Bath Voice Features

The lost gardens of Wood House, the children who toiled in Twerton’s mills, and the blue fingers of the fulling workers

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; 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:

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Movie: Felicity Jones as Catherine Morland and JJ Field as Henry Tilney in the 2007 film

Busy and intimidating and full of rude snobs – not the Bath of today but the Bath of Jane Austen’s Catherine Morland

By Harry Mottram. One thing hasn’t changed about Bath since the time that Catherine Morland visited the city: ‘shops must be visited and money must be spent.’
Mr Allen’s words are as true now as they were in Jane Austen’s novel Northanger Abbey which is one of the reasons that her novels still ring true – the other being the well observed characters and social conflicts which although of their time are universal and remain contemporary.
Northanger Abbey written in 1803 is not the only novel of Austen’s that features Bath but it gives a vivid description of the busy social scene as seen through the eyes of Catherine.
The coming of age novel is a gentle send up of the fad for Gothic novels of the time in which beautiful heroines are locked away in haunted castles and are rescued from bounders intent on having their wicked way with young women.
Poor Catherine is so wrapped up in the fantasies of Ann Radcliffe’s novel the Mysteries of Udolpho, that she superimposes thoughts of murder and mystery onto General Tilney of Northanger Abbey, convinced he has murdered his wife.
In Bath she is more concerned with the more prosaic problems of gaining a step on the social circle that centred on the Upper Assembly Rooms. Here together with Mrs Allen she squeezes through the throng in the hope of meeting an eligible young man.
Unfortunately she meets the ghastly upwardly mobile Thorpes, and is initially unable to spot a couple of snobs until their true nature is revealed.
Eventually she meets Henry Tilney who is more in tune with the foibles of society and the Thorpes in particular and can spot a phoney at 50 paces. Spoiler alert, he inevitably falls for Catherine.

The Jane Austen Festival in Bath – pictured in The Mirror – photo by Owen Benson

Catherine’s mission to Bath is to accompany the Allens during their stay in the city with shopping one of the activities planned.
Having settled in their lodgings in Pulteney Street Mrs Allen and Catherine head for Milsom Street and Bond Street where ‘one can step out of doors and get a thing in five minutes’.
In an encounter with Henry Tilney, he and Mrs Allen discuss the merits of the muslin that Catherine has bought from one of Bath’s retailers. She remarks: “Bath is a charming place, sir; there are so many good shops here.”
Another centre of socialising was the Pump Room where taking the waters was all part of the visit.
After a visit to Bath Abbey we learn: “As soon as the divine service was over, the Thorpes and the Allens eagerly joined each other; and after staying long enough in the Pump-room to discover that the crowd was insupportable, and that there was not a genteel face to be seen, which everybody discovers every Sunday throughout the season, they hastened away to the Crescent.”
Ah, the Crescent, that perennial backdrop to not only the film and TV versions of Jane Austen’s novels but to films like The Duchess with Keira Knightley, or Vanity Fair, with Reese Witherspoon as Becky Sharp.

Jane Austen

Number One The Royal Crescent is a museum complete with rooms restored to how they would have been furnished in Catherine’s time in Bath. Suffice to say as a member of the middle classes she would have been spared the grime and hard labour of that of the servants who emptied the chamber pots, cooked the meals and cleaned the lodgings.
There’s plenty more on the author herself and her family in the Jane Austen Centre in Gay Street, while the Fashion Museum has examples of what the Tilneys and their set would have worn.
And there are regular guided walks visiting the places mentioned in Northanger Abbey where hopefully you won’t bump into any snobs like the Thorpes.
• The novel remains in print and is available from all good book shops in Bath.
• The Jane Austen Festival in Bath runs from Friday 9th to Sunday 18th September 2022. For details visit

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Pic: the Sealed Knot in action recreating the battles of the Civil War

When two armies met at Bath in a desperate struggle for supremacy in the English Civil War

By Harry Mottram. If the Duke of Wellington described the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 as a ‘near run thing’ then Sir William Waller could certainly refer to the Battle of Lansdown in the same terms.
Historians are divided in announcing who won the battle in 1643 so perhaps it is best to describe it as a score draw.

Essentially the army of Lord Hopton who represented King Charles I for the crown held the ground at the end of the battle while the army of Parliament and Waller left the field to regroup in Bath when the guns fell silent.
However such were the losses inflicted on the Royalist forces that day that they effectively retreated to Devizes and Oxford to recover.

It was thus a rare non-victory victory for the forces of Parliament in the area as Bristol and much of the South West were in Royalist hands. It would be two years before Parliament’s armies eventually took control and finally defeated the cavalier armies. The background to the battle was the outbreak of hostilities between the King and Parliament. Charles I believed he was the ruler due to God’s Will known as the divine right. Previously the Kings and Queens of this country enjoyed this idea that they ruled with the backing of the Almighty – until of course they were overthrown by rival claimants who said they were the chosen ones.

However by the 17th century there was a growing middle class of merchants, doctors, lawyers and skilled workers. The country as a result began to break down into towns and cities who supported Parliament and demanded more democracy and religious freedom for the non-conformists, Puritans and Protestants.
While in the countryside where the landed gentry supported the King there was more support for the Crown. At the time the King was married to the Catholic Queen Henrietta Maria. Parliament’s supporters feared her influence would push England and Wales back to Catholicism and potentially foreign influence from Rome.

War broke out in 1642 after the King failed to arrest members of parliament leading to MPs taking control of London and the King leaving for Oxford to set up a rival capital.
A number of battles took place that year as the two sides tried to gain the upper hand resulting in Parliament holding most of the south and south east along with London and most larger cities and towns while the King held the north, Wales and the Southwest.

The Battle of Lansdown was the high watermark of the King’s attempt to win the war as after that his forces faced a losing war of attrition as parliament’s more well funded New Model Army gained the ascendency with victory two years later.
Sir William Waller held Bath for Parliament while all around the King’s forces were gaining ground in the west where they enjoyed stronger support.

Lord Hopton had his eyes on taking the city which then was far smaller than the one we see today and little larger than its medieval size with much of the buildings confined inside the city walls.

Waller took his forces out of the city and rebuffed the initial advances to the east while Hopton’s army were forced around to the north. To block their advance Waller dug in his army on Lansdown Hill above the city .

The Royalist army had around 6,500 troops including 2,000 cavalry and 16 cannons while Waller had fewer troops with 2,500 cavalry who proved valuable. There had been initial skirmishes to the east of the city as Hopton attempted to gain advantage with the hope of taking the city. The Royalist official commander was Prince Maurice who was in charge of the bulk of the cavalry but Hopton generally directed operations in the field. Despite taking Bradford on Avon Hopton was forced to fall back to Marshfield as the skirmishes continued.

Hopton’s troops attacked from the direction of Cold Ashton and in an action that continued from dawn to dusk his army drove back that of Parliament forcing them to take cover behind a wall. However much of the Royalist cavalry left the field of battle convinced they had lost during the push to Parliament’s lines.

Hopton’s Cornish pikemen proved decisive in forcing back the defending Parliament troops who had dug in on the hill while Waller used his fewer troops to good effect as the battle raged around nearby woods, lanes and hedges. It seemed that victory was close as the Royalists pushed up the hill but in the confusion the remains of their cavalry panicked and retreated with Hopton’s right hand man Sir Bevil Grenville slain.
Finally as night fell Waller’s troops fell back into Bath expecting an attack the following day. It was not to be as although Hopton’s forces secured Lansdown Hill they were in no fit state to assault Bath. There was then another blow to the Royalists when the bulk of their ammunition blew up – temporarily blinding Hopton, killing several soldiers and destroying most of their gun powder. At this point despite taking the field Hopton thought it best to retreat to Wiltshire to recover. Despite the small armies involved the numbers killed ran into several hundred with far more dying from wounds in the days to follow. Yes a close run thing for Bath but the city was held and Parliament eventually achieved victory.

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BATH VOICE FEATURE: The dark side of Bath’s famous resident – Haile Selassie of Ethiopia – a vain and ruthless dictator

Haile Selassie in Bath

By Harry Mottram. In 2019 a blue plaque was unveiled at Fairfield House in Bath by the grandson of the late Haile Selassie of Ethiopia.

The event was an acknowledgement of the period of 1936 to 1940 when the head of state of the East African country stayed in the city at the house having fled from the invading Italian army instigated by the fascist dictator Benito Mussolini.

The narrative of the time painted Haile Selassie as a romantic figure standing up to fascist imperialism as the head of the last independent country in Africa.
His speech at the League of Nations has gone down as one of the best denunciations of aggressive imperialism and conquest in the 20th century and has been argued to have effectively ended the League as an international body.
It was an era of the rise of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan – both keen to invade any neighbouring countries with force of arms.

The world stood by and watched as Italy used poisoned gas, modern artillery and carpet bombing to overcome what was effectively a medieval army in Ethiopia – ill equipped and unsupported by any European nation. Despite this the Ethiopians put up stiff resistance before finally being defeated.
From this brave defence which cost the lives of thousands of Ethiopian soldiers and civilians and Haile Selassie’s speech and flight eventually to Bath a myth grew up around him which portrayed him as a heroic anti-fascist.
The reality was Haile Selassie was a brutal dictator who suppressed all opposition and prevented the country from democratic reform which led eventually on his return after the war to his overthrow in 1974 with a Marxist-Leninist coup.

In the novel Cutting for Stone (2009) the Ethiopian-born Indian-American medical doctor and author Abraham Verghese described the life of twin boys brought up in Addis Ababa in the 1950s and 1960s.
Although the background is the coming of age story the author describes the reality of the rule of Haile Selassie with its arrests, censorship and repressive laws.
Ethiopian academic Dr Yohannes Woldemariam wrote in an essay decrying the ruler’s romantic legacy: “Does Selassie deserve to be depicted as a dictator? The historical record provides a decisive answer.

“First, it is well-established that he spent $35 million for celebrating his 80th birthday during the Wollo famine. He travelled widely, visiting the United States many times, only stopping once in Jamaica in 1966.
“Perhaps less well-known are Selassie’s crimes and his associates, such as Asserate Kassa in Eritrea. “Similarly, the autocrat is remembered in Tigray for inviting the British Royal Air Force to bomb the region in 1943 to quell what came to be known as the first Woyane Rebellion. He consolidated his power by weakening the provinces after Italy’s defeat by the British in 1941.”

By dissolving the union of Eritrea and Ethiopia in 1950 he effectively prompted a long war of secession costing hundreds of thousands of lives and the de facto independence of Eritrea in 1991.
The country’s political situation since he was overthrown and assassinated in the 1970s is a direct result of his misrule.
The Derg era that followed his death saw purges and inter factional violence costing tens of thousands of lives with an ongoing break-away war with Eritrea, the 1983-85 famine and war with Somalia.

Today Ethiopia’s ruler Abiy Ahmed and the Prosperity Party is notionally democratic but its instinct is repressive – marked currently with a bloody civil war with break-away Tigray. And it must be mentioned that unlike say France or Britain Ethiopia is a mixture of ethnic tribal groups with different languages and cultures resulting in those in power having their favourite ethnic bases and playing one tribal group off against another.
Haile Sellasie’s rule lasted from 1930 to 1974 with a break from 1936-41 when Italy occupied the country. He did abolish slavery and founded the precursor of the African Union as well as attempting some reforms and modernisations. However as the Emperor he saw himself as the legitimate ruler of the country descended from a dynasty dating back centuries – and ruthlessly suppressed any dissenters. His sojourn in Bath is of historic note and due to the Second World War and Britain’s role in facing down the Axis powers Haile Selassie was both a victim and refugee of fascism.
The leader of a democratic and liberal Ethiopia he was not. So perhaps it is time for Bath to revise its romantic view of the Emperor of Ethiopia.

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The picture shows a still from Rom and Romola in the BBC’s time travel history programme

Using the Roman Roads to navigate Britain and a new book on Aqua Sulis reveals neolithic hunters were the first to embrace the waters

My wife Linda joked that the Christmas present she gave me – the OS Map of Roman Britain – was only of use to me if I owned a charity and could be transported back in time.
One of my planned expeditions this summer is to cycle from Bath to Seaton – my childhood town – and despite the passing of time the Fosse Way that links the two settlements is almost entirely still in place.
The Romans probably had a different name for it – possible Via Harritus as I like to fancy – but even without a chariot after nearly 2,000 years the road runs straight up Holloway and with the odd diversion around a hill or two is straight as an arrow to Ilchester and from thence to the sea in East Devon.
The Ordnance Survey Map of Roman Britain is essentially a two page reference book revealing where the Roman roads went, the names of the towns they visited and a wealth of information about religions, their armies, lifestyles and villas.

Printed in a dark green underlying the roads on the map are today’s roads and towns so it is quite feasible to travel from Bath to Hadrian’s Wall using mainly the routes trudged by many a weary centurion.
A recent archaeological dig created by the construction of the HS2 project has revealed an entirely unknown Roman market town in Northamptonshire suggesting there is much more to be discovered when Britain was not only part of a European Empire but enjoyed the benefits of a single currency and more importantly wine.
The map shows many roads which appear to fizzle out in places – except in one place – Bath.
In a book published last year by author Peter Davenport brings us up to date with all the archaeological discoveries of the last few years.
His book Roman Bath goes into great detail in all aspects of life in the city and also speculates on what it was like before and after the Latin speakers upped leather sandals and left in around 410 CE (410 AD in old money).

Finds of unmarked flint knives and cutting tools suggest the original Bathonians revered the steam cloaked hot springs by leaving gifts for the Gods who were the guardians of the waters.
Whether they took a hot bath during those snowy post Ice Age times we’ll never know but it is tempting to think they were rather cleaner than some later generations.
These hunter gatherers gave way eventually to Bronze Age and Iron Age farmers who seemingly left the springs well alone as little archaeological remains of the pre-Roman era has been found.
Davenport’s book goes into great detail on all aspects of Roman Bath and also gives illustrations and photographs of where parts of it still exist. There is considerable regret that modern developers beginning in the 18th and 19th centuries swept away what little remained of the time.
Certainly the Victorians shovelled away huge amounts of material which historians would loved to have sifted through today as they ‘transformed’ the Baths.
If only we could resurrect the original baths and temple complex and put a roof on the main bath so we could all don togas and take a dip in clear rather than greenish water.
In his forward Davenport writes: “When workmen, digging a sewer trench along Small Street in 1727, uncovered the gilded bronze head of Minerva it heralded the beginning of the long and exciting process leading to the discovery of the remarkable healing Roman shrine of Sulis Minerva, deep beneath modern Bath.”
Of course he was right – this was the start of the era that recreated Bath as an important spa resort – but it is also strange that from around the end of the fifth century to the 17th century the citizens failed to make the most of the waters.
The author speculates that for a time the baths were used after the Romans left. Later observers noted that the buildings had collapsed and had failed to be maintained.
Parts of the city walls were still used but much of the stone was re-used for new homes – but one part remained in use up until and past that find in 1727 – the Fosse way. Oh for a chariot.

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Scandals, Royalty and the extraordinary life of one of Widcombe’s most famous residents of the 1960s

By Harry Mottram. Writing in 2005 the photographer Robert Whitaker described Jeremy Fry as, “an entrepreneur, an inventor, an engaging host and the saviour of the Theatre Royal, Bath; he was also a close friend of Princess Margaret and the Earl of Snowdon.””
Certainly Jeremy Fry was all of those and much more as well as being the owner of Widcombe Manor where he entertained the Royals and a wide spectrum of friends and business associates in the 1960s.
Born in 1924 in Bristol Jeremy was a descendant of JS Fry, the chocolate manufacturer, which left him a useful inheritance which he later invested in Rotork his own electrical and mechanical engineering business that serviced the oil industry. The business continues today in Brassmill Lane in the city.
One of his employees a was James Dyson who he worked with on a number of projects including a marine vehicle and theatre auditorium inside the Roundhouse.
Gossip columnists were perhaps rather more interested in Jeremy’s private life and his friendship with Antony Armstrong-Jones (later Lord Snowdon) who married Princess Margaret.
And there hangs a tail as such was his friendship with the future Lord Snowdon that he was set to be his best man at the Royal wedding in 1960.
Today it would not have proved an issue but in the 1960s having shall we say an flamboyant bachelor’s life signified something that the Establishment couldn’t accept. He had been convicted of ‘importuning’ – a serious offence at the time.
Ditched as best man Jeremy and the Royal couple remained good friends and they regularly visited Widcombe Manor where Jeremy even installed a juke box for their amusement.
Jeremy was the youngest of three children in a wealthy family and attended the top public school Gordonstoun, before studying at the Architectural Association School of Architecture, after which he joined the RAF during the war.
Later he was accused by the sculptor Lynn Chadwick alleging adultery with Chadwick’s second wife, Frances, causing his wife Camilla to walk out on their marriage. Frances Chadwick took her own life and Jeremy had to pick up the pieces of an unholy legal mess ending with his divorce to Camilla in 1967.

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It cold be Berlin or Warsaw but this was Bath after the raid

Bath Voice Feature: Blowing up Bath: how the city was terrorised with hundreds of tons of high explosives killing 417 residents and injuring as many as 1,000 people in 1942

By Harry Mottram. More than 400 Bathonians died due to one the Second World War’s pettiest episodes in the global conflict.

Following the bombing by the RAF of the German city of Lübeck which destroyed its ancient centre including 1942 at the height of the war the Nazi high command decided to punish Britain by deliberately bombing cities they considered to be of historic interest.

The cities of Bath, Exeter, Norwich, Canterbury and York were chosen from the Baedeker tourist guide books to England despite having little or no strategic importance.

Because of their lack of importance in the ware effort – unlike for instance Bristol or Southampton – they were lightly defended with anti-aircraft guns.

On the night of Saturday, April 25, 1942, the first of three bombing raids took place with over the weekend leaving damage to 20,000 buildings and 417 people dead.

Around 1,000 people were injured with massive damage to homes in Oldfield Park, the Assembly Rooms and the East Window of Bath Abbey, the Lantern of the West, was shattered.

Second Avenue in Oldfield Park took a direct hit destroying 20 houses while the Royal Crescent suffered significant damage.

The Prime Minister Winston Churchill inspected the damage

Such was the terror inflicted on the population that thousands of people fled the city to camp out in the fields of Englishcombe, Batheaston and Newton St Loe becoming known as the ‘trekkers.’

They slept out in the open for the most part while many sort shelter in farms, relatives in Somerset and village halls.
Peter Dickinson related to the BBC in 2006 the experiences of his father who lived through the blitz. He reported: “As we were sheltering we could hear the bombs exploding as the raid continued, then finally the raid finished, the aircraft left and the all clear went. We came out of our shelter to discover a stick of half a dozen incendiary bombs had fallen in our garden, including one that had hit a large greenhouse and set it on fire, so I grabbed a stirrup pump and put the fire out. Fortunately our house had not been hit directly but a high explosive bomb had dropped in the next door garden belonging to a Commander Percival. Very luckily it had dropped into a deep dell so the explosion went mostly upward; the only damage to our house was to some leaded light windows, which, although not broken, had all buckled outward, sucked out by the force of the bomb blast.”

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Bath Voice Feature: You may now kiss Mrs White-Christmas – how romance, a civic ceremony and an accident of surnames produced a special moment in Aquae Sulis

Bath experienced a white Christmas in November when Mr White married Miss Christmas at the Roman Baths. The Dorset couple had planned to tie the knot in July but were forced to postpone the wedding due to the Covid-19 restrictions.

The couple met while at school and because of their surnames they felt it was too good an opportunity to miss and so combined the names becoming Mr and Mrs White-Christmas.

The BBC reported that business student Mrs White-Christmas said:

Mrs White-Christmas, 20, said: “I wanted to keep the name going. It just so happens the man I am marrying has the perfect surname to go with it.”

Their original plans to get married in July at another venue were postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Business student Mrs White-Christmas said: “It took us time to twig that our surnames came together as White-Christmas.

“We first realised at our secondary school prom when our friend uploaded pictures to social media using #WhiteChristmas.”

The wedding service for the couple, from Bridport, was performed beside the Great Bath, with a reception for 15 guests.

Under England’s new four-week lockdown, weddings are not allowed to take place apart from in exceptional circumstances.

Bath has been placed in Tier 2 under the latest Covid-19 Government restrictions.

More Bath news in December’s issue of Bath Voice. Details at

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The Gore in Bear Flat, Bath – the city’s smallest park

Bath Voice Feature: the smallest park in the city features a Victorian fountain and a bus stop – plus it runs along the side of a Roman road

Plans are afoot to restore a Victorian drinking fountain in Bear Flat and to enhance the green space known as The Gore behind it. 
A group of residents of the south Bath community and part of the Bear Flat Association have tasked themselves with improving the green space and its Victorian fountain.
In Middle English the word gore is the word for a triangular strip of land and also for a spear point.
Wellsway runs on one side of the green and Bloomfield Road on the other – which is part of the old Roman road known as the Fosse Way. Full story in the December issue of Bath Voice magazine – out on December 1st.

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There’s a good series on Britain’s Roman roads on Channel 5:


Bath Voice Feature: a poem about a horse that died on one of Bath’s steepest roads is marked with a horse trough – the road is part of the Roman Fosse Way that linked the hot springs to Exeter and Lincoln

The short cut on foot from Bear Flat to Bath City Centre is down the incredibly steep hill known as Holloway. Half way up is a horse trough now sadly neglected which features a plaque with a poem on it – echoing perhaps William Blake poem Auguries of Innocent: “A Horse misus’d upon the Road, Calls to Heaven for Human blood.”

The road is the most direct route in from the South West and the modern A367 – until that main road takes a slightly less steep way snaking around the hill capped by Alexandra Park.

Bath History Tours websites notes of the hill: “The constant traffic into Bath, plus the rain water may have ‘hollowed out a deeper and deeper track, giving rise to its name. The path of this section would have been very steep and today’s traffic diverts down a much smoother route along the current A367 after the 19th century Turnpike company decided it was too dangerous for traffic.

“You can get a good sense of this last descent into Bath from this passage of 1801, by the Rev’d Richard Warner in his Excursions from Bath:

“‘The approach to Bath, on the west side, had for ages been down a steep rugged concavity… called Holloway…’ he goes on to describe the seasonal beggars and the coal mining animals who reside in this district.”

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There’s a good series on Britain’s Roman roads on Channel 5:


Pigs, chickens, goats and a fabulous view of the city – Bath City Farm marks 25 years as a community resource

One of Bath’s best kept secrets in high up on a hill overlooking the city where pigs and chickens scratch at the grass and cluck and snort in their pens.

It has been a quarter of a century since Bath City Farm opened. This autumn the farm marks 25 years since it opened when there were no animals, a play park or a volunteer cabin. It began with two shipping containers, a lot of passion and one big idea – to create a community farm that could transform lives.

The idea of a city farm for Bath goes back earlier than 1995 to a formation of an association to create a city farm in 1985. In 1990, a group of local residents finally took a lease on a piece of land left abandoned after a dairy farm ceased its operations.

Despite 2020 and its Covid-19 crisis the farm is a valuable resource for the city for more visit

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The tree that defies all that’s wrong with urban development

The lone London Plane Tree standing guard at the end of Widcombe Parade in Bath, following the emasculation of the community when a row of houses was destroyed to create a road to ease traffic congestion is a reminder that communities come first.

Despite this wrong, Widcombe has seen a revival beginning with Widcombe Rising and with a community that sees a vibrant high street and a busy community centre.

More news of Bath’s chic community in Bath Voice magazine – now out – or read online at


The Governor’s House. Part of the former prison is still standing

BATH VOICE FEATURE: when criminals were executed in the city’s prison

By Harry Mottram. It’s an uncomfortable truth but until 1868 convicted criminals could be executed by hanging in public.
The last man to die this way was Michael Barret, an Irish Republican who was hung outside Newgate Prison in London in front of around 2,000 people who taunted him with songs and insults as he died.
By then public opinion and those of many MPs had shifted in their attitude to the punishment believing public executions to be morally wrong and more pertinently did not deter offenders.
Barret had been convicted as part of a gang who carried out an explosion at Clerkenwell Prison.
It is now generally agreed that he was innocent as witnesses said he was in Scotland at the time, but he was convicted on the evidence of a known perjurer Patrick Mullany who was promised a free passage to Australia if he pointed the finger at Barret.
In Bath a new prison was built in Twerton in 1842 but only remained in use until 1878 with the last part of the main gaol demolished in the 1990s.
Designed by the city’s architect George Phillips Manners following the 1835 Prisons Act which attempted to reform and improve conditions for prisoners it featured 122 cells plus a Governor’s House which is the last remaining building to survive.
After its closure the prison was used as a sweet factory and even an engineering business.
Its predecessor was in Grove Street, Bathwick, and was used from 1771 to 1842.
During that time there were growing concerns over the justice system with John Howard taking a leading role in making improvements.
His work continues today with the Howard League for Penal Reform. It should be remembered that Howard was no do-gooder but as High Sheriff of Bedfordshire he had responsibility for Bedford County and was shocked by the way its prison was run.
His reports to parliament slowly changed minds and eventually led to changes in the law including The Penitentiary Act of 1779.
These initial changes included basic sanitation and a uniform set of conditions and treatments for convicts many of whom were debtors – people who couldn’t pay their bills.
Back to the prison in Twerton and its location on Caledonian Road. The previous prison was near Pulteney Bridge and aside from reforming the institution the increased number of houses in the city meant for many residents the site of gaol so close to the centre was not what they desired.
Twerton was out in the countryside in the early 19th century and so was the ideal place to build a new prison. Various sites were discussed by the city authorities but in the end the site in East Twerton near the Lower Bristol Road was chosen.
Today the nearest prisons are in Bristol and Erlestoke in Wiltshire and convicted criminals are no longer executed with the death penalty abolished in 1964.
But as you wander down Grove Street or Caledonia Road in Bath on a dark winter’s night you may just hear the ghostly sounds of the poor souls who felt the rope around their neck before the long drop to oblivion.

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Bath Voice Magazine: Bees, birds and volunteering as the work continues on Lyncombe Hill Fields

By Harry Mottram. Volunteers have mowed the last of the five fields on Lyncombe Hill to complete the first phase of restoring the pastures to become wild flower meadows.

Organiser Anita Breeze said: “The volunteers have been mowing the North Field with three shifts a day.“Two in the daytime and one in the evening and another one on Sunday with a fantastic turnout with lots of young people.”

“We always think will there be enough work for everyone but there’s so much to do and they seem to love it.”

Using a mower plus traditional scythes to cut the long grass the team have laboured away in sunshine and rain.Back in 1938 the Council bought the land as an open space and it had been leased to owners of horses as grazing land. When the lease ran out the Friends of Lyncombe Hill Fields were formed to manage the green space below Alexandra Park with the idea to conserve and enhance the biodiversity of the land and maintain its wild nature whilst safeguarding public access.

As a not-for-profit Community Interest Company the Friends of the fields have appealed for volunteers – and they have attracted many including William Chadwick, 14, who attends Beaching Cliff school and is volunteering as part of his Duke of Edinburgh Award project.

Then there is Izzy Scalway of Lyncombe Hill who is a university graduate and has worked in hospitality but studied modern languages and business.

“It’s been really great, I’ve seen lots of voles, goldfinches and butterflies and even in the rain it’s enjoyable,” she said, “and they are a really nice crowd so you get to meet lots of people.

”Finally there’s Nathalie Hurlstowen who is a Bath University architecture masters student. “My course is online so I was craving some physical work and this is good. It’s cool to meet local people and it’s very social and in September there’s a meet up party so I’ll get to meet everyone else.”

Those interested should email or visit the website at

To read the magazine online visit:…/docs/2021_09_september_bath_voice…


Bath Voice Magazine: New writing and new performers at The Rondo Theatre

Rondo Theatre’s deputy director Pippa Thornton and director Ian McGlynn

News from The Rondo Theatre. By Harry Mottram.

Bath is blessed with several theatres although until recently they were dark with nothing happening due to Covid-19.

Each is unique carving out a particular programme – for the Rondo Theatre in Larkhall the emphasis is on new writing and new productions.After a long period with nothing on the theatre is getting back to doing what it does best by staging a full programme this autumn.

The artistic director Ian McGlynn explained: “It’s our biggest schedule so far with 35 or more shows.“The highlights for me include Scream Phone which is a comedy take on 90s girl films and 90s horror movies.” Pippa Thornton the theatre’s deputy director said that most shows will contact the Rondo although she and Ian will go to places like The Edinburgh fringe to source new productions.

Ian said: “Our intention is to focus on new writing and new emerging companies to help them to establish their work.“We have a good group of local companies such as Beyond The Horizon who are staging Macbeth.“There’s Black Dog Theatre, Dumb Blonde Company and Pippa’s company Flipside.”

Pippa said they give local companies rehearsal space to support and nurture their talent.“We have a lot of community support which was confirmed when we made an appeal during the Covid crisis,” said Pippa, “which was incredible.”

Just before Covid the theatre had been on a roll with sold out shows – so the lockdown came at the wrong time. They had a short summer season with 50% capacity and of course the bar helps to fund the theatre which has no external funding as it is a self-supporting charity. “We operate from ticket and bar sales,” said Ian, “we hope to replace our seating in the future which we will do a special fundraising. “We tend not to apply for grants as there are strings attached although we did get a grant from the Arts Council during covid but that was a one off.”

Both Ian and Pippa discovered theatre and drama at primary school with Ian playing Chrysophylax Dives in Farmer Giles of Ham, while Pippa’s moment of realisation was a spider in the Nativity. The theatre opened in 1989 in the former St Saviours Church in Larkhall.

For details of the new season visit

Bath Voice is a monthly news magazine for the city. Harry Mottram is the news editor. The February issue is out now free to thousands of homes in Bath.

For more on Bath Voice visit

Bath Voice online:

For details for the work of the journalist Harry Mottram visit


McDonald & Dodds

The TV detective duo viewers love to hate (but they love the backdrop of Bath)

Whatever you think about the ITV series McDonald & Dodds there is one aspect of the show that is universally acclaimed: the backdrop of Bath.
Filmed largely in and around the city McDonald & Dodds features two detectives in the shape of Tala Gouveia as DCI Lauren McDonald and Jason Watkins as DS Dodds (pictured). So far two short series have been filmed and screened suggesting there is an appetite for the show.
Millions may be tuning in but if you were to judge by the reactions on social media it isn’t universally liked. Mostly the criticism is about the acting and the premise of the show. Essentially DS Dodds is a bungling operator who by chance or luck solves the mysteries aided by a dour DCI Lauren McDonald.
Another criticism is the portrayal of locals as being… well shall we say ‘dozy West Country types?’
What do the critics say? In The Guardian Rebecca Nicholson described the duo as chalk and cheese and was faily generous with her review giving it four stars and likening it to Midsomer Murders. She wrote: “The appeal of McDonald & Dodds lies in how it spreads its charms. Bath looks lovely, from the air and on the ground, and the eponymous duo are great, balancing each other’s flaws.
“I found the plot complicated enough not to guess who was responsible until a good way into the episode, which is becoming increasingly rare. Sometimes, a lightness of touch sits uncomfortably in a crime drama, but the fact that this doesn’t take itself too seriously really works. It is neat and clever – with an appealing, Dodds-esque eye for the finer details.”
The Daily Telegraph’s Ed Power also rated it as a four star show calling it ‘ridiculous and brilliant.’
While in The Times Carol Midley said it was filth free and cheerful escapism. She wrote: “McDonald & Dodds is back, with episode one so deliberately hammy and meta that, technically, it should have been a complete horlicks. In one scene, when they were all hanging on to the balloon ropes, Mr Bean-like, to stop Jason Watkins flying away, it sort of was. But I was pleasantly sucked into its cheerful escapism and self-mockery, even though at two hours it was far too long.”
Mammoth Productions perhaps won’t take comfort however from some of the comments on the Bath Live news site where one commentator wrote: “Why a second series was made I will never know, the first was appalling apart from the scenes of the city.
“Jason Watkins was badly miscast, as for the women DCI, I found her most annoying so switched off.”

By Harry Mottram.


Bath Voice Features: the real reason why Bathonian Bill danced away with the Strictly Come Dancing glitter ball

It wasn’t just female fans of the BBC TV show Strictly Come Dancing who cheered when actor, musician and comedian Bill Bailey won the coveted Glitter Ball trophy in December – but men of a certain age as well.
For Bill Bailey not only looks like a large section of the Great British blokedom with his shapeless sweat shirts, thinning hair and pot belly, but at 55 was almost a mirror image of how many chaps at that age look. Me being one of them.
And of course he proved all the critics wrong, failing to be the first to be eliminated from the show and going on to improve as a dancer, lose weight and bring a zest to the competition that showed up some of the younger contestants.
So what of his Bathonian credentials? Well Mark Robert Bailey (that’s his real name) was born in the city in 1965 to medical parents – his dad a GP and his mum a nurse.
He spent most of his childhood in Keynsham (which we can call West Bath for this article) and was educated at King Edward’s School an independent school in Bath.
There he honed his performance skills as a musician in a school rock band called Behind Closed Doors, as well as providing entertainment on the coach trips to rugby matches by singing songs one of which was Won’t You Come Home Bill Bailey which led to his nickname of Bill – or so the story goes.
He studied music in London after leaving school becoming a classically trained musician. Acting came next with a part in The Printers, which also featured Vanessa Redgrave and Frances de la Tour.
A comedy tour with Mark Lamarr in 1984 earned him a reputation as a versatile stand-up and after runs at the Edinburgh Festival he moved to television where his reputation grew. However, we all know that his success – especially in Strictly with his partner Oti Mabusi (pictured) – was created on the streets of Bath where the natural rhythm of the city made him a fine dancer.
Bill describes himself as a feminist, campaigns against cruelty to animals, is an advocate in highlighting research into prostate cancer in men and is a supporter of the Labour Party.
Harry Mottram

Bath Voice is a monthly news magazine for the city. Harry Mottram is the news editor. The February issue is out now free to thousands of homes in Bath.

For more on Bath Voice visit

Bath Voice online:

For details for the work of the journalist Harry Mottram visit


The Spanish Flu orginated in America but came to Bath and killed more than 100 people in one month in 1918. Pic: Northern Echo

Bath Voice Features: Pandemics – we’ve been here before – how the city coped with the flu outbreaks of the past

Parallels are frequently drawn in the media with the Spanish flu outbreak in 1918 and the current Covid-19 pandemic.
The main similarity is how the virus swept around the world in part due to enhanced modes of travel – but there the similarity ends.
Rather than Spain being the origin of the outbreak or the H1N1 influenza A virus it is now believed to have begun in Kansas in the USA earlier than 1918 and was likely transferred to humans from pigs although this is still in doubt.

Censorship caused by World War One allowed it to ‘go under the radar’ for a long time as USA troops transferred it to France and from there around the globe by land, sea and air. It continued until 1920 killing up to 60 million people and infecting countless more.
Unlike Covid-19 Spanish flu affected all ages and all levels of society from the King of Spain to the lowliest soldier in the trenches.
The Bath Medical Museum has plenty of information on the pandemics of yesteryear with an article by their sage Dr. Roger Rolls.
He writes: “In 1806, the Bath Chronicle reported that ‘a kind of influenza that spares no one at present prevails in Spain. Fortunately, it is seldom fatal. The whole of the Royal Family have been attacked by it. At Barcelona where this malady commenced, 28,300 persons were ill of it at once.’ This is not the Spanish Flu we talk of now but an epidemic which occurred over a hundred years earlier.”

First World War

He writes that pandemics of acute respiratory infections have occurred regularly over the past few centuries.
The good doctor said: “The best known and most devastating occurred at the end of the First World War leading to an estimated mortality of sixty million people worldwide.
“In 1917 no one had ever seen a virus as they were too small to be viewed with an optical microscope. Few people then had any idea of what was causing it.”
Back to Bath and the current outbreak of the virus. The numbers of people dying are not in the millions or even the thousands in the city but they are still at worryingly high levels.
This time the virus is affecting the elderly and those with health conditions disproportionately. In contrast the museum charts how in one month in1918, there were121 deaths from influenza and 26 from pneumonia. Almost half of the deaths were in those aged 15 to 35.
For more on the museum and its recording of illness visit

The Plague

In an article for the Bath Medical Museum Dr Roger Rolls writes at length about a disease that affected not only Bath but the world.
He explained that the Bubonic plague of the 16th and 17th centuries was caused by black rats who transmitted the disease by fleas.
Since Bathonians were not the most hygienic people (as indeed was true of all citizens of Britain) the transfer of the infection to humans from fleas via rats was literally just a hop away.
The ghastly disease known as Yersinia Pestis, was characterised by swollen lymph glands in the groin and armpits, fever, prostration, and skin haemorrhages.


Dr. Roger Rolls said: “There is a popular misconception both now and in the 17th century that plague swept the country like wildfire. If there was a countrywide epidemic, we should also expect to see increased mortality in 1563, 1578, 1593 all of which were years of plague in London.
“There were no Bath epidemics in these years. However, there was possibly some correlation with London plague years in 1582, 1603 and 1625, the Bath outbreaks being a year later except for 1625.
“The Bath council was aware of the danger of allowing visitors into the city who had come from places where plague was active.
“For instance, the Chamberlain’s account for 1583 records paying two sentries to turn away visitors from Paulton where there was a plague outbreak.”

Sentries posted

The Bubonic plague was to return time and time again with the authorities seemingly mystified of how it occurred. In the 17th century an outbreak in London was charted in all its horror by Samuel Pepys in his diaries.
Dr. Roger Rolls said: “The Bath authorities appear to have feared the spread of plague from London in 1665 because no person was allowed into the city from the capital without special permission of the mayor and justices, and nobody at all was allowed in between 10pm and 5am.
“Sentries were posted on the routes into town to police these regulations. Any Bath citizens who received guests coming from London was fined £10.
“This strategy may have been successful because there was no evidence of increased mortality in that year.”
A strategy still in place today.

Harry Mottram

Bath Voice is a monthly news magazine for the city. Harry Mottram is the news editor.

For on Bath Voice visit

Bath Voice online:

For details for the work of the journalist Harry Mottram visit


Mauro of the Good Bear cafe

By Harry Mottram for Bath Voice

At the top of Holloway linking Bear Flat to the city centre is Hayes Place and if you haven’t stopped for some fish and chips or a coffee in The Good Bear cafe you might miss it.
The Council, traders and the Bear Flat Association representing the residents, want to transform the short but wide street into something approaching a continental piazza – a public space to sit down and appreciate the surroundings while still allowing vehicles to access the street.
Bear Flat campaigner Clyde Hunter said it should become an effective green book-end to Bear Flat with The Gore at the other end of the brief plateau with all the shops and facilities in the middle creating a central zone.
“What we would like to do is to widen the pavements and to change the surface of the road from tarmac to a different colour or paving so to make it a shared space so cars and pedestrians share the road with pedestrians given priority,” he said.
“At the moment it’s a dangerous place with vehicles doing three point turns and people trying to cross – not knowing where a vehicle is coming from.
“What we want to do is to slow the traffic down, and make it more pedestrian friendly, perhaps more continental.”

Bear Flat campaigner Clyde Hunter

In the first step towards the aspirations of the Bear Flat Association’s vision The Good Bear Cafe has been granted a pavement license to put tables and chairs outside.
The proprietor of the cafe Mauro Matta said having the licence had been a lifeline for the business during the 2020 crisis.
“Because of Covid-19 and the restrictions for social distancing we have lost half of our capacity,” he said, “With the extra space outside on a sunny day that has helped us so much to seat more customers.”
A ramp on and off the pavement has been added to facilitate prams and wheelchairs.
Cllr Winston Duguid said that Hayes Place had potential but these were early days. Planters are to be placed by the cafe as part of the plans which he said was an illustration of how the Council, traders and the Bear Flat Association could bring about change. For full details of the Bear Flat Association’s vision visit


Oldfield Park Junior School, or South Twerton School as it was known until 1991, dates back to 1893 and is proud of its place in the community in south Bath

Bath Voice News: North gone south headteacher looks forward to a brighter year (despite having to make major changes to the school due to Covid-19)

Hope springs eternal in Bath following one of the most difficult years in modern times due to the Covid-19 crisis

“You have to take some of the positives from 2020,” said Dave Goucher, 44, the headteacher of Oldfield Park Juniors, “we’ve coped exceptionally well despite the challenges.”

In an exclusive interview with Bath Voice the north gone south academic opened up about his personal life, school life and life under Covid-19.
He said the school had sacrificed numerous activities due to the pandemic and had introduced staggered starts, invested in PPE and even made changes to classroom layouts.

Dave Goucher, 44, the headteacher of Oldfield Park Juniors

“The school has coped very well with the Covid-19 crisis along with all the schools in Bath which has in some ways gone under the radar considering what had to done,” he said, “The changes have often been introduced at very short notice by the Department of Education (DfE ) with emails arriving often at the weekend creating real challenges.

“We’ve had to clear out classrooms of furniture to allow the social distancing for the children, so much so we’ve had to hire a container to put the excess furniture in.

“We’ve had to change the classroom layouts with all the desks facing the front like in Victorian times. That is a change for some of the teachers who haven’t taught in that style in the past. I’m old enough to have taught like that with a blackboard and chalk many years ago.

He said the school had had to sacrifice some of the activities such as trips, residentials, music and sports.

“It will have to remain like that until we get the green light to go back to normal. We’re looking forward with optimism to 2021 as the vaccine arrives,” he said.

In the meantime the pupils have continued to wash their hands four or five times a day, timetables continue to be altered and the children and staff will continue to follow the rules.

“The parents have been brilliant,” he said,”They follow the routines, wear facemasks in the school grounds, they social distance and abide by the staggered start and end times.”

Covid-19 has also added to the schools overheads with new soap dispensers, sinks and PPE as well as hiring extra staff to cover for staff who are in self-isolation and not in school.

“From a financial aspect Covid has hit us hard like it has all schools, so I hope the DfE puts their hands in their pockets although that’s more a hope than an expectation,” he said.

Dave lives just a few minutes walk from the school with his wife and his two sons who attend local schools. Not many headteachers live close to their schools but he said he liked to live in the community and it cut out commuting.

“We have things we have to work on like all schools do but our mini Hogwarts is a great place to be,” he continued, “It’s a bit of a hidden gem as from the outside it doesn’t look much but when you go in we are blessed with a field, a fire pit, chickens, and even a pizza oven.”

Covid had cost the school many things including the annual Christmas Fair that usually brings in £4,000 to the school.

In the rush hour the school is the centre of traffic congestion although Dave said that had eased this year as many people were working from home.
However there was a concern about the clean air scheme which could push traffic out of the centre of Bath and turn the roads around the school into rat runs.

He came to Bath in 1998 to do a teacher training course and has stayed ever since.

His previous headship had been at St Michael’s Junior School nearby before joining Oldfield Park in 2015.

As for changes in that time he cited technology with the advent of computers and the internet – but another less obvious change was the pressures of the society in general where everything is instant which put new pressures on children.

Harry Mottram

Bath Voice is a monthly news magazine for the city. Harry Mottram is the news editor.

For on Bath Voice visit

For details for the work of the journalist Harry Mottram visit


Wera Hobhouse MP

BATH VOICE FEATURE: exclusive interview with Bath’s MP Wera Hobhouse, the artistic, made-in-Germany Lib Dem who got ‘up-skirting made illegal’, doesn’t have anything to say to one Tory MP and is looking forward to being a granny

Harry Mottram for Bath Voice asked the city’s MP some very personal questions and received some very candid replies.

The first question was an easy one – who do you most admire in Bath and why? I prefixed it with a line about knowing how old she was and how many children she had but before I could get the question out she said: “I’m going to be a grandmother!”

“Oh, Granny Hobhouse,” I said, “tell me more.” And she did: “My eldest daughter is expecting our first grandchild at the end of February,” she said, “she married five years ago and is 30 – the same age I was when I had her.
“I never thought I’d be excited but I am so excited. I thought I wouldn’t be that excited having had children but I am.”

Back to the question of who to admire in Bath.
“I’ve been really impressed with the work of James Carlin and BAYNES 3SG with their coordination of volunteers during the Covid-19 crisis,” she explained, “They brought people together and fill the gaps with help for the lonely or helping with shopping.
“There are other volunteer groups like the Citizens Advice Bureau – they have all done wonderful work.”

Onto the next question which is what were her New Year’s resolutions? There was a long silence. I suggested taking up daily exercising, visiting long lost relatives or going on a diet. This last idea finally struck a chord.
“I don’t actually need to lose weight – for me it is the other way around and I’m bordering on being too thin,” she said. On my suggestion she should eat more food to fatten her up she accepted eating ‘a little bit more’ would be her answer.

Wera Hobhouse is the chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Eating Disorders – a role she says is close to her heart as around one million people in the UK suffer from conditions such as anorexia and bulimia.
The next question was also based on her work in Westminster and in particular on her interest in women’s issues. In September she was given the job of Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Women and Equalities but back in January she made headlines for her work making ‘upskirting’ a crime.

Upskirting is taking a photograph looking up a woman’s skirt without their consent – something which hadn’t been covered in law before. She presented a private members bill which looked set to be successful but it was voted down by Sir Christopher Chope MP much to the outrage of fellow MPS. Eventually the Government took it up and it became law. So the obvious question I asked was Christopher Chope on her Christmas card list?
I felt an icy silence. She simply said: “No. I have nothing to say to that man.”
I had got her onto the subject of politics so the next question had to be about the current Government.

“This is a bad Government, who have undermined the rule of law, damaged and underfunded local Government and have been dismantling the Welfare State,” she said.
She thought they would hang on to 2024 though, as they had an 80 seat majority and could do want they liked. Especially since they had purged the centre right MPs in 2019.

Finally I moved onto less contentious grounds such as her passion for art.
“I paint figuratively, people and bodies in movement,” she explained, “it’s a subject I’ve worked on all my life as an artist apart from college when you try out different techniques and subjects.
“For me it is how you define people in time and space – something that is not fixed in time.”
She said when children came along she had less time and changed her style – using mixed media, underpainting with acrylic, printing on top and using oils as well to complete a canvass.

Wera Benedicta von Reden was born in1960 in Hanover, Germany. After school she studied art in Munster and Paris before completing a master’s degree in history and fine art in Berlin.
She married William Hobhouse in 1989 and moved to England the following year living first in London and later in Rochdale where she was a Conservative Councillor. However she was criticised for defecting to the Liberal Democrats over a controversial plan to build homes on a former asbestos site as she didn’t trigger a by election. However the development she campaigned against was stopped.

After moving to Bath in 2014 she was selected to stand in the 2017 parliamentary general election when she defeated the Conservative Ben Howlett, doubling her majority in 2019.

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For details for the work of the journalist Harry Mottram visit