The cathedral city
William II sold Bath to his physician John of Tours, whom he made a bishop. Bath was to become the new cathedral city of Somerset.
A man of ambition
He initiated a hugem rebuilding programme. Up and down the land great cathedrals were rising. John would not be satisfied with less. He laid out the whole south-east quarter of the city as a cathedral priory. Beside the priory John built himself a palace. Perhaps he envisaged creating a cultural centre like Tours. He certainly enjoyed the company of learned men and gradually gathered a band of scholarly monks. The hot baths were not neglected. John almost certainly rebuilt one of them and possibly all three. As a physician he would have been interested in the reputed healing powers of the waters.
The name Abbey Green is a reminder of the monastery that once stood here. Visitors entered through a great gateway at the east end of Abbeygate Street. They would have found themselves in a bustling courtyard where Abbey Green is now. Around it would have been the priory kitchen and brewhouse, stables and workshops.
The King's House
King John maintained a house in Bath from at least 1201. The royal lodgings were within the priory precinct, near the hot spring, which became known as King's Bath. Henry III was a keen builder and spent far more than his father on the royal lodgings. He particularly liked to decorate the royal apartments in green spangled with gold stars. A building south-east of the King's Bath was later known as the Star Chamber, so that could well have been the king's house. When Henry came to Bath in July 1256, he could not resist a little horseplay. On his orders one of his knights was thrown into the bath fully clothed. Clearly Henry enjoyed the amenities, but Edward I declined to maintain a house for such fleeting visits. There are no more references to the royal lodging after 1276.
First published in Bath Through the Ages, Bath Chronicle 1 March 1999.
The Buildings of Bath Priory, Somerset
Archaeology and Natural History vol. 137 (1994 for 1993).