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Five Little-Known Facts about Ironwork in Bath

Bath is home to an abundance of remarkable historic ironwork, thanks to the city's well-preserved heritage architecture. The team from the National Heritage Ironwork Group have put together five little-known facts about ironwork in Bath...

1. The Secrets of Sydney Gardens

There is a ‘Temple of Relief’ hiding in bushes in Sydney Gardens. Popular in the Victorian and Edwardian eras when they were mass produced by iron foundries such as Macfarlane’s, cast iron public toilets were once a familiar sight in our city parks. Often decoratively ornate, they were proud architectural statements of a newly improved public sanitation programme. The stunning Victorian ironwork in Sydney Gardens is due to be restored to its former glory, so check it out while it’s still a faded beauty.

2. Brunel’s Bridge

The last surviving example of the cast iron bridges that Isambard Kingdom Brunel designed for the Great Western Railway still spans the tracks in Sydney Gardens. This beautifully delicate footbridge, with its intricate, elegant design was intended to reflect the architectural landscape of Bath. The other larger bridge may well be the oldest surviving iron skew arch bridge in existence. The bridges were the first two structures to be manufactured in the Stothert & Pitt Foundry, which went on to employ thousands of people in the city until the late 1980s.

3. Chandeliers in Bath Abbey

The striking red and gold Gothic wrought iron chandeliers that hang in Bath Abbey were once powered by gas, and in fact were only converted to electricity in 1979. Aside from discolouring the stonework and causing choirboys to feel queasy, the gas lighting didn’t actually provide much light, so after 100 years of service they were upgraded by means of an anonymous donation (perhaps one of those choirboys).

The chandeliers were designed by one of the most prominent British metalworkers of the Victorian era Francis Skidmore. Skidmore collaborated with architect Sir Gilbert Scott on several grand ecclesiastical projects, including the famous choir screen in Hereford Cathedral. The chandeliers in Bath Abbey are typical of his ornate, flamboyant, majestic style.

4. Snuffs and Scrapers

There are iron candle snuffs all over the city, usually by the front door to allow visitors to cut their lights before entering the house. Perhaps less called for these days than the still-serviceable boot-scrapers, they are charming reminders of another age and of a time when the blacksmith was greatly in demand all over the city for any number of reasons.

5. Winches in Alfred Street

Even less in demand than a candle snuff these days, the winch outside number 14 Alfred Street would once have lowered bags of coal down to the servants’ quarters. Incidentally, Alfred House has a lovely example of an arched lamp holder with candle snuffs on either side.

Click here to download a map of the full Bath Ironwork Walk, or drop into the Visitor Information Centre to pick one up.

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