Beyond the Façade: Bath’s Original Craneworks

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Wandering along the River Avon path towards Green Park on a rainy day allows for a different view of the World Heritage City of Bath, a study in grey sky, red brick and greenery. In the city centre, the Georgian and Georgian-style townhouses built of Bath stone keep you keenly aware of the city’s history as a tourism and leisure spot. However, if you head towards the river you encounter a different view, a snapshot of Bath’s other history as a place for the heavier side of design in engineering and manufacturing. What happens behind Bath’s stone façades?

Surrounding the building that is set to become Bath’s new collaborative creative space ‘Craneworks’ are the BuroHappold Engineering and BMT Defence Services buildings. This stretch of Lower Bristol Road has been known for its engineering excellence since the British engineering company, Stothert and Pitt (‘crane makers to the world’), established their first foundry there in 1815. The area that extends from the River Avon to what is today Lower Bristol Road has historically been known as Bellmead, and by the 1820s Stothert and Pitt had established a series of workshops there just across the river from Green Park.

Following the completion of the Great Western Railway in 1841, Stothert and Pitt began to expand both their business interests and their premises, eventually building a new complex called ‘Newark Works’ in 1857. ‘Newark Works’ was designed by the Bath-born architect Thomas Fuller (1823-1898), who eventually left Bath for Canada, where he went on to design buildings in the High Victorian Gothic style. By 1902, Stothert and Pitt had become a limited company and extended their premises in 1908 to what is today Oldfield Park. Fuller’s original designs for the foundry’s façade was applied along the expanded length of the works, though most of these buildings have since been demolished to make room for the development of Riverside Court.

Founded in Bath in 1785 by George Stothert after taking over Thomas Harris’ iron monger’s business, the firm expanded early on from manufacturing iron objects to the industrial engineering of cranes, pumps and tanks, eventually ceasing production at their Bath works in 1989. They exhibited one of their hand cranes at the Great Exhibition of 1851 at the Crystal Palace in London (then known as Stothert, Rayno and Pitt) and built the famous ‘Fairbairn’ Steam Crane that sits outside MShed today in 1876. Founded in 1903 by the firm’s workers, the Stothert and Pitt RFC “Cranes” still play on Bristol Road leading out of Bath. Although the firm exists now as a consultancy and has moved from Bath to Bristol, its footprint remains firmly planted.

Bath’s industrial heritage buildings provide the city with another layer to its already rich history and, hopefully to its future, with ‘Craneworks’ as a model for world-class creative spaces. Which of Bath and Bristol’s historic buildings interest you? Tweet us @BBxD_ and let us take you beyond the façade.

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