t Baum: At the Baths

For the Anglo-Saxons Bath was the town at the baths. The name first appears in a charter of 675 as Hat Bathu,(1) meaning hot baths (in the accusative plural). Thereafter it is always given in the dative plural Baum, Baan or Baon, meaning at the baths.(2) Bede wrote about 730 that Britain possessed warm springs and from them flow rivers which supply hot baths, suitable for all ages and both sexes in separate places and adapted to the needs of each. This comes in his geographical introduction, drawn largely from earlier authors. However, this particular statement has no known antecedent and presumably reflects the use of the baths in Bede's own day.(3) By then the city had crumbled into ruin. In the same era as Bede, a Saxon poet described an unnamed city, clearly Bath, as Wondrous masonry, shattered by fate:

There stood courts of stone; where a stream gushed in hot rippling floods, a wall enfolding all its bright bosom; baths that heated themselves: how convenient! Then over the grey stone hot streams poured to the round pool.(4)

Plan of the Roman Baths at Bath (B.Cunliffe)That was not the Roman arrangement. In their time the hot spring fed the great bath and eventually ran down a drain east to the Avon, while the circular pool was a cold plunge. The hot water seems to have been deliberately redirected into the circular bath,(5) probably to reduce the baths to manageable size. From there the water would have run south to the Avon (like the medieval drain).(6) That would have left the eastern baths dry and they were partly buried beneath a late Saxon cemetery.

The Anglo-Saxons called the reduced complex the Alron bath. It is only by lucky chance that the name is not lost to us. Deeds are our best source for place-names within the city and few survive from before 1235, when the name changed to the King's Bath. Geoffrey of Monmouth noted the old name around 1150. He confidently assumed Alaron to be a person. A modern editor also translated the balneum Alrone in two deeds as 'Alron's bath'.(7) But no such personal name is known. Alron seems to be a compound of l (foreign) or ald (old) and run (writing). Perhaps Roman inscriptions could still be seen in the complex when the Anglo-Saxon language became the dominant one in Bath.


  1. Two Chartularies, chart. 1, no.7 (Sawyer no.51).
  2. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Chronicles and Memorials of Great Britain and Ireland During the Middle Ages, published under the direction of the Master of the Rolls (Rolls) (1861); Two Chartularies, introduction, appendix 1, chart.1, nos.4, 9, 15, 17, 19, 27, 29, 31; J.M.Kemble (ed.), Codex Diplomaticus Aevi Saxonici (1839-48), nos. 171, 290; D.Hill, 'The Burghal Hidage: the establishment of a text', Medieval Archaeology Vol. 13 (1969), 84-92; L.V.Grinsell, The Bath Mint: an historical outline (1973); D.Whitelock ed. and trans., Anglo-Saxon Wills (Cambridge, 1930), nos.8-9; Memorials of St Dunstan, Archbishop of Canterbury, ed. W.Stubbs, Rolls (1874), p.46; J.Earle, A Handbook to the Land-charters and Other Saxonic Documents (Oxford, 1888), pp. 268-71.
  3. Bede, pp.9, 361; J.Campbell ed., The Anglo-Saxons (Oxford, 1982), pp.40-1.
  4. R.F.Leslie ed., Three Old English Elegies (Manchester, 1961), pp.34-6, 50-2. Present author's translation.
  5. A post-Roman channel was cut in the wall between the Sacred Spring and the circular bath (P.Davenport, personal communication.)
  6. J.Manco, 'References to the King's Bath drain' in P.Davenport ed., Archaeology in Bath 1976-1985 (Oxford, 1991), microfiche 1:E3-4.
  7. 'Vita Merlini' in P.Goodrich ed., The Romance of Merlin; an anthology (New York, 1990), p.87; Bath and North Somerset Record Office ancient deeds bundle 1, nos.13-15, bundle 2, no.84; transcribed in Ancient Deeds Belonging to the Corporation of Bath trans. C.W.Shickle (Bath 1921). Alrone was probably intended as a Latin ablative.