To mark the publication of the revised and reprinted edition of 'Walks within the walls' Frances Longmore and Martin Gledhill took to the streets of Bath to follow in Peter Smithson's footsteps
Smithson’s guide to Bath is as idiosyncratic as the streets he describes. It’s clear from the outset, before you have even placed your feet on the pavement, that these are not your average strolls when he declares that ‘these walks are in the manner of John Ruskin’s Mornings in Florence.’
We took all the walks during the autumn of 2017. Each walk had a different mood and while the weather on any given day was part of the equation; the moods are the sum of its parts.
It is not only Smithson’s choice of routes but his creative eye and text which combine to create a very unusual way to look at and think about the city. His guide proved a rich source for discussions, diversions and discoveries en route. Smithson challenges the reader cum walker to ‘see’ beyond the obvious set pieces, encouraging a broader, literally and figuratively, meaningful engagement with our environment.
He is interested in the ‘backs’ which can usefully act as a metaphor for the ordinary and the everyday or ‘the humbler parts of the city’, as he refers to them. In Bath one can easily be seduced by the historic, iconic and familiar but his routes go beyond the obvious core and in so doing, reveal a far more interesting urban experience.
All the walks were hugely enjoyable and interesting; a stimulating way to spend two hours or more. Like Ruskin, Smithson is a witty, friendly and sometimes irreverent companion. And similarly, hugely knowledgeable and passionate about his subjects on the city he loves. As Bathonians (by adoption), even we found ourselves surprised and delighted to both discover and re-discover the city.
It is wonderful that Walks within the walls has been ‘re-discovered’. Now that it has let’s celebrate and honour the legacy that Peter Smithson left us. So slip on your shoes or any footwear of choice and head out into the streets– adventure lies on your doorstep, you just need to step out!
Frances Longmore and Martin Gledhill
Frances Longmore recently completed her MA in literature, landscape and environment at Bath Spa University. Walks within the Walls was the subject of her dissertation; a case study of walking tours through the urban landscape. An example of how various forms of written representation, not just literary texts, can be used to inform, reflect and shape the way we see and engage with our environment.
Martin Gledhill is a senior teaching fellow at The University of Bath and is studio leader for the BSc, 4th Year. He is presently engaged in a PhD on Carl Jung and Architecture.
Peter Smithson’s original walks have now been revised and reprinted by Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios and Bath Preservation Trust, with the permission of the Smithson Family Collection and supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.
1. Walk 1: Start walking in South Parade. This is my favourite part of Bath. Decent snuff coloured buildings and the widest pavement I know. Thirty three feet wide.
2. Here, the upsweeps reach their apogee. There are about four feet between the levels of adjacent houses. The up-sweeps make it look as if the hill has been built specially to give just that amount, so perfectly are the size of the projections and the arcs handled.
3. In this case the word ‘space’ seems justified, for the flat grassed area between the buildings and the river is somehow abstract and unconnected – public open-space, not the garden of the houses.
4. Better back than front on this occasion. Originally no windows in the projecting towers, large-stone ashlar walls with simple string courses, once upright and military in its regularity all along.
5. Now trudge off overwhelmed down cluttered and homely Brock Street towards the Circus
6. …more beautiful stones.
7. Here the canal passes without fuss right under a house. Formal front, workmanlike back, both houses and bridge. The towing path crosses over the canal close under the house behind a solid plain masonry round-topped parapet. This house, I am told, used to be the canal office, and bills of lading and messages were passed up through an opening in the tunnel vault into the basement room above. Certainly a blackened hole in the roof of the tunnel is still there.
All images and captions © Peter Smithson, from Walks within the walls.