Bath is a city in Somerset, South West England, 97 miles (156 km) west of London and 13 miles (21 km) 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.
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.
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 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.
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. It was granted city status by Royal charter by Queen Elizabeth I in 1590.
During the English Civil War, the city was garrisoned for Charles I. Seven thousand pounds was spent on fortifications but on the appearance of parliamantary 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 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 half a mile 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 500 kilograms (1,100 lb) 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 24 metres (79 ft) 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.
Since 2000, developments have included the Bath Spa, SouthGate and the Bath Western Riverside project.
As well as this hugely impressive historical tapestry, Bath also has a large and thriving real ale scene and this, obviously, was the central reason for our trip. What followed was a hugely enjoyable day exploring one of the most attractive cities in the UK, during which much beer was consumed. Our story begins thus.........
Following a surprisingly brief and pleasant bus journey we arrived in Bath with a fairly strong idea of where we wanted to go. Matt knew the location and reputation of all of the good drinking pubs in Bath and my excitement was enhanced further when I figured out that the vast majority are also in the Good Beer Guide. As we ventured towards our first venue for the day, which happened to be the one that was the furthest away, we also identified potential locations for later on, showing some good pre-beer logic as we went. Our first stop, tucked away down a side street, was the Pulteney Arms. Named after a local family and displaying the symbol of their crest on the pub sign, the pub dates from 1792 and includes amongst its features a wood burning stove, stone floors and sadly condemned gas light fittings. The pub is Grade II listed and is believed to have been built at the same time as neighbouring Great Pulteney Street with Daniel Street, where the pub actually sits, being built later. The U shaped central bar is complemented by seating around the edge of the room. Breweriana and old photos adorn the walls and the pub is sport friendly, happily advertising upcoming events, in this case the World Cup (which we shall not speak of again). 7 hand pulls grace the bar, of which 2 are not in use. The remaining 5 offer London Pride, Landlord, Otter Bitter, Exmoor Gold and Doom Bar. Whilst Matt opted for Otter Bitter, I decided that Exmoor Gold was a good idea as I must confess to never having had an Exmoor before so it seemed like the time was finally right. This proved a good decision. At 4.5%, Exmoor Gold is golden with an aroma of floral hops and a fruity taste with a smooth underlying bitterness. I am convinced that Matt and I inadvertently switched pints when one of us went to the loo. I can't be positive but the flavour of my pint changed halfway through and that's not supposed to happen.
The day had started well and I had been promised good things about our next intended location, The Star Inn. On our way there though, we took an unplanned detour to another pub which looked promising, The Curfew. Advertising itself as one of Bath's last traditional ale houses, this pub was always going to catch our attention. The building was built in the 1820s by local architect Henry Edmund Goodridge, who also notably built a number of other features in the area. The building started life as a bookshop before becoming a wine merchants in 1837 and a public house named The Curfew Inn around 1960. Since then, it has retained many period features including an alleged poltergeist that likes to tamper with beer casks, move pool balls and tap and pinch staff. The overall layout of the pub is fairly unusual. It is small and situated on a street corner . The interior is split level with a rear smoking area accessed down a flight of stairs and then up another flight of stairs to the street behind. The small bar is off to one side of the central room and shows 4 hand pulls, 3 of them dedicated to Wadsworth (6X, Henry's IPA and Horizon) and the 4th offering Old Rosie cider. I decided on the Horizon (4%), golden in colour with a fruity aroma, hoppy flavour, a smooth, slightly bitter taste and undertones of malt and citrus. We enjoyed our pints in the outdoor area where we mused over the fate of a nearby discarded mattress and watched 3 young women struggle to reverse an Audi out of a not particularly narrow drive way. The weather was great by this point which made this even more worthwhile.
After this brief but welcome detour, we continued our journey and ventured to The Star Inn, another GBG listed pub a short walk away. Although now the tap for Abbey Ales, the pub is much older than the brewery, dating from around 1760. It consists of four small rooms with benches arranged around the walls, wood panelling and real fires. The smallest room contains a single bench called Death Row and the pub itself is actually coffin shaped. It was outfitted by Gaskell and Chambers in 1928 into its current style. The atmosphere is generally cosy and close-knit with a small bar to one side of the first room. The 5 hand pulls include a decent variety, on this occasion boasting Cheddar Valley Cider, Abbey Ales Bellringer and Seville, Robinson's Trooper and Wychwood Piledriver. Being in Bath, I thought that Abbey Ales was worth a try so went for the Bellringer at 4.2%. This beer is copper in colour, with a roasted coffee aroma, a moderately malty taste and a dry finish.
Our next stop was something of a stab in the dark, situated in a different area of the city, near the famous Royal Crescent and its open space, which it was tempting to hang about in for the weather alone. Situated at the top of, what I can only assume, is the only hill in Bath, is the Marlborough Tavern, an upmarket gastro-pub specialising in good local food. The interior is modern with plush seating situated around a central bar and a large, well-maintained outside seating area. The pub is also dog-friendly. The bar features 4 hand pulls and, at the time of our visit, is offering Cotswold Spring OSM, Box Steam Piston Broke, Butcombe Bitter and Orchard Pig Cider. Largely for the name, I decided to try the Piston Broke, brewed by Box Steam Brewery in neighbouring Wiltshire. This very tasty beer was another golden concoction, this time packing a subtle aroma of hops with hints of fruit before giving way on the palate to citrus with a crisp finish and hints of lemon. We whiled away a few minutes here watching a small dog eat some crisps that had been scattered by the wind.
I was incredibly excited about our next destination as Matt had made it one of our priorities during the trip. Before that though, he decided to show me something that I didn't even know existed, namely Bath's famous Gin Bar. Whilst I debated the wisdom of mixing gin with well, anything, I needn't have worried as the place was closed when we got there. It is definitely on the list for the next time I'm down that way though! Our eventual destination was The Salamander, the brewery tap for Bath Ales which, as you'd expected, showcases the majority of their products. This is no bad thing as Bath Ales are always excellent. The modern interior includes wooden benches and tables and a wood-topped bar opposite the main entrance. 7 hand pulls occupy the bar and the choice is considerable with Bounders Cider, Summer's Hare, Barnsey, Spa and Gem (all from Bath Ales) as well as Cotswold Lion. Barnsey seemed like a good choice, ruby coloured with strong aromas of malt and coffee and chocolate flavours, a creamy head and smooth finish, all at a reasonable 4.5%. We made a vow to ourselves, and strangely the barmaid, to return later. As it turned out, we never managed it, for reasons that will become very clear. Following our visit, I was intrigued to learn that The Salamander has a resident poltergeist that has a habit of throwing glasses, generating unusual cold spots and creating disembodied footsteps.
What happened at the next pub serves to underline my theory that West Country weirdos only appear when I'm around. The Bell is a Good Beer Guide listed pub with a strong alternative vibe, i.e. our kind of place. The building is long and relatively narrow with a bar at one end and an extensive outside area where a BBQ is being held when we arrive. The pub is owned by a Co-Operative of 536 locals under IPS rules which allowed the purchase of the pub on July 2nd 2013. It being a Sunday, it is rather busy, helped by the decent weather and the presence of a live music act warming up inside. 7 hand pulls on the bar feature a good mix of beers namely: Abbey Bellringer, Bath Ales Gem, Butcombe Bitter, Hop Back Summer Lightning, White Friar, RCH Pitchfork and Stonehenge Danish Dynamite. The White Friar was excellent! At 5%, this very pale ale is very hoppy with an initial citrus kick and a distinct lemon tang to the underneath. We took our beers out into the garden in an attempt to soak up the sun before the inevitability of it disappearing for the rest of the summer. Whilst we sat, drank our beers and discussed Doctor Who (probably) a random stranger, who had been sat nearby, came over, said 'I'll just put this 'ere', put something down and left. It turned out very quickly that he had given us what remained of a spliff. Matt and I, confused and tipsy as we were, decided it was best to ignore it and pretend like nothing had happened. Surprisingly, I think because of beer, this seemed to work.
Next up was probably the pub with the best name of the day, The Pig & Fiddle. Another GBG listed premises, this is a large city centre pub with a reputation for live music. The main entrance is up a flight of steps, one side of the property is an old shop front and the other is a courtyard with a large number of covered benches and a heated smoking area. The interior includes several large TV screens and has a central bar with seating situated around it. There are 7 handpulls offering a wide variety, in this case London Pride, Bristol Sunrise, Butcombe Bitter, Butcombe Rare Breed and Springhead Roaring Meg. Being familiar with the good work done by Springhead, I decided on the Roaring Meg, which was in excellent condition. By this point, things were beginning to become a tad hazy and we still had at least 3 pubs that we wanted to visit. The next on our list was the Old Green Tree.
Located in part of a 300 year old building, this is a classic unspoilt gem of a pub with wood-panelling and period beams throughout. The three rooms are complemented by a northern style drinking lobby which encourages conversation. The bar, with its 5 hand pumps, lies along the back wall. The choices for us are Old Green Tree (brewed for the pub by Blindmans), Old Sodbury Mild, Butcombe Bitter, Plain Ales IPA and RCH Pitchfork. I chose Pitchfork over the others this time and was rewarded as it was very well kept and easily drinkable. Our penultimate destination of a fantastic day was one of Matt's favourite pubs in Bath, the renowned Raven.
Consisting of two Georgian town houses made into a single structure, The Raven contains no TV, fruit machines or music. What it does contain however is a much deserved reputation for good beer and good pies. This is particularly useful for us as it is one of the few pubs in Bath that serves food on a Sunday evening. The six ales include 2 brewed exclusively for the pub by Blindmans and it is one of these, Blindmans Raven, that I opted for. It was very nice indeed and went very well with my steak pie which I'm not ashamed to admit, barely touched the sides. At this point, I began to lose focus as to what was actually happening around me but I knew we had one to go after this. I was impressed and pleased that had brought me here for food. After all, he had been 'Raven' about it! (I hate myself already for that gag).
Last on our magical mystery tour of Aquae Sulis was The Garrick's Head, a pub and hotel that adjoins the theatre royal and is reputedly the most haunted pub in the city, as well as being part of the original town house of Beau Nash, Bath's world famous Master of Ceremonies. The pub has been a theatre pub for well over 200 years and still retains much of its mystique in the present day, especially for me after all the beer consumed by this point. The pub has an ever changing beer range and, due to the frailties of both my motor faculties and my so called 'smart' phone, I am unable to produce any evidence that we actually went here, although I know we did. I know that lots of beer was on offer and that I had a pint and it was nice. Beyond that, I'm at a loss. This is definitely on my list of 'Pubs to Revisit When Sober'. However, despite my failure as a blogger in this instance, the haunting history of the pub is still worth mentioning. The ghost of an actress from the 1880s is reputed to haunt the hotel. Rumour has it that she killed herself there after discovering that her husband had murdered her secret lover. She took her own life on the night of her last performance at the theatre and is still said to appear wearing a grey feather dress, the clothing that she died in. A ghostly butterfly is also alleged to haunt the nearby theatre, manifesting only once a year on Christmas Day. The significance of this date and the butterfly itself is unknown to this day.
So, there you have it. A thoroughly successful, for the most part, journey around the drinking dens of Bath. Some places do need a return visit to fully gauge the experience but all in all I can say that I'm impressed with what this fine city has to offer. If you have never been to Bath, I suggest that you go, not necessarily right now but at some point. You will enjoy it, even if you don't really like beer (and if that's you, what's wrong with you?) as there is an awful lot of history and architecture to explore in addition to good pubs to visit. If and when you do go, definitely try the pies. And the gin. But most importantly, at least try the ale. Bath is flying the flag for the ale scene right now and I'm sure if Beau Nash were still around, he'd be shouting about it too.