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Bath’s Georgian Heritage

Bath’s Georgian Heritage

Perhaps provoked by the destruction that the Blitz wrought upon the architecture of London, after WW2 the British government set up the system whereby buildings of architectural merit were to be listed in an attempt to preserve the past. Over half a century later, there are now 68 000 listed buildings in the UK which the owners cannot demolish, alter or extend without the permission of the local planning authority.

Though the majority of us would undoubtedly say that the system is a worthy one that should be supported, it is also one that can render buying or renovating a house even more of a trial than it otherwise would be. The request to fit a second bathroom in a 6 bedroom house can easily be denied, and worse yet, when upon moving into a listed house, if prior unpermitted development has occurred, the current owner may well be obliged to turn the building back to its previous state. Companies such as Neuffer, operating in both Germany and the UK, are often tasked with the increasing requesting to develop and modernize aspects of buildings without sacrificing their historical aesthetic and character. Gorgeous Bath The World Heritage Site city of Bath is a hot bed for listed buildings and planning restrictions. Only a few years ago the Department for Sport and Culture revaluated the buildings of Bath for the first time since 1975 with 850 additional entries. Most of these new entries were buildings from the Victorian Age and the 20th century. The previous 1975 report had been comprised of principally Georgian architecture. This report has come at an apt time. Running until December is an exhibition curated by television presenter and historian Hallie Rubenhold, asking the city to reconsider its glamorous history and to look beyond the naïve and rose-tinted perspective of the likes of Catherine Morland, the young heroine of Northanger Abbey. Re-evaluation The exhibition, titled Portrait of a Lady: Ruin and Reputation in the Georgian Era, is held in two rooms in the No1 Royal Crescent (perhaps the grandest address in this ever-fashionable city) and asks visitors to cast of the Austenisation that has taken over Bath, and instead consider the period, and in particular, women in that period, in more sober terms. Rubehold explores the city through the eyes of the women of the time; fundamentally a dangerous place behind the circus of continuous balls and masquerades. It was a society where women existed with almost no rights in regard to money, children or property; rape and abuse at the hands of a husband was scarcely noted, let alone prosecuted against; and approximately 1 in 5 women resorted to prostitution at some point in their lives. In a city that was second only to London in the hearts and minds of the Georgians, Rubenhold reminds us of the importance of recognising the past for what it was, not simply for what is beautiful. In the name of legacy, the English Heritage lists every building built that withholds its original look that was built before 1700, the beautiful with the ugly. As the organisation looks beyond merely the Georgian buildings in Bath so to preserve a multi-faceted history, so Rubehold is ensuring that we have a better idea of what that multi-faceted history we are preserving is. Portrait of a Lady: Ruin and Reputation in the Georgian Era will be at the Bath Preservation Trust’s No1 Royal Crescent museum until 14 December. Entrance to only the exhibition is £4.  

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