Bath is simply brimming with history, and its stunning buildings each have a story to tell. From the ancient cobbles of the Roman Baths to the prestigious Georgian-era glamour of the Assembly Rooms and the stylish Victoria Art Gallery, each venue has a unique charm. Our friends at Bath’s Historic Venues have let us in on a few of the buildings’ best-kept secrets…
1. Each of the stunning chandeliers in the Assembly Rooms is as heavy as an old Mini Cooper! The artist Thomas Gainsborough almost discovered this to his cost when the arm of one fell off, narrowly missing him!
2. In 1950, the US government requested to buy the chandeliers for the White House. Luckily for Bath, the National Trust and City Council refused. They really set off beautiful occasions like this…
3. The Assembly Rooms featured heavily in Bath’s wartime effort. Before the Great War, aircraft were assembled there, following which the Rooms were used to house recovering soldiers. In 1942, the Assembly Rooms were heavily bombed – take a look at the walls of the Tea Room to see if you can spot the tell-tale pink tint due to fire damage from the bombing.
4. Jane Austen lived in Bath from 1801-1805. Her two novels set in Bath, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, both mention the Assembly Rooms, which Austen called the “Upper Rooms”. The annual Jane Austen Festival includes a Regency Ball in the grand Ball Room.
5. Charles Dickens visited Bath on several occasions and gave public readings in the Assembly Rooms. The Duchess, featuring Keira Knightley and Ralph Fiennes, was filmed at the Assembly Rooms, as well as adaptations of several classic novels.
6. The basement of the Assembly Rooms is home to the world-renowned Fashion Museum - well worth a visit for all fashion enthusiasts.
7. The "Roman" statues that gaze down upon the pool from the upper walkway of The Roman Baths are in fact Victorian. The Roman portion of the building now surrounding the Great Bath extends only about six feet above ground level; the outer wall, parapet and statues are all less than 200 years old.
8. A species of freshwater snail from North America can be seen in the Roman Baths. It is thought that they may have been brought in on the roots of water lilies, which were grown briefly in the Great Bath in the early 20th century. They tolerate the hot water temperature, and also breed rapidly, so they survive the regular cleaning of the Great Bath. Often, they can be seen crawling on the top step of the Great Bath, feeding on the algae.
9. During and after the 1914-18 World War, many thousands of wounded soldiers used the Roman Baths for free. In 1923, HRH the Prince of Wales claimed that the healing waters of the baths had healed many who were afflicted in the Great War.
10. In 1897, an extension was built to The Pump Room which housed a concert hall – the present day Roman Baths Reception Hall – undoubtedly the finest Victorian interior in Bath. Mary Shelley stayed at 5 Abbey Church Yard which was demolished to make room for the Reception Hall, and it is thought that this is where her novel Frankenstein was written.