Bath is a city in South West England most famous for its baths fed by three hot springs. It is situated 96.8 miles (155.8 km) west of Charing Cross in London. Its residents style themselves ‘Bathonians’. The city was first documented as a Roman spa, although tradition suggests that it was founded earlier.
The waters from its spring were believed to be a cure for many afflictions. From Elizabethan to Georgian times it was a resort city for the wealthy. As a result of its popularity during the latter period, the city contains many fine examples of Georgian architecture, most notably the Royal Crescent. The city has a population of over 80,000 and is a World Heritage Site.
Archaeological history of Roman Bath
The archaeological evidence shows that the site of the main spring was treated as a shrine by the Celts, and dedicated to the goddess Sulis. The Romans probably occupied Bath shortly after their invasion of Britain in 43 AD. They knew it as Aquae Sulis (literally “the waters of Sulis”), identifying the goddess with Minerva. In Roman times the worship of Sulis continued and messages to her scratched onto metal have been recovered from the Sacred Spring by archaeologists. These are known as curse tablets. The corpus from Bath is the most important found in Britain.
During the Roman period, increasingly grand temples and bathing complexes were built in the area, including the Great Bath. Rediscovered gradually from the 18th century onward, they have become one of the city’s main 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.
Roman Bath wars history
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.
King William Rufus granted the city to a royal physician, John of Tours, who became Bishop of Wells and Abbot of Bath in 1088, with permission to move the seat of Somerset from Wells to Bath. Bishop John therefore became the first Bishop of 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 preferred Wells, which regained cathedral status jointly with Bath. By the 15th century, Bath Cathedral was badly dilapidated. Oliver King, Bishop of Bath and Wells, decided in 1500 to rebuild it on a smaller scale. The new cathedral was completed just a few years before Bath Priory was dissolved in 1539.
Henry VIII considered the cathedral redundant, and it was allowed to become derelict, but it was 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 in the bathing seasons. Bath was granted city status in 1590.
During the English Civil War the Battle of Lansdowne was fought on July 5, 1643 on the outskirts of Bath.
There was much rebuilding in the Stuart period, but this was eclipsed by the massive expansion of the city 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 builders John Wood and his self-titled son 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 quarries 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. However, the city declined as a fashionable resort in the 19th century.
Bath elected two members to the Unreformed House of Commons.
History of Roman Bath during WWII
Between the evening of 25 April and the early morning of 27 April 1942 Bath was subjected to three air raids by the Luftwaffe in reprisal for RAF raids on the German cities of Lübeck and Rostock. The three raids formed part of the Luftwaffe campaign popularly known as the Baedeker Blitz and damaged or destroyed more than 19 000 buildings and killed more than 400 people. Considerable damage was done to noteworthy historical buildings. Houses in the Royal Crescent, Circus and Paragon were burnt out as were the Assembly Rooms while the south side of Queen Square was destroyed. All have since been reconstructed.