Bath Abbey till the Norman Invasion

The first Christian King of the Hwicce was Eanfrith (c.650s – c.674) and it was his son, Osric (c.675 – 679) that granted the Abbess Berta 100 hides (a hide was originally a unit of land capable of supporting a household) near Bath for the establishment of a convent, so starting the Christian building tradition in Bath.

The second abbess of the Nunnery in Bath was Bernguida. She was left lands by a man called Ethelmod, in the time of King Aethelred. The original nunnery may have been destroyed by King Offa in 775 AD. Alternatively, it may simply have been redeveloped. The Bishop of Worcester may have assigned the monastery of Bath to King Offa as a compensation for land lost to the church in other places. Either way, a church dedicated to St Peter was raised. There may have been a couple of churches built on the site and destroyed by Danish invaders in the middle of the 9th century (the first Viking raids having taken place between AD 786 and 802 in Wessex). Wessex, Hampshire and Somerset were resistant to the Danes and King Alfred defeated them at the Battle of Edington in May 878, in Wiltshire, some 26 miles south of Bath. King Athelstan in 931 AD gives more land being fifteen manses – land belonging to a householder from the latin mansa “Dwelling”. In return he wants prayers and masses said for him. In 956AD King Edwy granted yet more land to Wulfgar who presided over the church in Bath. Edgar then further increases the wealth and land in 956 and 970. Aescwig is mentioned as Abbot in this period at “Achumanensi” or “Hatum Bathum”. Around these times St Dunstan replaced the canons of Bath with Benedictine monks, the first abbot being Elphegus or Elphege. It was he who over saw the coronation of King Edgar.  The Saxon Chronicle describes the coronation thus: “Mickle bliss was enjoyed at Bath, on that happy day… a crowd of priests, a throng of monks, in counsel sage, were gathered there.”

The Domesday Book mentions Vlward as being abbot in Bath during Edward the Confessor’s reign (1042- 1066) who was succeeded by Stigand, a favourite of William the Conqueror. At the time of the Domesday survey Bath Abbey had a Mill and lands outside of Somerset. It produced 71l 13s 6d and had “twenty Burgesses” or freedmen who paid tax.

The first Romans in Bath

A Boar, symbol of the 20th Legion

A Boar, symbol of the 20th Legion – involved in the building of Roman Aqua Sulis

The Roman invasion of Claudius in AD43 was not the first time the local Bath tribe, the Dobunni, would have encountered Roman culture. They had been trading since around 55BC with Roman Gaul. Bath of the time had trading links via roads to the south coast around present day Poole. The Somerset countryside surrounding Bath was rich in coal, salt and other tradable goods and these would have been moved up via boat and road, creating a rich trading culture and wealthy landowners locally.

When the Romans arrive in Bath (some time probably between 44AD and 47AD) the Dobunni almost welcomed them. They certainly put up no resistance as the Roman’s approached. This was not true for all local tribes. Just to the south, the Roman second legion (Legio II Augusta) under the local command of the future emperor, Vespasian, had to battle through the belligerent Durotriges. First Century Bath must have seemed a haven to the Romans, with its friendly locals and warm springs. A wooden Roman fort probably stood just north of the centre of Bath in Walcot, to help protect the vitally important crossing point of the River Avon. Roman burials from Walcot indicate soldiers from the Second Legion and the Twentieth Legion (Legio XX Valeria Victrix) where either stationed or retired in Bath. The links to trade are also reflected in the graves. The remains of a Syrian man, thought to be a trader, have been found in Walcot.

Skeleton of a Syrian trader, Walcot, Bath

Skeleton of a Syrian trader, found in Walcot, Bath

Grave Stone of Tancinus, Roman Solder found in Walcot, Bath

Grave Stone of Tancinus, Roman Solder found in Walcot, Bath

Early Roman Bath was shaped by largely military needs. The Fosse Way from Exeter to Lincoln and passing through Bath was a frontier road, stationed with forts, and designed to mobilise the legions where they might be required to protect Roman territorial gains to the East. For example, across the Severn Valley, in Wales, a Celtic tribe called the Silures constantly fought the Romans along the line of the Fosse Way. They were assisted by seasoned anti-Roman campaigner Caratacus, who according to legend is the one who refused to bow as a captive, even to the Emperor Claudius himself. Another great uprising against the early Romans probably had repercussions for Bath. The Boudican revolt in 60AD, where the Iceni and Trinovantes, led by Boudica (Boudicca) attacked Colchester and London and temporarily put the Romans on the backfoot. Afterwards they may have taken a more “integrated” approach to ruling Britain and Bath seems to have benefitted. The once rich chiefs now had Roman villas and around this time the warm springs were developed into bot baths and a temple and dedicated to Sulis-Minerva to integrate the local and Roman beliefs and provide a shared culture. This in turn bought more craftsmen, traders and money into Bath. And Vespasian, as Emperor (69AD – 79AD) decreed a new building program across the empire, in which Bath – which he may personally have known – now grew grander and more important. The locals certainly seem to have known which side their bread was buttered…

See Bath History Tours map for the location of Walcot:

View Bath History Tours in a larger map

King Edgar and St Dunstan launch their campaign from Bath in 973

King Edgar was “the first King of England” and together with St Dunstan launched his reforming campaign from Bath to bring church and state much closer together and set the course of English history.

Edgar was the younger son of Edmund the Magnificent and Aelfgifu of the house of Wessex. His rise to power starts in 957 when nobles of Mercia,unhappy with Edgar’s brother Eadwig, made him king generic viagra of England to the north of the Thames. Edgar became king of a united England in 959.

Dunstan was born 909, close to Bath at Baltonsborough near Glastonbury. His fortunes rose and fell with various Kings of Wessex. He was exiled in 935 from court of King  Athelstan for ‘studying the vain poems and futile stories of the pagans and of being a magician’. He was however ordained as a priest and lived as a hermit in Glastonbury, studying painting and metalwork. In 939 under Wessex King Edmund he was recalled to court as abbot of Glastonbury. He restarted monastic life in England following the rules of St Benedict and started the order of Benedictine Monks that lasted 500 years unchanged. He bought back to Glastonbury new blood, disciples  and money. This of course made him enemies and in 955, under Edwy he was exiled to Ghent in Belgium, where he experienced new ideas on the monastic order.

And so, when King Edgar was made King of England, Dunstan was once again called back and made Bishop of Worcester, London and then Canterbury and began a collaboration between church and state that underpins much of English history. King Edgar’s delayed coronation was in Bath’s old St Peter’s church (where the current abbey now stands) on Whitsunday 973. The delay allowed for a well orchestrated and symbolic event.  Whitsunday is connected with the ‘baptism’ of the apostles by the holy spirit, 50 days after Easter. It signifies the moment when the apostles were given the power to speak in tongues – to speak to the believers and more importantly unbelievers in their own language and convert them. Dunstan devised the text and ceremony for the occasion, which formed the basis of all the coronations of English kings and queens since. Indeed the tradion echoes in Bath’s local traditions. For many years a local and symbolic Bath king would be chosen each year. Beau Nash for example was referred to as the “king of Bath”.

From this launch in Bath, King Edgar moved quickly to gain the submission of the other provisional Kings (some 6 or 8 of them) at Chester whilst Dunstan continues to structure the church around the Benedictine way and tie the church and state together. It is perhaps not too much exaggeration to say that the future of English history was launched from Bath in the reign of King Edgar.




The Hwicce, the Holy Grail and Christian building in Bath

The Kingdom of the Hwicce

The Kingdom of the Hwicce - the view from Hinton near Bath

Following the Battle of Deorham (Dyrham, Bath) in 577 AD, the Saxon’s (who we can now think of as Anglo-Saxons, having control over large parts of Southern England) established the Kingdom of Hwicce. The Kingdom of Hwicce would have included parts of Worcestershire, Gloucestershire, Warwickshire and extended down to Bath (north of the Avon) and part of Wiltshire. We do not know the origin of the name Hwicce, however, it is similar to Gewisse, the orginal West Saxon invaders, lead by Cerdic in 495 who landed on the south coast of england. The Gewisse are also possibly ones defeated at The Battle of Mount Badon (a battle thought to be fought in Bath). The name could be linked to ‘ge-wit’, Saxon for “those who know” (and forms the basis for “Witch” and “Wit” in English). Alternatively Hwicce may originate from “sacred vessel”. The Celtic predecessors to the Hwicce were the Dobunni who worshiped a goddess with a cauldron (as in Bath, water was sacred). It has always been part of the tradition in the West Country, especially around Glastonbury, some 30 miles west of Bath, that England was the resting place for the Holy Grail, the “sacred vessel” from the Christian story of The Last Supper and part of the tradition of King Arthur. In displacing the Dobunni, the Hwicce may have been taking on some of the ancient Roman culture and knowledge – “those who know” or adopting some of the Celtic/Christian culture – “sacred vessel”. By the seventh century, the Hwicce were Christians themselves and they remained an independant culture, even when overun by Penda of Mercia in 628. The first Christian King of the Hwicce was Eanfrith (c.650s – c.674) and it was his son, Osric (c.675 – 679) that granted the Abbess Berta 100 hides (a hide was originally a unit of land capable of supporting a household) near Bath for the establishment of a convent, so starting the Christian building tradition in Bath.

Eventually the lands of the Hwicce were absorbed into the Anglo-Saxon House of Wessex in the 870’s, which spawned Alfred the Great, a major builder developer of Bath.

The four Medieval gates of Bath

There were once four gates into Bath, developed by King Alfred in the Saxon period. These were rebuilt in the medieval period and then again by the Georgians before being destroyed completely.

South gate stood at the bottom of Stall Street, where it met the old wall (no longer there) at Lower Borough Walls. Stall Street is named after the ancient church, now long gone, called St. Mary de Stall, being dedicated to St Mary of Bethlehem. South gate was reputed to be the finest of the Bath’s gates. In 1530, a visiting antiquarian called Leland describes entering the city through a “great stone arch,” which stood “on the centre of the bridge of five stone arches”. It was rebuilt in 1362, eleven feet wide and fifteen feet high and was ornamented with an enthroned statue of King Edward III (13 November 1312 – 21 June 1377) with statues of Ralph of Shrewsbury (Bishop of Bath and Wells from 1329) and John de Walcot . This gate was destroyed in 1755.

South gate, Bath

Southgate, Bath which lead down to the old crossing point over the River Avon in the distance

The North gate was known as the “toune gate” (Town gate) as a result of Queen Elizabeth I receiving the keys of the city (she granted Bath city status in 1590). It may have had a tower and most certainly had a statue of King Bladdud (now mounted in the Roman Baths). This gate was pulled down in 1776.




West gate was granted to the Grammar school in 1553 and rebuilt in 1572. It was expanded to accommodate the royal families when they visited Bath. Over time this expanded to become a mansion and palace for King James II (1687) and the Prince of Orange (1734).

Westgate, Bath

Westgate, Bath

Similar to other gates, the west gate was removed in 1776 by the Georgians to make the roads wider (and they seemed to dislike the earlier architecture).






Lud Gate Bath - Old east gate

East gate (Lud gate), Bath - still visible at the old medieval street level, just by the Weir

The East gate (or lot Gate from the Old English Ludgeat which meant postern) is still visible, below ground level (at the medieval level of the old city). It leads out to the quay where the Horseshoe Weir is now situated. The gate was protected by strong doors and a large lock, the hinge of which  can still be seen on the gate.


The Quay, Eastgate, Bath

Close to the East gate, where the old street level emerged onto the quay