Around 20 years ago, an old photograph album came our way. Many of the photos it contained showed two young men on holiday in Bath in 1909. They were keen golfers and around half a dozen of the shots showed them playing golf on Lansdown. The photographs of where they stayed were even more interesting. They called it ‘our bungalow’, but it was in fact an old railway carriage. Shots entitled ‘view from bungalow’ appear to show Brockham End, and one caption noted that the Bristol Channel could be seen 11 miles off.
Among the places they visited and photographed were Royal Victoria Park, Hedgemead Park, Pulteney Bridge and the canal at Widcombe. They also ventured to Clifton, Wells, Cheddar and Dundas Aqueduct. One photograph, though, featured a location we were unable to identify. It showed a small cottage with another building at the back, and, to the side of it, a ruinous wall with a large blocked-up window that looked fairly ancient. The caption only added to the mystery. It simply read: ‘Bath – When one cottage falls down, they build another at side & — move.’
Having looked at this photograph from time to time over the years, and failed to get any closer to hazarding a guess as to where it might it be, I thought the chances were that it would forever remain a mystery. Now, though, we think we might have come up with an answer.
Reading through the Summer 2017 Newsletter of the Ancient Monuments Society, I was interested to see an entry for Hinton Priory near Bath. A geophysical survey of the correrie or lower house, which was some way from the main priory buildings, in an area known today as the Friary, had revealed ‘the presence of important below-ground archaeological remains.’ As this is a spot we knew well, having walked past it on numerous occasions, I checked the revised entry on the Historic England website (https://www.historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1434671) and decided to go and have another look at the site.
Although, as indicated in the report, most of what had been discovered was below ground, the report also drew attention to a building known as Woodman’s Cottage (ST788591):
‘A field investigation carried out in 1995 (RCHME) suggested that one of the cottages at the site, Woodman’s Cottage, incorporates some C14 masonry, though it is unclear whether these fragments have been re-used. The Hinton Abbey Estate map of 1785 depicts a large building with an L-shaped footprint in this location indicating that Woodman’s Cottage represents the surviving eastern part of a larger building. It retains a fireplace with four-centred arched surround of C17 date, and it is likely that the building was constructed at this time but using some earlier fabric … Further dressed stone is evident in the gardens of Woodman’s Cottage and River House (Whistler’s Hollow on the current Ordnance Survey map) to the north-west. Groundwork in advance of the construction of an extension to the east gable end of Woodman’s Cottage in the early C21 uncovered a section of walling some 3m wide which may relate to the larger building shown in this location on the 1785 estate map.
Given the importance of Woodman’s Cottage, which we had hitherto been unaware of, we naturally paid it more attention than we had paid it before, and it was while heading across to it that it struck me that this could possibly be our mystery building. When we got home and looked through the album again, however, the building in the photograph looked nothing like it. The setting, however, looked right, and there was something about it that suggested that, despite many changes, it was the right building. Another visit seemed to confirm this. The cottage had been extended, the ruinous wall either been taken down or reconstructed to form one of the walls of a new building, while a building shown at the back in the photograph – and whose existence was confirmed by an OS map from the 1880s – had been demolished. For the moment, though, the identification of this as our mystery building remains tentative, until such time as those familiar with the building have had chance to take a look at it. But, if it is correct, it might just provide another piece of the jigsaw that makes up the history of the extraordinary building.