Saturday, 29 July 2017

Bath On A Bookshelf

Bath has been the setting of many a great novel throughout the years, as well as plenty of TV programmes and films.

As such an iconic city, which has survived almost as if caught in a time capsule in many ways, it’s special in that you can read the novels which have been set in Bath and, although many may have been written over a hundred years ago, you can still recognize the streets and buildings the books reference. So why not visit Bath on the page and then in person? 

 Here are just a few of the books you could read which are set in Bath:

Northanger Abbey/Persuasion – Jane Austen
(Published in 1818. Set in 1800(approx.) and 1814 respectively.)
Northanger Abbey sees the young and na├»ve heroine discovering the delights of Bath social life and the dangers of believing too strongly in Gothic thriller novels; while Persuasion is about love, loss and hope, as Anne Elliot is thrown together once more with the man she loved but was made to leave in her youth.  

Both novels draw heavily on the popular locations of Regency Bath such as the Royal Crescent, the Pump Rooms, the Assembly Rooms and the shopping hub of Milsom Street. When it comes to novels which are set in Bath, these are probably the most well-known, but it has to be said, with good reason. Both are funny, witty, and a wonderful window through to what life was like in Bath in Austen’s time, and through to our own human nature.    

The Pickwick Papers – Charles Dickens
(Published in serial format 1836-1837. Set around 1827.)
The Pickwick Papers is a sequence of loosely related adventures. The novel's main character, Samuel Pickwick, is a kind and wealthy old gentleman, and the founder and president of the Pickwick Club. To extend his researches into the quaint and curious phenomena of life, he suggests that he and three other "Pickwickians" should make journeys to places remote from London and report on their findings to the other members of the club.

Although not entirely set in Bath, the novel heavily satirizes the social scene in Bath at the time Dickens was writing and mentions several iconic locations (the Assembly Rooms for example). Dickens spent a lot of time in Bath while he was working as a journalist before he became a novelist, and he got the name for The Pickwick Papers from the sides of coaches belonging to Eleazer Pickwick (1749-1837), the owner of a well-known Bath coaching business.

In his early days, Dickens used to stay in The Saracen’s Head pub, which still exists to this day as the oldest pub in Bath.  

Go Swift and Far – Douglas Westcott
(Published in 2013. Set in 1942 and the three decades after)
“Born in the wartime German raids on Bath in the Spring of 1942, an orphan boy, alone and destitute, is determined to survive... Go Swift and Far is a sweeping coming of age saga that exposes the deceit and hypocrisy lurking behind the genteel facades of the famous City of Bath.”   

Written by a local businessman who has lived in Bath for over thirty years and seen its development first hand. This book is the first in a projected trilogy tracing Bath from World War II to the present day, with real events from the City’s history drawn from The Bath Chronicle archives. 

Saturday, 22 July 2017

What’s That Got To Do With Bath…?

Two bronze lions guard the gates to Victoria Park; the mascot of Bath Rugby is Maximus the lion;
there are random lion statues (one blue mosaicked one near the Abbey) dotted around Bath. Bath has over 500 images of lions in and around the city, but what have lions got to do with Bath?
Lions have been the symbol of royal England for nine hundred years, and they became forever linked with Bath after the first King of all England, King Edgar, was crowned in Bath in 973AD. A lion also features on Bath’s coat of arms, reflecting the royal heritage of the city, alongside… 

A boar
Pigs are another animal that’s long been associated with Bath. The legend goes that around 863BC, prince Bladud contracted leprosy while studying in Athens and on his return home he left court - unable to take the throne, and became a swineherd. His pigs unfortunately also contracted his disease.
However, when they came to the area that is now Bath, the pigs rolled in the hot mud around Bath’s springs while looking for acorns and Bladud saw that their leprosy was soon cured. Bladud followed suit, bathed in the mud, was also cured, returned to take the throne and then, to show his gratitude, founded the city of Bath; dedicating its curative powers to the Celtic goddess Sul.   

The Gorgon’s Head
Archaeologists have been able to work out that this stone carving would have been in the centre of the ornamental pediment, which stood at the entrance of the great temple beside the Baths. It’s survived incredibly well given how it’s nearly two thousand years old! So hardly surprising that it’s become a key symbol of Bath. The reason the Roman’s chose a Gorgon’s head in the first place though was because it was a key symbol of the goddess Sulis Minerva. Which brings us neatly to…

The head of Sulis Minerva
Aquae Sulis was the Roman name for Bath and literally means “waters of Sul”. The Romans dedicated their temple to the nourishing, life-giving mother goddess Sulis Minerva (some think she is a combination of the Celtic goddess Sul and the Roman goddess Minerva) and erected a huge statue to her within their temple. The gilt bronze head of this statue survives to this day. It was found in 1727, and is so remarkable, not only because of its artistic merit, but also because only two other gilt bronze statues from Roman times have ever been found on Britain.  

The symbol in the floor 

At the junction of Bath Street and Stall Street (just beside the exit from the Roman Baths) there’s a large bronze symbol set into the cobbles. It pops up on keyrings, websites, and lots of other Bath-related items and media. The reason is because it’s the World Heritage Symbol, which commemorates the City of Bath’s addition onto the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1987. At this point the city was identified as “a masterpiece of human creative genius whose protection must be the concern of all.” Not bad going, considering that the only other two cities in the world to hold this accolade are The Vatican and Venice!    

Saturday, 15 July 2017

It’s All About Books in Bath This Week

We’ve been looking at the events coming up in Bath this week and a bit of a theme has emerged. Bath will be enjoying a plethora of bookish events. If you enjoy reading, we’re sure one or more of these will be of interest…

Waterstones in Bath sometimes puts on events, but when if you enjoy going to talks given by prominent authors then Bath’s independent bookshops are the place to go. 


This week Toppings and Company (who have a marvelous shop on the corner of The Paragon (if you haven’t been we really recommend taking a look)) have organised a couple of amazing events.  

The first, on Monday 17th, is an event with neurosurgeon-turned-author Henry Marsh. He’ll be reflecting on what forty years on the surgical frontline has taught him, and why he still continues to devote himself to work in Nepal and Ukraine while promoting his new book Admissions. His book Do No Harm was a wonderful read, and in his latest book he explores the purpose he has found in his own life, and the fresh understanding he has gained of what matters to us all in the end.

Then, on Tuesday 17th, internationally best-selling author Natasha Pulley, who wrote the captivating The Watchmaker of Filigree Street, will be speaking about her new book. The Bedlam Stacks is set in 1859 in the shadowy, magical forests of South America. We’re intrigued and sure that her talk will be a fantastic event for any fans of historical fiction. 

Both of these events can be booked via Toppings website, or through their shop on The Paragon.  

Next, we couldn’t write this post without mentioning that this week marks the bicentenary of Jane Austen’s death, so naturally Bath has plenty of events planned to help commemorate her life and achievements. Our top pick of the events going on being the walking tour, Crescent vs Crescent, with Dr Amy Frost on Wednesday 19th

The tour, though not Austen themed per-se, will explore the social history that took place between the construction of the Royal Crescent and Lansdown Crescent (via Camden Crescent and Cavendish 
Crescent), so very much Austen’s era. (Tickets from )  

Finally, although not book-themed, we have to mention an adaptation of a film that will be playing at the Theatre Royal from this Friday (21st July) to the 12th of August.

Alfred Hitchcock’s classic, North by Northwest, has been adapted for the stage and, having seen clips online, looks wonderful. They’ve blended top-notch acting with clever set design and live film to create an incredible show. They’ve even managed to recreate the scene with the crop-dusting plane!