Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee,
Whether summer clothe the general earth
With greeness, or the redbreast sit and sing
Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
Of mossy apple-tree, while the nigh thatch
Smokes in the sun-thaw; whether the eave-drops fall
Heard only in the trances of the blast,
Or if the secret ministry of frost
Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
Quietly shining to the quiet Moon.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Roman to Regency

It's back to the Time Travellers weekend for this post and as you can see the weather wasn't great when we arrived in Bath for our guided tour of the Roman Baths which is the building on the left of the photograph.

We had an hour or so before our 12pm tour so Rosemary and I decided to have a look inside Bath Abbey which dates from the late 15th/early 16th centuries and was the last of England's great abbey churches to be built. Underneath the current Abbey lie the remains of the Norman Abbey and before that an Anglo Saxon convent founded in 676AD stood on the site. In 757AD a monastery was built  and for a while the convent and monastery may have existed side by side. Certainly the board listing the Priors of Bath Abbey named two Abbesses - Bertana and then Bernguidis - at the top of the list..

The beautiful fan vaulted ceiling above the nave. The guide book says that the famous dandy Beau Nash is buried in the nave but other sources claim that after an elaborate funeral funded by the City Corporation he was buried in an unmarked pauper's grave which is hardly likely to be in the nave!

The Abbey is absolutely stuffed full of memorials and an amazing number of the people named on them either came from or had spent many years abroad. Rosemary and I wondered whether they had come to Bath to take the waters and had died there either in spite of or because of this! Though in all fairness to the waters of Bath a good many of them had lived to a ripe old age even by modern standards.

Prior Birde's Chantry Chapel - before the Reformation the Abbey was part of a Benedictine monastery. William Birde was Prior until his death in 1525.

Finally the view from the choir looking down the nave towards the West window.

Bath is famous for its thermal spring which  produces over a million litres of water every day. It reaches the surface with a constant temperature of 45C (113F) but quickly cools to a pleasant 34C(93F). It also contains 42 different minerals and has been regarded as a healing spring since the 9th century BC - long before the Romans arrived in Britain. It was a sacred site dedicated to the Celtic goddess Sulis and the Romans combined Sulis with her Roman equivalent Minerva and built a magnificent temple and an equally magnificent bath house around the spring. The photograph shows the sacred pool of Sulis where the water rises before being channelled into the bathing pools. People would throw votive offerings, including over 12000 Roman coins, into the water and 130 lead curse tablets have also been found on the bottom of the pool. Some of the curses ask for very specific and unpleasant punishments for  the person being cursed!  These were all discovered when the spring was temporarily diverted in 1979/80 so that archaeological excavations could be carried out.

This is the pediment from the Temple of Sulis Minerva that was discovered under the present Pump Room in 1790. Some sort of clever lighting has been used to fill in the missing pieces and also to indicate the fact that originally it would have been brightly painted. If you look in the bottom righthand corner of the central stone you will see a small owl which was the symbol of the goddess Minerva.

In case you have as much trouble spotting it as I did here it is:)

This is the Great Bath which was the centre of a large bathing complex with changing room, warm, hot and cold rooms as well as three pools for swimming. It was a centre of social life as well as a place to get clean, people played board games, gambled, ate and drank and generally had a good time. Can you spot the Roman soldier?

Perhaps he is just coming off duty and is looking for his friends:)

This isn't the first time that I've visited the Roman Baths but it's a very different place now than it was when I last saw it many years ago. A great deal of excavation has been done some of it very recent. This is the Temple of Sulis Minerva which is located I think beneath the street outside the modern entrance to the Baths. The Roman street level was much lower than it is now.

This inscribed stone pedestal stands pretty much in the place where it was found close to the altar. The inscription reads

 Deae Suli
L Marcius Memor

 and translates as

 'For the goddess Sulis
Lucius Marcius Memor
Gave this gift'.

It's thought that the gift would have been a statue of some sort. Oh, you want to know what a haruspex is? He is a priest who interpreted omens by inspecting the entrails of sacrificial animals! Well, you did ask:)

There is an excellent mueum as part of the complex which has some really superb objects in it but this is the piece de resistance as far as I'm concerned - the wonderful gilded bronze head of Sulis Minerva. It was found in 1727 when workmen were digging a sewer beneath Stall St which is right outside the Roman Baths. It would  have been part of the cult statue that once stood inside the Temple and the rest of it must be somewhere not too far away. Perhaps one day it will be found.

After our tour of the Baths Rosemary and I decided to wander round the streets and look at some of the wonderful architecture.It happened that our visit coincided with a Jane Austen weekend and Bath was full of people in Regency costumes - some more authentic than others:) This little group is outside the Assembly Rooms. In spite of several attempts I have never yet managed to get inside the Assembly Rooms as they have always been closed for a function or refurbishment. This was no exception as there was a wedding taking place! The Assembly Rooms opened in September 1771 and became the centre of fashionable society life in Bath during the Georgian era.There is a magnificent ballroom, a tea room and a card room and one day I hope to actually see them! This is where Beau Nash, a celebrated dandy and leader of fashion, was Master of Ceremonies. He was also a notorious gambler which is why he ended up in a pauper's grave. It does seem very odd that the Corporation were happy to pay for a splendid funeral but didn't provide money for a grave and headstone.

As you can see from the clear blue sky the weather had improved dramatically by mid afternoon.This is The Circus with its lovely Georgian town houses which were built between 1754 and 1768. Thomas Gainsborough lived at No 17 for 16 years. There are three curved sections of houses which together form a circle with three roads leading out of it. In the 1800s the central area which is now grassed over was a railed garden and the majestic London Plane trees that are growing there now must be all that is left of it.

The Royal Crescent built between 1767 and 1774 is probably the most famous landmark in Bath. No 1 Royal Crescent is now a museum showing how one of these houses might have been furnished and lived in by a wealthy 18th century owner. We didn't have time to go inside as we needed to get back to the Park and Ride bus for the hour and a quarter drive back to Birdlip. There was so much more to see and Rosemary and I are thinking we might go and spend a day there in the Spring - apart from anything else we never got to Sally Lunn's teashop!


Mary said...

Lovely post of a beautiful place Rowan, your photos and story took me back to my visit last year - and made me question how come I never went before, especially growing up so close to Bath! Guess school never took us on a trip, somewhat surprising, and my parents never owned a car! So, didn't go until Bath was our focus when we left Queen Victoria after the Baltic cruise last year - and how glad we were that we planned that side trip!

Off to France tonight - looking forward to seeing lots of historic places along the rivers - will post later with a map the journey.

Happy Autumn Rowan.
Hugs - Mary

Mac n' Janet said...

I love Regency Bath, Georgette Heyer did it for me, but we've never visited the Roman baths. Great pictures. I would love to do a Jane Austen event.

Lynda (Granny K) said...

Thanks for the lovely visit. We once spent a weekend there as I wanted to visit the American Museum just on the outskirts.
I struggled to see the owl - I thought I could see a boxer puppy with a wooly hat pulled over his eyes! I sorted it out eventually!

Rosie said...

I love Bath. First visited in the late 1960s and like Janet I was influenced by Georgette Heyer novels and had moved on to Jane Austen. Have been several times since,also one of my OU summer schools was at the University, and always love the atmosphere there. Last time we visited the Assembly rooms there was a wedding but we visitors were ushered down a staircase to the costume museum so we did get inside:)

kerrdelune said...

Loved visiting Bath with you, Rowan, it has been years since I was there.

John "By Stargoose And Hanglands" said...

I hadn't realised till I saw your photos that the fan-vaulting at Bath Abbey is virtually identical to that in King's College Chapel. the baths look fascinating; a trip I must make someday.

Diane said...

Bath is so interesting and totally beautiful. I love this post and it makes me want to visit again soon. The Romans are so fascinating.

Cheryl said...

I visited Bath many years ago......
It has changed a lot I am sure since I was there.

It was lovely to read this post and be reminded of my time there.
The Abbey is beautiful.........

Catherine Drea said...

These baths are spectacular. I was there once (a long time ago) and would love to return. And that fan vaulting.....would love to see that!

Barb @ Bella Vista said...

Hi Rowan,

Your pictures leave me breathless. The fan ceiling is out of this world beautiful.

I love to travel along with you.

Thanks for always leaving such kind and sweet comments.


Bella's Rose Cottage said...

Hi Rowan,
You are so nice to take us along on such an amazing trip!! I am not a traveler and am in awe of the grandeur! and besides you are an outstanding tour guide!

The History Anorak said...

We're off to Bath for a couple of days at the end of the month. Thanks for the preview!