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South West Bath and its Abbey

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People have been visiting Bath for over two thousand years for its hot springs. Roman Bath, known as Aquae Sulis, thrived with people coming from across the Roman Empire to take the waters and worship at the Temple of Sulis Minerva.

After the departure of the Romans, Bath declined in importance, although it was probably still a market for the local area. It became a fortified Burgh under the Saxons and may even have had a mint. Edgar was crowned King in Bath Abbey in 973AD.

In the Middle Ages, a few people still continued to visit to bathe in the hot springs, hoping it would cure them of their ailments. The main wealth came from the manufacture of cloth, but trade declined in the C16th and C17th.

The economy received a boost in the early 17th century when Anne of Denmark, wife of James I, came hoping to be cured of dropsy. From 1661, the town began to bottle and sell its spring water.

Later, Queen Anne discovered the healing properties of the waters and made several visits between 1688-1703. Britain’s aristocracy quickly followed suit, drinking the waters in the Pump Room, built above the site of the Roman Baths.

Bath rapidly became the ‘premier resort of frivolity and fashion’ with pump house, assembly rooms, bath houses and gardens. As Bath’s wealth grew, so did the magnificence of its buildings, with the Royal Crescent and the Circus.

Although the Roman Baths are now just a tourist attraction, it is still possible to enjoy the hot springs in the modern version, Thermae Bath Spa.

Bath is known known for its Georgian architecture. It is now a world heritage site for its Roman remains and bath house as well as its Georgian architecture and town planning.

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Traffic is kept out of the city centre and there are many narrow streets to explore and get lost in. You can still imaging Beau Brummell and Jane Austin heroines wandering them. It is always busy with tourists and there are many street buskers playing for the entertainment of visitors.

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Apart from the abbey, little remains of pre - Georgian Bath. Sally Lunn’s on North Parade Passage is one of the oldest houses in Bath, having been built around 1483.

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In the cellars is the old kitchen believed to be the bakery of Solange Luyon, the young Huguenot baker, who created the first Bath bun. The building is now a tea room and also sells the buns.

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Pulteney Bridge is on everyone's tick list and is an iconic image of Bath with the river and weir. The wealthy Pulteney family paid distinguished architect Robert Adam to build a bridge across the River Avon in 1769. Its three arches are modelled on the Ponte Vecchio in Florence. The estimated cost was £1000, an excessive sum but ended up costing ten times as much.

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It is unusual as it has building housing shops on both sides of the bridge. Walking across it, it just feels like an 'ordinary' road and you are not aware of the river below.

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Cont...
 
Last edited:

Eleanor

1000+ Posts
Bath Abbey

In the centre of Bath and overlooking the Roman Baths, this is an awe inspiring building.

There has been an abbey here since Saxon times and Edgar was crowned King of all England here in 973AD. The window at the end of the north choir aisle depicts Dunstan crowing Edgar.

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The Saxon building was replaced by a new and larger church after the Norman Conquest. John of Tours had been appointed Bishop of Wells and wanted to move the bishopric to Bath, which was much larger and wealthier than Wells. A new and splendid Norman Cathedral was needed. It remained the seat of the Bishop until the early C13th, when the Bishopric returned to Wells and Bath.

By the late C15th the building was in very poor condition and needed replacing. There is a story (probably apocryphal) that Bishop Oliver King had a dream in which he ‘saw the Heavenly Host on high with angels ascending and descending by ladder’ and a voice saying “Let a King restore the church”.

Work began on a new church in 1499 and had only just been completed at the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539. The Abbey church was offered to the city of Bath who could not afford to pay for it and it was stripped of its lead, glass and other valuables. Elizabeth I ordered a national fund be set up for the repair of the building.

In the early C19th many buildings close to the abbey were removed, opening up the area around the building. Flying buttresses were added from the side aisle to the nave, and are a slightly different colour of stone.

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There was a major and sympathetic restoration by George Gilbert Scott in the mid to late C19th. This included removing the wooded ceiling of the nave and replacing it with stone fan vaulting . This had been part of the original plan but never carried out. He also removed the stone screen between the choir and nave, so opening up the church. He was also responsible for the installation of the great east window, designed by Clayton and Bell.

The latest work includes the installation eco-heating system, using water from the hot springs Bath is famous for.


It is a lovely building and a very good example of Perpendicular architecture with its lofty pillars, beautiful fan vaulting, and large windows flooding the building with light.

Entry is through a small door at the side of the west front. This overlooks a large open space and is always busy with tourists, people waiting to go in the Roman Baths, and buskers.

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The main west door very highly carved, but not normally used

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On either side are ladders of angels climbing up the sides of the cathedral. Look closely as some are falling back down.

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At the top is the Heavenly Host of angels with God. At the top of the window is a carving of a dove, representing the Holy Spirit.

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Cont...
 

Eleanor

1000+ Posts
Bath Abbey cont...

The abbey is a very simple design with nave, side aisles, transepts, choir and chancel.

It feels a very large building with fluted columns and pointed arches supporting the massive clear glass clerestory windows and topped with the marvellous fan vaulted ceiling.

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The walls of the side aisles are covered with memorials, mainly from the C18th and C19th

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At the back is the square carved font.

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In the nave is the tomb of Tomb Bishop James Montague, who helped pay for the restoration of the Abbey under Elizabeth I.

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In the south transept is the Waller memorial. Sir William Waller commanded the Parliamentary forces during the English Civil War and his troops sheltered in the abbey. Waller erected the tomb in the memory of his wife. Although he is shown with her, he was in fact buried in London.

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The memorial is overlooked by the massive south window.

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There is no screen between the nave and chancel. The choir is lined with beautifully carved choir stalls.

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At the far end is the altar with a stone reredos beneath the C19th stained glass east window telling the story of Jesus.

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Above is a wonderful fan vaulted ceiling

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On the south side of the chancel set under an arch is the Birde Chantry Chapel, a C16th Prior. The inside is plain apart from another glorious vaulted ceiling.

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Beyond it is a C17th memorial

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On the south side of the chancel, behind a carved wooden screen, is a small chapel for private prayer.

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The Abbey is always busy and it is difficult to avoid the crowds when taking pictures.It is a wonderful example of perpendicular architecture, particularly the fan vaulting. The stained glass windows in the side aisles are impressive too.

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Website
 

Eleanor

1000+ Posts
St Michael Without Church

You can't miss this church - it has the highest spire in Bath.

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This is the fourth church to have been built on the site, and is often referred to as St Michael Without, as it was built outside the walls. The church is early C19th and replaced an earlier Georgian building that had developed structural faults and was becoming too small for the congregation. Its tall spire is a prominent feature of the Bath skyline.

It is a very attractive building with tall elegant columns in the nave and a vaulted ceiling.

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The font is at the back and the organ is high on the south wall.

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The church is open Monday-Friday 9-3. There is a cafe at the back of the church which sells what look to be very good homemade cakes

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