To any well-read person, mention of Bath conjures up a Regency vision of elite spa bathing which makes it hard to think of the place as the abode of poverty or of industry. It is worth remembering that the eponymous wife of the Canterbury Tales is a cloth-maker who ‘passed hem of Ypres and of Gaunt’ and that Fielding’s Squire Allworthy from Tom Jones was based on Ralph Allen, who developed the local stone quarries and reformed the British postal system. Bath, in other words, was an industrial and commercial settlement as well as a leisure resort, and, as this book points out, the well-heeled who came to the town sustained a significant provision industry.
Cai Mason’s account of the area along the Avon river brings out the harder side of the town’s heritage. Alas, its buildings suffered at the hands of local government from the 1920s onwards, and were further damaged during the wartime ‘Baedeker’ raids, but foundations and small-scale artefacts survive. This readable and well-illustrated account does full justice to those who struggled to make a living here over the centuries.
Bath Quays Waterside: the archaeology of industry, commerce and the lives of the poor in Bath’s lost quayside district, Cai Mason, Wessex Archaeology, £15, ISBN 978-1911137160.
Review by David Gwyn.