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The Georgian Garden in Bath is a marvellous and very rare example of the type of garden that many of Jane Austen’s characters and, indeed, Jane Austen herself may have experienced while living in a Georgian town house, not necessarily only in Bath but in London too. This town house garden is now to be found situated to the rear of Number 4,The Circus ( the house is not open to the public, note).
Let’s see where in Bath this garden is to be found. Here is part of my 1802 map of Bath taken from John Feltham’s book, A Guide to all the Watering and Sea Bathing Places ,
showing the area of the Circus and the Gravel Walk, and here is it annotated with the approximate position of the Garden (1) and the House (2).
To gain access to the garden you have to walk along the Gravel Walk, which connects the Royal Crescent with Queen’s Square, and which was, of course, the secluded, gently rising walk that Captain Wentworth and Anne Elliot of Persuasion took when they were finally reconciled, engrossed in each others revelations but not so blind as to realise that the path they were taking was the long way round to Sir Walter’s home in Camden Crescent ;-)
These insignificant doors set into the wall surrounding the gardens (seen to the left of the photograph)are the rear entrances to the gardens to the houses.
They hide many treasures and due to the benevolence of the Bath and North East Somerset Council , anyone visiting Bath can now experience what the gardens of these townhouses were like. Access to the garden is totally free of charge and the garden is open all year round. How truly admirable.
Number 4 the Circus was completed in 1761, part of John Wood the Elders scheme for the new Upper Town. In February 1754, Wood laid the foundation stone of the very first house, but, sadly, just three months later, he died. It was left to his son, John Wood the Younger, to complete and oversee the construction of the King’s Circus, as it was originally called. The frontages of the 33 houses are uniform ( though as you can see from the photograph below, the rear of the houses are an entirely different story).
Each house is decorated with elements of the three great Classical orders of architecture: the ground floor decorated in the style of the Doric order , the second in the Ionic order , and the third floor, the Corinthian.
The Circus was, as you can see from the section of the map, above, built in three segments of 11 houses.The circular area that the houses encircle was originally cobbled and had a covered reservoir which supplied water to the houses. This central island is now covered with grass and five great plane trees, which were planted in the early nineteenth century provide shade, but do block the views. Above is the view of the Circus looking towards Gay Street. Sadly no plans exist to show us how the gardens to the rear of these houses appeared in the Georgian era. As you can see from the map of the Circus above, only approximations of the gardens behind these houses were made by the then mapmaker.
However as a result of recent extensive excavations it has been possible to reconstruct how the garden would have appeared in the late 18th century. Walled on four sides, it provided a private, decorative space for the occupier of the house.
Here is a plan of the garden as it appeared when it was first built. Do note that all the photographs and plans in this post can be enlarged by clicking on them, so that you may enjoy the detail.
And here is a key of the plan showing the different elements of the garden:
The Bath Archeological Trust undertook excavations of the garden in 1985 for by then the original Georgian structure of the garden had been lost under later improvements. The walled garden that was then to the rear of Number 4 the Circus was Victorian in the main, and boasted a lawn, a rockery, a classical pavilion and a fish pond which both dated from the 1920s. This is a plan of the garden as it was before the excavation began (again, please use the same key above to discern the different elements of the garden).
The Georgian garden as revealed by the excavations had no grass or lawn at all. It was a very formal design and most of the garden was covered with a surface of gravel mixed with clay. This would have needed to have been rolled regularly to keep it in order,and was much kinder to walk on than wet grass to the fashionable fabric shoes of the 18th and early 19th centuries.
Here is a period roller, placed in the garden to remind you that while it is practical, this surface is not maintenance fee.
Here is a view of the garden of 10 Downing Street by George Lambert , circa 1736-1740,
and this close up of part of the painting showing the roller in use at that time:
As you can see from the plan and the photographs, the walled garden to Number 4, the Circus also has small flower beds around the walls, and three flower beds along the central axis of the garden. All are now edged in box. Its design was very similar to this one by J. A. Smith dating from 1807.
The geometric design of the garden was quite deliberate: it was to be seen to its best advantage when viewed from the upper windows of the house that over looked it. Around 1770 a flight of steps was added to the rear of the garden to give access to the newly created Gravel Walk.
It has now been completely renovated and planted with only shrubs and flowers that would have been available in the 18th century.Which means that at this time of the year, early August, there are few flowers available -no repeat flowering roses for example.Luckily, the structure is interesting in itself and of course the fashionable would not be in town or Bath at this time but away on their country estates ;-) An appropriate garden seat has also been added which faces the house:
We ought to perhaps recall that the small domestic private gardens of the 18th century town house were innovations. At the beginning of the 18th century, town houses often had nothing by way of a garden but a simple paved yard, but by the advent of the early 19th century a walled garden, home to flowers and shrubs was to be found at the rear of the terraced house homes of the middling and upper classes who lived in English cities. The Georgian Garden in Bath is a remarkable survivor of this type of garden, and if you are visiting Bath do not miss it. It is not advertised much at all and is almost hidden in the corner of the Gravel Walk. But do seek it out: its secluded peace is great to explore and the atmosphere is very different to the walled gardens to be found in towns today.