Monday, September 3, 2012

A Hidden City - Medieval Bath. Lindsay Townsend

The city of Bath in Somerset, south west England is a world heritage site, famous for its Roman baths and its Regency architecture. I drew on the Roman city of Aquae Sulis and its baths for my historical romance Flavia’s Secret. There is also a hidden city at Bath, the medieval city, parts of which remain even after much has been built over, adapted, added to or superseded by the Regency makeover the city underwent in the eighteenth century.
            We can see the medieval city in John Speed’s 1610 map of Bath. It’s small and walled, with towers and gates. The thermal baths are there, and there are orchards, churches and hospitals. The Abbey is also shown, smaller than in the early Middle Ages when it was extensively added to by Bishop John, who wished to make Bath the seat of his bishopric. This Abbey church was wrecked by fire in 1137 and the whole monastery complex declined, especially after the Black Death in 1439. Later, the rebuilt church occupied only the nave-space of the former Norman cathedral.
            Other medieval buildings of Bath, such as St Catherine’s hospital on Bilbury Lane, the church of St Mary of Stalls and Alsi’s bath have long disappeared, their foundations hidden beneath the later expansion of the city. However aspects of medieval Bath do survive. A section of city walls still stands in Upper Borough and is now protected. Part of one of the ancient gates, the East Gate, remains, close to Robert Adam’s Pulteney Bridge. Many of the Georgian-fronted buildings turn out to have hidden medieval timber frames and structures behind the palladian facades, such as was discovered behind the front of 21-22 High Street. There are medieval cellars, too, such as one in Abbey Church House. The ancient healing place of the Hospital of St John the Baptist, ‘the hospital of the baths’ still partly fulfils its original medieval function.
            I have recreated the medieval city and its baths in my forthcoming historical mystery, An Older Evil, the first of a series featuring Alyson, a widow of Bath.

Lindsay Townsend 


Miriam Newman said...

I have always thought this must be a fascinating city. I know you made the ancient Roman baths come alive for me in your book Flavia's Secret. I look forward to this book now as well!

Lindsay Townsend said...

Thanks, Miriam! I had great fun and a certain amount of headaches trying to recreate the medieval city.