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Bath History!

The City of Bath is one of the most fascinating cities in the country. First and foremost it is well known for its Roman remains. Hadrian's Wall in the north of England and the Roman baths in this city are the most outstanding Roman remains in the country. The City of Bath has originated and developed around its hot spring waters, hence its name. It is a city with a remarkable variety of Roman, medieval and Georgian architecture. It also has much in common with the nearby Cotswolds; its architectural gems are of the same golden coloured stone. The origins of the city are shrouded in mystery and legend. Two of the city's spas have statues of Bladud, son of Hudibras, the eighth king of the Britons. Legend would have it that it was he who founded the city in 863 BC. According to the legend, after contracting leprosy, he was banished from court and lived as a swineherd in the marshes. One of the pigs also contracted leprosy but was cured after wallowing in the mud near the springs. Prince Bladud did the same and he, too, was cured and returned to court. When he became king he moved his court to the place of his cure and called it Aquae Sulis, Waters of the Sun. So goes the legend. The hot springs that have given Bath its name have been rushing to the surface at a constant temperature of 50°C since time immemorial. They were certainly known to the Celts but it was only with the arrival of the Romans that the spas grew in fame and prosperity, attracting high ranking officers in the Roman army from all over Europe.

The town was firmly established in the first two decades of the Roman invasion of AD 43 and it was the Romans who gave the name to the original town: Aquae Sulis and it was they who built the temple which incorporated in its name ("Sul Minerva") the religious beliefs of Romans and Celts alike. One important archaeological find was the head of Sul, the Celtic sun god. Around this health resort the Romans built a temple and a forum and the city began to expand around these focal points and was later circumscribed by the building of the town walls. When the Roman Empire began to collapse and the Roman armies left England, as in the rest of the country, what they had constructed in Bath also fell into decay. The Saxons were, of course, aware of the existence and importance of the town but their limited knowledge and expertise meant that the springs were neglected. They gradually became covered in alluvial mud and hidden from sight for over a thousand years to be rediscovered only towards the end of the 19th century. The town, however, continued to develop: in around 760 King Offa founded an Abbey dedicated to St Peter and in which Edgar was crowned king. This event alone is sufficient proof of the enormous importance of Bath at that time.

The Norman conquest brought to a halt the development of the town and it was almost destroyed during the conflicts between William Rufus and his barons. Another attempt to revive the town, which again proves its importance, was when Rufus invited the Bishop of Bath and Wells to move the episcopal seat to Bath and construction began on the cathedral, which was much larger than the present Abbey. At the same time interest was revived in the spring waters and Bath became recognised as a centre of healing. This brought great prosperity to the town. Bath also benefited from of the wealthy wool trade that characterised the surrounding Cotswolds area in general. The popularity of the baths, however, was also the cause of their decline. The people that flocked to the waters were poor and could not afford alternative treatment. The Baths deteriorated rapidly and it is reported that they actually became a health hazard rather than a source of cure for illnesses. It was the antiquary John Leland who noted this unfortunate decline. In 1533 he wrote of the Cross Bath that it was "much frequentid of people diseased with lepre, pokkes, scabbes and great aches". Not a very healthy situation for a health resort Further attempts at a revival of the town came with a series of royal visits: Queen Elizabeth I came in 1574 and so did Queen Anne, wife of James I in 1613 and then there were also frequent visits by Queen Henrietta Maria, wife of Charles I.

The town was to undergo a further setback in its fortunes during the Civil War when the town was occupied first by Royalists and later by the Parliamentarians. It was at the outbreak of the Civil War that the walls of the town were rebuilt. The final process in the definitive economic recovery of Bath came with the arrival of the Swansea-born dandy Richard 'Beau' Nash, Bath's most distinguished citizen. When he was appointed Master of Ceremonies, an office whose duty it was to regulate the social life of the town, Bath became the centre of the social life of the nation and was visited by many fashionable people. This new impetus created the need for the construction of numerous buildings of architectural interest to reflect the wealth of the newcomers. The fashionable life of the town and the development of its architecture went hand in hand. The most prominent architects responsible for the excellent monuments of artistic beauty are the Woods, John Wood a Yorkshire architect, his son, also John, and Ralph Allen. Allen, a successful businessman, bought the Combe Down stone quarries and he and John Wood together in their respective spheres of influence transformed the town. On the death of his father John Wood the younger carried on this partnership.

The role of Bath as social centre of England lasted as long as Nash was alive. After his death the social enthusiasm of the city gradually but inexorably petered out. In recognition of his contribution to the development of the city a statue to Nash was erected in 1752 in the Pump Room. The last house he lived in still stands and is now a restaurant. It was under the influence of Nash that the the city was transfromed into a fashionable spa. He left his indelible mark on the urban development in Bath in the form of many grandiose buildings of architectural excellence. The most prominent of these are undoubtedly Royal Crescent completed in 1774 by John Wood the younger and the Circus built by both father and son over a period of twenty years. A number of important figures have had connections with Royal Crescent and Circus: Sir Isaac Pitman lived at No. 12, Royal Crescent and Sheriden eloped with Elizabeth Linley from No. 11. William Pitt lived in what is now Nos. 7 and 8, Gainsborough at No. 17 and David Livingstone at No. 13.