Sunday, 23 April 2017

A Brief History of Sydney Gardens in Bath

The weir and Pulteney Bridge are two of Bath’s most recognisable landmarks. You don’t hear too much about Sydney Gardens any more. That wasn’t always the case though!

Tucked away behind what is now the Holburne Museum, but what used to be the grand Sydney th-century Vauxhalls (otherwise known as pleasure gardens) in the country.
Hotel, are Sydney Gardens. They’re not on most visitor’s lists of must-sees when in Bath. Although they certainly used to be, and when they were first opened back in 1795 they were described by one visitor as ‘the most prominent, pleasing, and elegant features’ in all of Bath. The gardens are well worth a visit though, as they are one of the few remaining 18

They were designed by Charles Harcourt Masters and were based on the popular pleasure gardens in London – Ranelagh, Vauxhall and Marylebone. The pleasure gardens did charge an entrance fee, and as such were commercial ventures, but it was the entrance fee that helped to establish them as a place to see and be seen. To be seen in the pleasure gardens was to show that you had money and class.

They were attractive for other reasons as well. Sydney Gardens in particular had a great many curios to marvel at and things to enjoy. As well as concerts and public breakfasts which were held on a  
regular basis, the gardens contained two bowling greens, two swings, exotic trees and shrubs, a grotto, a labyrinth, and refreshment facilities.

The labyrinth in particular was very popular. It was ‘twice as large as Hampton Court’s, with ins and outs measuring half a mile’. In the middle of the labyrinth there was even a reputedly health-giving swing which cost 6d to swing on (though no swinging was allowed on Sundays!).  

To keep the gardens new, exciting and in keeping with the times, they were changed and added to over the years. From 1799 Sydney Hotel provided coffee, tea and card rooms and a ballroom, while in the basement was the Sydney Tap – a tavern which gave the servants and sedan-chairmen who were not allowed in the gardens somewhere to wait while their patrons were in the gardens. Later on, in 1810 a cascade was added to the gardens, an aviary in 1824, a watermill in 1825. 

Two prominent features in the gardens today include the canal and the railway bridge. The canal was completed in 1807 and helped to build the trade link between London and Bristol (and added to the garden’s appeal as it was the age of Enlightenment), while the bridge was the work of Isambard  
Kingdom Brunel and was added in 1840. Sadly the Great Western Railway essentially cut the gardens in half and destroyed the labyrinth which had once been so highly regarded.

In 1912 the gardens became the responsibility of the local Council and are now a municipal park which has been open and free to the public for over 100 years (and are a lovely place for a summer stroll).

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