IABSE 2017

I love Bath. It is far enough from home to present a refreshing change and a place of retreat and has enough interest to satisfy my every need. Bath is a small town but still supports more than its share of upper middle class shops and attractions. Much of it (as an engineer) I cannot afford to indulge, but just walking and soaking in remains enjoyable.

Just wandering the streets, there are issues of construction, conservation and engineering to be seen at every turn. I have mapped some of the things that have intrigued me. No doubt you will find others. Perhaps you could let me know, bill@obvis.com.

Can I recommend three books for different levels of absorption.

Exploring Bath by Keith Dallimore is a rare delight. Full of sketches and hand written notes such as used to adorn the best structural drawings. Without it, you would certainly miss a lot. It is only £4.50 and weighs in at 107g so not much penalty to carry home.

The Building of Bath was written and compiled by Christopher Woodward for the Bath Preservation Trust It weighs 170g and is scarcely a penalty to carry (or even to post home at a push). It discusses the history, geography and architecture through to detailed issues of construction and decoration. It is an ideal companion to a visit to the Museum of Bath Architecture, which is also recommended for a visit, however brief.

A definitive detailed guide is probably beyond the scope of a short visit but might provide entertainment and the Pevsner Architectural Guide to Bath by Michael Forsyth is comprehensive but weighs over 600g. That is published by Yale University Press.

If you are interested in stone construction but not well versed in the background, a visit to the Museum of Bath at Work is recommended. They have rebuilt a section of stone mine with all the tools and equipment on display. The stone was mined rather than quarried because it is much easier to work when green.

If your time is very limited, don't miss the Circus and Royal Crescent (after dinner is fine). Walk up from the Abbey by Milsom Street, George Street, Gay Street and then from the Circus along Brock Street to the Crescent. If you are a bridge engineer you should then (not at night!) round the crescent and descend Marlborough Buildings and Marlborough lane to Upper Bristol Road. Turn right and first left to Victoria Bridge. It is one of very few remaining Dredge suspension bridges with tapering wrought iron chains and inclined hangers. From there back to town is a short walk but it would be best to avoid the main roads if possible. I would suggest along the North bank to Nelson Place thence to Great Stanhope Street, Left into Little Stanhope Street, Right onto Upper Bristol Road and left fork into Charlotte Street which will bring you to Queens Square. Incidentally, the square forms the blade of a great key of which Gay Street is the shaft and the Circus the handle. Another Masonic symbol.

If you would like a walk in the country, or perhaps hire a bike, the Dundas aqueduct is rather lovely. Designed by John Rennie, it carries the Kennet and Avon Canal over the river Avon and the railway. It’s about 3k from the city or 2km from the university. In both cases, of course, over a big hill. On a cycle, you might prefer the 8km or so round the canal towpath which can be quiet and beautiful.

Also, out of town but located on the map are the locks at Combe Hay on the Somerset Coal Canal. William Smith was an engineer here under John Rennie. While excavating for the canal he observed the stratification of rocks and went on to map the surface geology of the whole of England and Wales and part of Scotland.

The first attempt here was a single Caisson lock in which the boat was sealed in a caisson and raised or lowered completely submerged. That didn’t work and was replaced with an inclined plane and finally a flight of 22 normal locks.

Do enjoy your visit.

Bill Harvey