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The Historic City of Bath, England

Updated on October 23, 2014
The ancient Roman Baths, in the centre of the city of Bath, Somerset, UK
The ancient Roman Baths, in the centre of the city of Bath, Somerset, UK | Source

Explore the Beautiful City of Bath, England

I moved to Wiltshire, just 12 miles from Bath, in 1993.

Since then I've fallen in love with this beautiful city in south-west England. We still live in Wiltshire although much further away from Bath but I still visit it often.

It is popular with visitors from all over the world. They are drawn to see the Roman baths and other Roman remains, the Georgian terraces including the famous Royal Crescent and Circus and its 15th century abbey.

Situated on the River Avon, it provides lovely walks and parks, a variety of cultural activities, festivals and many activities for both visitors and tourists.

Bath has the distinction of being the only entire city in the UK to be designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO reflecting the number of perfectly preserved Georgian buildings, 5000 of which are listed.

An Aerial View of Bath with the Royal Crescent in the Foreground

An aerial view of the city of Bath with a clear view of the famous Crescent.
An aerial view of the city of Bath with a clear view of the famous Crescent. | Source
Some Remains of Roman temple, Aquae Sulis, modern Bath, England, UK
Some Remains of Roman temple, Aquae Sulis, modern Bath, England, UK | Source

Bath's Early History - From Romans to Saxons

The city of Bath was a famous spa even in Roman times, then called Aquae Sulis and archaeological evidence shows that it was probably a shrine for hundreds of years before that as evidence of human remains has been found dating from 8000 BC.

There is a legend that the Celtic Prince Bladud caught leprosy and was banished from his father's court. He became a swineherd and noticed that his pigs bathed in the hot springs which cured any skin diseases they had so he decided to try it himself. Sure enough, he was cured of leprosy and returned to court and eventually became king. He then built a shrine on the site and dedicated it to the Celtic goddess Sul.

When the Romans arrived some 800 years later, they recognised the benefits of the natural hot spa waters and quickly built a bath house on the spot in 43AD. Over the following years, it expanded into a series of baths with a shrine to It was dedicated to their own goddess Minerva as well as to Sul - the Romans had a policy of including local gods and goddesses in their culture in the places they conquered and occupied.

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The Romans Leave Britain

Even in these early times, Bath had visitors from the rest of Britain and also from Europe to take advantage of the hot springs and worship at the temple.

The Romans withdrew from Britain in the early 5th century AD and Bath gradually fell into disrepair.

By the 6th century AD the Saxons had invaded the region including the former Roman settlements of Bath, Gloucester and Cirencester. The town obviously thrived during the Saxon period as it became one of King Alfred's fortified 'burghs' in the 10th century. In the same century, a mint was built there and King Edgar, first king of England, was crowned in the town in 973 AD.

Read About the City of Bath - And look at some beautiful photographs

Written by a very experienced Bath tour guide, this book is ideal for visitors to Bath.

It is beautifully illustrated and it tells the story of Bath through the centuries as well as giving an up to date view of the city and what's available there for visitors.

Medieval Bath

After the Norman Conquest, there was a rebellion in Bath during the reign of William Rufus, son of William the Conqueror. Buildings were damaged or destroyed and its monastery burned.

In 1088 John of Villula was appointed Bishop of Bath and Wells. He was a prime mover of the redevelopment of the city at this time. He bought property from the king and he rebuilt on the land, changing the streets of Bath as he did so. Baths were built on the site of the Temple Precinct and their reputation for healing continued, bringing visitors from all over the country to try to cure their ailments. This was so important that in the late 12th century the Bishop founded St John's Hospice.

The City of Bath - Some of its Sights

The Pump Room, Bath

The Pump Room, Bath, Somerset, UK
The Pump Room, Bath, Somerset, UK | Source

Bath from the 16th to 20th Centuries

After the medieval period, Bath continued to grow in spite of a downturn in the wool trade that had been important. It was the continued success of the baths in bringing visitors to the town that preserved the town's prosperity. Royalty visited Bath during the 17th and 18th centuries so making it fashionable, particularly in the 18th century which led to rebuilding and a loss of some of the medieval streets and buildings.

Two baths, the Hot Bath and Cross Bath, were rebuilt in the latter quarter of the 1700s as was the Great Pump Room. During the rebuilding of the Pump Room, the first Roman remains were found. It was during this period that Bath's magnificent Palladian houses were built mostly by architects John Wood the Elder and the Younger leading to the city's fame as a centre for fine Regency architecture including the renowned Royal Crescent built by John Wood the younger between 1767 and 1774.

Bath continued to grow and even when the National Health Service was established in 1948, people could take the waters with the new NHS paying for it.

Bath has continued to thrive and today is a busy, small city. Not only does it attract visitors throughout the year, it is a major shopping and commercial centre bringing in shoppers from a wide distance.

The Roman Baths by torchlight with a glimpse of Bath Abbey in the top left.
The Roman Baths by torchlight with a glimpse of Bath Abbey in the top left. | Source

The Roman Baths Today

The Roman Baths are open to visitors and are well-preserved considering their age. The complex consists of:

  • The Sacred Spring
  • The Roman Temple
  • The Roman Bath House
  • Finds from Roman Bath

All the ancient site now stands below the level of the modern street. The 18th century Pump Room, however is at the modern level.

The Sacred Spring and Roman Temple

This was the heart of the original Roman Bath Complex and it was here that stood the temple to Sulis Minerva. In its heyday the Temple stood on a podium over 6 feet above the rest of the complex. It was approached by steps. The magnificent Temple pediment on is now on display in the Roman Baths Museum. The gorgon's head carved on it is thought to be the image of Sulis Minerva.

In Roman times, it seemed like a gift from the gods and offerings were thrown into the spring some of which have since been discovered. Amongst objects found are over 12,000 Roman coins, the largest collection of coins found in one place as offerings. More sinister are the curses which were written on sheets of lead or pewter, then rolled up and thrown into the Spring.

This is the hot spring of ancient history which seemed miraculous until science could explain how water came out of the earth at around 46 deg C (approx 115 deg F).

The answer is simple. When rain falls on the Mendip Hills to the south, it percolates through the limestone to depths between 8,000 to 14,000 feet into the earth where it is warmed by geothermal energy. As the water heats up, its pressure increases so making it rise to the surface as a hot spring.

The Roman Bath House

The pool in the Great Bath House is lined with lead and contains the hot spring water. It was once enclosed in a large hall which has now mostly disappeared although the walkway with its columns still surrounds the Bath and you can see the niches in the walls that once held benches for Romans to sit and relax on.

The Pump Room

The present Pump Room was built in the 18th century above the Roman Baths and is part of this complex. In Beau Nash's time (see below) it and the Bath Assembly Rooms became the centres of Bath society. Visitors can buy a glass of the spa water to drink but many people don't like the taste at all because it is so high in minerals. It is also a tea rooms and restaurant.

Roman Finds

The museum contains an amazing variety of Roman artefacts found in the Bath complex. They include the head of Minerva (you can see it on the book cover above of Roman Bath Discovered), altar cornerstones, jewellery, a fragment of a Roman priest's headdress, plates, bowls and dishes. These are just an example of the many fascinating Roman items found.

The New Thermae Bath Spa

The Thermae Rooftop Bath
The Thermae Rooftop Bath | Source

Because a girl died of amoebic meningitis in 1979 after swimming the the Roman Baths, they were closed. The water was tested and a species of amoeba, Naegleria fowlerii, was found. This meant that the Baths could not be reopened.

The city wanted to have functioning hot spring baths and eventually, the opportunity came to get some of the money from the Millennium Fund. The new baths were due to open in 2002, postponed to 2003 when the Three Tenors (Placido Domingo, Luciano Pavarotti and José Carreras) gave a free open air concert to celebrate the opening. Unfortunately, they still weren't ready and only opened in August 2006. They were four years late and costs had risen from the projected £13 million to a staggering £45 million.

Called the Thermae Bath Spa, they are mostly housed in a very modern glass building. It offers bathing in the natural thermal waters and a range of facilities. Thermae incorporates the New Royal Bath, the Hot and Cross Baths and the Spa Visitor Centre - a free-to-enter spa interpretation centre.

In spite of its inauspicious start, the Thermae has won several awards.

The Front of Bath Abbey

The front of Bath Abbey
The front of Bath Abbey | Source
The Interior of Bath Abbey, facing the West Window, this photo gives a good view of the fan vaulting in the ceiling.
The Interior of Bath Abbey, facing the West Window, this photo gives a good view of the fan vaulting in the ceiling. | Source

Bath Abbey

The present abbey is built on the site of two previous churches. The first was built in the mid 8th century and was demolished by the Normans soon after their invasion of England. They replaced it with their own very large abbey begun in 1090. This was so big that its monastery could not afford the upkeep. By the 15th century it was in ruinous condition and building on the current abbey started in 1499. During the Dissolution of the Monasteries, its lead, glass and iron were removed and it was left to fall into ruins.

Luckily Queen Elizabeth I wanted it to serve as Bath's parish church and set up a national fund to finance the abbey's restoration, work which has continued to the present day. In the 1860s Sir George Gilbert Scott (architect of the Albert Memorial in London) extended the fan vaulting into the nave, something which is thought to have been the original intention after it was done in the choir. Over the last 100 years, the organ has been restored and the beautiful bath stone cleaned.

Officially called the Abbey Church of Saint Peter but called by everybody Bath Abbey, it stands very close to the Roman Baths. It is a grade 1 listed building and an active place of worship as well as a major visitor attraction.

Probably the first thing a visitor notices is that the interior of the abbey is filled with light from the 52 windows that cover about 80% of the wall space leading to its alternative name of 'The Lantern of the West'. Look at the huge area of stained glass windows at the east end where the series of stained glass illustrates 56 scenes from the life of Christ.

The Abbey Vaults, accessible from outside, tell the story of Christianity on this site since the Anglo-Saxon period.

The Royal Crescent, Bath

An aerial view of the stunning Royal Crescent.
An aerial view of the stunning Royal Crescent. | Source

The Fathers of Georgian Bath

It was during the 1700s that Bath became the beautiful Georgian city we see today. This was largely due to the efforts and influence of three men: John Wood the Elder, Ralph Allen and Beau Nash.

John Wood the Elder was born in 1704, the son of a local builder. He became an architect and was largely responsible for the neo-classic style of architecture seen throughout the city. Perhaps his greatest achievement is The Circus - a terrace of houses built in a perfect circle with four roads leading into it.

John Wood the Younger finished The Circus, after his father's death in 1754, which was completed in 1764. He also built The Royal Crescent and Bath Assembly Rooms, amongst many others.

Ralph Allen used his wealth to buy local stone quarries. Bath stonemasons had always roughly cut the blocks of stone but John Wood, close friend of Ralph Allen, required the stone to be cut in blocks of the same size with straight sides and crisp edges. When the Bath masons could not or would not conform to these requirements, Allen brought masons from Yorkshire who would. Allen had his own Palladian mansion, Prior Park, built on a hill on the south side of Bath.

Map Showing Bath, Somerset

A markerRoyal Crescent, Bath, Somerset -
Royal Crescent, Bath, Bath, Bath and North East Somerset BA1, UK
get directions

Beau Nash - an important person in Georgian Bath
Beau Nash - an important person in Georgian Bath | Source

Beau Nash, Arbiter of Fashion in Bath

Beau Nash, born Richard Nash in 1674, and called 'Beau' because he was a famous fashionable dandy.

After serving as an army officer he came to Bath and became the self-appointed 'Master of Ceremonies' for the high society of the city. He was instrumental in making Bath the most fashionable city in the country. In the beginning his motives were to earn his living from gambling, something he continued to do until 1740.

At that time, high society consisted of around 500 to 600 people. Beau Nash would assess new arrivals and decide whether they were the right people to join the cream of Bath. He made sure events ran smoothly by matching dancing partners at balls, playing matchmaker for marriages, and stopping gamblers from bankrupting themselves in games of chance. His most remarkable achievement was to break down barriers between congenial people from the the nobility, the middle-classes and gentry.

In 1739, gambling laws were changed leading to Beau Nash losing most of his income. His reputation suffered when it was discovered he had lived on the proceeds of gambling and it never recovered. He had to move from his grand house to a smaller one, where he lived with a mistress, Juliana Popjoy. until she left him.

Although the local Corporation paid for an expensive funeral for Nash, he was still buried in an unmarked pauper's grave but there is now a memorial to him at Bath Abbey.

Persuasion
Persuasion

The main story concerns the romance between Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth with the backdrop of Bath and its genteel society events.

 

Jane Austen and Bath

Jane Austen visited Bath twice for extended stays and lived in the city from 1801 to 1806. She set two of her novels here: Northanger Abbey and Persuasion

Jane Austen Festival

Each September a ten day festival in honour of Jane Austen is held in the city.

There are workshops, dancing, a Regency ball, walking tours and special productions of Jane Austen's work, amongst many other activities.

Northanger Abbey
Northanger Abbey

Part romance, part Gothic satire, this is a lovely novel. It's amusing and romantic with two lovely main characters, Catherine Morland and Henry Tilney.

 

© 2008 Carol Fisher

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    • profile image

      johnsimon113 4 years ago

      After reading this article I had very little information about Bath city. You have given best information not only about Bath tourist attraction places but about history of Bath as well. Very informative article. .. .

    • shasha venn profile image

      shasha venn 4 years ago

      @paperfacets: Yeah ! The bath undoubtedly is a perfect historic place to visit. No wonder UNESCO has declared entire city as world heritage.

    • shasha venn profile image

      shasha venn 4 years ago

      I was stunned to read this lens..My Lord you covered almost every single thing one should know about Bath.

    • PostcardPassion profile image

      PostcardPassion 5 years ago

      I have visited Bath and loved everything, especially the Bath Spa and ROman Baths. Great informative lens

    • profile image

      santadelcobre 5 years ago

      I loved this lens, Bath is in my bucket list for sure!

    • profile image

      jonnyyoung13 5 years ago

      Good article, I'm from Bath and am going to be writing an article about it myself soon

    • MaryQuinlin profile image

      MaryQuinlin 5 years ago

      I did a Squidoo search fir Bath snd found your well-done lens. Bath is one of my favorite cities, so I found myself lost in your lens and ready for a trip there! Loved it!

    • MaryQuinlin profile image

      MaryQuinlin 5 years ago

      I did a Squidoo search fir Bath snd found your well-done lens. Bath is one of my favorite cities, so I found myself lost in your lens and ready for a trip there! Loved it!

    • BritStops profile image

      BritStops 5 years ago

      Great lens! Bath really is a handsome city, and I always love visiting.

    • Deadicated LM profile image

      Deadicated LM 5 years ago

      Excellent Lens! One of my friends brought back some water from Bath when the visited England. Love Roman England.

    • uktvbrackets lm profile image

      uktvbrackets lm 5 years ago

      great lens, bath is a great place to visit

    • dahlia369 profile image

      dahlia369 6 years ago

      Nicely done & great resource. ***Angel blessed*** during the Squid Angels (not so laborious) Labor Day Bus Trip 2011 quest :)

    • EcoGecko LM profile image

      EcoGecko LM 6 years ago

      Nice lens I've been there at least twice the first to see the Roman Baths and the second for a wedding it really is a beautiful city.

    • profile image

      davidthorpe 6 years ago

      As a youngster I used to play at least one tennis tournament a year in Bath, at the "bubble" in the park. But I never really used to care much for the city back then, probably because I didn't get to see much of it.

      But as I've grown up I've really come to appreciate the place. There are a fair few places to eat and drink, and a really good variety of shops (enhanced further by the new shopping area). And of course, who can ignore the architecture?

      The Thermae Bath Spa is nice too, if a little busy (visited in May 2010).

    • Blackspaniel1 profile image

      Blackspaniel1 6 years ago

      Excellent lens.

    • indigoj profile image

      Indigo Janson 6 years ago from UK

      Bath has preserved so much character, it's easy to see why tourists are keen to visit and especially those with an interest in history or Jane Austen fans! A beautiful presentation of a beautiful city.

    • Barb McCoy profile image

      Barb McCoy 6 years ago

      I would so love to visit Bath some day! Thanks for the great lens to read and view in the meantime. Favoriting and blessing.

      ***Blessed by an Angel***

    • BrickHouseFabrics profile image

      BrickHouseFabrics 6 years ago

      A wonderful city, in many ways!

    • ChrisDay LM profile image

      ChrisDay LM 6 years ago

      A really lovely treatment of this great subject

    • Michey LM profile image

      Michey LM 6 years ago

      I love historic cities, and you did a great job on this lens... and as you know Gothic is my favorite, so Bath Abbey is beautiful.

      A Squid Angel is blessing this lens

    • jodijoyous profile image

      jodijoyous 6 years ago from New York

      Squidoo got stuck when I tried to post, so please delete if this is a duplicate comment.

      I haven't been to Bath in years, but this lens really made me miss England. Blessed!

    • KarenHC profile image

      Karen 6 years ago from U.S.

      I'd love to visit Bath. My sons visited parts of England and Wales about 10 years ago with their high school choir (from Michigan, U.S.), and visited Bath for a couple days. They remembered to take good photos :-)

    • dahlia369 profile image

      dahlia369 6 years ago

      What a beautiful place to visit... certainly keeping it in mind. Great lens and images! Thank you for blessing my rosemary herb lens!! :)

    • Dee Gallemore profile image

      Dee Gallemore 6 years ago

      Exquisite architecture . . . thank you for this most informative lens!

    • squid-janices7 profile image

      squid-janices7 7 years ago

      What a fantastic lens with so many great photos and info. Bath was one of my favorite towns that I visited during a recent tour of England. Just lovely!

      P.S. Thanks for blessing my Teacher Thank You lens:)

    • justholidays profile image

      justholidays 7 years ago

      Marvelous lens! I definitely will get back to my Holidays in England tradition! There's so much to do and to discover that I would be highly mistaken not to do so!

      Dom.

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      Terrific lens, I'd like to jump on a plane right now and fly to England! Someday...

    • Pixelrage LM profile image

      Pixelrage LM 7 years ago

      Love your layout and usage of modules...great content, too! Thanks so much for stopping by & for the blessing.

    • FlynntheCat1 profile image

      FlynntheCat1 7 years ago

      Good old Bath! I remember visiting there when i was small :D A truly beautiful lens, and blessed.

    • profile image

      editionh 8 years ago

      Hi Carol, what a great lens, I heard about Bath only via one of my favorite british painters,Peter Brown, who has done a series of great plein air paintings on bath

    • mbgphoto profile image

      Mary Beth Granger 8 years ago from O'Fallon, Missouri, USA

      Very nice lens. I have not been to Bath, I'll need to put in on my list for next time I'm in England!

    • paperfacets profile image

      Sherry Venegas 8 years ago from La Verne, CA

      That aerial poster is gorgeous and look at all the green space around the town. Beautiful. We are so crowded in Socal. My rating showed one star from last time!!! Outrageous, and I use Foxfire. I submitted a bug report but never rec'd an answer on that. anyway I gave you the five that this should have had in the first place.

    • Terry Boroff profile image

      Terry Boroff (flipflopnana) 8 years ago from FL

      Terrific lens! I really enjoyed learning the history of Bath. Looks like I have another spot to add to my places I want to visit wish list.

    • profile image

      Chrismorton 8 years ago

      Wow! Bath is really a must seen place. I have never been there but I was somehow enticed to visit by its unique quality.

      Great job!

    • Tiddledeewinks LM profile image

      Tiddledeewinks LM 8 years ago

      Well thought out lens. I enjoy learning more of England. I've never been there but think I would have loved living in the Cotswold's.

    • PaulHassing LM profile image

      Paul Hassing 8 years ago

      Love the city, love your lens. Your lenses are better than National Geographic! :)

    • The Homeopath profile image

      The Homeopath 8 years ago

      I visited Bath when my oldest daughter was just 2. We toured the baths and then bought some chips at the Burger King and fed them to pigeons outside the Abbey. It was a wonderful day!

    • paperfacets profile image

      Sherry Venegas 8 years ago from La Verne, CA

      I enjoyed Bath. I had a half day visit. The Fashion Museum was impressive. And the story about the gambling and nightly parties with dandies and highly dressed women held my imagination. I enjoyed several of your lenses.

    • profile image

      eleetsp 8 years ago

      What a fantastic sight! I was planning a trip down there and came across this site with all the pics and tips I needed. thanks. If you are ever in Yorkshire then please check out www.walksyorkshire.com

    • profile image

      eleetsp 8 years ago

      What a fantastic sight! I was planning a trip down there and came across this site with all the pics and tips I needed. thanks. If you are ever in Yorkshire then please check out www.walksyorkshire.com

    • AlisonMeacham profile image

      AlisonMeacham 9 years ago

      Another excellent lens. I am British but live in the US and homeschool my children. I am very glad to have found your lenses as I am always looking for resources online to use in teaching as we have a lot of British based projects to learn about. Thank you!

    • profile image

      anonymous 9 years ago

      Wow! A terrific lense. The photos are superb. I guess many people don't know about the Roman connection to Bath and to england in general. Anyway, thanks for the lense.

    • chemrat profile image

      chemrat 9 years ago

      Thanks for your support on http://www.squidoo.com/solarpowerlens. You have an excellent set of lenses! I've visited many of the spots you mention, including Bath a number of times (I lived in England from 77-82). 5 stars, favorite.

    • SusannaDuffy profile image

      Susanna Duffy 9 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      I love your images, it makes Bath leap out of the Lens and be real for me.

      My favourite is the aerial shot with the Royal Crescent in the foreground and the incredibly GREEN surrounds

    • KimGiancaterino profile image

      KimGiancaterino 9 years ago

      Another beauty! Welcome to All Things Travel. My Squid Angel Blessing to you.

    • profile image

      anonymous 9 years ago

      Fabulous Lens you have put a lot of work into it and it shows. Welcome to Travelmania group!

      Tapir Travel

    • profile image

      tdove 9 years ago

      Thanks for joining G Rated Lense Factory!