By Harry Mottram. Step through the woods of Carrs Wood in Twerton along the path and you will come to a laurel bush and a set of ornate stone steps.
The trees are mainly mature beech trees – a classic English woodland – so what is a laurel bush and these stone steps doing here?
They are the last traces of a once grand country garden belonging to the Carr family who lived in Wood House nearby.
Part of the house has been incorporated into the complex of buildings run by the Action on Hearing Loss (RNIB) off Pennard Green – but apart from that a few specimen trees, the extensive gardens attached to the 19th century country house are long disappeared. And in a way there is some social justice to the changes with social housing and a number of organisations helping to improve the lives of citizens from a school to a community resource centre now occupying much of the area.
Local entrepreneur Charles Wilkins constructed Wood House in 1838 and laid out the gardens while below in the village of Twerton his workers lived in comparative poverty.
Wilkins owned the fuller mills on the River Avon and employed many women and children in the industry – some as young as seven – whose fingers turned blue from the chemicals and dyes used in the textile industry.
He also sank a coal mine nearby, again employing children amongst his workforce and like many a Victorian businessman also helped to improve some of the infrastructure of the area such as the roads.
The estate and ownership of the mills was acquired by the Carr family in 1847 who lived in the big house and dominated village life right through into the 20th century. A sad reflection on society that one family could live in such luxury while below their home in Twerton toiled children in what local author Joe Scofield described as ‘appalling conditions’.
Joe spoke to Somerset Live when he published his novel A Dark Past which although set in the here and now echoes the lives of the children who worked in the mills owned by the Carr family.
He told Eddie Bingham: “There were recently some student lots built on the site of the mill and it would be nice to commemorate the generations of people who worked there. They endured appalling conditions to produce some of the finest woollen cloth in the world and they’re completely forgotten about”.
His point was the lives of ordinary people and women and children workers in particular who created the wealth for the Carrs were passed over in the collective memory of the village.
Thankfully by the time the Carrs took over the mills the 1833 Factory Act banned children under nine from employment in the mills but it wasn’t until 1901 that children under 13 could no longer be employed as full time factory workers – and instead could finally go to school.
• For more visit https://www.bathintime.co.uk/; Mike Chapman’s The High Street, Twerton – an historical survey; and A Dark Past by Joe Schofield remains in print and is available online or from all good book shops in Bath: and this group are brilliant: https://historyofbath.org/
For more on Bath visit http://www.harrymottram.co.uk/bath-voice/bath-news/
More news of Bath’s chic community in Bath Voice magazine – now out – or read online at https://issuu.com/bathvoice