Pulteney Bridge is a bridge that crosses the River Avon, located in Bath, England and completed in 1773. It was designed by Robert Adam and is one of only four bridges in the world with shops across the full span on both sides. Shops located on the bridge include a flower shop, an antique map shop, and a juice bar.
It is named after Frances Pulteney, heiress in 1767 of the Bathwick estate across the river from Bath. Bathwick was a simple village in a rural setting, but Frances’s husband William could see its potential. He made plans to create a new town, which would become a suburb to the historic city of Bath. First he needed a better river crossing than the existing ferry. Hence the bridge.
Pulteney Bridge, view from the south side
Pulteney Bridge, view from the north sidePulteney approached the brothers Robert and James Adam with his new town in mind, but Robert Adam then became involved in the design of the bridge. In his hands the simple construction envisaged by Pulteney became an elegant structure lined with shops. Adam had visited both Florence and Venice, where he would have seen the Ponte Vecchio and the Ponte di Rialto. But Adam’s design more closely followed Andrea Palladio’s rejected design for the Rialto.
Pulteney Bridge stood for less than 20 years in the form that Adam created. In 1792 alterations to enlarge the shops marred the elegance of the façades. Floods in 1799 and 1800 wrecked the north side of the bridge, which had been constructed with inadequate support. It was rebuilt by John Pinch senior, surveyor to the Pulteney estate, in a less ambitious version of Adam’s design. 19th-century shopkeepers altered windows, or cantilevered out over the river as the fancy took them. The western end pavilion on the south side was demolished in 1903 for road widening and its replacement was not an exact match.
Shop frontages on the Pulteney BridgeThe tide turned in the twentieth century, with restorations in 1951 and 1975. Pulteney Bridge could not be returned to its original form, but it was given back its dignity. However, in local Bath legend the story still remains, that the bridge was designed with an old woman in mind – one that had washed her face, but forgotten to wipe her ‘arse’. This is apparently due to the bridge’s pristine frontage, yet rather shabby behind. The verifiability of this legend is uncertain. It is now one of the best-known buildings in a city famed for its Georgian architecture.