Carnegie Publishing

A History of Bath: Image and Reality

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ISBN: 9781859361122
Publisher: Carnegie Publishing
Publication Date: 2012-09-15
Number of pages: 336
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Bath is one of the most popular and significant tourist destinations in Britain. No fewer than four million visitors each year visit the much-renovated Roman Baths, marvel at the sites of this World Heritage city, or simply meander through its now carefully conserved eighteenth-century streets. For a few hours before they are whisked away to Stratford-upon-Avon, Edinburgh or London, they absorb the carefully presented image of Bath as ancient spa, elegant Georgian city and haunt of the likes of Richard ‘Beau’ Nash or Jane Austen. Bath has always tried to present itself in a favorable light.

The true picture of Bath throughout its long and varied history is of course much fuller, more interesting and varied than the facade presented to casual visitors. From its earliest known history as spa during the Roman period, Bath transformed itself into Saxon monastic town and subsequently Norman cathedral city. It developed into a regional market and – perhaps surprisingly – a centre of the woollen trade during the Middle Ages, before becoming probably the most important health resort of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Thereafter, rapid expansion in the Georgian period created an enduring architectural legacy which made Bath the country’s foremost fashionable resort, attracting increasing numbers of visitors. Later, the city experienced some years of relative decline, from which it re-emerged, this time as a favored place of genteel residence in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. This theme of constant re-invention now sees Bath attempt to become a ‘festival city’, in the market for cultural tourism, while the long-anticipated opening of a new thermal spa should bring a new lease of life to the hot springs which, of course, represent Bath’s very oldest attraction, and in many ways its very raison d’être.

This book goes beyond the narrow, popular image of Bath to explore years of extraordinary change, variety and interest, focusing wherever possible on the lives of ordinary residents, and seeking to explain as well as to chronicle Bath’s truly unique historical legacy.

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