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Bath History, United Kingdom

The city of Bath has an ancient history and an uncertain beginning.  Legend states that it was founded by King Lear’s father in 860 B.C.  The leprosy-ridden king was exiled to the area and soon discovered the healing powers of the hot springs. 

The first actual historical facts regarding Bath date back to 50 A.D. when the Romans built a temple to Minerva, the Roman goddess of healing and Sul, the Celtic goddess of hot springs.  Alongside the temple were healing baths opened to the public.  In the following years, the area grew into a city called Aquae Sulis.  After the Roman Empire began to decline, the Roman military presence left Britannia.  Little was known about Bath for about 140 years except that the Roman structures fell into ruin.

The Saxon invasion of Eastern England in 577 A.D. included Bath.  By 900 A.D. Bath was distinguished as one of the “burghs” that were created to protect the surrounding areas from Danish invasion.  Over the next 100 years, Bath grew again into a prosperous town.  In fact, the first king of England was crowned there in 973 A.D.

During the Middle Ages, Bath became a Bishop’s seat.  The abbey that stands in Bath today was built in 1499 on instruction from a possible divine manifestation.  Also at this time, many people still came to Bath seeking the healing powers of the waters, but Bath’s main industry was dyed wool cloth.

In 1539, King Henry VIII closed the abbey and the wool industry in Bath began to wane.  Residents of Bath were forced to create a merchant town and focus on visitors coming to the springs.  Over the next 100 years, Bath was struck by plague four different times. During the last of these outbreaks, Bath was caught in the middle of a civil war and under occupation.  In July 1643, a battle was fought near the town. 

In the 1700’s, Bath became more respectable.  Many fashionable buildings were built, including a pump room, and the streets were paved and lighted.  Rich tourists flocked to the town during the summer months and high society flourished.  However, there were still plenty of poor people and problems with overcrowding. 

By 1801, Bath population reached 33,000 but it was still a merchant town and the industrial revolution did not touch it.  Trains, however, were available both to and from Bristol and London by 1841. 

Bath’s population had passed 65,000 by 1900.  Some interesting early 20th century facts include the use of electric trams for transportation and the bombing of Bath in 1942 during WWII.

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