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Written by JulieW
(11/28/2006 8:56 a.m.)
The gardens opened to the public in May 1795. This picture is a plan of the gardens as they were at that time, as depicted in Charles Harcourt Masters' Plan of Bath(issued 1st January 1810- do note that the canal which dissects the gardens was not in situ when the gardens opened).
It is called a " Vauxhall after the very famous pleasure garden in London. Go here :
for a lovely detailed history of that place of pleasure, which will give you some idea of the type of place the Bath Coproration was trying to emulate in creating the Sydney Gardens.
Lets go for a tour around.....
You can see the Tavern building ,or Sydney Hotel as it became knon at the left hand side of the plan.
Hhere is a picture of it as it appears now:
This is building is now the Holbourne museum.Go here for a view of the museum's website: this is a fascinating place and I encourage you to visit it , next time you are in Bath if you have not done so already.
The Sydney Tavern was not at this time a place where you could say as guests overnight. Most pleasure gadrens in the 18th cenury aahd a "long room" where you could dance country dances in long " sets", and where ( very important point in England!) you could promenade in wet weather.
The Sydney Tavern was no exception, but it differed from most such buildings as its " long room" or ballroom, was situated on the first not the ground floor,which was the more usual plan adopted in this country.
The first tennant of the building, John Gale and his family lived on the top floors which also housed the staff of both the kitchen and the garden.
It was not untill well after JA's time in Bath, in 1836, that it became a hotel in the modern sense of the word, but from 1813 the building was increasingly referred to as the Sydney Hotel, so some rooms may have been avaialable for hire to paying guests from that time ( see Indenture 2nd October 1794, Bath Records Office)
There were private dining rooms and meeting rooms( where learned societies gave talks) available for hire in the house as well as the Ballroom.
To the right of the Tavern you can just make out the two " arms" of dining cubicles enclosing a wide circular area , which was where the main activities of meeting friends, promenanding about in fine clothes and taking meals ( where one could be seen to be indulging in such a fashionalbe activity!)took place.
There was also a moveable " orchestra" which was a platfrom made in sections, which could be wheeled out of the way if space was at a premium,and the crowd of people was too great.
Note the " space for fireworks" on which topic I shall write more later;-)
The Main walk then rose up a slope to terminate in the Loggia, teeh small curved building at the far end.
The Main walk was very wide but you will note that there were much narrower paths leading off from the Walk. The New Bath Guide of 1801 describes them as:
Serpentine walks which at every turn meet with sweet shady bowers furnished with handsome seats some canopied by Nature others by Art
There was also a Bowling Green,some waterfalls and pavillions.
The Labyrinth was a type of maze( a fashionable 18th century garden conciet).It was, as the Bath Guide of 1801, states:
twice as large as Hampton Court's
Now in the centre of the Labyrinth there was what for sometime aahs been a little mystery...The Merlin Swing.
I confess someone asked about this a few years ago at L+T and it stumped me( and has kept me awake at nights as a result).
However, the answer is that it was not some Fragonard insipired decorative swing for lovers . No, it was some form of exercise machine invented by The Igenious Mechanick, John Jospeh Merlin,seen here painted by his great friend, Thomas Gainsborough.
Merlin was the sort of intesting man the 18th century produced, and it is hard to categorise him. He invented/imporved musical instruments, watches, roler skates, Bath Chairs and countless other items.
He was keen on the effects of gravity on health and it is now supposed that his swing(sadly there is no illustration surviving of the famous item) was not decorative but something like the contraptions we now see which invert you so that stresses on the body can be relieved: it has been thougth that it took the form of a revolving wheel.(See specualtions in John Jospeh Merlin: The Ingenious Mechanick by John Jacob et al). It was acessed through a moss covered Grotto, from which an underground passage led to the centre of the Labyrinth.
The Ruined castle( another mock one!Alert John Thorpe!) was at the top right hand corner of the plan.it came complete with moat.
The Ride , which is shown on the extreme outside edge of the gardens encircles what was then a border of rough pasture, not a manicured lawn.
The Garden,needless to say, was walled off from the general non-paying publlic and there was only one entrance at the Greeat Pultney Sstreet end.
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