Widcombe history – Dolemeads


On completion of the Kennet and Avon Canal in 1810, the Dolemeads was reduced to a wedge of land between the canal and the river and extending northwards from the two canal basins of the first two locks of the Widcombe flight.  From the numerous reports of the flooding in the southern part of the city it is seen that houses had been built in the Dolemeads before 1809 but they are not shown on a plan of Bath of 1810;  on a plan of 1825 there are 14 named terraces although no street names are given.  Two rows of houses on this 1825 plan are named ‘Farmers Terrace’ and Farmers Buildings’ and these perhaps confirm the story that a man named Farmer bought the land and started building here.

 By 1840 there was a major disruption to the lives of the people when the Great Western Railway built their long viaduct through the Dolemeads; this resulted in the demolition of several houses, although the general pattern of the terraces remained unchanged.

 Tyte (1898) says: “The Dolemeads were known as ‘Mud Island’ from the dirty condition on the slightest rainy provocation.  Pig stys were not unknown there, and it was used as the dumping ground for the house refuse, which a man, with a donkey and cart, collected at his leisure”.

 In 1854, Mourant Brock, the vicar of St Matthew’s Church, wrote an open letter to “The Working Men of the Parish of Widcombe” in which he referred to his concern for the people living in the Dolemeads and stated that there were three important requirements for the area:

“1. An infants’ school.  2. A Reading Room with Coffee Shop attached, 3. A Visitor and Scripture-Reader who may be helpful both to body and soul”.

 Land was purchased from the GWR and a school was built in 1855, at a cost of £350, partly under and partly against archway no 14 of the railway viaduct, and today there are still marks on the stonework where the roof had been attached.  The street that passed close to the school and continued under archway no 15 was then called Middle Lane but its present name is Broadway.  Early this century the building was used as a Mission Room.

 In his appeal for money for the school, the vicar stated that the population of the Parish of Widcombe was 5000 of whom 3000 were poor.  It is likely that the vicar’s second request was met 30 years later by the building of the Reading Room and Institute on Widcombe Hill; there is no information concerning his third requirement.

Following the ‘Housing of the Working Classes Act’ of 1890, plans were produced to improve the Dolemeads area, and in 1898 the committee in charge of the project obtained an estimate “of the cost of preparing the site at the Dolemeads and raising it to a sufficient height above flood level”, the figures quoted were: Raising the site £275. New street’ £127.  Sewers and drains’ £65. Foundations of a new street and houses, £470. 36 houses with 4 rooms at £140 each. 4 houses with 5 rooms at £165 each.

 It was decided to use brick front instead of ashlar.  The work started in 1900 and seems to have taken nearly 20 years to complete.  Advertisements were put in the local press asking for offers of land suitable for building houses for the working classes in the parishes of Widcombe and Lyncombe.  Of the offers received many were in the Dolemeads.

 Also in 1900 a new school was completed in the Dolemeads with gabled roof and mullioned windows in a mock-Jacobean style for ‘220 girls and 225 infants’.  This is now the Widcombe C of E Junior School.  The ground-floor level was constructed seven feet above playground level as a precaution against flooding.  During the flood of 1968 the playground was submerged.  Before this date a mark had been made of the wall of the school about 2 feet above the pavement level in Archway Street and this is said to show the maximum flood level and it is possible that it was made after the severe flooding of 1960.

 Red-brick houses were again put up to replace those lost in the bomb damage of April 1942.

 In about 1970, what remained of some of the old terraces in the Dolemeads were demolished, presumably because preservation would have been uneconomic.  These included Regent Terrace, Albert Terrace, Princes Buildings and Woodbine Place.  This left a derelict expanse of land which was shortly afterwards encroached on by Rossiter Road; there was also ample space for an increase in the size of the playground for the Junior School and for building the single-storey Widcombe County Infants’ School.

Extract from “Discovering Widcombe and Lyncombe” by Maurice Scott

Blog authors note – Using cumulative historical UK inflation data, a 4 room house that cost £140 to build in 1898 would theoretically now cost £14,000 to build. Workers working harder for less or products and services costing more?

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