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Bath Prison, Grove Street, Bath, Somerset, unexecuted designs commissioned by William Pulteney, 1771 (2)

Signed and dated

  • 1771


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. He then succeeded his brother, Sir James Johnstone, as 5th Baronet in 1794 to both the Westerhall estate and plantations and enslaved poeple in Granada, Tobago and Dominica. This made Pulteney one of the wealthiest commoners in the country. 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, including a new prison.

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.

The intended location for the prison is shown in two of Adam’s plans for the New Town, one drawn on 20 June 1777 (Adam volume 38/7), and another on 23 December 1782 (Adam volume 38/8). Despite this, Adam's scheme for Bath Prison was not executed. The extant drawings show a U-shaped building around three sides of an enclosed court. Instead a contemporary scheme by Thomas Warr Atwood (c1733-75) was built in 1772-73. This has a simple façade with the appearance of a domestic building, rather than a utilitarian or penal facility. Atwood’s building was superseded in 1842 by a new prison at Twerton, built to designs by George Philips Manners (1789-1866), and Atwood’s building has now been converted into flats.

See also: Pulteney Bridge; New Town, Bath.

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 II, p. 53; ‘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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Contents of Bath Prison, Grove Street, Bath, Somerset, unexecuted designs commissioned by William Pulteney, 1771 (2)