A Day Trip Exploring the Architecture of Bath
It’s easy when living on a small island like Britain to always rush overseas and to not spend enough time enjoying what is on our doorstep. Last weekend, Katharine took me for a wee break from my cancer treatment to the wonderful city of Bath. A world famous city and a tourist hot spot but still utterly magnificent. There are some great hotels in this ancient city and it’s an easy walk from any of them to wherever you need to be. The key tip for staying in Bath, is breakfast early and get out to enjoy the streets before the main tourist throng are out and about. It’s really worth it and you will be able to enjoy all the wonderful streets like the Royal Crescent or Lansdowne Terrace in relative privacy. It enables you to capture the whole Georgian atmosphere of Bath in a much more romantic way and also it’s cooler. As you walk up the hill of Bath, finding one gorgeous square after another, it gets quieter as most visitors don’t bother to walk too far. The views as you ascend, across the Wiltshire scenery, are stunning. Bath’s history goes back to the Roman times and is fascinating. I am going to approach it by focusing on some of the key visitor attractions.
1. THE ROMAN BATHS
The Roman Baths is the most popular visitor attraction in Bath and possibly Britain’s most fascinating Roman site. In the first century AD, a huge bathing house was built here, around the natural hot springs which had been discovered earlier by the Picts. There was also a temple made to the Celtic-Romano Goddess of the Springs, Sulis Minerva and in Roman times, Bath was called Aquae Sulis; The Waters of Sulis. 2,000 years on, as you wander round the baths, you will see its original lead lining is still watertight. However, being open to the elements and mainly because of the sunlight, the green water is algae affected. In Roman times the baths were covered by a 20m-high roof and the water would have been clear. The complex also has changing rooms and a whole series of amazing sculptures for guests to enjoy. During the Georgian and Victorian eras a lot of restoration work took place along with more recent projects. Today, the Roman baths remain in great condition and are well worth a visit during your stay.
2. THE GRAND PUMP ROOM
Part of the city’s World Heritage Site, The Grand Pump Room is a confection of Georgian splendour and a wonderful place for a delicious afternoon tea. Located above the Roman Baths, most of the features of the Pump Room remain the same; including the spa water that still spurts from its fountain overlooking the natural hot spring. Mentioned in Jane Austen’s Persuasion and Northanger Abbey, you can imagine the grand parties that must have taken place there. Built in 1795, The Grand Pump House is located next to the Roman Baths on Stall Street where it became a venue of great importance in Georgian society. The building’s exterior has grand columns inspired by Greek temples and inside the Greek theme continues with columns along the walls, high ceilings and moulding around the edges of the walls. An elegant chandelier hangs in the middle of the room and the huge windows flood the room with natural light, which gives a wonderfully spacious feel. The next series of Bridgerton will no doubt be filmed there, with Lady Whistletown setting society alight with her gossip sheet.
3. BATH ABBEY
In the heart of town, you will find Bath Abbey, a former Benedictine monastery. Founded in the 7th Century, it was reorganised in the 10th Century and rebuilt in the 12th and 16th Centuries. Major restoration work was carried out by Sir George Gilbert Scott in the 1860s. It is one of the largest examples of Perpendicular Gothic architecture in the West Country and the medieval abbey church was the seat of a Bishop. However, after a long argument the seat of the Diocese of Bath & Wells was later consolidated at Wells Cathedral. The Benedictine community was dissolved in 1539 during King Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries.
The Abbey is a Grade I listed building, particularly admired for its fan vaulting. It contains World War I and II memorials for the local population and monuments to several notable people in the usual form of wall & floor plaques and stained glass. The church has two organs and a peal of ten bells. The west front includes sculptures of angels climbing to heaven on two stone ladders, representing Jacob’s Ladder.
4. ROYAL CRESCENT, BATH
One of the greatest examples of Georgian architecture to be found in Britain, is the Royal Crescent in Bath. The thirty houses, laid out in a crescent shape were designed by the architect John Wood the Younger and built between 1767 and 1775. Originally, though the majority of the houses were privately purchased, some were leased “for the season” by the prominent families of the time. Grandees who wished to purchase one of the homes had to accept the exterior design and floor levels designed by Wood but could do whatever they wanted with the interior, and in this sense, every house is different. The Georgian era includes the reigns of George I, II, III & IV and covers the period from 1714 to 1830. Georgian architecture is all about proportion and balance, which gives the impression of understated elegance. These designs were greatly influenced by the works of Andreas Palladio (Palladianism) whose designs during the 16th century, tried to recreate the buildings of ancient Rome. During this period many newly rich middle class families were leaving the country life and moving into the cities, creating the need to pack a lot of houses into a small space. John Wood the Younger continued his father’s legacy by catering to both the nobility and the middle class. Other famous architects of the era were the father-son teams of Woods and Dance, the Adams brothers, John Gibbs and Sir John Vanburgh.
5. BATH ASSEMBLY ROOMS
Bath Assembly Rooms were designed by John Wood the Younger in 1769 and were built for dancing and music. They became the centre of Bath Society, which was by that time the most important health & social resort in the country with a huge influence on British society. Bath Assembly Rooms were built for the pleasure of civilized society where the aristocracy mixed with the gentry and where people passed their time against a backdrop of strolling, dancing, playing cards and taking tea. They were designed in accordance with the then current fashion of “assemblies” whereby members of ‘polite society’ were able to enjoy a variety of evening entertainments simultaneously within the same building. There is a Ballroom, Great Octagon, Card Room and Tea Room where guests could move from room to room throughout the day. Back in the day, Bath Assembly Rooms would have been visited by virtually all the leading figures of the era, including playwright Richard Sheridan, authors Jane Austen and Samuel Johnson, composers Handel and Haydn and actress Sarah Siddons, along with all the English noble families, leading politicians and anyone else wishing to further their standing within society. You only need to watch ‘Sense and Sensibility’ to get a flavour of this period in British history and to understand how polite society lived in this time.
6. AMERICAN MUSEUM, CLAVERTON MANOR, BATH
We really enjoyed the American Museum which is just outside Bath at Claverton Manor and is the only museum of Americana outside of the US. It is a very elegant house in a beautiful spot with lovely views and stunning gardens. We hadn’t heard of this museum before but it has a pretty profile and we were very glad we went to see it. Built in 1820, it’s been an American museum for about 50 years and is all about the development of American decorative arts from 1680s to the 1860s. There is a lot of folk and native American art and a superb collection of quilts, along with traditional Shaker furniture and old maps of the New World. There is also a lot of historical information which is great fun if you enjoy learning about the founding fathers, the history of the Red Indians and the American Civil War; one of the bloodiest battles ever fought involving a lot of new weaponry and loss of civilian life. For garden lovers, there are 40 acres of stunning gardens and a lot of North American trees and shrubs. There is also a recreation of Mount Vernon, the Virginia home of George Washington, the first President of the United States of America. We thought this museum was a bit of a hidden gem and had a delicious lunch in the house café and enjoyed the spring sunshine.
7. LANSDOWN CRESCENT, CAMDEN CRESCENT AND SOMERSET PLACE, BATH
Bath today is in amazing condition, and we wondered if during the war it had been spared German bombing. It looks like it was, but, in fact Hitler in 1942, hoping to weaken our morale, ordered the bombing of a number of historic towns including Bath. They were known as the Baedeker Raids as they consulted their guide books to see which towns to bomb. A lot of the buildings in Bath were damaged, the famous Assembly Rooms were gutted and some of the beautiful homes in the Circus were also destroyed. However, fortunately most of the lovely Georgian homes were spared and the Roman Baths were left untouched. A lot of iron railings were taken away to be melted down for war use and many of these were not replaced for decades after the war but they are all back in place now. Apart from the Royal Crescent, we enjoyed exploring other ones like Lansdown Crescent, Camden Crescent and Somerset Place, which were all equally beautiful. Camden Crescent suffered damage in 1889 when there was a landslide and we did wonder as we walked around how they managed to build so many wonderful streets on such a steep incline! We were interested to learn that the Circus is the same diameter as Stonehenge, with the Circus representing the sun and the Royal Crescent representing the Moon.
Other interesting tit bits about Bath include the fact that the very first stamp to be mailed was sent from Bath in 1840. The stamp became the Penny Black! One of my favourite biscuits the Bath Oliver was invented in the city by DR William Oliver. He left the recipe, a sack of flower and £100 to his coachman who went on to make a fortune from this famous biscuit. Bath hosted the first ever farmers market and this has become a regular feature on Green Park Station on Saturday mornings with produce coming from a 40 mile radius. Jane Austen is the city’s most famous former resident and her parents were married at St Within’s church in 1764. Her aunt, who also lived in the city was once arrested for shoplifting! Charles Dickens loved Bath and used to stay at Saracen’s Head, which is the oldest pub in the city. He conceived his character of Little Nell in the Old Curiosity Shop and he satirised the social life of Bath in the Pickwick Papers, which is a brilliant read. Mary Shelley also wrote much of Frankenstein whilst staying in Bath and this book remains one of the most influential ever written. Eagle House on the east side of Bath was offered for a few years to the Suffragettes and used by Emmeline & Christine Pankhurst and Annie Kenney. Bath and it’s stunning streets has been used by many Hollywood film companies and can be seen in The Duchess, Les Miserables, Persuasion and Fantastic Mr Fox, along with many other productions.
When planning a day trip to Bath in England, make sure you plan some time to appreciate the history and architecture of the city. Even better, make it a weekend and stay overnight in Bath, The Royal Crescent Hotel is a huge treat and close by the Bath Priory is also excellent. LTR is also lucky to have some wonderful houses within easy reach of Bath including Ebrington Manor, Cornwell Manor, Notgrove Manor and Coombe End Manor. Great restaurant suggestions include The Circus, Clayton’s Kitchen, Beckford Bottle Shop, Landrace – good for lunch, Henry’s Bistro, Corkage and The Walcot. Book early to avoid disappointment as Bath gets extremely busy at the weekends.
We can arrange for you to stay in any of these incredible houses to rent in the UK near Bath, as well as several other luxury rentals. If you would like us to organize a fabulous vacation in England or Scotland in a stunning country house, please get in touch with us on + 44 (0) 1835 824642 or email@example.com.