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An old building in Bath that's changed with the times

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The Octagon, in Milsom Street, is one of Bath's many Grade I listed buildings. It has been used by many different groups and societies in its time but, originally, it was built as a chapel. This may bring to mind an image of cold stone walls and sombre decorations, but the Octagon was different. This one was specifically designed to be warm and comfortable. After being completed in 1767, the building soon became a popular place of worship for the well-to-do members of society. They would each rent a pew for their own private use. These were vastly different from the traditional wooden pews that are found in most churches. They were more like small rooms, complete with squashy chairs and fireplaces. Servants would stoke the fires even during the services, ensuring that their employers were as cosy as possible. The Octagon soon became a fashionable place to see, and be seen. It was as big a part of the social calendar as any ball or party.
Towards the end of the 19th century the chapel fell into disuse, and it was sold off to an antiques company. From then on, the Octagon began to change hands quite frequently. During World War II it was converted into a food office, and after that it became an art gallery. The building's most notable function in recent times was between 1981 and 2005, when it was the headquarters of the Royal Photographic Society. This esteemed group was formed in 1853, and it quickly became the foremost organisation of its kind. Their collection of photographs contain many of the most beautiful and important images ever captured on film. A selection of these were placed on public display within the Octagon.
Unfortunately, in 2005, increasing costs forced the society to relocate. The building was then transformed once again. It became part of a new retail development called Milsom Place. The building is now a mixture of modern glass and old stonework. Its several dozen shops and restaurants are spread throughout open courtyards and terraces, making it an especially good destination during the summertime. Milsom Place is a great addition to Bath's shopping scene - but a visit here is made infinitely more interesting when you know its history.

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