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The Historic City of Bath, England
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
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.
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.
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
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 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.
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 Roman Baths Website
- Roman Baths website – Welcome to the Roman Baths
The official website for the Roman Baths museum, the major tourist attraction in South West England.
The New Thermae Bath Spa
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 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
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
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.
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.
Jane Austen Festival
- Welcome - Jane Austen Centre Festival home
Jane Austen Festival events Bath information costume food September bonnets breeches pride and prejudice sense and sensibility novels writing
© 2008 Carol Fisher