One of the most inspiring, rare and beautiful of all the local sights in Bath, Somerset is Pulteney Bridge. Its splendour and glory echo the architectural revolution that was sweeping Bath around the mid eighteenth-century. By day it is a breathtaking sight, but at night it becomes awe-inspiring. Flood lit at sunset, the river Avon reflects its majesty whilst the slight waterfall on the river give a sight that will stay with you forever as a highlight of your visit to Bath.
Few Bridges of This Style Still Exist
Pulteney Bridge is one of only a handful of bridges of its kind still standing. Its rare design was quite innovative in its day and still is today. It incorporates covered shops and restaurants lining both sides of the structure with what Pevsner tells us is much alterer from the original. It spans the river Avon. There are 3 main arches which dominate the view of it you get from the riverbanks, as you walk along them. Also there are steps down the side to allow you to see its full width close up from a platform closer to the river.
Sir William Pulteney's Dream Linking Bath and Bathwick
This bridge was designed for Sir William Pulteney. He was a Member of Parliament for a long period from 1774 until his death in 1805. He married into a wealthy Scottish family and changed his name after his wife, Frances Pulteney inherited the Bathwick estate in 1764. This inherited rural estate was located to the East of Bath, the other side of the river Avon from the city. William and his wife could see the potential for development, making Bathwick into the important suburb of the City it is today. The only thing lacking was a bridge to replace the ferry that was linking Bathwick and the city.
Robert Adams Designs Pulteney Bridge
After much consultation with the Corporation of Bath in 1768, Pulteney managed to procure a private Act of Parliament in 1769 to build his bridge. He had a design offered initially which he did not like. Then he asked the advice of the architect Robert Adams, who was perhaps better known in his wife's circles.
Adams was born in Fife, Scotland and was at the time one of Scotland's most admired architects. His artistic qualities and finesse were also greatly admired around the rest of Britain. He had just visited Italy. So he suggested a design similar to the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, which had shops along both sides of the bridge. With an eye to the future, Adams thought this design to be much more in keeping within other great European cities.
Built at Last but, Under Threat Immediately
So the bridge was built. Construction started around 1769 and was completed in 1774. Unfortunately, finance in Great Britain became an issue, due to the outcome of the American War of Independence going "the wrong way".
So the dream of the bridge began to turn into a nightmare. Very few tenants were prepared to take residence in the shops. This is only one of many disasters that have taken place on and around the bridge. The economic situation soon led to neglect, leaving the bridge needing many repairs and reconstruction over time.
Left Unchanged in Disrepair for Years - Now Fully Restored
For years the bridge was left in a sad, unchanged state of disrepair. Around 1788 Bath architect, Thomas Baldwin made new plans for Bathwick. Bath was undergoing many sweeping architectural changes and luckily many repairs and redevelopment took place around this time. Thank goodness, today you can see Pulteney Bridge fully restored to its' former glory. It now looks more like how it was originally designed to look than at any other time.
- Forsyth, M. (2003) Bath, New Haven & London, Yale University Press.
- Norwich, J. (2002) Treasures of Britain, Maidenhead, Everyman Publishers plc.