Roman baths, cream teas, Jane Austen, Georgian terraces. The elegant spa town of Bath in the ceremonial county of Somerset is undeniably beautiful. Bath is an architectural gem with honey colored buildings, the only natural mineral springs in England and the ever present spirit the Regency Era and of Jane Austen.
Bath has had two Golden Ages. The city's steaming soul is the bath-and-temple complex built by the Romans over a natural hot spring in the 1st century AD. Bath was known to the Romans as Aquae Sulis, and the Roman legions founded the baths here to ease rheumatism in their curative mineral springs.
Even though the first King of England, King Edgar, was crowned in Bath in 973, it wasn't for another nine centuries until another monarch made Bath famous again.
In 1702, Queen Anne came from London to try the mineral springs of Bath, launching a fad that was to make the city the most celebrated spa in England. Georgian aristocrats flocked here to gossip and play, and Bath was second only to London as a Mecca for wealthy hedonists. These visitors required shops, restaurants, theaters, concerts, balls, amusement and society. The most famous man in the 18th century Bath was the dandy Beau Nash, who cut a striking figure as he made his way across the city, with all the plumage of a bird of paradise. His efforts orchestrated the Bath society, as he prescribed the exact code of conduct for all staying in the town. The 18th-century architects John Wood and his son provided a proper backdrop for Nash's considerable social talents. They designed a city of stone from the nearby hills, a feat so substantial and lasting that Bath today is the most harmoniously laid-out city in England. The Georgian architectural style of Bath emphasizes the regularity and grand simplicity of Roman and Greek architecture, and the buildings consist of glorious honey-colored terraces.
During Georgian and Victorian times, Bath was a spa town centered around the Pump Room, where wealthy sufferers of gout drank its foul-tasting waters, and bathed in the Roman Baths, whose curative powers were famed. This city on a bend of the River Avon, attracted leading political and literary figures, such as Dickens, Thackeray, Nelson, and Pitt. Canadians may already know that General Wolfe lived on Trim Street, and Australians may want to visit the house at 19 Bennett St., where their founding father, Admiral Phillip, lived. Even Henry Fielding came this way, observing in Tom Jones that the ladies of Bath "endeavor to appear as ugly as possible in the morning, in order to set off that beauty which they intend to show you in the evening."
Many people come to Bath to walk in the footsteps of Jane Austen and revisit some of her best and most incisive books, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, both of which portray Bath and its society as a backdrop. Jane Austen lived in Bath for several years and was very familiar with the town.
Remarkable restoration and careful planning have ensured that Bath retains its handsome look today. The city suffered devastating destruction from the infamous Luftwaffe Baedeker air raids of 1942. After undergoing major restoration in the postwar era, Bath today has somewhat of a museum look, but its parks, museums, and architecture continue to draw visitors.