Exploring the local history of Bath from inside the property industry

Great Pulteney Street

I make no secret of my passion for local history and thoroughly enjoy poking around the library or searching the web to see what I can learn. I’m also an avid collector of old photographs, postcards and maps of Bath, which always brings complaints from the kids when I drag them yet again to a local antiques fair or flea market. I think knowing the history of your locality can throw up all sorts of interesting opportunities – whether you fancy just discovering forgotten corners of Bath to explore for a Sunday walk or evaluating how your surroundings have changed over time and forecasting how they might change further, there’s always a way to find your place in the evolution of your local area.

Beechen Cliff view

The best thing about local history is that you don’t need to be an expert to join in – there are hundreds of publications on every aspect of the history of Bath and, wherever your interests lie, someone has probably been there before you and written the book. If you want to start with a broad overview, try Haddon’s “Portrait of Bath” or “A History of Bath” by Graham Davis & Penny Bonsall but there are also more specific histories of certain districts of the city (Joan Hargood-Ash’s book on Weston is a particularly good example of this). Maps are available from different times in the history of the city, both in libraries and on the web. However, if you just want to dip your toe in the water, try popping down to the central library and looking through their collection of Kellys directories. Why not use these to track the occupation of your property back through the years and see the changes in who lived there or in your street?

City Steam Transport Co

Since we opened Madison Oakley, I’ve been working on adding a historical aspect to our property business. This is of course not new or revolutionary – there are professional house historians of course – but I wanted to research a little about each property we have been asked to sell and this has also allowed me to build up an archive of information on our blog. It is amazing what you can unearth with a little time and effort – for example, last week’s research on a Weston cottage brought up locations of 17th century lime kilns, Georgian pleasure gardens and an 1840s venue for racket sports I had never known existed. As is often the case, the main info gathering has also led to some spin off projects – I’m still to finish researching the history of all the Oldfield Park street names but have already tracked the evolution of Moorland Roads shops from 1880 onwards.

George Street

Anyway, enough of what we do. Does it actually make any difference to selling peoples homes? Well, from the feedback we receive, yes it does. Not only are viewers constantly commenting on how interesting they find the information (which also differentiates us from other agents in the area), it also seems very reassuring to them to know the provenance of the property. Its a bit like antiques I think. Added to this, if we as agents have a deeper understanding of the history of the property and the area, it allows us to answer more of the viewers questions with authority – always important to the buying decision and even more so if the viewer is not from round here. We can show how areas have changed in profile over time which is useful in challenging preconceptions and also highlighting which parts of the city are on the up. Lastly, we have been able to correct quite a few out of area surveyors on perceived faults with properties that actually have a historical origin (WWII bomb damage being a prime example).

Holloway view

As an aside, I sent a set of property details to a client last week and she emailed back to say “as a historian I really appreciate the historic context you include in your descriptions”. Since it turns out she is a senior curator at one of Bath’s museums, I was very pleased but at the same time went straight back to check my information as I was terrified that I might have made mistakes in my research!

Milsom Street 1898

So, whether you’re selling a property or not, I hope this inspires you to find out more about the history of our city. If you fancy browsing through our blog for info or even doing some research of your own, best of luck and do let me know if I can help.

Best wishes