Buildings which represent the best of the nation’s historic and architectural heritage are listed by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990, on advice from English Heritage. Frome has an extraordinary 370 such buildings, either Grade 1 or Grade 2 listed. This number is much higher than the equivalent for Wells, Trowbridge, Chippenham, Shepton Mallet or Westbury: it is believed that Frome, per head of population, has more listed buildings even than Bath!
Although there are some fine old buildings from before the early 1800s, mostly the private residences of the wealthy mill owners and other local worthies, it was one man whose vision for a more elegant town led to the plethora of fine mansions and public buildings that adorn Frome today. The town had been severely criticised by Daniel Defoe and others: Bunn saw this as a challenge. Derek Gill, local historian, takes up the story: “Thomas Bunn (1767 – 1853) devoted his life to improving his native town, Frome, and its neighbourhood. He was involved in everything that promoted the town and its population, its buildings, education, better roads, and the welfare of its citizens. His real passion, however, was classical architecture, and it was his aim to improve the buildings and streets in Frome, having seen the improvements being made in nearby Bath.”
It was Bunn who oversaw the bold transformation of Bath Street into the attractive sweeping hill we see today. His diaries are held in the museum and bear witness to his dreams, frustrations and tenacity.