Bath was founded by the Romans and has grown from a small town, somewhat neglected throughout history, to become one of England's most beautiful cities, with gorgeous honeystoned Georgian architecture and its famous Roman baths. Discover why this city has become one not to miss when on holiday in Somerset.
The city of Bath has been famous for centuries for its hot springs and rich history as well as being a fashionable, elegant spa town with stunning Georgian architecture. The city is located in the southwest of England, and its natural hot springs have been used for their therapeutic properties since Roman times, if not before.
The Romans founded the original baths in Bath around 70 AD, and over the town the city became a fashionable spa town for the wealthy and influential. During the Georgian period in the 18th century, Bath experienced a period of great growth and development, with many elegant buildings, streets, and public spaces designed by notable architects of the time, such as John Wood the Elder and John Wood the Younger.
Today, Bath's famous attractions include the Roman Baths, the Royal Crescent, the Bath Abbey, and the Jane Austen Centre, as well as its many shops, restaurants, and cultural events. The city is also listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, recognised for its significant cultural and architectural importance.
The city of Bath gets its name from the Roman baths that were built there almost 2,000 years ago. The original name of the city was "Aquae Sulis," which means "the waters of Sulis" in Latin. Sulis was the name of the Celtic goddess of the hot springs, and the Roman settlers who arrived in Bath in the 1st century AD identified her with their own goddess, Minerva. They therefore named the town "Aquae Sulis Minerva" to honor both goddesses.
The name "Bath" is derived from the Angle Saxon word "bað," which means "bath" or "a place where hot water emerges from the ground." It was also called "Bathan" by the Britons which meant "boiling waters". Over time, the name of the town evolved and became simply "Bath."
So, the city's name reflects its long history as a spa town and its association with the famous Roman baths.
The Roman presence in Bath declined in the early 5th century AD, when the Roman Empire was under attack from barbarian invaders and shrinking. However, the town (as it was back then) was not completely abandoned by the Romans at that time.
Bath continued to be inhabited by Romano-Britons, but it underwent a gradual period of decline and fell into disrepair. Over a period of a few hundred years or so the Roman Baths and other structures were damaged by neglect. It was not until the 18th century, during the Georgian period, that Bath experienced a resurgence of interest in its Roman past, and many of the historic buildings and structures were fully restored and rebuilt.
Today, visitors to Bath can still see the Roman Baths, which have been partially restored, as well as other remnants of the Roman presence in the city, such as the remains of the Roman Temple and the Roman city walls. So, while the Romans did eventually leave Bath altogether, their legacy and influence can still be seen in some of the city's architecture.
There is some recorded history of Bath during the Dark Ages, although much of it is fragmentary and incomplete. The Dark Ages is a period of time in British history that spans roughly from the end of the Roman Empire in the 5th century to the Norman Conquest in 1066, and it is often characterized by a lack of written records.
However, some sources do exist that shed light on Bath's history during this period. For example, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, a collection of annals that record significant events in Anglo-Saxon England, mentions Bath in several entries.
One entry in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records that in 577 AD, the West Saxons, led by King Ceawlin, defeated the Britons in the Battle of Dyrham near Bath, capturing it, as well as Cirencester and Gloucester and driving the Britons westward.
Another entry in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records that in 675 AD, King Osric of Northumbria founded a monastic house - "a convent of holy virgins - which suggests that Bath was to become and important centre of power and influence in the 8th century.
Other sources from the Dark Ages that mention Bath include the writings of the Venerable Bede, an Anglo-Saxon monk and historian, and the Life of St. Aldhelm, a biography of an important Anglo-Saxon bishop who had close ties to Bath.
Overall, while our knowledge of Bath's history during the Dark Ages is limited, there are some sources that provide glimpses into the city's past during this period.
Yes, Bath was used by the Anglo-Saxons, who arrived in the area in the 7th century AD, following the departure of the Romans. The Anglo-Saxons were Germanic tribes who migrated to Britain from what is now Germany and Denmark, and they established their own kingdoms and culture in the British Isles.
The Anglo-Saxon settlement in Bath was originally called "Hat Bathu" which means "hot baths" in Old English. The Anglo-Saxons were aware of the hot springs and their therapeutic properties, and they built their settlement around the existing Roman baths.
In the 9th century, Bath was controlled by the King of Mercia and after the defeat of the Vikings it was then handed over to the Wessex king, Alfred the Great. He made Bath an important centre of government and fortified the defensive walls around the city (mostly by using stone from the Roman ruins), which helped to protect it from further Viking raids. Alfred must have felt the town was secure enough as he set up a Royal Mint here too!
Overall, Bath played an important role in Anglo-Saxon England, as a center of government and religious and cultural activity. Sadly the baths were not maintained particularly well by the Anglo Saxons and started to become ruins, sinking into oblivion in the marshlands they were sited upon.
If you're curious to find out more about Anglo Saxon activity in Bath then this site is very helpful:
The site below also offers more interesting details too (both are definitely worth checking out):
In 878 AD, the Vikings, led by a warlord named Guthrum, captured the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Wessex and established a Viking kingdom in the east of England. The Viking kingdom was eventually defeated by the Anglo-Saxon king Alfred the Great, who forced Guthrum to convert to Christianity and gave him lands in the east of England.
It is believed that the Vikings would have visited Bath and made camp there during this period, and that they may have used the hot springs for their own bathing and healing, just as the Romans and Anglo-Saxons had done before them. Sadly archaeological excavations have uncovered little evidence of Viking activity in Bath, most efforts have concentrated on finding Roman artifacts instead.
Later in 1013 another Danish Viking king settled his army in the town and received tribute in the form of hostages and gifts from other local nobles.
Overall, while our knowledge of the Viking influence over Bath is limited (a Scandinavian styled sword was discovered near the old walls in the 1980's), there is evidence to suggest that the Vikings played some role in the city's early medieval history, and that they left a little of their mark on its culture and traditions.
Under the Normans, Bath continued to be an important centre of trade and commerce, and many new buildings and structures were constructed in the city, including a new bridge across the River Avon.
One of the most significant Norman buildings in Bath is the Bath Abbey, which was founded in the 11th century. After William the Conqueror had died and his son William the II had taken over, the city was granted to one of his followers, John of Tours, who was responsible for the building of the Norman Cathedral, over what had once been the Saxon church. One of the most significant Norman buildings to be built at that time, it was built in the Norman style, with a large nave, an imposing tower, and a decorative front.
The abbey became one of the most important religious institutions in the west of England, and it played a central role in the life of the city for many centuries. Ultimately it fell into disrepair in the late 1500's and a new abbey was ordered to be built in its place by Bishop Oliver King.
During the Middle Ages, Bath underwent a period of change and at times a downard transformation. The city's prestigious status as a spa town had been forgotten, and it was now viewed as a somewhat down-at-heel place. People still used some of the remaining baths but they had been very much neglected and fallen into a state of disrepair.
One of the most important events in Bath's medieval history and that helped the city maintain its wealth was the building of the Bath Abbey in the 10th century. The Abbey was built over the site of an earlier Saxon church, and it quickly became an important centre of pilgrimage, attracting visitors from all over England.
In the 12th and 13th centuries, Bath started to become a prosperous wool town, with a thriving wool industry that brought increased wealth to the city. Many of the city's finest medieval buildings were constructed during this time, including the Guildhall and the Church of St. Michael.
The Black Death reached the town in 1348 and killed almost half of the town's population - this caused the town to again fall into a state of decay.
There is some evidence of Medieval Bath but you do have to look to find it!
Bath was mostly spared during the English Civil War and remained under control by Parliamentarian forces at the start of the conflict.
In 1643, Royalist forces under the command of Lord Hopton attacked just outside Bath, up on Lansdown Hill, hoping to capture the city and gain control of the southwest of England. The Parliamentarian forces, under the command of Sir William Waller, put up a strong defense and managed to repel the attack, though they withdrew in the evening after the battle allowing the Royalists to capture Bath.
Yes, there are several websites that you can check out more of Bath's history. Here are a few suggestions:
The website of the Bath Preservation Trust (https://www.bath-preservation-trust.org.uk/) contains a wealth of information about the history of Bath. The site features articles, photographs, and maps that provide insight into the city's rich cultural heritage.
The website of the Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution (https://www.brlsi.org/) also contains a variety of resources related to Bath's history. The site features articles, lectures, and events that explore the city's cultural, scientific, and artistic achievements over the centuries.
The website of the Bath and North East Somerset Council (https://www.bathnes.gov.uk/services/tourism-and-heritage/bath-heritage/baths-history/vikings-bath) contains a dedicated page on the Vikings in Bath, which provides an overview of the Viking presence in the city and highlights some of the key artifacts and sites associated with the Viking era.
The website of the Bath Archaeological Trust (https://www.batharchaeology.co.uk/) is also a great resource for information about Bath's history. The site features information about ongoing archaeological excavations in the city, as well as publications and reports that explore various aspects of Bath's cultural heritage.
I hope these resources are helpful, and that you enjoy learning more about Bath's fascinating history! If you want to find out more then do read our visitors guide to Bath, it's really useful!