Friday, November 30, 2012
You know how it is. The road you drive along often is the one you don't look at properly. Whenever I visit Bath I drive into town along London Road, registering various architectural highlights (a Georgian terrace here, a shop front with stained glass there), but not stopping to look properly. So the other day, encouraged by a picture in Michael Forsyth's Bath in the Pevsner City Guides series, I decided to stop outside Grosvenor Place, one of the terraces that runs alongside London Road, and have a look. I'm glad I did.
Architect-builder John Eveleigh started Grosvenor Place in 1791. The idea was to have a swanky central section containing a hotel, with houses on either side. Eveleigh was making a lot of money on speculative building schemes of this kind in Bath, and this site, fronting one of the city's pleasure gardens, seemed like a winner. But in 1793 there was a financial crisis. England and France started a war, the cost of credit rocketed, and Eveleigh, like many of Bath's other builders, found himself in money trouble. He was soon bankrupt, his share in the project was sold, and work on the terrace was halted when it was half done. The project was only completed years later.
Some of the decoration on the building was never finished – three of the oval panels on the facade, for example, were left uncarved. But even so, the central portion of the terrace is extraordinary. It's an extravaganza with giant columns adorned with garlands (towards the bottom of each column is a plain stone band: presumably this too was meant to be carved into a garland, another job left undone). There are seven columns, a very unclassical odd number which means that the central column is right above the doorway. All very unorthodox and eye-catching.
Among the details I especially like are the little masks on the keystones above some of the windows. Their faces are made of icicles, a motif that Eveleigh also used on another Bath building, Somerset Place. These chilly faces are in marked contrast to the richer carving of the rest of this centrepiece, as if casting a cold eye on all the frivolity around them. Financial crisis? Yes, we know what you mean…