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The City Watchman’s Sentry Box at Norfolk Crescent

Claire Miller, Architect

Claire Miller, Architect

Claire Miller has been working with SRA for just under 7 years and is passionate about community-orientated projects. She works predominantly on third sector/charity buildings, as well as participates in architectural talks and festivals in the wider community.

Bath Life Magazine asked Claire to contribute to a special architectural feature that looked at Bath city's most interesting and unusual architectural features. Her full article follows.

Here's Claire's perspective

On moving to Bath some years ago to study Architecture, I lived in a flat on Norfolk Crescent, a Georgian terrace overlooking the green in front of it, which was originally a formal garden for the residents.

The crescent is off the beaten track unless you enter the city at this point from the cycle path. Sitting on the corner of the green is a cylindrical stone structure that is Grade II listed (along with the terrace). This is one of my favourite local Architectural details.  At the time, I passed it daily, and appreciated its shape and detail, but it was not until recently that I understood its historical relevance as a Watchman’s Sentry Box. The societal relevance of the Watchman’s box is what has made this structure so special to me now.

Watchmen were introduced to provide a safe presence to unlit streets at night, in order to dispel the fear of danger and reprimand those who threatened to cause harm. The form of this Watchman’s Box is based on the Monument of Lysicrates in Athens. Versions of this Classical Monument became a popular feature in Georgian Britain, with Carlton Hill in Edinburgh providing one of the most famous examples.

Unlike the lavish decoration of the original Monument, Bath’s Watchman’s Box has an appearance to reflect its modest purpose. The plain pilastered drum is capped with a shallow dome, with a ring of circular medallions on the frieze providing the only decoration. With no pedestal at the base of the drum, the Watchman would have stepped into the Box through the low timber door set into the drum’s curved face.

Boxes and huts offered shelter for the Watchmen, and provided a holding place for suspects who had been picked up during the night.  What makes the Box so special to me is its cultural importance, as it marks a snapshot of social history in Bath following a change in how and when people socialised. It became increasingly difficult to watch the streets at night, and eventually the role of the Watchman was replaced by the introduction of the Police Force. As a result the Box on Norfolk Crescent, which has stood for over 200 years, became redundant only 30 years after its construction.

The City Watchman’s Sentry Box at Norfolk Crescent is an interesting aspect of our architectural heritage, which still exists even though the relevance to society has faded,
— Claire Miller, Architect