An Introduction To The History of Bath
The International Heritage City of Bath, England.
The archaeological evidence shows that the site of the Roman Baths main spring was treated as a shrine by the Celts, and dedicated to the goddess Sulis. The Romans probably occupied Bath shortly after the Roman Invasion of Britain in 43AD. They knew it as Aquae Sulis ('the waters of Sul'), identifying the goddess with Minerva. In Roman times the worship of Sulis Minerva continued and messages to her scratched onto metal have been recovered from the Sacred Spring by archaeologists. These are known as curse tablets. Written in Latin, and usually laid curses on other people, whom they feel had done them wrong. For example, if a citizen had his clothes stolen at the Baths, he would write a curse on a tablet, to be read by the Goddess Sulis Minerva, and also, the "suspected" names would be mentioned. The collection from Bath is the most important found in Britain.
During the Roman period grand temples and bathing complexes were built, including the Great Bath. Rediscovered gradually from the 18th century onward, they have become Bath's main tourist attractions. The city was given defensive walls, probably in the 3rd century. From the later 4th century on, the Western Roman Empire and its urban life declined. However, while the great suite of baths at Bath fell into disrepair, some use of the hot springs continued.Return to top
Post-Roman & Saxon
It has been suggested that Bath may have been the site of the Battle of Mons Badonicus (circa 500 AD), where King Arthur is said to have defeated the Saxons, but this is disputed. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle mentions Bath falling to the West Saxons in 577 after the Battle of Deorham. The Anglo-Saxons called the town Baðum, Baðan or Baðon, meaning "at the baths," and this was the source of the present name. In 675, Osric, King of the Hwicce, set up a monastic house at Bath, probably using the walled area as its precinct. King Offa of Mercia gained control of this monastery in 781 and rebuilt the church, which was dedicated to St. Peter. Bath had become a royal possession. The old Roman street pattern was by now lost, and King Alfred laid out the town afresh, leaving its south-eastern quadrant as the abbey precinct. Edgar of England was crowned king of England in Bath Abbey in 973.Return to top
Norman, Medieval & Tudor Bath
King William Rufus granted the city to a royal physician, John of Tours, who became Bishop of Wells and Abbot of Bath in 1088. It was papal policy for bishops to move to more urban seats, and he translated his own from Wells to Bath. He planned and began a much larger church as his cathedral, to which was attached a priory, with the bishop's palace beside it. New baths were built around the three springs. Later bishops, however, returned the episcopal seat to Wells, while retaining the name of Bath in their title.
By the 15th century, Bath's abbey church was badly dilapidated and in need of repairs. Oliver King, Bishop of Bath and Wells, decided in 1500 to rebuild it on a smaller scale. The new church was completed just a few years before Bath Priory was dissolved in 1539 by Henry VIII. The abbey church was allowed to become derelict before being restored as the city's parish church in the Elizabethan period, when the city revived as a spa. The baths were improved and the city began to attract the aristocracy. Bath was granted city status by Royal Charter in 1590.
Learn more about Medieval Bath here.Return to top
17th Century Bath
During the English Civil War the Battle of Lansdowne was fought on July 5, 1643 on the outskirts of the city at Lansdowne hill.
Sally Lunn, (aka Solange Luyon) a Huguenot refugee, came to Bath and found work with a baker in Lilliput Alley (now North Parade Passage), creating the Sally Lunn bun. Sally Lunn's House on our map of Bath where she lived in 1680.
In 1668 Thomas Guidott moved to Bath and set up his practice. He was a student of chemistry and medicine at Wadham College Oxford. He became interested in the curative properties of the waters and in 1676 he wrote A discourse of Bathe, and the hot waters there. Also, Some Enquiries into the Nature of the water. This brought the health giving properties of the hot mineral waters to the attention of the country and soon the aristocracy started to arrive to partake in them. Today you can still enjoy the same hot spring waters at the Bath Thermae SpaReturn to top
There had been much rebuilding in the Stuart period, but this was eclipsed by the massive expansion of Bath in Georgian times. The old town within the walls was also largely rebuilt. This was a response to the continuing demand for elegant accommodation for the city's fashionable visitors, for whom Bath had become a pleasure resort as well as a spa. The architects John Wood the elder and his son John Wood the younger laid out the new quarters in streets and squares, the identical facades of which gave an impression of palatial scale and classical decorum. The creamy gold of Bath stone further unified the city, much of it obtained from the limestone Combe Down and Bathampton Down Mines under Combe Down, which were owned by Ralph Allen (1694–1764). The latter, in order to advertise the quality of his quarried limestone, commissioned the elder John Wood to build him a country house on his Prior Park estate. A shrewd politician, he dominated civic affairs and became mayor several times.
The early 18th century saw Bath acquire its first purpose-built theatre, pump room and Assembly Rooms. Master of Ceremonies Beau Nash, who presided over the city's social life from 1705 until his death in 1761, drew up a code of behaviour for public entertainments.
The Sedan Chair was invented in France and later introduced to Britain. It consisted of a covered box carried on two poles, and proved invaluable to rich people traveling to social gatherings in their finery, in the days when there were no pavements and the streets could become very muddy. Below is an etching of a Georgian street scene of a Sedan Chair being used near the Pump Room in Bath. The entrances to the grand Georgian houses were made large enough to enable chairs to be carried right upto the door so the occupant would not get wet!
You can view many old scenes, etchings and paintings of Bath in the Georgian period at www.bathintime.co.uk
Jane Austen moved to the city with her father, mother and sister Cassandra in 1801, and the family remained in the city at four successive addresses until 1806. Visit the Jane Austen Museum
By the 1801 census the population of Bath had reached 40020 making it amongst the largest cities in Britain.
William Thomas Beckford bought a house in Lansdown Crescent in 1822, eventually buying a further two houses in the Crescent to form his residence. Having acquired all the land between his home and the top of Lansdown Hill, he created a garden over half a mile in length and built Beckford's Tower at the top.
Bath Spa Rail Station was built in 1840 for the Great Western Railway by Brunel and is a grade II listed building.Return to top
20th Century Bath
World War II & The Battle of Britain.
(above) A 20th Century British Rail poster promoting Bath's heritage.
Bath: A Pocket Miscellany
A captivating compendium of facts and trivia exploring the often unseen side of Bath. From historical facts and figures to the truly bizarre, Bath: A Pocket Miscellany will surprise even those who think they know the city well. Including scientific discoveries, freak weather, strange statistics, iconic images, literary quotations and street names, this detailed insider guide is a compilation that tourists, residents and all those interested in Bath’s iconic history won’t want to be without.
Part of The History Press’ brand new Pocket Miscellany series;
Available from all good bookshops, Amazon and The History Press
Bath Then & Now
An evocative pictorial record showcasing the changing face of Bath over the last 150 years.
With sleepy Georgian squares, long colonnades and green spaces dotted throughout, Bath is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful cities in the country. The last hundred years have seen an enormous amount of change in the city, however there is also a lot that has remained the same, preserving the architectural beauty we see today. This new title from John Branston and prolific Bath historian Dan Brown details the city’s history in a unique way, comparing over 45 rare archive images from the extensive Bath in Time collection with the same scenes of today, showing how much or how little has changed.
From Stall Street and the Kingston Parade to Green Park Station and the Empire Hotel, Bath Then & Now captures the essence of the city, detailing its evolution over the years in a comprehensive way. Bringing the past to life and describing many aspects of how living in the city has changed, this fascinating volume will awaken nostalgic memories for all who have lived in Bath, providing a glimpse into how the city used to be.
Dan Brown is a professional photographer who manages the vast Bath in Time collection. His previous titles for The History Press include Bath in the Blitz Then & Now, Bath: City on Show and Bristol: City on Show. He lives in the city. John Branston is a Bathonian with a passion for rediscovering aspects of Bath's social history. He has spent a lifetime walking around the city with his eyes open and enjoys linking his observations with information gleaned over the years from numerous excellent books and talks on Bath’s history.
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