070324.Claverton Down, The Sun Through Hail, Sleet and Snow

March 24, 2007 at 4:47 AM | Posted in Bath, Claverton Down, cumulus clouds, Flowers, somerset | 3 Comments

It was a practically a cloudless day when this black cloud rolled along and started shooting out hail (the white pebbles below). What can you do?

070323.Widcombe, Fell Off a Dock in the Fog

March 23, 2007 at 12:23 AM | Posted in Architecture, Bath, Bath Abbey, Cathedrals and churches, cemeteries - churchyards - and tombstones, Chisel Marks, Columns, Conservation, Corinthian Order, Foggy & Misty, Gardens & Parks, Monuments and Memorials, Overcast, Sculpture, somerset, Widcombe | 4 Comments

This is the Bath Abbey Cemetery Mortuary Chapel (Grade II Listed) and the Grade II Listed Jane Weeks Williams (of 6 Claremont Place, Walcot, c.1848) Memorial,
Mini Temple in the Greek Revival style- (signed by White, monumental mason)
“The Williams Memorial is a magnificent white marble miniature open Greek temple raised up on a penant stone pedestal. Four pained sets of fluted columns with lotus and acanthus leaf capitals support a canopy over a draped urn flashed by an angel and a female mowner. The equally elaborate inscription is to Jane Wiliams who died at her residence, 17 Kensington Place, Bath, in 1848 aged 88. One side of the base comemorates 17-year-old Henry Williams, ‘who by accidentally falling off the West India docks in a dense London fog was unfortunately drowned’ in 1853.” –Bath Abbey Cemetery Tombstone Tour, 1999

070322.Claverton, “More Wright than Wrong”

March 22, 2007 at 3:10 AM | Posted in Architecture, Bath, Chisel Marks, Claverton, Claverton Down, countryside, doorways, Light and Shadow, somerset, towns, University of Bath | 3 Comments

“A doctor can always bury his mistakes but an architect can only advise where to plant a vine.”

–Frank Lloyd Wright

070226.128.Somset.Claverton.Basset Farm House
Basset Farm House, Claverton
070226.127.Somset.Claverton.Basset Farm House
070226.129.Somset.Claverton.Basset Farm House
vs. Bath University Campus, Claverton Down: This blank concrete panel wall faces the only scenic part of the campus, so grow little vine grow!

070321.Swainswick, “Cave Canum”

March 21, 2007 at 3:44 AM | Posted in Architecture, Conservation, countryside, Dogs, doorways, Overcast, somerset, Swainswick, towns | 4 Comments

Behold Prince and Beauty, who are not the seven bay buttressed 1629 Manor House barn with its tie beams and collar-beam roof that lies at the end of this inconveniently private drive. Yaaargh. 070205.43.Somset.Swainswick
A good conservationist, or downright tourist for that matter, should always carry some bacon in his/her pocket while (excuse me, “whilst”) traveling ’round the countryside — just in case one encounters a “fleabag.” (Dad’s term, not mine.)

070320.Bath, Shiny Emergency

March 20, 2007 at 1:14 AM | Posted in Actors in Period Costumes, Architecture, Bath, Conservation, Crescents, Light and Shadow, Mansion, Peephole Views, people, Reflection, somerset, Supernatural | 4 Comments

Door handle of One Royal Crescent’s Drawing Room.

One hundred beeswax candles lit equals the light given off by one 60-watt light bulb. Although it may be romantic to have that many candles lit


in a room, it’s expensive and dangerous as well. Before the choice of electric or gas, candles or oil lamps of any kind were expensive and thus used sparingly. However, when they were inevitably used, precautions had to be taken in the event they burned down the house. Thus lamp and candle-era door handles, knobs, etc. were shiny to reflect the light of a carried candle or a raging inferno. If you needed to get out fast, you could find the exit. These were the equivalent of red-light EXIT sign boxes you see everywhere that are positioned throughout large spaces to aid in their two and a half minute evacuation. In Micahel Forsyth’s book “Buildings of Music,” (I don’t have it in front of me so don’t quote me) he figured out that theatres in particular burned down on average ever [number under 10, I think] years.

Most aesthetics of that long gone age reflected this necessity, and as gas and electric overtook commonplace lighting, so too did non-shiny, duller, more subtle colors overtake fashion. Today, we see shiny as somewhat tacky. (Although its use in architecture has been resurrected with the starchitects’, like Gehry’s, use of the aesthetically superficial to have their building stand out on glossy magazine covers.) Who wants an old mirror frame re-gilded to its shiny former like-new self? Basically, shiny doesn’t work in terms of modern aesthetics: think Liberace.

[Above: Liberace and “the World Famous Liberace Museum” in…Las Vegas. Below: The Great Lafayette. The story is paraphrased from JK GILLON’s article.]
Now, for a second, think of a different Liberace a long time ago in a place far far away: Edinburgh, Scotland, May 1911. One of the greatest and most popular magicians of Europe was the Great Lafayette, the highest paid entertainer on the continent at that time. His shows immediately sold out everywhere he went and featured numerous illusions, large-scale stage shows, a fantastic mechanical teddy bear, midgets galore, and exotic animals too!

The magician himself was somewhat of showstopper. As a “bachelor recluse,” he lived with his cross-bred terrier named Beauty, a gift from the great Harry Houdini. Beauty was certainly loved by its owner, who had a metal statue of the dog cast for his limo hood ornament. Lafayette bought the dog a pure gold diamond-studded collar, velvet cushions, a minature porcelain bathtub that was fitted on his private railcar. This magician lived for his dog.

But then, the unthinkable happened — Beauty died (curiously enough, of apoplexy caused by overfeeding – the same thing that French chefs do to the foie gras geese and also what probably killed by gerbil)! The magician could barely go on, he had his beloved dog embalmed and buried in what became his own plot in Peirshill Cementery, on a mound near the Portobello Road entrance.

This death of a loved one came four days into his two week show at the Empire Theatre, Edinburough. That Tuesday on the 9th of May, 1911, during the second evening performance, the shiny satin-costumed Lafayette was still grieving but had continued to perform and made it through almost the entirety of the show. All that remained was the finale, called “The Lion’s Bride.”

It started off easily enough, Lafayette charmed the audience by pulling out not a hare but an entire goat from the folds of his satin pants, quickly followed by the usual flocks of birds (extracted from a still shinier sequined-handkerchief). Then Lafayette vanished, then he reappeared, then he switched identities with his assistants, you know, the usual. But the act involved a staged “exotic” “Oriental” set, complete with tapestries, cushions, tents, curtains, carpets, etc. There was a caged African lion, fire-eaters, jugglers, acrobats – basically, everyone who was anyone. The whole stage seemed full of people who had previously appeared. A scantily-clad woman entered the lion-filled cage, which was then covered (to allow the sedate lion to be poked and roar), then the covering was lifted and suddenly the magician was in the cage! Fooled you, he’s the lion’s bride.

The crowd went wild, everyone always loved that act, it was a great way to end the show. Lafayette got out and bowed but in so doing he knocked over an “exotic” lamp, which quickly set the “exotic” curtains, carpets, and cushions alight.

What did the crowd think? Oh good! There’s more. Let’s stay seated. Soon the exotic blaze engulfed the footlights and edged to the stall seating. Stage hands, assistants, orchestra members and off-stage performers suddenly broke rank and started spilling out of the woodwork, where they were hidden. As the crowd got this sneak peak and learned a few of the magician’s secrets, the fire curtain quickly fell hiding the growing inferno and the audience jumped up and fled the theatre in about two and a half minutes.

Three hours later, the fire was under control but many of the orchestra and stage-hands didn’t make it out. Neither did midget Little Joe nor 15-year-old mechanical-teddy-bear-operator Alice Dale. But where was the magician — had he vanished to safety? A few survivors claimed he had escaped but returned to save his horse. Whatever the reasons, they shortly found his charred elaborately costumed body on stage – AND THEN THEY FOUND HIM AGAIN! The second severely burned body was found in a lower basement, and this one had his diamond rings – the ones he didn’t lend out to assistants.

Later that week, his ashes were interred in the resurrected and opened casket of Beauty, in a funeral described as “one of the most extraordinary interments of modern times.” Houdini didn’t make it to the funeral but he sent flowers, a floral arrangement shaped like Beauty.

Subsequently, theatres and large arenas have to be evacuated in under two and a half minutes. Cathedral-ceiling spaces can take longer but low-ceiling spaces should be evacuated much faster.

070319.Bridgwater, Just Water Under the Bridge? (Not to Bath Brick Enthusiasts)

March 19, 2007 at 2:29 AM | Posted in bricks, river, somerset, Towers, towns | 16 Comments

This feels very pastoral to me, it seems to be the most American shot I’ve taken in England — I hope that wasn’t influenced by the warehouse factories on the bank. (Off topic but by the way, last night it snowed.)
The question came up in yesterday’s post, why the lack of an ‘e.’ The town centre contains West Quay, which faces the River Parret and it’s east bank of East Quay, where the Somerset Brick and Tile Museum is located. This must go back far since it is though the original name of this city was “Brigg,” which meant Quay and not prison. The town in the Norman period was listed as Brugie (and later Brugia) in the Domesday Book and other records. During this period it was given over to a prince named Walter Douai, and this town-fiefdom thus began to be referred to as “Burgh-Water,” “Brugg-Walter” and “Brigg-Walter.” Some speculate the town was known as “Bridge of Walter,” but today it is known as Bridgwater; so I guess it is just coincidence that the town contains a bridge, some water, and maybe a few Walters. [1] (Below: a sturdy Bridgwater Brick)
As stated yesterday, the town contains exceptional clay for bricks but terrible water full of all sorts of nasty things, which negatively impact tiles produced here. Some of the nastier things are organic debris that turns out to be exceptional and unique for the making of “Bath Bricks,” which were kinda like 18th and 19th-Century Steel wool for scrubbing clothes and metal stains. Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management mentioned Bath Bricks. It was shipped everywhere: throughout Europe, the British Empire, and the US. These were probably shipped as ballast, to some degree. And it all came from Bridgwater.

“Bath Brick

“There is a reference in Victoria County History of Somerset, vol. 2, p. 353. An article by C. J. Goodland on Bath bricks appeared in ‘the Morganian’ (magazine of Dr. Morgan’s grammar school, Bridgwater) in December 1929, continued in April 1930.
“The bricks, also known as Patent Scouring or Flanders bricks, were made until two or three years ago by John Board & Co., Bridgwater. Mud and a lime deposited by the tidal river on its banks was dug out and weathered for siz months.. Then moulded into brick shape and when dry burnt in a kiln (at a greater head than building bricks).
“For many years Bath brick manufacture was Bridgwater’s staple industry. Started about 1765. The rbciks were used pre-stainless steel for metal scouring. Large export trade to underdeveloped countries, presumably where stainless steel had not yet penetrated to the mass of the population.” [2]
Why Bath Brick? The Victorian Society and Georgian Group used to claim it was because the brick was invented by a Mr Bath, no such person has been found in the records, however. Locationwise, the brick comes from Bridgwater, not Bath (where there is no brick within the entire city!). So apparently Bridgwater brick (above) is traditionally fired at 930 degrees Celsius (typically for about a week). Bath Brick, however, is only fired at 500 to 600 degrees Celsius, which is responsible for its softer colour–one that was thought in terms of marketing to resemble the then fashionable Bath stone, hence the name.[3] [4]

“Bath Brick

“… Bridgwater clay bricks and tiles are burned at 930° Centigrade, but Bath bricks at only 500° — 600° Centigrade – above that the Bath brick becomes too hard for use as a cleaning medium. Extracted From E. Porter, ‘The Bridgwater Clay Industry’ (unpublished).”[5]
Apart from Mr Bath, there were two other crazy theories, both of which have been debunked but no one (until today) has every put forward the theory that Bath bricks were so named because in an age absent of rubber duckies, children and…and people of all ages brought bricks into the bath with them. The fact that they turned out to be good for cleaning was purely incidental. (Below:) Women making the Bricks, (and below that:) Actual Bath Brick!

“The Bath Brick

“The Clay Industry produced the “Bath Brick” or “Scourging Brick.” It had very high cleaning properties and was used to clean silver ware.
“The slime deposits on the banks of the river provided a material for manufacture of the bricks and were to become well known throughout the world. Manufacture began in the 1820’s. a patent for the brick being granted in 1823. John Browne & Company also discovered a use for the slime and was granted a patent for the manufacture of the “Bath Stone” in 1827. The slime deposits were believed to have originated from the sea, but later found that algae was carried by fresh water from land and deposited at the mouth of the river, later to be brought in with high tide and left on the banks, mostly within two miles of the old town bridge. Slime drawn in the winter months was stock-piled for manufacture in the summer. It was passed through a crude vertical mixer powdered by a horse and then extruded where women gathered the material and rolled it into balls (known as obstricking), it was then thrown into moulds by the men. They were then turned in boards and left to dry in the sun. Bath bricks were sold to France, Germany, America at 40/= per thousand. The low price for these goods was due to cheap labour and there being no tax or levy on them.
“The decline was accelerated by the introduction of substitute cleaning materials which were presented in a more attractive way to the public. However it was an industry which could have been improved upon and the properties of the slime could have been explored more. The industry was maintained for many years with an annual output of approximately 24 million.” [6]

Due to this cheap price, it was occasionally used in garden wall construction (though I doubt if any of those walls built with Bath Brick still stand.)

Q: “…The brick-dust powder was also sold here. Have you seen it in old catalogs of the 1870s and as late as 1916.[sic] Also have two different packages in my collection. One of them in a shaker or sifting can.
“Do you know if they were pulverized in England before shipping? I thought maybe that some of ‘the old timers might remember.’
“PS I have written a book about the old country general store, Its [sic] merchandise and fixtures. It is about ready for publishig [sic]. Among the few items about which I would like more information is the powdered brick.” [7]
A: “I have at last been able to run to earth some reliable information about the pulverising of Bath Bricks. I learn from a pamphlet, ‘The mysterious origin of the Bath Brick deposits of Bridwater,’ by W.G. Smith, published at Bristol in 1917, that it was the practice at that time for broken bricks (i.e., those inadvertently broken during manufacture) to be ground into powder and filled into sacks. It appears that a ‘largely increased trade in Bath brick powder’ had spring up in the years immediately preceding 1917. It appears likely from this that the manufacturers sold it in bulk to merchants, who would no doubt arrange their own individual style of packaging in such things as shakers or sifting cans.”[8]



1. Stephen Robinson. Somerset Place Names. Wimbourne: The Dovecote Press Ltd, 2002.
2. A Dunn, Letter to Frank Hawtin, Tutor Organiser, Somerset County Council, Education Museum Services, County Museum, Taunton. (22 February 1965)
3. Catherine Wells. The Bridgwater Brick and Tile Industry. Thesis, (Croydon College of Art and Design, 1982-1984): 6.
4. R. Evans, Bridgwater with and without the ‘E.’ Somerset, 1994.
5. A Dunn. Letter from Bridgwater Library to Frank Hawtin, Tutor Organiser, Somerset County Council, Education Museum Services, County Museum, Taunton. (22 March 1965)
6. Wells, The Bridgwater Brick and Tile Industry (and the Specs page)
7. A. Dunn. Letter from Laurence A. Johnson of Syracuse, New York to Mr. Angus Dunn, Librarian and Curator of the Public Library, Bridgwater, Somerset, England. (17 Nov 1957)
8. A. Dunn. Letter from the Librarian & Curator (A. Dunn) of Bridgwater, Somerset Library to the Letter to Mr. Laurence A. Johnson of 1202 Broad Street, Syracuse, New York (21 January 1958)

Letter from the Librarian & Curator of Bridgwater, Somerset Library to the Director and Secretary of Barnham Brothers, Ltd. (3 September 1963) refers to SEE ALSO other sources:
A) C. Goodland, “Bath Bricks,” in The Morganian [School Magazine], Decemebr 1929
B) Edmund Porter, “The Brick and Tile Industry [of Bridgwater] Past and Present and Events Leading to Its Mechanization” (Pamphlet) Bridgwater: John Browne & Co., Bridgwater, Ltd.
C) Compostion for the Manufacture of Artificial Stone, &c” (20 June 1827)
D) “By 12 September 1721 the plan of Kew, or Castle, Street, to be built on the former castle garden, had been approved… In January 1722 Chandos was offering to supply stone for the foundations and the buring lime (presumably debris of the castle). If he provided the clay, who, he asked, would make the bricks?* [A footnote apprended states ‘Local brickmakers were John Christopher and Tilaley: 500,000 bricks, at 1s, per thousand, and 9s, 6d. per [undescipherable] (₤78, 7s, 6d.) were ordered. Three of the Castle Street houses would require 100,000 bricks each.’]” –C. H. Collins Baker and Muriel Baker, The Life and Circumstance of James Brydges, First Duke of Chandos. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1949.

Figured this was a specialty topic that would be tough to research for anyone not in the area so I’m posting whatever I found on the subject during my one hour in the library there. Contact me if you have any questions (or the library, which clearly answers letters much more effectively). Photo of Women making the bricks and bricks with displays courtesy of the Somerset Brick and Tile Museum.


381200.Spinning Wheel.Bath Brick.Lawrence A Johnson

070318.Chilton Trinity, Chilton Tile Works

March 18, 2007 at 1:30 AM | Posted in Architecture, bricks, Chilton Trinity, countryside, somerset | 13 Comments

Hope I’m not trespassing too far into Taunton DP’s area of SW Somerset here but this was interesting. The local stone around Bridgwater is somewhat insubstantial with a high clay content but this abundant clay is perfect for brick. (See below the two walls forming the shed corner, hung with pantiles made of the same clay (and probably at the same factory) as the bricks. Actually, the tiles were probably from Chilton Tile Works while the bricks were from one of the Bridgwater companies.)
The last tile manufacturer to open in the Bridgwater area was on Square Road in Chilton Trinity (See below…the old photo is from the Somerset Brick and Tile Museum in Bridgwater, Somerset). It was opened with modern machines and up to date technology to compete again cheap French imports using new techniques. [1]
“The Chilton Tile Factory Production of Holnestead and Somerset Interlocking Tiles:
This factory when finished cost ₤850 with an extension in 1933 costing a further 35,000 [I have no idea if that is a mistake or it was a big*** extension.] It employed one hundred men and there was a good and continuous employment until the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939.
“The mechanical excavation of lay was regarded by other man-facturers (sic) as revolutionary. In a few years, it was accepted by all after they had said that the only way to win clay was by land and spade. Mechanical excavation proved necessary for survival as more and more different factories were coming to Bridgwater” [2]
Belief that the tile industry would boom at the end of the war due to the amount of bomb damage proved deceptive. The tile market in 1939, was divided between 93% clay, 3% concrete, and 4% other. In 1953, however, matters for the tile industry had turned on their heads with 89% of the tiles purchased being concrete, 4% clay, and 7% other. [3]
Why and how had this happened? Certain deficiencies in all local tiles, such as Bridgwater affected the loss of clay tile appeal. For instance, the local Bridgwater clay is of exceptional quality but the water content washed in with the clay contains chloride and calcium sulfate, which have a negative effect on the finished tiles, ultimately causing disfiguring holes or efflorescent discoloration (which is brick work is a sign of other water problems). Other nail in the coffin for the clay tile industry was a storm on the 16th of January 1959 that struck England and Wales with arctic wave of rain and frost. This one storm damaged over five million tiles.

1. Catherine Wells. The Bridgwater Brick and Tile Industry. Thesis, Croydon College of Art and Design, 1982-1984. P 15
2. Ibid, 12
3. Ibid, 15


It’s still here….but now divided into a carpet warehouse, etc.

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