How Sydney Gardens started
Initially designed by Thomas Baldwin, who was replaced after bankruptcy by Charles Harcourt Masters, Sydney Gardens were the centrepiece of 'Bath New Town'. Construction of the perimeter wall began in 1792 and the first tree was planted in 1793. They opened to the public in May 1795.
Sydney Gardens were the most ambitious pleasure gardens to be created in Bath and were the most popular, designed to accommodate crowds of up to 4,000 people on gala evenings. Admission was 6d per person but if visitors wished to have tea, use the bowling green or read the London newspapers they were charged extra.
How the Pleasure Garden was used
Georgian visitors enjoyed attractions such as the Labyrinth and Merlin’s Swing, ate in the supper boxes, attended galas, firework displays and concerts. A visit to Sydney Gardens was also an important opportunity for socialising and romance. Around the edge of the gardens was The Ride, a pathway 15 metres wide used as ‘a healthy and fashionable airing for Gentlemen and Ladies on horseback’.
Development over time
Major developments came in 1799 with the building of the Kennet and Avon Canal through the gardens, and in 1837 when Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s railway line was also built through Sydney Gardens, destroying several features such as the Labyrinth.
During the first quarter of the 1800s various new attractions were introduced in Sydney Gardens such as a cascade, aviary, cosmorama (pictures of distant places or dramatic scenes were lit and then seen through convex glass windows so as to appear life-size), watermill, hermit’s cottage and theatre.
Sadly none of these features survive today. In 1891 the original 99-year lease of Sydney Gardens expired, and the gardens were bought by Bath City Council in 1908 and reopened to the public in 1913.
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