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Bath, Somerset

Historical Description

Bath is a city in Somersetshire, a parliamentary and municipal and county borough, and, in conjunction with Wells, a bishop's see, a market and union town, and a watering-place, with stations on the Great Western main line, the Midland, and the Somerset and Dorset extension railway from Bath to Evercreech, 106 miles from London. The Avon is navigable to it from the sea, the Kennet and Avon Canal goes from it into the navigation of the Thames, and the railways give it communication with all parts of the kingdom.

History.—The city owes its origin and its name to famous thermal springs. An old tradition says that the springs were discovered and the city founded by Bladud, son of Lud, king of Britain, about the year 863 B.C., and a statue of Bladud, with an inscription embodying the tradition, was erected in the Pump-room so late as 1699. But the first appreciators of the springs, and the real founders of the city, were most probably the Romans. These made the place one of their most important stations, called it Aquse Solis or Calidae, surrounded it with walls, nearly on the lines of the streets now called Lower Boroughwalls, Westgate Buildings, Sawclose, and Upper Boroughwalls, built at. it a temple to the goddess Minerva and a manufactory of weapons for the legions, and constructed around its springs a magnificent suite of baths, with sudatories, tessellated floors, and ornamental columns. The substructions of the station walls have frequently been laid open, fragments of the temple were found during excavations in 1869, and the remains of the baths, in remarkable preservation, at a depth of from 11 to 20 feet below the present surface, were discovered at the rasing of the old abbey-house in 1755. The Romans dedicated the springs to Apollo Medicus, erected a statue in honour of him early in the third century, and probably maintained the baths in high fame till the end of their times.

After their expulsion the place remained several years in comparative tranquillity, but during the protracted wars between the Southern Britons and the Saxons it was the scene of many obstinate contests. Prince Arthur defended it for a time against successive armies, but at length was overcome in its neighbourhood, and compelled to abandon it. The Saxons made it their own, and called it Hat-Bathum, or " hot baths," and Acemannes-cester, or " the sick man's city." Christianity was introduced in the sixth century, and led to the erection of religious houses by the Saxon kings. A nunnery, on the site of the temple of Minerva, was founded in 676 by King Osric, destroyed by the Danes, rebuilt about 775 by King Offa, and changed into a Benedictine abbey in 973 by King Edgar. That monarch was crowned by Archbishop Dunstan in the church; and a number of the kings, from Athelstane downward, occasionally resided here, and struck coins. The partisans of Robert, Duke of Normandy, fighting against William Rnfus, assaulted the city, and burned it to the ground. John de Villula, Bishop of Wells, bought it from Henry I., re-erected the abbey church, and made it the seat of his diocese. The troubles in the time of King Stephen broke heavily upon it, and the whole city is said to have then been destroyed by fire. It passed back in 1193 to the Crown, and was then made a free borough, and began to rise in wealth and importance. The abbey became very rich, and the monks did good service by introducing woollen manufacture. Leiand, who visited Bath in the reign of Henry VIII., says that it then had four gates, and that the walls which surrounded it contained many Roman antiquities, which he supposed to have been collected and set up by Norman architects. Queen Elizabeth visited it in 1691, and granted then a charter to the burgesses, with powers for the improvement of the town. In the early stages of the dissensions under Charles I. The city was fortified for the King at an expense of £7000, but on the retreat of the Marquis of Hertford into Wales it was seized by the Parliamentarian forces under Sir William Waller. The Royalist army returned to the adjacent Lansdown hill, erected breastworks there, and drew the Parliamentarians into a battle, which ended in their defeat. The city was now recovered by the Royalists, and it remained in their possession two years, till June, 1645; but was then, through treachery, surrendered to the Parliamentarians. Charles II., under advice of his physician, and attended by a numerous court, visited the place in 1663, and is thought to liave then given rise, by his example, to the drinking of the water. In the reign of James II. The inhabitants closed their gates against the Duke of Monmouth, putting a stop to his career, and obliging him to fall back on his fate at Sedgemoor.

The city as yet was comparatively insignificant, its buildings covered little more than fifty acres of ground, and the accommodations and attractions for visitors to its medicinal waters were few and mean. Some organization was given to it as a watering-place in consequence of two visits of Queen Anne before and after her accession to the throne, and a great and permanent one was effected by Beau Nash, the " King of Bath," who appeared here about 1703, and died in 1761. The first pump-room was erected in 1706, and an officer appointed in charge of it. Amusements were multiplied and regulated, the roads leading to the city were repaired, the streets were better paved, cleansed, and lighted, pleasure-grounds and gardens were laid out, and spacious streets and places, with large, ornate houses, were constructed. An architect of the name of Wood even formed the grand design of rebuilding the entire city on a uniform plan; and, though defeated in this, was so encouraged by the proprietors of the soil as to make magnificent additions. He first planned several steets, then in 1729 began Queen Square, in 1740 the North Parade, and in 1754 the Circus, and in 1769 his son designed the Royal Crescent. Bath now was the summer rendezvous of persons of all classes, and even the occasional resort of members of the Royal family. Fielding and Smollett linked it with the stories of their heroes; Lord Chesterfield was often at it; the great Chatham took to it for the healing of the gout; and Anstey, in his famous sarcastic " New Bath Guide," satirised its follies.

Structure.—Bath is strikingly beautiful. Its site, in the hollow and up the sides of a sort of amphitheatre, is grandly conducive to picturesque effect. Its building material, the white oolite, so well known as Bath stone, and found in great abundance in neighbouring quarries, gives fine scope for architectural details. Its street arrangement, compact in the old parts at the centre, outspread at the suburbs, and presenting a mixture of garden and grove, crescent and terrace, up the ascents of the encircling hills, tier above tier, to a commanding height over the valley, is unique and charming. Good views of the city are obtained from Camden and Lansdown Crescents, which can be reached by an easy walk from the railway station, and the best is obtained from Beechencliff, a steep eminence of upwards of 360 feet above the Avon, overhanging the railway, and accessible by a walk of ten minutes from the station up Holloway, the Roman Fosse Way, and taking the path to the left. Camden Crescent, on the elevated acclivity of Beacon Hill, is an elliptical range of uniform design, with Corinthian columns and central portico. Lansdown Crescent, Somerset Place, Cavendish Crescent, Cavendish Place, and St James' Square, are situated in the northern portion of the city, and form a splendid group. The Royal Crescent and Marlborough Buildings, a little lower, also command noble views; and the former is a fine semicircle of thirty houses, all uniform, with Ionic columns and surmounting cornice. The Circus, still lower, has fronts with Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian columns, double and in successive order, crowned by a Decorated battlement. Queen Square, farther down, but still on high ground, measures 316 feet by 306, and has four facades, all uniform and ornamental, each after a different design. The North and South parades, east of the Abbey Church, are elegant ranges of buildings, with terraces nearly 1800 feet long and 52 feet broad. Pulteney Bridge, leading eastward from High Street to Bathwick, is a fine structure of three arches, crowned on each side with houses, and Pulteney Street, on a line with it, built about 1770 by the Hon. William Pulteney, is in some respects the finest street in the city. Green Park Buildings and Norfolk Crescent, in the SW, also are elegant. Milsom Street contains the finest shops. The main streets are lighted with electricity.

Public Buildings.—The Great Western Railway station stands on the right bank of the Avon, and is a handsome edifice in the Tudor style. An elegant viaduct takes the railway diagonally across Pulteney Road, and a stone bridge and an ingeniously constructed skew one take it twice across the Avon, above and below the station. Nine other bridges, two of them stone, two iron, three suspension, and two pedestrian, bestride the Avon. The Midland station is near the Avon, at the west end of the city, close to Green Park, and is a commodious structure. The Guild Hall, in High Street, was built in 1768-75, has a tetrastyle composite portico, includes court-rooms, public offices, and a spacious banqueting-room, and contains portraits of Frederick Prince of Wales and his consort, George III. and Queen Charlotte, the Earl of Chatham, and Earl Camden. New municipal buildings were commenced in 1893, which, when completed, will be a great ornament to the city. The market, in High Street, was erected in 1868, at a cost of about £5000. The market days are Wednesday and Saturday. Beckford's tower, on the summit of Lansdown hill, was built by William Beckford, the author of "Vathek," who died in 1844, is 130 feet high, and commands an extensive view. A walled garden was originally around it, and this is now a public cemetery with Byzantine gateway. Lansdown Tower, 2½ miles beyond Beckford's Tower, is on the battlefield of Lansdown, and was erected in 1720 by Lord Lansdown, the poet, to the memory of his grandfather, Sir Bevil Granville, who fell in the battle. A handsome drinking-fountain, contiguous to the Abbey and the markets, facing the High Street, with sculptural representation of Rebecca at the Well, was constructed in 1861. The Jubilee Hall in Broad Street, erected in 1888, is the local headquarters of the Young Men's Christian Association. St James' Memorial Hall was erected in 1888, and is used for meetings in connection with St James' Church. The Pavilion Music Hall was built in 1886. The Harrington Club was established in 1874, to promote social intercourse and recreation. The Halynemann Free Dispensary was established in 1888. Other buildings will be noticed in the subsequent paragraphs.

Baths.—The baths are situated near the centre of the city. The pump-room was rebuilt in 1797; bears on its front a Greek motto, signifying " Water the best of elements;" and is a handsome erection, 85 feet long, 48 feet broad, and 34 feet high, adorned with Corinthian portico and colonnade, and lighted by a double range of windows. At the west end is an orchestra gallery, and at the east end a handsome marble statue of Beau Nash. The King's or principal bath adjoins the pump-room; measures 66 feet by 41; is open to the sky, except a colonnade on one side; contains about 364 tons of water; and is filled daily, to a height of 4 feet 7 inches, with water rising directly from the spring in its centre, and bearing a temperature throughout the bath from 114— to 100—. The old Queen's Bath, constructed in 1597, was removed during the excavations in 1885-86. The new Queen's Baths in Stall Street and York Street were completed in 1888; the frontage towards both streets is in the Italian style, with Ionic pilasters supporting a deep cornice and attic. The entrance is that of the old baths, and now leads to a spacious central hall, with an open timber roof, and luxuriously fitted; the flooring is laid with mosaic, and reproduces the pattern of a Roman tessellated pavement found in 1886 in Bridewell Lane. Upwards of £40,000 have been expended by the Corporation in perfecting the various appliances, which now include every modern and continental improvement. All the baths belong to the borough, and are under the management of the town council. The waters contain carbonic acid, sulphate and muriate of soda, sulphate and carbonate of lime, and minute quantities of silica and oxide of iron. They act as a stimulant, and are regarded as beneficial against gout, rheumatism, paralysis, biliary obstructions, and cutaneous disorders, but may be injurious where there are inflammatory symptoms. Some most interesting remains of Roman baths have from time to time been discovered; of these the most important are the Great Bath, discovered in 1880-81, the Circular Bath, west of it, in 1884—86, and the great Roman well, beneath the King's Bath, in 1878. The enclosed hall containing the great bath is 111 feet long by 68 feet wide, and the bath itself, including the continuous steps surrounding it on all sides, is 81 by 38 feet.

Ecclesiastical Affairs.—The Abbey Church was cleared and remodelled in 1834, at a cost of nearly £11,000, and again was much renovated in 1869. It is one of the latest specimens of Perpendicular English. It was built on the site, and partly with the materials, of the previous pile; was commenced in 1499, stopped in 1539, and completed in 1616; yet is of uniform character. It is cruciform, has a central. tower 162 feet high, and measures 210 feet in length, 72 in breadth, 78 in height, and 126 along the transepts. Its west front has a splendid window of seven lights, flanked by Decorated turrets; its tower is well composed, and has octagonal, panelled, surmounting turrets at the corners; and its interior is remarkably light and elegant, in uniform Perpendicular, but much crowded with tasteless monuments. Traces of either an old Norman apse or a Roman temple can be observed on the outside of the east end. The most interesting of the monuments are—in the nave, those of Bishop Montague, Beau Nash, the Hon. William Bingham, James Quin, Hermon Katencamp, Colonel Champion, John Malthus, and Sarah Fielding; in the south transept, that of Lady Waller; in the north transept, those of Fletcher Partis, Sir R. H. Bickerton, Dr. Sibthorp, James Tamesz Grieve, and Mary Frampton; and in the chancel, those of Lady Miller, Mrs. Frazer, Colonel Walsh, and the artist Hoare. In 1885 an oak screen was erected at the south-west corner of Prior Bryde's chapel. The living is a rectory; gross value, £400 with residence. St James' Church is a neat structure, rebuilt in 1768, and has a new tower in the Italian' style, surmounted by an elegant lantern; it was restored in 1888. The living is a vicarage; net value, £245 with residence. St Michael's Church was preceded, on the same site, by three other churches, and is an elegant edifice, with a pierced spire 182 feet high. The living is a rectory; gross value, £99 with residence. St Saviour's Church was built in 1832; is an elegant edifice, in the Decorated English style, with graduated and pinnacled buttresses, and has a tower of three stages, embattled, and 120 feet high. The living iaa rectory; net value, £311. Trinity Church was built in iff22; is in florid Gothic, and has a beautiful memorial window to William West Jones, Esq., put up in 1859. The living is a rectory; value, £196. St Mark's or Lyncombe Church was built in 1832; is in the Perpendicular style, and has a tower; it was restored in 1883. The living is a vicarage; net value, £350. Widcombe Church is the oldest in the city; has been partially restored, and has an ivy-clad tower. The living is a vicarage; net value, £4:50. St Matthew's Church was built in 1847; is a large edifice, in the Decorated English style, and has a fine tower 155 feet high. St Mary Magda-len's Chapel was renovated from a state of ruin about 1820, and preserves the character of ancient Early English, with embattled tower. The incumbency is in the gift of the Lord Chancellor; gross value, £100. Christ Church was built in 1798; is in the Later English style, and has a handsome altar-piece. The gross value of the living is £700 per annum. Queen Square Chapel was built in 1735, and is externally Doric, internally Ionic. Margaret Chapel, in Brock Street, is a commodious structure in the Early English style. All Saints' Chapel, near Lansdown Crescent, was erected in 1794, and is a good specimen of the Decorated style. St Stephen's Church was built in 1845, and is in the Decorated style, with a tower of three stages. The living is a vicarage; net value, £260. St John Baptist's Church was opened in 1864, and completed in 1868, and has a tower and spire 200 feet high; it was enlarged in 1871. Several of the dissenting places of worship are very handsome structures. The Argyll Congregational Chapel is in the Roman style, and was enlarged in 1862; the Percy Congregational Chapel is in the Byzantine style, and was built in 1854; the New King Street Wesleyan chapel, Decorated Gothic, 1847; the Moravian chapel, Roman, 1845; the New Jerusalem church, Roman-Ionic, 1844; the South Parade Roman Catholic church, florid Gothic, 1861; adjoining this church is a priory and schools erected in 1883. The Roman Catholic church of Our Lady Help of Christians, in Julian Road, was erected in 1879-81; it is an edifice of Bath stone in the Decorated style, with sittings for 500. The Abbey Cemetery was opened in 1844, the Lansdown Cemetery in 1848, the Bathwick in 1856, the Lower Bristol Road and the Upper Bristol Road in 1862, the Roman Catholic in 1859.

Schools and Institutions.—The free grammar school was founded and endowed with lands by Edward VI., and it numbers amongst its pupils Prynne, the two Lysonses, Sir S. Smith, and other distinguished men. The Bluecoat School, for 60 boys and 60 girls, is a new edifice in Upper Borough Walls. There is a school of art in the Paragon. The Lansdown Proprietary College, on the ascent of Lansdown Hill, was changed in the latter part of 1863 into a college for the daughters of military officers; was built in 1898; is in the Gotllic style of the geometric period; contains one school of 3500 square feet, lighted by traceried windows, and another school of 2100 feet, and lias a lofty central tower. The Wesleyan College, on the same ascent higher up, was erected in 1850, is in the Tudor style, and has a tower 90 feet high. Grosvenor College, in Grosvenor Place, was established in 1837, for the sons of noblemen and gentlemen. The Bath Proprietary College occupies the building at the end of Pulteney Street, formerly the Sydney Hotel. The Somersetshire College is in the Circus. Prior Park, St Peter, and St Paul are Roman Catholic colleges adjoining the magnificent mansion built by Ralph Alien in 1743; the buildings are all in the Classic style.

The Royal, Literary, and Scientific Institution, a little east of the Abbey, occupies the site of the old assembly rooms, retains their portico, and has a large library and a rich museum, the last antiquarian and scientific, and free to the public. The Athenaeum, in Orange Grove, was originally a mechanics' institute. The Bath and West of England Society for the encouragement of agriculture, the arts, manufactures, and commerce, was established in 1777. The Commercial and Literary Institution occupies a part of the post ofiice building. The city is said to contain a greater number of booksellers and circulating libraries in proportion to its population than any other town in the kingdom. It may be regarded also as the cradle of English geology; and it boasts a remarkable number of eminent literary men as natives or as residents. Among the natives have been. Gildas the historian, John Hales the professor of Greek, B. Robins the mathematician, R. L. Edgeworth, Terry the comedian, and Hone the author of the " Every-day Book; " and among the residents have been physicians, chemists, naturalists, historians, divines, artists, and popular writers too numerous to be named. The house No. 13 New King Street was the residence of Herschel at the time of his making the observations which led to the discovery of the planet Uranus. The Bath and County Club, in Queen Square, was establislied in 1857, and consists of about 300 members.

Charities.—the Bath General Hospital was founded in 1742, for the use of the diseased poor from all parts of the kingdom who may be benefited by the Bath waters; it comprises a suite of new buildings erected in 18G1 at a cost of £18,000, together with an older adjoining suite, and contains accommodation for 86 male and 48 female patients, and is supported partly by endowment and partly by subscription. The patients within it are accommodated with baths upon the premises supplied from the springs. The United Hospital was founded in 1826 by the amalgamation of the city infirmary and the casualty Iiospital; is a spacious building with sick wards, lecture-room, anatomical museum, and library, near the Cross Bath; and, besides receiving in-patients, gives relief to vast numbers of out-patients. St John's Hospital was founded in 1180 by Bishop Fitz-Jocelync; escaped the dissolution under Henry VIII.; was given by Queen Elizabeth to the mayor and commonalty of the city; rebuilt in 1728 by Wood; and has an income returned at £214, but valued at £8828. St Catherine's Hospital, or the Bimberries, was founded in the reign of Edward VI. Bel-lott's Hospital, for½poor persons using the waters, lias an income of £76; and St Mary Magdalene's Hospital for idiots, founded before 1332, has £118. Partis College, on New-bridge Hill, for 30 reduced gentlewomen, was founded by Mrs. Partis, and completed in 1827; and is a capacious range of building, forming three sides of a quadrangle. There are also an eye infirmary, a penitentiary, several dispensaries, lying-in-hospitals, almshouses, and other benevolent institutions, either liberally supported or well endowed.

Amusements.—Bath was at one time the gayest place in England, and it continues to possess the means of splendid and numerous amusements. The Assembly Rooms, in the vicinity of the Circus, were erected in 1791, at a cost of £20,000, and contain a lofty vaulted octagon reception-room, and a ball-room 105 feet long, 43 feet wide, and 42 feet high. The theatre, in Beaufort Square, is an elegant edifice of 1863, on the site of a previous one built in 1805 and burnt in 1862, reputed one of the best out of London. The racecourse, on Lansdown, is an oval 1½ mile round, and the grand stand on it was improved in 1859. The Victoria Park, immediately west of the Royal Crescent and the Circus, is an ornate enclosure of about 22 acres; was thrown open to the public in 1830, at a cost of £4000 raised by subscription; contains horticultural and botanic gardens; and has at the entrance an obelisk in honour of the Queen, and higher up a colossal bust of Jupiter by the self-taught artist Osbome. The Sydney Gardens, at the end of Pulteney Street, comprise 16 acres, were laid out in 1795, and used to be called the " Vauxhall" of Bath. The Bath Horticultural Society holds its meetings in these gardens. The walks and drives around the city may be endlessly varied, and abound with interesting objects, charming close views, and brilliant prospects.

Trade.—Bath is a favourite residence of annuitants, and a fashionable resort of wealthy strangers. Hence arises its principal trade. Rents are moderate; coal is abundant; the markets are well supplied; all the wants of taste and society are readily ministered to; and in a full season, from Christmas till the end of May, about 20,000 persons in addition to the permanent population are present. A manufacture of coarse woollen cloth, called Bath-coating, was at one time carried on, but has long been extinct. Weekly markets are held on Wednesday and Saturday, and fairs on 14 February and 10 July. The city has a telegraph station, a head post office, five banks, a savings' bank, and many fine hotels, and it publishes six weekly newspapers. The savings' bank, originally founded in 1815, now occupies a handsome edifice in the Italian style.

The. Borough.—The city formerly consisted of the parish of St Peter and St Paul, the parish of St James, the parish of St Michael, and the part of the parish of Walcot south of Charlcombe, but it now comprises the parish of Bathwick, the parish of Lyncombe and Widcombe, and all the rest of the parish of Walcot except Soper's Fam. The total area is 8382 acres. The city, which has its own police force, is divided into 7 wards; is governed by a mayor, 14 aldermen, and 42 councillors; is the seat of a county court, and the headquarters of militia; and has sent two members to Parliament since the time of Edward I.; population of the parliamentary borough, 54,551; and of the municipal borough, 51,844.

Transcribed from The Comprehensive Gazetteer of England & Wales, 1894-5


The following is a list of the administrative units in which this place was either wholly or partly included.

Ancient CountySomersetshire 
Poor Law unionBath 

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Visitations Heraldic

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CountyBath and North East Somerset
RegionSouth West
Postal districtBA2
Post TownBath