National Gazetteer (1868) - Bath


The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland - 1868

"BATH, comprises the parishes of St. Michael, St. Peter_and_St. Paul, and St. James, a city, municipal and parliamentary borough, in the hundred of Bath Forum, in the county of Somerset 12 miles to the S.E. of Bristol, and 107 miles from London. It is a principal station on the Great Western railway, and is connected by a short branch line through Bradford with the Wilts, Somerset, and Weymouth railway. It is situated on the river Avon, and the Kennet and Avon canal. The great natural feature of the place is its mineral waters, which have been known and valued from a very remote antiquity, and from which the city has taken its name in ancient and modern times.

It is needless to repeat the myths of the prehistoric age, although they have still a stone memorial in the shape of a statue of the British king Bladud, set up in 1699 in the King's Bath, and bearing an inscription to his honour. What is certain is, that Bath was an important Roman station, and was called by the Romans Aqua Solis, or Aquae Calidae. Two of the principal ancient ways passed through it: the Fosse Way, which extended from the coast of Devonshire to the north coast of Lincolnshire; and the great road between London and Wales, called by the Romans the Via Julia, and by the Saxons Akeman Street. In the numerous and interesting remains which have been discovered from time to time, we have evidence that the Romans erected here a fine temple, extensive baths, altars, &c. The walls with which the city was defended were of immense strength, and about 20 feet in height. There were four gateways, through which roads passed to neighbouring stations.

For about one hundred and fifty years after the Romans withdrew from Britain, the Britons had peaceable possession of the city. Attacks were made on it by the Saxon Ella in 493, and by Cerdic in 520, without success. But in 577 it was captured, plundered, and laid in ruins. It was ultimately rebuilt, and ere long regained its importance. The Saxons gave it the name of Akeman Ceaster, or" town of invalids." In 775, the city was taken by Offa, King of Mercia, who founded here a monastery on the site of the nunnery which had been built by Oaric in 676, and was destroyed by the Danes. Offa rebuilt at the same time the church of the monastery. In this church took place the coronation of Edgar as king of England, by the famous St. Dunstan, Archbishop of Canterbury.

The monastery was refounded in 970 by Edgar for Benedictine monks; and, though subsequently destroyed by the Danes, was restored, and flourished till the Dissolution, under Henry VIII., when its revenue amounted to £695. In the year 1107, the city was honoured by the presence of King Henry I., who was the guest of John de Villula, the bishop of Wells, by whom the see was transferred to Bath. The bishop had about eighteen years previously bought the city of the king. During the civil war in the reign of Stephen, Bath was in the possession alternately of the forces of the king and the Empress Matilda, whose head-quarters were at Bristol. It was garrisoned for Charles I., taken by the parliament, recovered by the royalists after the battle of Lansdown, and finally given up to the parliament in 1645. Charles II. visited the city in 1663. Queen Charlotte resided here some time in 1817.

Bath is one of the most beautiful of English cities. For situation and the elegance of its buildings it is perhaps unrivalled. It is seated in a deep and picturesque valley crossing the fine range of oolitic hills which extend along the western side of England. The hills encircle it like an amphitheatre, and the river Avon winds through the valley, skirting the city on the east, south, and south-west sides. Lansdown, the loftiest ground in the neighbourhood, is a little to the north, and rises to the height of 813 feet above the level of the sea. The views from it are extensive, and of remarkable beauty. From North Stoke brow, the prospect includes the two cities of Bath and Bristol. There are fine woods in the neighbourhood. The city is built for the moat part of the oolite, or fine white freestone, quarried extensively at Combo Down, and at other points to the south and east and largely exported to all parts of the kingdom.

Till near the middle of the 18th century, Bath occupied no larger area than that enclosed by the Roman walls, and lay wholly in the valley; but Queen Anne and Prince George of Denmark having conceived a partiality for the place, it grew into favour, and since that time it has been greatly extended, and now spreads up the sides and along the summits of the hills. The extension and improvement of the city was commenced under the superintendence of John Wood, a local architect, who laid the foundation of Queen's-square in January, 1729.

Some of the handsomest ranges of buildings in Bath were erected from the plans of Mr. Wood, and his son and successor. Among these are the Circus, the Royal-crescent, North and South parades, &c. Other enterprising men followed the example thus set, and many fine streets and splendid buildings were speedily planned and erected. The Lansdown, Camden, and Cavendish crescents may be mentioned, all finely situated, and commanding beautiful prospects. In the eastern suburb are Laura-place and Great Pulteney-street, leading to Sydney Gardens. The principal public buildings are the Abbey church, the guildhall, the Great Pump Room, the assembly rooms, the theatre, and the Literary Institution. The Great Pump Room, situated in the Abbey churchyard, adjoining the King's Bath, was erected by the corporation in 1797. It is a handsome edifice with a Corinthian portico, and measures in the interior 60 feet in length by 56 in breadth and 34 feet in height, with semicircular recesses, in which are statues, vases, and paintings. It contains a marble statue of Beau Nash, long master of the ceremonies there in the heyday of Bath gaieties, and forms a fashionable promenade during the winter season, having an excellent band of music stationed in the gallery.

The hot springs and public baths are four in number, besides several private baths. They are named the King's Bath the Kingston or New Baths, the Cross Bath, and the Hot Bath, and are all near the centre of the old Roman city. The Queen's Bath adjoins the King's, and is supplied from it. The spring supplying the Hot Bath has a temperature of 117°, the highest of all, and yields 128 gallons of water per minute. The King's Bath is 114° (yielding 126 gallons), and the Cross Bath 109°. The four springs together discharge nearly 185,000 gallons daily. The waters, when analysed, are found to contain carbonic acid gas 2.4 inches, sulphate of lime 18 grains, chloride of sodium 6.6, sulphate of soda 3.0, carbonate of lime 1.6, and small quantities of silica and oxide of iron. The specific gravity is 1.002. The waters are valuable in cases of gout, rheumatism, palsy, diseases of the skin, and scrofula affecting the joints.

The King's Bath as a handsome colonnade, and the statue of the mythical founder of the baths, King Bladud. It is supposed to be built on the site of the ancient Roman baths (as are also the Kingston Baths, in Church-street), and took the name it now bears in the 13th century. The bath itself is 65 feet 10 inches long, by 40 feet 2 inches wide. Under the Bath Improvement Act, the corporation expended much money in the repair of the baths, pump-rooms, and similar edifices; and within the year 1855, the Cross Baths, Kingston Baths, and the Queen's Private Baths, were entirely restored.

The assembly rooms, the scene of the principal amusements of the city, are situated at the east end of the Circus. They were completed in 1771, but burnt in 1820. They were afterwards rebuilt, and form a handsome suite of rooms, including a ballroom, card-rooms, library, and refreshment-rooms, magnificently furnished and decorated. The ball-room is 106 feet in length and 43 feet in breadth. The theatre, which was opened in 1805, has been lately (1862) burnt and was reckoned one of the finest provincial houses. There are two club-houses, billiard-rooms, and two riding-schools.

There is a race-course, 1½ mile in circuit, on Lansdown Hill, and races take place twice in the year. Bath is not the seat of any important manufacture, but it has a good general trade. The manufacture of a coarse woollen cloth, called Bath coating, was once carried on to a great extent in the city, and gave employment, in the 17th century, to sixty looms in one of its parishes alone. Paper-making is carried on in the vicinity. An abundant supply of coal is obtained from beds a few miles distant. The Avon is navigable to Bristol, and the Kennet and Avon canal connects the city with the Thames at Reading.

The first charter of incorporation was granted to the city by Queen Elizabeth on her visit to Bath in 1590, and has been modified from time to time, as circumstances required. Under the Reform and Municipal Corporation Acts, Bath is divided into seven wards, and the government of the borough is vested in a mayor, 14 aldermen, and 42 councillors, with the style of the "mayor, aldermen and citizens of the city of Bath." It has exercised the elective franchise from the reign of Edward I., returning two members to parliament. The mayor is the returning officer. The limits of the municipal and parliamentary boroughs, which are conterminous, include the original city, covering 980 acres and the parishes of Bathwick, Lyncombe, Walcot, and Widcombe, comprising altogether 3,534 acres. It has a revenue of above £23,000, arising from lands, the hot springs of the baths and pump-rooms, the cold springs of the water-works, and the market tolls.

The population, according to the census of 1861, is 52,525, against 54,240 in 1851, showing a decrease in the decennial period of no less than 1,712, while the number of inhabited houses have increased in the same period from 7,744 to 8,021. Borough sessions are held quarterly, and courts of record and request once a week. The guildhall, erected in 1775 is a spacious and elegant stone structure with a Corinthian portico, containing, besides numerous offices of the corporation, a fine banqueting-hall, 80 feet by 40, hung with the portraits of George III., Queen Charlotte, the Earls of Chatham and Camden, who once represented the city in parliament, besides other celebrities. Here is preserved the brass head of Minerva, dug up in 1727 in Stall-street, and the silver cup and salver presented by Frederick, Prince of Wales, to the corporation in 1734. At the back of the guildhall is the market-place, with a convenient market-house.

The borough gaol stands about 1 mile from the city, and was built in 1842 at the cost of £23,000. The local police number about 80 strong. Bath is the seat of a Poor-law Union and a County Court district, the head of an excise district, a polling place for the county elections, and the headquarters of the 2nd Somersetshire militia. The Union poorhouse is situated on a hill to the south of the city. Bath is, with Wells, the head of a diocese in the province of Canterbury, including within its limits the entire county of Somerset. It is divided into the three archdeaconries of Bath, Wells, and Taunton; but the episcopal palace is situated at Wells. The living, a consolidated rectory known as the Abbey rectory, is in the diocese of Bath and Wells, of the value of £750, and in the patronage of Simeon's Trustees.

The Abbey church, once cathedral, is a noble cruciform building in the perpendicular style of architecture, with a fine central tower 162 feet in height, and contains a peal often bells. The length of the church is 210 feet, and its breadth through the transepts 126 feet. It stands on the site of the old conventual church, on the spot where once stood the Roman temple of Minerva. It was rebuilt by Bishop Oliver King and Bishop Montague; the work being commenced by the former about the close of the 15th century, and completed by the latter at the beginning of the 17th century. The original purity and simplicity of its architecture has been marred by faulty restorations. On the west front are sculptures representing Jacob's ladder, or, as some say, the dream by which Bishop King was called to rebuild the church.

The windows are numerous and of large dimensions; that at the east end being square. A beautiful screen was erected in 1825, after a design by Mr. Manners, an architect of the city, under whose direction much was done subsequently towards restoring the church to its first simplicity. Near the altar is the oratory of Prior Bird, who died in 1525, a richly-ornamented chapel in the Tudor style, which was exquisitely restored by Davis in 1833. A new organ was erected in 1838, by Mr. Smith, of Bristol, and which is said to be the fourth in size in the United Kingdom. The church contains a very large number of fine and interesting monuments, among which is conspicuous that of Bishop Montague, who died in 1618, and was interred here. The monuments include several works by Bacon, others by Flaxman, Nollekens, and Chantrey.

The church dedicated to St. James was rebuilt in 1848, and contains sittings for 1,200 people. It is in the Italian style of architecture, with a noble clock tower and peal of eight bells. St. Michael's was rebuilt in 1837; it has a fine tower and spire, resembling Salisbury cathedral. Its living is a rectory in the patronage of Simeon's Trustees. The parish church of Walcot, dedicated to St. Swithin, stands within the liberties of the city; it was rebuilt in 1780. The living, value £350, is in the gift of the Rev. S. H. Widdrington. Christ Church, a handsome structure in the perpendicular style, was built in 1798; it has a handsome Gothic altarpiece, and organ in the same style. The living is a curacy in the gift of the Rector of Walcot, within whose parish it is situated.

St. Saviour's, Walcot, is a modern structure, opened for public worship on the 28th April, 1832. It contains 700 free sittings, and 400 rented seats. Its architecture is of the decorated style, and its beauty is almost unrivalled by any building of modern date in this part of the country. The body of the church is surrounded with graduated buttresses, surmounted with pinnacles; the tower, 120 feet high, is divided into three stages, ornamented and embattled, and the roof is canopied and ornamented with bosses. The living is a rectory, value £390, in the gift of the Rev. Dr. Stamen St. Matthew's, Widcombe, is a handsome new church, erected in 1347, capable of accommodating 1,000 people. It is in the decorated style of architecture, of the 14th century, and has a handsome tower 155 feet high. The communion table was presented by the present incumbent in 1860.

The old church, Widcombe, is a picturesque object with its ivy-mantled tower. It is the oldest church in Bath, and well merits the care which the architect, C. E. Davis, Esq., has bestowed on its restoration, which is still, however, incomplete. There are also new churches dedicated severally to the Holy Trinity (James-street), St. Stephen (Lansdown-road), St. Mark (Lyncombe), St. Mary, and St. John the Baptist (Bathwick). The principal chapels in connection with the Establishment are: St. Mary's (Queen's-square), the Octagon Chapel (Milsom-street), Margaret Chapel, St. Mary Magdalene's (Beechen Cliff), the Penitentiary Chapel, St. John's Chapel, All Saints (Lansdown-place), and Laura Chapel. There are also many large and handsome chapels belonging to the various bodies of Dissenters and the Roman Catholics. A Jewish synagogue was erected in 1841.

Bath has several new cemeteries, besides the Abbey, consecrated in 1844, and the Lansdown in 1848; the latter is on part of the Beckford estate, the gift of the Duchess of Hamilton. Bathwick cemetery lies in the vale of Smallcombe, and was consecrated in 1856. The Roman Catholic cemetery, situated at Porrymead, about 1 mile to the south-east of the city, was consecrated in 1859. There is also a very extensive cemetery in the Lower Bristol-road, for the parishes of Lyncombe, Widcombe, and St. James's. It was completed in 1861, and contains two chapels. In the Walcot cemetery is the tomb of William Beckford, author of "Vathek."

Bath has a free grammar school, founded in 1552 by Edward VI., and endowed with part of the possessions of the ancient monastery. The corporation are entrusted with the management of the school, which has a revenue from endowment of £84. The school-house was erected about the middle of the 18th century. The blue-coat school was founded by Robert Nelson in 1711, for 50 scholars of each sex. There are several other free schools, National schools, and others. The charitable institutions of Bath are numerous and important. St. John's Hospital, the most ancient, was founded in 1180, and endowed by Reginald Fitz-Jocelyn, for a master and 12 poor men and women. Its revenue is between 18,000 and £9,000, and the corporation exercise the patronage of it. A chapel is attached to the hospital.

The Bath General Hospital, or Infirmary, now called the Bath Mineral Water Hospital, was established in 1738, and is largely endowed. It is open to poor patients from all parts of the country who are certified to require the use of the baths. The hospital affords accommodation for 134 patients, 86 males and 48 females; the average number in the house for the last nine years has been 113. A spacious building has been recently (1861) added, at an expense of £18,000, containing the chapel, board-room, patients' day rooms, officers' apartments, &c.; and the older building which it adjoins is devoted to the sleeping and bathing apartments, into which the water is introduced direct from the springs. The president and governors are a corporate body, and its income is about £700 per annum.

The large hospital called the United Hospital and Dispensary was founded in 1747. It is a large and commodious building, erected at a cost of 17,000, by voluntary subscription, and is capable of accommodating upwards of 100 patients. Partis's College, founded and endowed by Mrs. Partis in 1827, is for the reception and maintenance of 30 poor gentlewomen, 10 of them being clergymen's widows or daughters. In addition to these institutions, there are St. Catherine's Hospital; St. Mary Magdalene's, founded before the middle of the 14th century, and having a revenue of £118; Bellott's Hospital, founded in 1609, and rebuilt in 1859, with accommodation for 12 poor persons, having separate apartments; a penitentiary; an eye infirmary, erected in 1811; the Eastern Dispensary, erected in 1845, and several other benevolent institutions.

There are two literary and scientific institutions, one known as the Royal Bath Literary and Scientific Institution, founded in 1823; the other the Commercial and Literary Institution, founded in 1847. In connection with the first-named is a museum, containing a large and very valuable collection of local Roman remains, and many British and Saxon relics. The Roman include tesselated pavements, an altar, fragments of columns, urns, and coins of eight or ten emperors. The Atheneum was formerly the Mechanics' Institution. It has a library of 5,000 volumes, and a museum of natural history. New Kingswood College, for Wesleyan Methodists, and the Lansdown and Bath Proprietary College, are both new stone buildings, in the early English style of architecture, situated on the highest point of Bath, towards the north. In connection with the former are a chapel, school-house, house for the governor, &c. A new savings-bank in the Italian style of architecture was erected in 1842.

Sydney Gardens and Victoria Park are the principal public walks and resorts of pleasure seekers. The Gardens, comprising 16 acres, are on the east side of the Avon, and were opened in 1795. They are tastefully laid out, and in them, alternately with the Botanical Gardens, the Bath Horticultural Society holds its fruit and flower shows. They have succeeded to the fame of the old Spring Gardens, the site of which has been required for building ground. Victoria Park is on the west side of the city, and was opened in 1830 by her Majesty, then Princess Victoria. The Victoria Column is of freestone, and was set up in 1837. At the north-west corner of the park is a colossal bust of Jupiter, by the late John Os borne, a self-taught sculptor. Orange-grove, formerly a favourite pleasure-place, is now planted with trees, and contains many lodging-houses. An obelisk erected there commemorates the restoration to health of the Prince of Orange in 1734, by the use of the Bath waters. Another obelisk stands in Queen's-square, which was erected by Beau Nash in memory of the visit of Frederick, Prince of Wales, in 1737.

On the summit of Lansdown is Beckford's Tower, a square structure 154 feet in height, surmounted by a lantern, and commanding a magnificent prospect over the Severn, Salisbury plain, and the surrounding country. It is now used as the chapel to Lansdown cemetery. On Lansdown is the column setup in 1720 by Lord Lansdown to the memory of Sir B. Granville, who fell in the battle which took place here in 1643. The Avon is crossed by several handsome bridges of stone and iron-that of St. Lawrence, at the southern extremity of the city, is an ancient structure of stone; the Pulteney bridge, also of stone, with three arches, leads from the centre of the city to Laura-place and the Sydney Gardens; and the Cleveland bridge, an elegant structure of iron, connects Walcot with Bathwick; it was completed in 1827; besides several handsome suspension bridges.

There are several drinking fountains in various parts of the city, but perhaps the handsomest is the one adjacent to the Abbey, facing the High-street, and contiguous to the markets. It was opened in June, 1861, and represents Rebecca at the Well. The figure is of Italian marble, standing on a pedestal of red Pennant stone, ascended by a flight of three steps of blue Pennant stone; the water flows from a bottle into a marble basin, very chastely finished, the work of Thomas Sheppard, of the Kingston Marble Works.

Bath was the birth place of the following eminent men:- Gildas, the old historian of the 6th century; John Hales, professor of Greek at Oxford in the 17th century; Benjamin Robins the mathematician author of "Anson's Voyage round the World," who died in 1751; and William Hone, author of the "Every-day Book." Prior Park, near Combe Down, was the seat of Ralph Allen, Esq., long an influential member of the corporation of Bath. Many literary men visited there and Fielding is said to have portrayed the generous host in the character of All worthy, in his novel of "Tom Jones." Prior Park was afterwards the residence of Bishop Warburton. Bath gives the title of Marquis to the Thymic family, of Longleat. The markets are held on Wednesday and Saturday; and fairs on the 14th February and the 10th July. These latter, however, are now falling off; except for the sale of cattle."

[Description(s) from The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland (1868)
Transcribed by Colin Hinson ©2003]