No Swinging on Sundays

by Kirsten Elliott

The Story of Bath’s Lost Pleasure Gardens.

Bath’s pleasure gardens are gone beyond recall. Yet in their heyday they were as central to the city’s social life as its assembly rooms, pump room or parades. Far from being genteel retreats for the horticulturally minded, they were where well-heeled visitors came to party. With lamplit groves and labyrinths, grottoes and supper boxes, and a seemingly never-ending round of concerts and circus acts, balloon ascents and firework displays, they were loud and lively.

Although dedicated to the pursuit of pleasure, there was often little joy for those who ran them. Ruthless rivals and fickle fashions, grand galas washed out by rain and spectacular firework displays ending in disaster meant their ventures often ended in failure and bankruptcy.

Against all the odds, the grandest of them all, Sydney Gardens, opened in 1795, survives as a public park. Shorn of its attractions and cut in two by a railway line, it takes imagination to conjure up the image of revellers treading its gravelled paths in search of excitement and exercise – though no swinging was tolerated on Sundays. In 2018, however, Heritage Lottery Funding was secured for the restoration of these historic gardens. To mark their reinvention as a pleasure garden for 21st-century Bath, over half the book is devoted to their extraordinary story.

In this groundbreaking book, based on years of research, Kirsten Elliott not only sheds new light on life in the Georgian city and dispels many long-held myths and misconceptions, but shows how much fun the history of Georgian Bath can be.