Museums + Heritage Awards 2014 – Award winners review: No 1 Royal Crescent Bath

The Whole Story Project – Highly Commended in the Permanent Exhibition category

The objective of this project, was to tell ‘The Whole Story’ of life in No.1 Royal Crescent in the late 18th century, both above and below stairs. Having been presented with the opportunity to acquire No. 1A Royal Crescent in 2006, the Bath Preservation Trust planned how to achieve the transformation required. Instead of just adding rooms to the existing visit, a complete rethink of the interpretation, education and access was required.

Reunifying the historic house museum at No.1 with its servants’ wing at No.1A was challenging. No. 1A was not only in a state of dilapidation, but had over 16 different floor levels. 19th and 20th century interventions needed to be stripped out to allow the creation of disabled access to the buildings and recreate the sense of the 18th century courtyard that originally separated the two buildings. In order to rethink the interpretation there was a degree of historical and buildings research which needed to underpin the work and early in the process HLF funding was sought and granted.

Opening in June 2013, visitors are now able to experience and enjoy a completely fresh reinterpreataion of No. 1 Royal Crescent as it might have been in the 18th century. Rigorous and extensive research was undertaken to inform the decorative schemes and interpretive approaches in each of the new rooms. Documentary research into the life and interests of the first resident of No. 1 Royal Crescent, Henry Sandford, has brought a real historical figure into the history that is presented, enabling visitors to connect with the past in new and imaginative ways.

The new permanent exhibitions demonstrate excellence in the interpretation and presentation of an historic house museum. Visitors are able to imagine themselves back in Georgian Bath and to experience life as it might have been in the late 18th century. They can view and engage with real objects that have survived from the period.

With 10 historically dressed rooms, 4 other rooms housing interpretation, exhibtions and the shop, the house has been transformed. Accessibility has been greatly improved and a learning centre within the Servants Hall provides a variety of educational and hands-on activities for schools, groups and visitors. Visitor numbers have risen 17% on the previous year, with 73% of visitors rating their visit ‘very enjoyable’.

Commenting on the award, Caroline Kay, Chief Executive of Bath Preservation Trust, said: “I could not be more delighted with this prestigious recognition for the hard work – and imaginative ambitions – of a dedicated and excellent project team. Everybody involved thoroughly enjoyed working on the project and this is a fitting reward for what we achieved within the constraints of a Grade I listed building and tight budget!”