The road as we see it today was laid out early in the 19th Century, on land in the estate of William Vane, 4th Earl of Darlington, a member of the immensely wealthy Pulteney family. It may follow pre-existing field boundaries but there is no evidence of an earlier right of way.
The older houses in the road were mostly built between the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815 and the accession of Queen Victoria in 1837. Bath was expanding fast at that time, climbing up the hills that provide such a magnificent backdrop to the ancient heart of the city.
To the 36 houses built before 1840, ten were added in the middle and late 1800s and another eight in the mid-1930s. A couple of the original houses were later subdivided, and the last additions to the road were built in 1966 and 1980. A legacy of the road’s long evolution is that many of the older houses originally had different numbers, or names that are no longer used.
Six house numbers and eight householders are listed in the 1819 edition of the Bath Directory. The householders included three builders, two clergymen and a corn merchant.
From 1841 onwards National Census returns at 10-year intervals give us more detailed snapshots of who lived in the road. The 1901 Census, for instance, showed a multifarious, multi-skilled community similar to today’s, but with the big difference that nearly half the households had live-in domestic staff.
Most of the houses have their backs to the canal, which was opened to through traffic in 1810. Exceptions include a house that is reputed to have been a tavern for watermen, an old malt house now converted into offices and a residence, and an old coalhouse that has also been converted into offices. A block of five late Victorian houses replaces buildings and a stone wharf previously used by the architect (John Pinch the Elder) who designed most of the older houses.
The canal’s nemesis as an artery for trade was the railway line that Isambard Kingdom Brunel brought through Bath in connecting London by rail to the port of Bristol 15 miles to the west. Opened in 1841 the railway quickly took business away from the canal. From 1877 on the canal never made a profit.
By the mid-1930s only one trader remained on the western end of the canal, though large boats were still able to use the waterway as a short-cut between the Bristol and English Channels. It was used that way during the 1914-18 War, to move motor boats from Bristol to London for overseas service.
Following the 1939-45 War (when Bath was heavily blitzed and the canal behind Sydney Buildings took a direct hit) there was a long battle to keep the waterway open and navigable. Thanks to the determination and effort of many people, inspired by true believers like John Gould and co-ordinated from 1951 on by the Kennet and Avon Canal Association (now constituted as a Trust), it was eventually successful. Reopened to through navigation in 1990, the canal has never been busier or more picturesque than it is today.
Images by kind permission of “Bath In Time” http://www.bathintime.co.uk/search/keywords/Sydney+Buildings