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The Roman settlement of Aquae Sulis developed where a number of thermal springs erupt from the floor of the Avon valley. Chief of these is the King's Bath Spring which delivers nearly 250,000 gallons of water a day and was the focus of Roman activity. Also within the Roman site were the far smaller Hetlin (Hot Bath) and Cross Bath Springs. Late Iron Age coins recovered from the spring and the presence of a presiding Celtic goddess, Sulis (assimilated to Minerva), suggest pre-Roman veneration. The religious and thermal precinct at Bath is the earliest and grandest Roman civil building complex in Britain. Constructed probably from the 60s, it comprised a precinct containing a tetrastyle classical temple, on axis with which was an altar. Laid out on a series of cross-axes were the reservoir capturing the King's Bath Spring and the baths complex, which consisted of a large, covered, lead-lined bath (the Great Bath) with subsidiary baths to east and west. The date, size, plan, classical style of the temple, and detail of the architectural stonework and sculpture mark the complex as exceptional in the western part of the empire. Round about 200, major refurbishment of the buildings included modifications to the temple, the replacing of the timber roofs of the baths with a tile barrel-vault, and the enclosing of the reservoir within a barrel-vaulted containing building. Excavation of the main spring has yielded over 12,000 Roman coins and 130 lead tablets inscribed in Latin with curses (defixiones) as well as intaglios and other offerings to the deity, where the steaming spring issues from the underworld. In the later 4th cent. maintenance of the complex started to lapse, with silt accumulating. After the end of Roman rule and technology, the waters backed up and eventually the complex fell into ruin, though the town is mentioned in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for 577. Protected in the 3rd cent. by a defensive/precinct wall enclosing 25 acres, the springs and their temples and baths lay west of the Avon. To the east, in the Walcot area, seems to have been the main focus of a town presumably serving both the sacred complex and the local country-dwellers.

Alan Simon Esmonde Cleary


After the collapse of Roman power, Bath did not slide into total insignificance. Edgar was crowned there in 973 and in 1090 the diocese was transferred from Wells to Bath. The Gesta Stephani of 1138 referred to visitors from all over England making their way to the baths. Leland, in the 1530s, commented that Bath was much frequented by people ‘diseased with lepre, pokkes, scabbes and great aches’. Queen Elizabeth paid a brief visit in 1591 but found the smell disagreeable. Anne of Denmark went there in 1615 but in 1631 Dr Edward Jorden warned that the water was too dirty to drink. A regulation by the corporation in 1648 does not inspire confidence: ‘no person shall presume to cast or throw any dog, bitch or other live beast into any of the said baths.’ Pepys visited in 1668, enjoyed the music, but thought it could not be clean to have so many bodies in the same water. Mary of Modena was said to have conceived her son James in September 1687 while visiting.

The transformation of Bath into the fashionable spa of Georgian England was primarily the work of two men—Richard ‘Beau’ Nash and John Wood. Nash was master of ceremonies from 1705 to 1761 and imposed order and decency upon what was potentially an unruly and difficult clientele, insisting that rank be put aside—the ‘happy secret of uniting the vulgar and the great’. To the baths were added concerts, receptions, balls, fireworks, the theatre, milliners, booksellers, coffee-houses, card parties, and pleasure walks in Spring Gardens (1735) and Sydney Gardens (1795). Wood began the massive reconstruction of Bath from medieval huddle to Georgian spaciousness, under the patronage of Ralph Allen, whose estate at Prior Park above the city provided the stone. Queen Square (1729–36) was followed by the Mineral Water hospital (1737–42), North and South Parades (1740–8), and Gay Street (1750s). John Wood, junior, added the Circus (1754–8) to his father's design, Royal Crescent (1767–75), and the Assembly Rooms (1769–71). The glory of Bath lasted until the early 19th cent., by which time success had bred disaster and Nash's vulgarians had taken over. Catherine Morland in Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey (1818) found that in the Pump Room on Sundays there was ‘not a genteel face to be seen’.

J. A. Cannon

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bath / ba[unvoicedth]/ • n. (pl. baths / ba[unvoicedth]s; ba[voicedth]z/ ) an act or process of immersing and washing one's body in a large container of water: she took a long, hot bath. ∎  any act of washing or cleansing oneself: sweat baths sponge baths. ∎  (usu. baths) a public establishment offering bathing facilities. ∎  (baths) a resort with a mineral spring used for medical treatment. ∎  a bathroom. ∎  a container holding a liquid or other substance in which something is immersed, typically when undergoing a process such as film developing. • v. [tr.] wash (someone) while immersing him or her in a container of water: how to bath a baby. PHRASES: take a bath inf. suffer a heavy financial loss. bath2 • n. an ancient Hebrew liquid measure equivalent to about 40 liters or 9 gallons.

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Bath Spa city on the River Avon, sw England. Bath has been designated a world heritage site. Its hot springs were discovered in the 1st century ad by the Romans, who named the city Aquae Sulis (waters of the sun). The bathing complex and temple are the finest Roman remains in Britain. Bath flourished as a centre of the cloth and wool industries. The 15th-century Roman bath museum is adjacent to the ornate, gothic Bath Abbey. In the 18th century (under the direction of Beau Nash), the city became a fashionable resort. John Wood transformed the city into a showcase for Georgian architecture: the Royal Crescent, Queen Square, and the Circus are among his notable achievements. The University of Bath was established in 1966. Industries: tourism, printing, bookbinding, engineering, clothing. Pop. (1996 est.) 85,000.

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BATH , spa in Somerset, England. A fashionable resort from the 18th century, Bath early attracted Jewish residents, among them the physician Isaac *Schomberg, as well as visitors. Shortly after 1800, Moses Samuel, formerly warden of the Great Synagogue in London who had retired to Bath, organized a congregation there, and on his death in 1839 left money for building a synagogue. The community subsequently dwindled, and regular services had ceased by 1874. The synagogue closed in 1910. Short-lived congregations have since been set up more than once. By the 1960s there was no Jewish community in Bath, but in 2004 services were being revived under Progressive Jewish auspices.


C. Roth, Rise of Provincial Jewry (1950), 27–29. add. bibliography: jyb, 2004; M. Brown and J. Samuel, "The Jews of Bath," in: jhset, 29 (1982–86), 135–64.

[Cecil Roth]

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bath OE. bæð = OS. bað, (O)HG. bad, ON. bað :- Gmc. *baþam.
Hence bath vb. XV, a new formation distinct from BATHE, now restricted to the sense ‘wash ( another or oneself ) in a bath’.

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bathBarth, bath, garth, hearth, lath, path •sand bath • hip bath • eyebath •bloodbath, mudbath •Hogarth • warpath • towpath •footpath