Tuesday, April 29, 2014
Walking out of the centre of Bath and up Bathwick Hill, one gradually leaves behind the urban Georgian world of symmetrical crescents and terraces and comes upon another, different Bath, a Bath of asymmetry and greenery. Here, in the 1830s and 1840s, a number of large, Italianate villas were constructed, to bring a breath of the South to these otherwise very English slopes.
These houses wear their Italianate origins on their sleeve. It even begins with the names on the gate piers – Casa Bianca, La Casetta, Fiesole. These villas are essays in the Picturesque, the asymmetrical style of the early-19th century, in which towers, balconies, loggias, chimneys, and overhanging roofs are assembled to produce enticing, rather Romantic houses. Openwork balusters, and ornate chimneys add further ornate notes, although there are also typical classical details such as quoins and large keystones.
All this material was marshalled by architect Henry Edmund Goodridge to produce houses like Fiesole, the one in my photograph. Goodridge, son of a successful Bath builder, built up a large practice in Somerset and Wiltshire. He attracted prominent patrons like William Beckford, whose Lansdown Tower he designed, and this brought him numerous domestic jobs in the area, many of which show this willingness to mix Italianate and Classical styles.
This bit of Italy in Somerset is a little known aspect of Bath and embodies a different architectural approach from those we normally expect to find in the city. The Pevsner city guide to Bath finds their design ‘formulaic, heavy-handed and lacking charm’. True, the concatenation of gables and projections, the jagged roof edges and the unbalanced facades hardly add up to great architecture. But I have a bit more time for them than the Pevsner guide. I’m rather fond of this lumpy collection of varied masses. In addition, my photograph, taken on a sunny afternoon, shows the practicality of the loggias, which are providing shade (on the upper floor) and sheltered sunshine (at ground level), a combination that works as well in England as in Italy. Once the preserve of well-heeled owners, today, these facilities are available to a wider public because Fiesole is a Youth Hostel.