CITY OF BATH
RW M Wright and G Lester
LIKE Rome and Jerusalem and many another, the city of Bath is sometimes said to be built upon seven hills. But in fact, it was founded not on a hill but in the valley of the Avon. And it was built not upon a rock but beside a stream.
For Bath owes its origin and its existence, its history and its name to those mineral waters: which, rising at the King's Spring (and at two other springs nearby),unvarying in temperature or in quantity, produce some five hundred thousand gallons a day at 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Six gallons a second, three hundred and sixty a minute, twenty-one thousand an hour; more than one hundred and eighty-two million gallons a year of steaming, healing, hot water have been pouring out of the ground in constant spate since the world began, or soon after.
It was on account of these waters, according to the legend, that Prince Bladud, favourite son of Hudibras and father of King Lear, became founder of the city. For having contracted leprosy, he was banished from his father's court and eventually forced, like the prodigal, to earn his living as a swineherd.
His pigs wandered into a warm, swampy marsh in search of acorns, and on driving them out Bladud found himself cured. In due course, being restored to favour, he made the swamp into a spa and gave it his name (Bladud—Bad-Lud—Bath-waters): but eventually, like Icarus, fell to his death, when the sun melted the wings of a flying-machine he had invented.
On account of these waters, the Romans during the first century A.D. turned a primitive township into a fashionable resort: and the remains of the Roman Thermae, dedicated to the goddess Sul Minerva from which the city took the name of Aquae Sulis, are unsurpassed in this country.
Archaeological discoveries, at the end of the nineteenth century, in stone, bronze, pottery and glass, point
to the sophistication, the glamour and luxury, enjoyed by the citizens of Bath in days of imperial security and internal peace. For people of all nations flocked to the springs, and during four hundred years, the city of Aquae Sulis reflected the glories of Minerva's wisdom and culture. Until, with the disintegration of the Empire, the glory departed and the country was laid waste by internal warfare and foreign invasion.
It was nevertheless close to the springs that Edgar was crowned king of all England, on Whitsunday, a.d. 973, in a Saxon abbey of "wonderful workmanship". For the ruins of the Roman spa had given place to the dignity of an English borough, centred upon a Saxon monastery, and no statelier setting than Bath could have been chosen for the consummation of England's new-found unity.
Nor did the Norman conquest of 1066 reverse the city's fortunes. William Rufus appointed his own physician and chaplain, John de Villula to be Bishop of Bath: and to him was given the work, under royal charter in 1088, of replacing the little abbey with a vast cathedral, of enlarging the city and restoring the baths. So that, according to the author of the Acts of Stephen "sick persons from all England resorted thither to bathe in these healing waters and the strong also, to see those wonderful burstings out of warm water and bathe in them".
But if the restoration of the baths marked the beginning of a new chapter in the city's history, culminating some centuries later in the days of Beau Nash, it was to its Benedictine priory that Bath owed much of its fame and prosperity. Pilgrims sought comfort and healing in its monastic hospitals; and St. John's, founded by Bishop Reginald about 1180, still flourishes as one of the leading charitable institutions of the city.
At the priory old people were given hospitality and embarrassed their hosts
by living to an astonishing age, attributed to the climate of the valley and to thé efficacy of the healing waters. But few are the remains of Norman Bath. The city was small and unpretentious, yet elegant enough to be portrayed in an illuminated initial to the 69th Psalm in Henry Beauchamp's Book of Hours.
And loyal enough in support of Richard the Lionheart to receive, like many another, its first charter in 1189 : famous enough, too, to merit acknowledgment in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. For both the priory and the city were actively concerned in wool and cloth, and by the end of the long reign of Edward III, Bath had become one of the major manufacturing towns of the West of England.
It was a "city of weavers". In St. Michael's parish alone, outside the north gate, no less than 60 broad looms were working in the homes of parishioners in the sixteenth century: while the church wardens' rolls, dating from 1349, record the selling of nettles, the setting up of teasel plants,
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