070628.Bath, History of Delia’s Grotto, c. 1734June 28, 2007 at 1:56 AM | Posted in Architecture, Bath, Chisel Marks, Light and Shadow, Monuments and Memorials, river, River Avon, Ruins, somerset | 5 Comments
Delia’s Grotto, Bath: [1. Elizabeth A. Linley, 2. Richard B. Sheridan, 3. The Grotto for Scandal, 4. History of Delia’s Grotto 5. Design and Brief Context]
Although it is in back of John Wood the Elder’s well ordered 1740s North Parade houses, the grotto looks older. Scenic in nature, its alignment is to the path that runs along the river and under the North Parade Bridge (begun 1836) suggests it was not built in tandem with the North Parade houses, nor was it meant to be so completely overshadowed by the taller houses or the much more imposing and nearby bridge. Like finding modern alignments that correspond to ancient Roman roads, such as the south side of the Abbey, the path along the Avon was part of an early eighteenth-century development called Harrison’s Walk. Originally constructed in the early 1700s as a gravel extension northeast of the now demolished Lower Assembly rooms, the path connected to the Parade Gardens, constructed at the level of the site’s seventeenth-century orchard. As such, the Grotto may have been part of Harrison’s Walk as early as 1734. 
Delia’s or Sheridan’s Grotto was thought for a time “to have been built in the Spring Gardens, on the other side of the river.” The popular belief was almost certainly based upon the well-read biography of Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751-1816), in which author Thomas Moore (1779-1852) speculates the playwright’s famous verses about Elizabeth Linley to have been set in a Spring Gardens grotto, “then a fashionable place of resort.”  This assertion was widely copied down as fact. However, the 1904 discovery of “Grotto and North Parade, 1772,” by Emanuel Green established that the grotto had always been on location at Harrison’s Walk and that it was the site of the Sheridan-Linley Affair, as affirmed by common tradition.
Green writes: “In the topographical collections in the Bodleian Library at Oxford there came up a drawing entitled —A north-west view of Bath—dated 1773, and here reproduced (pictured above). Made actually at the Sheridan time it shows the elevated North parade, ‘one of those noblest walks in Europe,’ with its abrupt ending and the river passing beneath, and shows also exactly for the present purpose, the grotto, standing exactly where it stands to-day, exactly stone for stone, looking damp enough on Avon’s sedgy bank, surrounded and almost covered by foliage, and secluded enough to suit any pair of clandestine lovers. In other drawings from a different point of view trees large and small are shown here on the river bank which appears as a public spot, not as attached to any house. The arboreal surrounding and the possible seclusion have now disappeared, but,—the bridge being removed from the mind’s eye,—the early scene can be at once plainly realised and the conclusion stands out clear, that our tradition is confirmed, and that we have still here with us the veritable original Sheridan grotto.” 
The copy provided by Green of this drawing titled “Grotto and North Parade, 1772,” is reported by him to have been dated a year after. The date inconsistency is not a typed error since it was transmitted and reported on by the Somersetshire Archaeological and Natural History Society. Green’s own published copy of his lecture notes, presented to the Bath Central Library, has several corrections in his handwriting to the text but leaves the dates untouched. The most likely cause for the date to be changed in the title of the drawing reflects on Green’s own romanticism in more readily connecting the grotto to the single year Sheridan was connected to it. Nevertheless, it is a fine drawing, featuring the Parades as viewed from the north from the Recreation Grounds across the Avon and focuses on a beached small sailboat being pulled by four visible men. Needless-to-say, the view is impossible today due to the North Parade Bridge. And it is worth mentioning that the picturesquely overgrown landscape depicted in the 1770s drawing of the grotto and path matches the scene engraved by W. Watts in “South Parade,” created and dated: London: March 1, 1794. (Pictured Below)
In the 1730s, Harrison’s Walk was incorporated into Wood the Elder’s St. James’ Triangle and Parade housing block development. The walk is visible in an engraving in that architect’s Essays Towards a Description of Bath (1749). Titled “A Plan of the New Buildings at the South East Corner of the City of Bath,” the engraving is centered on the Parades and incorporates the Walk into Wood’s design of St. James’ Triangle and also into his Parade developments, where the walk runs along the river toward his proposed Royal Forum.
Although the Royal Forum in the Ham district of Bath never came to fruition, the Parade houses were realized. Constructed near the end of the architect’s life, after he had succeeded with Queen’s Square and before he had begun the King’s Circus, the Parade buildings were quite fashionable and reflected the importance instilled in them by the city’s master architect. And where the North Parade and South Parade block between Pierepont and Duke Streets enclosed their own courtyard garden, the development east of Duke Street looked out into the River Avon with Harrison’s Walk in its backyard. Wood incorporated the Walk but did not include it in plan in his 1749 engraving. There is no indication of the grotto but this does not rule out its existence since Wood did not necessarily capture the exact site in plan. An ornamental folly could easily have been missed in plan but deliberately kept on site as an additional fashionable lure.
Wood’s construction came at the time when the garden’s popularity, based on the Assembly Rooms and alfresco entertainments, was ebbing. Social scenes for entertainment began migrating around 1735 to the Spring Gardens in Bathwick. Later, John Wood the Younger’s Upper Assembly Rooms (1754-1758) transferred the social scene above to the New Town, closer to the fashionable housing of the Circus and Royal Crescent, from Simpson’s (now Lower) Assembly Rooms.
The best-published illustration of this piece of garden architecture is “Delia’s Grotto, North Parade” in Walter Ison’s Georgian Buildings of Bath (1980). The perspective drawing showing the grotto featuring a more substantial bench and is surrounded by planting with a dead tree to its left and a young willow planted at its right side. Most importantly, however, the pavilion stands independent of any garden wall, which now occupies the space of both trees. This suggests that the wall was either added after Ison’s drawing was completed, or that Ison had access to an older image.
 Michael Forsyth, Bath (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003), 208.
 Thomas Moore, Memoirs of the Life of the Right Honourable Richard Brinsley Sheridan (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, Brown, and Green, 1825), 52.
 Emanuel Green, Richard Brinsley Sheridan and Thomas Linley, Their Residences at Bath with a Notice of the Sheridan Grotto (Bath: Herald Office, North Gate, 1904), 21-23.
 Green, Richard Brinsley Sheridan and Thomas Linley, 27-28, 26.
 Green, Richard Brinsley Sheridan and Thomas Linley, 19.
 Somersetshire Archaeological & Natural History Society Proceedings of Bath & District Branch 1904-1908 (Bath: J.B. Keenr and Co., “Journal” and “Bladud” Works, 1909), 108.
 Michael Forsyth, Bath (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003), 209.
 Walter Ison, The Georgian Buildings of Bath from 1700 to 1830 (Bath: Kingsmead
Press, 1980), 80.
 Ison, The Georgian Buildings of Bath, 25.