Museum trail of Bath
PUBLISHED: 09:00 03 July 2014 | UPDATED: 13:07 04 July 2014
COPYRIGHT COLIN HAWKINS 2008
From Roman remains to Regency style dressing up - make the most of your visit to Bath by exploring some of the many venues recording the city’s fascinating history
With a rich and colourful history, the beautiful city of Bath has more museums in one square mile than most cities in the world.
There are 17 museums in just the city centre, so if you want a fun day out for the family or to learn something new, there are few places with more historic treats at your fingertips than Bath.
Many museums have busy events calendars with everything from theatre and lectures to hands-on workshops for all ages.
We’ve looked at a few of the best museums to try out this month.
Top of most people’s lists when they visit the city is to see the Roman Baths.
Constructed around 70AD upon the naturally occurring hot springs, the grand bathing complex is one of the best preserved Roman remains in the world.
The steaming spring water reaches 46 °C and the Romans believed this was the mystical work of the Gods. The Great Bath is the magnificent epicentre to the complex where you can walk on the ancient cobbled pathways as the Romans did 2,000 years ago. Other chambers to explore include the remains of the ancient heated rooms and changing rooms as well as tepid and plunge pools. There are audio guides narrated by Bill Bryson for adults, including witty thoughts and observations, and by Michael Rosen for children. You can also meet Roman costumed characters and listen to their ancient stories.
During July and August the Roman Baths are open until 10pm, illuminated by torch light. The flickering torches cast shadows on the ancient pavements and create a beautifully romantic and magical atmosphere to explore by moon light.
After exploring the baths, you can actually try the spa water – containing 42 minerals - in the Pump Room or indulge in an afternoon tea. Recently launched is the children’s afternoon tea with a special mini cake stand. Or bathe in the spa water in luxurious surroundings at Thermae Bath Spa.
Another great stop for something to eat is Sally Lunn’s, one of the world’s most famous eating houses.
The historic building is one of the oldest houses in Bath. It contains a kitchen museum that was used by the legendary young Huguenot baker Sally Lunn in Georgian Bath to create the first Bath bun – an authentic regional speciality.
The menu offers historic refreshments based on the original Sally Lunn bun as well as other local and historic dishes. The bun is part cake, part bread and is baked to a secret recipe that was handed down to the current owners with the deeds to Sally Lunn’s house.
Traditionally, a type of bread known as trencher was used before the invention of plates. Unlike plates (invented around 1500), the trencher bread gets its flavour from the food and is eaten as part of the meal. The use of trencher breads remained popular in Georgian England and each of the main courses here is served in the trencher tradition using Sally Lunn’s famous Bath buns.
After dining like a Georgian Bath resident, why not have a look at one of Bath’s most famous residents of the time – Jane Austen.
The Jane Austen Centre offers you a snapshot of life during Regency times and explores how living in this magnificent city affected her and her writing.
The centre offers live guides, costume, Regency style dressing up, film, a superb gift shop and an authentic period atmosphere. New for 2014 is a life-size Jane Austen waxwork.
The famous Regency Tea Rooms have achieved Tea Guild Tearoom of Distinction status, so you can expect an exceptional level of quality and service while enjoying a pot of real leaf tea and home-made cake.
The centre also organises the Jane Austen Festival, which includes a Regency Costumed Summer Ball on 21 June at The Guildhall and a promenade in September that attracts hundreds of costumed participants along with drummers and dancers.
A particularly famous building in Bath from the Georgian period is No 1 Royal Crescent. It was the first house to be built in the city’s finest crescent. A visit inside will show you exactly what life was like for Bath’s rich and fashionable residents as it has been decorated and furnished as it might have been during the period 1776-1796. There are 10 display rooms, children’s activity packs and dressing up and plenty of objects to touch as well as friendly guides around to chat to you about the exhibitions.
No 1 Royal Crescent is looked after by the Bath Preservation Trust, which also conserves the Building of Bath Collection, Beckford’s Tower and Museum and the Herschel Museum of Astronomy.
The Building of Bath Collection interprets the architectural history of Bath and the men who transformed this provincial town into the world famous Georgian Spa. The objects in the collection demonstrate how classical design influenced the buildings and show the construction of a house from the cellars to the rafters.
Beckfords’ Tower is the only surviving example of William Beckford’s great architectural achievements and stands 120 feet tall. A climb up the tower will blow away any cobwebs and burn off some Sally Lunn’s buns, but if you take a particular liking to the folly, you can book to stay there on holiday through the Landmark Trust.
For those with an eye for the stars, head to the Herschel Museum of Astronomy, a restored Georgian townhouse which was home to the astronomer and musician William Herschel.
Particularly evocative features include Herschel’s workshop, his music room and a charming eighteenth century formal garden where, with a telescope of his own construction, Herschel discovered the planet Uranus in 1781.
If art is more your passion The Holburne Museum is a must see. Founded in 1882, you will find a beautiful and fascinating art collection.
Built around the superb art collection formed by Sir William Holburne in nineteenth-century Bath, the museum aims to promote the understanding, knowledge and enjoyment of art for people of all ages and backgrounds. It holds more than 9,000 objects dating from the antiquity to the nineteenth century including silver, sculpture, porcelain, furniture and paintings, including important works by Gainsborough, Zoffany, Ramsay, Stubbs and Turner.
Admission is free and on every floor you’ll find new and inventive ways to discover many of the fascinating stories behind the objects. There are plenty of free, fun hands-on art activities as well as creative workshops that can be booked in advance.
The museum is also set within its own grounds, so there is plenty of room in which to walk and the Kennet and Avon Canal runs through Sydney Gardens, the park behind.
Another beautiful landscape is the 120 acres which is the setting of the American Museum in Britain.
Home to the finest collection of Americana outside of the United States, there are interactive exhibitions, attractive period rooms dating from colonial times until the eve of the Civil War, an outstanding quilt collection, an inspiring folk art gallery and a fascinating map exhibition. There is also a special exhibition running at the moment - The Colourful World of Kaffe Fassett.
A visit will show you how the colonist, turned independents, lived through the Georgian era. After exploring the house you can enjoy a stroll through a recreation of George Washington’s 1785 garden and the Arboretum of American trees.
Many of the museums join forces to offer tickets valid for several venues, so make sure you check the details and truly make the most of your visit to this fine city.