Canal & River Trust’s Graffiti-Busting Volunteers Uncover Vintage ‘Vandalism’ in Bath

Volunteers from waterways charity Canal & River Trust are helping to keep Bath beautiful for local people and its thousands of visitors by tackling graffiti cropping up along the Kennet & Avon Canal. 

While removing the 21st century tags, drawings and daubs, the team has uncovered carved Georgian ‘graffiti’ dating back just under 200 years.

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Initials ‘C.Y.M.’ were discovered carved into the Bath stone along the canal, alongside the year ‘1824’, meaning that the canal first saw graffiti almost 200 years ago – back in the canal’s freight carrying heyday. Later graffiti dated ‘1896’ saw the initial ‘J.P.’ carved into the stone.

Morgan Cowles, Canal & River Trust heritage and environment manager explains: “The waterway through Bath is a key part of this historic city, providing a tranquil oasis away from the bustling streets, and we’re working hard to make it even more attractive.

“Graffiti is a problem for our charity, and we work with our amazing volunteers to help protect the delicate fabric of some of Bath’s most iconic sites.  However, it appears that ‘tagging’ isn’t a new scourge, with this carved graffiti dating back almost two centuries.”

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The Trust’s volunteers have been removing the graffiti from the Grade II* Listed Kennet & Avon canal tunnel under Cleveland House and Sydney Road.

The historic structure, constructed c. 1800 in the local Bath stone, is notable for its fine decorative carvings (including a female head representing Sabrina, the Spirit of the Severn, who continues to watch over the waterway). Sadly, it has recently been the target of vandalism from unsightly graffiti.

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Removing the graffiti demands extreme care and specialist knowledge so the Trust have been guided by a leading national expert in the field. Jamie Fairchild of Restorative Techniques has trained Canal & River Trust employees and volunteers to meticulously remove the damaging paintwork without harming the historic stonework.

Morgan continues: “Sydney Bridge is an architectural gem so we have acted as quickly as possible to remove the graffiti.

“Using a variety of methods from cleaning with water and hand brushing only, through to the use of specialist stone cleaning equipment, we peeled back the layers of the offensive paintwork to reveal the beauty of the stone underneath.

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“Thanks to the support of our wonderful volunteers including Ian Herve, Brett Van Drie. and Pete Kingston we have restored the tunnel façade and it is once again looking magnificent.”

The Canal & River Trust is responsible for one of the world’s greatest industrial heritage estates and the third largest collection of designated heritage assets in Great Britain. These include bridges, aqueducts, locks, mileposts and other canal artefacts.

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