The Museum of Bath at Work is one of those wonderfully obscure but fascinating museums, and works on many levels. The building was once a real tennis court, but then became an engineering works, so much of what is there is unchanged since they stopped business, and the whole was bought. It is as if the family who ran the business shave only just left the drills and lathes, the accounts books, and forges. It also includes their mineral water bottling factory which was largely run by the girls of the family. Bath is of course home to famous medicinal springs, but some people objected to its metallic taste, in fact when the poet Alexander Pope visited Bath, he drank bottles of water from Bristol’s Hotwells, so aerated waters were made by mixing sulphuric acid with chalk, and sold as a medicine in dispensaries. .
Bath always had industries alongside the major business of the town, heath and leisure. There were mills for corn and gunpowder, brass, and iron, coal mines, quarries for Bath stone and Fuller’s earth – used for degreasing wool and more recently for cat litter, printers and bookbinders. Stodherts’ cranes were famous worldwide for loading and unloading ships; several are on the quayside in Bristol. . One of the most intriguing was the manufacture of plasticine, which was invented by a local artist, Harbutt, in 1874. It is a mixture of coloured clay and lanolin, used by artists for modelling. I always saw it as a children’s toy, but as this photo shows, it could produce very detailed models. Until it closed in 1963, it was the only plasticine factory in the world. Its most famous use was by the animators, Aardman in nearby Bristol.