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The Sack of Bath

by Adam Fergusson
Persephone book no:

92 93 94


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A Well Full of Leaves
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PREFACE BY THE AUTHOR
77pp
ISBN 9781903155837

The Sack of Bath is a fierce and angry polemic. Through words and photographs it is unashamedly outspoken, outraged and vituperative. The reason for the anger is as follows: in the 1960s local council officials in Bath took it upon themselves to draw up plans to demolish large swathes of artisan housing while retaining the set pieces such as the Royal Crescent. As a result, hundreds of small Georgian houses, of the kind that it is nowadays everyone’s dream to live in, were brutally bulldozed. Adam Fergusson (with the late James Lees-Milne) wrote an article in The Times about what was happening and then turned it into a book. This had the benefit of distressing and poignant photographs by, among others, Snowdon, EL Green-Armytage and David Wood (it is impossible, now, to be certain who took which photograph: all were giving their services pro bono). This is a short, 80 page book – but every page is illustrated.

Here is the first sentence of Adam Fergusson's new Persephone Preface: ‘The Sack of Bath was the product of the collective cultural blindness of those who ran Bath four decades ago, and of the simmering, bursting indignation of those who cared about it.’ He continues: ‘The Sack of Bath’s publication in 1973 was the culmination of an already prolonged effort to lever the progressive destruction of Bath’s Georgian character into the popular consciousness. If it came too late to save much, it was in time to save a great deal more – and not only in one city.’ And it is true, the book had a much wider effect than the purely local, for example the fight to save Covent Garden was helped by Adam Fergusson's rage. So it is an important book and an influential one, which is in many respects as relevant nowadays as when it was first published nearly fifty years ago.

Endpaper

'The Stones of Bath' 1962, a textile designed by John Piper for Sanderson and Son.  


Read What Readers Say

Stuck in a Book

‘The Sack of Bath’ was written in the 1970s as a rallying cry about the destruction of Bath’s beautiful Georgian architecture. Fergusson writes about it rather eloquently: “The set pieces – Royal Crescent, the Circus, Milsom Street, the Pump Room, and so on – stand glorious and glistening. But now, more and more because the devastation goes on, they have become like mountains without foothills, like Old Masters without frames. The Bath of the working classes, the Bath which made Beau Nash’s fashionable resort possible, has been bodily swept away. Irreplaceable, unreproducible, serendipitous Bath is either being wrenched out pocket by pocket or bulldozed in its entirety.” It’s hard not to get worked up and cross when one sees the before-and- after pictures of streets which were knocked down and replaced with architectural horrors. This is not an academic’s careful analysis – this is impassioned. Thank goodness Fergusson wrote this book, helping stem the tide of wanton destruction – and, now, it’s a really engaging cultural document.

Colin Amery

It may have been first published in 1973, but reading it again in this elegant re-print, Adam Fergusson’s ‘The Sack of Bath’ remains a real shocker. The fury of his polemic against the powers in Bath that seemed hell-bent on destroying everything except a few grand Georgian set-pieces in that beautiful city still has a terrible relevance today. Looking at the photographs of acres of modest stone houses being reduced to rubble to be replaced by unbelievably low grade “comprehensive redevelopment” is utterly depressing. Even more lowering is Fergusson’s account of the elevated and titled collaborators who advised the city that to build the “new” and “iconic” was morally superior to repair and restoration. This slim volume exposed exactly how aesthetically uneducated planners and architects were some 40 years ago and they still are today.

Categories: Architecture History Men (books by)

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