“Taking the Waters”: The Georgian Spa Town of Bath
“Oh! Who can ever be tired of Bath?” writes Jane Austen in Northanger Abbey. For Austen’s 19th-century readers, Bath was the fashionable place to visit and be seen during the social season. But the health benefits of England’s only hot springs, located in northeast Somerset, have been recognized since prehistoric times. The ancient Romans first chose to establish a town, with a temple dedicated to the goddess Sulis, and thermal baths in 60 ACE. After a period of medieval prosperity, a time when an abbey was established in the town, Bath’s value as a spa town was rediscovered in the late 17th century.
From that time forward, Bath developed into the most important and fashionable health resort in Britain. During the Georgian period, the aristocracy and elites of Europe flocked to Bath to take the waters in the thermal spa, as well as enjoy the social life in its Assembly Rooms and other public venues. With its popularity and notoriety, it is not surprising Thomas Sheridan chose Bath as the setting for his play “The Rivals” and Jane Austen focused on the resort in many of her novels.
In his lecture, historian Ian Cox explores the background to Bath’s success as a visitor destination in Georgian Britain. He will briefly examine and illustrate the architectural fabric of the town, talk about the health treatments available to its visitors, and describe the complex rituals associated with Bath’s elaborate social fabric.
Ian Cox, Lecturer and Historian
Ian Cox studied at the Universities of Keele, London and Glasgow. He developed his career as a decorative arts historian in the 1980s and was the Director of the Christie’s Decorative Arts Programme at the University of Glasgow and then Director of Studies for Christie’s Education in London. Ian also ran a prestigious Decorative Arts Summer School for Christie’s in New York and was Co-Director of the Victorian Society of America London Summer School. Ian has published widely in the history of the decorative arts, particularly on furniture and ceramics. In more recent times he has directed cultural holiday programmes for the ACE foundation in Cambridge and is a regular round the world lecturer for the Seabourn and Silverseas cruise lines. He has been a lecturer for The Royal Oak Foundation in the USA since 2006.