Local History

A brief history of the Calton and Holloway

Calton Gardens and Calton Walk

The completion of the Kennet & Avon Canal in 1810 and the GWR railway in 1841 caused the area south of the river to be developed for housing the workers needed to keep Bath running. Development of Calton Road started in the 1830s: first, more desirable ‘cottages’ with long gardens extending up the Cliff slope and names like ‘Beautiful View’ were built on the south side, then terraces of small dwellings were built in the 1840s on the north side of the road – Upper Trafalgar Place, St Mark’s Terrace and Beechen Cliff Place.

Calton Road 1885

Detail of Calton Road from the 1885 OS map. Courtesy of Bath Record Office.


Upper Trafalgar Place in 1965.

Upper Trafalgar Place in 1965. Courtesy of Bath in Time.


An analysis of the 1895 Street Directory for Calton Road Shows that the top ten most frequent occupations of the residents were: mason, labourer, policeman, carpenter, porter, gardener, coachman, tailor, dressmaker, laundress.

The narrow opening at the far side of the house in the foreground led down the steps to St Mark’s Road.





View of Beechen Cliff ca. 1937. Courtesy Bath in Time.

View of Beechen Cliff ca. 1937. Courtesy Bath in Time.


One of the most ancient routes serving Bath comes south from the city centre, crosses the river Avon, then ascends the steep western flank of Beechen Cliff via Holloway to reach Bear Flat, before it climbs further to Odd Down, whence routes to the south and south-west lie ahead.

Other than Mr Allen’s stone wharf by the river Avon and scattered houses bordering Holloway as it rises up Beechen Cliff, the scene south of the river in 1734 is overwhelmingly pastoral.

It is generally thought that the name ‘Holloway’ derives from the simple description of a track, worn away by the combination of traffic and flowing water to become a sunken road. Other derivations have been proposed, such as ‘Holy Way’ relating to the pilgrimage route to Glastonbury, or ‘Haul Way’ as used by John Wood the elder, but these derivations are considered unlikely.

Detail from ’South East Prospect of Bath’ 1734 by S & N Buck. Courtesy of Bath in Time

Detail from ’South East Prospect of Bath’ 1734 by S & N Buck. Courtesy of Bath in Time

Until only recently (eg 1952 OS map) Holloway was referred to as ‘The Fosse’ or ‘Fosse Way’, identifying it as the Roman road which ran from Lincoln to Exeter; it is now thought that Fosse Way split at Odd Down, one part going down to a ford at Twerton, the other down to a bridge in Bathwick. Being the main southerly road from Bath, a variety of buildings would have lined Holloway over the centuries and in medieval times wool merchants were said to have had fine dwellings there.

The only historic buildings in Holloway shown in Robins’ picture of 1757 that are left standing comprise: the Chapel of Saint Mary Magdalen (C11th origins) with the adjoining Magdalen House (rebuilt in the Regency period), the nearby Hospital (rebuilt in 1761) and Paradise House with its venetian-style windows (built ca. 1735).

Detail from ‘A South-West Prospect of the City of Bath’ by T Robins 1757. Courtesy of Bath in Time.

Detail from ‘A South-West Prospect of the City of Bath’ by T Robins 1757. Courtesy of Bath in Time.

Holloway Turnpike was established at Bear Flat in the mid-1770s at the summit of the newly constructed Wells Road, nearby the Bear Inn and Holloway Brewery. In 1793 the trustees of the Bath Turnpike Roads called a meeting to consider an extra toll for wagons carrying quarried stone that were causing excessive damage to the road surfaces.

Today Holloway extends only as far as Hayes Terrace and the shopping parade of Bear Flat, but up until the 1880s ‘Holloway’ extended up to where the Wells Road and Bloomfield Road split, hence the naming of Holloway Farm (site of the Bath & West of England showground in 1877) and the Holloway Fair.

Holloway Fair was held originally as part of the religious calendar on the day of the “Feast of the Invention (or Discovery) of the Holy Cross” in May. The Abbey Prior gave permission for it to be held on land at Bear Flat and beyond, deriving a modest annual income. The Fair continued to be held after the dissolution of the monasteries and the income may have been endowed to St Mary’s Chapel. It became very popular in the C18th for the sale of livestock and produce and particularly when a horse fair was added in 1754. It was during this time that the Fair gained a reputation for drunkenness and brawling, much to the dismay of those concerned with attracting genteel society to the city. In the C19th the Fair waned in popularity such that in 1839 Reverend Tyte described it comprising merely of ‘two ginger-bread stalls and a swing boat’.

St. Mary Magdalen Chapel

In the late 11th century Walter Hussey (Hosate) gave his house and adjoining domestic chapel of St Mary Magdalen to Bishop John of Tours and the cathedral at Bath. Bishop John is thought to have used Walter’s gift to establish one of the earliest chapels in the country for the particular care of lepers who came to Bath hoping to be cured by taking the waters. Magdalen House, which was rebuilt during the Regency period and is attached to the west end of the chapel, is the likely site of the original hospital.

Over the following years St Mary’s suffered from periods of poor administration, leading to successive declines in fortune and campaigns for rebuilding. In 1495 Prior Cantlow carried out a major restoration of the property, some parts of which are visible today. In the late 16th century land associated with the chapel (30 acres in 1535) had to be leased out in order to pay debts and it was around this period that the hospital ceased to serve lepers, so that by the mid-17th century the hospital was involved in the care of ‘lunatics’.

In 1760, Bath’s then Rector, Duell Taylor, undertook the repairs to the chapel so as to cater for the increasing number of parishioners living in the area, and in 1761 the thatched cottage which then served as the hospital, just down the hill from the chapel, was completely rebuilt – as the inscription above the front door describes. Further major repairs and alterations to the Chapel were made in the 1820s.

Engraving of ‘St Mary Magdalen’ from a drawing by Thomas Shepherd in 1829

Engraving of ‘St Mary Magdalen’ from a drawing by Thomas Shepherd in 1829

In April 1942 Bath suffered from the ‘Baedeker’ air raids which resulted in serious blast damage to the chapel roof when the houses in Springfield Place opposite were demolished by a direct hit; the roof was entirely rebuilt in 1947.

Today, St Mary Magdalen continues under the administration of St John’s Hospital; services of worship, weddings and baptisms take place in the chapel, as do the occasional musical concerts. The land surrounding the chapel comprises a secluded small burial ground with wonderful views over Bath, plus a delightfully peaceful walled garden full of plants mentioned in the Bible that thrive in the dappled shade of the ancient Judas tree.

St Mary’s was formerly a chapel within the parish of Lyncombe & Widcombe so its registers are to be found with those of the parish church of St Thomas. An index to all the burials at St Mary’s and descriptions of the surviving monuments can be found at the Bath Record Office or online at www.batharchives.co.uk/cemeteries/st-thomas-à-becket-and-st-marks-widcombe.

A full history of St John’s Hospital and St Mary Magdalen has been written by Jean Manco in her beautifully illustrated book ‘The Spirit of Care’ published by St John’s Hospital, Bath.

Holloway’s image

In the past Holloway had a wide variety of small shops and not only five public houses, but also the Holloway Brewery whose owner lived at Paradise House.

In 1891 Peach’s description of Holloway in ‘Bath, Old and New’ is hardly flattering: ‘(the houses) are small, mean and wretched, consisting of petty chandlers shops, dirty pot-houses, slop-sellers residences, etc’. He goes on to say that many of the residents of Holloway earned their livings by begging and preying on those who had come to Bath for their health or for fashion.

Begging in Bath had increasingly become a problem since 1597 when an Act was passed that allowed the free use of the baths to ‘the diseased and impotent poor of England’ but they were forbidden to beg on their journey. Not surprisingly, many unscrupulous people also travelled to Bath on the pretence of taking the curative waters, but spent their time ‘emptying the purses of the charitable and the opulent’. Although the Act was repealed in 1714, the ‘Beggars of Bath’ continued to thrive for more than a hundred years, partly due to the fact that until 1836 the parish of Lyncombe and Widcombe was outside the jurisdiction of the city, but in that year, as a result of the Corporation Reform Act, it was included within the city and a city-wide police force was established.

Although undoubtedly beggars found lodgings in Holloway, the census returns show that the majority of people living there were artisans and shopkeepers; furthermore, Holloway House, the large house up the hill from the Chapel, was the home of an attorney.

Another lost local feature was Holloway Pound, a small enclosure (opposite the car park for Paradise House) for the detention of stray livestock which were only released to their owners after payment of a fee to the nearby St Mary’s Chapel or, after 1857, to the City authority.

Magdalen Gardens

View through Magdalen Gardens onto Holloway.

View through Magdalen Gardens onto Holloway.

In 1862 the trustees of Bruton Hospital put up for sale the land at the western end of Beechen Cliff, today known as Magdalen Gardens. It was acquired by Bath City Council and in 1902 was handed over to the Pleasure Grounds Committee ‘to be laid out by them as a public pleasure ground’. This small park was immediately popular with visitors and residents alike as part of their walk up to Alexandra Park and the famous views over the city. The area became a sadly neglected part of Bath until recently when a project to enhance all of Beechen Cliff was initiated by B&NES Parks Department.

The Springs of Holloway

In a deed dating ca. 1230 a city water supply is described that took spring water in a lead pipe from Beechen Cliff (Bitching Clyffe) across the river bridge, along South Street to a cistern or conduit by the South Gate. This supply became known as the ‘Magdalen conduit’ after the hospital adjacent to the source of the springs.

In his Itinerary around England & Wales in about 1535 the antiquary John Leland wrote about his entry to Bath “ I cam doun by a Rokky Hille fulle of fair Springes of Water and on this Rokky Hille is sett a large streate as a Suburbe to the Cyte of Bath and (in) this streat is a chapelle of S. Mary Magdalen”.

Leland further records that “The Cite of Bath is sette booth yn a fruteful and pleasant Botom the which is environid on every side with greate Hilles out of which cum many Springes of pure water that be conveyid by diverse wayes to serve the Cite. Insomuch that Leade beyng made ther at hand many Houses yn the Toune have Pipes of Leade to convey Water from Place to Place”.

Evidence that came to light during the archaeological survey of the new Southgate shopping centre in 2006-9 indicated that the lead distribution pipe in the city was robbed out during the 1640s and possibly rerouted after 1650. At this time maintenance of the water supply was paid for by the City Chamberlain.


Sketch of spring water supplies from Magdalen Hill, 1745. Courtesy Bath Record Office.

Two hundred years after Leland’s visit, the 1745 sketch of spring waters illustrates how the water was collected in upper Holloway, distributed to local outlets and taken by the ‘Great pipe’ across the bridge to supply the south of the city. Around this period water supply to the city was becoming inadequate, so a new reservoir on Beechen Cliff and a new pipe down Holloway were constructed in 1757.

Ownership of the land where the springs arose was gifted to the trustees of Bruton Hospital in the early 1600s who, until it was put up for sale in 1862, received income from tenants and from users of the water, often referred to as ‘Bruton Water’.

For many years Bath City Corporation operated these spring waters as a public supply, building a series of conduits, collection tanks and distribution pipework to a variety of properties and public standpipes. The C19th census returns show that Holloway and its courtyards had a large number of laundresses capitalising on the ready supply of clean water.

Detail from Cotterell’s map of 1852-54 showing spring water supplies. Courtesy Bath Record Office.

Detail from Cotterell’s map of 1852-54 showing spring water supplies. Courtesy Bath Record Office.

However, when the construction of the nearby Somerset and Dorset Joint Railway line in 1872 caused a sharp drop in flows and when, in 1887, the water was found to be contaminated, the public supply from the springs was abandoned. The local underground reservoir (at the end of Calton Gardens) continued to be used to store treated (chlorinated) municipal water for local distribution until the early 1960s.


Horse trough in Holloway with descriptive plaques.


Some spring water continues to flow underground and can always be heard running outside number 12 Holloway as it makes its way into the city drainage system.




Historical views of Bath

Engraving of Thomas Shepherd’s drawing of ‘Bath from Beechen Cliff’ in 1829.

Views of Bath from Beechen Cliff have been recorded by painters and photographers for very many years, often with the houses of the Holloway area in the foreground. The following picture illustrate the jumble of housing clinging to the hill as it descends to the river crossing towards the Abbey.

Almost all these buildings have disappeared due to war damage, neglect or demolition prior to redevelopment.


War damage

Holloway suffered significant damage from bombing in 1942, as shown on the map below.

Sites where bombs fell in the Holloway area in April 1942. Courtesy Bath Record Office.

Sites where bombs fell in the Holloway area in April 1942. Courtesy Bath Record Office.

Major Redevelopment 1960 – 1980

Detail of 1952 OS map showing area redeveloped during the period 1965 to 1980

Detail of 1952 OS map showing area redeveloped during the period 1965 to 1980

Redevelopment of the coloured area was commissioned by Marshman Warren Taylor in the late 1960s; the first of the new houses to be occupied in 1972 were 5-11 Calton Walk, then 15-24 Calton Gardens and 1-6 Alton Place in 1973.  The final houses in Holloway and St Mark’s Gardens were finished in the early 1980s by builders M P Kent.
This controversial development replaced all of the characterful, mostly Victorian, housing which had either suffered significant war damage or had been allowed to fall into complete disrepair. Note how many ‘ruins’ are marked on the 1952 OS map.














3 thoughts on “Local History

  1. Is there any information on ‘Holly Lawn House’? I’m researching a family history and this property has ‘cropped up’ The family invested in house-building in the Holloway area c. 1827 on a parcel of land called ‘The Shrubbery’ in the ‘possession of William Watson and others since of Robert Clarke late of William Smith but now of the said Jeremiah Bishop and Betsey Smith his wife containing in length from north to south one hundredand twenty six feet and in breadth from east to west on the southside thereof forty-five feet and from the west to east on the north side of the said plot thirty four feet (the same several dimensions more or less) bounded towards the west by Holloway Turnpike Road towards the east by the Hill called Beechen Cliff towards the north by a footpath leading to the said Beechen Cliff..’
    Several houses (1-5 Springfield Place – NOT the Lansdown Springfield Place) were built by Richard Packer.

    The family legend has it that there was a large house, too, called ‘Holly Lawn House’.

    I would be most grateful for any assistance in sorting this out.


    Viv Dean


    • Hi Viv, we live next to Holly Lawn, and have deeds from the 1830’s which contain the names of JB and BS his wife, and reference to ‘the Shrubbery’. There is a reference to the property on the North side of our house (Holly Lawn), being premises belonging to a William Cottle.


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