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New Town, Bath, Somerset: unexecuted street scheme commissioned by William Pulteney, 1777-82 (9)

1777-82
William Pulteney (formerly Johnstone) (1729-1805) was the third son of Sir James Johnstone, 3rd Baronet, of Westerhall, Dumfriesshire. He began his career as a lawyer, being admitted to the Scottish bar in Edinburgh in 1751. In 1759 William moved to London when he acquired a position in the Customs and Excise Office with a salary of £400 per annum. This enabled him to marry, in 1760, Frances (d 1782), daughter and heir of Daniel Pulteney, a cousin to the wealthy 1st Earl of Bath. William took the name of Pulteney in 1767 when his wife Frances succeeded to the estates of the Earl of Bath - including Shrewsbury Castle and plantations with enslaved people in the West Indies - making them some of the wealthiest commoners in the country. He then succeeded his brother, Sir James Johnstone, as 5th Baronet in 1794 to both the Westerhall estate and further plantations and enslaved poeple in Granada, Tobago and Dominica. Sir William remarried in 1804, Margaret, daughter of Sir William Stirling, 4th Baronet, of Ardoch, and the widow of his close friend, Andrew Stuart. Sir William also served - actively - as MP for Cromartyshire in 1768-74, and Shrewsbury in 1775-1805. He took an interest in East India affairs and was sympathetic to American objects to taxation without representation, albeit opponent of American independence.

Frances Pulteney’s estates were principally confined to London and Bath, and it was in Bath that William Pulteney sought the most development. In 1769 he acquired a Private Act of Parliament to build a bridge across the River Avon between the old city on the west bank, and the 600-acre Bathwick estate on the east bank. Pulteney’s fellow Scot, Robert Adam, was commissioned to made designs for this bridge – later known as Pulteney Bridge – as well as a new town development for Bathwick.

Rowan has noted that as Pulteney had been a lawyer in Edinburgh, he would have been familiar with the Edinburgh North Bridge, which was built to connect the old town and land to the north of Bath on which the New Town was to be built. The Pulteney Bridge and new town scheme were an emulation of this, allowing Pulteney to develop his wife’s estate at Bathwick as part of the city. Pulteney Bridge was nearing completion in 1773 and at the same time Adam produced his first scheme for the New Town. Alternative schemes followed in 1777 and 1782, for which there are extant drawings, but none of these were executed.

In 1782 Frances Pulteney died, leaving their only child, Henrietta Laura as her sole heir. William Pulteney managed the estates on his daughter’s behalf, using his influence to have her created Baroness Bath in 1792, and Countess of Bath in 1803. Pulteney himself succeeded his brother, Sir James Johnstone, in 1794, becoming 5th Baronet and inheriting Westerhall in Dumfries. He married again in 1804, Margaret Stirling, the widow of his friend Andrew Stuart of Craigthorn, Lanark, and died a year later, being buried next to Frances in Westminster Abbey.

Adam’s unexecuted scheme for the Bath New Town were his last designs for Pulteney, although he later designed the Johnston family funerary monument for Westkirk, Dumfries and Galloway (Adam volume 34/75-78) in 1790 for Pulteney’s brother Sir James Johnston. The New Town at Bathwick was finally begun in 1788 to designs by Thomas Baldwin (c1750-1820) and later by John Pinch (1769-1827). The houses are elevated on vaults, and work continued until c1820, but even so, only a small portion of the intended scheme was actually built.

See also: Pulteney Bridge; Bath Prison.

Literature:
A.T. Bolton, The architecture of Robert Adam, 1922, Volume II, Index pp. 3, 84; D. King, The complete works of Robert & James Adam and unbuilt Adam, 2001, Volume 2, p. 76; A. Rowan, Vaulting Ambition: the Adam brothers, contractors to the metropolis in the reign of George III, 2007, pp. 68-69; A. Foyle, and N. Pevsner, The buildings of England: Somerset, North and Bristol, 2011, p. 173; ‘Pulteney, William (1729-1805), of Westerhall, Dumfries and The Castle, Shrewsbury’, History of Parliament online; ‘Pulteney [formerly Johnston], Sir William, 5th baronet (1729-1805)’, Oxford dictionary of national biography online; Legacies of British Slavery database, UCL: www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs

Frances Sands, 2015
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