As part of Bath Quakers’ process of discerning a long-term vision for the Friends Meeting House in York Street we were pleased to host a talk by Barry Gilbertson on Thursday 4 Jan. Prof Gilbertson is a distinguished surveyor, former President of the RICS and trustee of the Bath Preservation Trust and current chair of the UNESCO World Heritage City advisory group.
In an increasingly homogenised world it remains only our culture and heritage that differentiates us, he said. Bath and Venice are the only two complete cities to be given World Heritage status by UNESCO. Bath was inscribed in 1987, very early in the world listings, and was one of the first of the now 31 sites in the UK. Bath’s outstanding universal values are sixfold: Roman history; hot springs; Georgian architecture, Georgian town planning, c18th social ambition, and the green countryside setting of the city.
Bath could take a great deal more pride in showing the World Heritage Site symbol (foreground, located in Bath Street) according to Prof Gilbertson.
The question he put to Friends was this: what distinct ‘presence’ would best serve Quaker beliefs and principles at the heart of our World Heritage city? We have a highly characterful building at the heart of the sacred healing district of the city, yet its external aspect does not speak of Quaker faith in action.
He explained what World Heritage status means, why we have it and how it is administered. The wide range of stakeholders includes national and local government, conservation, academic and a range of local bodies represented on the 22-person Advisory Board chaired by Barry. The city could make more of its status, and also manage development and traffic better, he said, suggesting for example a congestion charge for visiting coaches, or a tourist tax such as the one that already works effectively in the Lake District.
He gifted the Meeting two copies of his book Making changes, prepared by Bath Preservation Trust for owners of listed buildings in Bath. It has illustrated practical guidance on what can and should not be done with the characteristic features and fabric of Georgian Bath buildings. This will be extremely useful.