The re-creation of an eighteenth century town garden behind 4 Circus was the first project of its kind to have taken place in Britain. The skills of the archivist, archaeologist and garden historian have together produced an authentic town garden to add to Bath’s existing Georgian attractions – its unique urban landscape and the restored house interior at No.1 Royal Crescent.
The project to discover and re-create the Georgian garden was undertaken by Bath Archaeological Trust in conjunction with Bath Preservation Trust and the Garden History Society. Excavations in 1985-86, directed by Robert Bell and using a Community Programme team, determined four main phases of garden development and provided the evidence on which the re-creation is based. Research by Dr John Harvey, the President of the Garden History Society, into plants used in eighteenth century gardens, enabled the correct species to be selected and planted. No inventories of the plants in this particular garden exist, but the excavations indicated the presence of the trellis and honeysuckle-pole. There is no historical evidence for the seat, which is a one-off copy of an eighteenth century original.
The King’s Circus was built by John Wood II in 1754-67, to his father’s design. The south west section, which includes No. 4 was built first and in 1760 the first garden would have been laid out. Flanked by substantial stone walls, it was simple and formal in plan, possibly terminating in iron railings across the end to allow the view across open fields beyond. In 1766 John Wood II had leased land beyond the Circus gardens to allow access for sedan chairs from Queen Square to his newest and grandest project, the Royal Crescent. The end of the garden was re-ordered and a flight of steps added to give access to Gravel Walk. As the steps remain today it is this phase of the garden that has been re-created.
Archaeological evidence suggests that dwarf box hedges bordered the flowerbeds and small clipped evergreens stood in formal arrangement around the central oval bed. The clipped topiary of box, yew and holly reflected the lingering formality of earlier garden styles. In the late eighteenth century the plants themselves were the main interest not as today for their mass effect but as individual botanic curiosities, often recently introduced by travellers to the New World and Europe. Fragrant flowers would have been favoured, double flowers preferred to single forms and variegated foliage was a novelty. The walls too were used to train fruit trees and climbing plants. All the plants used are known to have been available in the eighteenth century. The only reference to plants in the garden in its earliest years is an isolated note of 1829 which records that “At Bath, No. 4 Circus, in the garden against the wall were Geraniums, quite uninjured by the Frost”.
Apart from the alterations related to Gravel Walk, the garden remained substantially the same for many years. Major alterations seem to have taken place around 1836 however, when a basement area measuring c. twenty feet by fifteen feet was dug out and the resultant spoil spread over the whole garden in a layer twelve to eighteen inches thick. Evidently the house owner wanted a completely new start in the garden. The major change was the laying of a grass lawn for the first time. Hitherto, rolled gravel or ‘hoggin’ had been used, as grass was not easily maintained prior to the invention of the mechanical mower in 1832. Our knowledge of the garden’s nature during the nineteenth century is incomplete, although minor alterations involving new flowerbeds and re-routed paths evidently occurred during the century and it is known by the turn of the century that numerous trees were reaching maturity.
In 1924 an artist, Charles Cooke, bought the house and soon reintroduced elements of formality into the garden. Most of the trees were taken out and a fish tank, classical pavilion, rockery and numerous items of stone garden furniture were installed. In 1961 Cooke died and left the house in trust to Bath City Council for museum purposes.
The Garden, which adds to the significant range of Georgian features of Bath, is open every day 9.00-5.00pm.