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April 2014

Consultations

The most important organisations that we are required to consult with are English Heritage whose officers keep an eye on all heritage aspects of the country and the Church Buildings Council which is responsible to General Synod for all Church of England churches. 

In chronological order the other statutory organisations that we talk to are the Society for the Protection of Ancient Britain, the Ancient Monument Society, the Georgian Group and the Victorian Society.  All these organisations have a wealth of knowledge which they use both to advise us and to inform those who grant us permission.

And then there are the non-statutory groups; by this I mean organisations such as Bath Preservation Trust, the Friends of Bath Abbey, the B&NES Urban Regeneration Panel and The Abbey Residents Association again all of whom have a large amount of information and knowledge which we welcome and which we continue to use.

April 2014

Clergy Vestry

One of the unique but hidden parts of the Abbey is the clergy vestry.  As you may well be aware, Bath Abbey does not have the side rooms and chapels that many large churches and cathedrals have.  One place we do have is the clergy vestry which is currently a very busy space.  As well as being used as a vestry, it is also used for money counting and as a soloists green room and it is where the vergers work from.  As part of Footprint, a new staircase will be built on the outside of the current clergy vestry at the foot of which will be a space for a new vestry – purpose built for the various functions needing to be done there but a little more separate from the main part of the Abbey.

So what is unique about the current vestry?  The obvious thing is the beautiful Tudor plaster ceiling.  As you may be aware, until the Gilbert Scott renovation of the Abbey in the 1860’s, the nave also had a plaster ceiling.  Now the only places in Bath with ceilings from that time are the Coeur de Lion public house in Northumberland Place and the Bath Abbey vestry.  The other unique feature which is visible if you go down to the vaults entrance is the fact that the main wall of the vestry is built on the foundations of the South transept of the Norman Cathedral which predated our present church.

Our current ideas for the vestry are to make it capable of being open to visitors from Monday to Saturday and then for it to be used to help manage services on Sundays.  The wall between the vestry and the South transept is very thick so we are planning to keep the better items of silver and other key artefacts in secure glass fronted cases in that wall so that visitors can see them.  The plaster ceiling has many layers of paint which we hope to remove so that again the beauty of the place can be enjoyed by all.

March 2014

Reducing our Footprint

A key aspect of Footprint is to reduce our Carbon Footprint by lowering our gas and electricity consumption – at a minimum we believe we can halve the bills we would otherwise receive.

The main way we plan to reduce energy consumption is by using energy from Bath’s Hot Springs which, as you probably know, are unique in the UK.  Every day over 1 million litres of hot water comes from the Springs and most of it flows down the Roman Great Drain into the river at the lower part of Parade Gardens.  Having risen to the surface at over 45°C, the water still contains about 1.5 MW of energy as it flows into the river – if you can imagine about 750 kettles boiling away for 24 hours a day then you will begin to understand the potential.

In 1591 the local authority was granted a Royal Charter by Queen Elizabeth I since when they have been responsible for the Hot Springs.  We have been working with the B&NES Council officers – in particular the officer with the title ‘Custodian of the Springs’ – and, together with engineers from Buro Happold, have worked out the best way to extract the energy.  Our plan is to divert the spring water through a heat exchanger which will in turn provide us with a source of clean hot water with which we can heat not only the Abbey but also the other existing and new spaces created as part of Footprint.  B&NES Council have agreed in principle that we should be allowed to use the hot spring water and in return any clean hot water that we don’t need will be sent back to help heat their buildings such as the Roman Baths and Pump Room complex.

The Buro Happold engineers have studied a number of possible places for us to extract the energy from the waste hot spring water.  We have concluded that the best place is some unused vaults under Kingston Parade between the East Roman Baths and the basement of the Tourist Information Centre – which just happens to be right on top of the Roman Drain.
 

March 2014

Music

One the most significant drivers for the design of all the spaces outside the Abbey is the location of the choir practice room.  This has to have a high ceiling for acoustic reasons but also needs to have good access into the Abbey and to be easily accessible from the vestries, choir library, music offices, toilets and store rooms.  These needs have resulted in our architects, Feilden Clegg Bradley from Bathampton Mill, designing the main practice room in the centre of the cottages which form Kingston Buildings (where the Abbey offices are located now). 

The practice room will come up from the basement into the ground floor of Kingston Buildings; on either side of it at basement level will be vestries for children and for adults (which will also be available as practice and tuition rooms when not being used as vestries). Beside the vestries will be toilets and at the ground floor level on a balcony around the main practice room will be the music library and adjacent to that will be the music offices.  Finally, and key to the whole design, as the choirs leave the practice room and vestries they will walk past the main meeting room and then straight up one flight of stairs and into the Abbey via the existing clergy vestry. 
 

February 2014

Collaboration with Universities and Schools

On Tuesday I went to the University of Bath for presentations by final year students from the Physics department.  I came away delighted and most impressed with a team of four students who we have been working with.  They have made a model of a section of the Abbey floor and with that have measured, in more detail than we can do, the thermal properties of different floor surfaces.  We provided them with offcuts of the underfloor heating pipes and 7 samples of old and new stone and they procured the remaining materials and built their own floor section.  Their presentation was excellent and the results of their work will have an input into the final design of the remainder of the Abbey floor.

I mention this work not just because it is useful in itself but particularly because it is an example of the work which we have been doing with students from both Bath universities and also from the University of the West of England and the City of Bath College.  We are very keen to compliment the work we do in and with local schools with this work with older students.  Where our facilities and the work we are doing links in to their studies I think we all benefit from this sort of co-operation.  So please, don’t be surprised to see more young engineers, artists or architects intently studying our beautiful building.
 

February 2014

Music

One of the things which the Abbey is best known for is the competence of our choirs and the musical tradition of which they are a very fine example.  I am sure that you will agree with me that Dr Peter King, Director of Music, the other members of his team and the members of the choirs themselves do an amazing job despite the conditions they work from. The “traffic jams” of people in the Abbey kitchen at busy times are quite unacceptable.

Considerable effort was spent in the early days of the project looking for the optimum location for a new choir practice room and for the associated spaces which together will form the Song School.  The choir practice room needs to be both large enough and to have sufficient height to provide appropriate acoustic properties.  The only place that this can be accommodated within the available buildings is in Kingston Buildings.  With our architects we looked at a number of options but concluded that the best arrangement for the choir practice room is that it should be in the centre of Kingston Buildings – numbers 10 and 11 – coming up from the basement into the ground floor.  This means the floor area will be that of two of the cottages and the height will be a bit more than two floors of the cottages.  (A ‘bit more’ because we plan to lower the basement floor by 400 mm so that it is at the same level as the vaults.