibly exciting. Its simply not what I expect from a bridge at all, let alone in England! Adam had seen the Ponte Vecchio. He visited Venice as well, home to the Rialto Bridge built in Renaissance times. He obviously did not fail to notice that both were lined with buildings!
Bath's Pulteney Bridge designed by Georgian architect Robert Adam

I walked over and back on either side of Pulteney Bridge. All the time straining to peer through each narrow bridge-built establishment to glimpse, through their rear picture windows, the river beyond. I was not particularly interested in the contents of the shops you see! And it was okay for me to be enthralled. Because Bath's magnificent monument is in fact only one of four shop-lined bridges in the world.

Someone can let me know which is the fourth such bridge if they like...I don't use Wikipedia much, preferring more old-fashioned reference sources. A shelf full of Encyclopedia Britannica anyone?!

A Georgian spa town, Bath allowed high society to satisfy its "penchant" for "taking the waters". Thus following in the footsteps of the Romans who built baths and temples at these natural hot springs, dedicating them to the goddess Sulis Minerva. Bath, known in Roman times as Aquae Sulis was one of the most sought-after retirement places in Roman Britain!

The aforementioned Pulteney wanted to link his Bathtown estate on the opposite side of the Avon to Bath itself. So he had need of a bridge. Bathtown was home to certain Jane Austen when she moved there with her retired father and her mother. The novelist included Bath in some of her novels, bringing it yet more fame. Its unique Georgian crescent is much beloved of British television costume dramas and, yes, there is a Jane Austen tea shoppe!
Originally founded as Bath General Hospital by Dr William Oliver
I haven't the space here or photos to post about the Roman spa history of Bath, but mention of tea shoppes reminds me that Bath's other claim to fame is the Bath Bun, whose origin dates back to 1761. And the Bath Oliver biscuit of the same period - both invented by a Dr Oliver who founded what became the spa treatment based Royal Hospital for Rheumatic Diseases. MedievalMorsels one inch dollhouse food equivalent to the Bath Oliver is the barley bannock - both names have a nice ring to them don't they?
MedievalMorsels' dollshouse miniature 12th scale individual barley flatbreads

All this babble about the bridge....and buns. Bath's scenic weir has a claim to fame as well. It was used in the film version of Les Miserables for the character Javert's suicide, as played by Russell Crowe with his valiant shouty singing live on set and on location.

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