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In the late 18th Century as a result of marriages, deaths, convoluted routes of inheritance, and a family name change, the "Pulteney" family acquired a very large parcel of land on the west bank of the River Avon, the very river that cut them off from Bath which could only be accessed by ferry. There was also an ambition and vision in the family to develop the land.
One idea was to develop an entirely new town with buildings and facilities to compete with those of Bath just across the river which was at its height as a centre for the Regency leisured and pleasured classes. That idea, in modern parlance, was parked. Instead, in the 21st Century, the legacy of those thwarted visions and ambitions is still standing in the shape of Pulteney Bridge with its architectural sanctity protected by it being designated as a Grade 1 Listed Building.
Facts and Figures
The bridge was completed in 1774 at a total cost then of £11,000, which in today's terms would be approximately £1.5 million according to the Bank of England's inflation calculator.
The span is 45 metres, or 148 feet long.
The width is 18 metres, or 58 feet.
The entire span is supported on three arches.
The architect was Robert Adams.
It is built of limestone with the roofs made from Welsh slate.
The bridge is unique to the British Isles as it is the only one that is lined by shops. There are just three other similar bridges in the world and they are the Ponte Vecchio (Italy), the Rialto (Italy), and the Kramerbrucke in Germany.
The bridge is still open to traffic but because the pedestrian areas are so wide, I was not really aware of much traffic. What I was aware of was a street of elegant shop fronts selling outdoor clothes, gifts, art, hair salons, and coffee shops. Apart from the shop signs and fronts, any visitor being resurrected from the Regency period would probably have recognized the place instantly. Looking above the shop fronts, they only have a first floor which look like they were flats or storage space for the retail outlets at street level.
I crossed the bridge on the way to the Holburne Museum and went past the "Bridge Coffee" which was full so I walked on towards the museum. On the west side of the bridge, there is a circular staircase that will take you down to the riverbank downstream of the bridge. From there you can look up and get a good appreciation of the design of the bridge and its symmetry. By the time I got there, the skies had cleared and the bridge was bathed in clear sunshine and it reminded me of a quote from J B Priestley in "The Map That Changed The World" where he says that the Jurassic limestones know "the trick of keeping the lost sunlight of centuries glimmering upon them."
The limestone on the day I was there was certainly giving sunlight back.
On the way back, Bridge Coffee was not so busy and as luck would have it there was a spare table at a window looking downstream. I ordered a pulled pork bap and a soft drink to eat in. From where I was sitting I looked down on the sweep of the three-tiered weir in constant flow while the barbecue sauce from the bap oozed down my hand and pieces of pulled pork fell on to my plate. I was among strangers whom I would never meet again so I really didn’t care if I mislaid any dignity on the plate along with the sauce and pieces of pulled pork. This really was a generous bap as baps go. The filling was thicker than the two halves of the bap and the contents were so hot my fingers almost felt like they were burning when I held it. The bap and a soft drink cost £6.50. Full marks for value for money on that one. The Bridge Coffee shop can seat up to 14 covers in its narrow confines which are no more than 10 feet wide. It is full of light, is friendly, and has good value for money so I would recommend it as a place to eat just a short walk from the main part of the city.
On the river bank where I had been standing about an hour earlier, people were sitting having their lunch or just taking in the Palladian architecture around them, a scene that has been played out countless times over the last three centuries. Annoyingly one toddler on the river bank was taking great pleasure in chasing the pigeons which she may have thought fun. I have real difficulty understanding how that child will grow up respecting birds and animals in later life?
Fully fueled and refreshed, it was time to move on to find something else in Bath before the day was out.
Pulteney Bridge from the West Bank
This is about where I could see the annoying child chasing the pigeons from Bridge Coffee.