Louise Thacker, first year student at Bath Spa University, takes us on a tour of Bath throughout history, and shows us how Bath has always been a city buzzing with attractions.
When deciding to study at Bath Spa University, the beautiful architecture probably factored into your decision. But how much do you know about the history of Bath and the people who lived here? What was life like before us, when Bath was gradually becoming a vibrant and cultural city?
The foundations of Bath are riddled with the legend of Prince Bladud who was the father to King Lear and creator of Bath in 860 BC. He studied for some time in Athens but was unfortunate enough to catch leprosy. He was banned from the courts and sent to care for pigs as they were also infected with the disease. Prince Bladud, however, found a cure for the pigs’ diseases by giving them a mud bath. The prince followed their example, soon finding himself a cure.
After the Romans departed, the Saxons invaded Bath after they won a battle at Dyrham where they built settlements. However, in the year 1088, a rebellion occurred which caused the demise of many buildings, but Bath managed to recover.
In the 12th century, the local bishop built the Abbey which became a cultural and significant monument within Bath’s attractive design. Dating back to the medieval period, Bath Abbey continues to be at the heart of the city’s rich and ancient history. However, Henry VIII closed the Abbey in 1539 with many other buildings being demolished during the dissolution of the monasteries.
Queen Elizabeth came to the town’s aid in 1590 when she granted Bath a mayor and alderman. Nonetheless, it didn’t stop the civil war breaking out between Parliament and the king in 1642. A year later, Bath was then taken under the reins of parliamentary troops where they fought against the royalists in the north of the town. The king lost the war, and so, in the year 1645, the royalist commander surrendered.
During the 18th century, Bath became a fashionable place causing the town to expand. Many buildings you see today were built during this period, including the Pump Room. The first one was built in 1706, the present one in 1795.
Many architects have graced the city with their creative visions. Queen Square was built by John Wood the Elder between 1728 and 1739. Another of his creations, The Circus, was built between 1754 and 1760. His son, John Wood the Younger, also constructed the Octagon Chapel in 1767, the Assembly Rooms in 1769 and the semi-circular Royal Crescent in 1774.
When summer arrived, Bath became a bustling and noisy place where playing cards, attending balls, horse riding and racing became familiar activities. This highly privileged lifestyle was only for the small minority as many people living in Bath were poor and living in squalor. Bath had become a rather important city but during the 19th century it began to lose traction with industrial towns developing at a much faster rate. Also, like most cities, Bath became a dirty and unhygienic place. This only improved later when horse-drawn trams ran through the streets.
Throughout history, Bath has struggled against disease, war and the industrial revolution. However, the unique beauty that resides within its heart today is a testament to the capability and adaptability of its riches and creators.
Words by Louise Thacker