Celebrating Bath

Thousands of people walk through Victoria Park every year and it’s clear to see why. The gentle sloping of the park offers a vista of the city below and witnessed at night, a person can see the glittering lights of Bath spread out across the valley. Yet tucked away in a corner of the park just off the road is a glade with a monument to Shakespeare. Not many people know about this but even fewer realise that while they’re looking at this monument, nestled in the trees behind them, is a giant bust of Jupiter that looks out on the rest of the park.

This scene feels like a fitting metaphor for what I want to say in this article. If you read my last piece, you’ll know that I’m a fan of celebrating great figures. After all, it’s a chance for us to find out what we value in life and hold up people who have excelled in those values. But greatness isn’t just found amongst the high and mighty, it’s an element that can be found tucked away even in quiet, peaceful Bath. I’m currently in my fourth and final year at Bath and while it’s a strange place to a Northerner – to only have two Gregg’s seems like an affront worthy of a prison sentence – it is nonetheless a city that I have come to appreciate. If you’re not entirely sure how this relates to politics then allow me to set your mind at ease by saying that politics is based off of the polis which is to say the community that supports you and that you can help too. Politics isn’t just about an election once every few years or some scandal by a politician you haven’t heard of before; politics is really about the community you consider yours, how you see the future of that community and what you do to make that a reality. This article then is a celebration of the some of the great figures that have called Bath home so that you can appreciate the city that much more and perhaps better understand what I meant in my last article. 

From Wooden Buildings to Wood’s Buildings

Bath has a long history. Its history goes back further than even the Roman baths that give the city its name. Thanks to the Romans however, it remained relevant throughout the dark ages, if only because of its connection with the imperial majesty of the Empire. While Alfred the Great would famously make Somerset his home as he recuperated from the Viking onslaught and burned baked goods, it was King Edgar in 973 AD – a man who has a good claim to being the first real king of England – that came to Bath to be crowned. Nonetheless, the Bath that hosted his coronation was rather different to the Bath we see today. Other than the Roman ruins, nothing else would have been the same since even the Abbey wasn’t built for another five and a half centuries. 

Cities are implicitly places with their own ecosystems and are defined by the many people that inhabit them, but if there’s anyone with a claim to being the person who created the Bath we see today, it is John Wood the Elder. Born and raised in Bath, Wood was a local architect who drew inspiration from druid circles like Stonehenge as well as Roman architecture to create the distinctive city layout you can see from Alexandra Park. Beyond wanting to just build nice looking buildings, Wood was also part of the Freemasons and seen from a bird’s eye view, there are a number of symbols involved with his work. The Crescent, naturally, is meant to represent the moon while the Circus (being a circle) is meant to be the Sun. It doesn’t stop there however since the Circus is also meant to be the handle of a key with Queen’s Square being the head of the key. It’s easy to get bogged down in the day-to-day of Uni life but make sure you stop every once in a while to really appreciate the life you get to live here in Bath.  

Something to be Proud and Prejudiced about

Jane Austen is a commonly referenced person around Bath. You may have even walked past the Jane Austen centre on Gay Street at some point. I remember when I moved here for Uni and while I was walking around town, there were groups of people dressed up as if they were auditioning for Bridgerton (also filmed in Bath though it wasn’t actually a show at this point). In turns out that there was a Jane Austen festival at the time and that this was a peculiar custom in Bath. Known for classics like Pride and Prejudice and novels inspired by Bath like Persuasion, Austen spent five years in our city in relative obscurity. Nonetheless, she went on to become a household name and the inspiration our little corner of the world gave her is clear through lines like ‘Oh! Who can ever be tired of Bath?’. Next time you pop into Topping’s or take a peak at Mr B’s, don’t forget to appreciate the literary history around you! While Austen is a touted figure in the city’s history, during the 18th and early 19thcentury, Bath was a popular getaway for the rich. This leads me to the last of my Great Figures. 

Small and Mighty

At one point during my second year, I was strolling into town. I stumbled across a plaque nailed to a house that is, by Bath’s standards, quite mundane. Follow the U1 bus route and turn the corner left after Labs and you’ll see the plaque too. On the plaque, in faded letters, was a dedication to Admiral Nelson. It turns out that Nelson lived in Bath on multiple occasions but at one point, he stayed in order to find help for his amputated arm. Horatio Nelson often strikes me as a man who lived as if he were made to be in a book – a small, amputated man with one eye and an indomitable will who threw out quotes about honour and died in one of the greatest Naval battles in history saying: “Thank God I have done my duty”, it’s a shock that there isn’t a major film or TV show about him yet. Even if he wasn’t born and bred in Bath, it was nonetheless in Bath that he would spend much of his time recuperating and recovering which is another reminder that greatness might just be closer than you expect. 

Have a Great Time

I ended my last article by saying that we should find people in history who exemplify values we hold dear and hold up those individuals as ‘great’. Between a man of vision who created the UNESCO heritage site we call home, a woman who captured the very essence of Bath’s – and life’s – spirit with her words, and a man who died defending his country and the city that he found comfort in, I hope you can see how even in gentle Bath, the spirit of Greatness can be found. Perhaps while you have family visiting you to see the Christmas markets, you can look out for other plaques dedicated to individuals who tried to contribute to this city one way or another. On that note, I hope each and every one of you has a wonderful Christmas filled with merriment, laughter and slightly too much alcohol! Appreciate your loved ones and when the time comes to write down some New Year’s Resolutions, don’t be afraid to strive for something Great.  

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