Category Archives: Things to do in Bath

Things to do in Bath

Focus on Bath – Vintage Bath

Now most people enjoy a rummage around a good charity shop, market or antique shop and it’s no exception in Bath. We’re really lucky to have some fantastic vintage and antique shops in the city, plus a regular Sunday Vintage & Antiques Market, which means plenty of trinkets and treasures to find.

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Looking around at what’s on the internet, we noticed there’s not really an up to date comprehensive list of Vintage establishments in Bath, so we thought we’d best correct that for you. So, here is our fun trail around the streets of the fabulous furnishings, terrific trends and eclectic emporiums of Vintage in the city.

Let’s start right at the top – that’s up near the Royal Crescent and The Circus. A great place to start to take in the striking architecture and history before immersing yourself and your wallet in the world of consumerism.

* Margaret Buildings

A growing mecca of Vintage and Antique businesses. Here on the corner of the street you have the well established shop of Alexandra May that sells stunning modern and vintage jewellery, accessories and gifts. It’s jam packed full of delights, so much so that you feel at any moment you are about to knock something flying from the groaning tables and shelves.

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Heaven’s Bazaar at Number 3, is a little decadent treat of a shop with Vintage and pre-loved designer pieces including furnishings as well as fashions. Stock is on two floors and delightfully presented. You can also buy online. They stock anything from 1900 upwards.

Next up is a shop that doesn’t have a name but is painted royal blue and has a small sign with opening times upon it. This is Brian & Caroline Craik’s Antique shop at No.8. Worth a look in just for the sheer randomness of the items they have for sale. The window display is always a delight, with the huge toy bear a great draw for kids. As described by The Telegraph as “eccentric”, it lives up to this description!

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At the end of the buildings you will find a brand new shop – Geoffrey Breeze’s Mantiques. Bang on trend this is a tiny but perfectly formed gentleman’s emporium. With items from beautifully carved canes to tiny silver snuff boxes, even I was getting chap envy! Great for accessories and a few choice furnishings.

Turning back on oneself, head back along Margaret Building’s and turn into Brock Street. Here you will find Beau Nash and silver experts Duncan Campbell and Ron Pringle. Their lovingly designed window draws you into a world of sumptuous decadence of other eras but their pieces will sit as comfortably in a 21st Century home as they once did in a 1930’s lady’s apartment.

* Saville Row leading to Bartlett Street

London’s Mayfair has its own tailoring capital of the same name but we in Bath put the “b” in bespoke (and an extra “l” in Savile) with the eclectic mix of pieces in the vintage and antique shops that line both Saville Row and Bartlett Street.

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Firstly head behind the wonderful Assembly Rooms and find a rather welcome sight, where one can rest one’s weary feet after the initial vintage spree of the day, Bea’s Vintage Tea Rooms.

Step back into the 1930s and 1940s where you’ll be served by ladies in red lippy and t-strap shoes. The menus are kept within a ration book cover, but there’s no war time scrimping on portion size here. Tuck into classics such as Corned Beef hash, Ploughman’s, Bubble & Squeak and home-made pies. Drinks include elderflower bubbly, a selection of loose leaf teas and milkshakes. A perfect end to your meal is a slice of the ginormous home-made cakes that seem to wink at you from their display cabinet. Well, there is a lot more vintage shopping to do!

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Fuelled up you simply have to roll next door to Saville Row Retro shop. Here Bea of next door’s Vintage Tea Room fame has expanded to sell some of the wonderful items you see in use in her cafe. Concentrating on the period of the 1940’s to 1970’s, there will be many familiar household items for sale here. Pick yourself out a stunning brooch or a decorative glass vase to enhance your home. Staff are friendly and knowledgeable about the products and love that items evoke memories from browsers – from the Marmite toastrack to the Ercol dining sets.

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On the corner of Savile Row you’ll find a totally different shop. The windows blanketed in dark clouds of fabric, here the stock speaks for itself. This is Westbury Fine Art, where Marcus Westbury sells art from the Renaissance to the 19th Century. A well established and renowned art seller around the world Marcus displays the paintings in a selective but sumptuous way.

Crossing over Alfred Street, head downhill along Bartlett Street. Keep your eyes peeled to the left as there are more vintage and antique finds here.

Firstly we have Felix Lighting Specialists. At first glance it may seem rather a stark industrial window, but look beyond and you see the beauty of the pieces, both vintage and designed in store. They’ve worked with companies such as Jamie’s Italian and Soho House, and will be happy to work with you too to find, or create, that piece of lighting perfect for your home or business.

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A lot of the Antique shops in Bath have disappeared over the years as more and more sellers turn to the Internet, however Bartlett Street Antique Centre remain a stalwart of the vintage and antiques scene in the city. It may have had a reduction in size but the quality of the antiques you will find here are second to none. There are specialist dealers here, as well as a further 60 dealer showcases. Great for a browse around with everything from dolls and ephemera to clocks and watches.

* Walcot Street

Walcot Street is known as the bohemian heart of Bath. It’s lost a little of it’s uniqueness since the disappearance of Walcot Nation Day and some of the businesses like Walcot Reclamation, however it retains some gems of retro retail heaven.

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Jack & Danny’s could be called a Walcot Street institution. Though its address is actually London Road, it’s situated right at the top of Walcot and you can’t really miss it with the windows covered in clothing hanging from every conceivable part of its frontage! Since opening its doors in 1967 this family run business has supplied most of Bath as well as students and stars with fancy dress and vintage delights. There are so many unusual items in here but be warned you need time to rummage through everything and pull out the pieces you love. Nothing is sorted by size and hardly anything is priced, but that’s the wonderful thing about Jack & Danny’s; it’s old school and isn’t apologetic about it in the slightest. Long live J&D!

Opposite the great co-operative owned pub, The Bell, there is a charity shop that takes a page from Jack & Denny’s book with piles of clothes and shoes in both tiny rooms ready for you to rummage through. This is the Bath Women’s Refuge Shop and is a must for bargain hunters. It may not have vintage treasures dating back to the 1950’s (although who knows what’s beneath the piles of clothes and boxes in there?!) that you may be seeking but you can still find a few gems if you have the time to look.

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Near to the end of Walcot Street you will find two more shops that will keep vintage lovers busy. The first is Julian House Charity Shop. I’ve deliberately not focused on charity shops here, but only those that specifically are worth a mention because of the treasures they have and Julian House is definitely included in this list. At the back of the shop is their Vintage & Retro section, including menswear. Here in a polyester and rayon static heaven you can find anything from clothing, shoes, annuals and china. Don’t forget the book shop downstairs!

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Only a few doors down from Julian House is another stalwart of Bath’s vintage scene – The Yellow Shop. Open for more than a decade both men and women can dig around to find original and new clothes, shoes and accessories, all with a kitsch and vintage feel. Mainly concentrating from the 1950s onwards, but with a few steam punk items thrown in.

* Broad Street & Milsom Street

There’s been a recent change on Broad Street and one that leads me to add an extra street to my list, but the original shop remains but just rejigged. I’m talking about the Dorothy House Hospice Charity Shop on Broad Street. Always a go to for vintage and retro pieces that were displayed at the back, past the bookshelves, they’ve recently opened up a new specific vintage shop in the city, and thus moved out all the fashion stock. However, they’ve replaced fashion with furnishings and vintage ones to boot. So take a look if you need to revamp and retrofy your pad.

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Walk towards the top of Broad Street and you will find The Black and White Shop. Having been opened only a few years this is a great place to go for vintage and designer pieces for all genders. They have window displays of furnishings, great kitsch pictures on the wall for sale and racks upon racks of wonderful clothes. Vintage can be found near the back, accessories and bags are dotted around, plus shoes are ordered in areas by size. For me, with big feet, I have to follow the trail up stairs, but it also means I get to poke my nose into the men’s room, where again there are great jackets, shoes and much more to be found for the chaps.

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Crossing over Broad Street you head through an archway that leads you to a car park. Don’t worry, you’ve not gone the wrong way, just keep walking ahead and the alleyway you find yourself in will reveal to you one of the wonders of Bath – Vintage to Vogue (if you’re coming from Milsom Street direction, look out for the sign boards outside the alley entrance).

I’ve been going to Vintage to Vogue since I was a teenager. Now owned and run by two vintage savvy lovelies, Imren Eshref and John Lowin, they’ve taken Vintage to Vogue onto another level entirely with their well kept pieces from as early as the 19th Century. Sourcing from all over the world their prices aren’t cheap but the clothes are beautiful. This shop has one of THE best vintage menswear departments I’ve ever seen and certainly takes up as much space as the women’s collections. It’s so well regarded in the vintage scene that the wardrobe department for Downton Abbey bought up their stock of original flapper dresses for last seasons series.

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* Bridge Street

If you’re heading to look at the stunning Pultney Bridge, or perhaps hurrying to catch the match at The Rec, then there’s a new vintage delight to tempt the pounds from your pocket – Coffee House 76. This is in fact a Dorothy House Hospice charity shop, and is where the vintage stock of the Broad Street shop is now housed. Perfectly presented, this store doesn’t feel like a charity shop at all, and talking to the Manager, the aim is to keep it strictly to its spec of being a vintage emporium only. A coffee shop is located upstairs, which if you’ve been following the above trail, you will certainly need to use to have another refuel here!

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* Guildhall Market, High Street

Open during the week and on Saturday’s the Guildhall Market has almost everything under one roof – from books to tools, but for you vintage followers out there, you’ll want to head to Not Cartier’s. It’s where I go for my clip on earrings and has something for every pocket, from 50 pence to 50 pounds. Floor to ceiling sparkling delights – with locked cabinets full of Victoriana and 1920’s celluloid brooches to busts covered in diamante tiaras, necklaces and rings  – this is antique costume jewellery heaven! Blingtastic!

* Queen Street

We sadly have to report the demise of the lovely Scarlet Vintage shop that was along here, but it’s still worth going off piste and taking a walk down this picturesque street as you will find Vintage & Rare Guitars here at number 11. With three floors of string heaven, acoustic to electric, this is the perfect haunt of that budding Brian May or Django wannabee. I love taking a stroll down this street – simply follow the sound of the tunes to find this guitar mecca. There are even rare editions and signed pieces that collectors travel from all over the globe to view. Since I can’t play I think I’ll stick to air guitar and admiring in the shop the skill of those who can on some of the best instruments in the guitar world.

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* Kingsmead Square

I couldn’t talk about vintage clothing without including the newest ladies on the scene – Emma and Sharon Savage who run Grace & Ted Boutique in Kingsmead Square. This mother and daughter duo (NEVER I will hear you cry…they look more like sister’s than mum and daughter) are rocking the second hand scene, winning Best Independent Retailer in the South West of England this year! A designer re-sale shop for men and women, this is where you can pick up vintage Chanel, Prada, Michael Kors and Louis Vuitton, as well as more recent season pieces. However, even though you may not class them as a “vintage” shop per-se, stop and consider their mantra, “Fashion evolves, but style endures”, and stock up on timeless pieces that will over the years become vintage classics.

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If you are a lover of Vintage books then go no further than next door to the hotel! On Manvers Street you’ll find George Bayntun’s – a magical world of book binding, antique prints, second hand books and first editions that any bibliophile would love to get their hands on. From Biggles to Bond, Dickens to Defoe, people travel from all over the world to buy from this family run business. We’ve featured them before in a previous Focus On blog so take a look at the delights.

Keep an eye out too for irregular and regular vintage markets and fairs in and around the city. Every first, third and last Sunday in the month, Green Park Station lays host to the Vintage & Antiques Market where you can find records, fashions and furnishings galore. A regular Saturday occurrence is the Bath Flea Market, situated in the open air car park next to the Hilton Hotel at the bottom of Walcot Street. Here you can find a bargain or two and barter over anything from traditional tools to a gentleman’s trilby.

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Coming up on September 27th 2015 is the return of Lou Lou’s Vintage Fair, which is a nationally run vintage fair but regularly comes to Bath. This time it’s situated in The Pavilion and will be chocca full of vintage sellers from all over the UK. Judy’s Vintage Fair is also another familiar face in the city and runs affordable fairs with goods starting from as little as £5.

You can end your day perhaps donning some of your purchases and hitting the town and the retro nights such as Komedia’s Motorcity, a Motown, Rock & Roll, funk and blues explosion every Saturday night, or live music nights at Chapel Arts Centre or jazz nights at Green Park Brasserie. Whatever you choose to do, go shake your tail feather!

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We hope this has whet your appetite to come and explore the retro delights of our city. The shops may not be able to source anything original from the Roman or Georgian period but you are bound to come away with something you love. Why not make a few days of it and stay at our historic hotel in the heart of the city. With rooms starting from as little as £99 per couple per night B&B, you’ll have more money to spend on those vintage delights!

[Photographs copyright Catherine Pitt, Grace & Ted, Felix Lighting Specialists Ltd, Bath Vintage & Antiques Fair]

All details correct at date of publication.

 

Focus on Bath – The Old Theatre Royal and Masonic Museum

Hidden around the back of Marks and Spencer’s, down a non-descript cobbled street in Bath, is a treasure of a building that preserves an important part of the city’s history.

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Few visitors seek it out, but those who do are well rewarded with a fascinating glimpse into the past, and I urge both visitors and Bathonians alike to seek it out! Where else can you peek behind a Georgian theatre’s stage, stand where a famous actress once performed, and delve deep into the cellars to seek the secrets of Freemasonry?!

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The wonderful building that was the Old Theatre Royal is now run by the local Freemasons Lodge, who not only care for the building, but also run the guided tours .The couple of hours that you spend with your knowledgeable guide can in no way cover every aspect of the building’s history, but luckily there is a guidebook you can purchase to help fill in any blanks.

My guide for the afternoon was none other than the Grand Master himself, the wonderfully named Trevor Quartermain. He was enthusiastic, knowledgeable and really brought to life the history of the building.

Starting outside in Orchard Street itself, the only clue to the building’s former use is a plaque on the wall that informs you of its previous incarnation – the site of St James’ Theatre, the first Theatre Royal in Bath, built in 1750 by local businessman John Palmer, and where the famous Shakespearean actress, Sarah Siddons, trod the boards.

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This area of Bath looked very different in the 18th Century. Where Henry Street now runs adjacent to Orchard Street, one has to imagine the River Avon’s floor plain spread all over this area, and the end of the street accessed via stone steps that led down to it. Today this area has long since been drained and levelled, with the river now running much further away, but as a location for a theatre, it was not a promising start.

The only access therefore to the theatre was via Pierrepont colonnade, the opposite end of the street that can be entered from Manvers Street. However there was nowhere for the carriages to turn around until improvements were made to the carriageway in 1774 creating a turning area and stabling to encourage more theatregoers.

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Where you enter the building today, this is part of the 1774 extension of the theatre. The original front doors of the theatre are still extant within the foyer area, and through the right hand doorway there is a further internal door, white and peppered with iron bolts with a small peek hole. This white door in fact is the original back door to the theatre, moved here at some point in the building’s ever changing history.

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Because the old theatre has not only been used as a place of entertainment but also as a place of worship for the Catholic Church, and then as a Freemasons Lodge, the building has a varied and interesting story to tell.

Within the foyer do head to the first landing where there are displays on the staircase of various masonic aprons, gauntlets, portraits and information. Resting on top of the staircase are two coade stone beehives that were once part of the original Masonic temple here. Trevor informed us that all the furnishings we see today at the Lodge are actually replicas of those that were sold off at auction in the 1930’s. Today the originals can be seen at the Barnstaple Freemasons Lodge in Devon.

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The original Masonic museum was housed on the upper floor, but it has now been moved to the basement to make access easier. Trevor did allow me to pop upstairs to take a peek in the library and to see what had been the principle actors’ dressing room. Although a simple room to look at, the more you looked the finer the details stood out in the plasterwork and fireplace.

When you begin the tour you head through the white iron studded door into the first room of the theatre. This room would have been the Crush Bar. This area would have housed the audience before a performance, and where they could mingle, gossip and take refreshment. Space was limited, hence the apt name of “Crush” bar.

All around this room today are the records of the seven craft lodges and 13 associated side degrees that make use of the building today. The oldest of the Bath lodges, the Royal Cumberland, predates the theatre, and began in 1732. The certificate granting this lodge a licence can be seen on the wall next door.

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Heading through from the Crush bar you enter the main auditorium. Originally there would not have been the wall separating the Crush bar from the auditorium, but a series of internal columns.

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Entering the main room your breath is taken away by not just all the pomp and plushness of the Freemasonry, but the huge dominating stage at the far end. Tearing my eyes away from all the furnishings and symbolism that surrounds, Trevor pointed out the outlines of the original theatre. The site of the boxes on the walls, the ghostly image of the door that led up to the dressing room I had seen earlier and where the actors and actresses would have made their entrance on to the stage, and of course the stage itself.

Note the ghostly outline of a door and where the boxes once were

Note the ghostly outline of a door and where the boxes once were

Looking around there is much extant evidence of the 18th Century theatre. There is even the remains of one of the original Georgian boxes, high up on the left hand side of the stage. Apparently there would have been 3 tiers of boxes spread all the way along both side walls. The main auditorium, what we would call the stalls today, would have been lower down than where we stand, and tiered to ensure everyone had a view. When the 1774 refurbishment took place, 200 extra seats were added at the back of the theatre and above the Crush bar; these would have spread out in a fan like shape.

A curious feature of the stage that one cannot miss, are the four large columns that dominate the main stage area. One would presume this would block any view of the actors and actresses on stage, but performances were very different in the 18th Century to how they are today. Two hundred and sixty five years ago actors and actresses didn’t move around as much as they do in today’s theatre. In fact they were more likely to stay in one spot for their speeches and monologues. It wasn’t “acting” so much as intoning to their audience.

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As you imagine the hundreds of people crowded into the theatre, you realise how close the people would have been to the stage, especially those in the side boxes that were actually on the stage itself. People in the 18th Century didn’t sit reverently through productions as we do now. There was talking, flirting, gossiping, heckling and it was not unknown for those in the side boxes to stride across stage mid act to chat to those the other side, or to leave if bored!

The first refurbishment of the theatre actually took place a decade before the 1774 alterations. It is recorded that in 1764 a large dome was added to aid the acoustics and ventilation of the theatre. If you look up at the sky blue ceiling, peppered with stars, you can see the ventilation shaft, cleverly disguised in the central boss. Two hundred and fifty years on and this is still what cools the hall to this day!

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Yet, in the 18th Century this ventilation shaft was greatly needed and relieved the long suffering theatre goers. When first built no one had thought of adding windows or some form of air flow into the theatre. Imagine 900 people crowded in to this space on a hot summer’s evening. Most people never washed, many would be wearing powdered wigs, rouge and various other unguents, and all of them festering and sweating away while watching a play by the light of hundreds of tallow fat candles. The stench!!

In 1768, John Palmer’s son, John Palmer Junior, took over the running of the theatre and applied for letters patent from King George III. It was in this year that Bath’s St James’ Theatre, became the first provincial theatre to gain a Royal Patent, and thus have permission to call itself a “Theatre Royal”. It was in fact the third in the country to gain such a title after Covent Garden and Drury Lane theatres in London.

Those who came to the theatre would have included all the great and good that came to take the waters in Bath. It was another place to see and be seen. Visitors included Jane Austen and Horatio Nelson. William Herschel the astronomer is known to even have conducted an organ recital here, although the original organ has long since gone.

Sarah Siddons

Sarah Siddons

Between 1778 and 1782 the St James’ Theatre was where Bath’s most famous actress, and later England’s most lauded tragedian actresses, Sarah Siddons, began her career. She was inevitably enticed to the London stage, but she never forgot Bath, and in 1799 she performed for the last time in the city at a benefit performance. Her fame was so huge that tickets had sold out immediately. The theatre workers could not hold back the over-excited crowds that thronged outside. Unable to get a ticket, but after a glimpse of their heroine, many people took advantage of the confusion and pushed their way in. Siddons was not in fact due to appear until the second act of the play, however her arrival at the theatre caused such a furore the other actors had to stop and the play did not continue that night.

It was in 1809 that the Theatre Royal we know today opened its doors on Beaufort Square. The change in venue was not just to do with the bad positioning of the St James’ Theatre, with restricted access; but a combination of factors including the fact that by around 1805 acting had progressed to moving around the stage, more in reminiscence of what we know today. The Orchard Street theatre with its huge columns and no more room for extension could not meet the standards of 19th Century theatre, and thus the new Theatre Royal took over.

The "new" Theatre Royal in Bath, Beaufort Street entrance

The “new” Theatre Royal in Bath, Beaufort Street entrance

The building was bought by the Catholic Church who set about removing much of what was within – the boxes were taken down, the floor levelled, and stone vaulting was added below to act as a burial ground within the city. Soon it became a place of worship and most traces of the 18th Century theatre had disappeared or been hidden.

Catholic records imply that there are over 380 people buried beneath the old Theatre Royal, however as you see when you reach the vaults, few of them have actually been cleared to access the burials. Most of the vaults are backfilled with dirt and rubble and require an extensive and costly archaeological investigation. I was given a peek into one of these inaccessible tunnels and my torch beam bounced upon beautifully carved monuments and tombstones broken and buried beneath piles of brick and stone. What treasures lie in these tunnels?!

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After its tenure as a Catholic Church, the building was left vacant for a number of years. The Freemasons of Bath were seeking a permanent home by the mid 19th Century. Previously lodges had met at particular pubs within the city, but by 1865 it was decided by members of the Royal Sussex Lodge to purchase what was then known as the “Orchard Street Chapel”. Further lodges joined the Royal Sussex here and so its use grew.

The building itself was almost destroyed in the 1942 Bombing of Bath, and as such was placed on the Council’s demolition list. Luckily its fate was not sealed, but the Freemasons didn’t move back until 1950.

Continuing on the tour, you not only get to walk upon the stage, but take a look behind too. An 18th Century theatre really had little behind the scenes. The space between the stage and the back wall is tiny. Fascinatingly you can see the access door to the remaining Georgian theatre box, iron key still in situ in the lock. Original wooden hanging boards remain, and would have been where the scenery panels or sheets would have been hung. There was no space for the addition of flies to lift curtains or scenery. Both acting and scenery was static it appears in 18th Century theatre!

Behind the Stage - Georgian theatre box and Scenery Hangings

Behind the Stage – Georgian theatre box and Scenery Hangings

During the Catholic Church’s tenure of the building, a small private chapel was added to the back of the theatre, today this space is still used for prayer by the Templars and Knights of Malta who meet here.

Our guide and Grand Master, Trevor Quartermain, in the Chapel

Our guide and Grand Master, Trevor Quartermain, in the Chapel

To gain access to the final part of the tour, the basement vaults, you have to retrace your steps and head downstairs. Here you can see not only some of the Catholic memorials that have been found, but this is where the bulk of the Masonic museum can be found. Room after room is filled with fascinating objects. There is a pair of gauntlets and an apron that date from the earliest Bath Lodge of 1732 in one room, while another room is filled with beautifully enamelled and bejewelled medals and trinkets. The further in you go, the more there is to see, and it’s definitely worth a second visit to be able to spend some time just here in the basement museum.

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Trevor is happy, as are all the guides, to answer any questions people may have on Freemasonry. He says he wants to debunk the myths that have grown up around it, especially since Dan Brown’s book The Da Vinci Code was published! From the tracing boards and globes to the all-seeing eye and set squares, everything has meaning that you see around you.

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Although the building is used primarily by the various lodges as a meeting space, the building is still used today as a theatre. Only recently Bath Fringe Festival used the stage for many of its shows, and you can find on the Old Theatre Royal website a whole list of upcoming recitals, performances and gigs. At Christmas time there is even a Pantomime staged, with free entry for children.

It’s wonderful to know that this building in the heart of the city is still used today, including in its primary purpose. It’s important that it remains open to the public to visit and enjoy, but the cost of keeping up a Grade II listed building such as this does not come cheap, and currently all the costs are met by the Freemasons themselves. So I urge everyone to come and support the preservation of this fascinating building, packed full of history. It’s more than just the old theatre of Bath and a Masonic Museum, it’s a must-see!

Guide tours of the Old Theatre Royal and Masonic Museum take place on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 11am and 2.30pm. On Saturdays at 2.30pm only.

Ticket prices are: £6 for adults, £3.50 for children (aged 6 to 16), £5 for concessions and £12 for a Family Ticket (2 adults and 2 children).

For details of upcoming events, shows and for further information about the Old Theatre Royal and Masonic Museum, please go to the website.

[ Pictures copyright Old Theatre Royal & Masonic Museum, Catherine Pitt and Lawrence Tindall ]

Focus on Bath – Thermae Bath Spa

You can’t avoid water in Bath. Even its name implies the liquid! The name of the “Avon”, the river that flows through the city, actually means “River”, the station is called “Bath Spa”, the Roman Baths have been designated the 29th most popular UK Visitor Attraction 2015 (according to Visit Britain) and the Romans originally named the settlement Aquae Sulis – meaning the waters of Sulis. So, naturally when the council were considering ways to celebrate the Millennium in 2000, a water theme was a natural choice.

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Until the late 1970s the public could still swim in the natural spring waters, just as their forebears had done for over 1,000 years. After the baths were closed due to the tragic death of a child from a strain of bacteria found in the waters, the idea of re-opening them was mooted over the decades. Over 1 million litres of water flow from the natural springs every day, and none of it was being utilised until the Bath Spa Project began looking at creating a new bath complex for the year 2000.

In the 1980s the Thermal Research Project had drilled down and found a supply of clean water that could be used, kickstarting interest again. In fact, the Thermae Bath Spa draws water from three springs – the King’s Spring under Stall Street, the Cross Bath, and the Hetling Spring.

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As the project took longer than expected and was over budget, it wasn’t until 2006 that the Thermae Bath Spa opened its doors. It was worth the wait and the £40 million cost.

Designed by Nicholas Grimshaw and Partners (architects of The Eden Project in Cornwall, Pulkovo Airport in Russia, and Southern Cross Station in Melbourne, Australia) they have used a mix of natural Bath stone (from local Limpley Stoke quarries) and glass, wrapping around the historic baths already on the site, and incorporating them sympathetically into the structure.

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With the 10 year anniversary of its opening only a year away, and having never personally experienced the baths, it was a real treat to go to the Thermae Bath Spa and enjoy what thousands of tourists and locals have for the past nine years.

Starting my tour, I began at the separate Cross Bath, which can be seen at the end of Bath Street. This Grade I listed building, built in 1789 by Thomas Baldwin, lies on the site of an original medieval bath. In fact, underneath the current pool is the original pool floor. When designing the new Spa the architects were up against strict historic protection orders, but despite these limitations they have been able to blend in modern facilities without one really noticing. Glass panels disappear into cracks that were already in the stone work, and where the original changing area was, doors and a roof have been added.

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The Cross Bath is directly fed by its own spring which can be seen naturally bubbling up into a water feature especially created a the edge of the pool. The water is not pumped up and is a constant 46oC, but through filtration the water is cooled to 35oC so that it is more pleasant to bathe in. This bath is hired separately from the main baths and is great if you want to have exclusive use of the spring waters and a private bathing area.

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Walking from the Cross Bath to the main entrance of the Thermae Bath Spa you are faced with a wall of glass, but to the side you have the magnificent Hot Bath building and Number eight Bath Street. Number eight can be easily recognised as it’s a small 3 storey town house with 2 statues above the front door. Their heads are missing, but the statues are said to represent King Edgar, the first King of England who was crowned here in Bath in 973AD, and another King, possibly Osric or Bladud. These statues came from the original 17th Century Guildhall.

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Entering the Spa you are welcomed by friendly staff and given an electronic wrist band which allows you to enter and exit the complex. It also controls your locker and can be used in the restaurant to add food and drink to your bill. Here you are also handed a towel, a robe and slippers to use inside.

Interestingly the locker rooms are on a completely separate level to the shower rooms and baths, but it does mean that no one is walking dirty shoes through the shower room areas. The complex in fact is kept clean and tidy by a plethora of staff who quietly go about their duties seamlessly.

A tip on using the lockers – although there are instructions on how to use, I did find it helped to hold your locker shut and then press the wristband against the electronic pad for as long as needed until the display flashes that the locker is shut. It’s very easy to remove your wristband too quickly and find the locker has popped open again.

Although the toilets are segregated, be aware that the changing rooms and shower rooms at the Spa are communal, but I found everyone was very discreet. There are private changing booths you can use to get changed in as well.

The varying levels and facilities are accessed by stairs, ramps or lifts, and everything is signposted clearly. I still found myself making a wrong turn here and there, but there were plenty of staff about to ask.

The main thing that surprised me was the lack of noise. Children under 16 years old are not permitted in the Spa, and I soon found myself relaxing into the peace and tranquility of the setting. This certainly contrasts with the streets teeming with tourists and school groups outside!

It is also odd wandering everywhere wearing just a swimming costume and robe, but then you soon realise that everyone else is the same, and you forget about it quickly. In fact it soon becomes strange when you see someone, like a member of staff, fully dressed!

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The first bath you come to is the large Minerva pool (named after the Goddess Minerva whose bronze head was discovered in the 18th Century on the site of a Roman Temple dedicated to her in nearby Stall Street). For those of you who may have learnt to swim here many years ago, this is the site of the old 1920s Beau Street swimming baths. Today, the Minerva pool is a wonderful and tranquil mix of wood, stone and glass. Four large white pillars hold up a Bath stone cube, but you don’t feel oppressed by it. In fact the surrounding glass adds a vastness to the pool area, and it feels light and airy.

Stepping into the spring waters for the first time you’re enveloped by the pleasant warmth, and you instantly begin to feel relaxed. The waters here are a few degrees lower than the Cross Bath outside, but remain a constant 33.5oC.

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After the initial warmth, I was struck also by the lack of smell. Having tasted the waters in the Pump Room, I know that sulphur is a component of Bath Spa water. However, it appears that this mineral has been filtered out (along with Iron), or certainly the smell had. The filtration process ensures that there are no bacteria build ups, and the waters still contain over 40 naturally occurring minerals, even after filtration.

Remember this is not a swimming pool as such. Relaxation is the aim of these baths, not doing lengths. Most people were using foam rollers to aid their floatation, and there was a delightful current that gently swept bathers along behind the Jacuzzi area. You could also enjoy an invigorating jet stream of water that shot out intermittently, like a giant waterfall. This was great for pummelling away knots in your shoulders and neck if you stood underneath it.

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Through a glass wall adjacent to the Minerva bath you can enter the treatment room area and the Hot Bath. The Hot Bath was built around 1777 by John Wood the Younger, and adapted by G P Manners in 1831. It is used for the Spa’s signature treatment – Watsu, or water shiatsu. This treatment is for a maximum of two people at a time, and looked wonderfully relaxing.

The twelve treatment rooms surrounding this bath offer a range of massages, facials, body wraps and other treatments to further add to your pampering experience; but must be booked in advance of your visit.

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Moving up a floor I entered the Steam Room and Waterfall area. A wall of steam met me as a I opened the double doors and entered the large room. It looked like the Transporter room from Star Trek, with four separate glass walled pods situated around a central shower area. However, instead of beaming people up, this was where water cascaded down on the public at varying speeds and temperatures after their turn in the steam room pods.

The essences used in the steam rooms vary regularly and seasonally. While I was there I enjoyed cleansing Euco Menthol, Lemongrass and Ginger, Sandalwood, and the fragrant Lotus Flower. The stone benches inside the pods can be hot to sit on, but you don’t have to spend too long in each room to feel the benefits on your skin and in your lungs.

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After the steam rooms you could either wander around on the terrace outside, relaxing on the wicker chairs and loungers, or you can make your way up to the final bath, the spectacular roof top pool! From here you can view Bath from a totally different perspective. Protected by other buildings the Thermae Bath Spa is quite hidden from view, yet from it you can view the rooftops of the city, look into nearby courtyards, stare at the pinnacles of Bath Abbey, and observe the green hills of the surrounding countryside. Stepping once again into the warm waters this pool, like the Minerva pool, contains neck massage jets, air benches to sit on, and a bubbling Jacuzzi area.

The roof top pool was the busiest pool, unsurprisingly. But it didn’t distract from the relaxing experience. However, if you want to avoid the main crowds it is best to get here as soon as the Spa opens, or enjoy the rooftop terrace at twilight. It is not always possible when on holiday to avoid weekends, but Tuesdays and Wednesdays are often quieter too, and would be a better time to head here.

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It was surprising how so much relaxing can build up an appetite. After I had changed I chose to sample the delights of the Springs Cafe Restaurant, located on the first floor of the Spa. Many people were still in their robes while dining, so you can choose whether you change beforehand. This room was light and fresh with some great contemporary chandeliers and art work that blended in and matched the overall Spa theme of curves, water and light.

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On the menu was a seasonal selection of light bites, sandwiches, as well as main meals and desserts; plus a vast array of drinks. You could choose from cleansing smoothies to decadent champagne, there was something for everyone to enjoy.

To start with I chose some warm foccacia bread with cream cheese, followed by mushroom pasta which was not overly creamy and had big tubes of rigatoni pasta. A refreshing glass of champagne pepped me up, while I also sampled one of the Spa’s fresh fruit smoothies. When you’re bathing you forget that the combined heat and minerals will dehydrate you. There are plenty of water fountains you can drink from on all levels in the Spa, but it was good to top up in the restaurant as well.

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Being too full for pudding, even though the homemade cakes looked very tempting, I opted to end the meal with a hot chocolate. This came served to me with a bit size sample of sticky toffee pudding that just rounded the meal off perfectly.

Stumbling back into the bright sunshine after my wonderful relax and lunch, I took a walk over to the Hetling Pump Rooms, directly opposite the main Spa complex and to the left of the Cross Bath. Here, in another historic building, this time dating to 1718, there is a small exhibition about the history of the springs, the history of bathing, details about the original baths, as well as the Thermae Bath Spa project. This exhibition is free, but you can also pay to use a hand set (cost £10) to listen to further information or to listen in another language.

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Around the corner from the museum, within the same building, is the main Spa shop. Here you can purchase some of the products used in the treatments at the Spa, along with small souvenirs of Bath. The staff in here were very helpful and great at recommending products for all sorts of requirements – from skin problems to insomnia.

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The Thermae Bath Spa is more than just a series of baths, is is an all round experience. Whether you choose to just enjoy the waters, or add a treatment and dining on top, you will certainly come out feeling calmer and more relaxed.

Although the Spa cannot advocate that the minerals will help or heal any medical issues, the general ambiance and warmth of the waters certainly creates an holistic experience, and I certainly found that I slept well that night!

Bath can truly live up to its name again with the Thermae Bath Spa at its heart.

Spa Breaks are available from The Royal Hotel from only £159 per person – for two nights B&B that includes a 2 hour visit to the Thermae Bath Spa, PLUS a refreshing glass of Tattinger champagne and a cream tea in our contemporary and relaxing 1846 Bar. Fantastic!

If you fancy some pampering at the Hotel then you can also enjoy our exclusive Pamper Packages courtesy of Awen Health & Beauty. Book direct with them for their fabulous offers, plus enquire about further treatments available.

To  book one of our Spa Breaks, or enquire further, including about our All Inclusive Spa Break and upgrades to a Superior or Four Poster bedroom, please contact us on (+44)1225 463134 or email info@royalhotelbath.co.uk

With many thanks to Charlotte Hanna and Thermae Bath Spa. Images courtesy of and copyright of Thermae Bath Spa, and Catherine Pitt.

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Musical May – Bath International Music Festival

Established in 1948, Bath International Music Festival is now in its 67th year and stronger than ever. This year it runs from Friday 15th May to Tuesday 26th May.

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The popular festival, sees the city come alive with music from nearly 2000 performers over its 12 day run. From classical, jazz, folk and world music, musicians and orchestras congregate on Bath from all around the world.

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The Festival kicks off with the well loved Party in the City with an opening procession and free music throughout the evening over 43 venues, plus out and about on the streets of Bath. It’s not to be missed. Enjoy street performers, gospel choirs, and even an 8 metre long Disco dancing Turtle! You can even sample some unusual drinks while the music plays, as Ora Et Labora are inviting you to discover the wonderful honey drink of Mead with their specially created Mead cocktails during Party in the City.

Once again the Party is joined by the fantastic Museums at Night celebrations, when many of the city’s popular Museums are open after hours for exploration and special exhibitions and talks.

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The fun doesn’t just stop after Friday. You don’t have to have tickets to events to enjoy Bath International Music Festival as there will be free music on the Bandstand in the Parade Gardens the weekend of 16th and 17th May. Plus, a free family Music Day on Sunday 24th May.

We can’t wait to see the city buzzing and alive with all that music!

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To ensure you have your accommodation and restaurant table booked during The Bath Music Festival, please call us on 01225 463134. The best deals are obtained direct with the hotel, so please call us, book directly via our website, or email us at info@royalhotelbath.co.uk

Focus on Bath – The Norland Nannies

You may have seen some of the pupils of this College walking to and from the main premises along London Road. Wrapped up in their wool and cashmere brown coats, with their hats perched on their heads, gloves on and laced up brown shoes, they are a distinctive sight in Bath.

It’s tempting not to make comparisons with children’s film favourites Nanny McPhee or Mary Poppins. In fact there are distinct similarities in what they wear – with Julie Andrews’ hat and gloves, and Emma Thompson’s sensible shoes. However, there is more than something magical about these people. These are the impeccably trained Norland Nannies, considered the best in the business.

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These nannies expect the unexpected and are prepared for all different circumstances when it comes to Early Years childcare. Norland’s motto is “Love Never Faileth” but after you’ve read this article, probably Lord Baden Powell’s motto for the Scout and Guiding movement, “Be Prepared,” is a more fitting phrase for the hard working Norland Nannies.

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It may feel as if Norland College has been in Bath for decades. It certainly seems as if the Norland Nannies are part of the fabric of the city. However, it may surprise you to know that Norland College only moved to Bath in 2003 having previously been located at Denford Park, Berkshire, and before that, in and around London.

Their main premises today are located in what was once the home of Prince Frederick, Duke of York, second son to King George III. It is a Grade II listed building, and as with a listed building, the planning restrictions in place mean it retains its quirky nature despite its modern use. Thus, the narrow staircases and basement servant rooms still remain, but every space has been utilised efficiently and to its full potential by the college.

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The property is actually larger than it looks, with the arched cellar space used for practical activities such as nappy changing, and creating children’s activities. The College also rent office space across the road for their sewing classes, and use St Mark’s School’s kitchen for Home Economic lessons.

Norland College was the brainchild of a lady called Emily Ward in the 19th Century, who recognised the need for formally qualified nannies. Prior to this, childcare was the responsibility of “untutored” housemaids, or governesses. Ward chose to set up her training school in premises at Norland Place, London, in 1892 and soon the School became known by the moniker “Norland College”.

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Emily Ward

The location may have changed over the years, but the principles behind the training of Norland Nannies remain firmly based on the principles of Froeble. Friedrich Froeble (1782-1952) was a German educator who recognised that the first learning experiences of children can influence their own personal development both mentally and physically, as well as impacting on society as a whole.

Froeble was considered a radical, but despite opposition from his own government he set up the first kindergartens in his country which involved play, games and the natural world. His ideas soon spread with the first English kindergarten opening in London in the 1850s. Emily Ward was an advocate of Froeble’s ideas, and thus it became part of the foundation of Norland’s teachings.

Norland College believes every child is unique in its needs and capabilities and thus at the College the nannies are trained to adapt their practice in line with the family they are working for. They learn how to be prepared, to be able to adapt and be flexible, to ever changing and developing situations as their charges develop and grow.

It may interest you to know, that even in the 21st Century, Nannies are not regulated. There are no government requirements for someone to practice as a nanny and no Ofsted as you get in schools.

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Norland College is the only training institute for nannies that offers a 3 year Degree in Early Years Childcare (validated by the University of Gloucestershire). The students then complete a fourth year on a paid placement, after which the graduates are awarded with their Degree and the highly sought after Norland Diploma. The College follows the Government and NHS guidelines on Early Years Childcare closely. This is what makes Norland College so unique and outshines other organisations.

The process in becoming a Norland Nanny is certainly an experience, as I was to discover when I visited the College in March.

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If you wanted to become a Norland Nanny, you first have to apply via UCAS, and then wait to be invited for interview. There isn’t an upper age limit to becoming a Norland Nanny, and they welcome students from all over Europe. You don’t have to be from a private school or privileged background. There is about a 50/50 split in applicants and those who go on to become students.

Don’t think that becoming a Nanny is only for women, either. Men are welcome to apply, and one has even trained and become a male Norlander (the name for fully qualified Norland Nannies), so you wouldn’t be the first if you chaps out there did decide to go down the Early Years route.

According to the College, it’s good to have previous experience with young children and babies, and get as much as you can from family and friends before you even think of applying. A natural enthusiasm and willingness to work hard is also looked for in a Norland Nanny applicant.

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Once the interview has been passed and a place on the course has been offered, then the hard work begins. Unlike many Colleges or Universities, students at Norland College don’t have mornings or days off to laze in bed before lectures. They’ll be expected at College Monday to Thursday every week, 9am to 4.30pm. Friday’s are set aside for independent studies, guest lectures and independent training. When I visited on a Friday there were students arriving for a guest lecture, and others busily writing away in the Student Common Room downstairs.

As a Norland student they are also expected to take up placements for up to 6 weeks at a time regularly during their training and studies to practice what they have learnt. The students get to see many different childcare environments; from the Maternity wards of the RUH, to working in local schools, private homes and special educational needs facilities. However, at no time are they allowed to work unsupervised with children. They are of course still students. Only when they are a fully qualified Norlander can they work on their own with children.

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As well as the studies and placements, Norland trainees also learn various ways of how to engage with children through games and fun activities. They must be resourceful too – learning to sew and create things from what is in their surrounding environment. Cooking and Nutrition is another element to the Diploma where weaning, fussy eaters and special diets are discussed and advice given regarding healthy home-cooked meals.

Paediatric First Aid training is of course essential and the nannies even learn to recognise various childhood illnesses. Sign Language is an optional module the nannies can choose to take so that they can communicate with deaf children or those with learning difficulties. In their final year, the students also learn Life Saving skills at Bath Leisure Centre.

As the students can’t be left unsupervised with children, they are given their own “reality baby” to take care of for 2 days and nights, which reacts in the way a new born baby would. It cries, needs changing and feeding, and is responsive to touch; but this baby also downloads useful data that can be analysed after the 2 days have finished so the student can be assessed on his or her skills.

Norland College at Denford Park, Hungerford

Norland College at Denford Park, Hungerford

The students learn to follow the “safer sleep for babies” guidelines of the NHS, and the Lullaby Trust , which was set up for research into Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and who publish best practice guidelines to reduce the risk of SIDS. Please go to the link for more information about their guidelines. It was interesting to hear about the “baby hotel” at Norland’s previous location, Denford Park, with the rows of children left to sleep outside in their prams (supervised of course!).

Surprisingly students are also sent on rail trips, often up to London. This not only helps with orientation skills, but they learn how to travel and entertain children on long journeys.

The students’ training moves with the times and covers all aspects of modern life. For example, online security is covered, as well as self-defence and defensive driving. Everything has a purpose though – to be totally professional whilst safeguarding children. The students will also be instructed in what to expect when they finish their course and go into employment. This includes information about salary, tax, pension and insurance; as well as contract law.

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Most of this hard work and training is performed while wearing the most distinctive part of the students’ kit – the Norland Nanny uniform. The colour of the uniform has varied over the last 120 years, but its distinctive colour ensures the nannies stand out from other uniformed staff, whether it was housemaids in the 1890s or Doctors and nurses in the 1990s. Today the colour is brown, and has been for over 70 years. Although it might not be considered to everyone’s taste it is certainly distinctively “Norland College”. Yes, even male students have to wear the brown uniform, though they somehow don’t get to wear the hat, much to the chagrin of the female trainees!

Norland Nannies, 1892

Norland Nannies, 1892

Every element of the Norland College training has been carefully considered. Even the uniform and “look” has been designed with the training and practicalities of dealing with young children and babies in mind.

Gloves are worn when outside to enable the nanny to keep his or her hands clean. When attending to their charge, the gloves would be removed. Shoes are lace-up only to ensure that they do not slip off at any time. The main uniform has ¾ length sleeves only as this prevents bacteria from building up on the sleeves and then transferring to a baby or young child when picking them up.

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Norland Nannies, 2015

Students must also wear their hair off their collar, whether cut short or up in a bun and kept tidy underneath the Norland hat; this is to stop children grabbing and pulling at it, plus to prevent hair flopping into babies’ faces. There must also be minimal discreet make up, no perfume (as you don’t want either perfume or make up to be transferred on to the child), and only a pair of stud earrings are allowed (again, studs only to stop children pulling at them).

When you think about it, all these elements to the look and uniform are common sense. The continuation of the uniform is a source of pride to trainees and Norlanders. It’s what makes them stand out from the crowd. Although once qualified a Norlander doesn’t have to wear his or her uniform again, unless requested by their employer, I suspect the majority keep hold of it for “old time’s sake”!

Once qualified, a Norlander becomes part of the Alumni community and can search for employment via the Norland Agency. Norlanders can return to the College for continual professional development (CPD) days, further training, as well as social gatherings. Once a Norlander, always a Norlander, and you can be assured that they get lifelong support. In fact, the oldest Norlander (though no longer working) is Brenda Ashford, now in her 90s. She has written two fantastic books about her experiences as a nanny called “A Spoonful of Sugar” and “Tuppance for Paper and String”.

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Brenda Ashford

The other thing that sets Norland College apart from their contemporaries is their Code of Professional Conduct. Despite the press finding out about a few of those who use a Norland Nanny – such as Mick Jagger mentioning his use of them for his children in a past interview, and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge announcing that they have a Norlander employed to care for Prince George.; the college and the nannies themselves remain tightlipped. The privacy of the Norland College’s and Agency’s clients, and nannies, is paramount. The fact that there is so little information out there as to who uses a Norland Nanny is testament to its Code, and the high standard of professionalism and privacy that the College and the Norlanders practice.

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Don’t think that you have to be a Prince or Pop star to employ a Norlander though. The Norland Agency welcomes calls from any parent. Plus you don’t have to employ a Norland Nanny on a permanent basis; it can be temporary. Whether you require a nanny to cover you for a few hours or a few days, or for a one off occasional over-night stay when lack of sleep is too much, Norland Agency can assist you more than you might have first realised.

Norlanders also volunteer their time with TAMBA (Twins and Multiple Births Association) and their Helping Hands project. This is a free of charge support for those families with multiples (twins, triplets etc) who are facing crises. This support has been found to really help and relieve those parents who are unable to cope. Please press on the links above for further information about TAMBA and Helping Hands.

Norland College also now offers Early Years Consultancy and Training, so if you require consultation on best practices for young children (aged 0 to 8 years), then these are the professionals to call. Clients already include Mothercare, training product designers, buyers and in-store staff; Etihad Airways training their “Flying Nannies”, and Chartwells Independent on pastoral care for children during lunch service. There are also visits every year from international Colleges that train Early Year Professionals, including from Australia and Japan. Host families are always required for this, so do get in touch with the College if you think you can help.

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So there you have it! I hope I’ve given you a real glimpse into the world of Norland College. Behind that cool Bath stone façade is a hive of activity and learning that is turning out the best qualified Early Year Practioners in the country, right here in the heart of Bath.

We are also very pleased to announce that if any guests at The Royal Hotel require a nanny during their stay, whether for a night off so you can go to the Theatre or Spa, or during the day whilst you go shopping or to lunch, then we’re happy to recommend Norland Nannies.

Please contact the Norland Agency to arrange your very own Norland Nanny and experience the best of the best.

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 With thanks to Abby Searle and all at Norland College.
[Photographs copyright Norland College, Catherine Pitt, Western Daily Press, Parent Dish, Daily Mail, The Guardian]

Pamper Packages at The Royal Hotel

We’re very pleased to announce that we are now able to enhance your experience at The Royal Hotel and offer you in-house Pamper Packages when you come to enjoy your relaxing stay with us.

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We’ve joined with the locally based Awen Health & Beauty, who have put together 4 exclusive packages just for our guests – Bliss, Indulge, Top2Toe and Time to Together. These involve nail treatments, Massages and/or Facials.

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These packages are perfect if you’re on a girly getaway, enjoying one of our Spa Breaks, having time with that special person in your life, or simply you just want to treat yourself.

Awen Health & Beauty is owned and run by Kelly Porter, who has over 12 years working in the Health and Beauty industry. She only uses the best products in her treatments. Jessica nail polishes are used in her manicures and pedicures, and the wonderful organic Neal’s Yard Remedies oils and creams for her massages.

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All of the treatments on offer must be booked and paid for directly with Awen Health & Beauty and will take place in the comfort of your hotel room. For further information, and to book one of The Royal Hotel’s Exclusive Pamper Package deals, please call 07816 876431.

Women of Bath

Since it was International Women’s Day (8th March 2015), and Mothering Sunday (15th March 2015) last month, plus the inaugural Women of Bath event at The Guildhall in the city on 9th March, supported by our very own female Mayor, Cherry Beath, we thought we’d write a post about some of the important women who have played a part in putting Bath on the map.

We featured a shorter version of this post on our Facebook site. It got so many hits that we thought we would create an extended version for you to read.

This is our Top 10 Women of Bath. The list is not in any particular order and those included our not necessarily born and bred in the city, but they’ve been included because we think these women have had a significant impact on Bath in some form or other.

  • JANE AUSTEN – Author (1775-1817)

“Bath is still Bath”

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Despite professing to disliking Bath during her stay here, there is no denying the impact that her time spent in the city, and her books, have had on Bath’s tourist industry.

You can visit a Museum dedicated to her, walk in her footsteps visiting locations she would have known, plus there is also a Jane Austen Festival every September which sees a Guinness Record breaking parade of people in Regency costume snake their way through the city.

Jane was born and spent her childhood growing up in Steventon, Hampshire. However, her parents already had a strong connection to Bath. Her mother was from the Leigh family of Bath with connections to the 1st Duke of Chandos, James Brydges (her great-uncle). In fact her parents were married at Walcot Church in Bath in April 1764 and her father, who died in the city, is buried at the same church – St Swinthins.

Her father, a Rector, chose to retire to Bath, bringing his family with him and settling in lodgings in the city. Thus, came the author to Bath. The family lived in various places including The Paragon, Gay Street, and Trim Street, between the years 1801 and 1806, including some time spent with her aunt and uncle the Leigh-Perrot’s.

Jane’s time in Bath is said to be the least productive period of her writing, however city life was more of a social whirl than the countryside where she came from and it shows in one of Jane’s letter’s to her sister Cassandra:
“ They want us to drink tea with them tonight, but I do not know whether my Mother will have the nerves for it. We are engaged tomorrow Evening. What request we are in!”

All these social engagements and observations on city life were to be of use to Jane in her writings, and Bath features heavily in two particular books, published after her death, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion.
Whatever Jane thought of Bath, the city has certainly embraced her.

  • Amy Williams M.B.E. – Olympic Athlete and Presenter (1982-)

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Born in Cambridge but brought up in Bath, Amy attended school at Beechen Cliff and Hayesfield School Technical College. She then graduated from Bath University.

Originally a 400m runner, Amy didn’t qualify for the national athletics team, so while at University in 2002, she turned her attention to trying out a new push start Skeleton track, and so a new sporting career began!
Her first major sporting event in Skeleton was in the 2009 World Championships where she won a silver medal. Spurred on by this success Amy trained even harder, winning a place in the Team GB Winter Olympics team for Vancouver in 2010.

It was here at these Olympic Games that Amy became a Gold Medal winner. The first British woman to win gold at an individual event in the Winter Olympics in 58 years and Britain’s first winner in an individual event in 30 years!

In 2012 Amy had to retire due to injuries, but she has gone on to become a presenter for the BBC Sport’s commentary team, a co-presenter on Ski Sunday, a Team GB Ambassador and a member of The Gadget Show Team.

Amy continues to make Bath her home, and was made an Honorary Freeman of Bath in 2010, the first ever woman in Bath’s history to be given this award.

  • Alison Goldfrapp – Musician and Record Producer (1966-)

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Alison Goldfrapp was born in Enfield, London, went to school in Alton, Hampshire, and studied Fine Art at Middlesex University.

During her years in Alton, Alison sang with a number of different bands. In her 20’s she performed with a Dance Company in the Netherlands, then continued with her musical involvements while studying at University.

She travelled through Europe in the 1990s picking up musical and film influences along the way. Her interest in Art and her love of different musical and film genres is reflected in her work today – her stage shows and music videos are a whole experience.

In 1999 Alison met record producer and composter Will Gregory. Gregory, from Bristol, had worked with Peter Gabriel and Portishead, and after many talks the two of them chose to form the band Goldfrapp.

Their first album, written in a house in Wiltshire, debuted in 2000. This was then followed in 2003 by the album, Black Cherry. This album, and proceeding ones, was recorded in a Bath studio near Bath Spa Railway station in an old Station Master’s cottage. It was in this darkened and fairly dilapidated studio, peppered with neon lights that Alison used to write down her song ideas for the band’s second album.

The collaboration between Gregory and Goldfrapp works well, with mainly Alison writing the lyrics and Will composing the melodies. Their last album, Tales of Us was released in 2013.

It is believed that Alison still lives on the outskirts of Bath.

  • Caroline “Lina” Herschel – German British Astronomer (1750-1848)

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Born in Hanover, Caroline, or Lina to her family, was a sickly child. Smallpox disfigured her features and Typhus stunted her growth, however it was her intelligence and aptitude at mathematics and astronomy that were to bring her praise and accolades in her lifetime.

Her brother, William (later Sir William) Herschel, brought her over to Bath, from Germany, in 1722. At the time he was living in Bath as a musician and she became an acclaimed singer under his instruction. Her talent was thus that she was soon singing solos in public performances in the city and was even offered an engagement in Birmingham. However, ever loyal to her brother she remained only with him and would only sing if he was conducting her.

When William trained to as an astronomer, so did she and she acted as his assistant in his work, including the calculations of his observations. In 1781 William discovered a new planet – Uranus, and he was given the role of Court Astronomer to King George II.

Caroline wasn’t just William’s assistant though. She made her own observations and discoveries too, usually when William was away. In 1783 Caroline recorded seeing various new Nebulae, and in August 1786 she discovered her first comet, becoming the first woman ever to do so. During her lifetime she was to discover 7 more comets plus publish a number of books including “A Catalogue of Stars” (1798).

Through her own discoveries, Caroline was celebrated in her own right as an astronomer. As assistant to William, the Court Astronomer, the King made an unusual stipend to William’s pay, of £50 a year specifically for her. Thus Caroline became the first woman in England to have a paid government appointment. Caroline was also the first woman to be given The Royal Astronomical Society’s Gold Medal in 1828; and in 1835, along with Mary Somerville, they became the first women to be given honorary membership of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Following her brother’s death in 1822, Caroline returned to Hanover but continued to accept the plaudits for her work. Neither she, nor her brother, are forgotten in Bath as there is the wonderful Herschel Museum to visit.

 

  • Belinda Kidd – Chief Executive of Bath Festivals

BelindaKiddBathFestivals

Belinda is originally from Marlow in Buckinghamshire, and has made her way to Bath via many varied and interesting avenues.

She has long had a love for the arts having studied at the Courtald Institute in London. She worked for Brighton Festival, securing £15 million lottery funding for Brighton Dome, and also was previously Executive Director of the Theatre Royal, Stratford East, and had strategic roles at West Midlands Arts and Birmingham City Council.

After working as Programme Director for Liverpool Arts Regeneration Consortium, Belinda looked to make her move to the South West.

She now lives with her husband, John, in Combe Down, and has been Chief Executive of Bath Festivals since 2010.

Her job involves her overseeing the programme and running of the popular annual International Music Festival, the Literature Festival and the Children’s Literature Festival in the city.

 

  • Stephanie Millward – Paralympic Athlete (1981-)

StephanieMillward

Stephanie was born in Saudi Arabia and went to school in Corsham, Wiltshire (9 miles from Bath). It was during her school years that Stephanie’s strength as a swimmer was spotted and she began to train in earnest for a place in the National Squad.

At the age of only 15, Stephanie broke the British record for the 100 metre backstroke and she look set to gain a place for the 2000 Olympic Games. However, her dreams were shattered when, aged 17, Stephanie was diagnosed with the debilitating disease, MS (Multiple Sclerosis).

She came back fighting though, and through her struggles began to train again, She qualified for a place in the 2008 Summer Paralympics in Beijing, where she competed in four S9 events. Despite not gaining a medal, Stephanie continued to go from strength to strength picking up Gold, Silver and Bronze medals at proceeding World, International and British competitions.

It was at the 2012 Paralympic Games in London that Stephanie won her first Paralympic medal – a silver. She then proceeded to pick up 4 more medals in the games, including 3 more silver and 1 bronze medal.

At the 2014 IPC Swimming European Championships in Eindhoven, Netherlands, Stephanie picked up five gold medals, one silver, and one bronze. She is also a four times World Disability Swimming Champion.

Stephanie has written a book, “Paying the Price”, about her experiences, and has undertaken visits and talks in and around the city. She is also an Ambassador for BANES Carers Association. She lives on the outskirts of Bath and trains both in Bath and in Swansea.

  • Rev. Prudence (Prue) Dufour, M.B.E. – Nurse & Hospice Pioneer (1942 – 2004)

Prue Dufour Dorothy House

Her name may not be familiar, but the majority of people in Bath will know the name of the Hospice that she founded in the city almost 40 years ago – Dorothy House.

Prue was born in Rudgwick Sussex and grew up in a family of faith, her father being a Chaplain of Guy’s Hospital in London. Her mother was a nurse and educated her children at home until they were of secondary school age, when Prue was sent to Switzerland. After a year in Bangladesh, Prue returned to England to study nursing at Middlesex Hospital.

Prue moved to Bath to become a staff nurse on the radiotherapy ward at the Royal United Hospital. In 1975 she was sent on secondment to St Christopher’s Hospital in London and it was on her return that Prue decided that a similar facility was needed locally for those who were “living with cancer”.

Despite meeting with some opposition, Prue went on to leave the NHS and set up Dorothy House in 1976. She chose the name Dorothy because it meant “gift of God”. It was initially a domiciliary service, but in 1979 the charity opened their first in-patient unit in Bloomfield Road, Bath. By 1995 the organisation had expanded so much that it had to move out to its current premises at Winsley on the outskirts of the city.

Today her legacy continues with free high quality care and support to people and the family of people with life limiting illnesses. The team at Dorothy House or “Dotty House” run many events in and around Bath, including the Bath Midnight Walk (September) to raise money for the hospice. Plus you can find their charity shops throughout the city and surrounding areas.

  • Kirsten Elliott Swift – Author, Historian & Freelance Broadcaster and Journalist

Kirsten Elliott

The title we have given Kirsten doesn’t do justice to her many talents. She has an unsurpassed wealth of knowledge on the city, and is a strong campaigner for the protection of Bath’s buildings and heritage.

Born in Portsmouth, but having travelled the world growing up as her father was in the Navy, Kirsten has made Bath her home now for many decades. She shares her home with her husband, fellow author, Dr Andrew Swift and their dog, Islay.

She went to London University to study Maths and later became an I.T. systems analyst. Her interests include Architecture and Industrial Archaeology (particularly canals) plus social life in the Georgian period, and the history of local public houses. These interests stem from her family who were previously both builders and pub owners.

Her mum also imparted in Kirsten an important principle, that when one is travelling always try to learn about a place. Of course this is the first thing that Kirsten did when she moved to Bath…and she hasn’t stopped since!

Kirsten became a tour guide in the city in 1985, and later co-founded with her husband the company, Bath Walks. She and Andrew also continue to run extremely popular walks in the city for Bath International Music Festival, and Bath Literature Festival.

They also co-founded their own publishing business, Akeman Press in 2003, and have co-written books together, as well as both being published independently.

Kirsten also runs Historic Home Research, where she works as an architectural consultant and historian.

When Kirsten isn’t so busy (!!) with work or writing her blog posts, she is also a member of the History of Bath Research Group and the Bath Minuet Company.

  • Lizzy Yarnold, M.B.E. – Olympic Athlete (1988-)

Lizzy-Yarnold

Born in Kent, Lizzy was a sporty child who specialised in the Heptathalon when at school. She went on to study Geography and Sports Science at the University of Gloucestershire.

In 2008 Lizzy entered a talent identification programme called Girls for Gold, which was looking to spot and train talented young hopefuls to become the next Olympic stars. It was at this scheme that she was identified as having an aptitude for skeleton bobsleigh.

Within only five years she has risen to the top of her game. She currently holds the Olympic, World and European titles in Skeleton, the second woman ever to hold all three titles at the same time and the first British slider to do so.

Her Olympic Gold was won at the Sochi Winter Games in 2014 after joining the national squad in 2010, and then this year she added the European (February) and World (March) titles.

She lives and trains in Bath, where the British Skeleton Team are based during the summer months.

  • Mary Berry, C.B.E. Food Writer and T.V. Presenter (1935-)

Mary Berry

Born and raised in Bath, Mary’s father was to become a Mayor of Bath during her childhood in the city.

Mary attended Bath High School where it was her Domestic Science teacher, Miss Date, who encouraged her cooking skills and interest in food. She went on from Bath High to study catering and institutional management at the Bath School of Home Economics.

Her first job was at a Bath Electricity Board showroom, demonstrating how new electric ovens worked by baking Victoria sponges in them. From here she made the move to the Dutch Dairy Board where she managed to convince them to pay for her to train at The Cordon Bleu cookery school in Paris.

She began to write cookbooks throughout the 1970s and 1980s and was especially associated with Aga cooking, running her own workshops in the 1990s. Mary was also for a while the cookery editor of the Housewife Magazine, then the Ideal Home Magazine. Since 1994, she has also had her own range of salad dressings, a business she set up with her daughter.

Despite having a full career having written over 70 cookbooks, Mary’s popularity went stellar in 2010 when she became a judge on the BBC’s programme The Great British Bake Off (GBBO). She even became a fashion icon, with a floral bomber jacket from a High Street store that she wore in one episode selling out all over the country.

Since her move to GBBO, Mary has written further recipe books and has been involved on the Junior Bake Off, Comic Relief and Sport’s Relief Bake Off programmes.

In 2014 Mary was awarded the Freedom of the City of Bath, and has continued to return to her home city, whether to do talks at local bookshops or to switch on Bath’s Christmas lights.

PHOTO BY PAUL GILLIS/paulgillisphoto.com

So, what do you think of our list? It’s difficult to pick just ten people.

There are many other women of the city who have made an impact or influence on Bath.

Here are a few more names of women of or from Bath who have had an impact in the city – Viv Groskop, Chaucer’s Wife of Bath, Jacqueline Wilson, Elizabeth Montagu, Hannah More, Elizabeth Landon, Catherine Macaulay, Mary Shelley, Georgette Heyer, Helen Augusta Hope, Elizabeth Linley and Sarah Siddon. Who would you choose for your list?

[Note – We have endeavoured to ensure that all information is correct and up to date. However, we welcome amendments.]

Focus on Bath: Amy Laws – Fashion Designer

With the fantastically glamorous festival, Bath in Fashion 2015, starting this coming Saturday, March 21st, for a whole week, we thought we’d take a closer look at one of the many Bath based designers within the city.

Bath in Fashion 2015

Bath’s history of being a Spa town, and THE place to go and be seen during the “season”, meant the city developed a reputation over the centuries as being a city of Fashion and Fashionistas. Today, Bath still has a hub of creative individuals who all produce wonderful things for the fashion lovers of the city who want something not just of quality but individualistic.

The city is also host to a number of Fashion design courses. One can study at both Bath Spa University and Bath College for a Fashion Design degree or B.A. in Fashion and Textiles. Many of these students will then move on to the bigger cities such as Bristol, London and Manchester to explore their potential further, and to gain invaluable placements in nationally renowned design and fashion agencies. However, in Bath itself you can also find designers beavering away creating their own collections.

peonyandmoorebag

You can pick up items made by local Bath based fashion designers within the city itself or online. For luxurious leather handbags with a difference buy from Liz Cox (17 Margarets Buildings) or Peony & Moore (concession within Sisi & May, Bartlett Street). Beautiful hand-printed 100% silk scarves by Eleanor J Shore can be obtained through her online shop. While if you want to add some fun jewellery and accessories to an outfit for either men or women, pop into Charlie Boots on Broad Street.

EleanorJShorescarves

If you look up dressmakers in Bath you will come across many skilled seamstresses who choose to go into the very lucrative market of occasion and wedding wear. However, what about day to day clothing? This is a side-line somewhat overlooked; however not by one Bath based designer and dressmaker, Amy Laws, who runs There’s Only One Amy Laws.

Amy, well deservedly blowing her own trumpet!

Amy, well deservedly blowing her own trumpet!

Situated behind The Circus in an un-assuming flat on Rivers’ Street, lies the workshop and home of Amy and her partner Chris. Amy had moved to Bath in 2012, having originally grown up in Stoke-on-Trent and studying a BSc in Product Design Engineering at Brunel University. Not quite the path to becoming a dressmaker you may think; however Amy had been taught to sew from a very early age by her grandmother.

The days of living on a small student budget, but the desire to wear a new dress when going out with friends, forced Amy to put her skills to use, and she began to rustle up new outfits for herself. It was a hobby that she didn’t think much about expanding until friends and strangers began to comment on her outfits. She tried Brick Lane market in London, only producing one size of her dresses, and was surprised when she actually sold items, and people were interested in more. Inspired by this, Amy decided to continue selling her designs on e-bay, and while working took an evening BTEC in Pattern Cutting course.

By the time she had moved to Bath, by way of Edinburgh and a screen printing course there, Amy had made up her mind to set up her business; but she only became fulltime since April last year. She produces not just women’s dresses, skirts and blouses; but children’s skirts, dresses and tops.

Theres Only One Amy Laws

The first thing you are struck by is the quality of her clothes and the materials used. Amy said it took her a long time to source exactly what she wanted, and to her credit she has also kept to using British based companies. Her fabric, mainly cottons and stretch cotton, she orders from a textile company in Manchester, and the water based inks she uses come from Handprinted, a small business based in Sussex. The inks are environmentally friendly, and she thoroughly tests each new dress and design herself to ensure that it can withstand continuous washing at 30C without fading or loss of the print.

The second thing you are struck by is the unusual name for her business – There’s Only One Amy Laws. She’s even had other Amy Laws contacting her to tell her she’s not alone! Amy says that the name though has always been there, even before she was sewing or considered taking it up as a business. A chant at her school it seems has been the inspiration for a whole brand.

There's Only One Amy Laws

Since starting her business back in 2012 Amy guesses she’s had around 10-15 designs. She’s created many more, but as she confesses, some have been hit and miss and those have never seen the light of day on a dress or shirt. Some of these ideas may be resurrected at another time and reworked into a design that will eventually be used in her work.

Her work has ended up in America, New Zealand and around Europe and she says her most popular print has been her Flamingos. There’s an easy on the eye simplicity to Amy’s fun and bold designs that reflect familiar images and childhood memories – from ice cream cones to umbrellas, from daffodils to bees, and balloons.

Her winter collection saw squirrels and robins nestling in the folds of fabric and proved very popular. One lady even bought every female member of her family an item of Amy’s Robin collection and posted her a picture of them all wearing her designs on Christmas Day!

Child's Red Robin Dress

When asked what inspires her collection and designs, Amy said it’s really what interests her, what catches her eye in magazines and when walking around the city; plus she loves looking back at the designs of the 1950’s. Since her clothes have that straightforward classic 1950’s shape, she likes to keep the style and design simple too.

AmyLawsPineapple

We’re hoping she may come up with a Bath design too. We have dropped a few hints, so you never know. Amy agreed with us that a design of the Circus around the bottom of a skirt or dress would look exceptional, so we’re keeping fingers crossed it becomes a reality!

All of Amy’s work is currently produced in her flat. We asked to see what goes into making one of her designs, so here’s a run-down of how Amy makes her wonderful clothes.

1) She drafts and grades her own patterns by hand, and each new design and item has to be hand drafted in the range of sizes she produces as well (Sizes 8 to 16 in womenswear).

Drawing Designs
2) Amy also makes her own screens using lengths of wood and plain mesh. Each new design requires a new screen. Plus if there are different colours or elements to a design then a screen has to be made for each part.

Amy making one of her Screen Frames
3) She draws her design by hand then downloads it onto Illustrator on her laptop so she can create a smoother image which she then prints onto acetone. In the meantime her mesh screen has been painted with a light sensitive emulsion and left in the dark for 8 hours (this she does in her bathroom. Pity anyone getting up in the night for the loo as you have to scrabble in the dark. Strictly no lights allowed!).
4) Once the screen is dry and the design is ready, the acetone is placed on the screen, and Amy uses a 500w lamp to expose the image to the mesh for 30 minutes. The emulsion hardens around the image, but any of the mesh that’s under the design, will still have soft emulsion that can then be washed off.

Emulsion is setting
5) Amy then selects the fabric and colour of fabric she’s going to use and begins to cut out the panels
6) She will then print her design on the fabric before she sews the item together. To do this, she gets her prepared screen and pours ink onto the mesh, and uses a sponge to push the ink through.

Selection of Screens
7) Once the ink has dried after a few hours she will then heat set the design using an iron. This she says is helped by lots of TV and Radio 1; plus her boyfriend is put to good use with the iron when there are lots of orders to do.
8) If it’s a new design, then the item will be washed and tested to ensure the print quality is fine.
9) Eventually we come to the sewing part! Once all the pieces of the item are assembled, then there are the last few things to do. By law Amy has to ensure that every item is marked with labels telling you how to wash the item (30oC), where it’s been made (In England) and what fabric it is (100% cotton). She also adds a size label and her own label.

Sewing up!
10) Then viola, she has the finished item! Amy either hangs it up ready for taking to sell at markets; or when postal orders come in, she carefully packages the piece up with labels, tissue paper and a sticker showing the print of the item on the front of the wrapped package.

Phew, then it’s time for a cup of tea! These dresses really are a labour of love.

AmyLawsIceCreamDress

It’s the attention to detail and the extra touches that really makes one of Amy’s dresses such a beautiful masterpiece. It’s simple and practical yet individual at the same time. In the winter time the dresses are lined and cap sleeves are added; though Amy said that she is happy anytime, when people order, if they want her to lengthen the dress, add pockets or sleeves, for a small extra cost.

It’s such a surprise that everything is produced in her flat, and we have to say she has a wonderfully supportive and tolerant boyfriend – who’s also handy with an iron and getting to the loo and back in the dark it seems!

Amy is currently looking for local studio space, but in the meantime, to get herself out the flat, she will soon be found for a few days a week in The Makery in the centre of the city, where she can sit and sew her dresses together.

Apart from selling on her website and Folksy, Amy can also be found with a stall every month at Green Park Station’s Artisan Market, every second Sunday of the month; as well as other local markets such as in Frome and over in Bristol.

Amy hopes for the future that eventually she will have her own studio and take more people on so that she can expand her ideas and designs, but she doesn’t want to stray from what is her key ethos for her business – the uniqueness of getting a handmade and hand printed item of clothing. Hear hear to a British, and more specifically a Bath based fashion business! There is indeed only one Amy Laws!

Amy's Market Stall

Amy’s clothing ranges start from just £25.00.

You can purchase her collections online or at local markets.

Amy can also be found on Facebook and on Twitter.

Easter Fun – Hop over to Bath!

It doesn’t feel that long ago that we were gearing up for the February Half Term, but then Easter Sunday does fall early this year, on 4th April. We know you’ll all be looking for fun activities and things to enjoy in Bath over the Half Term period, so we’ve rounded up a good selection of what’s on to keep the children occupied over the Easter break. For those activities that are free we’ve put this in brackets at the end of the sentence. For those where you have to pay we’ve put a “£” sign. Some activities will require booking. Please double check all links and websites for full details, prices and times.

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Of course the importance of Easter within the Christian Calendar shouldn’t be over looked. It’s a time of celebration for those of Christian faith, regarding Jesus Christ’s resurrection after his crucifixion. There are plenty of services in the city over the Easter weekend that you can go to as a family, including at Bath Abbey on Good Friday, and Easter Sunday.

The idea of new life and new beginnings is also expressed in nature. Spring has sprung and as you make your way into Bath you will start seeing the new born lambs and calves in the fields, the buds on the trees, and the flowers including the beautiful yellow daffodils in bloom. It’s a great time to be outdoors and get some fresh air, so our first few activities reflect just that!

Fresh Air!

BathCityFarmGoat

* Hidden Woods near Bath is a great place to take kids to if they want to channel their inner Ray Mears or Bear Grylls. Over the Easter Half Term they are running their Easter Holiday Club which involves woodland craft and games, Bushcraft and Environmental Art. Minimum Age is 5 years old. (£)

* Bath City Farm – you can join in with their Easter Fun Day on March 31st (FREE) where children can take part in various fun craft activities and games, including an Easter Egg Hunt!

– On Saturday 11th April the Farm is also running a Family Fun day where your young ones can try being a Farmer for a day. They will get to groom, clean out and feed some of the animals. Booking is required (£).

* Prior Park – If you love birds and birdwatching then on Sunday 29th March you can join the RSPB on their special walks at 10.30am or 3pm around the gardens where you’ll learn about the birds that are in the Park and maybe spot a few nesting too. (Free event but Entry Fee to Gardens)

– You can also enjoy a spot of Easter Egg Rolling in the Park on Easter Saturday morning (3rd April). One for all the family. Bring your own decorated eggs to roll and see who the winner will be! (Free event but Entry Fee to Gardens)

* The Egg Hunt (21st March to 11th April). To celebrate The Egg Theatre’s 10 Year Anniversary the team at The Egg have hidden 25 decorated eggs across the city. If you can find them all and deduce where the Golden Egg may be you can win not only the Golden Egg itself, but also tickets to for The Egg’s Christmas Show and The Theatre Royal’s Pantomime. The first 100 completed forms handed in will also win a treat from the San Francisco Fudge Factory. So grab a map and get cracking! (FREE)

Making Stuff Up!

Many of the Museums and Galleries in Bath are running Family Fun Days or Children’s Games and Craft days.

EasterArtCampsatHolburne

* Museum of East Asian Art – On  Monday 30th March come along to the Museum to make your very own Chinese Opera Mask! Your kids can also enjoy dressing up and even putting on make up as they learn more about Chinese Opera as part of the Music in China Exhibition. They will even get a chance to play on some traditional instruments. (FREE)

* If an Opera Mask doesn’t appeal, then you can design and make your very own hat at The Fashion Museum on Tuesday 31st March. (FREE with Museum Entry)

* Once again the fantastic shop Ora Et Labora are running their Children’s Activity days over the Easter holidays. Here in their small museum children can be transported back in time to learn how to make candles and the art of Apothecary. (£)

* On Sunday 29th March The Holburne Museum are running an Easter Eggstravaganza whereby you can explore their miniature collection with crafts and entertainment for all the family. There is even a fun mini Easter egg roll to look forward to. (FREE)

– The Holburne Museum will also be running Easter Art Camps during the two week break for children aged 5 to 13 years old. Under the supervision of their team of experienced artists your kids will enjoy days of various arts, crafts and activities. (£)

* If your children love sports and fancy the opportunity of being trained by some of the best coaches in the country, then why not send them to Team Bath Tribe. Their Easter Camps involve athletics, hockey and trampolining, and some activities are even suitable for children as young as 2 years old. (£)

* Take a closer look at The Roman Bath’s coin collection and some of the fantastic animal designs stamped on them, plus make your own Imperial Eagle at this Family Fun Day on Monday 30th March. (FREE with admission)

American Museum Yarn Bombing Trail

* See if your little ones can find Goosey Gander as she’s on the run at the Victoria Art Gallery this Easter. Join in the fun trail to find all the Geese in this great gallery in the heart of the city. (FREE)

* The American Museum in Bath has lots of family fun this Half Term. From a Yarn Bombing trail and festive bunting making to creating your very own personalised commemorative spoon there’s plenty to keep everyone happy. You can even step back in time with the Museum’s Time Walk where a magical adventure tells the story of the Earth. (£)

* This month’s Sunday Artisan Market at Green Park Station falls on 12th April and has plenty to delight people of all ages. There’s lovely crafts, antiques and food to buy, but also there are plenty of children’s activities throughout the day to keep little hands busy too. (FREE)

* As part of this year’s Fashion Festival, both yourself and your children can step back in time at No.1 Royal Crescent and become Georgians for the day. On Saturday 28th March, you will not only select your costume, but will have a full makeover with make up and wig applied, plus there will even be a photograph to commemorate the day. (£)

– No.1 Royal Crescent will also be helping children to decorate their very own wooden Easter eggs on Wednesday 1st April. They can write their very own motto and add mini chocolate eggs to complete their very own Georgian present. (FREE with admission)

Watch with Mother

Keep the children away from the T.V. and immerse them in some fun at some of the city’s finest shows.

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* From the 24th to 29th March the magical musical that is Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat hits The Theatre Royal in Bath. This story of the “coat of many colours” from the Book of Genesis is a Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd-Webber classic that can be enjoyed by all the family. (£)

* Come on a Wild West adventure at The Egg Theatre from 26th March to 3rd April with Little Sure Shot, otherwise known as Annie Oakley; a little girl who grew up fast in the heart of the American Wild West. (£)

* Kids’ Comedy Fest – for the first time during the annual Bath Comedy Festival, there’s some side-tickling fun for children too. With magic, balloons, clowns, puppets and lots more silly entertainment, head along to Bath Cricket Club to enjoy. (£)

Food Glorious Food!

Finally, we come to some scrumptious cake making classes and fun afternoon teas for Half Term. If the kids haven’t eaten what they’ve made before they get home, you’ll get to try a plethora of delights.

AfternoonTeaatPumpRooms

* Bath Cake Company is running on Wednesday 8th April a Kids’ Cupcake Decorating Class for those children aged between 7 and 11 year’s old. Call 01225 446094 to book. (£)

* There’s lots of messy fun to be had again at Coffee@Camden with their popular Easter classes for Children. This Half Term your children can enjoy decorating cookies, cupcakes and Easter eggs; as well as enjoy tasty treats and drinks available at the café. (£)

* You may not have realised, but the luxurious Royal Crescent Hotel welcome children to join their parents in taking part in the quintessentially English Afternoon Tea experience. Your kids can feel suitably grown up while sampling sandwiches, cakes and Tuck shop sweets. (£)

* During the Easter Half Term holidays, your children can also enjoy an Afternoon Tea in the surroundings of the historic Pump Rooms, overlooking the Roman Baths. Supping on apple juice or hot chocolate with their treats will probably be more preferable to the sulphuric waters on offer from the fountain! (£)

After all those fun activities and games you and your kids are going to need a good night’s rest! To book your room for the Easter break, simply call us on 01225 463134 or book online.

Focus On: George Bayntun’s

As part of our new series of “Focus On Bath” Blog Posts, we have decided to start things with a Bath institution that many people will have perhaps passed but not necessarily heard of or visited. This we want to change, because “boy” are you missing out!

Just yards from Bath Spa Station, right next door to us, is a rather imposing Victorian fronted building, once the Postal Sorting Office of Bath. To enter you must ring a doorbell and wait for the hum and click of the door being released, as if by magic, by those inside. Here within this wooden enclave of glass, books and prints, occasionally disturbed by the tuneful strike of the mechanical clock, quietly lies an industry that once thrived in the city and across many cities in the country.

bookshop-image

Beavering away behind the oak doors and towering bookcases, hidden from public view, is a workshop flooded with light. Here books are carefully plucked apart, hand stitched, glued, gilded and tooled by a handful of craftsmen and women under the watchful eye from the upstairs office by the overseer and fourth generation owner of the business, Edward Bayntun-Coward. You can see much of the finished work in the glass-fronted cases in the shop, and admire the intricacies of the handiwork; each book is a miniature work of art in itself.

What is this place? This is George Bayntun’s or more correctly Bayntun’s Booksellers and the Bayntun-Riviere Bookbindery.

The full history of Bayntun’s is detailed on their in-depth website, but here is a basic summary of this amazing business. George Bayntun (1873-1940) opened his bindery in Bath in 1894 in Northumberland Place, after having been apprenticed at Taylor’s of Bath. He then moved to Walcot Street where in 1920 he bought the book collection of George Gregory, and finally moved the business to Manvers Street in 1939, where it has remained ever since. He acquired the bindery of Robert Riviere (begun in Bath in 1829) at the time of the Manvers Street move. The success and the renown of the business was such that in 1950 Bayntun’s received patronage from Queen Mary, whose coat of arms you can still see over an inner door that leads to the main staircase; plus in time they also acquired over 6000 books from Woburn Abbey.

bindery

Bayntun’s is now famous all over the world. In the Visitors’ book there are signatures from Japan, Alaska, all over Europe, Africa and the Americas, the Antipodes, Russia, Indonesia and the Middle East. Peeking into the Visitors’ Book I noticed amongst the University professors and bookbinders from around the world, familiar names such as the comedians Barry Humphries and Eric Idle, the actors Timothy West and Simon Callow; the politicians Douglas Hurd and John Major, and the artists Sir Peter Blake and Marc Chagall.

So what brings people to travel hundreds if not thousands of miles to George Bayntun’s? It is simply the quality and craftsmanship of the work. It is now one of the last great Victorian binderies still in family ownership and every single process of the binding is by hand. Even the marbled paper inside the covers of the books has been created by hand, by Melksham based artist Jemma Lewis. To bind a book an be a painstaking but rewarding process. Nothing quite beats a hand bound book. A carefully, properly hand-bound book can last over 100 years!

Hannah with Queen Mary's coat of arms over the doorway

Hannah with Queen Mary’s coat of arms over the doorway

“There are over a hundred stages in binding a book by hand and none of them can be rushed.” – George Bayntun.

It was a fantastic privilege to be allowed to see behind the scenes. In what was the sorting office mail room in 1904, there now is the gentle hum of concentration. Nola who works on the first part of the process, unpicking stitching and carefully scraping off glue told me that this process alone can take up to a week depending on the size of the tome. Once the book is re-stitched and ready, it goes to Andrew, a cheerful chap who was taken on as an apprentice 13 years ago and is now a finisher and edge gilder.

A book ready for gilding

The start of the gilding process

I find Andrew next to a book clamped into a vice. He is gently smoothing the sides of the book using an Agate stone attached to a piece of wood – this is called a Burnisher and the technique is called “polishing”. This technique ensures that the book is smooth as glass ready to take the 23 ½ carat gold leaf that Andrew was about to carefully apply. First a layer of glue, then a mixture of egg whites and water is added; after this, using a squirrel hair brush that is as soft as velvet, Andrew applies the gold leaf. It’s amazing the traditional ways still used in bookbinding here. Andrew showed me how, by stroking the hair brush on his face, he could create static to use to attract the tissue thin gold leaf onto it. Then he said he blows gently on the gold once it’s been applied to the book and if the condensation from his breath disappears it has set and is ready for the next stage.

Next in line in the process was Don; surrounded by completed and ready to work on books. He has worked in the business for over 30 years and is Bayntun’s chief restorer. His “Holy Grail” he told me when I questioned him about the work he has done, was to actually handle a first folio of Shakespeare. He said he had bound a second edition dating to 1613, but a first edition would be the pinnacle.

Don with the specially bound Alan Titchmarsh book

Don with the specially bound Alan Titchmarsh book

At his workstation Don showed me a piece he had just finished for the presenter and garden expert, Alan Titchmarsh, a specially designed commission for Titchmarsh’s 2014 release The Queen’s Houses. It was gilded in palladium, gold and red gold, with a blue and silver silk headband and specially made designs on the inside and outside of the book. This was one stunning edition.

At Don’s workplace he was busy gluing front and back pieces to books, doing the headbands and adding the leather. Nearby were shelves stacked with rolls of goat skin – the leather that is used by Bayntun’s. They are supplied by two tanneries who obtain their skins from Africa. One of them, J.Hewit & Sons Ltd of West Lothian, has a Royal Warrant to the Queen. The skins come to Bayntun’s dyed, but they also have the capacity to hand dye the skins in house as well, especially if a customer requires a book to match others within his or her collection. Vellum, or calf skin, is used occasionally here if the occasion warrants it, but is apparently harder and less pliable than the goat skin. Unusual requests have also seen the team working with Kangaroo, Ostrich, and even Kudu skins.

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I asked if anyone had ever found anything unusual when re-binding a book. The answer was a plethora of things, from pressed flowers and insects trapped within the leaves of the books, to cigarette cards and even sailors’ songs hidden inside the leather linings. Often the spine of older books had been padded with torn up pieces of Bibles, engravings, tickets to shows. In one book they even found tickets to Suffragette events in the early 20th Century.

Bookbinders of the past would often carefully and secretly add their own mark, and sometimes these were found when rebinding. Don said he has his own secret moniker that he adds to every book he binds; so that if it comes back in again, he can identify it. Now, what job these days can you think of where you can do that?!

Once a book is bound, it needs to be “finished” and this is where it is tooled with a design. Luckily at Bayntun’s they are spoilt for choice for designs as with 15,000, they hold the largest collection of hand tools and blocks in the world! With new designs created for clients on request, they are forever adding to this important archive. A steady hand and full concentration is needed at all stages, but especially at this point, and I didn’t want to disturb Tony who, when I visited, was head down working on a stunning cover of Ulysses. The precision required to add the gold in to some of the tiniest tool marks is unbelievable.

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You can see how much the staff love their work here at Bayntun’s and their commitment and pleasure in each new binding is infectious. Their love for Bayntun’s and working in Bath can be reflected not just in their words to me, but in their longevity of service. Penny and Julie who work out on the main shop floor have both worked for 50 years each; while in the bindery, Tony and Don at 20 and 30 years respectively have some way to go to beat Derek’s longevity. At 83 years’ old he has been a bookbinder since 1947, and continues to work here, albeit 2 days a week now.

Do Bookshops and especially bookbinderies still have a place in the 21st Century, so overrun now with the internet, E-readers and technology? Speaking to the staff, both old and new, they all agree that even in this ever increasing digital age, the art and skill of bookbinding is still appreciated and required; perhaps even growing as more and more people begin to appreciate such handiwork.

The Savoy Cocktail Book

The Savoy Cocktail Book

Books are tactile objects and as I’ve seen from the work that is undertaken and commissioned here at Bayntun’s the books themselves can be considered pieces of art in their own right. A first edition copy of Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach was plucked from one of the shop shelves for me to admire and running my fingers over the gilded birds and the carved orange leather peach sent a shiver up my spine. Later on, flicking through one of their catalogues, the crisp white leather cover and deco carved design for The Savoy Cocktail Book caught my eye. It is now something I aspire to own, simply for its stunning design, if not just for the cocktail recipes!

Bayntun’s isn’t for me, I hear you cry; isn’t it full of books that are worth hundreds, if not thousands of pounds? It may surprise you, but Bayntun’s has something for every budget, whether large or small. You can come in and rifle through old 19th Century prints and maps with some only £3.00 in price. Coloured works line the walls in the print gallery with starting prices at a reasonable £8.00. On the book front you can head downstairs to the second hand department and buy books from £2.00. They have everything from topography to children’s books down in the basement; plus drawers crammed with papers, sheet music and other books.

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Bayntun’s is a gem of a find and where you’ll find gems!

Only recently, my guide, Hannah told me, a book was discovered here, defaced throughout with the word “bacon” spelt out. It turns out this book was owned by Mrs Constance Pott the founder of the Francis Bacon Society (who perpetuates the theory that Sir Francis was in fact Shakespeare). A rare find indeed!

On the second floor of Bayntun’s are the Antiquarian books and here you can relax in their squishy armchairs, looking at books that date from the last century to the sixteenth century. Here you can find books from a more modest £20-£30 price range upwards. It’s lovely to spend some time admiring the titles and carefully exploring the shelves.

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The Ground floor is where you can find the first editions and specially bound books by Bayntun’s. Don’t think for a minute that a first edition is out of your price range – the copies here start from a few hundred pounds, depending of course on the title and the workmanship involved. What a great present to give a loved one, or to treat yourself to!

Amongst the freestanding bookshelves on this ground floor there are small items for sale, some even crafted by those in the bindery. You can purchase off cuts of the leather, buy binding glue and some of the tools that they use. There is also some fantastic polish to rub into your leather bound books – who knew? There are also beautiful cards, bookmarks, plus leather earrings and bangles.

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It’s not just books that are bound. People have commissioned Bayntun’s to make dust jackets, Wedding Albums, visitors’ books, backgammon sets, inlaid chess boards, gilded tables, and stationery boxes. Basically if it needs leather binding, then anything is a welcome challenge for Bayntun’s!

Bayntun’s will also sell books on behalf of customers. They welcome people to make appointments for valuations. Details of how to contact the shop are at the end of this post.

Before my visit ended I asked Hannah and Don their top tips for taking care of your books, Number one on the list was that Sellotape is definitely the enemy!

1) Never, ever, use Sellotape on a book repair. If you have to, always use glue.
2) Don’t remove a book from a shelf by pulling its top as this is where most tears occur
3) Polish your leather bound books using a conservation polish to protect and strengthen the leather.
4) Dust wrappers are great, even plastic ones, to protect your volumes.
5) Don’t get a book wet. If you do, put tissue in between each of the wet leaves and press it as it dries. This technique will minimise that “crinkled” effect water has on paper when it dries.

I urge you all to visit George Bayntun’s. It really is fantastic, and there’s more to it than meets the eye. You feel like you’ve stepped back in time when you enter the shop, and you’d be right – nothing has changed much here since George Bayntun himself moved in to the premises in 1939, but there is something here for everyone, young or old.

I whole heartedly reflect Eric Idle’s sentiments, as written in Bayntun’s Visitors’ Book,

“What a wonderful treat to find you. Thank you!”

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George Bayntun, Manvers Street, BATH, BA1 1JW

Opening Times: Mon – Fri: 9am to 1pm/2pm to 5.30pm; Sat: 9.30am to 1pm. Closed Sundays and Bank Holidays.

Telephone: +44 (0) 1225 466000

Email: enquiries@georgebayntun.com