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Bradshaw’s Guide

Roman Baths and Abbey, IV, Bath, England. Taken between ca. 1890 and ca. 1900. Original: Library of Congress


The view from the station is one calculated to impress a stranger very favourably with the importance of the city, so renowned in the world of fashionable invalids. He sees on one side of him the river Avon, gliding placidly beneath Pulteney Bridge, and on the other a range of lofty hills, studded with terraces and isolated villas, whilst before expand the white, edifices of the city. The modern city of Bath is of great beauty, and delightfully situated, in a valley, divided by the river Avon. The surrounding country is well wooded, and, from the inequality of the ground, presents a great variety of beautiful scenery, whilst, from its sheltered position, the temperature of the vale is mild. Lansdowne Hill, nearly three miles in extent, was the scene of a desperate battle, fought there between the royalists and parliamentary forces, terminating in the defeat of the latter. This magnificent elevation is now the most picturesque, part of the city, having groves and terraces throned above each other almost to the summit, commanding a prospect of great extent and diversified beauty. Mansions of aristocratic appearance are scattered in all directions; spacious streets, groves, and crescents, lined with stately stone edifices, and intersected by squares and gardens, complete a view of city grandeur scarcely surpassed by any other in the kingdom. The gaieties of Bath are celebrated all over Europe; but it must be conceded that, since the reign of Beau Nash, they have terribly degenerated.

Bath is not only renowned for its antiquity and waters, but is one of the best built cities in the United Kingdom, standing in a spot remarkable for its attractive scenery, on the Avon and the Great Western Railway, 107 miles from London, at the centre of a fine circle of hills, 500 to 700 feet high. These hills furnish the blue lias, or oolite, and Bath stone, so much in use by architects, and of which the city has been erected. It is the seat of a bishop, whose diocese extends over Somersetshire, and its population of 54,240 send two members to parliament.

The peculiar virtue of its hot-springs were soon discovered by the Romans, who built a tower here, called Aquae Sulis (waters of the sun), a name which, under the form of Aix, Ax, Aigs, &c., still distinguishes many watering-places on the continent. The Saxons who resorted here significantly styled one of the main roads which led to it, Akeman Strutt, i.e., the road for aching men.

Besides the private baths in Stall Street, there are four public ones leased from the corporation. King’s Bath, the largest, a space 65 feet by 40, with a temperature of 114°; in the middle of it a statue to “Bladud, son of Lord Hudibras, eighth king of the Britons from Bute, &c., &c., the first discoverer of these baths, 803 years B.C.,” and so forth. King’s Bath is in Stall Street, on one side of the colonnade and the pump-room, where the band plays. It was rebuilt in 1796, on the site of that in which Beau Nash, with a white hat for his crown, despotically ruled as master of the ceremonies in the last century. His statue is seen here, by Hoare. Over the front is a Greek tee-total motto, signifying ” Water is the thing.” Queen’s Bath, close to the other, and so called when James I’s queen, Anne of Denmark, came here to take the waters. Hot Bath, which has a temperature of 117° (the highest), and is supplied by a spring which gives out 128 gallons per minute. Cross Bath, temperature 109°, yielding only 12 gallons a minute. This is the one recorded by Pepys in his diary, 1668. Up at four o’clock, being by appointment called to the Cross Bath. By and bye much company came; very fine ladies, and the manners pretty enough, only methinks it cannot be clean to go so many bodies together in the same water. Strange to see how hot the water is; and he wonders that those who stay the season are not all parboiled. Another bath is the property of Lord Manvers. The water is nearly transparent; about 180,000 gallons daily are given out to these baths, and this has been going on for centuries! Sulphate of lime is by far the chief ingredient; then muriate and sulphate of soda, and a little carbonic acid rising up in bubbles. They are remarkably beneficial in rheumatism, paralysis, skin complaints, scrofula, gout, indigestion, and chronic diseases of the liver, &c. House painters, among others, come here to be cured of the injury done to their hands by white lead.

Bath is a city of terraces and crescents — viz: — the Circus, the North and South Parades, the Royal and Lansdowne Crescents, and others, either in the town or on the hills around. Some of the best buildings are by Wood, author of “Description of Bath.” Among the 20 churches is the Abbey Church, or Cathedral, which replaces a monastery, founded in 970, by King Edgar; it is a cross, 240 feet long, built in the 16th century, and has 52 windows inside, with a rich one in the line east front, and some good tracery in Prior Bird’s Chapel. There are monuments to Waller, the parliament general (effigy, with a broken nose), to Bishop Montague, who restored the church, 1606, to Nash (lines by Dr. Harrington); Quin, the actor (lines by Garrick); Mary Frampton (lines by Dryden) ; Col. Champion, by Nollekens; and Anstey, author of the coarse witty “New Bath Guide.”

St James’s is a modern Grecian church with a high tower, in Stall Street. Another church, with a fine early English spire, stands in Broad Street. St, Saviour’s, at the eastern extremity of the city, and St. Stephen’s, on Lansdowne, are modern Gothic churches; and several others of note. Milsom Street and Bond Street contain the best shops. Near are the Circus, and the Assembly Room, a handsome pile, built in 1771 by Wood, with a ball-room 106 feet long, and an octagon full of portraits. Another of Wood’s works, the Royal Crescent, is worth notice; Smollett called it “an antique amphitheatre turned inside out.” The Guildhall, a noble building in the Grecian style, is in High Street. Near at hand is a well-stocked market. Its supply of fish is very good.

Within a short distance, is the General Hospital, founded chiefly through Beau Nash’s exertions, for the benefit of poor people, from all parts, using the Bath waters. Bellot’s Hospital, an old building, founded in 1609. The Casualty and United Hospitals are among the various munificent institutions here. Partis’s College was founded for ladies of decayed fortune. St. John’s Hospital, founded in the 12th. century, and rebuilt by Wood, near Cross Bath, has an income of £9,000.

There is a full and interesting museum of Roman antiquities and fossil remains at the Literary Institution, near the Baths and Parade. A club-house in York Buildings, and several public libraries.

A large Grammar School, rebuilt in 1752, stands in Broad Street; here Sir Sidney Smith was educated. Beau Nash died in St. John’s Court, 1761, old and neglected. A well-built theatre is in Beaufort Square. The Sydney or Vauxhall Gardens at Great Pulteney Street (so called after the Pulteney who became first Earl of Bath). Victoria Park, with a drive, pillar, botanic garden, etc., occupies the Town Common. There are also obelisks to the Prince of Orange and the Prince of Wales, father of George III. The new savings bank, in the Italian style, was built in 1842.

Of nine bridges over the Avon three are suspension bridges, two are viaducts for the railway, and the best looking is that on the North Parade, a single arch of 188 feet span.

All the hills command fine views, of more or less extent, and are marked by buildings, &c. On Odd Down (south), is the Union Workhouse. A vast quarry of Bath stone is opened in Coomb Down (south west), on which are the Abbey Church Cemetery, and Prior Park College—a handsome building. In Pope’s time it was the property of his friend, Ralph Alien (the Allworthy of Fielding’s Tom Jones), and Warburton. Allen built Sham Castle, on Claverton Down. The beautiful vale of Lyncombe is near, this. Lansdowne Hill, 813 feet high, on the north, has a cemetery, two large colleges, one belonging to the Wesleyans; pillar to the memory of Sir B. Granville, viiio fell here, in 1645, and a striking campanile tower, built by Beckford, of Fonthill, who died here in 1844, and is buried in the cemetery. He wrote “Caliph Vathek,” a most original story, which created quite a “furore” in those days. His laughter, the beautiful Sally Beckford, is Dowager Duchess of Hamilton.

Other points are Batheaston Church and Salisbury Hill, 600 feet high, near the old Roman road, on the east; Hampton Cliffs, at Bathford, on the west; Charlcombe and Weston Downs; Kelston (or Kelweston) Round. At Twerton a factory for the cloth or Bath coating: for which the town was once noted. Paper is made here. Further off are the ruins of Hinton Priory, and Farleigh Castle.

The “ever-memorable” John Hales, and Miss Edgeworth’s father (whose entertaining memoirs are well worth perusal), were born at Bath.

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