Bath a brief history

I was happy to find out that Bath would be the venue for our February walk in the past history walk.  I  grew up  between Bristol and Bath and my father went to school in the city so I have watched  Bath change over the years.  Jane Austen would probably recognise the centre  but there is also a side to the city the tourists miss.   It has a large student population.  Bath university is particularly well known for sport and many  athletes train there.

We met for our walk at the back of Bath bus station.  If you plan to visit Bath I suggest arriving by bus or train as parking is very difficult. There are several park and ride schemes nearby and the main bus station and train station are close to the city attractions.

Bath is the only English city to be given UNESCO  world heritage status. For the locals this is a mixed blessing. I remember when I was at University one of my history lecturers asked me if it was like living in a museum. In summer it can be difficult to move through the city because of the number of tourists but they also bring  us much prosperity.

This walk was a brief introduction to the history of Bath which we hope to explore in more detail later.  I have provided a potted version here.

The Romans

There is a Celtic legend that the hot springs at Bath were discovered by a swineherd named Bladud who found that the hot mud cured a skin disease his pigs had been suffering from. He later became a tribal leader and established a shrine in Bath to the goddess Sulla. Although there is no evidence for his existence there are a lot of iron age settlements around Bath. Bath itself is supposed to be built in the crater of an extinct volcano.

Bath guidebooks usually date the history  back to the Romans who were drawn to the hot spa water and built a magnificent Bath Complex. to enjoy it. Much of this survives or has been restored though unfortunately you can not swim there any longer. You can taste the water but be warned it tastes vile.

Another reason why we met behind the bus station is that it is close to the route of the Roman Fosseway a road between Exeter and Lincoln. Here the Romans built a bridge to cross the river Avon. As well as enjoying hot baths the Romans were attracted to the area to mine lead from the nearby Mendip hills.

The Medieval Period

After the Romans left Bath seems to have declined in importance.  However the magnificent Bath abbey was built during the medieval period. The   medieval legacy is preserved in the names of the roads, Eastgate, Southgate, Westgate and Northgate though the walls and gates have disappeared.

The Georgians

Bath markets itself as a Georgian city.  In the 18th century, Bath stone was quarried from the nearby hills to build the famous crescents.  The aristocracy would descend on Bath to take the waters or play cards.  This was vividly described by Jane Austen, perhaps Bath’s most famous resident who does not seem to have enjoyed her stay much. If you visit the assembly rooms and nearby fashion museum you can take afternoon tea and children can dress up.  You can  imagine yourself in a scene from one of her books or visit the Jane Austen centre.

A couple wearing 18th century clothing.
A couple dressed in costume for the Jane Austen festival.

During this period William Herschel who had been an organist in Bath discovered the planet Uranus. You can visit his house and see the telescopes he made.

The Royal crescent Bath is built of yellow Bath stone.
The famous Royal crescent.

Visit Bath

Pulteney Bridge was built by Sir William Pulteney close to the site of the old Roman bridge to enable development on the other side of the river.

The Modern city

Bath was linked to Reading by the Kennett and Avon canal and later Isambard Kingdom Brunel built his famous Great Western Railway between Bristol and London with a station in Bath.

Bath was badly bombed during the second world war.  It was not considered a target but the Germans carried out what became known as the Baedeker raids. They targeted cities given a high rating in the Baedeker guide books in retaliation for British bombing raids on Germany. However it has been largely rebuilt using Bath stone.

Bath has built a new spa complex where visitors can swim in the hot mineral waters just as the Romans did.

Visitors swimming in the rooftop Bath.
The new rooftop Bath at the Thermae complex. Bath abbey is in the background.

Photos for this blog post were used with permission from VisitBath

If you enjoyed this post you might like two national trust houses to visit near Bath.

Trip advisor has a lot more suggestions of things to do in or near Bath.

Activities in Bath

Bath tour

This is an affiliate link to a Bath walking tour which includes entry to the Roman Baths and a donation for entrance to Bath abbey.

Author: Anne Fraser

Hi, I am Anne, I am a retired nurse from Bristol in South West England. I am married with five grown up children, four boys and a girl , a grandson and a cat. I like History, travel and reading. I hope to connect with other people with similar interests.

20 thoughts on “Bath a brief history”

  1. Great write up about Bath’s history. I have only ever visited once but really want to go back and go to the Jane Austen Centre and Spa Baths!

  2. I really enjoyed reading your informative post and have pinned for a future visit. Bath is a place that I keep meaning to visit with my Husband.

  3. I visited Bath a long time ago with friends and had a great time especially in the spa. They ask have a great Christmas market although it gets really busy and we took a buggy!! Not so great. Lovely city though.

  4. I don’t think I realised that it was Herschel who played in Bath who discovered Uranus. Learn something new every day! I’ve only properly been into the centre once, by train (great location, not far to walk) to go to a specialist hospital department there. It was a beautiful visit, and I’d love to go again, you really need more time to take it all in and appreciate the architecture, history and everything it has to offer. I’d definitely like to go back one day 🙂
    Caz xx

    1. I think Herschel’s achievement is very impressive. He seems to have been self taught in astronomy and he made his own instruments. His sister came over to help him and she discovered a new comet.

  5. I’ve never been to Bath, though I went to boarding school in England for a year. It looks like a magical place brimming with history. With all of England’s lovely old castles and buildings, I was surprised to read Bath is the only English city with world heritage status.

  6. Hi, Anne – I agree that Bath has a very interesting history. I greatly appreciated the extra tidbits that you shared. I visited Bath in the summer of 2016 and greatly enjoyed it. Now I wish that I had read this post first!

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