Bath ( or ) is a city in Somerset, South West England, west of London and south-east of Bristol. In 2011, its population was 88,859. It became part of Avon in 1974; since Avon's abolition in 1996, it has been the principal centre of Bath and North East Somerset.
The city became a spa with the Latin name Aquae Sulis ("the waters of Sulis") c. AD 60 when the Romans built baths and a temple in the valley of the River Avon, although oral tradition suggests that the hot springs were known before then. It became popular as a spa town during the Georgian era, leaving a heritage of Georgian architecture crafted from Bath Stone.
Bath became a World Heritage Site in 1987. The city's theatres, museums and other cultural and sporting venues have helped to make it a major centre for tourism with more than one million staying visitors and 3.8 million day visitors to the city each year. The city has two universities and there are large service sector, information and communication technology and creative industries.
Historically part of the county of Somerset, Bath was made a county borough in 1889 independent of the newly created administrative Somerset County Council. Bath became part of Avon when the non-metropolitan county was created in 1974. Since the abolition of Avon in 1996, Bath has been the centre of the unitary authority of Bath and North East Somerset (B&NES). Bath remains in the ceremonial county of Somerset, although not within the administrative non-metropolitan county.
Because Bath is unparished, there is no longer a city council or parish council. The City of Bath's ceremonial functions, including the mayoralty – which can be traced back to 1230 – and control of the coat of arms, are maintained by the Charter Trustees of the City of Bath. The coat of arms includes two silver strips representing the River Avon and the hot springs. The sword of St. Paul is a link to Bath Abbey. The supporters, a lion and a bear, stand on a bed of acorns, a link to Bladud, the subject of the Legend of Bath. The knight's helmet indicates a municipality and the crown is that of King Edgar.
Before the Reform Act 1832 Bath elected two members to the unreformed House of Commons. Bath is now a single parliamentary constituency, represented by Liberal Democrat Don Foster. His election was a notable result of the 1992 general election, as Chris Patten, the previous Member (and Cabinet Minister) played a major part, as Chairman of the Conservative Party, in re-electing the government of John Major, but failed to defend his marginal seat. Don Foster has been re-elected in every election since. In 2010, his majority was 11883.
The electoral wards of the Bath and North East Somerset unitary authority within Bath are the central Abbey, Kingsmead and Walcot wards, and the more outlying Bathwick, Combe Down, Lambridge, Lansdown, Lyncombe, Newbridge, Odd Down, Oldfield, Southdown, Twerton, Westmoreland, Weston and Widcombe wards.
Iron Age and Roman
The hills in the locality such as Bathampton Down saw human activity from the Mesolithic period. Several Bronze Age round barrows were opened by John Skinner in the 18th century. Bathampton Camp may have been an Iron Age hill fort or stock enclosure. A long barrow site believed to be from the Beaker people was flattened to make way for RAF Charmy Down.
Archaeological evidence shows that the site of the Roman baths' main spring was treated as a shrine by the Britons, and was dedicated to the goddess Sulis, whom the Romans identified with Minerva; the name Sulis continued to be used after the Roman invasion, appearing in the town's Roman name, Aquae Sulis (literally, "the waters of Sulis"). Messages to her scratched onto metal, known as curse tablets, have been recovered from the sacred spring by archaeologists. The tablets were written in Latin, and cursed people by whom the writers felt they had been wronged. For example, if a citizen had his clothes stolen at the baths, he might write a curse, naming the suspects, on a tablet to be read by the goddess.
A temple was constructed in 60–70 AD and a bathing complex was built up over the next 300 years. Engineers drove oak piles into the mud to provide a stable foundation, and surrounded the spring with an irregular stone chamber lined with lead. In the 2nd century, the spring was enclosed within a wooden barrel-vaulted structure, that housed the calidarium (hot bath), tepidarium (warm bath), and frigidarium (cold bath). The city was later given defensive walls, probably in the 3rd century. After the failure of Roman authority in the first decade of the 5th century, the baths fell into disrepair and were eventually lost as a result of silting.
In March 2012 a hoard of 30,000 silver Roman coins, one of the largest discovered in Britain, was unearthed in an archaeological dig. The coins, believed to date from the 3rd century, were found about 450 feet from the Roman baths.
Post-Roman and Medieval
Bath may have been the site of the Battle of Mons Badonicus (c. 500 AD), in which King Arthur is said to have defeated the Anglo-Saxons. The city fell to the West Saxons in 577 after the Battle of Deorham; the Anglo-Saxon poem The Ruin may describe the appearance of the Roman site about this time. A monastery was founded at an early date – reputedly by Saint David, although more probably in 675 by Osric, King of the Hwicce, perhaps using the walled area as its precinct. Nennius, a 9th-century historian, mentions a "Hot Lake" in the land of the Hwicce along the River Severn, and adds "It is surrounded by a wall, made of brick and stone, and men may go there to bathe at any time, and every man can have the kind of bath he likes. If he wants, it will be a cold bath; and if he wants a hot bath, it will be hot". Bede described hot baths in the geographical introduction to the Ecclesiastical History in terms very similar to those of Nennius. King Offa of Mercia gained control of the monastery in 781 and rebuilt the church, which was dedicated to St. Peter.
By the 9th century the old Roman street pattern was lost and Bath was a royal possession. King Alfred laid out the town afresh, leaving its south-eastern quadrant as the abbey precinct. In the Burghal Hidage Bath is described as having walls of and was allocated 1000 men for defence. During the reign of Edward the Elder coins were minted in based on a design from the Winchester mint but with 'BAD' on the obverse relating to the Anglo-Saxons name for the town, Baðum, Baðan or Baðon, meaning "at the baths," and this was the source of the present name. Edgar of England was crowned king of England in Bath Abbey in 973.
William Rufus granted the city to a royal physician, John of Tours, who became Bishop of Wells and Abbot of Bath, following the sacking of the town during the Rebellion of 1088. It was papal policy for bishops to move to more urban seats, and he translated his own from Wells to Bath. He planned and began a much larger church as his cathedral, to which was attached a priory, with the bishop's palace beside it. New baths were built around the three springs. Later bishops returned the episcopal seat to Wells, while retaining the name Bath in the title, Bishop of Bath and Wells. St John's Hospital was founded around 1180, by Bishop Reginald Fitz Jocelin and is among the oldest almshouses in England. The 'hospital of the baths' was built beside the hot springs of the Cross Bath, for their health giving properties and to provide shelter for the poor infirm.
Administrative systems fell within the hundreds. The Bath Hundred had various names including the Hundred of Le Buri. The Bath Foreign Hundred or Forinsecum covered the area outside the city and was later combined into the Bath Forum Hundred. Wealthy merchants had no status within the hundred courts and formed guilds to gain influence. They built the first guildhall probably in the 13th century. Around 1200 the first mayor was appointed.
By the 15th century, Bath's abbey church was badly dilapidated and Oliver King, Bishop of Bath and Wells, decided to rebuild it on a smaller scale in 1500. The new church was completed just a few years before Bath Priory was dissolved in 1539 by Henry VIII. The abbey church became derelict before being restored as the city's parish church in the Elizabethan era, when the city experienced a revival as a spa. The baths were improved and the city began to attract the aristocracy. A Royal charter granted by Queen Elizabeth I in 1590 confirmed city status.
During the English Civil War, the city was garrisoned for Charles I. Seven thousand pounds was spent on fortifications but on the appearance of parliamentary forces, the gates were thrown open and the city surrendered. It became a significant post for the New Model Army under William Waller. It was retaken by royalists following the Battle of Lansdowne fought on the northern outskirts of the city on 5 July 1643. Thomas Guidott, a student of chemistry and medicine at Wadham College, Oxford, set up a practice in the town in 1668. He was interested in the curative properties of the waters and he wrote A discourse of Bathe, and the hot waters there. Also, Some Enquiries into the Nature of the water in 1676. It brought the health-giving properties of the hot mineral waters to the attention of the country and the aristocracy arrived to partake in them.
In the early 18th century, Bath acquired its first purpose-built theatre, the Old Orchard Street Theatre. It was rebuilt as the Theatre Royal, the along with the Grand Pump Room attached to the Roman Baths and assembly rooms. Master of Ceremonies Beau Nash, who presided over the city's social life from 1705 until his death in 1761, drew up a code of behaviour for public entertainments.
The population of the city was 40,020 at the 1801 census, making it one of the largest cities in Britain. William Thomas Beckford bought a house in Lansdown Crescent in 1822, and subsequently two adjacent houses to form his residence. Having acquired all the land between his home and the top of Lansdown Hill, he created a garden more than in length and built Beckford's Tower at the top.
Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia spent the four years in exile, from 1936 to 1940, at Fairfield House in Bath. During World War II, between the evening of 25 April and the early morning of 27 April 1942, Bath suffered three air raids in reprisal for RAF raids on the German cities of Lübeck and Rostock, part of the Luftwaffe campaign popularly known as the Baedeker Blitz. During the Bath Blitz, more than 400 people were killed, and more than 19,000 buildings damaged or destroyed. Houses in the Royal Crescent, Circus and Paragon were burnt out along with the Assembly Rooms. A high explosive bomb landed on the east side of Queen Square, resulting in houses on the south side being damaged, and the Francis Hotel losing of its frontage. The buildings have all been restored, although there are still signs of the bombing.
A postwar review of inadequate housing led to the clearance and redevelopment of areas of the city in a postwar style, often at variance with the local Georgian style. In the 1950s the nearby villages of Combe Down, Twerton and Weston were incorporated into the city to enable the development of housing, much of it council housing. In the 1970s and 1980s it was recognised that conservation of historic buildings was inadequate, leading to more care and reuse of buildings and open spaces. In 1987 the city was selected by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, recognising its international cultural significance.