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City of Bath World Heritage Site Management Plan

2.3 DESCRIPTION


2.3.1 This section comprises of a summary description of the City of Bath World Heritage Site, including its history and an outline of the type of cultural assets that now make up the site and give it its character. To complement this section, there is a fuller description of Bath's history in Appendix 2; an inventory (including individual histories and significance) of selected key elements of the Site, such as major buildings and gardens, in Appendix 3; and a description of the archaeology of Bath in Appendix 4. There is a description of the protection given to the city through the planning system and an outline of the current uses and interests of the modern city in Section 2.5, with additional information on the planning and policy framework in Appendix 5. A thorough understanding of the nature of the resource that comprises the World Heritage Site is essential to achieve comprehensive management.

2.3.2 Bath is situated in a valley where the River Avon cuts through the limestone plateau of the southern Cotswolds. A quarter of a million gallons of hot mineral water come to the surface here every day, forced up through the rock strata along the Pennyquick Fault, on which Bath is built. There are three main hot springs in the World Heritage Site: the King's Spring at 46°c, the Hetling Spring at 48°c and the Cross Bath Spring at 41°c. They are the only hot springs in Britain.

2.3.3 The city grew up on a narrow flat site in a curve of the river, where the limestone plateau provided a ford across the water and the hills were gentle enough to traverse. The encircling hills provide a dramatic backdrop to the city, which has grown out of the flat area and up the slopes, as at Lansdown and Odd Down.

2.3.4 When the Avon cut through these hills, the oolitic limestone was left close enough to the surface to be quarried and mined, in many places as open cast pits. Known as Bath Oolite, it is a soft freestone, suitable for use as Ashlar facing and easily carved. Bath Oolite has been mined since Roman times: it has been continually used as the principal building material of the World Heritage Site and gives Bath a strong visual homogeneity unusual in a city.

2.3.5 Bath has a high number of listed buildings, 4980 in total, a Conservation Area that covers two thirds of the city, and 1.4 hectares of the central area is designated as scheduled monuments (approximately 13%). The compact urban area is surrounded on all sides by the Bath & Bristol Green Belt and on the north, east and south sides by the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). The countryside stretches into the city in several places, creating large green tracts of land in the midst of the urban environment.

2.3.6 The city's origins and development are intimately bound up with the presence of the Hot Springs. Whilst we have very little evidence of Bath in pre-Roman times the goddess Sulis adopted by the Romans was associated with pre-Roman Iron Age religion and probably was worshipped at the Springs. Evidence of pre-Roman timber lining was found at one of the springs suggesting a more formal arrangement than previously thought.

2.3.7 The Hot Springs have played a central role in every stage of the development of the city, producing some outstanding architecture and creating a unique social history and continuing culture. The city has regularly used the Hot Springs as a regeneration tool, rebuilding the structures and culture of bathing and drinking the waters for health and recreation: this can be seen again now in the building of the new Thermae Bath Spa and the use of the waters for health and recreation for the first time in 25 years.

2.3.8 It was the Romans who began the tradition of building monumental architecture in Bath, with their temple to Sulis Minerva and its associated bathing complex. The temple was constructed in 60-70 AD and the bathing complex was gradually built up over the next 300 years, during which time it became an international destination for pilgrims.

2.3.9 A proportion of the remains of this complex are presented and interpreted by the Roman Baths Museum, which lies beneath the Reception Hall next to the Pump Room. The technology employed to capture and divert the spring waters to the various baths is still in use today. To build this complex, the Romans worked the limestone in several areas in and around the World Heritage Site, beginning a tradition of stone mining that is still continued today.

2.3.10 A settlement named Aquae Sulis grew up around the temple and bathing complex, the nature of which is still being determined. Archaeological finds across the modern city and over a wider area continually add to an understanding of the extent and composition of the settlement and local population and how it interacted with the temple and bath complex, and the military presence of the Roman army. For more information on the Roman Baths, see Appendix 3.

2.3.11 After the battle of Dyrham in 577 AD, the Saxons took over the city. The Roman complex and associated settlement fell into disuse and was gradually buried beneath the growing Saxon settlement. Bath's continued importance as a religious centre was marked in 973 AD, when Edgar was crowned first king of all England at the monastery that stood where the current Bath Abbey stands, and by the construction in the 11th century of a great cathedral, again on the site of the Abbey.

2.3.12 The city was also an important commercial centre, particularly for wool-production. Though neither the great 11th century cathedral nor the accompanying monastic quarter are now visible, except in the street patterns around Abbey Green, the extensive monastic history of Bath is symbolised by the 15th-16th century Abbey church (built over the site of the 11th century cathedral), an iconic image of the city and an important piece of architecture in its own right. This, together with the Roman Baths complex, is the most potent reminder of pre-Georgian Bath. For more information on the Abbey church, see Appendix 3.

2.3.13 Bath today is largely characterised by the surviving elements of the Georgian city and the landscape that influenced so much of the development of the city. At the end of the 17th century, Bath was a small city, confined by its walls and still largely medieval in character. It was known mainly as a regional trading centre and was reputed for its curing hot spring waters which attracted the sick and convalescing. Over the course of the next century the city was reinvented as a social centre, renowned for its architecture and curing hot spring waters, and was patronised by the highest society including royalty from across Europe. The building of the Georgian city is interpreted in the Building of Bath Museum.

2.3.14 Three men were responsible for initiating this reinvention: architect John Wood the Elder, patron and entrepreneur Ralph Allen and society shaper Richard 'Beau' Nash. The vision, ambition and innovation of these men fostered a unique atmosphere in Bath, and paved the way for some of the most inspirational and influential Palladian architecture and urban design in Britain.

2.3.15 During the 18th and early 19th centuries, Bath grew far beyond the medieval city walls, largely through speculative development, and very few of the early buildings and urban arrangements were left unaltered. The cramped medieval centre was transformed into a spacious and beautiful classical city where architecture and natural landscape complemented one another.

2.3.16 Grand public buildings such as the New Assembly Rooms, designed by John Wood the Younger and built in 1771, and the Pump Room designed by John Palmer and built between 1790 and 1795, formed social cores for the transient upper classes who flocked to the city each year. These buildings were complemented by the parks and gardens such as Sydney Gardens, centres for outdoor entertainment. This transient population was housed in monumental ensembles such as Queen Square, 1729-1734 and the Circus, 1754, both designed by John Wood the Elder, and the Royal Crescent, designed by John Wood the Younger and built between 1767 and 1776. Many of these buildings were extremely innovative in design and their construction made Bath one of the most exciting centres for architecture in 18th century Britain. For more information on the above mentioned buildings and gardens, see Appendix 3.

2.3.17 The Hot Bath and Cross Bath were built to house the hot spring waters and provide facilities for bathing for the masses from all classes of society who came to Bath for treatment. St John's Hospital, a medieval foundation which had been using the curative spring waters to treat patients for rheumatism since the 12th century, had its city centre complex partially remodelled by John Wood the Elder in 1726-8. For more information on St John's Hospital see Appendix 3. The medieval King's Bath, attached to the Pump Room, was also remodelled into classical elegance. Bath continued to embrace her spa waters and their curative power but increasingly society came for entertainment, particularly gambling, rather than for rest and recuperation.

2.3.18 Bath is not merely a collection of outstanding 18th century monumental architecture but an entire city. The architectural achievements of the grander buildings are reiterated in the extensive stock of smaller housing developments and other structures such as Robert Adam's unusual Pulteney Bridge. For more information on Pulteney Bridge, see Appendix 3.

2.3.19 Many of the streets, walkways and open spaces date from the 1700s in fabric as well as historical association and are integral to a comprehensive understanding of the buildings and the social history of the city. Bridges, alleyways, parks and gardens, cemeteries and stone mines all combine to reveal the rich variety of city life and reflect the beliefs and ambitions of the society that created them. The vast majority of these cultural assets are still in active use today, many fulfilling their original functions.

2.3.20 The homogeneity of the architecture in Bath, of age, style and materials, belies the way in which most of it was created. Most of 18th century Bath evolved through speculative developments, either of individual buildings, streets or squares. There was no plan for the whole city, or even for large sections of it, and instead the new city grew according to the increasing popularity and prosperity of the society that flocked to Bath. Initially developments took place outside of the medieval city walls, stretching up the hill to Lansdown. Later, when the city corporation saw the benefits from the expanding city, the buildings of the old city were largely replaced or remodelled into Palladianism, with wider streets and open spaces. Use of the Palladian style continued after 1825 but new Victorian styles increasingly influenced the city architecture.

2.3.21 The materials for rebuilding the city came from Ralph Allen's extensive stone mines in and around the city at locations such as Odd Down and Combe Down. Allen's activities as both entrepreneurial businessman and architectural patron fuelled much of the rebuilding, particularly through his association with John Wood the Elder and culminated in buildings such as his town house in Lilliput Alley and the outstanding Prior Park, built specifically to showcase the quality of Bath Oolite.

 2.3.22 The stone mines are accompanied by workers' settlements and the remains of industrial processes over an extensive area in and around the World Heritage Site and its setting: many of the processes Allen devised for working and transporting the stone were themselves innovative and influential and were closely connected to the nation-wide developments in transportation. The use of the stone in the city, throughout the 18th century and all other periods of development, gives it an intimate link to its landscape, and a powerful visual homogeneity.

2.3.23 Later developments extended the city, rather than rebuilt it, and the 19th and 20th century suburbs largely filled in the landscape between the city and its satellite villages. Many of these villages had been closely associated with the city for hundreds of years and their 18th century buildings reflect the activity in Bath at that time, forming an important element of the World Heritage Site.

2.3.24 Major excavations in the later 19th century led to the discovery of much of the Roman Baths complex, the first remains having been found in 1727. The Victorians were responsible for the first presentation of the Roman baths to the city and its visitors since the baths fell into disuse in the Saxon period. They became famous once more as a social centre, bathing facility and tourist attraction.

2.3.25 The arrival of the canal (John Rennie) and railway (Isambard Kingdom Brunel) in the 19th century brought more impressive architecture to the World Heritage Site and some of the first major structural changes to the Georgian city.

2.3.26 Many of the smaller Georgian artisan dwellings, in some cases entire suburbs, were lost in the WWII bombing raids of April 1942 and particularly the clearance of historic buildings by the then City Council in the 1950s and 1960s. The conservation movement that formed in response to the destruction of historic buildings, and the success it achieved in stopping that destruction, helped to influence national attitudes to historic buildings.

2.3.27 Despite this tragic loss of historic buildings, the city's extensive remains form a unique and outstanding ensemble that continues to support a thriving local community.

2.3.28 An outline history of the World Heritage Site is given in Appendix 2: a detailed reproduction of the rich history of the city in this document is not possible.

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Cultural Assets

2.3.29 The cultural assets of the World Heritage Site loosely fall into five categories, including assets which are not of outstanding value but are part of the rich tapestry of 2000 years of change and development. A summary description of these assets follows.

2.3.30 The built heritage of Bath is extensive and spread across the city. The centre of the city is largely Georgian in character, though some of the buildings were refaced rather than rebuilt and therefore contain earlier fabric. There are a few notable buildings from the 16th and 17th centuries scattered around the city. In addition to the structural fabric of the buildings, there are many historic interiors surviving across the city from many different periods. The surviving elements of the Georgian city comprise not only buildings but also the infrastructure of the city, such as parks and gardens, streets and footways, bridges, sub-surface vaults, and cemeteries.

2.3.31 There are Georgian centres around the city, in suburbs such as Bathwick, Weston and Widcombe which were originally separate villages. These and other areas around the city have an unexpectedly rural feel to them, still retaining the character of the original villages. In addition to this village feel, the frequent views that can be seen from the urban area out to the surrounding countryside emphasise the compact rural feel of the city.

2.3.32 In the countryside surrounding the city, particularly on historic approach roads, there are Georgian buildings that were related to the city of Bath and the people who used and visited the spa.

2.3.33 There are extensive 19th and 20th century suburbs, built in the countryside between 18th century Bath and its surrounding villages. Amongst the later Georgian and Victorian architecture are many examples of national importance, not least the structures associated with the canal and the railway, designed and constructed respectively by John Rennie and Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

2.3.34 Brunel's Great Western Railway Paddington to Bristol line, dating from the 1830s, is regarded as the most complete early railway in the world and its associated structures have survived largely intact. It is included on the UK's tentative list for World Heritage Sites and is therefore of potential international importance in its own right. The main associated structures in the City of Bath World Heritage Site are the Twerton Tunnels and viaduct, Bath Spa Station, the Avon bridge crossing and the Sydney Garden cutting and bridges. The Kennet & Avon Canal opened in 1810, completing a through route from London to Bristol. The structures that John Rennie constructed along the route (including bridges and neo-classical aqueducts), some in and around Bath, are of great elegance and are considered to be exceptionally fine examples of canal architecture.

2.3.35 Some of the areas of historic architecture also contain post 1930s infilling, in some areas on a wide scale. Much of this is due to damage from the World War II bombing raids, and the clearance of historic buildings in the 1950s and 1960s.

2.3.36 The parks, gardens and cemeteries of Bath are numerous and are an essential feature of its character, giving the city a rural feel in the most unexpected places. Many of the principal parks and cemeteries have strong historical links such as Prior Park Landscape Gardens (begun 1730s), Sydney Gardens (1795), Royal Victoria Park (1829), Abbey Cemetery (1844) and Lansdown Cemetery (see Appendix 3). Gardens and green open spaces are also integral to some of the architectural ensembles, such as the Royal Crescent and Lansdown Crescent, where the land in front is covenanted against development. Not only are these open spaces a valuable modern amenity, they are evidence of the historical development of the city and are important elements of the World Heritage Site. For more details on the some of the gardens and buildings mentioned above, see Appendix 3.

2.3.37 The archaeology of the city is diverse, reflecting Bath's long history and the unique presence of the Hot Springs. The remains of the Roman period are of particular importance as they represent the first major development of the Hot Springs' potential. There are remains from most periods of the city's development, although some eras are better represented than others. There is great potential for finding further archaeological remains around the city, particularly of the Roman, medieval and industrial periods. The recent discovery of evidence of Bronze Age settlement in front of the Royal Crescent highlights the significant potential that remains virtually untapped of locating evidence of pre-Roman exploitation and settlement.

2.3.38 Archaeology also has much to offer to an understanding of 18th and 19th century life through the study of buried deposits, demolished artisans' housing, gardens and ancillary structures, provide a much needed context within which to assess the documentary and cartographic record of Bath's more recent history.

2.3.39 The natural environment is of great importance to the status of World Heritage Site. The geology of the area gives Bath its Hot Springs and limestone. The surrounding hills have influenced and inspired the architecture and growth of the city, and were deliberately incorporated as views for some of the buildings. The immediacy of the rural countryside against the urban fringes and the closeness of the surrounding hills gives Bath a rural backdrop, which is highly valued now and was an important element of architectural design during the 18th and 19th centuries.

2.3.40 The river Avon, with its natural crossing in the centre of Bath, first attracted the Romans for its strategic importance and has continually influenced the development of the city. It is an important landscape element and wildlife corridor, and plays a crucial role in conveying flood waters. The flood plains that fringe the river are interesting elements in themselves with water meadows and gravel terraces, with additional implications for the development of the city.

2.3.41 While there are some sites of rare plants and wildlife, the majority of Bath's wildlife is commonplace. However, it is of enormous value to the city as it contributes to quality of life, providing recreation, education and a refuge from busy urban living. The majority of habitats are broadleaved woodland and unimproved calcareous grassland. The grasslands hold particular significance as, while they are fairly common in and around Bath, there are few nationwide. Trees and woodlands, including ancient woodland sites and trees, provide a significant contribution to the landscape character and local distinctiveness of the Bath skyline. They are also important in terms of biodiversity. In addition there are mixed woodlands, scrub, some marshy and some neutral grassland and some standing water. The old stone mines provide important habitats for several colonies of Horseshoe Bats, a protected species.

2.3.42 While the physical remains of Bath are outstanding and form a unique ensemble, there are also the intangible associations and traditions which form such an important part of Bath's significance. The culture of worship, bathing and healing associated with the Hot Springs is several thousand years old and continues today. This culture has been at the heart of forming the outstanding physical elements of the World Heritage Site. Bath also has rich associations with prominent people from all eras of society, particularly the 18th and 19th centuries: royalty, politicians, aristocracy, artists, writers, and musicians. Bath also has long held a role as a national and international place of social interaction on a large scale. In the 18th century it was central to the development of society, particularly the upper classes.

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