Bath Holiday Cottages Logo

Bath Holiday Cottages
Self-Catering Holiday Cottages & apartments in and near The City of Bath

A brief History of The Roman City of Bath
Bath Through the ages; By kind permission of  City of Bath information website
Summary Timeline of some key events
  Year Event Year Population
  850BC Bladuds mythical Birth 1086 890
  60 Romans arrive in Bath 1379 1025
  400 Romans Leave 1660 1200
  577 Saxons capture Bath at Battle of Dyrham 1699 3000
  676 Osric founds Monastry at Bath 1750 9000
  818 Arthur defeats Saxons at Battle of Badon 1799 34160
  973 King Edgar crowned in Bath Abbey 1851 43023
  1066 Normans invade England 1901 49839
  1086 Domesday book reveals Bath as largest town in Somerset 1911 69173
  1088 Bath is laid to waste 1931 68815
  1643 John De Villula buys City 1951 79294
  1702 "Beau" Richard Nash arrives in Bath 1971 84670
  1727 Minervas Head is found 1981 80771
  1754 Circus is complete 2000 approx 85000
  1791 Site of Roman temple discovered    
  1881 Great Bath and sacred spring unearthed    
  1942 Bath is bombed during World War 2    
  1964 Major excavation of Roman complex starts    

Celtic Bath; Bladud
Bath was founded by Bladud, the eldest son of the legendary King Lud.
As a boy, Bladud contracted leprosy and was banished to Swainswick to become a pig farmer.
One day as he was watching his pigs, Bladud noticed that some of the pigs were rolling around in the thick mud and he went to take a closer look. The mud was hot, and he found that the marsh was fed by a bountiful hot spring. Noticing that the pigs scurvy had been cleared up by the mud, Bladud himself started to roll in it, smothering his whole body from head to foot. His leprosy soon disappeared. When he was clear he ran back in delight to his fathers court and in time was made King. In gratitude he built a temple by the hot spring and founded the city of Bath.

Celtic Sun God
Among the most significant Celtic works of art of Roman Europe is the outstanding sun gods head that welcomed pilgrims to the temple of Sulis Minerva in Bath. Within its garlands of druids oak leaves and framed by great serpentine locks of hair, the head of the Celtic sun god glowered all-seeing from its Roman temple pediment,
transfixing Roman and Briton alike.

Celtic Bath
Although Bath was in fact built nearly 1,000 years after Bladud, it was without doubt a major Celtic place of power. The Celtic Dobunni guarded this most sacred site with five hillforts which dominated the hot spring from their surrounding hilltops. Most distinguished are the Celtic forts at Lansdown and Solsbury Hill. In a druids grove by the hot steaming spring, the goddess Sul was worshipped as the guardian to the gateway to the Underworld. Through major gateways such as Baths hot spring, the Celts believed that deities and ancestors could be approached.

Sulis Minerva
The Romans had a genius for appropriating local deities and blending them with their own gods. So, Sul became Sulis Minerva when they built their temple where the druids grove had stood. Sul, goddess of arcane prophecy, was tempered with the cultured arts and science of Minerva. Like the Celts, the Romans believed that the
goddess guarded the entrance to the Underworld.

Roman Bath

Aquae Sulis
Although still mostly buried under magnificent Georgian streets, the Roman ruins in Bath are unsurpassed in Britain. Some believe
Baths Roman art and sumptuousness equal any in the empire; certainly Bath has no rivals north of the Alps. About 2m below the present level of the city, the Romans started building their great baths and temple at the sacred spring soon after the Conquest, in the middle of the 1st Century AD. They named their city Aque Sulis and soon transformed the Celtic druids grove into one of the major therapeutic centres of the West. The Romans revered the Spring just as the Celts had done; by the 3rd century its stunning temple and luxurious baths attracted pilgrims from throughout the Roman world.

The Great Bath
The art and engineering of the remarkable baths at Minerva's temple offer us a glimpse of Roman Britain at its most glorious. The complex housed no fewer than five healing hot baths by the time it was completed in the 4th century AD. An elaborate hypocaust heating system serviced a series of hot sweat rooms; swimming pools and cold rooms cooled the pilgrims down. At the centre, in its own hall and lined with 14 massive sheets of lead, was the Great Bath. Surrounded by the gods, whose statues emerged mysteriously from the swirling steam, the Great Bath must have seemed a wonder of the ancient world.

The Temple
The ancient world marvelled at Minerva's great temple in Bath. Shrouded in steam, pilgrims approached the mysterious sacred spring at the heart of the temple believing it to be the actual residing place of Sulis Minerva, whose healing cult had spread from Britain throughout the Empire. Not only was Minerva's water renowned for its healing powers; by throwing their offerings into the spring, pilgrims believed that they could communicate directly with the Underworld. Almost 20,000 coins and several gold and silver artefacts have since been recovered. The visual and symbolic focus of the temple was the sacrificial altar. The great mass of stone stood nearly 2m high; its top was chiselled smooth and slightly dished to hols the animals that were slaughtered for augury.

Amongst the most remarkable and revealing artefacts recovered from the Roman Baths are the written dedications, vows and curses that centuries of pilgrims cast into the hot spring. As well as appealing to Sulis Minerva for health or wealth, the pilgrims inscribed curses on thin pewter sheets which were then usually rolled up and placed in the water. Typically each curse stated a lost love or piece of stolen property; numerous suspects 'whether pagan or Christian' were often listed with an appeal that the guilty should meet some foul end. Common are spells to counter others curses; writing backwards was thought to imbue the magic with extra potency.

The Ruin
Flooding finally ruined Bath wondrous temple and the Great Bath complex. Built in the slight hollow around the hot spring, the Baths and temple were particularly vulnerable to the rising water level of the 4th century AD. The baths drained into the River Avon, as they do today, and as the Avon's level rose so river water increasingly backed up the drains until they were eventually blocked with mud and silt. When the Romans withdrew from Britain, the baths were simply not repaired and soon fell to ruin. Saxon Christians dismantled the sacrificial altar to use as paving stones for their new monastery. Before long the hot spring returned to marsh. The site of Minerva's great temple became a dumping place for town refuse and, in later times, a Saxon graveyard.

Middle Ages

King Arthur
Bath is well known for being the site of the legendary battle of Badon, which the Welsh annals say was the twelfth and greatest battle fought by Arthur against the invading Saxons. Known as the 'Siege of Badon Hill', the exact site of the battle was probably the refortified Celtic hillfort at Bannerdown, where farmers are reported to have apparently 'dug up cupfuls of teeth'. The battle was at turning point for Arthur and Britain. By not only defeating but also reversing the initial aggressive thrust of the Saxons, Arthur may well have saved the Celtic population to the West. According to the great Dark Age historian Nennius '960 men were killed by one attack of Arthur and no-one save himself laid them low'.

Saxon Bath
Bath finally fell to the Saxons at the Battle of Dyrham Park just to the north of the city. Although the great Roman temple and baths were lost to flood and ruin, Bath continued as an important religious site with the founding of a Saxon monastery in the 7th century. As its lands increased, the monastery grew rich and powerful. King Edgar was crowned in splendour in the new monastery church of St Peter in the 10th century, reflecting Bath's new status as one of the leading cultural and religious centre's of Wessex. In the late Saxon era, Bath was fortified against Viking attack and operated its own mint. Even under the French Benedictines, the monastery continued to flourish; but with the death of William the Conqueror, the hated William Rufus took control.

The Normans
A Norman doctor turned churchman, John De Villula bought the ruined City of Bath for 500 pounds of silver. Instituted as the Bishop of Bath, Villula started to build a new cathedral on the burned Saxons abbeys ruins. With typical Norman ambition, the huge 100m long cathedral was to be one of the largest in Europe. The present abbey occupies only its nave. Villula also extended the monastery, whose collegiate school was widely renown for its scholarship. But the most important was his interest in the therapeutic qualities of Bath's hot springs. He ordered the baths to be refitted and built treatment centres in the city. The wool trade and cloth making maintained Bath's wealth. Although badly hit by the plague, Bath continued to prosper and the old city walls were rebuilt. Yet Villulas enormous cathedral
was near ruined by neglect. Not until a dream about Jacobs ladder inspired the 16th century Bishop King was it rebuilt. Legend recounts that Bishop King was impelled by a great voice from Heaven which said 'Let a King restore the church…….'; though it was rebuilt to a much smaller scale.

Medieval Bath
The great 16th century traveller John Leland was inspired by Bath's Roman ruins but not at all impressed by the hot water which 'rikketh like a sething potte', apparently. The waters fed four baths to cater for the many afflicted who came to Bath for their cures. Royalty and gentry enjoyed the King's Bath, built above the Great Bath of Roman times and the major attraction, once the cathedral and monastery were ruined. But in contrary the Cross Bath was foul. Contemporary accounts recoil in horror at the thought of diseased men and women bathing naked together while onlookers jeered and threw animals into the bath.

Sumwhat Decayed
From its magnificent Roman origins as a spa town, Bath became 'sumwhat decayed', as the late-medieval traveller John Leland wrote. The baths themselves began to lose their glory; many complained that only the sick now came to enjoy the waters. The streets were also far from pleasing to the eye. According to Baths famous architect John Wood 'Soil of all sorts, and even carrion, were cast and laid in the streets, and the pigs turned out by day to feed and rout among it; butchers killed and dressed their cattle at their own doors; people washed every kind of thing they had to make clean at the common conduits in the open streets ....'


Georgian Bath

Bath's population multiplied itself by well over ten times during the course of the 18th century. From a still small classic medieval city of just 2000 people, with its market place and many mangers and defensive walls, Bath was transformed into a fashionable metropolis of nearly 30,000 citizens in just 100 years.

The Dandy
Into the 'decayed' country town that was Bath at the start of the 18th century, walked the wigged adventurer and dandy 'Beau' Richard Nash. A drop-out from Oxford University, the army and the law, Beau Nash earned his money as a gambler and immaculate socialite. With Queen Anne's visit to Bath in 1802 Beau Nash saw his chance to make fortune and influential friends. Immediately, Nash set about transporting Bath into the kind of fashionable resort in which his gambling skills would thrive. Within just three years he had raised a considerable sum of money for the repair of Bath's woeful roads. Beau Nash and his great new city of pleasure and social elegance grew side by side. As Nash's influence increased, Bath with its splendid new public buildings, orchestras and balls, began to rival London
as the place to be seen.

The Postmaster
Perhaps the man to whom Bath owes the most is Ralph Allen. Allen's story is remarkable. Sheltering in a hut while a storm raged in , a postmaster noticed the child Ralph Allen. Seeing genius in the boy, he found him a position in Bath's post office. Young Allen thrived so meteoric was his career that he was soon known as The Man of Bath. Ralph Allen's fortune and the new splendour of Bath were made with limestone cut from his quarries near by. With the same golden stone, he built a fabulous mansion in Prior Park at which such as Fielding, Pope, Gainsborough and Garrick stayed; it was Allen who invited the young William Pitt to stand as the MP for Bath.

The Circus
Beau Nash made Bath fashionable, Ralph Allen gave his administrative genius and blocks of Bath stone, but the great Georgian city would never have been built without the brilliance of the architects John Wood and his son of the same name. With Allen as his patron, Wood the Elder's dream was to build a city with the visual splendour and magnificence of ancient Rome. Wood died before his dream was realised, but the work was superbly completed by his son. 'I proposed to make a grand Place of Assembly, to be called the Royal Forum of Bath; another place, no less magnificent, for the Exhibition of Sports, to be called the Grand Circus; and a third place, of equal state with either of the former, for the Practice of Medicinal exercises, to be called the Imperial Gymnasium,' Wood the Elder wrote. Soon Queen Square and the Parades rose gloriously from the medieval city. Work began on the grand Circus, which was completed by Wood's son. The Circus is the earliest attempted in Britain. Its bold and brilliant design amazed 18th century society. Similarly outstanding was Wood the Younger's Royal Crescent - the first open curved terrace built in Europe.

The Minerva Head
In 1727, stylish Bath was thrilled by the discovery of the head of Minerva's cultic statue. The gilded bronze head of the Roman goddess was found when a vast trench was dug to lay sewers. This was Georgian Bath's first glimpse of its great Roman temple. The actual site of Minerva's temple remained undiscovered for 60 years. When new foundations were being laid for the Pump Room in 1790, a solid Roman pavement was unearthed 4m below ground. Minerva's great temple had finally been found.

High Society
As well as the many dukes, duchesses, earls and lords who enjoyed Bath, the Georgian city was home to many of the great people of their time. Horace Walpole, Dr Johnson, James Boswell and Thomas Gainsborough frequented Bath's card tables, concerts and balls. Bath's MP was Sir William Pitt. Jane Austen lived and wrote in Bath at the beginning of the 19th century and Bath is the place where Charles Dickens wrote The Pickwick Papers.

The 19th Century
Bath's last great building project was inspired and financed by the richest man in England of his time - Sir William Pulteney, after whom the stunning Pulteney Bridge was named. When Great Pulteney Street was completed in 1790, Bath's glorious century was drawing to an end. With the huge expense of fighting the Napoleonic Wars in Europe, Britain slipped into recession at the start of the 19th century and a financial scandal caused the collapse of Bath's banks. Apart from rebuilding the abbey in 1833, Bath's great boom was at an end.

The Fosseway

At Bath the River Avon crossed the Fosse Way and the major road from London to Wales. The Roman roads themselves followed great prehistoric routes that converged on the vital river-crossing at Bath. As well as connecting Bath with the great places of Roman Britain the Fosse Way provided the Romans with lead mined in the Mendip Hills to line their remarkable hot baths. The Avon was to prove vital to Bath's great 18th century building boom. By improving its course to Bath, Ralph Allen was able to transport his huge blocks of quarried stone to the city. As the Industrial Revolution dawned, Allen's Avon Navigation became the birthplace of the Kennet and Avon Canal. The 12m wide and 100 km long canal was an amazing engineering feat; its 79 locks took Bath's cloth to London and the world. The canal was in turn replaced by Brunel's Great Western Railway.


The Civil War

Like many of Somerset's fast-changing cities and towns, Bath's population was deeply divided in the years leading up the Civil War. It was a division based on social, economic and religious grounds. The local gentry joined with Bath's merchants and cloth-makers in their revolt against the tax-raising whims and religious edicts of an aloof and Catholic king. The Royalists were determined to prevent the Puritans from dismantling the Church and State and to stop what they saw as extreme Puritan religious reforms. By the summer of 1643, two great rival armies occupied Somerset's two Episcopal cities only twenty miles apart - the Royalist army had marched to Wells and the Puritans held Bath.

The Battle of Lansdown
In July 1643, the two armies met at Bath. A huge Royalist force had marched form Wells and taken Bradford-on-Avon. By securing Bradford's vital bridge, they threatened to encircle and destroy the smaller Parliamentary army barracked in Bath, just a few miles down-river .On the morning of July 5th, the massive Royalist army approached Parliament's forces entrenched on Lansdown Hill. Led by the 'Conqueror' Sir William Waller, Parliament's army slipped out of the city to take up a stronger defensive position on the steep slopes of Lansdown by an Iron Age hillfort. So impregnable seemed Parliament's position on Lansdown Hill that the Royalist army saw no no option but to retreat. Seizing their opportunity, Parliament's cavalry charged down the hill to attack the retreating Royalist horses and routed them. Some galloped all the way to Oxford; but the Royalist Cornish infantry stood firm. Somehow the Cornish pikemen held , Parliament's charging horses, winning time for their army to turn around and re-engage. The pikemen forced Parliament's cavalry back up the and then attacked. With astonishing bravery, they advanced up the steep slope into Parliament's great guns and took Lansdown. It was a Pyrrhic victory: Parliament was defeated but Royalist losses were appalling.

The Monmouth Rebellion
Just 42 years after the bloody Battle of Lansdown, the cloth-makers and merchants again rose up against taxes and royal religious edicts, supporting the Protestant Duke of Monmouth in his claim for the throne. As Monmouth marched through Somerset, his ranks swelled from the 80 men who landed with him from Holland to four whole regiments. Within two weeks his swelling Puritan army reached Bath, where the royal army was barracked. Monmouth's herald called up to the city walls for the Royalists to surrender but was quickly answered with a well-aimed bullet to the head. Monmouth skirted Bath and stayed the night of Friday June 26th in the George Inn at nearby Norton St Philip. He was surprised on the very next day with a Royalist attack. The royal army stormed the town, threatening to overrun the barricade that Monmouth had erected to protect his headquarters in the George Inn; but in a brilliant ambush, the rebels managed to flank the royal force. Harried and surrounded on three sides, the King's troops scrambled through hedges and small lanes to where their big guns waited. Royal losses were mounting when torrential rain forced Monmouth to pull back.

World War 2

Strategic position
Although some of Bath's manufacturers were engaged on wartime production, producing gun mountings, torpedo parts, aircraft propellers and other products for military use, German Intelligence had not identified Bath as a strategic target. Similarly, although the Admiralty had moved its entire warship design operation from London to Bath, the intelligence at the time thought that just a few high ranking staff officers had decamped to Bath and were staying in hotels. Thus Bath was officially "a lesser town without specific aiming points" and to maintain that fiction Bath was deliberately undefended, having neither a balloon barrage nor anti-aircraft guns. Hostile aircraft did fly over Bath, but usually on their way to other targets such as Bristol.

The Bath Blitz
Nine times during the "Air Battle for England" bombs fell within Bath's boundaries, but these were strays which were intended for targets elsewhere and became misdirected due to bad weather or poor navigation. Mostly they fell without casualties, but in March 1941, 6 people died when bombs fell on Twerton, and the following month, 11 were killed when Widcombe was the target.

But in April 1942, Bath itself was the target, in a reprisal for the RAF bombing of Lübeck. During two nights and the following morning at the end of April, many hundreds of high explosive bombs and countless incendiary devices were dropped. The official figures show that around 900 buildings were completely destroyed and around 12,500 buildings were damaged during these raids. Over 400 people were killed, many of them women and children. Yet contemporary Bath bears almost no sign of its recent history: it appears to be an elegant and intact Georgian city. Many of the buildings were repaired, or rebuilt to the original design. Unlike other cathedral cities that were bombed, Bath has no memorial to those who died, and as time marches on, fewer residents who remember it. It is for that reason the Bath Blitz Memorial Project was founded and their web site gives details of what happened and their plans for a memorial.


| Home Page | | Cottages in Bath | | Cottages near Bath | | Bath History | |Tourism | | Contact Bath Holiday Cottages | | Links |
| Advertise on the Bath Holiday Cottages website | | Privacy Policy |

For more information
©2013 all images and text copyright Bath Holiday Cottages