The origins of a road – Shakespeare Avenue and Bear Flat

Bear Flat, Poets Corner and Beechen Cliff –

Bear Flat is south of central Bath, largely built during the early years of the reign of King Edward VII. The Wellsway runs through Bear Flat and originally this was the main pilgrimage route from Bath (with its Abbey) to Wells (with its cathedral).

‘Flat’ may be derived from the flatness of the land – most of Bath is very hilly. ‘Bear’ has nothing to do with the animal depicted on the local pub but is believed to be a corruption of the Anglo-Saxon name ‘Berewick’ – ‘Bere’ meaning barley and ‘Wick’ being a settlement – a settlement near a barley field.  This was later incorporated into a farm which, in the 19th century was called ‘Barrack Farm’, then demolished to make way for housing. Before the Poets Corner estate came into existence it was gardens and farmland, land on which the Bath and West Show was held until the 1850’s.

Bath from Beechen Cliff

To reach Bear Flat from the centre of Bath, the original route was up Holloway (‘Holy Way’). This follows the medieval pilgrimage route and had a pilgrims church with a ‘Holy’ well (now fairly dilapidated and without water). Due to the steepness of Holloway (stagecoaches often had to stop at the Bear pub for refreshments) a later turnpike road (the Wells Road or Wellsway) was built around 1770 which climbs more gently.

The slopes of Beechen Cliff were formerly called Blake or Black Leigh and known as the herb garden of Bath Apothecaries. Beechen Cliff has been a source of inspiration for many, including Jane Austen, John Wood and Thomas Hardy.  The famous painter Walter Sickert immortalized the area in his painting “Paradise Row, Holloway”.

Given the 7 local roads named after poets, it would be easy to assume how Poets Corner got its name. However, the estate was built by a family of devoutly religious builders (from 1899 onwards)and it may well be an additional homage to Poets Corner in Westminster Abbey – all of the poets named in the Bath estate are either buried there or have a memorial in place. A brief summary of the lives of each poet can be found elsewhere on our blog (search for “Poets Corner”).

Kipling Av

 The trees in Kipling Avenue were the focus of controversy in 1909.  At a meeting of the Pleasure Grounds Committee on 8 March, the residents presented a petition calling for trees to be planted, pointing out that Shakespeare Avenue had already been planted up at a cost of £25.  A Mr Maule objected, saying that ‘it’s time this expenditure was stopped’.  Councillor Thomas objected that the builders had ‘christened the estates avenues and expected the Corporation to make them so’.  Councillor Jackman said he thought that the builders or residents should plant them.  The committee decided against planting the trees.

 On 18 March, a letter appeared in the Chronicle from a Mr T Anstey condemning the decision, and calling on the council to ‘emulate Ealing, the “Garden Suburb”.  I remember Pulteney Street before the trees were planted,’ he went on. ‘How much more beautiful it is now, even though the trees might have been better selected.  I also remember the plane tree planted in Abbey Green by Mr J B Yates.  What about a row of trees in dreary London Road from Grosvenor to Walcot and some in Wellsway?’

 The issue was raised again at the next meeting of the Pleasure Grounds Committee in early April, where it was pointed out that three out of four avenues in Poet’s Corner had already been planted with trees at a cost of £55 and it was unfair to leave out Kipling Avenue.  It was eventually decided to proceed with planting ‘when practicable’.  (Extract from ‘The Year of the Pageant’ Elliot & Swift).

Poets Corner

Shakespeare Avenue –

Shakespeare Avenue is first listed in local street directories in 1900, with only Nos1 through 5 occupied. The builder, John Drake, lived at No1 but the first resident to catch my eye was a Mrs E Bateman-Hart whose profession is listed as “practical phrenologist”. Phrenology was a pseudoscience primarily focused on measurements of the human skull, based on the concept that the brain is the organ of the mind, and that certain brain areas have localized, specific functions or modules. It was developed by German physician Franz Joseph Gall in 1796.

Between 1901 and 1905, houses numbered 1 through 43 were built and sold. Notable first residents were George T Bowler in No17 in 1902 (part of the family firm J B Bowler & Sons, whose Bath engineering and fizzy pop factory is celebrated at the Museum of Bath at Work) and Miss M.E Walker (also at No17 in 1903 and the headmistress of St Pauls School in Avon St).

In 1906, the number of houses built necessitated re-numbering of the existing properties and the street became numbered odds and evens on left and right hand sides. John Drake’s house at No1 became No9.

By 1908 the street was complete up to No107 (LHS) and 72 (RHS). The house we are interested in first appears as occupied in this year. Below is a brief summary of occupation and occupiers from date of build and in the years up to the end of WW1;

  • 1908 – 1910 – Mrs Hopcroft and Mr Brewer
  • 1911 – Albert Lewis (engineer)
  • 1912 – vacant
  • 1913 – C.S Macdonald (violinist)
  • 1914 – Robert T McCahey
  • 1915 – Edward H Roberts (assistant)
  • 1916 – 1921 – Leonard L Wooster

The property –

Shakespeare Av

Situated opposite Byron Rd on the upper reaches of Shakespeare Avenue, right next to the green expanses of Alexandra Park and wonderfully convenient for Bear Flat shopping. A substantial Edwardian two storey three double bedroom family home with two receptions, long rear kitchen/breakfast room, south facing gardens and even a single garage to rear. 1151 sqft of spacious and light accommodation, plenty of scope to extend into the loft space (stnp), character features, GCH via combi boiler and double glazing. Sole Agents.

Kitchen/Breakfast Room

Shakespeare Avenue floorplan


Sitting Room

Full details can now be found on our website by clicking here.