Home > History of Wine > The Vineyard at Walcot near Bath

The Vineyard at Walcot near Bath


TheCittyOfBath_1727

The Citty of Bath. Lens, AB. 1727. The British Library.

The vineyard at Walcot near Bath was in existence by 1590 when Queen Elizabeth granted the charter to the City of Bath.[1]  In detailing the boundaries of the city the charter describes “from thence unto the highway leading from Weston towards Walcot, so continuing by the said way unto a close of pasture commonly called the Wyniards, and from the said close”.  The Reverend Canon Ellacombe mentions this vineyard in his paper “The Vineyards of Somerset and Gloucestershire” (1890).[2] Noting that the charter was the “only old record” that he could find on the vineyard of Bath he felt the description “looks as if even then the Vineyards were discontinued and the land put into pasture.”  Reverend Ellacombe references Savage and Meyler’s “Map of Five Miles Round Bath” (1805) which only details the vineyard at Claverton.  Had he seen Thorpe’s first map “An Actual Survey of the City of Bath” (1742) he would have also seen the old Bath vineyard laid out.

WalcotVineyard_Thorpe1742

The vineyard at Walcot. From Thomas Thorpe’s map of Bath. 1742.

It is not yet clear whether a vineyard was tended either in the late 16th century when the charter was granted or throughout any of the 17th century.  We do know there was a vineyard from which wine was annually produced during the first half of the 18th century.  A late 19th century guidebook to Bath even described it as a “commercial vineyard”.

Walcot is located just north-east of the center of Bath.  In 1730 it was a small village of some 80 houses but has now been absorbed as a suburb of Bath.  Outside of the vineyard, it was an unremarkable village.  A few decades after production ceased, Daniel Defoe only notes of Walcot in 1761 that “many Roman Antiquities have been found”.[3]

According to several sources the vineyard was “celebrated”.  I can only imagine that the proximity of vineyard to the center of Bath and its placement along a road readily allowed visitors.  There were apparently enough visitors for it was simply known as the vineyard at Bath without any reference to the owner.

Richard Bradley, a professor of Botany at the University of Cambridge, wrote extensively of “the celebrated Vineyard near Bath, which has made so much Noise in the World” in his book A General Treatise of Husbandry & Gardening (1726).[4]  The vineyard of some six acres “lies upon the side of a steep Hill, facing the South, the Ground very rocky or stony: In this place, the Vines are planted in Lines about six Foot asunder and are treated much after the manner that Vines are manag’d about Germany.  The sorts of Grapes here planted, are the white Muscadine, Muscadine, and the black Cluster-Grape; and though they are not proper Wine-making Grapes, nor the most early in ripening, yet there was made sixty-six Hogshead of Wine”. James Tunstall in Rambles about Bath and its Neighbourhood (1876) describes “Two vines, planted together, were trained on stakes, at right angles, six feet apart”.[5]

These types of grapevines were certainly known in England.  These vines are listed in John Rea’s Flora: seu, De Florum Cultura (1665).[6]  John Rea, an English gardener, felt the black Cluster Grape was the best choice for English vineyards as it was the first to ripen.  The white Muscadine Grape, ranked second, ripened “well most years” with the red Muscadine Grape, ranked fourth, “not so apt to ripen with us, requiring more Sun.”

There were ripening issues with these varieties at this location.  Richard Bradley visited the vineyard on July 26, 1722 and found “the Vines were then hardly in Blossom, so that little could be expected from them”.  He did have an upbeat attitude for it was an “extraordinary Summer”.  He held that the vineyard site at Bath was more advantageous than Thomas Fairchild’s vineyard at Hoxton and John Warner’s vineyard at Rotherhith.  Fairchild’s fruit ripened ten days earlier than at Bath.  Even Warner’s fruit was almost fully grown too.  Richard Bradley concluded that the difference must be due to “the Sorts of Grapes, as well as from the Management of them” which resulted in a vineyard that did not “bear as constantly”.

From three different accounts we learn of the yields for four vintages from 1718 through 1736.

1718 – 66 hogsheads of Wine[7]
1719 – 69 hogsheads of Wine[8]
1721 – 3 hogsheads of Wine[9]
1736 – 80 hogsheads of Wine[10]

A brief observation published in the Bath Herald during 1815 notes an entry found in an old book of “Chronology” stating, “There is a Vineyard at Bath, which (though not above 6 or 7 acres of ground) yielded not less than 80 hogsheads of excellent wine in the year 1736.”[11]  The old book appears to have a tie to Samuel Trowell’s  A new Treatise of Husbandry, Gardening, and other Curious Matters relating to Country Affairs (1739) which mentions 80 hogsheads of wine coming from the “Plantation of about seven Acres” which was “near the Bath”.

As for value the, 66 hogsheads from 1718 sold for £660.[12]  The following year, the 69 hogsheads from 1719 were shipped from Bristol, to where is not stated, at £10 10s per hogshead for a total of £702 9s.  Richard Bradley wrote that “no one would dislike an Acre that will yield him yearly above” £100 per acre.  The Bath vineyard could certainly yield a large revenue.  Richard Bradley felt the black Cluster Grape yielded the least amount of juice.  If it were planted with “a more juicy Kind” then revenue could reach £150 per acre. However, if well-tended even £50 per acre could yield profits.

Samuel Trowell wrote in 1739 that the vineyard was “planted with Burgundy, Champagne, and Frontiniack”.[13]  This entry either incorrectly states the varieties planted, for every other account mentions the Cluster Grape or Muscadine, or it implies that the vineyard was replanted.  If so this could have spelled doom for Richard Bradley did not recommend Frontigniac for planting in England.  He found it “will not ripen in the open Ground” and that it required planting against a wall.

Late 19th century guidebooks to Bath indicate that “The crops began to fail about 1730” and in another case the vineyard was “done away with about 1730”.[14]  James Tunstall is more specific, he states that about “1730 the crops began to fail, the reasons assigned for it being that, as the spring seasons were more backward than they used to be, the grapes did not mature before winter.”  He found this “as shewing the change of climate that has taken place.”

Two 18th century accounts suggest all or some of the blame on the lack of care taken by the owners instead of the climate.  Thomas Hale wrote, “The Bath vineyards might serve as a better example to the husbandman who should consider only profit for them the juice of the grapes was fold there as it was pressed from the fruit and the owners had no farther care than managing the ground and gathering”.[15]  He continues that the vineyard at Hammersmith and vineyard at Bath “might have been better managed, and their profit rendered three-fold”.  A later account of England Vineyards suggests both the vineyards at Darking and Bath “turned to little account, either from cultivating a sort of grape unsuitable to the climate, or for want of skill in management.”  [16] A most interesting reason for the demise of the vineyard appears in the property alternation application for an 18th century house in The Vineyards.[17]  It states the land had “previously been used as a vineyard until c1730 when the springs, which watered it began to fail.”

WalcotVineyard_Thorpe1787

The former vineyard at Walcot. From Thomas Thorpe’s map of Bath. 1787.

Whether it be due to poor management, the grape varieties, the climate, or lack of irrigation, I can find no further references to a productive vineyard after 1736. The buildings of Harlequin Row appear to be among the first that went up in the former vineyard beginning in 1765.  The area became known as “The Vineyards” which also saw the building of The Countess of Huntingdon’s Chapel in 1765.


[1] The Municipal Records of Bath, 1189-1604. 1885. URL: https://books.google.com/books?id=dAEIAAAAQAAJ&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false
[2] Ellacombe, Reverand Canon. “The Vineyards of Somerset and Gloucestershire”. Proceedings of the Bath Natural History and Antiquarian Field Club, Volume 7. 1893. URL: https://books.google.com/books?id=-FNKAAAAYAAJ&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false
[3] Defoe, Daniel. A Tour Thro’ the Whole Island of Great Britain. (1761). URL: https://books.google.com/books?id=hRAHAAAAQAAJ&pg=PR3#v=onepage&q&f=false
[4] Bradley, Richard. A General Treatise on Husbandry & Gardening. (1726). URL: https://books.google.com/books?id=4Ok1AAAAMAAJ&pg=PP13#v=onepage&q&f=false
[5] Tunstall. Rambles about Bath and its Neighbourhood. 1876. URL: https://books.google.com/books?id=0woNAAAAYAAJ&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false
[6] Rea, John. FLORA: seu, De Florum Cultura. 1665.
[7] Bradley (1726).
[8] Major (1879).
[9] Bradley (1726).
[10] Trowell (1736).
[11] Newspaper article noting the discovery of a vineyard in Bath, 1815. From the Bath Herald September 30th, 1815. Bath in Time. URL: http://www.bathintime.co.uk/image/1129229/newspaper-article-noting-the-discovery-of-a-vineyard-in-bath-1815
[12] Bentley, Samuel. Literary Anecdotes of the Eighteenth Century. 1812. URL: https://books.google.com/books?id=tg8UAAAAQAAJ&pg=PR15#v=onepage&q&f=false
[13] Trowell, Samuel. A new Treatise of Husbandry, Gardening, and other Curious Matters relating to Country Affairs. (1739) URL: https://books.google.com/books?id=wZlgAAAAcAAJ&pg=PR1#v=onepage&q&f=false
[14] Major, S. D. Notabilia of Bath. (1879). URL: https://books.google.com/books?id=TaoHAAAAQAAJ&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false and Peach, Robert Edward Myhill. Street-lore of Bath. (1893). URL: https://books.google.com/books?id=htgMAAAAIAAJ&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false
[15] Hale, Thomas. A Compleate Body of Husbandry. 1759. URL: https://books.google.com/books?id=xvdEAQAAMAAJ&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false
[16] “A slight Sketch of English Vineyards” The Gentleman’s Magazine, Volume 57, Part 2. 1787. URL: https://books.google.com/books?id=TE4DAAAAMAAJ&pg=PA537#v=onepage&q&f=false
[17] Pre Application Advice request Form Harlequin House, 8 Vineyards BA1 5NS. Date 11.09.2015. URL: http://www.bathnes.gov.uk/WAM/doc/BackGround%20Papers-993336.pdf?extension=.pdf&id=993336&location=volume3&contentType=application/pdf&pageCount=1&appid=1001

  1. January 17, 2016 at 1:29 pm

    Aaron,

    Did you know that the Village of Bath, at the south end of Keuka Lake, near the birthplace of the Finger Lakes wine industry, was established by British land speculators with a connection to Lady Bath?

    It’s merely coincidence, because Keuka Lake area vineyards were not established until later, after the British hold on the land had been sold.

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