Sydney Gardens

Bath, England

Sydney Gardens are the only surviving 18th century pleasure gardens in England.

Sydney Gardens
- denisbin

Exploring the Sydney Gardens in Bath

At the end of Great Pulteney Street in Bath, Somerset, England, Sydney Gardens, originally known as Bath Vauxhall Gardens, are the only surviving 18th century pleasure gardens in the country. As a result they have been Grade II listed on the Register of Historic Parks and Gardens.

The gardens were created for social gatherings, promenades, and public breakfasts, attracting the Royal family and influential characters like Jane Austen. Over time the gardens had to be altered due to the construction of the Kennet & Avon Canal in 1810 and the Great Western Railway in 1840, which intersected the park.

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- T_Marjorie

Since then Sydney Gardens experienced a period of decline until the local council purchased the 4-hectare hexagon-shaped site, in 1908, reopening it as a public park in 1912. Today, the gardens have lots of recreational activities and events such as tennis courts, children's play areas, cinema screenings, and theatrical performances during the summer months.

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- Michael Day

The Origins of the Sydney Gardens

Opening in 1795, Sydney Gardens were designed by Charles Harcourt Masters, quickly becoming a popular destination for Bath's elite. Some of the attractions included bowling greens, a grotto, sham castle, and an artificial rural scene animated by clockwork figures. But the real treasure was the maze, twice the size of Hampton Court's, featuring a swing at its centre. The addition of Sydney Hotel in 1799 provided further amenities: coffee rooms; card rooms; and a ballroom.

To align with changing trends the Sydney Gardens were updated over the years. A cascade was added in 1810, an aviary in 1824, and a watermill in 1825. However, the arrival of the Kennet & Avon Canal in 1807 and the Great Western Railway in 1840 altered the gardens greatly, dividing the land and putting an end to the maze.

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- Roger Marks

In recent years, restoration projects funded by grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund and Big Lottery Fund, have helped to preserve the historic buildings, improve landscaping, and open up closed areas of the park.

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- Michael Day

Inside the Sydney Gardens

The main entrance to Sydney Gardens is marked by four square pillars on Sydney Place, possibly dating back to the 1880s, which once supported gates. Nearby stands a ticket kiosk, introduced in the 1930s. The gardens can also be entered via the west entrance near the Holburne Museum of Art, a Grade I listed structure built around 1796 as a tavern. Here, a coach drive sweeps around the lawn, linking Sydney Place to the north and south. This route was once the main entrance to the Sydney Hotel and is flanked by two late 18th century watchman's boxes.

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- Michael Day

Some interesting structures in the park include Minerva's Temple, on the north side of the central walk, created during the Empire Exhibition of 1911, and the Gothic Tea House, which is a former World War II air-raid shelter. Nearby is the loggia, once a gardener's cottage, and the Cleveland Tunnel, which passes beneath Cleveland House and used to be the headquarters of the Kennet & Avon Canal Company.

The Kennet and Avon Canal pass through Sydney Gardens via two short tunnels and under two cast-iron footbridges dating back to 1800. Adjacent to the canal, the Great Western Railway, can be crossed by foot and road bridges designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel in 1840.

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- Mark

Visiting the Sydney Gardens

Sydney Gardens is bursting with amenities and activities so they can be enjoyed by everybody! Visitors can wander through the lawns, over the canal, and across the railway tracks. Or try out some activities with a little less leisure and a little more hard work such as basketball, panna football, and table tennis.

Children can try the activity trails, use the play area, or challenge friends to a game of petanque. The community pavilion and gardening spaces allow for community engagement and horticultural interests. Accessible facilities, including Changing Places toilets and disability-compliant unisex toilets, ensure that all visitors can comfortably enjoy the gardens.

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- Michael Day

Alongside its many historical landmarks, there are other gardens in the city that are worth exploring. These include Royal Victoria Park and Prior Park Landscape Gardens. Or for more information about places in Bath, check out our blog.

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- Michael Day

Interested in finding more places like this? Try one of our Treasure Hunts In Bath - untangle cryptic clues as a team, as you are taken on a journey to the most unique, unusual and bizarre corners of England.

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