The First Coaches from London to Bath

Coaching Miseries - Rowlandson

Coaching Miseries - Rowlandson

The history of travelling to Bath can be divided into four periods – no coaches, slow coaches, fast coaches and railways. No coach travelling in the Middle Ages was an uncertain affair, picking your way along the remains of the roman roads. From 1555 the responsibility for road maintenance was given to local parishes and the local population could be forced by law into working for free. This made for variable road quality from passable to very bad indeed! The first slow coaches from London to Bath started in 1667 and were called, ironically, “flying machines”. It was announced..

“All those desirous to pass from London to Bath, or any other Place on their Road, let them repair to the ‘Bell Savage’ on Ludgate Hill in London, and the ‘White Lion’ at Bath, at both which places they may be received in a Stage Coach every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, which performs the Whole Journey in Three Days (if God permit), and sets forth at five o’clock in the morning.
“Passengers to pay One Pound five Shillings each, who are allowed to carry fourteen Pounds Weight—for all above to pay three-halfpence per Pound.”

It was not until 1688 that the English Queen Anne, suffering from gout, travelled to Bath to take the waters. Had she not, it is likely that Bath would have remained a quiet backwater in the West – however, she started the fashion of coming to Bath and soon competition and demand drove rivals to in 1711 lay on a coach service. An enterprising cooper called Thomas Baldwin started the first daily services to Bath around 1716. Soon there were coaching companies setting up all over London to bring the fashionable to Bath. Londoners saw the adverts daily:

“Daily Advertiser. April 9, 1737.
“For Bath.
“A good Coach and able Horses will set out from the ‘Black Swan’ Inn, in Holborn, on Wednesday or Thursday.
“Enquire of William Maud.”

The first mail-coach in England ran between London and Bristol, stopping at Bath, and set out on Monday, August 2, 1784. It was expensive to send post by this methods, 2s (shillings) versus the 4d (pence) mounted post boy. It was worth paying six times as much if you wanted your mail to arrive given all the risks of being robbed by highway men (and women!)

Travelling was still treacherous though. At Christmas, 1836 three passengers on the mail-coach died of frostbite!

What was needed was better roads and faster coaches…

Great Pulteney Street – Bath’s Grand Expansion

Great Pulteney Street, Bath, UK

Detail of Great Pulteney Street

Great Pulteney Street, Bath is a grand design by Thomas Baldwin, finished in 1789. It is one of the widest street’s in the city, being 30m (100 ft) across. Such is it’s beauty, it has been used in films and television, most recently in Vanity Fair (2004), Bollywood movie Cheeni Kum (2006) and The Duchess (2007). At one end of Great Pulteney Street is the newly redesigned Holburne Museum, which used to be the Sydney Hotel back in 1795. The old hotel was a ballroom, card room and tea room. Behind the hotel

Great Pulteney Street, Bath

Great Pulteney Street - Bath's Grand Expansion

were Sydney Gardens where Jane Austen used to walk and she set part of her novel “Northanger Abbey” in Great Pulteney Street. Jane Austen’s house was at number 4, Sydney Place, just off Great Pulteney Street. The street has housed important figures in Bath’s history, including William Wilberforce, the great reformer, and William Smith, who produced the first geological maps in the world. It has also been home to royalty. At other end of Great Pulteney Street is the exquisite Pulteney Bridge, one of only a few bridges in the world built with shops on. It was designed by Robert Adam and finished in 1773.

These all were built to extend the City of Bath and commissioned by Sir William Pulteney on his land. Unfortunately the money ran out Thomas Baldwin so an even grander plan was left unrealised, You can see the “side streets” from Great Pulteney Street are very short and undeveloped – the plan was to continue the grandeur in similar style. Still, it is easy today to see why the street attracted the great and the good of Georgian Bath.

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Alfred the Great – Rebuilding Bath

Alfred the Great was born in 871 AD,and as his name suggests, was a great King of Wessex. He eventually succeeded in fighting and beating a fierce and formidable Viking army after many battles. He was nearly killed in a surprise attack in Chippenham in 878, escaping with a small band of his soldiers. He retreated to the Somerset levels, to Athelney, a small island rising from the surrounding marshes. It was here that he is reputed to have burnt the cakes he was asked to look after because he was too busy plotting his counter attack on the Vikings. Cakes or not, he raised an army south of Bath at Selwood near Frome and won a decisive battle at Ethandun (Erdington) in May 878 AD.

To defend against future attacks he built a ring of forts or “burhs” (from which we get the present day “borough”) around his kingdom of Wessex. These included Bath, where he rebuilt what was left of the old Roman defences, probably repairing parts of the old wall using pieces of the dilapidated Roman architecture and using earth and wood to improve the defensive line. He also layed out a typical Saxon street plan with a wide central street (following part of current day Westgate Street) between gates to the east and west. Roads radiated north and south form here and some of these can still be seen in Bath’s map today. The High Street, north of where the Norman built, Bath Abbey is today, was probably the Saxon site for the market. Bath was well situated as a trading place, as it lay on the old Roman Foss way at a significant crossing point over the River Avon. It was probably quite success and Alfred’s son, Edward the Elder, started minting money in the town to support the market and goods were moved by river as well as road. And so began a new period of prosperity in the history of Bath…



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Milsom Street, Bath – Shopping with Jane Austen

Jane Austen's Milsom Street - Past and PresentMilsom Street, Bath – Past & Present

Milsom Street in Bath was first built in 1762 and Jane Austen writes about Milsom Street in Persuasion and Northanger Abbey. The street was orginally designed as grand houses but is known mainly for it’s shopping, even in Jane Austen’s time. In Persuasion, Jane Austen gives us a picture that is very much like Milsom Street today “… and in walking up Milsom Street she had the good fortune to meet with the Admiral. He was standing by himself at a printshop window, with his hands behind him, in earnest contemplation of some print”.

Similarly in Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen’s writing reveals the boutique nature of the shops:  “Do you know, I saw the prettiest hat you can imagine, in a shop window in Milsom Street just now”

I have merged a 2012 photo with a old (1890?) photo to give you a sense of how little it has changed.

(Thanks to and permission from for the old photo of Milsom Street, Bath, Somerset)



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The History of Bath’s Name – Origins and Changes

The history of Bath’s name is tied into the History of Britain…

From 750 BC onwards, the Celts (Britons) knew the place as Sulis, named after the Goddess Sulis, who appears to be a local water deity. The name Sulis may have come from the Old Irish, Suil for “eye” or “gap” or the from Old Welsh “haul” meaning “Sun”.

After the Emperor Claudius’ Roman’s invaded Britain in 43 AD, they arrived in Sulis around 60 AD – cries of “What have the Roman’s ever done for us”. They built the Bath’s and a Temple as well as upgrading the roads. The Roman’s did not throw out the old name of Sulis, they simply “upgraded” that as well! They called the new town Aqua Sulis meaning “the waters of Sulis”. Similarly, the  Romans “improved” the Goddess Sulis by adding Minerva to the name. So the temple in Aqua Sulis was dedicated to Sulis Minerva.

Bath Spa, one of the many names for Bath, arrived with the railways

Bath Spa, one of the many names for Bath, arrived with the railways

Christianity arrived in Wessex after 200 AD but probably closer to 635 AD. The name of the town was probably a bit too pagan for the Christians. For the next few hundred years the name of Bath seems to have evolved into a number of variations, starting with the Anglo Saxon Hat Bathu (hot baths) then Achamanni, Aquamania, Akimannis castrum or Aquamann. These all mean something like “the place of the waters”.

After the Saxon gained control of Bath at the Battle of Dyrham the towns name became Baðum, Baðan or Baðon – “at the baths” – the “ð” sounding like a “th”.

Queen Elizabeth granted Bath a royal charter in 1590, so it became the City of Bath.

Finally, the railways arrived in Bath and two stations were built. One was called “Bath Green Park” so the other was renamed “Bath Spa” in 1949 to avoid confusion and so the city is sometime referred to as Bath Spa.



Battle of Dyrham – End of an era

The Battle of Deorham (present day Dyrham) in 577 AD was a pivotal battle in Bath and Britain’s history, when the West-Saxon’s defeated the post Roman Britons.

Hinton Hill Fort - Battle of Dyrham

Hinton Hill Fort - Battle of Dyrham - showing the escarpment of the fort on the left and signs of ancient agriculture on the right

The intention of the West-Saxons, lead by Ceawlin, to occupy western England in the 6th century was clear. The post Roman small kingdoms of Bath, Cirencester (Corinium) and Gloucester (Glenvum) must put aside petty feuding and make a stand against the Saxon advance that had already won victories against the Britons to secure Oxfordshire and Berkshire. Western England along the River Severn and Avon were fertile lands, rich with resources, waiting to be exploited by the Saxons, but not without the control of the Saxon army. Following victories at an unknown location called Bedcanford (taking Limbury, Aylesbury, Benson and Eynsham), the Saxons would have wanted to maintain some momentum against the Britons. The Saxons appear to have expected, perhaps through information extracted from prisoners or spies, that they would face a somewhat unified force from Bath, Cirencester and Gloucester if they wanted to take and occupy the Severn Valley. They therefore planned to travel west, on high land, clear of wooded valleys, with a supply of water. So Cuthwin (Cuthwine) and his father Ceawlin surprised and overpowered the Britons at the hill fort of Hinton Hill in order to draw the attack from the combined Bath, Cirencester and Gloucester armies. Hinton lay close to the old Roman roads in the Portway and Fosse way, from Bath to Cirencester, which was the major north-south route with large forests to the East and the marshy Severn Valley to the West. The three British-Celtic armies would all have to traverse different terrain and synchronise their attack and Hinton was well protected due to the steep escarpment slope on the west and south, but not so well defended eastwards. The Saxons, then, took Hinton and re-enforced the defences of the Hill fort and waited. We do not know how coordinated the attack was or what the strength of numbers were on either side. However, we know that the Saxons won, ultimately.

The Anglo Saxon Chronicle has the following entry from 577 AD:

“This year Cuthwin and Ceawlin fought with the Britons, and slew three kings, Commail, and Condida, and Farinmail, on the spot called Deorham, and took from them three cities, Gloucester, Cirencester, and Bath.”

It may not quite have been so sudden and absolute but it seems a good marker for the “end of an era”…

Hinton Hill Fort near Bath - the old track

The remains of the old extension of Dunsdown Lane, that ran past Hinton Fort and was the route that Ceawlin took to capture and defeat the Britons at the Battle of Dyrham.


Hinton Hill Fort near Bath - eastern defences

The defences to the east of Hinton Hill Fort were relatively small, compared to the escarpment slope facing South and West




















The remaining Britons retreated behind a defensive ditch called the Wansdyke which forced the remaining Britons to the western reaches of Cornwall and Wales, splitting even the language. The Saxon victory was a change in British and Bath’s history, putting and end to the last vestiges of Roman Britain (since the last Roman troops had left in 407 AD) and making the Saxon’s House of Wessex the force that would give produce great kings of it’s own and take it’s own stand against foreign invaders.

See a google street view of Hinton Hill Fort here.

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King Arthur and the last battle in Bath?

King Arthur - Battle of Mount Badon in Bath

King Arthur - Battle of Mount Badon in Bath

This is another story where the History of Bath blends with Myth. The Battle of Mons Badonicus (Badon Hill) is the legendary “last battle” of King Arthur. Sometime around 500 BC, the Britons seem to have countered the advance of the Anglo Saxons and this has become mixed with legend and the stories of King Arthur. In the History of Bath there must have been many such battles over such an important river crossing and religious site. But who was Arthur and where exactly was this battle? Some sources place the battle on the hill at Bathampton, where remains of an Iron Age fort survive. Others place this historical battle just north of Bath on Solsbury Hill (Hill of the Sun), site of another Iron age fort. Badon was the post Roman name for Bath. As to the identity of Arthur, it seems that the best contender is Ambrosius Aurelianus who British historian Geoffrey of Monmouth (12th Century AD) says is brother of Uther Pendragon (not son). He is reputed to be the descendant of an important Roman family, who galvanised the Britons against the Saxon invasion.


This map shows the location of Bathampton Hill.

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This map shows the location of Solsbury Hill.

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The myth of King Bladud, historical founder of Bath

Bladud's Statue in Bath

Bladud's Statue in Bath

King Bladud is the legendary founder of Bath and his story in the History of Bath has been embellished and revisited many times. Here’s one version: It was the year 863BC, and our story starts with Bladud, in his youth, studying in Athens, where he unfortuanetly contracts leprosy. Returning home to Britain he realises that an imperfect prince like him could never inherit the throne. Banished from court he is forced to be a swineherder. Living close to the steaming muds of Bath’s hot spring, his pigs would roll in the warm mud. He notices that his pigs have clean and blemish free skin, unlike other swine. He decides to bathe in the volcanic mud and is cured of his leprosy. Bladud takes his rightful place as King and founds the city of Bath, building a temple to Sul, the local celtic goddess of the springs in gratitude for curing him. And of course starting the tradition of visiting Bath to take the waters.

The map below shows the location of the “Roman Baths”, built over one of the hot springs by the Romans:

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Troy to Rome to Bath – a mythological journey

Romulus & Remus - mythological founders of Rome

Romulus & Remus - mythological founders of Rome and a link to Bath's history

Bath is rich in myths and legends and the founding of Bath is linked with the founding of Rome and Britain itself. The story starts with Aeneas, a noble man in Troy. After Paris abducted Helen, the angry Greeks sack Troy (c.1184 BC) but the gods save Aeneas (not for the first time!) With his small band of warriors, the Aeneads, he escapes. After many adventures he eventually lands in Italy to marry King Latinus’ daughter, Lavinia. Romulus and Remus were descendants of this marriage and founders of Rome (8th Century BC). Another descendant was Brutus (aka Brutus of Troy) who was banished from Italy after killing his father in an accident (oops!). Brutus is said to have wandered north, founded the city of Tours in France and fought the Gauls. Forced to sail across the sea to Albion (as Britain was called), he conquers the giants he finds there and founds New Troy (Trojanova), which later becomes London. Britain itself is named after Brutus. He is the mythological “first king of Britain”. This lineage of kings continues down the centuries to Rud Hud Hudibras, whose son is Bladud, the founder of Bath – but that is another story…

Sacred Waters – Beyond History….

Atmosphere by dan

Shrouds of mist

8000 years ago the land bridge between Britain and Europe disappeared beneath the waters of The English Channel, leaving Britain as an island. Water has always played an important role in Bath’s history – although there is no archaeological evidence of habitation at this time in the area, the area must surely have been considered a special and sacred place. The steaming hot springs would have shrouded the valley in mysterious mists and must have be approached with reverence by anyone passing. The ancient crossing of the River Avon in the Bath valley (so heavily defended and fought over in countless later battles) would have drawn any brave travelling trader close to the edge of this revered and silent place. Stopping in the stillness, the lone traveller would perhaps have cast a small offering into the waters of the Avon, believing they communicated directly with the deities of the water. Perhaps, as the sulphurous vapours filled his nose, he would have requested safe passage on his journey and continued, with a sense of relief that he had made connection with the spirits but pleased to be on his way…