The Read Family at No 54

1976 - 1988

Philip and Lyn Read bought 54 Sydney Buildings from Geoffrey and Beatrice Fane in the hot dry summer of 1976. The Fanes moved to Russell Street and subsequently emigrated to Australia to be near their family.

No 54, August 1976, when the Read family moved in

"What made the house so attractive to us was the fact that it is only on three floors (almost a Georgian bungalow by Bath standards), its beautiful garden and wonderful views over the City. Beatrice was a very gifted gardener and designed a series of “rooms” a la Jekyll running down to the high retaining wall above the canal basin. In the last “room” there was a small rectangular pool, stocked with goldfish and bordered with espaliered apple trees. In hard weather a local heron removed the fish.

When we moved in that summer the magnificent Magnolia Grandiflora on the back of the house was in full bloom. Beatrice had cleverly contrived to have blooms growing in the balconettes on the first floor and the wonderful lemony scent filled the whole house. The grass was bleached white because the drought. The position was only relieved when Harold Wilson appointed a Minister of Drought (Denis Howell); the heavens opened and we were saved!

Our daughters, Clemency and Susannah, attended local schools, played in the Saturday orchestras run by The Bath Society of Young Musicians (I was for some time Chairman of the Friends committee) and entered fully into Bath life."

The Read family in their back garden

"Geoffrey Fane had been Treasurer of the Sydney Buildings Householders Association and that position was passed on to me almost by virtue of taking on No. 54. I was Treasurer when Mervyn Stockwood became Chairman. He amused us by saying, hardly sotto voce, in Bathwick Hill Stores that he was enjoying Sydney Buildings but wanted to remain incognito. As he was dressed at the time in gaiters and Episcopal purple it seemed unlikely his wish would be fulfilled.

The Bath Festival was always an exciting time and we had various musicians to stay with us including the composers John Tavener, John Casken and Hugh Wood as well as performers including the pianist Peter Donohoe. He played for his supper one evening but said he wouldn’t play full out in case our ancient upright collapsed.

We also had “theatricals” to stay on occasions. I particularly remember Michael Gough during a run of Breaking the Code with Derek Jacobi, but my special favourite was Fenella Fielding who was appearing in The Ghost Train. She was not at her best in the morning; “Dahling, just lots of black coffee” got her going however. She was absolutely delightful. I didn’t like to tell her for how long I had been a fervent fan.

We sold No 54 in 1988 and moved to St. James’s Square. We have always thought No 54 to be the most beautiful house in Sydney Buildings, if not in Bath. Others will I’m sure disagree with that opinion."

Philip Read

June 2009

Sydney Buildings History Group ©