Thursday, 16 April 2020

'The Sack of Bath' - Adam Fergusson

During these times of isolation, social distancing and almost-lockdown in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, like many people I am seeking comfort in books. So whether anyone wants it or not, I will be writing about the books I've been reading.



Book six already? Actually, given we are four weeks in, this seems pathetic. Time has taken a very elastic nature lately and seems to be racing by when it comes to actually doing anything, and crawling by when it comes to thinking about The Future. We are stuck. We are unable to make plans.

I no longer seem to be seeking 'comfort literature' and instead am just devouring books. And yes, this is the second book by a man on this blog in as many weeks. What on earth is the world coming to?

Well, this is an absolutely furious book and maybe fury is what we need right now. Originally written in 1973 and reprinted a handful of times since (this edition is, of course, by Persephone Books and, if you want a copy, please do buy direct from the publisher to best support an independent, women-led business), The Sack of Bath by Adam Fergusson is about the unforgivable destruction of Georgian Bath at the hands of nonsensical town planning decisions. 

I have already written about the anger-inducing bulldozing of the historically unique Suffragettes' Wood at Batheaston here (it features prominently in Volume One of my book The Women Who Built Bristol and I regularly talk about it in my public talks, but it makes me so cross). But it is the wrecking ball that was taken to the central areas of Bath that dominate Adam's book here. Coming in at just 77 pages, plus Adam's 2010 foreword, this is a brief book, but I'm not sure how much more righteous anger the reader could take. Liberally illustrated with before and after photographs showing the appalling decisions the planners took, it is clear to see which side of right or wrong anyone reading this would fall on. 

Aside from Adam's anger, what I also noticed while reading The Sack of Bath was the absence of any women's names. It wasn't something I deliberately looked for, but save for a nod to Jane Austen, who only briefly lived in Bath, all of the historical references alluded to, all of the council officials and decision makers and architects slurred in the book - every single one of them is male. Of course, that partly says something about the role of women in official positions during the 1960s and 1970s, but women were starting to be 'allowed' into such jobs back then. That Dorothy Brown was tirelessly working to save Bristolian buildings from a similar fate during the same time period (again, you can read much more about Dorothy and her amazing work in Volume One of The Women Who Built Bristol) shows that it was evidently possible for women to campaign, fight and - most importantly - be heard in matters of town planning during these decades. 

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