History of The Square

In March 1790, Sir Peter Rivers Gay granted to Richard Hewlett and James Broom a 99 years building lease of some land to the north of the Royal Crescent, beyond the road then known as Cottle's Lane.  This land consisted of orchards and gardens which at the time were tenanted by various residents of the Crescent.

The lease was granted to Hewlett and Broom on the condition that they would spend at least £10,000 "in erecting buildings and finishing stone messuages", and they engaged John Palmer to design the layout and elevations for a residential square with four tributary streets.  Building was begun as soon as the site could be cleared, and most of the houses were completed by 1794.  John Fielder and Thomas King were among the builders associated with the project.

The 45 houses in the Square enclose a quadrangle 360 feet north to south and 250 feet from east to west, in the centre of which is now an informal grassed garden containing several remarkable trees.

On the east side there is a passageway from the Square to St James's Street.  John Palmer had to incorporate this to give access to the residents of St James's Place whose houses predated the Square.

The street around the Square was cobbles or sets, which are still clearly visible in photographs from around 1929/35. The railings around the garden were taken for the 2nd World War effort, subsequently being replaced by a chain link fence.  The present railings were installed in 1985,managed by a Residents' Association with funding from residents, local businesses, Bath Preservation Trust and others.  The railings were officially 'opened' in 1988 by Countess Spencer.

No 35, on the east side, has 2 bronze plaques installed in the early 20th century at the instigation of alderman Thomas Sturge Cotterell, similar to others around Bath.  One attests to the residence of William Savage Landor, prior to emigrating to Florence, Italy where he is buried in the English Cemetery.  Amongst his close friends were Robert and Elizabeth Browning and Charles Dickens, and Dickens stayed with Landor at No 35 on several occasions, once together with the American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow who was visiting Dickens at the time.  Indeed Landor was Godfather to one of Dickens' sons, Walter Landor Dickens.  It is said that, whilst staying with Landor in 1840 Dickens first thought of Little Nell, and the Old Curiosity Shop was fashioned on No 34, whilst the character of Boythorn in Dombey and Son was modelled on Landor.

Another notable resident of No.35 in the 1930s was the Canadian Presbyterian Missionary ReverendJames Scarth Gale.  He had been a missionary in the Far East, in particular Korea, and he worked on the translation of the Bible and Pilgrim's Progress into Korean, before retiring to Bath.  He was photographed with the Charles Dickens Fellowship in the mid 1930s - they would occasionally meet at No. 35, and mark the occasion by laying a wreath on the plaque. A cutting from the Bath and Willsten Chronicle of May 29 1939 records the event with about 100 people packing the Square. The menu for the Dickens Fellowship (Bath branch) annual dinner in February 1936 shows a sketch of No 35 on the back cover.

The garden itself has been through several phases. Between the wars it was laid out more formally, with an undulating path just inside the fence and a few large sculptures including 2 urns, one at each end of the Square. Post war the garden was neglected until the residents, in the 1970s, formed the St James's Square Residents Association which took on the task of improvement and maintenance and also initiated work to give the Square a more open aspect with clear vistas to the surrounding houses.

Apart from the squirrels, the garden has also been home to sheep as shown on the greetings cards of the Square. Until 2002 the flock arrived each year for a month before leaf fall, which saved at least two grass mowings.