The Royal Crescent
Everyone at one time or another has probably seen images of the Royal Crescent in Bath. Inspector Morse strolled down the fashionable street in 1997, as did Kiera Knightley in The Duchess (2007). But did you know that without the influence of a certain dilettante named Richard ‘Beau’ Nash the Royal Crescent may never have been built?
Richard Nash was born in 1674 in the Welsh city of Swansea. Having failed at most of the professions he undertook, Nash finally rocked up in Bath having managed to acquire some wealth through gambling. Known as a ‘dandy’ or ‘beau’ because of his love of fashion and the finer things in life: his shoe buckles were adorned with diamonds and his extravagant ruffles held together with bejewelled brooches, he bought glamour to the city which in turn bought the fashionable upper classes in their droves, ostensibly to ‘take the waters’ but in reality to be seen strolling in the parks and avenues of Bath. The city became the most elegant resorts in England. As a result, Bath became a fashionable and desired address and The Royal Crescent was subsequently built to serve their desires. The Crecent stands on the sloping hillside of the city and was built between the years 1767 and 1774 becoming not only a fashionable address but an iconic example of Georgian architecture which attracts thousands of tourists every year.
The Roman Baths
The Roman Baths is a favourite tourist attraction and on any day of the week queues of visitors pay £15.50 for a 2 hour tour of the Baths. It’s well worth it. Characters from old Rome are on hand to guide you through the museum complex which includes a fashion museum and an art gallery. And what better place to have your wedding photographs taken than inside the Bath House! The historic architecture has made the Bath House and Pump House an award-winning wedding venue. But did you know that the price of lead pipes was the reason the Romans built public bath houses?
Bathing was a daily ritual for the Romans, but the pipes that bought water to houses became too expensive for many Roman households to build bath houses in their own homes. Because personal hygiene was important to the Romans, public baths were built which were also places where people could meet and socialize as well as keep themselves clean. Just like the modern health clubs of today, visitors could take hot, cold or warm baths, partake of exercise rooms, swimming pools and even cold water plunge pools.
3 The Cross Bath
The Cross Bath is hidden in a small Roman building across the road from the Thermae Bath spa. It costs £18 for a one and half hour session and you get to bathe in real thermal waters which flow from a specially commissioned fountain at the edge of the pool. But did you know that the Cross Spring which feeds the fountain has a very special history?
The site on which the Cross Bath stands, is an official sacred place. It is where the Celts worshipped the goddess Sulis. The Romans named the town (now Bath) Aquae Sulis after the goddess. It is believed the name Sulis means ‘eye’ or ‘gap’ and refers to the thermal waters which spring up from the beneath the ground. The springs soon became famous for their healing powers and many people from across Europe made pilgrimages to ‘take the waters’. But beware! Sulis was also known to curse people for wrong-doings. Curse or cure, which one will she choose for you?
Bath Abbey casts a majestic shadow over this historic city. You have to go back to the 7th century to trace its origins. Formally a Benedictine monastery, the abbey seats 1,200 worshippers and was built in the shape of a cruciform. Hundreds of thousands of people visit the abbey every year. It is one of the most photographed buildings in Bath. A grade 1 listed building, guided tours take visitors on a stroll along its battlement parapets and a climb up 212 steps to the top of the tower where they can view the iconic Bath skyline. The west front of the abbey is well worth a look too. Ornate sculptures of angels climbing to heaven on stone ladders demonstrate the abbey’s gothic architecture perfectly. But did you know that Bath Abbey is reported as being one of the most haunted churches in England?
Phantom monks and nude figures are regular manifestations around the abbey according to paranormal websites. Visitors have sworn they have heard footsteps behind them as they toured the cobbled streets around the abbey. Some people swear they have witnessed the cowled figure of a monk walking in the moonlight outside the abbey. Since the abbey was once a monastery it’s not hard to understand from whence these stories originated. But where did the nude Roman soldier come from? Visitors to the city frequently tell the story of the man, completely nude except for Roman style boots, running about the streets and pathways around the abbey. It is believed his stomping ground is between the Crustal Palace and the Abbey. The man has been pursued on many occasions, even by the police, but according to accounts, just as he is about to be cornered, his solid naked body turns to mist and he disappears. This metamorphosis apparently takes place at Abbey Green, so when you visit Bath, and you should, don’t forget to look out for the ghostly streaker!
Many of us have heard of Bath Buns and many of us have enjoyed eating one or two of them (even more perhaps!). No visit to Bath can be complete without looking around the tiny kitchen museum that was once the home of Sally Lunn who arrived in Bath in 1680. The house is one of the oldest in Bath and once inside the shop you can see excavations that date back to the Roman times. Excavations at the house in the 1930s and then the 1980s revealed an under floor central heating system and mosaic tiled walls. It is thought the building may have been an inn for the many European travellers who made the pilgrimage to the Cross Springs. You can buy the buns in gift wrapped boxes, whilst a very realistic mannequin of a kitchen maid busies herself at the bread oven. With a small restaurant on the ground floor, Sally Lunn’s is one of the most famous eating houses in the world, but did you know that the Bath Bun is not the original Sally Lunn recipe?
It is believed that the Bath Bun was put on sale to feed the public at the 1851 Great Exhibition and became known as the ‘London’ Bath Bun. However, in true mass production style the bakers, because they were feeding so many people, cut corners and some of the original ingredients were left out. Thus a replica Bath Bun was born. Legend has it that Sally Lunn, real name Solange Luyon, who brought the recipe to Bath, was a French Huguenot and escaped to England in the 1680s. Thus the original receipe bun was more like the modern-day brioche than the doughy Bath Bun we eat today. Interestingly even as early as 1780 there were health gurus telling people what they should and shouldn’t eat, one such person was Phillip Thicknesse who believed that the Sally Lunn was bad for people. He suggested that his brother died of drinking pints of bath water and eating Sally Lunn’s for breakfast. He subsequently warned people of the risks of eating this type of meal. But it doesn’t seem to stop the many visitors to Sally Lunn’s, who partake of afternoon tea and a big Bath Bun, or even two maybe!