Favourites on Friday - Romans and Georgians in Bath

After what felt like too long an age, a chance to get away again last weekend ... to say I was looking forward to it immensely would be quite the understatement. 

The beautiful and fascinating city of Bath is not that far from Bournemouth – it’s possible to drive it in under 2 hours – but, yet again, I’ve never been there.  Despite the comparatively short drive, I took the train as I wanted to enjoy as much of my weekend as possible without the added flavour of weekend traffic.

From a historical point of view, the main thing Bath is known for is its Roman remains.  That, and its outstandingly gorgeous architecture, almost all hewn from golden-coloured stone.  The city’s name stems from the hot springs that have been rushing to the surface since well before the Romans arrived. 

According to legend, the city was founded around 863BC by Bladud, son of the 8th king of the Britons, Hudibras.  Two of the spas in the city have statues of Bladud … I admit I didn’t go looking for them, there was so much else to see.  Apparently, he was banished from court after he had contracted leprosy, and ended up living as a swineherd.  One of his pigs also had leprosy but, after spending time in the mud near the springs, was cured.  When Bladud did the same, he also was cured, and was allowed to return to court.  Geoffrey of Monmouth’s 12th century ‘History of the Kings of Briton’ cites Bladud as the 9th King of the Britons, and the supposed father of King Lear.

Bladud statue ~ 'Smalljim' (from Wikimedia Commons)

There is archaeological evidence showing that the site of the baths’ main spring was a shrine set up by the Celts, dedicated to the goddess Sulis.  When the Romans invaded Britain in 43AD, they settled in the area, and named the town ‘ Aquae Sulis’ – ‘ the waters of Sulis’ – gradually developing it as a haven of rest and relaxation with pilgrims coming from Europe to bathe in the therapeutic waters.  The Romans named the temple they built, Sulis Minerva, linking the Celtic goddess with their goddess of wisdom, and thus the religious beliefs of the Celts with their own.

After the Romans left England, their constructions fell into decay, and the springs were neglected.  The town itself continued to develop until the Norman Conquest, when it suffered during the rebellion against William Rufus.  The town’s fortunes rose again when Rufus appointed John of Villula as Bishop of Bath and Wells in 1088.  A keen physician, the bishop purchased city property from the King, and significantly re-shaped the street plans to incorporate the baths, which were most likely rebuilt over the Temple Precinct … “ From all over England, sick people come to wash away their infirmities in the healing waters …” ~ ‘ Gesta Stephani’ (‘The Acts of Stephen’, mid-12th century English history).

Over the years, the healing waters of Bath continued to work their magic with visitors, including royalty, coming from all over Europe, so much so that doctors also provided lodging for visiting patients.  In 1590, Queen Elizabeth I granted a Charter incorporating Bath as a City, with the instruction that “ the thermal waters should be accessible to the public in perpetuity”.

Bath saw action during the Civil War, occupied first by parliamentary troops, who were defeated by the royalists, who then occupied Bath until July 1645, when they surrendered to parliament.

When Mary of Modena, the second wife of King James II, visited in 1687, Bath’s reputation for being “ wonderful and most excellent against all diseases of the body”, was sealed.  She’d been unable to conceive, and following the advice of her physician, had taken the waters in Bath … soon afterwards, she gave birth to a son, James Francis Edward, the future James III, who was later known as the ‘Old Pretender’.

In the 18th century, thanks to the efforts of Richard ‘Beau’ Nash, Bath grew in size, and became a more genteel and fashionable city.  A celebrated dandy and leader of fashion, Nash appointed himself the city’s unofficial Master of Ceremonies.  The exquisite Georgian architecture that the city is known for was built during this time, many of them designed by the architect John Wood the Elder – like Queen Square, and The Circus; and his son, John Wood the Younger, who built the Royal Crescent.

Important figures who have lived in Bath include the astronomer, William Herschel – his house is now the Herschel Museum of Astronomy; and Sir Isaac Pitman, who invented the Pitman shorthand system.

One of the things I enjoyed about being in Bath was not having to rely on public transport or taxis.  Everything was walking distance … though by the end of the day, I was a little footsore.  

A short, leisurely stroll from the train station to the Parade Gardens ... There is a small fee to get in, but I didn’t stop as I wanted to see more of the town.  

Then the weir … very mesmerising ...

Broke from tradition and did not go into the Art Museum!  But walked through the gardens and beyond … The number of green spaces in Bath, it seemed like there was one around every corner.

Needs a bit of work, methinks ;) ... just to prove that Bath isn't all about prettiness

Look at it long enough, and it's like you could disappear into it - very cleverly done

Beautiful frame and print in quirkily quaint little cafe where I had lunch

It isn’t difficult to work out where the ‘action’ is – the closer you get to the centre of the city, the bigger the crowds.

The abbey, having been allowed to fall into ruin in the late 15th century, was restored in time for the Dissolution of the Monasteries!  But, instead of being destroyed, it was sold.  Elizabeth I promoted its restoration, to serve as the grand parish church of Bath …

Bath Abbey ...

... opposite the Abbey

Entrance to the Roman Baths

True dedication to the job ;)

The Circus ...

The Circus – from the Latin, meaning ‘ring’ or ‘circle’ – is made up of 3 curved segments of townhouses, arranged in a circular shape.  From the ground, it is difficult to take a picture that does the whole thing justice … Seen from the air, the entire layout looks like a key – now, that would be something to see.  Notables who lived at the Circus include William Pitt the Elder, who lived at No.7 (his sister lived at No.8, and the 2 houses were connected internally); the painter, Thomas Gainsborough, lived at No. 17; and David Livingstone at No. 13.

The day turned out much hotter than I was expecting!  I was glad to check in to the hotel to dump my bag, and freshen up.  Back out again a little later, mainly to visit the Roman Baths.  Walked past the Royal Crescent ... again, difficult to get a picture that does it justice ...

The ‘Sheridan’ mentioned in the plaque, at No.11, was Richard Sheridan, the Irish playwright who went on to become the owner of the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane.  At age 21, he eloped with Elizabeth Linley, a singer in her own right, whom he subsequently married, and they settled in London.  His first play, ‘The Rivals’, was a failure on opening night.  Sheridan recast for the second performance, and it was a success, establishing his reputation, and gaining him the favour of fashionable London.  The play is now a standard of English literature.

Made my way through a park, can't remember its name, past the War Memorial, and a church in town, lit by the setting sun ...

The War Memorial ...

One of a pair of lions guarding the gate by the memorial ...

The city centre was wonderfully quiet - I think it was about 20:00 - so I was able to get a good picture of the abbey door ...

Sculptures of angels climbing 'Jacob's Ladder', the colloquial name for the bridge between heaven and earth

The Roman baths were only discovered and explored in the late 19th century.  During July and August, they are open until 22:00, giving people a chance to see it by torchlight ... very atmospheric.  

Ceiling in the entrance hall

Hallway leading to the terrace ...

View of the Great Bath, about 1.6metres deep, from the terrace

The statues of Roman emperors and governors were carved in the 1890s, prior to the opening of the Roman Baths in 1897

The original ornamental pediment of the Great Temple, with what is thought to be a Gorgon's head, the symbol of Sulis Minerva

Gravestone of a cavalryman

Mosaic floor, probably 3rd-4th century AD

The goddess Luna

Three Mother Goddesses - they were worshipped throughout the Celtic lands of the Western Empire

Endless flow of water ...

The Circular Bath, a plunge pool also about 1.6metres deep

Love the contrasts of the artificially lit abbey against the darkening sky, and yellow-hued torchlit bath

The next day, visited the Fashion Museum, which is located in the Assembly Rooms, on Bennett Street :)  I’m not a great follower of fashion, but I do love Georgian fashion …

Grand Falconer costume ...

Hereditary Grand Falconer costume ~ worn by William, 8th Duke of St Albans, at the coronation of King George IV in July 1821.  The Duke's title included that of Hereditary Grand Falconer, an honorary rather than a functional role; he was one of five figures ... who preceded the king in the procession from Westminster Hall to Westminster Abbey ...

... and accessories

The Assembly Rooms, a gorgeous building in its own right, designed by John Wood the Younger ... The pictures can only hint at the grandeur; the Tea Room and the Ball Room, especially, are huge!

Chandeliar in the entrance hall

The Octagon Room

The Tea Room

The Ball Room ...

One thing I noticed – for such a pretty, obviously rich city, I was surprised at the number of homeless and generally ‘down-and-out’ people I saw … Having said that, Bath is definitely worth a return visit, there’s so much more to see – the Parade Gardens, going into the abbey, the Herschel Museum of Astronomy; partaking of tea in the Tea Room … just to be in the city itself, it’s that gorgeous.