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Bath

a municipal and parliamentary borough of North East Somerset, England, about 105 miles west of London and 12½ miles southeast of Bristol

location of Bath
Bath on a map of England

Bath has a population of approximately 84,000; the metropolitan area population is approximately 169,040. One of the most beautifully situated of British cities and one of the most architecturally distinguished, Bath is the site of the only natural hot springs in the British Isles, making it famous as a spa and tourist center. The city is connected to Bristol and the sea by the River Avon, navigable by small boats via locks, and to the River Thames and London by the Kennet and Avon Canal, completed in 1810.

History

The hot springs at Bath were treated as a shrine by the Celts, and dedicated to the goddess Sulis. An early myth attributed the city's founding in 863 B.C. to Bladud, son of Hudibras and father of King Lear, who was said to have been cured of leprosy by the mud watered by the then unregimented mineral springs. The Romans probably occupied the area shortly after their invasion of Britain in 43 A.D. They built the first bath houses at the springs and called the site Aquae Sulis.

one of the Roman baths
one of the Roman baths

Bath fell to the West Saxons in 577, after the Battle of Deorham. The Saxons renamed the city Akemanceaster, later changing the name to Aet Bathum -- meaning "at the baths." In 675, Osric, King of the Hwicce, set up a monastic house at Bath. King Offa of Mercia gained control of this monastery in 781 and rebuilt the church, which was dedicated to St. Peter. The first king of a united England, Edgar, was crowned in the abbey in 973.

The Normans rebuilt the city and, in 1090, transferred to Bath the See they had founded at Wells (the See was returned to Wells in 1206).

Bath's first charter was granted in 1189, and for about 600 years prospered as a center of trade and of cloth-making. (Chaucer made his "Wife of Bath" a cloth-maker whose work excelled that of even Ypres and Ghent, two of the most famous cloth-making centers of his day.) Bath was granted city status in 1590.

The golden age of Bath began in the 18th century and is linked with the work of two architects, John Wood and his son, their patron, Ralph Allen, and master of ceremonies, Beau Nash. Previously the baths had been allowed to deteriorate, the lodging was poor, and the streets were beset by footpads. Nash rid the streets of footpads and generally restored order and good manners to Bath society. He also provided the money for the assembly rooms (built by Wood junior in 1771). Wood senior was one of the pioneers of town planning, and he fused the various traditions of the city -- geographical, historical, and social -- into a grand architectural expression. Allen provided most of the limestone for this great scheme, which included Queen Square, Gay Street, the Royal Crescent, the Circus, North and South Parades, and Prior Park.

the Royal Crescent as seen from a hot-air balloon
the Royal Crescent as seen from a hot-air balloon

Bath was heavily damaged by German air raids during World War II, with more than 19,000 buildings damaged or destroyed.

Government

Bath Coat of Arms
Bath Coat of Arms

Since 1996 Bath has been the main center of the Unitary Authority of Bath and North East Somerset (B&NES). Bath's city council was abolished in 1996; its ceremonial functions, including the mayoralty, are maintained by the Charter Trustees -- the B&NES councillors for wards within the city limits.

The Bath Coat of Arms includes two silver strips, which represent the River Avon and the hot springs. The sword of St. Paul is a link to Bath Abbey. The supporters, a lion and a bear, stand on a bed of acorns, a link to Bladud. The knight's helmet indicates a municipality and the crown is that of Edgar, the first king of a united England.

Economy

Once an important center of the cloth-making industry, most of Bath's manufacturing sector is much declined. It does, however, have notable software, publishing and service-orinted industries, in addition to a burgeoning tourism industry.

Education

Bath is home to three institutions of higher learning -- The University of Bath (1966), Bath Spa University (1992), and the City of Bath College

The Springs

The three mineral springs for which Bath is most famous daily yield more than 500,000 gallons of radioactive waters at temperatures ranging from 114° F. to 120° F. They are taken either as a drink or in the form of baths or douches. Bath is a research center for the study of rheumatism and has schools of physiotherapy and hydrotherapy.

Other Sites and Attractions

panoramic view of the Royal Crescent
panoramic view of the Royal Crescent

"The Circus" is one of the most splendid examples of town planning to be found anywhere. Three long, curved terraces designed by John Wood, Sr. form a circular space or theater intended for civic functions and games. The best known of these terraces is the Royal Crescent, built between 1767 and 1774 and designed by John Wood, Jr. What makes this structure unique is that while Wood designed the great curved façade of what appears to be about 30 houses, that was the extent of his output. Each purchaser bought a certain length of the façade, and then employed their own architect to build a house to their own specifications behind it. So, while the front of the crescent is completely uniform and symmetrical, the rear is a mixture of differing roof heights, juxtapositions and fenestrations. This "all to the front and no rear" style of architecture is found throughout Bath.

view of the Royal Crescent showing the contrast between the front and rear of the terrace
view of the Royal Crescent showing the contrast between the front and rear of the terrace

Pulteney Bridge, spanning the River Avon, is one of the few surviving bridges in Europe to serve both as a means of crossing a river and as a shopping arcade.

Bath has four theaters -- Theatre Royal, Ustinov Studio, The Egg and Rondo Theatre -- that attract internationally renowned companies and directors. Bath Abbey is home to the Klais Organ and is the largest concert venue in the city. The city is home to the Victoria Art Gallery, Museum of East Asian Art, The Holburne Museum of Art (china, silver and plate), the Bath Postal Museum, the Museum of Costume, the Jane Austen Centre, and Sally Lunn's Refreshment House & Museum. The Bath International Music Festival and Mozartfest are held in Bath every year. Other festivals include the annual Bath Film Festival, the Bath Fringe Festival and the Bath Beer Festival.

Royal Victoria Park is the largest public park in Bath. Opened in 1830, the park features a botanical garden, a large children's play park, and sports facilities.

The city's best known sporting team is Bath Rugby, which plays in the Guinness Premiership League. The team plays at the Recreation Ground, where it has been since its establishment in 1865. The Bath Recreation Ground is also home to the Bath Croquet Club. Bath City F.C. and Team Bath B.C. (both affiliated with the University of Bath) are the major football teams. Bath City F.C. plays its games at Twerton Park. Cricket is played at the Bath Cricket Club. Bath is also the home of the Bath American Football Club, which has been playing American-style football in the city since 2001.

Other Information

Jane Austen lived in the city from 1801 to 1806.

Charles Dickens' novel Pickwick Papers features Bath and satirizes its social life. The Royal Crescent is the venue for a chase between two of the characters, Dowler and Winkle.

William Friese-Greene began experimenting with celluloid and motion pictures in his studio in Bath in the 1870's.

Moyra Caldecott's novel The Waters of Sul is set in Roman Bath in 72 A.D. Richard Brinsley Sheridan's play The Rivals and Roald Dahl's short-story The Landlady are also set in Bath.

A 2004 movie version of Thackeray's Vanity Fair was largely filmed in Bath.

The 1980's band Tears for Fears is from Bath, as is the pop duo Goldfrapp.

OFFICIAL WEBSITES
Bath Tourism and Conference Bureau http://visitbath.co.uk
City of Bath www.cityofbath.co.uk

SEE ALSO
World War II
Jane Austen

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The Robinson Library >> General and Old World History >> Great Britain >> England >> Other Cities, Towns, Etc.

This page was last updated on June 11, 2017.