Pocket Britain
Britain > Somerset > Bath > Pulteney Bridge

The only bridge in Britain to support shops

Listen to this article
Bath has always been centred on the western side of the River Avon. This is where you'll find the Roman Baths, the Abbey, and all the big shopping areas. In the past, the eastern side was occupied by a huge rural estate called Bathwick. There was no bridge, so it could only be reached by ferry.
In 1767, the Bathwick land was inherited by a lady called Frances Pulteney. This was in the middle of Bath's Georgian upheaval, and the city was undergoing a building boom. Frances and her husband William hoped to get in on the action. They envisioned a new suburb on their estate that would make them a fortune. However, before any of that could be achieved, they needed to connect the two sides of the river. They needed a bridge.
The Pulteneys approached an architect called Robert Adam. He'd visited Italy in his youth, and had seen incredible bridges in Florence and Venice. These had a great effect on Adam's work, so his design was distinctly European. His most surprising proposal was for the crossing to be lined with shops, on both sides. This was unusual in Britain but, nevertheless, construction work was begun. Today, this is one of only two bridges in Europe to support shops.

Pulteney Bridge
Photo andypowe11
Just as the Pulteney family intended, the new structure caused Bath's urban development to begin spreading across the river. Another celebrated architect called Thomas Baldwin got involved, and designed a new road in the famous Georgian style. This is Great Pulteney Street, in line with the bridge. It's 300 metres long and 30 metres wide, making it one of the largest boulevards in Bath.

The road over Pulteney Bridge
Photo stevecadman
Unfortunately, over the next few years the development of Bathwick didn't go exactly to plan. The changing economy meant that huge building projects were no longer affordable.
After Robert Adam's death in 1792, several of the shopkeepers on Pulteney Bridge began to alter their premises. This happened frequently over the years, and before too long the bridge was unrecognisable. In the 20th century, one architect called it "a pathetic travesty of the original design". Thankfully, the local council stepped in. They classified the bridge as a national monument, and paid for extensive restoration work. If Robert Adam were here today he'd be able to recognise the ideas he first put to paper over 200 years ago.

Pulteney Bridge Flowers
Photo say_cheddar
Today, Pulteney Bridge is a popular part of Bath's retail scene. The shops currently include a florist, a juice bar and an antique map store.
For the best views of the bridge, you can either head for one of the riverbanks, or jump on board a boat. River cruises have been popular for years, and the 21st century is no different. Most of the trips head to Bathampton, a pretty village 3 kilometres upriver. However, regardless of which boat you choose, you'll be treated to a perfect view of one of Bath's most photogenic structures.

Enjoying views of the bridge by boat
Photo uli harder

Back ~ Top ~ Home ~ Index

Pocket Britain is optimised for use on a smartphone or tablet with internet access. All content is subject to copyright. All reasonable methods have been used to ensure information supplied is accurate at the time of publication. However, it is advisable to check information before relying on it. Privacy Policy