By Harry Mottram: On a bicycle it takes about 39 seconds to descend but on foot to go up Holloway carrying shopping and possibly pushing a pram – allow up to 30 minutes.
Holloway connecting Bear Flat with St Mark’s Road and in previous times the bridge over the Avon where the bus station is today – is not for the faint hearted.
The heart attack inducing Holloway is one of the most ancient routes into Bath flanking Beechen Cliff and commanding views of the city – and is usually ascribed to the Romans as part of the Fosse Way or the Via di Aqua Sulia as I prefer to call it.
In Rosemarie Sutcliffe’s novel The Eagle of the Ninth the Roman soldiers trudge their way along the Empire’s trunk road and must have shuddered at the 1 in 3 steepness of Holloway (to use old money).
It is generally thought that the name ‘Holloway’ derives from the way the road became hollowed out by rain and traffic which sounds likely. Whether it was derived from the ‘Holy Way’ relating to the pilgrimage route to Glastonbury, or ‘Haul Way’ as used by John Wood the elder, well these seem like later inventions. Apparently until the 1950s the Holloway was referred to as ‘The Fosse’ or ‘Fosse Way’, – so I rest my case.
Historians believe that the Fosse Way split at Odd Down, one road heading down to a ford at Twerton, (or two fords) the other down to a bridge in Bathwick. Old photos show houses lining the road on either side – and it was once the place to live in pre-Georgian times as it was away from the old city and its smells and on a popular road where business with passing traffic was possible.
You can still see the once well appointed buildings of old in the shape of the Chapel of Saint Mary Magdalen and the adjoining Magdalen House and Paradise House with its Venetian-style windows built in1735. Holloway Turnpike was established at Bear Flat in the mid-1770s at the summit of the newly constructed Wells Road, nearby the Bear Inn and Holloway Brewery. In 1793 the trustees of the Bath Turnpike Roads called a meeting to consider an extra toll for wagons carrying quarried stone that were causing excessive damage to the road surfaces.
Half way up there is (or rather was) a horse trough placed there to quench the thirsts of our four legged friends. And there was an annual fair on Bear Flat that continued into the 19th century. Now that’s something that should be restored in Bear Flat – along with oxygen canisters at the top to help weary shoppers.
For details for the work of the journalist Harry Mottram visit www.harrymottram.co.uk and follow him on FaceBook, Twitter as @HarryThe Spiv, Instagram, YouTube and God knows where else!