We have many maps in our collection. In fact, I don’t really know exactly how many as I’ve never counted them all individually – including the OS series ones. But I do know we have the largest single collection of maps of the City of Bath. The earliest known city map is part of the Sloane collection in the British Library – by William Smith, it dates from the publication of The Particuler Description of England with the Portratures of Certaine of the Cheiffest Citties and Townes in 1588. The map doesn’t really show very much detail other than a city of typical medieval layout – church (or Abbey/Cathedral in our case), marketplace, crossing thoroughfares connecting the main gates into the city through medieval walls built on the remains of the Roman ones. It is prettily coloured though.
Savile Map, 1588. ©Bath in Time-Bath Central Library, 25960
One of my favourite maps in the collection, and for which we probably have the only printed copy in a public collection, is the first major map of Bath to show a detailed survey. It was published by Henry Savile sometime between 1603 and his death in 1617, although the surveying was probably conducted before the turn of the century. It was rediscovered, amid a certain amount of controversy, in the 1970s, having been unknown before its re-emergence. Its date also provoked some discussion: the English Royal Coat of Arms in the top left confirms the date as during King James I of England’s reign – but dispute centres around whether it was produced before John Speed’s Theatre of the Empire of Great Britain was published around 1610-12. In this work a plan of the City of Bath appears as an inset in the main Somerset map: Savile’s map could have provided the original mapping from which Speed drew, or Savile may have drawn upon Speed’s map, expanding it with further detail into a large city plan. It is, perhaps, a debate that will never fully be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction, although it would seem more likely that the less detailed map from Speed would takes its cues from the larger and more thorough map produced by Savile.
Speed’s plan of Bath from the map of Somersetshire in The Theatre of the Empire of Great Britain, 1610-12. ©Bath in Time-Bath Preservation Trust, 30554
Savile’s map shows intriguing details about the city. Drawn from a point of view that would never have been available to a seventeenth century cartographer, buildings and features are shown in bird’s-eye perspective as if hovering high above Beechen Cliff looking north at the city flattened out below. The city is small, still mainly contained within the mediaeval walls with some of Walcot visible outside the Northgate. The street layout is familiar, with many names unchanged to the present day, although there are one or two unfamiliar ones – Spurrier’s Lane and Vicarage Lane instead of Bridewell Lane and Parsonage Lane for example. There are far more churches as the City Council were in the process of turning the Abbey into the city’s parish church. “Stawles Church” with its impressive tower sits close to the Abbey and was also known as St Mary de Stalls and now no longer commands the top end of Stall Street. St Michael within the Walls has disappeared – in fact, it was deconsecrated in the seventeenth century and the building used for many purposes before its removal, but it still lends its name to the lane and paved area outside the Little Theatre. St Mary’s Church at the Northgate was ultimately used as a school and prison – at the same time – before it fell victim to eighteenth century developers when Bridge Street was built. (The prison was replaced by a building in Grove Street, the schoolchildren moved into a building on Broad Street, and the church was demolished). Only two churches on this map besides the Abbey survived to the twentieth century: St James’ Church, near the South Gate, fell victim to the Bath Blitz of 1942, providing an opportunity for its removal to facilitate road improvements; and St Michael’s without the Walls (occasionally called St Michael’s without Waitrose today) was rebuilt on the same site in the nineteenth century.
It’s when you start to look even more closely at the map that you notice more details: the little horse in the middle of the Horse Bath on Southgate Street; the stocks outside the medieval Guildhall in the Market Place; the number of gardens behind the houses; the horse troughs in the streets in Westgate Street, the High Street and Northgate Street; a tennis court in the middle of town; the timber green (which is why it’s the Sawclose – where timber could be taken to the town sawpit); the Monk’s Mill on the river with the distinctive curved weir – paired by the Bathwick Mill on east side of the river; and even the little flags on the top of the highest point of the West Gate itself. The walls look complete along Upper and Lower Borough Walls, along with the North, South and West Gates that disappeared as the city grew – only the East Gate survives today hidden beneath a car park.
Perhaps the most obvious highlights of the town are the Abbey and the baths. The Abbey precincts once occupied the whole of the southeastern quarter of the town within the walls. By the time of the map the Abbey had long since been dissolved and the Abbot’s quarters sold into private ownership along with much of the precinct land. But the great cathedral building started by Bishop Oliver King in 1499 had fallen into a sad state after the dissolution’s desecration. The map shows us the building without a roof over the nave, a windowless south transept and an incomplete west end. Much work would be needed to turn it into the City’s parish church.
The baths look familiar in their location and shape, but this map catches them just as they are starting to be developed into Bath’s star attraction. The Hot Bath and Cross Bath still exist, although their walls were rebuilt by the Georgians. The Lazar’s Bath has gone. The King’s Bath, with the main hot spring at its centre, is there, and would be the main bathing pool for nearly the next three centuries, but the Pump Room wouldn’t be built for another century. The New Bath would become the Queen’s Bath, and the Roman Great Bath is missing altogether. In fact it would remain missing until the late nineteenth century and its discovery would prompt a period of major reconstruction around the baths.
Absorbed as I can be in the detail of the map, and the changes that have been wrought on the basic layout of the city through the centuries, there is one thing I keep returning to. My little friends featuring in strategic locations through the map. In the King’s Bath one of them is practicing his underwater swimming whilst the other swimmers are waving at each other. In the Hot Bath it looks like they’re setting up for a game of water polo with a goalie at each end. Whilst these men enjoy themselves, the Boat Stall ferryman is hard at work pulling the ferryboat across the river between the bottom of Slippery Lane in Walcot and Bathwick. The last little man is in the orchard south of the Abbey – he’s quite well disguised amongst the trees as he’s standing on a stool, so it looks like the trunk of a tree. I’m not really quite sure what he’s doing on the stool (or ladder). He’s wielding a stick, so he could be thrashing the trees to make the fruit fall, or scaring off the birds, or perhaps doing a little light pruning.
The map shows Bath just before its growth into a social and medical centre, when it was still a fairly obscure market town in northern Somerset. A fascinating time before the Georgians rebuilt and the Victorians refaced. But the real reason I love looking at the map is to wonder at the Men in the Map, what they were doing and the lives they lead at the start of the seventeenth century.
Stephen Bird, The earliest map of Bath, http://www.bathspa.ac.uk/Media/CHC Images/Vol 01 – 05. Bird – The Earliest Map of Bath.pdf, retrieved 17/03/15
Jean Manco, The Savile map of Bath, http://www.buildinghistory.org/bath/tudor/savilemap.shtml, retrieved 16/03/2015