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The Museum of Bath at Work

Founded: 1978     Governance: Independent Trust        Scope: Local & Industrial History    Visited: Autumn 2021

While in Bath I steered clear of both the Roman Baths with its 20 entrance fee and anything to do with Jane Austen to visit instead the Museum of Bath at Work, located behind a red door at the end of a yard off an obscure street to the north of the city centre ... There wasn't a sign on the door saying 'Beware of the Leopard', but it was almost that overlooked.

MBW is not part of the Bath Preservation Trust which looks after several of the other museums, nor linked to the Council which has responsibility for the Roman Baths: I was greeted by an elderly lady on the front desk (I think with a northeastern accent) who informed me that 'the museum was set up to tell the story of the people of Bath who weren't Romans or Georgians', with a hint, I thought, of defiance. She stood behind the original shop counter of Mr Bowler's engineering business, based not here in this 18th-century building, but down by the river: as the business - which had begun with brass-founding and progressed through general engineering, soft drinks bottling, and even shoe-selling at one stage - began to run down in the late 1960s, the Bowler family were courted by Russell Frears, who'd trained as an industrial designer and realised that the Bowlers had never thrown away a single bottle, founding pattern, bill or bit of paper, and that what they had on their hands was an industrial museum in the making. Frears spearheaded the founding of the Bath Industrial Heritage Trust specifically to make that a reality, and six years after the Bowler factory was demolished the Museum opened. 

Even though what you're looking at is all a mock-up, it's mocked-up so fully that you do feel at points that you are walking through a small factory - or you would do if it wasn't for various bits of art for sale around the exhibitions. Straight after the reception is the machine shop, where you press a green button on the wall and the whole thing gradually judders into life, driven by the flying belts to a frenzy of rattling, banging, screeching and whirring, until you can bear no more and press the red button whereon it all slows to a stop again. It all looks massively dangerous and you are glad to be looking down on it from a mezzanine rather than being in the midst of it. There is then a quieter gallery looking at the history of Bath as a whole with special reference to industry and work, including, on my visit, a special display about the avant-garde havoc the Bath Arts Workshop caused around the city in the 1960s and 70s, a scourge of the City Fathers and an outrage to public decency. There's a beautiful Horstmann car from 1914, a Bath chair (of course), and a set of road-marker's chalks, something whose existence I never thought about.

MBW clearly posits itself as 'alternative Bath', and while the entrance fee is a bit steep, it deserves to be championed far and wide. Wonderful stuff, unafraid at having a different point of view, and not a toga in sight. Well, almost.


The Museum of Bath at Work	The Museum of Bath at Work

The Museum of Bath at Work	The Museum of Bath at Work
The Museum of Bath at Work
The Museum of Bath at Work
The Museum of Bath at Work
The Museum of Bath at Work
The Museum of Bath at Work
The Museum of Bath at Work
The Museum of Bath at Work
The Museum of Bath at Work
The Museum of Bath at Work

The Museum of Bath at Work
The Museum of Bath at Work




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